The Agni Purana

(Part One: The Avataras)

In the forest that is known as naimisharanya, Shounaka and the

other rishis (sages) were performing a yajna (sacrifice) dedicated

to the Lord Vishnu. Suta had also come there, on his way to a


The sages told Suta, "We have welcomed you. Now describe to

us that which makes men all-knowing. Describe to us that which

is the most sacred in the whole world".

Suta replied, "Vishnu is the essence of everything. I went to a

hermitage named Vadrika with Shuka, Paila and other sages and

met Vyaadeva there. Vyasadeva described to me that which he

had learnt from the great sage Vashishtha, Vashishtha having

learnt it from the god Agni himself. The Agni Purana is sacred

because it tells us about the essence of the brahman (the divine

essence). I learnt all this from Vyasadeva and I will now tell you

all that I have learnt."


Do you know what an avatara is? An avatara is an incarnation

and means that a god adopts a human form to be born on earth.

Why do gods do this. The purpose is to destroy evil on earth

and establish righteousness. Vishnu is regarded as the preserver

of the universe and it is therefore Vishnu’s incarnations that one

encounters most often. Vishnu has already had nine such

incarnations and the tenth and final incarnation is due in the

future. These ten incarnations of Vishnu are as follows.

(1) Matsya avatara or fish incarnation

(2) Kurma avatara or turtle incarnation

(3) Varaha avatara or boar incarnation

(4) Narasimha avatara- an incarnation in the form of a being who

was half-man and half-lion.

(5) Vamana avatara or dwarf incarnation

(6) Parashurama

(7) Rama

(8) Krishna

(9) Buddha

(10) Kalki-this is the incarnation that is yet to come.

The Agni Purana now describes these ten incarnations.

The Fish

Agni told Vashishtha the story of the fish incarnation.

Many years ago, the whole world was destroyed. The

destruction in fact extended to all the three lokas (Worlds) of

bhuloka, bhuvarloka and svarloka. Bhuloka is the earth, svarloka

or svarga is heaven and bhuvarloka is a region between the earth

and heaven. All there worlds were flooded with water.

Vaivasvata Manu was the son of the sun-god. He had spent ten

thousand years in prayers and tapasya (meditation) in the

hermitage vadrika. This hermitage was on the banks of the river


Once Manu came to the river to perform his ablutions. He

immersed his hands in the water to get some water for his

ablutions. When he raised them, he found that there was a small

fish swimming in the water in the cup of his hands.

Manu was about to throw the fish back into the water when the

fish said, "Don’t throw me back. I am scared of alligators and

crocodiles and big fishes. Save me."

Manu found an earthen pot in which he could keep the fish. But

soon the fish became too big for the pot and Manu had to find a

larger vessel in which the fish might be kept. But the fish became

too big for this vessel as well and Manu had to transfer the fish to

a take. But the fish grew and grew and became too large for the

lake. So Manu transferred the fish to the ocean. In the ocean, the

fish grew until it became gigantic.

By now, Manu’s wonder knew no bounds. He said, "Who are

you? You must be the Lord Vishnu, I bow down before you.

Tell me, why are you tantalising me in the form of a fish?"

The fish replied, "I have to punish the evil and protect the good.

Seven days from now, the ocean will flood the entire world and

all beings will be destroyed. But since you have saved me, I will

save you. When the world is flooded, a boat will arrive here.

Take the saptarshis (seven sages) with that boat. Don’t forget to

take the seeds of foodgrains with you. I will arrive and you will

then fasten the boat to my horn with a huge snake."

Saying this, the fish disappeared.

Everything happened as the fish had promised it would. The

ocean became turbulent and Manu climbed into the boat. He tied

the boat to the huge horn that the fish had. He prayed to the fish

and the fish related the Matsya Purana to him. Eventually, when

the water receded, the boat was anchored to the topmost peak

of the Himalayas. And living beings were created once again.

A danava (demon) named Hayagriva had stolen the sacred texts

of the Vedas and the knowledge of the brahman. In his form of a

fish, Vishnu also killed Hayagriva and recovered the Vedas.

The Turtle

Many years ago there was a war between the devas (gods) and

the daityas (demons) and the gods lost this war. They prayed to

Vishnu to rescue them from the oppression of the demons.

Vishnu told Brahma and the other gods that they should have a

temporary truce with the demons. The two sides should get

together to churn the ocean. Vishnu would ensure that the devas

benefited more from this churning of the ocean than the daityas


The truce was agreed upon and the two sides got ready to churn

the ocean. The mountain Mandara was used as a churning rod

and great sake Vasuki as the rope for churning. The devas

grasped Vasuki’s tail and the daityas grasped Vasuki’s head.

But as the churning began, the mountain Mandara which had no

base, started to get immersed in the ocean. What was to be

done? Lord Vishnu came to the rescue. He adopted the form of

a turtle and the peak was balanced on the turtle’s back.

As the churning continued, terrible poison named kalkuta

emerged from the depths of the ocean and was swallowed by

Shiva. Shiva’s throat became blue from this poison and he is

therefore known as Nilakantha, blue of throat. The goddess

Varuni, the goddess of wine (sura), came out next. The gods

readily accepted her and thus they came to be known as suras.

But the demons rejected Varuni and were therefore known as

asuras. She was followed by the Parijata tree, a beautiful tree

that came to occupy the pride of place in Indra’s garden. A

jewel named koustubha emerged and was accepted by Vishnu

as his adornment. Three wonderful animals came out next - the

cow Kapila, the horse Ucchaishrava and the elephant Airavata.

They were followed by the apsaras, beautiful women who

became the dancers of heaven. They were known as apsaras

because they emerged from ap (water). The goddess Lakshmi or

Shri came out next and was united with Vishnu.

Finally, Dhanvantari emerged with a pot of amrita (the life -

giving drink) in his hands. Dhanvantari was the originator of

medicine (ayurveda). The daityas led by Jambha gave half of the

amrita to the devas and departed with the remaining half.

But Vishnu quickly adopted the form of a beautiful woman. So

beautiful was the woman that the demons were charmed. "Pretty

lady," they said. " take the amrita and serve it to us. Marry us."

Vishnu accepted the amrita, but he had no intention of giving it to

the demons. He served it to the gods instead. There was only

one demon who was somewhat clever. His name was Rahu. He

adopted the form of Chandra, the moon-god, and succeeded in

drinking some of the amrita. The sun-god and the moon-god

noticed what was happening and reported it to Vishnu. Vishnu

thereupon cut off Rahu’s head with a sword.

But Rahu had drunk the amrita, so he could not die. He prayed

to Vishnu and Vishnu granted him a boon. The boon was that

occasionally Rahu would be permitted to swallow up the sun and

the complained about him. You can see this happening at the

time of the solar and the lunar eclipses. People who give alms

during such eclipses are blessed.

The gods obtained the amrita and the demons did not. Thus, the

gods became more powerful than the demons. They defeated the

demons and regained heaven.

The Boar

Vishnu’s next incarnation was in the form of a boar.

The sage Kashyapa and his wife Diti had a son named

Hiranyaksha. became the king of the asuras. Hiranyaksha’s

meditation pleased Brahma and Brahma granted him the boon

that he would be invincible in battle. Thus armed. Hiranyaksha

went out to fight with the devas. He comprehensively defeated

the gods and conquered heaven. He also defeated Varuna, the

god of the ocean. Thus, Hiranyaksha became the king of the

heaven, the earth and the underworld.

But the asura was not particularly fond of the earth. He himself

had begun to live in Varuna’s palace under the ocean. So he

hurled the earth into the depths of the ocean.

The gods went to Vishnu and prayed that something might be

done about Hiranyaksha. They wished to be restored to heaven

and they wished that the earth might be brought back from the

depths of the ocean. In response to these prayers, Vishnu

adopted the form of a boar and entered the ocean. Who should

he meet there but Hiranyaksha himself?

Hiranyaksha of course did not know that this boar was none

other than Vishnu. He thought that it was an ordinary boar and

attacked it. The two fought for many years. But finally,

Hiranyaksha was gored to death by the boar’s tusks. The boar

raised the earth up once again with its tusks.

Vishnu thus saved the gods and the principles of righteousness or


Half-Man, Half-Lion

Hiranyaksha had a brother named Hiranyakashipu.

Hiranyakashipu was furious to learn that his brother had been

killed and the resolved to kill Vishnu. But this could not be done

unless h e himself became powerful land invincible.

Hiranyakashipu, therefore, began to pray to Brahma through

difficult meditation. Brahma was pleased at these prayers and

offered to grant a boon.

"I want to be invincible," said Hiranyakashipu. "Please grant me

the boon that I may not be killed by night or day; that I may not

be killed by man or beast; and that I may not be killed in the sky,

the water or the earth."

Brahma granted the desired boon. And Hiranyakashipu was

happy. He thought that he had taken care of all possible

eventualities. And since he had become so powerful, he

conquered all the three worlds and kicked the gods out to


Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahlada. You no doubt

remember that Hiranyakashipu had resolved to kill Vishnu. But

strangely enough, Prahlada became devoted to Vishnu.

Hiranyakashipu tried to persuade his son. That did not work. He

tried to kill his son. That too did not work since each time,

Vishnu intervened to save Prahlada.

Meanwhile, the gods had been driven off from heaven. They had

also been deprived of their shares in yajanas by Hiranyakashipu.

These shares now went only to the asura king. In desperation,

they went and prayed to Vishnu and Vishnu promised them that

he would find a solution.

One day, Hiranyakashipu called Prahlada to him. "How is it that

you escaped each time I tried to kill you?", he asked.

"Because Vishnu saved me," replied Prahlada. "Vishnu is


"What do you mean everywhere?", retorted Hiranyakashipu. He

pointed to a crystal pillar inside the palace and asked, "Is Vishnu

inside this pillar as well?"

"Yes," replied Prahlada.

"Very well then. I am going to kick the pillar," said


When Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar, it broke into two. And

from inside the pillar, Vishnu emerged in his form of half-man and

half-lion. He caught hold of Hiranyakashipu and placed the

demon across his thighs. And with his claws, he tore apart the

demon’s chest and so killed him. Brahma’s boon had been that

Hiranyakashipu would not be killed by man or beast. But then

narasimha was neither man nor beast it was half-man and

half-beast. The boon had said that the asura would not be killed

in the sky, the water or the earth. But Hiranyakashipu was killed

on Vishnu’s thighs, which were not the sky. The water or the

earth. And finally, the noon had promised that Hiranyakashipu

would not be killed by night or day. Since the incident took place

in the evening, it was not night or day.

After Hiranyakashipu died, the gods were restored to their

rightful places. Vishnu's made Prahlada the king of the asuras.

The Dwarf

Prahlada’s grandson was Vali and Vali became very powerful.

When he was the king of the asuras, there was a war between

the devas and the asuras. The gods were defeated and were

driven off from svarga. As always, the gods fled to Vishnu and

began to pray to him to save them. Vishnu assured the gods that

he would do something about Vali.

Accordingly, Vishnu was born as the son of Aditi and Kashyapa.

The son was a dwarf.

King Vali had arranged for a huge sacrifice and had announced

that, on the occasion of the sacrifice, he would not refuse anyone

a boon. The dwarf arrived at this sacrifice and began to recite

the Veda’s. Vali was so pleased at this that he offered the dwarf

a bon. Vali’s guru(teacher) was Shukracharya and Shukracharya

thought that there was something fishy about the way the dwarf

had arrived. So he tried to restrain Vali.

"No," said Vali. "I have offered a boon and I shall stick to my

word." What boon do you desire? I will give whatever you


Before a boon was actually granted, a small rite had to be

performed with holy water. Shukracharya was still trying to do

his best to prevent the boon from being given. So he entered the

vessel in which the holy water was kept to seal the mouth of the

vessel and prevent the water from being taken out. To get at the

holy water, the vessel was pierced with a straw. This straw also

pierced one of Shukracharya’s eyes. Ever since that day, the

preceptor of the demons has been one eyed.

"Give me as much of land as may be covered in three of my

steps," said the dwarf. "I need this as dakshina (fee) for my


Vali agreed. But the dwarf adopted a gigantic form. With one

step he covered bhuloka. With another step he covered

bhuvarloka. And with the last step he covered svarloka. The

three worlds were thus lost to Vali and Vishnu returned them to

Indra. Vali had no option but to go down to the underworld

(patala). But so pleased was Vishnu at Vali’s generosity that he

granted the asura the boon that he would bear the title of Indra in

the future.


The kshatriyas were the second of the four classes. It was their

job to wear arms and protect the world. And rule. The

brahmanas were the first of the four classes. It was their job to

pray, study the sacred texts and perform religious rites. But the

kshatriyas became very insolent and began to oppress the world

and the brahmanas. Vishnu was then born as the son of the sage

Jamadagni and his wife Renuka. Since this was the line of the

sage Bhrigu, Parashurama was also called Bhargava.

Parashurama’s mission was to protect the brahmanas and teach

a lesson to the kshatriyas.

There was a king named Kartavirya who had received all sorts

of boons from the sage Dattatreya. Thanks to these boons,

Kartavirya had a thousand arms and conquered and ruled over

the entire world.

One day, Kartavirya went on a hunt to the forest. He was very

tired after the hunt and was invited by the sage Jamadagni had a

kamadhenu cow. This meant that the cow produced whatever its

owner desired. Jamadagni used the kamadhenu to treat

Kartavirya and all his soldiers to a sumptuous feast.

