The Mahabharata is rightly described as an encyclopaedia of all that existed by ancient as well as modern scholars. It has given us many valuable works like the Bhagavad-Gita the Anugita the Visnu-Sahasranama, Harivamsa-Purana etc. The Harivamsa is considered as the nineteenth parvan of the Mahabharata by somescholars, but others accept it is also called a purana of the great heroic epic. On account of its pauranic character it is also called a Purana. It consist of 1637 verses and like the Mahabharata bigger in size than the Illiad and Oddyssey combined. Its literary value is not in proportion to its voluminous size. It is neither a poem, nor the composition of any merit. It is a compilation of pauranic legends stories and of works related with praise of the god Visnu. It is also not the work of a single compiler either. The last one-third portion of this work is certainly an appendix to this supplement and a large portion of the remaining parts is interpolations belonging belonging to different times.
The Harivamsapuranam contains three lengthy parvans named Harivamsa parvan, Visnuparvan and Bhavisya parvan. It is loosely connected with the Mahabharata. Like the Mahabharata, it is also considered to be narrated Vaisampayana. We are told that after listening to the beautiful stories of the Bharatas from Ugrasrava, Saunaka, a great sage requested him to relate the stories connected with the Vrsn and Andhaka dynasties to which Krsna belonged. Ugrasrava replied that such a request was also made by janamejaya to him after listening to the Mahabharata. He then related to him what was narrated by Vaisampayana. Besides, in the beginning of the Harivamsa in some verses and in the whole of the last chapter a long panegyric of the Mahabharata along with the Harivamsa and the importance of the religious merit which accrues from studying and listening to it read, this much relation exists between the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa. As far as its subject matter is concerned the Harivamsa is that much related to the Mahabharata as the latter with the Puranas because a number of legends, specially legends and stories of the Brahmanas narrated in the Mahabharata appear different in the Harivamsa and the Puranas.
This work draws its name from the first parvan which is called the Harivamsa-parvan. Like the Puranas this work also commences with confused description of the origin of the universe and other Pauranic descriptions, viz, the story of Dhruva who later on become a constellation, the story of Daksa and his daughters who become the mother of gods as well as demons. It contains a detailed account of the story of Vena the opposer of the Vedas and the sacrifices and the story of his son Prthu the first emperor on this earth. Numerous legends of the solar race, consisting of king Iksvaku and his descendants are available in this parvan. A ritualistic portion connected with Sraddha of manes which has nothing to do with the dynastic description is also given. Then begins an account of the Lunar race starting with that of Atri the son of Soma. Pururavas was a grandson of soma. His love affair with Urvasi Brahmana. Yayati was the founder of the Yadaya dynasty and Visnu was born as Krsna on this earth form his wife, Devaki. After the description of the family of Krsna follows a series of songs in the praise of Visnu. We have here an account of the divine history of Krsna.
Second book is known as Visnu parvan. It deals mostly with the story of Krsna the incarnation of Visnu. The birth childhood heroic-deeds, love affairs of one in human from the stories connected with the god of cowherds are extensively dealt with here. Some of these are found in some Puranas through which every Hindu become familiar with the name of Krsna. The enlightened devotees of Visnu worship Krsna as the propounder of the sacred doctrines of the Gita. But Krsna of the legends of the Harivamsa and other Puranas have become the object of worship for hundreds and thousands of Hindus sometimes as a supreme God and sometime as a perfect man. The greek traveler has referred to the god of these legends as Indian Hercules and not to Krsna a dexterous friends of the Pandavas. Several legends connected with Krsna are to be found in this book which important not only from religious point of view but also from the history of religion. A brief description of subject matter of this parvan is ad follows’.
A cruel king named Kamsa ruled over the city of Mathura. Once Narada came to him and told him that the eighth child of his sister Devaki will him. Kill. Then Kamsa killed the six children of Devaki at the time of their birth. Her seventh child was Baladeva who was placed in the womb of Rohini the second wife of Vasudeva from the womb of Devaki by Nidra-Devi. Thus he was saved from death. Krsna was born as the eighth child of Vasudeva and Devaki. As soon as the child was born, Vasudeva taking the child went out the same night into darkness and carried him to a daughter, he quickly indant was placed in the bed of Davaki and the demon Kamsa killed it, thereby releasing the goddess who had born as the babe. King Kamsa issued a decree that every child in whom were found signs of unusual vigour should be destroyed. Krsna along with Balarama who was also sent to Yasoda by Vasudeva began to grow there being proteted by Nanda.
