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From the Jacket:

The Visnudharmottara Purana is an encyclopedic work of three khandas and dealing not only with various stories, myths and legends but also with varied subjects, viz. cosmology and cosmogony, division of time, pacification of unfavourable planets and stars, omens and portents, genealogies, manners and customs, penances, results of actions, rules about vrata and Sraddha, description and praise of various kinds of donations law and politics, science of war, anatomy, medicine etc.

This work is divided in three khandas according to their subjects. First khanda is related with the pauranika legends and rebirths. The second khanda deals in pauranika ritualism. This is avowedly a Vaisnava work claiming to deal with various duties on the Vaisnavas. It recommends the Pancaratra method of Visnu worship, adds great importance to the due observance of 'Panca-kala'; holds the scriptures of the Panacaratra in high esteem and extols one who honours or makes gifts to those who are versed in these scriptures.

The third Khanda deals with architecture, sculpture, painting, dancing and music, the basic topics of Fine Arts in a very comprehensive and systematic way that one can call it a complete treatise on the Fine Arts of ancient India.

About the Author:

Dr. Priyabala Shah is a well known scholar of Sanskrit and specialised in Ancient Indian Art and Sculpture. Her dedicated academic pursuit is responsible for this publication. Besides it she has published many important works on architecture, sculpture, iconography etc.




The text of the Vishnudharmottara published by the Venkates vara Press, Bombay in Samvat 1909 (i.e. A.D. 1913). This Vishnudha mottara is divided into three Khandas.

This work is a translation of the first Khanda of the Vishnud harmottara. It begins with the well-known verse -

"Narayana Namaskrtya Naram Chaiva Narottam am , Devim Sarasvatim Vyasah tato Jayamudirayet", This (first) Khanda, which contains 269 Adhyayas, very much resembles the first Khandas of other Puranas. It narrates the creation or rather the successive creations of the world, gives the usual Pauranic accounts of geography, astronomy and time, numerous geneologies and legends and some stotras, as well as rules regarding certain vratas, the Sraddhas and the pacification of planets and constellations in details. Among the legends, along with account of the loves of Pururavas and Uravashi, which fills Adhyayas 130-137, deserves to be mentioned, as it comes a little closer to Kalidasa's story than the other known versions. Moreover, some leg ends throw light upon the rebirths due to their Karmas. e.g. story of the transformation of the Gandharvas Haha and Huhu into an elephant and a crocodile respectively as a result of Devala's curse. Rama's order to Bharat to chastise the impious Gandharvas living on both banks of Sindhu. The story of Ravana, and his exploits, his meeting with Vishnu who told him that he would be born as a human being and kill Ravana. Thus this Khanda widely utilises the Ramayana and incorporates a large number of verses from the Mahabharata, the Bhagvadgita and the Upanisads. There is no exaggeration in saying that this Vishnudharm tara is an encyclopaedic work discussing so many different topi Moreover this work narrates the birth and rebirth according to on actions (Karma).

I am regretfully aware of the fact that inspite of best care a few mistakes crept into this work. I crave indulgence of the scholars for these lapses.

My heart-felt thanks to Dr. I. J. Bhatt, Shrimati Prof. Kunjalata Ghodadra and Shri Ronak H. Joshi. I thank Shri Babubhai, Shri Parshva Publication, Ahmedabad, for the prompt publication of this work.



(1) The Vishnudharmottara is an encyclopedic work consisting of three Khandas and dealing not only with various stories, myths and legends but also with varied subjects, viz., cosmology and cosmogony, geography, astronomy and astrology, division of time, pacification of unfavourable planets and stars, omens and portents, genealogies (mainly of kings and sages), manners and customs, penances, results of actions, rules about vrata and sraddha, description and praise of various kinds of donations law and politics, science of war, anatomy, medicine, treatment of diseases' of human beings and lower animals, cookery, manufacture of perfumes, horticulture, grammar, lexicography, metrics, rhetorics, dramaturgy, danc- ing, vocal and instrumental music, sculpture, painting, architecture, vais- nava theology and so on.