Kartavirya was so enamoured of the kamadhenu that he asked

the sage to give it to him. But Jamadagni refused. Kartavirya then

abducted the cow by force and a war started between

Kartavirya and Parashurama. In this war, Parashurama cut off

Kartavirya’s head with his axe (parashu) and brought the

kamadhenu back to the hermitage.

After some time, Parashurama was away when Kartavirya’s

sons arrived at the ashrama and killed Jamadagni. On the death

of his father, Parashurama’s anger was aroused. He killed all he

kshatriyas in the world twenty-one times. On the plains of

Kurukshetra, he built five wells which were filled with the blood

of kshatriyas. Eventually, Parashurama handed over the world to

Kashyapa and went and lived on Mount Mahendra.


Brahma came out of Vishnu’s navel. Brahma’s son was

Marichi’s son Kashyapa, Kashyapa’s son Surya, Surya’s son

Vaivasvata Manu, Manu’s son Ikshvaku, Ikskhvakku’s son

Kakutstha, Kakutstha’s son Raghu, Raghu’s son Aja, Aja’s son

Dasharatha, Dasharatha’s sons were Rama, Bharata,

Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Since Rama was descended from

Kakutstha and Raghu, he was also called Kakutstha and

Raghava. Since his father’s name was Dasharatha, he was also

called Dasharathi. Rama’s story belongs to the solar line (surya

vansha), since one of his ancestors was Surya.

Vishnu himself wished to destroy Ravana and the other

rakshasas (demons). He therefore divided himself into four parts

and was born as Rams, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna.

Rama was Koushalya’s son, Bharata Kaikeyi’s. Lakshmana and

Shartrughna were the sons of Sumitra.

The sage Vishvamitra came to Dasharatha and pleaded for

Rama’s help in defeating the rakshasas who were disturbing his

yajanas. Rama killed these demons and Vishvamitra was so

pleased that he taught Rama the use of all divine weapons. Rama

broke a bow of Shiv’s that had been in the possession of the

king of Mithila, Janaka. This was the task that had been

appointed for marrying Sita, Janaka’s daughter. Rama married

Sita, Lakshmana married urmila, Bharata married Mandavi and

Shatrughna married Shrutakirti. On the way back to Ayodhya,

Rama also beat Parashurama in a duel.

Dasharatha resolved that Rama should be made yuvaraja, that is,

the heir apparent to the kingdom.

But Kaikeyi had a servant named Manthara who plotted

otherwise. When he was young, Rama had pulled at Manthara’s

feet and ever since that day, Manthara had not been kindly

towards Rama. She reminded Kaikeyi of the two; boons that

had been promised to her by King Dasharatha. Years ago, the

gods had been fighting with the demon Shambara and had asked

Dasharatha for his help. In fighting with Shambara, Dasharatha

had been injured. He had been nursed back to health by

Kaikeyi. Dasharatha had promised two boons to Kaikeyi as a

reward and Manthara’s suggestion was that Kaikeyi should now

ask for these two boons. By the first boon Rama would be

banished to the forest for fourteen years and by the second boon

Bharata would become yuvaraja.

Kaikeyi listened to Manthara. At Manthara’s instance, she asked

for these two boons. Dasharatha was very angry, but Rama

insisted that he would indeed go to the forest for fourteen years.

Rama, Lakshmana and Sita first went to the banks of the river

Tamasa. From there they went to the kingdom of Guha, the king

of the hunters (nishadas). They crossed the river Jahnavi and

arrived in Prayaga, where the sage Bharadvaja had his

hermitage. Their final destination was the mountain range of

Chitrakuta, on the banks of the river Mandakini.

Meanwhile, back home in Ayodhaya, King Dasharatha who

could not bear to be parted from Rama, died. Bharata and

Shatrughna had gone on a visit to their uncle’s house and were

recalled. But Bharatha refused to be king. He went to the forest

to try and persuade Rama to return, but Rama insisted that he

would not return before the fourteen years were over. So

Bharata brought back Rama’s sandals. He placed these sandals

on the throne as a token of Rama’s kingship. And he began to

rule the kingdom in Rama’s name from Nandigrama, rather than

from Ayodhya.

Rama, Lakshmana and Sita then went to the forest that is known

as the Dandaka forest, dandakaranya. This forest was on the

banks of the river Godavari and there was a beautiful lgrove

inside the forest known as Panchavati. They built a hut there and

resolved to live there.


There was a rakshasa woman named Shurpanakha. She

happened to come to the place where Rama Lakshmana and

Sita had built their hut. Shurpanakha liked Rama so much that

she wanted to marry Rama and eat up Lakshmana and Sita. But

Lakshmana cut off Shurpanakha’s nose and ears with his sword.

Shurpanakha fled to brother Khara and demanded revenge.

Khara and fourteen thousand other demons (rakshasas) attacked

Rama, but they were all killed by Rama. Shurpanakha then went

to her other brother Ravana, the king of Lanka.

Ravana asked the rakshasa Maricha to adopt the form of a

golden deer and roam around in front of Rama’s hut. Sita was so

charmed by the deer that she asked Rama to capture it for her.

Rama was long in returning and Lakshmana went to look for

him. Taking advantage of Rama and Lakshmana’s absence,

Ravana kidnapped Sita. Jatayu, the king of the birds, did try to

stop Ravana, but he met his death at Ravana’s hands.

Rama and Lakshmana were greatly distressed to find Sita

missing and they looked for her everywhere. Rama made friends

with the monkey Sugriva. He killed Sugriva’s brother Bali and

made Sugriva the king of monkeys. The monkeys were sent off

in all the four directions to for Sita.

The monkeys who had gone towards the south learnt that Sita

was in Lanka, across the ocean. One of these monkeys was

Hanumana. Hanumana leapt over the ocean and arrived in

Lanka. He discovered the lonesome Sita in a grove of ashoka

trees, the ashokavana. Hanumana introduced himself and

assured Sita that he would soon be back with Rama. Hanumana

caused some general havoc in Lanka and was captured by

Meghnada or Indrajit, Ravana’s son. Ravana ordered that

Hanumana’s tail should be set on fire. But Hanumana used his

burning tail to set fire to all the houses of Lanka. He then

returned to Rama with the news that Sita had been found.

Rama, Lakshmana and the army of monkeys arrived at the

shores of the ocean. There they built a bridge over the ocean so

that they could cross over into Lanka. There was a terrible war

in which Rama killed the giant Kumbhakarna, Ravana’s brother.

Lakshmana killed Indrajit. Rama killed Ravana with a powerful

divine weapon, the brahmastra.

The fourteen years were by now over and Rama, Lakshmana

and Sita returned to Ayodhya. There Rama was crowned king

and he treated his subjects as his own sons. He punished the

wicked and followed the path of dharma. During Rama’s rule

there was no shortage of foodgrains anywhere and the people

were righteous. No one died an untimely death.

On Rama’s instructions, Shatrughna killed the asura Lavana and

built the city of Mathura in the place where Lavana’s kingdom

had been. Bharata was sent by Rama to kill a wicked gandharva,

a singer of heaven named Shailusha, who lived on the banks of

the river Indus with his sons. Bharata killed them and built two

cities there, Takshashila and Pushkaravati. In Takshashila

Bharata established his son Ataksha as king and in Pushkaravati

he made his son pushkara the king. Rama and Sita had two sons

named Kusha and Lava. Rama ruled for eleven thousand years

before he died.

This is the story of the Ramayana as recounted in the Agni

Purana. It was written by the sage Valmiki after he had heard the

story from the sage Narada.

Rama was the seventh avatara of Vishnu, Krishna was the



The Agni Purana

(Part Two: Harivamsha and Mahabharata)

The Harivamsha

As you have already been told, Brahma emerged from Vishnu’s

navel. Brahma’s son was Atri, Atri’s son Soma, Soma’s son

Pururava, Pururava’s son Ayu, Ayu’s son Nahusha and

Nahushja’s son Yayati. Yayati had two wives, Devayani and

Sharmishtha. Devayani had two sons, Yadu and Turvusu. And

Sharmishtha had three sons, Druhya, Anu and Puru. The

descendants of Yadu were known as the Yadavas.

Vasudeva was a Yadava. His wife was Devaki. Vishnu was

born as sthe son of Vasudeva and Devaki in order to remove the

wicked from the world. The seventh son of Vasudeva and

Devaki was Baladeva. And the eight son was

Krishna himself. Krishna was born in the month of Bhadra in the

thick of the night. Scared that the wicked Kakmsa might kill the

newly born child, Vasudeva left him with Yashoda, the wife of


Nanda was the king of the cowherds and he brought up

Baladeva and Krishna. Kamsa sent a rakshasa woman named

Putana to kill Krishna but Krishna killed her instead. In

Vrindavana, Krishna subdued the terrible snake known as

Kaliya. He killed several other rakshasas named Arishta,

Vrishabha, Keshi, Dhenuka and Gardhabha and made the

country safe from the attacksof these demons. He also stopped

the worship of Indra. This led to a fight between Indra and

Krishna, Indra tried to destroy the inhabitants of Gokula by

sending down torrents of rain. But Krishna held aloft the

mountain Govardhana and saved the inhabitants of Gokula.

Kamsa’s capital was in Mathura, Baladeva and Krishna went

there. Kamsa let loose a mad elephant named Kuvalayapida on

Krishna. But Krishna killed Kuvalayapida. Baladeva and

Krishna also killed two strong wrestlers, Chanura and Mushtika,

whom Kamsa had instructed to kill Baladeva and Krishna.

Finally, Krishna killed Kamsa and made Ugrasena the king.

Kamsa was Jarasandha’s son-in-law and Jarasandha became

furious when he learnt of Kamsa’s death. He attacked the

Yadavas and laid siege to the city of Mathura. After a prolonged

war, Krishna managed to defeat Jarasandha. Krishna also

defeated another evil king named Poundraka. On Krishna’s

instructions, the Yadavas built the beautiful city of Dvaraka or

Dvaravati. The Yadavas began to live in Dvaraka.

There was an asura named Naraka who was killed by Krishna.

Naraka had imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the devas,

gandharvas and yakshas (guards of Heaven’s treasury). These

women were freed by Krishna and Krishna married all of them.

Amongst Krishna’s other exploits were defeating the daitya

Panchajana, killing Kalayavna, seizing the parijata tree from

Indra and bringing back to life the sage Sandipani’s dead son.

Krishna had several sons. Shamba was born of Krishna’s wife

Jambavati and Pradyumna was born of Krishna’s wife Rukmini.

As soon as Pradyumna was born, he was abducted by the asura

Shambara. Shambara threw the baby into the sea, but a fish

swallowed the baby. A fisherman caught the fish and brought it

to Shambara’s house. When the fish’s stomach was cut open,

the baby came out. There was a woman named Mayavati who

lived in Shambara’s house and Shambara handed over baby

Pradyumna to Mayavati so that he might be brought up well.

When he grew up, Pradyumna killed Shambara and married

Mayavati. They returned to dvaraka and Krishna was very

happy to see his lost son.

Pradyumma and Mayavati had a son named Aniruddha.

Aniruddha secretly married Usha, the daughter of King Vana,

Vana himself being the son of Vali. Vana’s capital was in a city

named Shonitapura. Vana had pleased Shiva through hard and

difficult tapasya, so that sometimes he was called the son of

Shiva. Vana loved to fight and he had wanted a boon from Shiva

that he might get the chance to fight with someone who was his

equal in battle. A flag with a peacock on it used to fly from the

ramparts of Vana’s palace. Shiva told him the day this flag fell

down. Vana’s desire for with an equal would be satisfied.

With the help of a friend of Usha’s, Anuruddha and Usha used

to meet secretly in Vana’s palace. Vana’s guards informed him

about this and there was a fierce battle between Vana and

Aniruddha At the same time, the flag with the peacock on it fell

down. Krishna got to know from Narada about the fight

between Vana and Aniruddha and he, Baladeva and Pradyumna

arrived in Vana’s capital. Shiva came to fight on Vana’s side,

accompanied by Nandi and Skanda or Kartikeya. But after a

duel that lasted for a long time, Krishna triumphed over these

enemies. Krishna’s arrows also cut off the thousand arms that

Vana had. But at Shiva’s request, Krishna spared Vana’s life

and gave two arms with which to make do.

All of these stories about Krishna are related in detail in the

Harivamsha. The Agni Purana merely gives a brief summary of

the Harivamsha. But stories about Krishna, the eight avatara of

Vishnu, also crop up in the Mahabharata. The Agni Purana,

therefore, next summarises the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata

The Pandavas were merely a pretext. Krishna used the

Pandavas to rid the world of evil men.

You have already learnt that one of Yayati’s sons was Puru. In

Puru’s line were born Bharata and Kuru. One of Kuru’s

descendants was the king Shantanu. Shantanu married Ganga

and Bhishma was born from this marriage.

But Shantanu also married Satyavati and had two more sons,

Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Bhishma never married.

Chitrangada died young. When Vichitravirya grew up, Bhishma

defeated the king of Kashi and brought two of the king’s

daughters, Ambika and Ambalika, as brides for Vichitravirya.

Vichitravirya as also quite young when he died of tuberculosis.

