The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
The first book of the six, into which the work is divided, is occupied chiefly with the details of creation, primary (Sarga) and secondary (Pratisarga); the first explaining how the universe proceeds from Prakriti, or eternal crude matter; the second, in what manner the forms of things are developed from the elementary substances previously evolved, or how they reappear after their temporary destruction. Both these creations are periodical, but the termination of the first occurs only at the end of the life of Brahmá, when not only all the gods and all other forms are annihilated, but the elements are again merged into primary substance, besides which one only spiritual being exists: the latter takes place at the end of every Kalpa, or day of Brahmá, and affects only the forms of inferior creatures, and lower worlds, leaving the substance of the universe entire, and sages and gods unharmed. The explanation of these events involves a description of the periods of time upon which they depend. and which are accordingly detailed. Their character has been a source of very unnecessary perplexity to European writers, as they belong to a scheme of chronology wholly mythological, having no reference to any real or supposed history of the Hindus, but applicable, according to their system, to the infinite and eternal revolutions of the universe. In these notions, and in that of the coeternity of spirit and matter, the theogony and cosmogony of the Puráńas, as they appear in the Vishńu Puráńa,
belong to and illustrate systems of high antiquity, of which we have only fragmentary traces in the records of other nations.
The course of the elemental creation is in the Vishńu, as in other Puráńas, taken from the Sánkhya philosophy; but the agency that operates upon passive matter is confusedly exhibited, in consequence of a partial adoption of the illusory theory of the Vedánta philosophy, and the prevalence of the Pauráńik doctrine of Pantheism. However incompatible with the independent existence of Pradhána or crude matter, and however incongruous with the separate condition of pure spirit or Purusha, it is declared repeatedly that Vishńu, as one with the supreme being, is not only spirit, but crude matter; and not only the latter, but all visible substance, and Time. He is Purusha, 'spirit;' Pradhána, crude matter; 'Vyakta, 'visible form;' and Kula, 'time.' This cannot but be regarded as a departure from the primitive dogmas of the Hindus, in which the distinctness of the Deity and his works was enunciated; in which upon his willing the world to be, it was; and in which his interposition in creation, held to be inconsistent with the quiescence of perfection, was explained away by the personification of attributes in action, which afterwards came to be considered as real divinities, Brahmá, Vishńu, and Śiva, charged severally for a given season with the creation, preservation, and temporary annihilation of material forms. These divinities are in the following pages, consistently with the tendency of a Vaishńava work, declared to be no other than Vishńu. In Śaiva Puráńas they are in like manner identified with Śiva. The Puráńas thus displaying and explaining the seeming incompatibility, of which there are traces in other ancient mythologies, between three distinct hypostases of one superior deity, and the identification of one or other of those hypostases with their common and separate original.
After the world has been fitted for the reception of living creatures, it is peopled by the will-engendered sons of Brahmá, the Prajápatis or patriarchs, and their posterity. It would seem as if a primitive tradition of the descent of mankind from seven holy personages had at first prevailed, but that in the course of time it had been expanded into complicated, and not always consistent, amplification, How could these Rishis
or patriarchs have posterity? it was necessary to provide them with wives. In order to account for their existence, the Manu Swáyambhuva and his wife Satarupá were added to the scheme, or Brahmá becomes twofold, male and female, and daughters are then begotten, who are married to the Prajápatis. Upon this basis various legends of Brahma's double nature, some no doubt as old as the Vedas, have been constructed: but although they may have been derived in some degree from the authentic tradition of the origin of mankind from a single pair, yet the circumstances intended to give more interest and precision to the story are evidently of an allegorical or mystical description, and conduced, in apparently later times, to a coarseness of realization which was neither the letter nor spirit of the original legend. Swáyambhuva, the son of the self-born or untreated, and his wife Satarupá, the hundred-formed or multiform, are themselves allegories; and their female descendants, who become the wives of the Rishis, are Faith, Devotion, Content, Intelligence, Tradition, and the like; whilst amongst their posterity we have the different phases of the moon, and the sacrificial fires. In another creation the chief source of creatures is the patriarch Daksha (ability), whose daughters, Virtues or Passions or Astronomical Phenomena, are the mothers of all existing things. These legends, perplexed as they appear to be, seem to admit of allowable solution, in the conjecture that the Prajápatis and Rishis were real personages, the authors of the Hindu system of social, moral, and religious obligations, and the first observers of the heavens, and teachers of astronomical science.
The regal personages of the Swáyambhuva Manwantara are but few, but they are described in the outset as governing the earth in the dawn of society, and as introducing agriculture and civilisation. How much of their story rests upon a traditional remembrance of their actions, it would be useless to conjecture, although there is no extravagance in supposing that the legends relate to a period prior to the full establishment in India of the Brahmanical institutions. The legends of Dhruva and Prahláda, which are intermingled with these particulars, are in all probability ancient, but they are amplified, in a strain conformable to the Vaishńava purport of this Puráńa, by doctrines and prayers asserting the
identity of Vishńu with the supreme. It is clear that the stories do not originate with this Puráńa. In that of Prahláda particularly, as hereafter pointed out, circumstances essential to the completeness of the story are only alluded to, not recounted; shewing indisputably the writer's having availed himself of some prior authority for his narration.