The Vishnudharmottara is avowedly a Vaishnava work claiming to deal with 'various duties of the Vaishnavas'. It belongs to the Pancaratras and is not a production of the Bhagavat sect as Buhler (1) takes it to be. It recommands the Pancaratra method of Vishnu worship, adds great importance to the due observance of 'panca-kala', holds the scriptures of the Panca-ratras in high esteem and extols one who honours or makes gifts to, those who are versed in these scriptures. According to the Vishnudharmottara, Narayana (2) is the highest deity and Supreme Brahma (param Brahma). He is the original source of both matter and spirit. For the sake of creation he takes to gunas and appears as Brahma, Vishnu and Hara. Vishnu who carries on the work of protection with the help of Lakshmi, exists in different parts of the universe by assuming different forms through Maya. In the world of mortals he resides with Lakshmi in Svetadvipa, which is said to be situated in the ocean of milk lying on the east of the mountain Meru. The Vishnudharmottara calls Narayana 'Caturatman' and believes in the doctrine of Vyuha as expounded in the Panchratra samhitas. It states that by persistently worshiping Vishnu with absolute devotion (ekanta-bhava) according to the Panchratra method, one can pass to Svetadvipa after death, reside there for long in a divine form, and then attain final emanci- pation by entering Vasudeva after passing successively through the Sun (aditya-mandalam), Brahma, Aniruddha, Padrumna and Samkarshana. It lays special stress on image worship. (1 and recom- mends to the Vishnu-Worshippers both the vedic mantras (viz. Savitri etc.) and the sectarian ones (,Om namo narayanaya' and 'Om namo bhagvate Vasudevaya' of eight and twelve syllables respec- tively) but says that women and shudras are allowed to use the latter mantras only. (2) As it regards Vishnu as 'Sarva-devamaya' and 'Sarvarupadhara, (3) it recommands the vows and worship of other deities also and thereby tries to infuse the worshippers of these deities with Vaishnava ideas. It looks Krsna as one of the manifestations of Vishnu and seems to add little importance to cow heard krsna (of vrndavana), who is mentioned very briefly on two occasions only. (4) It adds special importance to the Pasupatas, whose scriptures it mentions along with those of the Pancaratras in more places than one, (5) but it subordinates Sankara to Narayana. So it seems that the Pancaratras had the Pasupatas as their most powerful rivals.

The Vishnudharmottara is practically free from Tantric in- fluence. It advises the Vaishnavas to worship Vishnu and other deities in images, pictures, altars, Pitchers (full of water), or lotuses (drawn on the ground) (6) and recommends the use 'of vedic or Puranic Mantras or both in vows and worship. But it, does not recognise the Tantric 'Yantra' as a medium of worship, nor does it prescribe the use of Tantric mantras. The Tantric bijas, found in some of the stotras and kavacas contained in the Vishnudharmottara, (7) are most probably due to the influence of the Pancaratra Samhitas, which Vishnudharmottara follows in form and ideas.

Although the Vishnudharmottara decries the Pashandas as extremely unnoly and detestable, it seems to have been influenced by Buddhism. It recommends the worship of Aiduka, Dharma and Vyoman and describes their images. (8) By its recognition of Mayura (9 , Hamsa (10) etc. as manifestations of Vishnu and by its statement that whenever there is decline of dharma, Vasudeva is born, accord- ing to necessity, among gods, men, Gandharvas, serpents, birds or others and behaves like those creatures among whom he is born (11), the Vishnudharmottara reminds us of the Jataka stories.

The Vishnudharmottara is written mostly in verse but some of its chapters or parts thereof, are written in Prose (12) Regarding the language of this work it may be said that like many other Puranas it contains a number of ungrammatical forms. For instace, it has 'vartata' for 'vartamanena' (11.14), 'Yatrasthani' for 'Yatra tisthan- tam (1.4.38), 'tatrastham' for tatra tisthantam (1.6.58 and 61), 'Sand- hyasaha' for 'Sandhyaya Saha', (1.26.8) 'Prathame' for 'Prathamam' (l 139.1) 'duhitam' for duhitaram' (I 252.8), 'Patnayah' for 'patnyah' (III 67.15 a and III 103.21) and so on.

Now we see in some passages, the mention of the river Taushi i. e. the modern Tohi, sacred lake Bindusaras &c. show an intimate acquaintance with the geography of Kashmir, and make it probable that the book has been written or received its present shape in Kashmir. The whole is stated to have been communicated by the Rishi Markandeya to king Vajra, a son of Aniruddha and the great grandson of Krishna and a contemporary of Parikshit. As is usual in this calss of works, there are, however a good many other interlocu- tors. The language shows the slipshod Sanskrit, common to all puranas and the author does not shrink from coining the most absurd forms, when they suit his convenience.




Most of the Puranas and Upapuranas narrate the subject - matter of various arts such as Town-planning, Architecture Sculpture, Painting, Music, Dance and similar other topics. But only eight.' of them have treated the subject more systematically and in greater detail.

None of these, however, have treated the topics of fine arts in the way in which the third khanda of Visnudharmottara has done. The treatment is comprehensive and systematic, so that one can call it a treatise of the fine arts of Ancient India. Moreover, it throws a flood of light on various symbols used in the ancient arts. These important descriptions serve as a reliable guide to the study parts of the tradition of fine arts in Ancient India.