Since Vichitravirya had left no children, Vyasadeva was brought

to Hastinapura. Vyasadeva and Ambalika had a son named

Dhritarashtra and Vyasadeva and Ambalika had a son named

Pandu. Dhritarashtra married Gandhari and they had a hundred

sons, of whom the most important was Duryodhana. Pandu had

two wives, Kunti and Madri. Kunti’s sons were Yudhishthira,

Bhima and Arjuna and Madri’s sons were Nakula and

Sahadeva. But Yudhishthira was really the son of the god

Dharma and not Pandu’s son. Similarly, Bhima was the son of

the god Pavana, Arjuna the son of Indra and Nakula and

Sahadeva the sons of the two Ashvinis. Earlier, Kunti had a son

named Karna from the sun-god.

This was before she had god married to Pandu. Karna became a

friend of Duryodhana’s. Because of a curse imposed on him by a

sage, Pandu died in the forest.

Duryodhana tried his best to kill the Pandavas. He set fire to a

house of lac (jatugriha) in which Kunti and the five Pandavas

were staying. But the Pandavas were saved and fled to a city

named Ekachakra. There they lived, disguised as brahmanas. In

Ekachakra, they destroyed a rakshasa named Vaka. They then

won the hand of the daughter of the king of Panchala. Her name

was Droupadi and all five Pandava brothers married her. When

Duryodhana learnt that the Pandavas were alive, he handed over

half the kingdom to them.

Meanwhile, the forest Khandava had to be burnt and Krishna

and Arjuna did this together. Krishna had befriended Arjuna.

When Arjuna successfully defeated the god Agni at the burning

of the Khandava forest, Agni gave him several divine weapons.

Arjuna had also obtained divine weapons from his guru


On the Pandava side, Yudhishthira had become king. The

Pandavas organised a rajasuya yajna (royal sacrifice) in which

they conquered several kingdoms and accumulated lot of wealth.

This made Duryodhana envious.

He arranged a game of dice (aksha) between Yudhishthira and

Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni. Shakuni did not play fairly and

Yudhishthira lost the game. As penalty for the loss, the Pandavas

were to spend twelve years in the forest and one additional year

without being detected. Droupadi went with them to the forest,

as did the Pandava’s priest, Dhoumya.

After the twelve years were over, the Pandavas came to the

kingdom of King Virata where they proposed to spend the

additional year that had to be spent in disguises. Yudhishthira

pretended to be a brahmana, Bhima a cook, Arjuna a dancer,

Nakula and Sahadeva stable-hands. Droupadi became the

queen’s maid. The queen’s brother Kichaka tried to molest

Droupadi, but was killed by Bhima. When the year was over, the

Kauravas attacked King Virata to rob him of his cattle. But

Arjuna defeated all the Kauravas and saved Virata’s cattle After

this success, the identity of the Pandavas could no longer be kept

a secret. But thankfully, the one year during which identities had

to be kept a secret, was over.

King Virata’s daughter Uttara was married to Abhimanyu,

Arjuna’s son. Abhimanyu’s mother was Subhadra, whom Arjuna

had married. Subhadra also happened to be Krishna’s sister.

The Pandavas now demanded their rightful share of the kingdom,

but Duryodhana refused. A war was imminent. A huge battalion

of soldiers was known as an akshouhini. Duryodhana collected

eleven akshouhinis for the war and Yudhishthira collected seven.

Krishna was sent as a messenger to Duryodhana to try and

preserve the peace. Krishna told Duryodhana that the Pandavas

would be satisfied with a mere five villages. Duryodhana refused

to give them even this without a fight.

So the armies gathered for a war on the plains of Kurukshetra.

Noticing that elders and relatives like Bhishma and Dronacharya

were fighting on the side of the Kaurvas, Arjuna was reluctant to

fight. But Krishna gave Arjuna lessons which have come down

to us as the Gita. He taught there was no reason for sorrow if

Bhishma or Dronacharya died, that was only a death of their

physical bodies. The true identity of a person was his atman

(soul) which never died, but passed from one body to another.

True bliss was obtained when the atman united with the brahman

(divine essence) or paramatman (supreme soul). This was always

the goal of a yogi, that is, a person who sought union with god.

Thus instructed by Krishna, Arjuna started to fight. With the help

of Shikhandi, he defeated Bhishma. This happened on the tenth

day of the fighting. Bhishma did not however die. He had earlier

received the boon that he would only die when he actually

wished to do so. For many days, he lay there in the battlefield on

a bed of arrows. After Bhishma’s defeat, Dronacharya became

the general on the Pandava side. Dronaharya killed Virata,

Drupada and several other kings and soldiers on the Pandava

side. Dhrishtadyumna also killed many Kaurava soldiers. On the

fifteenth day of the fighting, a rumour gained currency that

Ashvatthama, Dronacharya’s son, had been killed. Dronacharya

abandoned his weapons on hearing this bad news and

Dhrishtadyumna faced no problems in killing him. Karna now

became the Kaurava general and lasted for two and a half days

before he was killed by Arjuna. Shalya was the last Kaurava

general. He fought for only half a day and was killed by


Bhima and Duryodhana fought the last duel of the war with

maces. Bhima broke Duryodhana’s thighs and killed him.

Ashvatthama had been fuming ever since his father Dronacharya

had been killed by unfair means. In the dead of the night, he

entered the Pandava camp where he killed Dhrishtadyumna and

the five sons of Droupadi. Droupadi was disconsolate and

demanded revenge. Arjuna and Ashvatthama let loose divine

weapons at each other. Since this might destroy the world, they

were asked to withdraw these weapons. Arjuna could withdraw

his weapon, but Ashvatthama could not. Ashvatthama’s weapon

killed the baby that was in Uttara’s womb, but when the dead

baby was born, Krishna brought it back to life. This baby was


Many kings and soldiers died in the course of the Kurukshetra

war. The only ones left alive were Kritvarma, Kripacharya and

Ashvatthama on the Kaurava side and Pandava side. After the

war was over, Bhishma taught Yudhishthira the duties of king. It

was only after this that he died.

As a king, Yudhishthira performed many yajnas and gave a lot of

to brahmanas. When Yudhishthira learnt that the Yadvas had

been destroyed, he no longer wished to rule. He handed over the

kingdom to Parikshita and the Pandavas left on a pilgrimage, in

the course of which they died.

It was Krishna who had used the Pandavas as a tool to rid the

world of evil kings and establish the good ones. Realising that the

Yadavas were also evil, Krishna also ensured that the Yadavas

would be destroyed. He then gave up his life at the place of

pilgrimage that is known as Prabhasa. After Krishna died, the

city of Dvarka was swallowed up by the sea.

This was the story of the eighth avatara of Vishnu


The Agni Purana

(Part Three: Buddha, Kalki; The Creation)

Buddha And Kalki

The ninth avatara of Vishnu was Buddha and the tenth will be


Many years ago, there was a war between the devas and the

asuras in which the demons managed to defeat the gods. The

gods went running to Vishnu for protection and Vishnu told them

that Mayamoha would be born as Buddha, the son of

Shuddhodana. Such were the illusions that Buddha created, that

the asuras left the path indicated by the Vedas and became

Buddhists. These dastardly creatures performed ceremonies that

were a sure ticket to naraka. Towards the end of the Kali era, all

people will be dastardly. They will oppose the Vedas, become

robbers and will be concerned only with wealth. The disbelievers

will then become kings and these kings will also be cannibals.

Much later, Kalki will be born on earth as the son of

Vishnuyasha. He will take up arms to destroy these disbelievers.

Kalki’s priest will be the sage Yajnavalkya. The norms of he four

classes (varna) and the four stages of life (ashrama) will be

established yet again. People will honour the sacred texts and

become righteous. It will then be time for the dawn of a new

satya yuga, a fresh period of righteousness.

In every cycle (kalpa) and in every era (manvantara) Vishnu is

thus born in various forms. It is a sacred duty to listen to the

stories of the ten avataras. The listener attains his desires and

goes to heaven.


Agni next told Vashishtha the history of creation.

Vishnu is the Lord of creation, preservation and destruction.

Before creation, it was only the brahman that was everywhere.

There was no day, night or sky.

First Vishnu created the waters. And in the waters he sowed the

seeds of brahmanda. the great egg. From this seed there

developed a golden egg which began to float on the waters.

From the egg Brahma created himself. Since he created himself

(svayam sambhuta), Brahma is also known as Svayambhu.

Having created himself, Brahma stayed inside the egg for an

entire year. And at the end of the year, he split the egg into two.

One part of the egg formed the heaven, the other the earth. And

in between the two parts of the egg, Brahma created the sky.

Brahma next established the earth on the waters and made the

ten directions. He created time, lightning, thunder, clouds, rain

bows, words and anger. To ensure that yajnas could be

performed, texts of the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Sama

Veda emerged from his body. Holy people use the Vedas to

perform Ceremonies meant for the gods.

From the powers of his mind, Brahma created seven sons. Their

names were Marichi, Atri, Angira, Pulastya, Pulaha Kratu and


Prithu is recognised as the first king Prithu was descended from

Dhruva. And Prithu’s father Vena was also a king. But Vena

was an evil king; he was simply not interested in protecting his

subjects. The sages therefore killed Vena with a straw and after

Vena had died, they began to knead the dead body’s right hand

and it was thus that Prithu emerged. He wore armour and carried

bow and arrows when he was born. He ruled well, as per the

dictates of dharma. He looked upon all his subjects as his own

sons. From Prithu the earth came to be known as prithivi.


The Agni Purana

(Part Four: Temples, Holy Places and Astrology)

How To Pray, How To Build Temples And Deities

The Agni purana next has several chapters on how to pray and

on how to build temples and idols. The Techniques of praying to

Vishnu , Shiva, Surya and the other gods and goddesses are

described, including the special mantras (incantations)that must

be used so as to please specific gods and there are prescribed

forms for such bathing as well.

A Person who builds temples is blessed. Even if one merely

thinks of building temples, the sins of a hundred lives are

forgiven. A builder of a single temple goes to heaven (svarga). A

builder of five to shivaloka, a builder of eight vishnuloka and a

builder of sixteen temples is freed from the shackles of being

born again and again. What is the point of earning money if one

does not build temples? Money is also meant to be donated as

alms to brahmanas, but the punya or merit earned from building a

temple is greater than the punya earned from donating alms. The

merit earned by builder of temples is greatest for a golden

temple, lesser for a stone temple, still lesser for a wooden temple

and least from earthen Temple.

More punya is acquired from building an idol than from building

a temple. Idols of gods and goddesses should always be set up

so that they face the city; they should not face away from the

city. The easy is for Brahma’s. Vishnu idol can be setup

anywhere at all.

Different idols of Vishnu must have different forms. Consider, for

example, idols or images of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The

matsya (fish) avatara must naturally look like a fish and the

kurma (turtle) avatara must look like a turtle. But the varaha

(boar) avatara will four arms like a man and will hold a gada

(mace), a padma (lotus flower), a shankha (conch shell) and a

chakra (bladed discuss) in these four arms. The narasimha

avatara should have two arms holding a chakra and a gada and

should wear a garland. The vamana (dwarf) avatara should hold

an umbrella and a stick in his two hands. Parashurama will have

four hands with a bow. arrows, a sword and an axe in these

hands. Rama’s image can have either two arms or four. If there

are four arms, the four hands will hold a bow, arrows, a conch

shell and a chakra. Balarama’s image may also have either four

arms or two. If there are two arms, the four arms the hands will

hold a plough, a conch shell, a club and a chakra. Buddha’s

image should have a calm appearance. It should be seated on a

lotus. The ears should be elongated Kalka’s image is that of a

brahmana, seated on a horse and holding a bow and arrows, a

conch shell, a sword and a chakra.

Krishna’s image may be either two-armed or four-armed. Three

of the four arms will hold a gada, a chakra and a shankha. The

fourth palm will be opened out in the act of granting a boon. On

either side of Krishna’s image, there will be images of Brahma

and Shiva. Brahma has four faces and four arms and the image

should have a pronounced rides a swan . On either side of

Brahma’s image, there will be images of Sarasvati and Savitri.

Vishnu’s image has eight arms. Seven of the arms hold a sword,

a mace, arrow, a bow, a shield, a chakra and a conch shell. The

eighth palm is spread out as if Vishnu is granting a boon. Vishnu

should be shown riding on Garuda. Garuda will also have eight

arms. To the right of Vishnu’s image, there should be images of

Lakshmi and Sarasvati, Lakshmi holding a lotus and Sarasvati

holding a veena (a musical instrument). There has also got to be

and image of Vishnu exhibiting his universal form (vishvarupa).

The Vishavrupa image has four heads and twenty arms.

Chandi’s image has twenty arms. The ten arms on the right hold

a spear, a sword, a shakti (a small spear), a chakra, a pasha

(noose), a shield, a drum and any two other weapons. The ten

arms on the left hold snakes a rod, an axe, an amkusha (used for

driving elephants), a bow, a bell, a flag, a mace a mirror and a

cub. In front of Chandi’s image there will be the image of a

buffalo with its head cut off. The image of an asura will be shown

emerging from the body of the buffalo. The demon’s hair, eyes

and garland will be red in colour. It will be shown to be vomiting

blood and it will hold weapons in its hand, The demon’s neck

will be on the lion and her left leg will be on the demon’s back

Images of Chandi may sometimes also have ten sixteen or

eighteen arms.

