Tales From the Puranas


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If there is one country in the entire world which is rich in myths, symbols and ancient tales it is surely India. No other country, not even Greece, has anything comparable to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata or, for that matter, the Vedas and the Upanishads. We have, besides, the Puranas, or ancient tales, handed down from father to son for centuries and which have stood the text of time. We do not know how they originated or who constructed them in the first place. The authorship of the Ramayana is known and so is the authorship of the Mahabharata even though it is claimed that some of the kathas and upakathas came to be added as the centuries rolled down. Even so, credit must be given to those who thought up new ideas and new formats. The ideas, surely, was not just to entertain but to illustrate a moral. Recounting the Puranas must have been one way to strengthen the basic structure society.

Whoever first conceived the Pauranic stories surely must have been very imaginative. It couldn't have been just one person – like, for example Aesop, the Greek writer of fables. One can imagine a group of students sitting in a forest ashram. Listening to their guru tell them a story. It is evening; the day's work is over. The sun has set. The children are seated round a fire for warmth. They have to be kept engaged. Could it be that the guru then decided to tell them tales to while away the darkening night, tales as the children later grown into manhood re-told their children, generation after generation?

One can only guess. Myths just do not drop from the skies. They must have a beginning and inevitably would be rooted in the ethos of the times. What kind of society was it that could conjure up a Dhruva or a Kamadeva, a Brahma, and a Gayatri? Or a Revati, a Bhanumati and Nahusha? The mind reels at the very thought.

A 'myth' says the dictionary, is a "traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some superhuman being or some alleged person or event, whether without or with a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation". A myth can also be just "an invented story". No matter how we define myth, there is something magical about it, something eternal and heart-warming. It is that, surely, which explains their everlasting value.

Subash Mazumdar has rendered a signal service to the great Indian community in collating stories from different Puranas and putting them together in one volume. And the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan deserves to be especially congratulated for making this storehouse of wisdom available to readers, especially its Indian readers. In this age of the TV set it is easy for the young mind to be drawn elsewhere than from the rich heritage of India. Gone are the days when grandmas told their grand-children stories from the epics to put them to sleep. One suspects that today's grandmas need to be as much educated in Indian folklore as their progeny.

This is where Subash Mazumdar comes in. may his Tales From the Puranas bring joy and wisdom to countless homes and may it help in binding Indian society into one enlightened whole tomorrow and for ever.

General Editor's Preface

The Puranas constitute an important source of the cultural history not only of India but the entire world. They occupy an intermediate position between the earliest age and the present age. They have been influencing life of the human being throughout centuries. The main source of information for the history of the earliest period i.e. even before the sixth century B.C. is the Tales from Puranas. Thus the Puranas and isolated references in other literary works have proved to be very important historical data of our ancient period.

In the domain of myth and legend, thousands of stories from Puranas have emerged. The stories of the creation of the world from a fish as the first incarnation of Vishnu, the tortoise incarnation, the Nagas as serpent spirits of the waters and the underworld and many more are among them. All these have been more or less distorted in the Sanskrit Puranas.

Our Puranas in its present recension can hardly be placed earlier than the Gupta period. It means the Puranas received its final form more than 2000 years after the earliest events related by them. Besides this distance in time, the traditional account contained in the Puranas is vitiated by exaggeration, mythological details pronounced religious bias and the divergences in the texts of the different Puranas.

The epics and Puranas of India have always upheld the practice of righteousness both in individual and social life. It has enabled us to maintain unimpaired the sense of unity and continuity of our cultural life from age to age. Compossed at different times, the Puranas not only contain valuable historical materials but also canons relating to several spheres of art and life.

In all, there are eighteen Puranas. The legendary author of all of them is believed to be Veda Vyasa. This book is a collection about 120 stories from these Puranas. These stories were serialized in the Bhavan's Journal and they have now been collected together.

Story telling is an art by itself. In order to keep interest alive and for the sake of continuity, a system is developed where a story with a built-in story which in turn contain yet another story with a built-in story and so on. Many of the tales from Puranas are popular throughout the country. These stories were so famous, people visiting India from far lands carried them and these stories have been adopted by these people with a local colouring.

