What is Markandeya Purana ? and its BOOK VII

Mârkandeya Purâna

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?

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