Shiva’s image (linga) may be made out of earth, wood, iron,

jewels, gold, silver, copper, bronze or mercury.

Places Of Pilgrimage

A visit to a place of pilgrimage (tirtha) brings the same punya that

is obtained from performing a yajna. It is because people had not

gone on pilgrimages or donated gold and cows in their earlier

lives that they were born poor in their next lives.

The best place of pilgrimage is Pushkara, Brahma, other gods

and sages who wish to go to heaven live there. The best time to

go to Pushkara is in the month of Kartika. In Pushkara itself

there are two other places of pilgrimage known as Jambumarga

and Tandulikashrama.

It is difficult to go to Pushkara. But there are several other tirthas

as well. One such is Kurukshetra, where Vishnu and the other

gods keep on coming. The river Sarasvati flows near

Kurukshetra. If one bathes in the Sarasvati, one attains


Any region through which the river Ganga flows also becomes a

tirtha. Even if one sees the Ganga, the punya of per forming

yajnas is attained. A person who bears earth from the bed of the

Ganga on his head is freed of all sins.

Prayaga is another famous place of pilgrimage. Brahma, Vishnu,

Indra and the other gods, gandharvas, apsaras and the sages are

always there in Prayaga. This is because the two holy rivers,

Ganga and Yamuna, come together in Prayaga. There are many

tirthas inside Prayaga itself. The sages have said that, in the

month of Magha, if one bathes for three days in Prayaga, that is

better than donating crores and crores of cows. If one donates

alms in Prayaga, one goes to svarga and is born as a king in

one’s next life. If one dies in Prayaga, one goes straight to


Shiva himself had told Parvati that Varanasi was a very holy

tirtha and that Shiva never left the city. Varanasi is so named

because it is located at the junction of two rivers, Varana and

Asi. Varanasi is also known as Kashi.

The river Narmada is also sacred.

There may be several holy tirthas, but Gaya is the holiest of them

all. A demon named Gayasura once started to perform and such

were the powers of his tapasya that the gods began to suffer.

They went to Vishnu and asked him to save them Vishnu agreed

and appeared before Gayasura. "Accept a boon," said Vishnu.

"Grant me the boon that I may become the most sacred of all

tirthas," replied the daitya.

The boon was granted and Gayasura disappeared. The gods

returned to svarga, but felt that the earth seemed to be deserted

now that Gayasura had disappeared. Vishnu then instructed

Brahma and the other gods to perform a sacrifice. He also asked

them to go to Gayasura and ask for his body so that the sacrifice

might be performed on it. Gayasura readily agreed, and as soon

as he agreed, his head fell off from the body, Brahma then

proceeded to perform the sacrifice on Gayasura’s headless

body. But as soon as the sacrifice started, the body began to

shake. This meant that the sacrifice could not be properly

performed and a solution had to be found. The solution was that

the gods should all enter a stone which would be placed on

Gayasura’s body so that the body would not shake. The

sacrifice could then be performed. Vishnu himself also entered

the stone. It is because the gods and Vishnu are always there in

Gaya that Gaya is sacred.

In fact, there is a story behind this stones as well.

The sage Marichi was Brahma’s son and had married

Dharmavrata. One day, Marichi went to the forest to collect

wood and flowers and returned extremely tired. He called

Dharmavrata and said, "I am very tired. Today you must wash

my feet for me."

Dharmavrata began to wash Marichi’s feet when Brahma

suddenly arrived. Dharmavrata did not know what to do. Should

she finish washing her husband’s feet? Or should she first attend

to Brahma, since Brahma-was Marichi’s father? She decided to

attend to Brahma first. At this Marichi became very angry and

cursed Dharmavrata that she would turn into a stone.

Dharmavrata was greatly distressed at being cursed for what she

thought had not been a fault at all. So she performed tapasya for

many years. When Vishnu and the other gods were pleased at

Dharmavrata’s meditation, they appeared and offered to grant

her a boon.

Dharmavrata wished that the curse imposed on her by Marichi

might be waived. The gods explained that this was impossible,

since Marichi was a very powerful sage. What they would

however, do was to make Dharmavrata a very holy stone

desired even by the gods. The gods promised to be always

inside this stone. It was this stone that was placed on Gayasura’s


Once the sacrifice was over, Gayasura himself desired a boon

from the gods and the gods granted him that Gaya would

become the most sacred of all tirthas. It was in Gaya that the

Pandavas had prayed to Vishnu.


The world is divided into seven regions (dvipas). Their names

are Jambu, Plaksha, Shalmali, Kusha, Krouncha, Shaka, and

Pushkara. The seven dvipas are surrounded by seven oceans

and the names of these oceans are Lavana, Ikshu, Sura, Sarpih,

Dadhi, Dugdha and Jala.

Right in the centre of Jambudvipa is Mount Meru. Mountains

named Himavana, Hemakuta and Nishada are to the south of

Meru and mountains named Nila, shveta and Shringi are to the

north of Meru. Jambudvipa is known by that name as there are a

large number of jambu (jamun) trees in this area. On the top

Mount Meru is Brahma’s famous city.

Under the earth is the underworld. This too, consists of seven

regions and their names are Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala,

Mahatala, Rasatsala and Patala. The daityas and the danavas live

in the underworld. Vishnu is also there in the underworld, in his

form of the great snake Shesha. The snake Shesha holds up the

earth on its hood.

That part of the sky which is lit up by sun-rays is known as

Nabha. Above the earth is the sun, above the sun the moon,

above the moon the stars, above the stars Mercury, above

Mercury Venus, above Venus Jupiter and above Jupiter the

constellation of the Great Bear (saptarshimandala). Beyond this

constellation is the world of Dhruva.


The Agni Purana next gives a lot of information on astrology. It

states when marriages should take place and when they should

not. For example, marriages are never to be held in the months

of Chaitra and Pousha or under the signs of Libra or Gemini. If

one is going on a trip, then Friday is the best day to start on.

Medicine should not be taken if one of the nakshatras (stars)

Pushya, Hasta, Jyeshtha, Shravana or Ashvini is not in the sky. If

one wishes to have a bath after recovering from an illness, then

Saturday is the best day for such a bath.

The first time a child’s head is shaved should never be on

Tuesday or a Saturday. Ears should be pierced on Wednesday

or Thursday. New clothes should not first be worn on

Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. A new house should not be

entered into the months of Chaitra, Jyeshtha, Bhadra, Ashvina,

Pousha or Magha. It is best to reap grain on a Wednesday.



The Agni Purana

(Part Five: Manvantaras, Varnashrama, and Vratas)


Each manvantara (era) is rule over by a Manu.

The first Manu was Svayambhuva. Shatakratu held the title of

Indra during this manvantara.

The second Manu was Svarochisha. Vipashchita held the title of

Indra during this manvantara.

Third Manu was Uttama and Sushanti was Indra then.

The fourth Manu was tapasa and Shikhi held the title of Indra


The fifth Manu was Raivata and Vitatha was Indra then.

The title of Indra was held by Manojava during the sixth

manvantara, the Manu being Chakhusha.

Next came Shraddhadeva, the seventh Manu Purandara being

the Indra.

The eighth Manu’s name is Savarni and the eighth Indra’s Vali.

The eighth manvantara has not yet come.

The ninth Manu will be Dakshasavarni and the ninth Indra wil be


During the tenth manvantara, the Manu will be Brahmasavarni

and the title of Indra will be held by Shanti.

During the rule of the eleventh Manu Dharmasavarni, the Indra

will be Gana.

The twelfth Manu will be Rudrasavarni and the twelfth Indra will

be Ritadhama.

Rouchya will be the thirteenth Manu and Divaspati will be the

thirteenth Indra.

The fourteenth Manu will be Bhoutya and the title of Indra will

then be held by Shuchi.

During each of Brahma’s days, there are fourteen such

manvantaras. After that comes Brahma’s night, when all these

living beings are destroyed.

Varnashrama Dharma

All the Manus practised the precepts of dharma (righteousness).

This meant non-violence, truthfulness, piety, going on pilgrimages

donating alms, serving devas and brahmanas, tolerance of all

religions and the following of the sacred texts. It also meant the

practice of the system of the four classes (varna) and the four

stages in life (ashrama).

The four varnas are brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and

shudras. Performing sacrifices, donating alms and studying the

Vedas are duties that brahmanas, kshatriyas and vaishyas must

perform. In addition, the kshatriyas must protect the good and

punish the evil. The vaishyas must take care of trade, agriculture

and animal husbandry. The duties of shudras are to serve the

brahmanas and artisanship. When brahmanas take up the

upavita, the sacred thread that is the mark of the first three

classes, it is like a second birth for them. So brahmanas are

known as dvijas(born twice).

An anuloma marriage is a marriage where the husband is from a

higher class than the wife. The offspring of such a marriage

belong to the mothers class. A pratiloma marriage is a marriage

where the wife is from a higher class than the husband.

Chandalas were born this way from brahmana women, Sutas

from kshatriya women, Devalas from vaishya women,

Pukkashas from kshatriya women and Magadhas from vaishya

women. Chandalas are executioneers, Sutas charioteers,

Devalas guards, Pukkashas hunters and Magadhas bards.

Chandalas should live outside the villages and should not touch

those belonging to any other class.

The best name for a brahmana is that which ends in Sharma.

Similarly, the best name for a kshatriya ends in Varma, for a

vaishya in Gupta and for a shudra in Dasa. The sacred thread

ceremony is to be held at the age of eight years for brahmanas,

eleven years for kshatriyas and twelve years for vaishyas. No

sacred a thread ceremony should be held beyond sixteen years

of age.

The first stage in life is that of brahmacharya (studenthood). A

student should never eat honey or meat and should never indulge

in singing or dancing. He should completely give up violence and

speaking to women. His duties are to discuss the shastras (holy

texts) and associate with learned men. Apart from that, he will

meditate in solitude on the true nature of the brahman.

The next stage of life is that of garhasthya (household stage). A

brahmana may have four wives, a kshatriya three, a vaishya two

and a shudra only one. The husband and the wife should be from

the same varna. Marriage across varna is to be avoided. A

woman can marry again provided that her husband has

disappeared, is dead. has become a hermit or is such a sinner

that he is expelled from his own varna. If her husband dies, a

widow is permitted to marry her late husband’s younger brother.

A householder should get up at dawn and pray to the gods. He

should always bathe in the morning. He should not talk

impolitely. He should not bite his nails. He should not laugh at

those who are inferior. And he should never reside in a place

where there is no king, no doctor or no river. He must not insult

his elders. He should never criticise the Vedas, the shastras, the

devas, the sages and the king. And he must never travel without

a light at night.

The third ashrama is vanaprastha (forest - dwelling stage). Such

a person should always sleep on the ground and wear skins as

clothes. He should wear his hair matted and give up the company

of other people. He has to serve gods and guests and live on fruit

and roots.

In the final stage of life (sannyasa) a person becomes a hermit. In

this ashrama, a person attains true knowledge and is completely

freed. But he should become a hermit only when he is convinced

that he has completely lost all interest in material pursuits. Such a

person is not affected by birth or death. He realises that the

physical body is transient, that it is of no concern at all. It is the

knowledge of the atman (soul) that is the best form of

knowledge. When one gains this knowledge, one realises the

identification of the atman with the brahman, one understands

that the brahman is everywhere.

Sins And Their Atonement

If one commits a sin, one has to atone for it. This is known as

prayashchitta. If one does not atone for the sins that one has

committed, it is the king’s duty to punish the sinner.

If one drinks from a well where the dead body of an animal has

been floating, one has to fast for three days. The worst possible

sins are the killing of brahmana, the drinking of wine and theft.

Other sins are criticising the Vedas, the bearing of false witness,

killing a friend, killing a cow, forsaking one’s parents or sons, the

selling of ponds, murder, lying, killing animals and the cutting

down of green trees for fodder.

A killer of a brahmana has to build a hut in the forest and live

there for twelve years. He has to beg for a living and give up all

that he possesses to another brahmana. A killer of cows has to

live on just coarse grain for a month. He has to live with cattle

and follow them around during the day. All his possessions have

to be given up to a brahmana and he has to bathe in cow’s urine

for two months.

If a brahmana steals gold, he should go and report his crime to

the king. The king will then hit him with a club and this will be the

brahmana’s prayashchitta.

The sin of killing kshatriya is one-fourth the sin of killing a

brahmana. If one kills a vaishya, the sin is one-eighth the sin of

killing a brahmana. And if one kills a shudra, the sin is

one-sixteenth of the sin of killing a brahmana. Killing a cat, a

mongoose, a frog, a dog, a lizard or a crow is as sinful as killing

a shudra.


Depending on the tithi (lunar day), the day of the week, the

nakshatras (stars), the month, the season and the position of the

sun, certain specific religious rites and ceremonies have to be

performed. These are known as vratas.

The first day of the lunar fortnight is known as pratipada. The

day of pratipada in the months of Kartika, Ashvina and Chaitra

are Brahma’s tithis. It is then that the worship of Brahma must be


On the second day of the lunar fortnight (dvitiya), one should eat

only flowers and pray to the two Ashvinis. this makes the

supplicant handsome and lucky. Shuklapaksha is that lunar

fortnight in which the moon waxes and Shuklapaksha dvitiya in

the month of Kartika is earmarked for the worship of Yama. If

one performs this vrata, one does not have to go to naraka (hell).