While he was still a small child he started his astonishing exploits. Krsna is afterwards represented as plunging boldly into the lake of the serpent king Kaliya and conquering him by setting his foot upon the terrible hood which has hitherto been unbended. On his request he forgave him and ordered him to depart immediately with his family and followers in to the nether region. He also killed the demon called Dhenuka who protected Govardhana Mountain in the form of an ass. Another demon named pralamba was killed by Balarama. Once at the advent of the autumnal season, the cowherds were to arrange a festival in honour of Indra, the raingod, but Krsna was not in favour of this celebration. He inspired them to worship mountains. They started worshipping the mount Govardhana. At this Indra caused storm to destroy them. Krsna protected the cowherds by lifting and holding the mount Govardhana over their head like an umbrella until the storm passed over. Indra recognizing Visnu as Krsna accepted his defeat. Thus Krsna become the darling of the cowherds. The enjoyed youth in the company of cowherds. He arranged fights of bulls and had wrestling bouts with most powerful of the cowherds. He liked Rasa dances in the nights of the autumn. During these dances the cowherd women attracted by Krsna sang his glory, sported with him, imitated his walking dancing and singing. While he was enjoying in the company of gopis a demon named Arista attacked him. Krsna killed him by born pulled out of head. When Kamsa came to know of the exploits of krsna he called the two brothers to Mathura where they had to fight with two powerful wrestlers in a festival. They killed them. Krsna broke the bow of Kamsa and killed anelephant set on him. After that he killed Kamsa and freed his present and others. Krsna also defeated Yama in nether region and brought back the son of his preceptor who was drowned in sea and thus paid his gurudaksina, (teacher gift). Jarasandha, the father-in-law of Kamsa was killed by him when he encircled Mathura. Krsna took away Rukmini who was to be married to Sisupala. He married her at Dvaraka and had ten sons form her. He also married sixteen thousand one hundred other maidens at a single ceremony and they bore many sons to him. On the request of Indra, Krsna killed Narakasura who troubled the gods. At another place it is declared that Krsna fought with Indra who prevented him form taking Parijata tree heaven which he had promised to his wife Satyabhama.
The above description is followed by a very long portion which is not at all connected with the main narrative. It is a treatise on the Kamasastra (science of love). It is a dialogue between Narada and the wives of Krsna, in which Narada cited Siva and Uma as his authorities on this subject. In this portion punya and Vrataka celebrations are described through which a wife makes his body worthy and attractive for her husband and could make him happy. As these vows are meant for a chaste women so her duties are given in the very beginning.
Next comes (ch. 185) an account of a Saiva subject which was has nothing to do with the life of Krsna. It tells about the killing of thousand-headed demon Andhaka by lord Siva. Then follows another story describing the killing Nikumbha. An account of the life of pradyumna is given in the following chapters. In this we have reference to the practice of sending of message through Hamsa and to dramas played by actors. It also contains epitome of the Ramayana and many other legends which are repeated in different Puranas. From a numerous stotras (Prayers) addressed to Visnu and Siva, it appears that the Harivamsa was a compilation of texts written from a religious point of view. But there are some remanents of Krsna-Kavya in the second parvan, so it is quite possible that prior to it Krsna-Kavya was in existence.
This third book is named as the Bhavisya –parvan. It is more or less a compilation of the Purana works which are unrelated to one another. The name Bhavisya-parvan applies correctly to its early chapters because these foretell about the future yugas (ages). According to a story given in the parvan, Janamejaya wanted to perform a horse sacrifice but Vyasa predicated that is will not be completed due to the setting of Kaliyuga and after a long period, Krtayuga the promoter of Dharma and good will come. This part is complete in itself and it is an independent poem. Two different accounts of creation are given in it, then the different incarnations of Visnu such as Boar, Nrsimha, and Vamana are given in great detail. Here also we find tendency to establish the oneness of Visnu and Siva. Visnu and Siva pray to each other. It is followed by a heroic feat of Krsna in which he destroyed king paundra.
The last few chapters of this parvan give the story of two Saiva devotes named Hamsa and Dimbhaka who were defeated by krsna-Visnu. A big chapter (323) counts the religious merits which one gets form the study of the Mahabharata and the fruits gained in heaven. It also speaks of gift which should be given to the reciter of the Mahabharata. It declares that Mahabharata is only an account of the virtues if Visnu because the Veda the Ramayana and the sacred Bharata, glorify Hari in the beginning in the middle and in the end.
It is really surprising that at the end of the work comes a chapter describing the destruction of the three cities of demons by lord Siva. The Harivamsa close with the gist of its contents and fruit of listening it read. Some of the major Puranas accept it as a true Purana. The Harivamsa appears to strike a balance between the worship of Visnu and Siva. It is not only being read with great interest by Indians but also by the westerners. M.A. Langlois has carefully rendered this work into French.
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