The compiler Shri Subash Mazumdar delighted in reading aloud India's immortal epics and Puranas to his daughters. Out of this stimulating experience grew his interest in and appreciation for the various characters in these Puranas and their sense of values.

Subash Mazumdar lived outside India for 35 years working for the United Nations and the World Bank in USA, Africa and the Near East and the Far East. During these years he maintained close links with India, its people, literature and culture. After returning to India in 1984 and settling down in Pune, he wrote his first book Who is Who in the Mahabharata and it was published by the Bhavan in 1988. His second work Mahabharata is Believable was also published by the Bhavan in 1998. This is his third work. We are sure this book will also be received by the readers wholeheartedly.

Back of the Book

Shri Subash Mazumdar worked for the United Nations and the World Bank for some 34 years living in diverse capitals such as Washington, Rome, Addis Ababa, Accra, Beirut and Colombo and had travelled extensively through various developing countries.

His first book Who is Who in the Mahabharata was published by the Bhavan in 1988. This was followed by Mahabharata is believable in 1996 Presently he lives in Pune with his wife Anjani.

This book brings together, in a concise and easily readable from, various tales contained in different Puranas dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is ideal for the youth of today's fast changing world and for reading aloud to their children so as to preserve our unique cultural heritage.


Foreword vii
General Editor's Preface ix
Introduction xiii
1 Parvati's daughter (Padma) 1
2 An apsara is reborn as a bird (Markandeya) 4
3 Sati sacrifices her life (Shiva) 7
4 Mahishasura vanquished (Devi Bhagavata) 10
5 Krishna becomes vulnerale (Skanda) 13
6 Sita is cursed by a parrot (Padma) 16
7 Dhruva the pole star (Vishnu) 19
8 Kamadeva and Rati (Shiva) 22
9 Origin of Kamsa (Harivansha) 25
10 Tiger and the cow (Padma) 28
11 Sun is stopped from rising (Markandeya) 31
12 Jalandhara overpowers the devas (Shiva) 34
13 Jewel thief (Devi Bhagavata) 37
14 Brahma weds Gayatri (Padma) 40
15 Sangnya and shadow Sangnya (Markandeya) 43
16 Thousand-armed Banasura (Shiva) 46
17 Agastya rishi drinks up the ocean (Padma) 49
18 Revati constellation (Markandeya) 51
19 Power of Kamadeva (Padma) 54
20 Jadabharata imparts knowledge to the king (Vishnu) 56
21 Honouring the guest (Shiva) 59
22 Churning of the ocean (Skanda) 62
23 Three sons of Tarakasura (Shiva) 66
24 Two pet lambs (Devi Bhagavata) 69
25 Suprabha was not a vaishya (Markandeya) 72
26 Sukanya marries a blind rishi (Bhagavata) 75
27 Birth of Taraka (Padma) 78
28 Human eating rakshasa (Narada) 80
29 Human attachments are endless (Markandeya) 84
30 Shivadevi appears as Sati (Shiva) 87
31 Satyabhama's previous life (Padma) 90
32 Markandeya is freed from death (Markandeya) 93
33 Birth of Mahishasura (Devi Bhagavata) 96
34 Lotus flowers (Padma) 99
35 Saubhari rishi's desire for happiness (Vishnu) 101
36 Transformation of Sita (Skanda) 104
37 Art of Sanjeevanee (Matsya) 107
38 Gautami Ganga (Brahma) 110
39 Mother and daughter interchange their urns (Vishnu) 113
40 Andhaka (Shiva) 116
41 A palace intrigue (Devi Bhagavata) 119
42 Survival of Nahusha (Padma) 122
43 Bhanumati is held hostage (Harivansha) 126
