Markandeya Purana is Hinduism’s Sacred text and amongst the major 18 puranas of Hinduism. Markandeya refers to a sage in Hindu mythology, who is the central character in legends which linked to Shiva and Vishnu. It is one of the oldest in Purana genre of Hindu literature. The text is considered as a central text of the Hindu Goddess-related Shaktism tradition, with an extraordinary expression of reverence for the feminine. The Markandeya Purana’s Devi Mahatmya is often ranked in some Hindu traditions to be as important as the Bhagavad Gita. The extant manuscripts of this Purana have 137 chapters, of which chapters 81 through 93 is the Devi Mahatmya. Tradition and some medieval era texts assert that the Markandeya Purana has 9,000 verses, but surviving manuscripts have about 6,900 verses.
Markandeya Purana – BOOK VII
ONCE upon earth there lived a saintly king
Named Harišchandra; pure in heart and mind,
In virtue eminent, he ruled the world,
Guarding mankind from evil. While he reigned
No famine raged, nor pain; untimely death
Ne’er cut men off; nor were the citizens
Of his fair city lawless. All their wealth,
And power, and works of righteousness, ne’er filled
Their hearts with pride; in everlasting youth
And loveliness the women passed their days.
It so fell out, that while this mighty king
Was hunting in the forest, that he heard
The sound of female voices raised in cry
Of supplication. Then he turned and said,
Leaving the deer to fly unheeded: “Stop!
Who art thou, full of tyranny and hate,
That darest thus oppress the earth; while I,
The tamer of all evil, live and rule?”
Then, too, the fierce Ganeša,—he who blinds
The eyes, and foils the wills of men,—he heard
The cry, and thus within himself he thought:
“This surely is the great ascetic’s work,
The mighty Višvâmitra; he whose acts
Display the fruits of penance hard and sore.
Upon the sciences he shows his power,
While they, in patience, discipline of mind,
And silence perfected, cry out with fear,
‘What shall we do? The illustrious Kaušika
Is powerful; and we, compared with him,
Are feeble.’ Thus they cry. What shall I do?
My mind is filled with doubt. Yet stay; a thought
Has come across me: Lo! this king who cries
Unceasingly, ‘Fear not!’ meeting with him,
And entering his heart, I will fulfil
All my desire.” Then filled with Rudra’s son—
Inspired with rage by Vigna Raj—the king
Spake up and said: “What evil doer is here,
Binding the fire on his garment’s hem,
While I, his king, in power and arms renowned,
Resplendent in my glory, pass for nought?
Surely the never-ending sleep of death
Shall overtake him, and his limbs shall fail,
Smitten with darts from my far-reaching bow,
Whose fame this lower world may scarce contain.”
Hearing the prince’s words, the saint was filled
With wrath o’erpow’ring, and the sciences
Fell blasted in a moment at his glance.
But when the king beheld the pious sage
All-powerful, he quaked exceedingly,
And trembled like the sacred fig-tree’s leaves.
Then Višvâmitra cried: “Stop, miscreant!”
And Harišchandra, humbly falling down
Before the saint, in accents low and meek:
“O Lord! most holy! most adorable!
Oh, blame me not! This is no fault of mine!
My duty calls,” he said, “I must obey.”
“Is it not written in the Holy Law,
‘Alms must be given by a virtuous king;
His people must be fought for, and be kept
From every ill’?” Then Višvâmitra spoke
And said: “To whom, O king, should’st thou give alms?
For whom in battle should’st thou fight? and whom
Should’st thou protect? Oh, tell me, nor delay,
But quickly answer, if thou fearest sin.”
“Alms should be given to Brâhmans,” said the king:
“Those who are weak should be protected: foes
In battle should be met and overcome.”
Then Višvâmitra spoke and said: “O king!
If thus indeed thou rightly dost perceive
Thy royal duty, give thine alms to me;
I am a holy Brâhman, and I seek
A dwelling-place; moreover I would gain
A wife: therefore bestow on me thine alms.”
The king, his heart filled with exceeding joy,
Felt, as it were, his youth return, and said:
“Fear not! but tell me, son of Kaušika,
Thy heart’s desire; and be it hard to gain,
Or be it easy, it shall still be thine.
Say, shall I give thee gold, or wealth, or life?
Or shall I give thee wife, or child, or land?
Or my prosperity itself?” “O king!”
The sage replied, “thy present I accept;
But let thine alms, I pray, be granted first,—
The offering for the kingly sacrifice.”
“O Brâhman!” said the king, “the alms are thine;
Further than this, whatever be the gift
Thou mayest desire, freely I give it thee.
Ask what thou wilt.” Then Višvâmitra spake:
“Give me the earth, its mountains, seas, and towns,
With all its kingdoms, chariots, horses, men;
Its elephants, its treasure-houses too;
Its treasures vast, and all whate’er beside
Is recognized as thine: oh! give me all,
I pray, except thyself, thy wife, thy son,
And this thy righteousness, that follows close
Beside thee. Sinless one! oh thou who art
Perfect in righteousness! oh give me all—
All beside these. What need of further words.”
The king, with heart rejoicing, and unchanged
In countenance, hearing the sage’s words,
Said, humbly bowing down before the saint,
“So be thy wish fulfilled.” “O saintly king,”
Said Višvâmitra, “if the world is mine,
And power, and wealth, I pray you who shall reign,
Since in this kingdom as a devotee
I dwell?” Then Harišchandra said: “‘Ere this,
Before the world was thine by my free gift,
Thou wast the lord of all; how much more now?
