FROM THE INDIAN PURANAS.
It is the opinion of many at the present day that the almost grotesque myths, and fantastic geographical and astronomical descriptions contained in the religious writings of many ancient faiths, are not, as they have hitherto been too often considered, mere vagaries and extravagances of the youthful imagination of the early races; but are really deliberately contrived and constructed allegories, by which ancient sages sought to veil, and effectually succeeded in veiling, the sacred truths which could only be declared in the secret recesses of the temples.
If this be so, then valuable truths and revelations of ancient history of great and absorbing interest may be laid bare, if we succeed in removing the veil from these venerable allegories. To understand them completely, demands doubtless a knowledge not at the command of ordinary students; but nevertheless, in studying these myths and making ourselves familiar with them, we find a link which binds us by sympathy to a remote past, and to a phase of the human mind which must have its representative in us, ready to vibrate responsive to these old-world stories.
They bring us back to an epoch which knew not the iron which has since entered so deeply into our souls; when man perhaps saw deeper into the mystery of things; and the universe reflected itself more clearly in his yet undarkened soul.
These old myths, if they contain transcendental truths known to us, and which we can recognize, will open up to us an almost limitless vista in the souls of the ancient sages who inwove their theories therein, and will give us one more proof of the brotherhood of man, wherever born, and in whatever age.
With these reasons in view, we shall try to make our readers familiar by degrees with the great allegories of India, as they appear in the Brahmanas, the Puranas, and the great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
In a recent number, we told the tale of the Rajput supremacy, and of the mighty contest between the Brahman and the Kshattriya, and the rivalry of Vashishta and Visvamitra; and at present we shall try to give the history of the seven dwipas, the great divisions of the world in the Puranic cosmogony.
We shall first try merely to reflect faithfully into our pages the picture presented by the Puranas, and afterwards summarise any ideas as to the meaning of the Puranic stories which occur to us.
But there is little doubt that the full import of these stories will not be brought to the light, until they have lain in the minds of mystics for years; until the time when the facts of nature to which they refer reflect themselves again in the minds of men.
The seven dwipas, or divisions of the earth, are said in the Vishnu Purana to have been formed as follows:
Priyavrata distributed the seven dwipas, into which the earth had been divided (by Narayana in the form of Brahma) amongst his seven sons; who are the regents of the seven dwipas. Before this, Priyavrata, being dissatisfied that only half the earth was illumined at once, by the sun, followed the sun seven times round the earth in his own flaming car of equal velocity, like another celestial orb, resolved to turn night into day; the ruts made by his chariot-wheels were the seven oceans: in this way the seven dwipas, or continents were made.
These seven continents are called Jambu dwipa, Plaksha dwipa, Shalmali dwipa, Kusha dwipa, Krauncha dwipa, Shaka dwipa, and Pushkara dwipa.
These continents, which appear to have lain in concentric circles, with Jambu dwipa in the centre, were separated by annular oceans, said to have been formed of salt water, sugar-cane juice, clarified butter, curds, milk, and fresh water, respectively.
Jambu dwipa lay in the centre of all these continents. It fell to the lot of Agnidhara, son of Priyavrata, who again divided it among his nine sons.
In the centre of Jambu dwipa is the golden mountain Meru, 84,000 yojanas high, and crowned by the great city of Brahma.
Then follows a minute description of Jambu dwipa.
Before referring to it, however, let us try to make clear our conception of the Puranic idea so far.
Let thirteen concentric circles be drawn: the inner is Jambu dwipa; the annular space next to it is the salt ocean; the next annular space is Plaksha dwipa; and so on. Outside, we have the sea of fresh water which encircles the whole system.
The subdivision of Jambu dwipa, which is, as we have seen, a circular island, is as follows:
Mount Meru is in the centre.
South of Mount Meru are three mountain ranges; and north of it are three mountain ranges; dividing it into seven strips. These strips are the Varshas, or subdivisions, of Jambu dwipa.
The centre strip is divided further into three parts, a western, central, and eastern division; making in all nine Varshas. Meru is in the centre of this central division of the central strip. This central Varsha is called Havrita. It is divided from Harivarsha, to the south, by the Nishada range; and from Ramyaka to the north by the Nila range. To the west of Havrita, lies the Varsha of Ketumala; while to the east lies Bhadrasva.