In spite of this importance, the Visnudharmottara has not attracted the attention it deserves. The text of Visnudharmottara was first published by Venkatesvara Press, Bombay, in Samvat 1969 (i.e. A.D. 1913). Dr. Stella Kramrisch, Professor of Fine Arts in Calcutta University was probably the first one to draw attention to the importance of this work. She published an English translation of the portion pertaining to Painting in 1924.

A study of the printed text of the Visnudharmottara published by the Venkatesvara Press shows that many of its readings are corrupt and unintelligible and therefore the necessity of an attempt to prepare, as far as possib1e, a critical and reliable edition of this portion with the help of available manuscripts. so as to serve as a reliable source for understanding arts in Ancient India.


Origin of Image-making and Temple-building and Interdependence of Arts

(1) Origin of image-making: As noted in the introduction (p. xi) the importance of Khanda III of Visnudharmottara lies in the incorporation of traditions regarding arts as they were practised in Ancient India. This information makes it a good work on Arts in interesting way. The subject of fine arts is introduced as an important subject of study. It is related to the primary urge of man seeking happiness here and hereafter and avoid pain. The whole work is a dialogue of the ruler Vajra and the Sage Markandeya. The questions are raised by the ruler and answers are provided by the sage. They constitute the text in the tradition of Mahabharata, Puranas, Kathasaritsagara, Panctantra and such type of literature.

King Vajra puts the question: 'What would obtain for him, great happiness in this and the other world (Ad. 1, Slo. I)? Without hesitation Markandeya answers the question: 'Anyone desiring the best of the two worlds must worship gods (Devata pnjanam). Then he dilates upon it. There are two ways of worship, one 'Antravedi', the other 'Bahirvedi'. The first is concerned with the sacrificial cult, the other with vows of abstinence, fasting etc. 'All those heavens which are attained by sacrificial acts (ista) and charitable deeds (apurta), if desired can be obtained by building a temple for gods.' The merit of Ista and apurta is to be found in the single act.

Markandeya then emphasizes the importance of building temples, particularly in the Kali age. "In the former three ages Krta, Treta and Dvapara men were able to see a god directly but in the Kali age men have lost that faculty; therefore they have to worship them (gods) in an image. (V.D. III Ad. 93 slos. 1 to 6).

Even in former ages when a god was visible, men used to worship him in a particular image. So a man of learning should worship a well-formed (surupa) images because it is to such an image that a deity becomes proximate. Anyway he must avoid an image uncanonically made.

An image of divinity has to be installed in a temple and so temple-building itself becomes a meritorious act. So Markandeya declares:

"To built a temple is meritorious; so is the making of an image of a deity. Meritorious is the worship of a divine image and so is its adoration. (V.D. Ad. 1 Sio. 11)

Thus the social motive of seeking happiness here and the religious motive of hereafter or rather the religious motive of seeking happiness here and hereafter becomes a motive force in the development of the arts of image-making and temple-building. in other words, of Sculpture and Architecture. This tradition is amply corroborated by the monumental remains and history of architecture and sculpture in India.

Another part of this tradition leads to some historical speculation. The statement that there was not much of image- making and temple-building in Krta, Dvapara and Treta ages, might suggest a belief of the Rsis like Markandeya that image- worship did not prevail in earlier times. This would accord well as far as the earlier Vedic cult of sacrifice is concerned. In fact this is the Antarvedi worship. The image worship, temple building, etc., are the method of Bahirvedic worship, which is comparatively easy to practise with its festivals anti other aspects; it is a socio- religious activity with great attraction. This activity deals with an interdependence of various arts of literature music, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.