Thy right is doubly sure.” Then said the sage:
“If this indeed be so,—if the whole world
Be truly mine, and all its sovereignty,
Then should’st thou not remain, nor leave thyself
Aught of that kingdom which thou hast renounced,
But, casting off thy royal ornaments,
Thou should’st depart, clothed in a dress of bark.”
The king, obedient to the sage’s word,
Stripped off his royal dress, and, with his wife
And son, made haste to go. Then said the saint:
“Stop, Harišchandra! Hast thou then forgot
The offering for the kingly sacrifice
That thou hast promised us?” Replied the king:
“O mighty saint! the kingdom now is thine;
All have I given to thee: and as for me,
What have I left?—nought! save myself,
My wife, my son!” “Thou sayest the truth, indeed,”
Answered the sage; “but yet there still remains
The offering for the kingly sacrifice.
And this know well: A vow to Brâhmans made,
If unfulfilled, works special woe to him
Who made the vow. For in this sacrifice
Must offerings of worth be freely made
To Brâhmans;—offerings until they cry
Hold! that suffices for us! Therefore pay
Thy promised vow, nor longer hesitate.
‘Alms are for Brâhmans,’ thou thyself hast said,
‘Those who are weak must be protected: foes
In battle must be met and overcome.'”
“O saintly priest!” answered the king, “my wealth
Is all departed: nothing now remains
For me to give: yet grant me time I pray,
And I will pay the offering!” “Noble king,”
Said Višvâmitra, “speak I pray thee! Say
What time dost thou appoint that I should wait?
Speak! no delay! or else my curse of fire
Shall burn thee up.” Then Harišchandra said:
“Most holy Brâhman! when a month has past
The money for the offering shall be thine.
Now I have nothing. Oh! be pleased to grant
Remission for the present.” Said the sage,
“Go! go! most noble prince! maintain thy faith!
And may’st thou prosper! may no enemies
Harass thy road.” Commanded thus, the king
Departed as an outcast;—he, the king
Of all the earth, an exile with his wife
Unused to go afoot, and with his son
Went forth: while cries and lamentations rose
On every side: “Our hearts are filled with pain,
Why dost thou leave us thus? O virtuous king!
Show mercy to thy subjects. Righteousness
Indeed shines forth in thee; if thou art full
Of mercy, may it overflow on us.
Stay! Mighty Prince! one moment, while we gaze
With lover’s eyes upon thy beauteous form.
Alas! our Prince! Shall we ne’er see thee more?
How changed thy princely state! Thou, who did’st once
Go forth, surrounded by attendant kings,
Who marched on foot; while stately elephants
Bore e’en thy ministers. Now, Lord of Kings!
Thyself art driven forth on foot. Yet, stay!
Think, Harišchandra! how wilt thou endure
The dust, the heat, the toil? Stay, mighty prince,
Nor cast thy duty off. Oh, show to us
Some mercy, for herein thy duty lies.
Behold, we cast off all for thee! Our wives,
Our wealth, our children, our possessions, all
Have we relinquished; like thy shadow,
We would follow thee. Oh leave us not!
For wheresoe’er thou art is happiness,
And heaven itself would be no heaven to us
Without our prince.” Then, overwhelmed with grief
At these laments, the king stayed on his course,
In pity for his loving citizens.
Then Višvâmitra, filled with rage, his eyes
Rolling with wrath, exclaimed: “Shame on thee! shame!
O full of falsehood, and of wickedness.
How! would’st thou, then, speaker of lies!
Resume the gifts that thou hast freely made,
And reinstate thee in thy kingdom?” “Sir!
I go!” replied the king to these rude words,
And trembling crept away in haste, his wife
Holding him by the hand. And, as she went,
Her fragile form o’ercome with weariness,
The Brâhman smote her fiercely with his stick.
Then Harišchandra, pained with inmost grief,
Seeing the stroke, said meekly, “Sir! I go!”
Nor further spoke. Filled with compassion then,
The Višvadevas said: “What sin is this?
What torments shall indeed suffice for him
By whom this pious king—the offerer
Of prayer, and sacrifice, has been cast forth.
Who now will sanctify the Soma-juice
With prayers and hymns, at the great sacrifice,
That we may drink it with rejoicing hearts?”
Then, having heard these words, the Brâhman turned
Upon the Višvedevâs; and, in wrath
Exceeding hot, he spake a fearful curse:
“You shall be cast down from the height of heaven,
And live as men.” The curse had hardly passed
His lips, when filled with pity for their fate,
The sage yet further added: “you shall live
Indeed as men, but yet, there shall be born
To you no son, nor shall you know the state
Of marriage. Envy, love, and wrath shall ne’er
Hold sway o’er you: and when the appointed time
Has past, you shall re-enter once again
The courts of heaven, and wear again the form
Which you had lost.” The Višvedevâs then
Came down from heaven, and, clothed in human form,
Were born as men, the sons of Pritha, wife
Of Pa.n.du. Therefore those five Pâ.n.davas—
Mighty in war—by Višvâmitra cursed,
Knew not the state of marriage. Thou hast heard
The tale of Pa.n.du’s sons; thy question, too,
Of fourfold import has been answered.
I pray thee, say, what further would’st thou hear?