This is also the day for praying to Balarama and Krishna.

It was on the third day of the lunar fortnight (tritiya), in

shuklapaksha and in the month of Chaitra, that Shiva married

Parvati or Gouri. Rites performed on this day are thus known as

gourivrata. Shiva and Parvati have to be given offerings of fruit.

The eight names of Parvati have to be recited. These are Lalita,

Vijaya, Bhadra Bhavani, Kumuda, Shiva, Vasudevi and Gouri.

Chaturthi vrata is performed on the fourth day of the lunar

fortnight, is shuklapaksha and in the month of Magha. This is the

day for worshipping the common gods (gana devata). The

offerings on this occasion are to be wine and fragrant perfumes.

On the fifth day of the lunar fortnight, one performs panchami

vrata. This grants good health and takes care of bad omens.

Particularly auspicious for panchami vrata are the shuklapakshas

in the months of Shravana, Bhadra, Ashvina and Kartika.

On the sixth day of the lunar fortnight one performs shashthi

vrata. One has to live only on fruit and if one performs this vrata,

the fruits of any action that one performs live forever. Shashthi

vrata should be observed especially in the months of Kartika and


Surya is to be worshipped on the seventh (saptami) day of the

lunar fortnight. If saptami vrata is observed in shuklapaksha, all

sorrow disappears. Sins are stoned for and all one’s desires are

attained. Women who have no children can have sons if they

observe these rites.

The eight day of the lunar fortnight (ashtami) is very significant.

Krishna was born on this tithi in the month of Bhadra when the

nakshatra Rohini was in the sky. Ashtami is therefore auspicious

in the month of Bhadra. If one fasts on that day and prays to

Krishna, the sins of one’s earlier seven lives are atoned for. But

this vrata is to be observed in krishnapaksha and not in

shuklapaksha, since Krishna was born in Krishnapaksha.

Together with Krishna, Rohini and the moon, Devaki, Vasudeva,

Yashoda, Nanda and Balarama are also to be worshipped on

the occasion. Since Krishna took birth (janma) on this ashtami

tithi, this particular day is known as janmashtami.

The eighth day of the lunar fortnight can be important even if it is

not the month of Bhadra. For example, the eighth day of the

lunar fortnight might be a Wednesday (budha vara) in both

shuklapaksha and krishnapaksha. Irrespective of the month, such

an ashtami is important and is known as budhashtami. On that

day one has to live only on molasses and rice and perform the


There used to be a brahamana named Dhira whose wife was

named Rambha. Dhira’s son was Koushika, his daughter was

Vijaya and Dhira’s bull was named Dhanada. Koushika would

go with the other cowherds to graze the bull. Once when

Koushika was having a bath in the river Bhagirathi and the bull

was grazing, some thieves came and stole the bull. Koushika and

his sister Vijaya looked everywhere for it, but could not find it. In

searching for the bull, they came to a lake where some women

were bathing in the course of performing a vrata. Brother and

sister were tired and hungry and they craved for some food. The

women agreed to give them food, but only after Koushika and

Vijaya had also performed the budhashtami vrata. And as soon

as Koushika perfomed the ritual, the bull was miraculously

returned to him. Such were the powers of the vrata that

Koushika could get his sister Vijaya married off to Yama and

himself became the king of Ayodhya. After their parents Dhira

and Rambha had died, Vijaya discovered that her father and

mother were in naraka. When she asked Yama as to how her

parents might be delivered from naraka, Yama told her that

Koushika and Vijaya should perform budhashtami vrata again.

And immediately after they did so, the parents attained svarga.

The ninth day of the lunar fortnight is navami and navami in

shuklapaksha, especially in the month of Ashvina, is earmarked

for the worship of Gouri. An animal has to be sacrificed and

offered to the goddess on this occasion.

The brahmanas become all powerful if they observe dashami

vrata on the tenth day of the lunar fortnight and donate ten cows.

The eleventh day of the lunar fortnight (ekadashi) is for fasting. It

is also the tithi for praying to Vishnu. The observance of

ekadashi vrata grants sons and wealth and atones for one’s sins.

The twelfth day of the lunar fortnight is dvadashi. Any dvadashi

in shuklapaksha is auspicious for worshipping Vishnu. Duadashi

in the month of Bhadra is for praying to cows and calves and in

the month of Chaitra it is for praying to the god of love

(Madana). If one observes dvadashi for an entire year, one

never has to go to naraka. An especially good conjunction is

dvadashi in shuklapaksha in the month of Bhadra when the

nakshatra Shravana is in the sky. if one fasts and observes a

vrata then, one earns greater punya than from bathing in the

confluence of sacred rivers. If Budha (Mercury) is also in the

sky, the punya is multiplied severalfold.

Trayodashi vrata is on the thirteenth day of the lunar fortnight and

this ritual was first performed by the god of lover when he

wanted to please Shiva. This is the tithi on which Shiva is

worshipped. In the month of Ashvina, Indra is also revered on

this tithi. And in the month of Chaitra, the god of love is

worshipped in shuklapaksha on the same tithi.

The fourteenth day of the lunar fortnight (chaturdashi) is also

earmarked for Shiva, particularly in the month of Kartika. One

fasts and donates to brahmanas and thereby attains svarga. The

chaturdashi in krishnapaksha that comes between the months of

Magha and Falguna is known as Shivaratri. Then one has to fast

and stay awake the whole night. Earlier, there used to be an evil

hunter named Sundarasena. But because he performed a vrata

on Shivaratri, all his sins were forgiven.


The Agni Purana

(Part Six: Hellish Planets, Charity, and Gayatri)

Narakas (Hells)

If one worships Vishnu with flowers, one never goes to hell.

There are several such hells. Although people do not wish to die,

they are bound to die once their predestined time span on earth

has been exhausted. One then has to pay for whatever sins one

might have committed. The sinners suffer and those who have

performed good deeds are naturally rewarded. There are in fact

two gates that lead into Yama’s abode. The good are brought by

yamadutas (Yama’s servants) through the western gate and are

then taken to svarga. Yama’s servants bring the evil to him

through the southern gate and Yama then despatches them to the

various hells.

If one kills a cow, one has to spend one lakh years in a naraka

known as mahavicha. If one kills a brahmana or steals land, there

is a burning naraka named Amakumbha that one goes to. There

one suffers till the day when the world is destroyed. A killer of

women, children or old men stays in Rourava naraka for the

span of fourteen manavantaras. An arsonist is sent to

Maharourava and burnt there for an entire kalpa. A thief goes to

Tamisra, were he is continuously pierced with spears by Yama’s

servants for several kalpas. After that, a thief is taken to

Mahatamisra to be bitten by snakes and insects.

If you kill you father or mother, you will be sent to the hell

Asipatravana. There you will be continuously sliced into pieces

with swords. If you burn someone to death, you will go to

Karambhavaluka where you will be placed on burning sands.

A person who eats sweets alone goes to Kakola and is fed only

worms. A person who does not perform yajnas goes to Kuttala

and is fed blood. An oppressor is sent to Tailapaka and is

crushed like an oilseed there. A liar is sent to the naraka named

Mahapata. There are several other narakas for those who

encourage inter-class marriages, those who kill animals, those

who cut trees, those who eat too much meat, those who criticise

the Vedas, those who bear also witness and those who criticise

their teachers.

Giving Alms

Giving alms is extremely important as means for achieving punya.

Alms always have to be donated when one goes to visit a temple

or a place of pilgrimage. The giver must always face the east and

the receiver must always face the north when alms are being

given. Such donations have to be made after one has had a bath.

The best objects for donations are gold, horses, oilseeds,

snakes, maids, chariots, trees, houses, daughters and cows. If

one promises to give something but later goes back on one’s

promise, one is sure to be destroyed. It should be remembered

that the entire object of donation alms is lost if one expects

gratitude or friendship in return. It is better to give something to a

brother than to a daughter, it is better to give to a father than to a


The entire concept of donation alms is different in the four

different eras. In satya yuga, the giver went out in search of

recipient to whom he could give something. In treta yuga, the

recipient had to come to the giver’s house before he would be

given anything. In dvapara yuga, the giver never gave anything

without being asked for it by the recipient. And in kali yuga, the

giver gives only to those who are servile to him.

Gayatri Mantra

Gayatri mantra is a very powerful incantation.

The human body has many veins. Out of these, ten veins are

important and their names are Ida, Pingala, Sushumna, Gandhari,

Hastijihva, Pritha, Yasha, Alambusha, Huha and Shankhini.

These veins bear the breath of life. The breath of life is called

prana vayu. Apart from prana vayu, nine other major breaths

course through the human body. Their names are Apana,

Samana, Udana, Vyana, Naga, Kurma, Krikara, Devadatta and


Gayatri is a goddess worshipped even by Vishnu and Shiva. This

goddess is there everywhere, even in every individual’s heart in

the form of a swan. Gayatri mantra is an incantation to the

goddess. If one chants the mantra seven times, one’s sins are

forgiven. Chanting it then times means that one attains svarga. To

attain worlds (lokas) which are even more desirable than svarga,

one has to chant gayatri mantra twenty times. If one chants the

mantra a hundred and eight times. If one chants the mantra a

hundred and eight times, one does not have to be born again.

The severest of sins, like killing cows, brahmanas or parents, are

forgiven if one chants the mantra a thousand times. Gayatri

mantra has always to be preceded by the chanting of the sacred

word Om.

The King

The king’s duties are many. He has to punish his enemies, ensure

the prosperity of his subjects and arrange that his kingdom is

ruled well. He has to protect the sages who perform tapasya

inside the boundaries of his kingdom.

A king should appoint a wise brahmana as his priest. His

ministers should also be wise and his queen should be a woman

who follows the path of dharma. When a king dies, time must not

be wasted. The priest must immediately find an auspicious

occasion so that a new king can be appointed and crowned. A

kingdom can never be without a king.

Before the coronation, a prospective king has to purify himself

by rubbing his body with mud. Mud from a mountain peak is

used for the ears, form a Krishna temple for the face, from an

Indra temple for the back, form a palace for the chest, mud

raised by an elephant’s tusks for the right hand, mud raised by a

bull’s horns for the left hand, mud from a yajna for the things and

from a cowshed for the feet. After the king has thus rubbed

himself with different forms of mud and purified himself, he is

ready to be anointed. Four types of ministers will appoint him.

Brahmana ministers with golden vessels full of clarified butter will

stand of the eastern side. Kshatriya ministers with silver vessels

full of sweet and thickened milk will stand on the eastern side.

Vaishya ministers with copper vessels full of curds will stand on

the western side. And shudra ministers with earthen vessels full

of water will stand on the northern side. The priests will then use

material from all four directions to anoint the king. Water from all

the places of pilgrimage will be poured on the king’s head and

throat. There must be songs and musical instruments must be


The king will next pray to Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and the other

gods. He will look at a mirror, some clarified butter and the

various signs of good omen that have been placed all around.

The king will then be crowned and introduced to his ministers,

advisers and guards. The priest will be given cows, goats,

buffaloes and houses by the king. He will also bow before the

brahmanas. After all these ceremonies have been completed, he

truly becomes the king. He circles the fire, touches his guru’s feet

and with all his soldiers, goes out on a procession through the

streets so that his subjects can see him. At that time, the king

must be seated either on an elephant or a horse. After the

procession is over, the king may return to his palace.

The king has to appoint many officials. The general has got to be

a brahmana or a kshatriya. The charioteer must know about

horses and elephants, and treasurer must be familiar with

different jewels. There has to be a doctor, a keeper of elephants,

a keeper of horses, a captain for the palace and another captain

for looking after the women of the royal household. Each person

must be appointed to the job which suits his expertise and

temperament best.

Anyone thus appointed by a king has to stick to certain rules. He

must always obey the king’s orders and must never do anything

that is contrary to the king’s commands. In public he must

always say pleasant things to the king. If there are any unpleasant

utterances to be made, they have to be made in a private

audience with the king. Those who serve the king must not be

thieves, nor must they ever insult the king. They will not dress

like the king, nor will they become too intimate with the king.

They must not divulge royal secrets.

For a fort, the king should choose a place that cannot readily be

attacked by enemies. The king must ensure that the gods are

worshipped, the subjects are protected and the evil are

punished. He should never steal form the temples, instead he

should build temples and set up idols of the gods there. The

brahmanas must also be protected and the king has to make sure

that no brahmanas are killed in his kingdom. For a queen, he has

to choose a woman who subscribes to these beliefs.

The king will appoint an official to look after every ten villages

and another official to look after every hundred villages. Spies

must be appointed to find out all that is going no in the kingdom.

The king is entitled to one-sixth of all the punya that accrues in

his kingdom through his subjects. But he is also credited with

one-sixth of all the sins that are committed in his kingdom. The

taxes will be levied as per the dictates of the sacred texts. From

whatever is received as taxes, half will go into the royal treasury

and the remaining half will be distributed amongst the brahmanas.

If there is a liar, the king will impose a penalty on him to the

extent of one-eighth of the liar’s total wealth. If the owner of any

property is not known, the king will keep the property is not

known, the king will keep the property is safe custody for a

period of three years. Once the owner is identified within a

period of three years, he can claim the property. But beyond

three years, the becomes entitled to the property.

