Archive for July 30th, 2008

July 30, 2008

On Rama Setu in padma purANa

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Representing the Union of India in the Supreme Court, Senior Attorney Fali Nariman was reported to have stated the following: “the Padma Purana states Lord Rama broke the bridge after rescuing Sita. And according to the Hindu faith, something that is broken cannot be worshipped” and “This is why nobody has till date declared it a monument.” 

This statement prompted us to look into the original sources and examine the claim made by the Union of India.  The below note summarizes our findings.

1. padma purANa is one of the eighteen main purANas, a mahApurANa of vaiShNava category, and is listed as second in that list. It is also counted among the six of this list that are considered to be of predominantly sAttvika content (the other five being viShNu, nArada, bhAgavat, garuDa and vArAha). This purANa comprises of fifty-five-thousand shloka-s and is therefore one of the lengthiest.  There are four main recensions of this purANa available. The most commonly found is the northern one in devanAgarI, and is widely printed and circulated by several publishers like Geeta Press Gorakhpur etc. The other major recension is from the southern sources, and an 1883 edition of Vishvanath Narayan Mandalika printed from Pune in the Anandashram Sanskrit Series in four volumes represents this recension. Another edition from the southern recensions, primarily from certain karNATaka and Andhra manuscripts is edited by Kshemaraj Srikrishnadas Shreshthin and printed from Mumbai. Finally, another primary recension with quite a lot of differences and of fair antiquity is the eastern recension available in Bengali script. The most complete version of this being the manuscript preserved in the National Library Kolkata, while two other manuscripts are available in the Asiatic Society of Kolkata and these display quite some differences with other recensions and slight differences with each other as well.

2. The arrangement of sections in this purANa itself and their sequencing is a matter of difference between these different recensions. The eastern one has six khaNDa-s in the following order: i) sR^iShTi-khaNDa ii) bhUmi-khaNDa iii) swarga-khaNDa iv) pAtAla-khaNDa v) uttara-khaNDa, and vi) kR^iyA-yoga-sAra. The VN Mandalika edition has a different list and sequence: i) Adima-khaNDa ii) bhUmi-khaNDa iii) bramha-khaNDa iv) pAtAla-khaNDa v) sR^iShTi-khaNDa, and vi) uttara-khaNDa. In the second southern recension the Kshemaraj edition, chapters are similar to the eastern version, but after sR^iShTi and bhUmi khANDa are arranged bramha-khaNDa, pAtAla-khaNDa and uttara-khaNDa omitting as it would seem the swarga-khaNDa. However a closer examination would show that the swarga-khaNDa of one recension is in reality what has been split into two independent khaNDa-s by the others: the Adim-khaNDa and bramha-khaNDa. kR^iyA-yoga-sAra likewise is but an appendix in the uttara-khaNDa as well. With that said, the most common book-arrangement appears to be the one mentioned in the eastern recension minus the kR^iyA-yoga-sAra as a separate book.

3. The dating of padma purANa, like many other scriptures is a matter of debates, but most scholars now agree for this to go back at least as far back as the 4th century of CE. We are of the opinion that it might be dating back ever earlier than this, but as it does not concern us for the present purpose, we shall skip that discussion.

4. We should however mention in the passing that some of the contents of the padma-purANa, interestingly but not surprisingly, have been used as the base matter for some major classical saMskR^ita literature. The primary references used by the legendary kAlidAsa in his works, has been a subject of intense research. Haradatta Sarma has convincingly demonstrated that while composing raghuvaMshaM, kAlidAsa should have relied upon padma purANa more than on vAlmIki’s rAmAyaNa for the itihAsa-content. [1] Likewise, ample research now shows that kAlidAsa should have also had the benefit of referring to this purANa, more than the mahAbhArata, for the skeletal story behind his masterpiece abhij~nAna shAkuntalam.