Harivarsha is, we have seen, the Varsha directly to the south of Havrita. South of it lies Kimpurusha, separated from Harivarsha by the Hemaketu range. South of Kimpurusha and separated from it by the Himadri or Himalaya range, lies Bharata Varsha.
These three, Harivarsha, Kimpurusha, and Bharatavarsha, are all to the south of the three central Varshas.
To the north of the three central Varshas lie three other Varshas: Ramyaka, Hiranmaya, and Uttara Kuru. Ramyaka is, as we have seen, separated from the zone containing the three central Varshas by the Nila range.
North of Ramyaka, and separated from it by the Shveta range, lies Hiranmaya; while north of this Varsha, and separated from it by the Shringin range, lies Uttara Kuru.
This will make sufficiently clear the geography of Jambu dwipa; each division of which was under the rule of one of the nine sons of Agnidhara, the son of Priyavrata.
Bharata Varsha seems to be identical with what we know as India, bounded on the north, as it is by the Himadri, or Himalaya, and on the south reaching to the extremity of Jambu Dwipa, which is surrounded by the ocean of salt water.
A description of the other eight Varshas follows:
In these, Kimpurusha and the rest, it is said that the inhabitants enjoy a natural perfection attended with complete happiness gained without toil. There is there no change, nor age, nor death, nor fear; no distinction of virtue and vice, and no difference of best, medial, and worst; nor any change resulting from the four ages (yugas).
Again it is said: In those eight Varshas, there is neither sorrow nor weariness nor anxiety, nor hunger nor fear. The people live in perfect health free from every suffering, for ten or twelve thousand years.
Indra does not rain on these Varshas, for they have many springs. There is no division of the time into the Krita, Treta, and other Yugas.
In the Aitareya Brahmana it is said of the Uttara Kurus that they are consecrated to glorious dominion; and the following story is told:
Satyaharya declared to Atvarati a great inauguration similar to Indra's; and in consequence Atvarati, though not a king, by his knowledge went round the earth on every side to its ends, reducing it to subjection; Satyaharya then said to him "thou hast subdued the earth in all directions to its limits; exalt me now to greatness."
Atvarati replied, "When I conquer the Uttara Kurus, oh Brahman, thou shalt be king of the earth, and I will be only thy general."
Satyaharya replied, "That is the realm of the gods; no mortal man may make the conquest of it."
The Uttara Kurus are mentioned also in the Ramayana, as "the abodes of those who have performed works of merit," and again "you must not go to the north of the Kurus: other beings also may not proceed further."
In the Mahabharata, Arjuna is thus addressed: "Thou canst not, son of Pritha, subdue this city. He who shall enter this city must be more than man. Here are the Uttara Kurus, whom no one attempts to assail. And even if thou shouldst enter, thou couldst behold nothing. For no one can perceive anything here with human senses."
And again, in another place, it is said by Kushika, on seeing a magic palace: "I have attained, even in my embodied condition to the heavenly state; or to the holy northern Kurus, or to Amaravati, the everlasting city of Indra."
We shall try to point out further what seems to us to be the great value of these texts, when trying to unravel a little of the Puranic mystery.
To make quite certain our identification of the Bharata Varsha of Jambu Dwipa in this cosmogony with India, we shall quote the following text from the Vishna Purana:
The country to the north of the ocean, and to the south of the Himadri, the snowy mountains, is Bharata Varsha, where the descendants of Bharata dwell.
As all our readers know, it was between two divisions of the descendants of Bharata that the Mahabharata war was fought.
The following qualities of Bharata Varsha are noticed:
In Bharata Varsha, and no where else, do the four Yugas, Krita, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali exist. Here devotees perform austerities, and priests sacrifice. In this respect Bharata is the most excellent division of Jambu Dwipa: for this is the land of works, while the others are places of enjoyment.
In the Bhagavat Purana it is said: Of the Varshas, Bharata alone is the land of works; the other eight Varshas are places where the celestials enjoy the remaining rewards of their works.
This is almost all the information we can collect of the Puranic idea of the divisions of Jambu Dwipa. We shall afterwards examine some of these texts, with their bearings; first glancing at the accounts of the other dwipas.
(Concluded in May.)