The property rights of any minor orphan are to be protected by

the king. If there is a theft in the kingdom, the king must

immediately replace what has been stolen with wealth taken from

his own royal treasury. If the thief is caught and the stolen goods

recovered, they are used to replenish the treasury. One-twentieth

of profits made form trade are to be paid to the king as taxes.

One-fifth or one-sixth of foodgrains are to be paid as taxes. One

day every month, craftsmen will work free of charge for the king.

They will only be gives food from the royal kitchen.

The king has to pay proper attention to the princes. They have to

be taught four types of shastras. The first is dharma shastra,

which teaches what is right and what is wrong. The second is

artha shastra, economics. The third is dhanurveda, the art of

fighting. And the last subject that has to be taught to princes is

shilpa, arts and crafts. The king has to assign bodyguards to take

care of the princes. He must ensure that the princes associate

with honourable and learned people and not with undesirable

characters. In instances where the princes do not grow up

properly despite the king’s best efforts, the king is free to keep

them imprisoned. But they should be comfortable in the prison

and should not be made to suffer there.

The king should give up hunting, drinking and the playing of dice.

He must not unnecessarily waste time in travelling around. He

must first win over his servants through his behaviour and then do

the same for his subjects. It is only after this has been achieved

that he attains a position to conquer his enemies through the use

of arms. Anyone who brings harm to the kingdom must

immediately be killed. If the king delays in doing that which has

to be done, the purpose of the action is completely lost. Nor

must the king inform others in advance about what is going to be

done. No one must get to know about the king’s intended

actions. Once the actions have been completed, the fruits of the

actions performed are information enough for everyone to see.

This does not mean that the king will not consult his ministers. Of

course he will, that is why they are ministers. Before sleeping or

eating, the king must check whether the bed or the food is safe.

There were seven techniques that kings were supposed to use in

ruling their kingdoms. These were known as sama, dana, danda,

bheda, maya, upeksha and indrajala. Of these, the first four are

the most famous. Sama means the art of gentle persuasion. Dana

means the usage of donations or money to achieve one’s

purpose. Danda is punishment. And bheda is the art of

aggravating dissension amongst parties opposed to each other.

Maya means to use illusions or deceit and upeksha is to

deliberately ignore people so as to achieve one’s purpose.

Indrajala literally means jugglery. In this context, it would mean

to perform a balancing act amongst opposing pulls and opposing


What sort of punishment the king should mete out is also laid

down. If anyone lies and says that his possessions have been

stolen, he is to be fined an amount equal in value to that of the

possessions which have supposedly been stolen. A brahmana

who bears false witness is to be banished from the kingdom. A

person who kills cows, elephants, horses or camels will have a

leg or a hand cut off. A thief who steals gold or silver or an

abductor of women will be executed. Execution is also

prescribed in cases of arson and poisoning. A wife who does not

obey her husband shall be torn to death by dogs. A woman who

does not obey her husband or brahmanas may also have her

nose, ears or arms chopped off. She will when be set astride a

cow and banished from the kingdom.


The Agni Purana

(Part Seven: Dreams, Omens, and Sri Rama)


Some dreams are bad omens. In fact, they are nightmares.

Examples are: dreams about grass or trees growing on one’s

body, dreams in which the dreamer is shaven-headed or is

wearing shabby clothes or dreams in which one is falling form

above. It is also bad to dream of marriages, singing, the killing of

snakes and the killing of chandalas or animals. If you dream that

you are drinking oil or eating bird meat, that is also a bad omen.

Other examples are: where the dreamer dreams that he is playing

with monkeys or chandalas, when he dreams that devas,

brahmanas, the king or the guru is angry or when he dreams that

his house had collapsed.


Remedies have to be found if one dreams such evil dreams.

Brahmanas have to be worshipped, a yajna has to be performed

and the dreamer has to pray to Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Ganesha

or Surya. Dreams dreamt in the first quarter of one’s sleep

normally come true over the next one year. Dreams from the

second quarter come true over the next six months and dreams

from the third quarter over the next three months. Dreams from

the last quarter come true over the next fortnight and dreams

dreamt right at dawn come true within the next ten days. If one

first dreams a good dream and then an evil one, it is the evil

dream the will come true. Therefore, if one dreams a good

dream, one should not sleep anymore. One should immediately


There are many dreams that are good dreams. For example,

dreams that involve mountains, palaces or snakes. Or the

dreamer might dream that he is riding on a horse or a bull. It is

also good to dream of white flowers in the sky or to see trees in

a dream. Especially good dreams are those of the dreamer’s

possessing many arms or many heads or of grass and bushes

sprouting form his navel. What if you dream of wearing white

garlands or clothes? That too is good. If you dream of eclipses

of the sun, the moon or the stars, by all means rejoice. And if in a

dream you see that you have caught hold of the enemy’s flag,

that surely means that you will triumph over the enemy. And if

you actually dream of defeating the enemy, the interpretation is

clear enough.

Strangely enough, a dream where the dreamer sees that he is

eating rice pudding is a good dream. As is the case with dreams

of drinking wine or blood. Or even of eating wet meat. A clear

sky in a dream is good. Dreaming of milking a cow or a buffalo

with one’s own mouth is also good. The dream continues to be a

good one if one dreams of milking a lioness or a she-elephant

thus. Other dreams which have good interpretations are, for

example, dreams of the dreamer’s receiving blessings form devas

or brahmanas or of being anointed with water.

The dreamer who dreams of his coronation is blessed. And he is

doubly blessed if he dreams that his head has been cut off or that

he has died or even that his house has been burnt down. The

relatives of such a dreamer increase in number and he also

prospers. It is good to dream of musical instruments being

played. Or of riding a bull or climbing a tree. Wet clothes, trees

laden with fruit and clear blue skies in dreams are especially


Omens and Signs

If one is about to go out of the house, one should take care of

any bad omens that there might be. Such bad omens are cotton,

dried grass, cowdung, coal, molasses, leather, hair, a lunatic, a

chandala, a widow, a dead body, ashes, bones and a broken

vessel. If one comes across these as one is about to leave, one

should not start without pacifying the elements through prayers to

Vishnu. The sound of musical instruments is not an auspicious

sound at the beginning of a journey. If the means of transport by

which one is travelling breaks down, that too, is a bad omen. If

weapons break, perhaps you should postpone the journey. The

same is the case if an umbrella held over one’s head happens to

fall. If one hits one’s head against the lintel of the door as one is

about too cross the threshold, prayers are again indicated. And

never call back someone who has just left. That is a bad omen

and bodes ill for the success of the journey.

There are good omens for a departure and if one sees these

good omens, the journey is bound to be successful. Good omens

are white flowers, full vessels, meat, distant noises, an old goat, a

cow, a horse, an elephant, fire, gold silver, a sword, an umbrella,

fruit, clarified butter, curds, a conch shell, sugarcane, the sound

of thunder, lightning and a dead body with no one crying over it.

Omens are important even if one is not going on a journey. A

peacock crying on the left means that something is going to be

stolen. If a donkey brays with a broken voice, that is good omen

and something good will happen. If a boar or a buffalo crosses

over from the left to the right, that is a good omen. But if they

cross over from the right to the left, that is a bad omen. One’s

desires will be attained if horses, tigers, lions, cats or donkeys

cross over from the right to the left. jackals, moles, lizards, pigs

and cuckoos are good omens or the left and monkeys are good

omens on the right. If a jackal calls once, twice, thrice or four

times, that is a good omen. It is a bad omen if a jackal calls five

or six times. It is a very good omen if a jackal calls seven times.

If crows caw on the left of an army, the soldiers will not be able

to win. If a crow can be seen near the door a house, this means

that there will soon be a guest. A crow looking at the sum with

one eye signifies great danger. A crow covered with mud means

the attainment of one’s desires. A dog barking inside the house

leads to the death of the householders. A person whose left

limbs are sniffed by a dog, will attain riches. If the right limbs are

sniffed, there will be danger. A dog blocking one’s path signifies

theft. A dog with a bone or a rope in its mouth means the loss of

property. But it is a good omen to see a dog with meat in its


Cows mooing irregularly mean threats to the master of the house.

If this happens at night, there will be a theft or a death in the

house. If the cows have horns that are wet or daubed with mud,

that is a good sign for the householders. A cow that plays with

cranes or doves is bound to die. A cow that licks its feet is also

destined to die. If an elephant strikes its right foot with its left,

that is a good sign. Prosperity comes if an elephant rubs its right

tusk with its foot.

There is great danger if an umbrella falls just as one is about to

leave on a trip. Journeys are to be avoided if the stars are not



Once a king decides to go out to battle, seven days are needed

for preliminaries. On the first day, Vishnu, Shiva and Ganesha

have to be worshipped. On the second day the dikpalas

(guardians of all the directions) are worshipped, the Rudras on

the third day, the planets and the stars on the fourth day and the

two Ashvinis and the rivers on the fifth day. On the sixth day, the

king has ceremonial bath in honour of the victory that is to come.

And on the seventh day, the king leaves to do battle.

Prior to the marching, the army must always assemble to the east

of the capital city. The start of the march must be accompanied

with the playing of musical instruments. Once the army has begun

to march, it must never look back. After having travelled for a

couple of miles, it must stop to rest any pray to the gods and the


The king must never directly fight. Because if the king is killed,

the battle is lost. The king must be right behind his army, not too

far away from it. An elephant will be guarded by four chariots, a

chariot by four horses and a horse by four infantrymen. The

infantry will also be at the front of army, followed by archers and

then by the horses. The chariots and the elephants come last of

all. The cowards in the army must not be in the front, they must

be at the back. The front is for the brave soldiers. To the extent

possible, one should fight with the sun behind one’s army.

If a soldier dies in the course of battle, he goes straight to

heaven. The blood of brave men wash away all sins. To be

struck with a weapon is better than to perform many sacrifices.

A person who flees form the field of battle performs a sin that is

worse than that of killing a brahmana.

The fight should be between equals. Those who are running

away should not be killed. Nor should spectators and those who

are unarmed be killed. An enemy captured in battle should not

be kept imprisoned. He should be released and treated like a


Rama's Teachings

Rama had once taught Lakshmana about the duties of a king.

The Agni Purana now relates these precepts of Rama’s.

The duties of king are fourfold. Firstly, he has to earn wealth.

Secondly, he has to increase it. Thirdly, he has to protect it. And

fourthly and finally, he has to donate it. The king must also be

polite and politeness comes through the conquering of the

senses. The king must be humble. The senses are like mad

elephants. If the senses are pampered, like mad elephants, they

trample politeness and humility underfoot.

The king must also be non-violent, truthful, clean and forgiving.

He should take care to observe all the rituals. He should give

food to those who are poor, he should protect those who seek

royal protection. He should always use words that are pleasant

to hear. The body is here today and gone tomorrow. Stupid is

the king who deviates form the path of righteousness to give

pleasure to a body that is transient. The curses of unhappy

people are enough to bring down a king.

There is only one difference between gods and animals. Gods

use pleasant word, while animals use rough words. The king

must use pleasant words like a god. And he must use pleasant

words not only for those who are his friends or are good, but

also for those who are his enemies or are evil. With obeisance

the king pleases his guru, with good behaviour the righteous, with

duties the gods, with live the servants and with alms those who

are inferior.

The kingdom has seven components. These are the king, the

ministers, the friends, the treasury, the army, the forts and the

state itself. Of these, the most important is the state and it has to

be preserved at all costs. The king must be extremely careful in

the choice of the ministers and the royal priest. The king must not

choose or consult ministers who are stupid.

The king’s signs are his golden rod or sceptre and an umbrella

that is held over his head. The umbrella should be made of the

feathers of swans, peacocks or cranes, but the feathers of

different types of birds should not be mixed in the same umbrella.

The throne should be made of wood and should be embellished

with gold. A bow can be made of iron, horn or wood. The best

bow is one that extends over four armlengths. The king can

spend upto one year’s tax revenue on armaments and flags.


The Agni Purana

(Part Eight: Fighting, Dynasties, and Literature)


The section on Dhanurveda is on arms and weapons.

There are five types of weapons that are used in war. The first

category is that of yantramukta weapons, released from a

machine (yantra). This machine may be a launcher or even a

bow. The second category is that of panimukta weapons,

weapons that are flung by the hand (pani). Examples are spears

and stones. The third category is known as muktasandharita.

These are weapons that can be flung and also withdrawn. The

fourth category consists of weapons like swords that are never

released from the hand during battle.

These are known as amukta weapons. And the last category of

weapons consists of brute force and strength. This is of use in

bouts of wrestling.

The best form of fighting is that with bows and arrows. Next

comes fighting with spears, followed by fighting with swords.

Wrestling is the worst form of fighting.

Before aiming, the bow (dhanusha) should be held with the arch

pointing down towards the earth. The arrow (vana) should be

placed against the bow with the head pointing down. The bow

should now be raised and the lower end of the bow should be in

line with the archer’s navel. The quiver should be at the back.

Before releasing the arrow, the bow should be held firm with the

left hand and the arrow with the fingers of the right hand. The

string of the bow should be pulled back such that the tassel of

the arrow is between the archer’s ear and right eye. The body

should not be bent when one is releasing an arrow. Nor should

on get excited. The archer has to be still as a pillar. The target

has to be in line with the left fist and the archer’s posture has to

be like that of a triangle. It is best to pull back the string of the

bow upto the right ear.