44 Dutiful husband (Markandeya) 129
45 Bhairava, the guardia – angel of Varanasi (Linga) 132
46 Golden fruit (Padma) 134
47 Prince Nabhaga marries a vaishya (Markandeya) 137
48 Who is greater, Brahma or Vishnu? (Shiva) 140
49 Innocent Ahalya (Padma) 143
50 Valiant prince Avikshita (Markandeya) 146
51 Whose son was Budha? (Padma) 149
52 Pradyumna is kidnapped (Vishnu) 152
53 Laxmi takes form of a mare (Devi Bhagavata) 155
54 Vishnu is cursed to take birth on earth (Shiva) 158
55 King Parikshat dies of snake bite (Skanda) 161
56 Yayati regains his youthfulness (Padma) 164
57 Pennants on Vishnu temple (Narada) 167
58 Mighty wooden club (Markandeya) 169
59 Nandini grants a boon (Padma) 172
60 History of Kandukeshwara linga (Shiva) 175
61 Adventures of prince Rutudhwaja (Markandeya) 177
62 Sudyumna retains his manhood (Devi Bhagavata) 180
63 Misery of king Shveta (Padma) 183
64 Birth of Kartikeya (Shiva) 186
65 Vasishtha-Vishwamitra rivalry (Markandeya) 189
66 Why Narada remains a bachelor (Linga) 192
67 Vishnu is everywhere (Vishnu) 195
68 King Dharmamurti's previous birth (Padma) 198
69 Harishchandra, the truthful (Markandeya) 200
70 Nara-Narayana are invincible (Devi Bhagavata) 203
71 Queen Utpala's two lives (Markandeya) 206
72 Elephant and the crocodile (Bhagavata) 209
73 Impregnable city of Vajranabha (Harivansha) 211
74 Agastya stops Vindhya from growing (Padma) 216
75 Fish gives human birth (Matsya) 218
76 King Raji sides with devas (Vishnu) 221
77 What Shakuntala says is true (Bhagavata) 223
78 Parijata tree (Vishnu) 226
79 Narada learns a lesson 228
80 Devas take birth as Pandavas (Markandeya) 231
81 Gandharva is turned into a boar (Padma) 233
82 Indra humbled by Shiva (Shiva) 236
83 Trishanku falls from Swarga (Markandeya) 238
84 Owl and the vulture (Padma) 241
85 Devas versus danavas (Markandeya) 243
86 Three paces of land (Narada) 246
87 Pilgrimage centre of Vyaghreshwara (Shiva) 249
88 Degradation of Sudeva (Padma) 251
89 Kshatriya vs. Brahmana (Linga) 254
90 Shishupala attains salvation (Vishnu) 256
91 Barren forest (Padma) 259
92 Krishna's eight wives (Devi Bhagavata) 261
93 Four wise birds (Markandeya) 264
94 Dadhichi rishi gives away his bones (Skanda) 267
95 Inherited animosity (Padma) 270
96 Ganesha and his elephant head (Shiva) 273
97 Magic feet (Markandeya) 276
98 Brihaspati tricks the danavas (Padma) 279
99 Father gives birth (Vishnu) 282
100 Samudraputra Jalandhara (Shiva) 284
101 Story of princess Ekavali (Devi Bhagavata) 287
102 Draupadi's five husbands (Markandeya) 290
103 Kali becomes Gauri (Shiva) 292
104 Kalayavana is tricked (Harivansha) 295
105 Reality of the self (Markandeya) 298
106 Agni becomes omnivorous (Padma) 301
107 Shankara marries Sati (Shiva) 303
108 Sudarshana regains his throne (Devi Bhagavata) 306
109 Suitable husband for Revati (Vishnu) 309
110 Surrendering to Shankara is way to salvation (Skanda) 311
111 Reformation of king Gopichanda (Markandeya) 314
112 Nagatirtha (Padma) 317
113 Revival of a dead child (Padma) 319
114 Bhagirathi (Brahma) 322
115 Tarakasura overpowers devas (Padma) 325
116 Life and death of Gajasura (Shiva) 327
117 Prince Rutudhwaja Regains Madalasa (Markandeya) 330
118 Devayani is betrayed (Bhagavata) 332
119 Holy dip in river Narmada (Padma) 335
120 The power of prayer (Skanda) 338
121 Vishnu's avataras (Bhagavata) 341
Index 345