  Preface iii
1. The Vishnudharmottara xiii
2. The Vishnudharmottara, Vishnupurana and Vishnudharma. xvi
3. The provenance of the Vishnudharmottara. xix
4. Age of Vishnudharmottara. xx
5. Authorship xxv
  Text Chapter  
1. Katha Prastavana. 1
2. Hiranya Garbha or Golden Egg. 3
3. The coming up of the Varaha Avatara. 5
4. Patal Varnana. 6
5. The description of the Lokas 10
6. Dwipa- Vibhaga Varnanam 13
7. Jamboo Dwipa Varnanam 17
8. Bharata Varsha Varnanam 21
9. Janapada Varnanam 22
10. The description of rivers springing from seven mountains 23
11. The description of the rivers of Himavana 24
12. The description of Koshal 26
13. Description of Ayodhya 27
14. Dynasty of Ikshvaku 28
15. The death of Madhu and Kaitabha 29
16. The Slaughter of Dhundhu 31
17. The episode of Sagara 32
18. The Sub-story of the Sagaras 34
19. The Descendant of river Ganga 36
20. The narration of the Janhu's daughter 37
21. The incidence of Trivikram 38
22. The perversion of Ganga 40
23. An episode of Sahasrarjuna 42
24. The Killing of Vrtrasura 44
25. The episode of Dattatreya 45
26. The departure of the earth to Indraloka 46
27. Going to Brahmaloka 48
28. Hara Darshan 49
29. Chandra Mandala Darshan 51
30. Aditya Darshan 53
31. The Forest Conflagration 54
32. The creation of Vadvagni 56
33. The exchange of Rice Pots 57
34. Giving the boon to Kushika 58
35. The Birth of Rama 60
36. The order of Maheshwara to Rama 61
37. Calamity 63
38. The dialogue between Shukra and Salva 64
39. Dream 66
40. The existence of Laxmi 67
41. Amrta-Manthan 70
42. The Distribution of nectar 73
43. The description of the battle between gods and demons 76
44. The words of Salva 78
45. The marching of Salva 80.
46. The bad omens by the army of Salva 81
47. The Sight of Bhargava Rama in the battle 82
48. The killing of the army of Salva 83
49. The killing of Salva 85
50. Giving of Missiles 86
51. The question of Rama in Shankar-Gita 87
52. The instruction for Mediation 88
53. The Killing of Hiranyaksha 90
54. The Advent of Nrsimha Incarnation 93
55. The Advent of Vamana 96
56. The Description of divine power 99
57. The result of devotion 102
58. The Characteristics of Devotion 104
59. The result of worshipping 107
60. The rite of fasting 108
61. The time of approaching in Shankara-Gita 110
62. Bringing the things for offering to the god 112
63. The procedure for the time of Sacrifice 113
64. Telling the time of self-study 117
65. The completion of Shankara-Gita 117
66. The orders of Shankara to Rama 121
67. The advent of Vishnu's bow 122
68. The sight of the stone-city by Rama 125
69. Seeing Varuna etc. 126
70. The Killing of Ayah-Shanku 127
71. The prayer of Parashuram to Varuna 129
72. The description of the month of the Sun etc. 130
73. The description of the number of time 132
74. The description of the end of a Yuga 135
75. Description of Manvantar 138
76. The description of the end of a Kalpa 139
77. The description of Mahakalpa 140
78. The narration of the dignity of the child 141
79. The Episode of Lotus navelled God Vishnu 142
80. Description of passed time 144
81. The similarities of Kalpas 145
82. The narration of the result of years 147
83. The description of exalted account of deities 150
84. The description of Six Lagna 155
85. Description regarding auspicious and unauspicious knowledge 156
86. The description of damage to every territory 161
87. Auspicious and unauspicious effects of every human being 162
88 Instructions about the circular orb for planets and constellations 164
89. Bath regarding to a particular constellation 165
90. Planets and Constellations 166
91. The method of baths for planets and constellations 167
92. The methods to be performed for all Sacrificial fire 169
93. The method of worshiping planets and constellations 174
94. The arrangement of a circular orb 176
95. The Vehicles and Chants of Planets and Constellations 179
96. Narration of anointing 187
97. Offering of particular flowers to planets and constellatins 188
98. The perfumed vapour and light offering for planets and constellations 189
99. The proper and improper method of offering oblations to planets and constellations 190
100. Just and unjust drink for every planet as well as constellation 193
101. Division of sacrificial oblations 194
102. The sacrificial chants 195
103. The gift describing chapter 197
104. The amulet chain for blessings 198
105. The result for the propitiation manner for planets 199
106. The origin of planets 200
107. The birth etc. of stars and planets 207
108. The birth of Pruthu 214
109. The coronation ceremony etc. of Pruthu 218
110. The dynasty of Daksha 222
111. The race of Bhrugu 224
112. The family lineage of Angira 227
113. The family race of atri 230
114. The families belonging to Vishvamitra 230
115. The family race of Kashyapa 232
116. The race of Vasistha 233
117. The dynasty of Parashara 234
118. The family of Agastya 236
119. The dynasty of Dharma 237
120. The birth of Aditya 238
121. The race of Diti 239
122. The eulogy of Fire 240
123. The eulogy of Wind 241
124. Looking at lord Narayana 241
125. The killing of kalanemi 242
126. The appearance of Varaha in the lower region 244
127. The birth of Maruts 246
128. The creations of Kashyapa 248
129. The creation of Urvashi 251
130. The dialogue between Uravashi and rambha 253
131. The descend in pleasure garden 255
132. The description of moon rise in the garden 257
133. The union of Urvashi with Purooravas 259
134. The description of the enjoyment of Urvashi 262
135. Puroorava's lamentations 263
136. The origin of three sacred fires 267
137. The attainment of heaven by Purroravas 270
138. The decision about stay in heaven or hell 272
139. The origin of the Sharddha rite 273
140. Explanation about Shraddha 275
141. The interpretations of offering oblations at Sharaddha Ceremony 282