A noose (pasha) is ten arms in length, with both ends of the

weapon being circular. The main body of the weapon is made of

rope. There are eleven different ways in which a noose may be

held. A noose must always be flung with the right hand.

A sword (asi) must hang to the left of the waist. When a sword is

to be taken out, the scabbard should be grasped in the left hand

and the sword should be taken out with the right hand. There are

thirty-two different way in which a sword and a shield may be



What happens to a person’s debts when he dies? If he does not

have any sons, the person who inherits the property also inherits

the debts and had to pay them off. If there is a son, the son pays

the debts off. But a woman is not to be held responsible for

debts contracted by her husband or her son. Nor is a man

responsible for debts contracted by his wife or son. Exceptions

are instances where a husband and a wife contract a debt jointly.

If there are no witnesses to a contracted debt but the king feels

that the debt was indeed contracted, the king must arrange for

the debt to be repaid within a period of sixty-four days. In cases

of a dispute, the person who b rings a false suit will be punished

by the king. And a false witness will be given twice the

punishment that is meted out to the one who brings a false suit. A

brahmana who bears false witness will be banished from the

kingdom. A person who agrees to be a witness, but later

withdraws, will be punished eight times as much as the bringer of

the false suit. A brahmana who does this will be banished from

the kingdom.

It is better that the details of a debt contracted be written down,

with the names of the two parties and the witnesses clearly

indicated. If the debtor pays in instalments, the details of all such

payments must be recorded on the written document. Debts

made in the presence of witnesses should also be repaid in the

presence of witnesses. If a witness has to take an oath, the oath

should be administered after cotton, fire, water or poison has

been placed on the head of the witness.

Fire or water can be used to find out if a person is lying or not. If

fire is used, seven banyan leaves are placed on the accused’s

hand. A red hop lump of iron is then placed on the hand and the

accused had to go around a fire seven times. If it is found that the

hand has not been burnt, the person has been telling the truth.

And if the hand has been burnt, he had been lying. Similarly, an

accused person can be immersed in the water and if he does not

drown, he has been telling the truth. Alternatively, the accused

can be made to drink poison. If the poison does him no harm, he

is truthful.

If the father makes a will, the property will be divided amongst

the sons in accordance with the provisions of the will. But if all

the sons get an equal share of the property, the wife should also

be given an equal share, otherwise, the father can leave all his

property to the eldest son. The sons and the father obtain equal

shares to any property or debt that has been left by the

grandfather. But the sons are not necessarily entitled to any

property that has not been left by the grandfather, but been

earned by father. If a son is born after the property has been

divided, he too will be entitled to an equal share of any property

left by the grandfather. Daughters are not entitled to property.

But sons who have go married will use one-fourth of their

inherited property to get their sisters married.

Donating the Puranas

The Agni Purana now describes the benefits of giving alms along

with the purans. The puranas are to be donated together with

cows. And in talking of the mahapuranas, the Agni Purana also

mentions most of their length, in terms of the number of shlokas

(couplets) that each has. This is worth stating.

The Brahma Purana- twenty-five thousand

The Padma Purana-twelve thousand

The Vishnu Purana-thirteen thousand

The Vayu Purana-fourteen thousand

The Bhagavata Purana-eighteen thousand

The Narada Purana-twenty-five thousand

The Markandeya Purana-nine thousand

The Agni Purana-twelve thousand

The Brahmavaivarta Purana-eighteen thousand

The Linga Purana-eleven thousand

The Varaha Purana-fourteen thousand

The Skanda Purana-eighty-four thousand

The Vamana Purana-ten thousand

The Kurma purana-eight thousand

The Matsya Purana-thirteen thousand

The Garuda Purana-eight thousand

The Brahmanda Purana-twelve thousand

The only mahapurana which is missing from the above list is the

Bhavishya Purana. You now have a pretty good idea of how

long the Puranas are. The Skaknda Purana is the longest and the

Kurma and Garuda Puranas the shortest. But unfortunately, the

numbers in the Agni Purana are not terribly accurate. The Padma

Purana has fifty-five thousand couplets and not twelve as stated.

The Varaha Purana has twenty-four thousands couplets and not

fourteen thousand. The Agni Purana itself has slightly over fifteen

thousand couplets land not twelve thousand. But at least you

have some approximate idea about the lengths of the various


The Brahama Purana is to be given in the month of Vaishakha.

The Padma Purana is to be donated in the month of Jyaishtha.

The Vishnu Purana is to be donated in the month of Ashada and

the Vayu Purana in the month of Shravana. The Bhagavata

Purana is to be given in the month of Bhadra, the Narada Purana

in the month of Ashvina, the Markandeya Purana in the month of

Kartika, the Agni Purana in the month of Margashirsha and the

Bhavishya Purana in the month of Pousha. The Brahmavaivarta

Purana in the month of Pousha. The Brahmavaivarta Purana is

for the month of Magha, the Linga Purana for the month of

Falguna and the Varaha Purana for the month of Chaitra.

The Skanda Purana is to be given to brahmanas. The Vamana

Purana is to be given in the autumn. The Kurma Purana is to be

given together with a golden urn. The Matsya Purana is to be

donated together with a golden swan. The Brahmanda Purana is

to be given to brahmanas.

Great benefits are also to be derived from hearing the Puranas

recited. The reciter has to be given alms and the brahmanas must

be given cows, rice and land at the time of the recitation. If one

arranges for a recitation of the Puranas, one lives long, stays

healthy and attains heaven.


Brahma was born from Vishnu’s navel. Brahma’s son was

Marichi, Marichi’s son Kashyapa and Kakshyapa’s son

Vivasvana. From this line was descended Pururava and

Pururava’s descendants were the kings of the surya (solar)


Brahma also had a son named Atri and Atri had a son named

Soma. Soma performed a rajasuya yajna (royal sacrifice).

Having performed the sacrifice, Soma became the ruler of all the

worlds. This made him very arrogant and he abducted the sage

Brihaspati’s wife Tara. This led to a terrible war between the

devas and the asuras. Tara was eventually restored to Brihaspati,

but Soma and Tara had a son named Budha. From Budha were

descended the kings of the chandra (lunar) dynasty.

There were twelve major wars between the devas and the

asuras. The first of these was known as the Narasimha War.

This took place when Hiranyakashipu was the king of the asuras.

Vishnu adopted the form of Narsismha and killed

Hiranyakashipu. He then made Prahlada the king of the demons.

The second war was the Vamana war and it took place when

Vali was the king of the demons. Vishnu adopted the form of a

dwarf (vamana) to subjugate the demons. The third war was the

Varaha war and this took place when Hiranyaksha was the king

of the demons. Vishnu adopted the form of a wild boar (varaha)

and killed Hiranyaksha. The fourth war was the Amritamanthana

war and this took place over the manthana (churning) of the

ocean for amrita (nectar).

The fifth war between the devas and the asuras took place over

the abduction of Tara and this came to be known as the

Tarakamaya war. The sixth war was known as the Ajivaka War.

The seventh war took place when Tripura led the asuras and this

was known as the Tripuraghatana war. It was Shiva who killed

the demon Tripura in this war. The eighth war, the Andhaka war,

took place when Andhaka led the asuras. It was Vishnu who

engineered that Andhaka be killed when Andhaka expressed a

desire to abduct Shiva’s wife.

The ninth war was known as Vritrasamhara and took place

when Vritra led the demons. The tenth war was simply known as

Jita. In this war, Vishnu killed Shalva and the other demons, and

Parashurama killed the evil kshatriyas. The eleventh war was

known as Halahala. An asura named Halahala (poison) had

invaded Shiva’s body and flooded it with poison. But Vishnu

managed to destroy the demon. In the twelfth war, known as

Kolahala, Vishnu destroyed an asura named Kolahala (tumult).


Dhanvantari was the physician of the gods and he taught

Sushruta the art of ayurveda (medicine). The Agni Purana now

describes what the sage Ssushruta had learnt, that is, the

treatment for various diseases. This does not simply mean the

treatment of human illnesses. There is a section known as vriksha

ayurveda, which describes what trees are to be planted where. It

describes how a garden is to be constructed and maintained.

The chapters on medicine also describe the treatment of

elephants, horses and cattle. The mantras (incantations) which

are the remedy for snake poison are also related.

Literature And Grammar

Thereafter, the Agni Purana has many chapters on literature and


It describes the different types of chhanda (metres)that are used

in poetry.

Next it discusses the alphabet. There are sixty-four letters

(varna) in the alphabet, of which twenty-one are vowels (svara

varna). There are three tones (svara) in which the letters of the

alphabet may be uttered. Their names are udatta, anudatta and

svarita. There are eight places from which the letters may be

pronounced. These are the chest, the throat, the head, the back

of the tongue, the teeth, the nose, the lips and the palate.

Pronunciations should be clear and audible. They should not be

nasal and mumbled.

The Agni Purana then discusses the alamkaras (rhetoric) that are

used in poetry and plays. Poetry is entirely different from the

shastras (sacred texts) and itihasa (history). The sacred texts are

full of words and historical texts are full of narrations of incidents

that took place. But that does not constitute poetry. Real men

are difficult to find on this earth. Amongst these real men, it is

difficult to find men who are learned. Amongst the learned men,

it is not easy to find some who have a poetic sense. And

amongst those who have poetic sense, it is difficult to find a few

who can compose poetry. Poetry is impossible without a

knowledge of the rules of poetry and even more important,

without a sense of feeling.

Sanskrit is the language of the gods. The language of humans is

Prakrita. Poetry can be either in Sanskrit or in Prakrita. There

are three types of poetry. These are gadya (prose), padya

(poetry) or mishra (a mixture of the two). Genuine poetry is,

however, only padya

Gadya can be of three types-churnaka, utkalika and vrittagandhi.

Churnaka prose is easy on the ears, it has very few compouond

words. Utkalika prose is hard on the ears, it is full of compound

words. Vrittagandhi prose is some where between churnaka and


An epic must always be split up into sections (sarga). It has to be

written in Sanskrit, although some mixture of Sanskrit words with

Prakrita ones is permissible. The theme of an epic must always

be good and historical elements may be introduced if the author

so desires.

Literature is useless without the flavour of sentiments (rasa).

There are nine sentiments that are used. The first is hasya

(humour). The second is karuna rasa (pathos). The third is

roudra rasa (that which is wrathful and awe-inspiring). The fourth

is vira rasa (heroic themes). The fifth is bhayanaka rasa (horror).

The sixth is bibhatsa rasa (vulgar and obscene themes). The

seventh is adbhuta rasa (that which is strange). The eighth is

shanta rasa (placidity). And the ninth is shringara rasa (amorous


But the sentiments must be used with feeling. Without feeling, all

literature becomes mediocre. Particularly in a play, sentiments

can be supplemented with skills (kalal). These skills are normally

associated with women and there are sixty-four of them. The

more important ones are singing, playing musical instruments,

dancing, acting, drawing, making garlands, sewing, hairdressing

and using magic.

Grammatical rules of sandhi and samasa (rules for forming

compound words) are next described. The difference between

the two is that in sandhi, the two words that are being joined

retain their original senses in the compound word. The case of

samasa is different. Sandhi occurs when two varnas (letters) met.

Samasa is a condensation or conversion of two or more words

into one. Sandhi does not create any new word. Samasa leads to

the formation of a third word which refers to something related

to but distinct from either or any of the words combined. Pita

(yellow) and ambara (cloth) combined by way of sandhi are

pronounced pitambara and mean cloth that is yellow. The same

two words combined by way of samasa result in the third word

pitambara which means "the one dressed in yellow", that is,


There are several possible declensions of words, depending on

the vachana and the vibhakti. The vachana refers to the number.

Eka-vachana is when there is only one (phalam, a fruit)

dvi-vachana when there are two (phale, two fruits) and

vahu-vachana when there are more than two (phalani, more than

two fruits). There are three genders, pumlinga (masculine),

strilinga (feminine) and klivalinga (neuter). Deva, asura, Vishnu

are, for example, masculine in gender. Devi, Kalika or maya are

feminine. Pushpa (flower) or phala (fruit) are neuter.

There are six karakas (cases) and seven vibhaktis

(case-endings). The agent who performs the action indicated by

the kriya (verb), is the kartri or doer. To the kartri karaka or

Nominative Case, the prathama vibhakti or first case-ending is

attached. The object of the action is karma and to the karma

karaka or objective Case, the second (dvitiya) case-ending is

attached. The means or instruments by which the action is

performed takes on the karana karaka or Instrumental Cases

and the third (tritiya) case-ending. When a gift is given

irrevocably, the recipient takes on the sampradana karaka or

Dative Case and the case-ending in question is the fourth

(chaturthi). That which is the source of something takes on the

apadana karaka or Ablative Case and the fifth (panchami)

case-ending. When there is a relation of possessions, the

possessor takes on the shashthi vibhakti (sixth case-ending).

There is no counterpart of the possessive Case of English

grammar because the relation of possession is not directly related

to the verb (kriya) and therefore to the doer (karaka). In case of

the location in which the action takes place, the karaka is

adhikarana (Locative Case) and the case-ending the seventh



The Agni Purana

(Part Nine: Destruction, Yoga, and Brahman)


Periodically pralayas (destructions) take place. A destruction

comes at the end of four thousand yugas on earth. For a hundred

years there are no rains and there is widespread drought.