5. ‘padma purANa’ is also the title of an important jaina saMskR^ita scripture, written by jaina scholar AchArya raviSheNa in the 6-7th century of the CE, adaptation/recension of which are found in prAkR^ita as ‘pauma-chariya’ by vimalasUri and in apabhraMsha tongue as ‘pauma-chariu’ by swayaMbhU. The subject matter of all of these jaina texts is the legend of rAma whom they have revered here as padma. There are some intriguing similarities between rAma’s story in the padma purANa of vyAsa (the one of our focus in this note), and the padma-purANa of jaina recension, including the peculiar coincidences in the flow of the narrative, in spite of the huge differences they display in the specifics. However we shall leave it for future to explore this connection between the jaina and hindu padma-purANa-s further.

6. The story of rAma finds an important coverage in the padma purANa, and occurs in two different books: the sR^iShTi-khaNDa as well as pAtAla-khaNDa. rAma-setu finds narration in both of these books as well. The story is generally the same as in vAlmIki’s rAmAyaNa but differs dramatically in the details. pAtAla khaNDa provides a very unique story about how the vAnara senA crossed the sea and reached the coast of laMkA. In some recensions of the sR^iShTi-khaNDa, rAma is described to be trifurcating the setu on request from vibhIShaNa. The text is generally the same in the referred recensions and editions, ignoring some scribal mistakes, and in one particular devanAgarI recension this mention is missing altogether.

7. pAtAla-khaNDa, contains one hundred and seventeen chapters and among these is a lengthy section titled shiva-rAghava-saMvAda spanning over several chapters and containing a dialog between rAma and mahAdeva. The 116th chapter of this section is known as purAkalpIya-rAmAyaNa-kathanaM and contains jAmbavanta’s narration of the rAmAyaNa’s events. In this section is this strikingly unique description of the enterprise of crossing the sea by the vAnara senA:

{(219) Now, I am going to relate (to you) the efforts (made) towards crossing the sea. (220) Then rAma said, I would worship Lord shaMkara and appeal to him about our predicament, and then we shall do as guided by him. Saying this, he started praying to mahAdeva. (221 is a beautiful hymn containing several names of maheshwara, which rAma uttered to invoke him). (222, 223) mahAdeva then appeared to rAma with all his attributes. (224) rAma saluted mahAdeva with joined palms and prayed to him again in the daNDavata posture. (225) parameshvara then addressed rAma promising him the desired boons. (226) rAma replied to mahAdeva: ‘O shambhu, only give us the means to cross this sea so that we may reach laMkA’. (227) (hearing this,) shambhu then answered: ‘This is my bow ajagavaM. It immediately takes any shape as desired (by its wielder). Take this and climbing through it you can overcome the sea and reach laMkA’. (228- Then intent upon this course, rAma invoked that ajagavaM, (229) and when the bow appeared, rAma worshipped it. (230) Shiva then handed it over to rAma, (231) and rAma threw the bow across the ocean. (232) rAma, lakShamaNa and the entire senA of as numerous vAnara-s as six-parArdha [2] fulfilled their objective (of crossing the ocean) by climbing that bow. (233) Seeing those vAnara-s approaching the shore though the bow, (234) and alarmed by the force of the vAnara-s, a rAkShasa coast-guard by the name of atikAya immediately approached rAvaNa.}

Besides this particularly striking description, there is no further mention of the rAma setu in pAtAla-khaNDa.

8. Earlier in the sR^iShTi-khaNDa, is this another unique mention of rAma setu in the fortieth chapter known as vAmanapratiShThA (in some recension thirty-fifth chapter, and in some missing altogether). The background of the mention is that after winning the war at laMkA and fulfilling his objectives there, rAma is readying to return back to ayodhyA along with his entourage by using the puShpaka vimAna offered by vibhIShaNa. Before departing, rAma has entrusted the rAkShasa kingdom to vibhIShaNa and when insisted by vibhIShaNa, he has given him instructions about conducting the empire and some interesting orders to recover and restore a certain mUrti-s of vaiShnavI and of vAmana which were commissioned earlier by bali the great dAnava emperor. In this context is the following dialog recorded between vibhIShaNa and rAma in the vAmanapratiShThA chaper of the sR^iShTi-khaNDa the first book of the padma-purANa:

{(130) Hearing this from rAghava, vibhIShaNa responded to him. ‘All that you have ordered shall be obediently executed, O rAghava. (131) (However,) O Lord, this sacred setu of yours could be used by all the people of the world to approach (into laMkA) and therefore should be obstructed. (132) What control do I have in this matter O deva, but this is a need of mine.’ Hearing these words uttered by the best rAkShasa, The Scion of Raghu (133) took in his hands the missile kArmukaM, and breached the setu in the middle at two places over a length of ten yojana, (134) therefore dividing it into three parts with a one-yojana gap on the either side. Then approaching the shore-forest, he worshipped mahAdeva the Lord of umA. (135) There he established The Three- Eyed mahAdeva by the name of rAmeshwara. rAma, the Great Prince then prohibited the God sAgara, (136) that the Southern Sea should neither thunder there, nor flow across. Issuing his prohibitions this way, rAma then sent off the God sAgara. From the sky then emitted the following AkAshavANI. (137) Spoke rudra: O rAghava, you have auspiciously established me here. O Brave One, so far as the worlds remain, so far as the earth is intact, (138- till then I shall reside myself at the Setu, O Scion of Raghu! Hearing these nectar-like words uttered by mahAdeva himself, rAghava the Hero then spoke in these intelligent and sweetest words. (rAma humbly salutes devadeva and sings a hymn in his praise which spans over shloka-s 139 to 147. shloka 148 is a comment by sage pulatsya in praise to this hymn. In shloka-s 149-151, rudra speaks again, praising the deeds of rAma.) (152) O raghunandana, to this place created by you whichever man comes and even (merely) glances at it in the sea, (153) (even if) he be an extreme sin-fallen, all their sins would get destroyed, O rAma. The wicked crimes as heinous as brAhmaNa-slaying etc., even these (154) would be released here by mere darshana, no doubt.}

9. In conclusion, we can only say that the statement made by the Attorney in the Hon’ble Supreme Court that according to padma purANa: a) rAma “destroyed” the setu; and b) setu can no more be an object of worship; – are both absolutely inaccurate if not downright false.   Very unambiguously, the referred recensions of the padma purANa state that rAma trifurcated the setu for the sake of protecting laMkA, and at the same time he and lord mahAdeva invested spiritual powers into setu as a place of worship forever. Till this word remains, and till the earth is intact – “yAvajjagadidaM, yAvaddharAsthitA” are this purANa-s own exact words.  As to “therefore, nobody has declared it a monument”, since the Attorney is referring to padma purANa, in which lord mahAdeva himself has declared it a unique sacred place of worship, releaser of the sin and crime, and abode of his own – this remains and would remain a sacred monument for Hindus; and Union of India can do little about it. 

[1] Haradatta Sarma, “Padmapurana And Kalidasa”, Calcutta Oriental Series, 1924.

[2] parArdha is the largest measure of count. One parArdha is measured by number of mortal days in the span of 50 bramha-years (and would equal “one hunderd-thousand-billion” according to mahAbhArata).

1. Scanned pages (# 1028 and 1029) from the southern recension 1 of the purANa, edited by Vishvanath Narayan Mandalika, Anandashram, 1894, Pune.
Anandashram1 Anandashram2

2. Scanned pages from the southern recension 2 of the purANa, edited by Khemraj Srikrishna Das Shreshthi, 1867, Sri Venkateshwar Mudranalaya Mumbai.

3. Complete text of sR^iShTi khaNDa of the northern recension, where this reference mentioned in point #8 could not be located: 

4. Complete text of the pAtAla khaNDa of the northern recension, in which the section mentioned in the point # 7 can be located:

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