Thereafter, Vishnu uses the rays of the sun to drink and dry up

all the waters that there are on earth. Seven different suns appear

in the sky and they burn up the three worlds of heaven, the earth

and the underworld. The earth becomes as flat as the back of a

turtle. The breath of the great snake (Shesha) also serves to burn

up the three worlds.

After the three worlds have been burnt up, dark clouds full of

thunder and lightning appear in the sky. For a hundred years it

continue to rain. The rain puts out the fires that have been raging.

From Vishnu’s breath are created tremendous winds and these

drive away the clouds. But there is water everywhere. And

Vishnu sleeps on these waters. For an entire kalpa he sleeps.

The sages then pray to Vishnu for the three worlds to be created

yet again.

Yama And Hell

When human beings die, their physical bodies are given up. But

they acquire new bodies that are known as ativahika bodies. In

these bodies, they are brought to Yama’s abode by Yama’s

servants. Living beings other than human are not brought to

Yama. Yama then decides whether the dead person should go to

heaven or to hell. After he has served his time in heaven or in

hell, he is born again. Yama further decides what living being the

person should be born as, depending on the actions in his past

life. And so the cycle of birth death and rebirth goes on and on.

Since he keeps tally of all good deeds and all sins, Yama is also

known as the god Dharma. Those who have done good deeds

are rewaraded by Yama and those who have committed sins are

punished. Chitragupta is Yama’s accountant, he keeps the

account of all punya and papa.

There are twenty-eight circles of hells with many hells located in

each circle. A sinner may have to go to more than one hell

depending on the sins that he has committed. Some sinners are

boiled in oil, others are pierced with spears and still others are

whipped. Some sinners are fed heated iron balls, others are fed

blood and rubbish. There are also machines for torturing sinners.

Terrible birds eat up some sinners. Other sinners have their

heads cut off.

When it is time to be reborn, the killer of a brahamana is born as

a deer, dog, pig or camel. A drunkard is born as a donkey. A

stealer of gold is born as a worm or an insect. A killer of a

brahmana may also suffer from tuberculosis. a drunkard will have

teeth like a dog and a stealer of gold will malformed nails. A

stealer of food is born dumb. A person who has stolen the

property of brahmanas is born as a rakshasa and lives alone in

the forest. A stealer of fragrant scents is born as a mole. One

who steals foodgrains is born as a rat. One who steals animals is

born as a goat, one who steals milk as cow, one who steals fruit

as monkey and one who steals meat as a vulture. A stealer of

clothes is born as a crane and a stealer of salt as a cricket.


Yoga is the way to circumvent the miseries of life. True

knowledge is that which informs one about the true nature of

brahman or paramatman. The atman or jivatman is that which

characterises an individual. Yoga means union, it is the union of

the jivatman with the paramatman. Yoga concentrates one’s

mind on the paramatman.

The first prerequisites of yoga is non-violence. A non-violent

person is always righteous. The second requirement of yoga is

truthfulness. The third prerequisite is celibacy. The fourth is

controlling one’s senses and the last is the worship of god. One

who practices yoga should not go around collecting material

possessions. A piece of cloth, a covering against the cold, and a

pair of sandals are possessions enough for him.

Before meditating on the true nature of the paramatman, one has

to seat oneself in a proper asana (posture). The piece of cloth on

which one is to sit should be placed in a clean place. One sits on

such a seat and tries to purify one’s atman by controlling one’s

mind and senses through yoga. The head and the neck should be

held straight up, motionless. The point of vision should be

directed towards the tip of one’s nose. One should not look in

any direction. The arms should lightly rest on the folded thighs

and the right hand should be placed, palm upwards, on the left

palm. Padmasana (lotus position) is one such recommended


The breath of life (prana vayu) has to be controlled. This process

of control is known as pranayama. A finger is placed on the nose

when the breath is being exhaled. The entire breath should be

exhaled from the body. Since rechana means exhalation, this

process of control is known as rechaka. When the breath is

inhaled, the inhalation should be such that it fills the entire body.

Since puraka literally means ‘that which fills’, this process of

control is known as puraka. When the breath is neither being

exhaled nor inhaled, one sits completely still like a kumbha (pot)

and this is known as kumbhaka. Pranayama makes one healthy,

swift, enthusiastic, strong and collected. Since the senses are

controlled, one goes to heaven and avoids going to hell. Material

pursuits are like the strong current of a river. The atman drowns

in it.

Pranayama alone is not enough. It has to be supplemented with

dhyana of japa (meditation and contemplation). One

contemplates the true nature of the paramatman. The body is like

a chariot. The senses are its horses, the mind is the charioteer

and pranayama is the bridle. An individual who dies while

performing dhyana is immediately assimilated with Vishnu.


Dhyana involve four different things, all of which must be in

complete harmony. The first is the meditator, the second is the

act of meditating, the third is the object that one is meditating

upon and the fourth is the reason why one is performing the

mediation. One does not have to; sit in a rigid posture for dhyana

to be possible. It can be done while one is walking, sitting or

even sleeping. The important aspect is to establish the object of

one’s meditation in one’s heart.

There are different ways of establishing one’s concentration. As

an object of meditation, one can meditate on three concentric

circles which are black, red and white. In the centre of the circles

is a divine lotus. The lotus has eight petals. One thinks that

detachment is the stem of the lotus and praying to Vishnu its

stamen. Right in the centre of the lotus is a pure spark of fire and

that is the paramatman. Alternatively, one can visualise the

paramatman in a blaze of light, in the centre of the lotus. Dhyana

is far far superior to any yajna that one might perform.

One particular form of deep and intense meditation is known as

samadhi. The meditator is then completely still, as calm as the

ocean. He loses all track of the outside world. He does not hear,

smell, see or touch. His mind has no wishes and feels nothing. He

is completely united with god. Such a meditator automatically

gets to know all the knowledge that can be gleaned from the

Vedas or the shastras. He can obtain all the material possessions

that he wants, but he regards them all as no more important than

a blade of grass.

Such a meditator attains supreme knowledge. If you look at

various pots full of water, you will find that the same sky is

reflected in them all. Supreme knowledge tells one that, exactly

similarly, it is the same atman that is everywhere. It is the atman

which is the same as the paramatman, it is this atman that is in the

water, in energy, in water, in the earth and in metals. The atman

is everywhere.

The Knowledge Of The Brahman

Brahma jnana is the knowledge of brahman. This knowledge,

which gives the ultimate bliss, is nothing but the sense that the

individual atman is identical with the universal brahman or

paramtman. The physical body is not the atman. Nor are the

senses the atman. The mind or intelligence is not the atman. Life

itself is not the atman.

The atman is different from all the objects that have been

mentioned above. The atman is in an individual’s heart. It sees

everything and senses everything, but is different from the

physical body. It is this that sages contemplate when they

meditate. The sky was created from the brahman, from the sky

came wind, from wind fire, from fire water, from water the earth

and from the earth the five elements. One has to meditate on the

physical body gradually disappearing and merging into the


The brahman is neither true nor untrue. It has neither form nor is

it without form. The brahman has several parts, but at the same

time it is an integral whole. The brahman cannot be described. It

cannot be achieved through the power of action. The brahman is

always pure. It has no ties and it is the true form of happiness.

What is required is the sense that it is I, the individual, who am

the brahman. I am nothing but the atman and the atman is nothing

but the brahman. This sense is true knowledge. The brahman is

the Lord who is the origin of everything and the individual is part

of the brahman. It is this knowledge that frees one from the ties

of the world and this is what brahman jnana is all about.

The brahman is not the earth; it is beyond the earth. The

brahman is not the wind, nor is it the sky. The brahman has no

beginning; it is independent of all action. The brahman is huge; it

is everywhere. The brahman not only has no form, it is beyond

all form. The brahman cannot be heard. It cannot be touched.

The brahman has neither intelligence nor mind. It has no sense of

ego or vanity. It does not have life, birth, old age or death.

The brahman is neither happy nor unhappy. It does not feel

hungry or thirsty. It cannot be measured. At the same time, it is

both nothing and everything.

Life has five possible ends. By performing yajnas one can attain

heaven. By performing tapasya one can become an ascetic. By

performing actions one can attain brahmaloka. By detachment

from material pursuits (vairagya) one can merge oneself into

nature. And by true knowledge the individual gets absorbed into

the divine essence. This is known as kaivalya. Detachment

means to withdraw oneself from the effects of all actions. And

knowledge means the knowledge that the atman is no different

from the brahman. This is known as jnana yoga (the yoga of


There are few people who attain this knowledge. One of those

was Bharata. Bharata had done a lot he became very attached to

a deer and when he died, he died thinking of the deer. The result

was that in his next life, Bharata was born as a deer. But the deer

happened to be a jatismara, that is, it remembered its earlier life.

The deer eventually died and Bharata was again born as

jatismara human.

The king of Soubira was once travelling on a palanquin and he

wanted someone who would bear his palanquin free of charge.

The king’s servants caught hold of Bharata to bear the palanquin.

But Bharata moved slowly and could not keep up with the other

bearers. The palanquin did not progress and the king asked

Bharata. "Why are you so tired? You have not been bearing my

palanquin for long. Can’t you some toil? You look fairly strong

to me."

Bharata replied, "I am not strong. Nor am I bearing your

palanquin. I am not tired. nor am I lazy. I am my atman and feet

are and my body is balanced on my thighs. My shoulders are on

my body and your palanquin rests on my shoulders. But I am not

my feet, thighs, body or shoulders. I am the atman. The atman is

not carrying you. So why do you say that I am beating you?"

Bharata then instructed the king on the mysteries of true

knowledge. The atman was pure, ever-lasting, calm, without

traits and beyond natural characteristics. Since the atman had no

traits and since an individual was the atman and not the body, it

was meaningless to say that an individual was strong or weak.

The physical body was made of the elements and so was the

palanquin. What was the point therefore in saying that the

physical body was bearing the palanquin?

Heating these words of wisdom, the king fell at Bharata’s feet.

"Forgive me," he said, "and let go of the palanquin, Who are


"Who am I?", asked Bharata. "That is not a question that can

easily be answered."

The king answered, "I fail to understand. Surely the form in

which you are now existing is who you are."

"No," said Bharata. "I am the atman and the atman is the same

as the paramatman. The paramatman is everywhere and

therefore, the atman is also everywhere. I am everywhere. I am

in all physical bodies. It is meaningless to ask who you are and

who I am. We are all one and the same. Wood has come from

the trees and this palanquin is made of wood. But is the

palanquin wood or tree? When you ride on the palanquin, does

anyone say that you are riding on a tree? Men, women, cows,

horses, elephants, birds and trees, these are all meaningless

names. They are all illusions. Everything is one and the same. I

am everywhere. If there had been a place or an object where I

do not exist, I could have everywhere, I do not know how to

answer your question. Tell me king, are you your head or your

stomach? Or is all of it, you? But then, what will you call that

which is distinct from your physical body? Think about what I

have said."

Bharata’s words were so profound that the king immediately

accepted Bharata as a teacher. And Bharata told the king the

story of Ribhu and Nidagha.

The sage Ribhu was Brahma’s son. He was also extremely

learned. Nidagha was Ribu’s disciple. After Ribhu had taught

Nidagha what there was to be taught, Nidagha went to the city

to see how Nidagha was getting on. Nidagha worshiped his

teacher and gave him all sorts of things to eat. After Ribhu had

eaten, Nidagha asked him, "Are you satisfied?"

"What do you mean?", asked Ribhu. "The question of

satisfaction would have arisen had I been hungry or thirsty. I am

my atman and the atman is always satisfied. So what is the

brahman that is omnipresent and so are you. You are not distinct

from me, we are both part of the same whole. I came to teach

you this knowledge. Now that you have learnt that the brahman

is everywhere, let me leave."

After another thousand years had passed, Ribhu came to the city

again and discovered that Nidagha no longer lived in the city. He

had begun to live on the outskirts of the city.

"Why have you given up living in the city?", Ribhu asked


"Because I do not like to live in the city, where there is a king, "

replied Nidagha.

"Who is the king ?". asked Ribhu. "Point him out to me in this

procession that is passing. And point out to me the subjects."

Nidagha said, "The king is the one who is as tall as a mountain

peak. He is the one who is riding the elephant. The ones who are

walking are the subjects."

"What do you mean?", asked Ribhu. "The brahman is in the king

and the brahman is in the elephant. How do you distinguish one

from the other, how do you say that one is riding the other? Is

the king the physical body or the atman and is the elephant the

physical body or the atman? Who is riding on whom? I do not


This knowledge, that the atman is the same as the brahman, is

known as advaita (unified) brahma-jnana. Ribhu taught this to the

king of Soubira. This is the knowledge that all elements are one

and the same. It is only those who suffer from illusions who think

that different elements and different beings have different


The Gita

Krishna had taught Arjuna the lessons of the Gita on the plains of

Kurukshetra. The Agni Purana now relates the essence of the

Gita .

If physical body is alive, that is no reason for rejoicing. Just as, if

the physical body is dead, that is no reason for mourning. The

atman does not die. It does not decay, it cannot be destroyed

and it is immortal. The atman does not warrant any tears that

might be shed over it. people who are addicted to sensual

pleasures cannot realise this. The person who is addicted to the

atman alone has no desire for anything else. He had no action to

perform. He had neither gains nor losses. The knowledge of this

is like a raft that rescues one from the flood of illusions.

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