Viṣṇu Purāṇa | Book 2 - Chapter 8

Chapter VIII

Description of the sun: his chariot; its two axles: his horses. The cities of the regents of the cardinal points. The sun's course: nature of his rays: his path along the ecliptic. Length of day and night. Divisions of time: equinoxes and solstices, months, years, the cyclical Yuga, or age of five years. Northern and southern declinations. Saints on the Lokāloka mountain. Celestial paths of the Pitris, gods, Viṣṇu. Origin of Gangā, and separation, on the top of Meru, into four great rivers.

PARĀŚARA:--Having thus described to you the system of the world in general, I will now explain to you the dimensions and situations of the sun and other luminaries.

The chariot of the sun is nine thousand leagues in length, and the pole is of twice that longitude;

the axle is fifteen millions and seven hundred thousand leagues long; on which is fixed a wheel with three naves, five spokes, and six peripheries, consisting of the ever-during year; the whole constituting the circle or wheel of time.

The chariot has another axle, which is forty-five thousand five hundred leagues long.

The two halves of the yoke are of the same length respectively as the two axles (the longer and the shorter).

The short axle, with the short yoke, is supported by the pole-star: the end of the longer axle, to which the wheel of the car is attached, moves on the Mānasa mountain.

The seven horses of the sun's car are the metres of the Vedas, Gāyatrī, Vrihatī, Uṣṇih, Jayatī, Tṛṣṭubh, Anuṣṭubh, and Pankti.

The city of Indra is situated on the eastern side of the Mānasottara mountain; that of Yama on the southern face; that of Varuṇa on the west; and that of Soma on the north: named severally Vaswokasārā, Samyamanī, Mukhyā, and Vibhāvarī.

The glorious sun, Maitreya, darts like an arrow on his southern course, attended by the constellations of the Zodiac. He causes the difference between day and night, and is the divine vehicle and path of the sages who have overcome the inflictions of the world.

Whilst the sun, who is the discriminator of all hours, shines in one continent in midday, in the opposite Dvīpas, Maitreya, it will be midnight:

rising and setting are at all seasons, and are always (relatively) opposed in the different cardinal and intermediate points of the horizon.

When the sun becomes visible to any people, to them he is said to rise; when he disappears from their view, that is called his setting. There is in truth neither rising nor setting of the sun, for he is always; and these terms merely imply his presence and his disappearance.


When the sun (at midday) passes over either of the cities of the gods, on the Mānasottara mountain (at the cardinal points), his light extends to three cities and two intermediate points:

when situated in an intermediate point, he illuminates two of the cities and three intermediate points (in either case one hemisphere).

From the period of his rise the sun moves with increasing rays until noon, when he proceeds towards his setting with rays diminishing (that is, his heat increases or diminishes in proportion as he advances to, or recedes from, the meridian of any place).

The east and west quarters are so called from the sun's rising and setting there.

As far as the sun shines in front, so far he shines behind and on either hand, illuminating all places except the summit of Meru, the mountain of the immortals;

for when his rays reach the court of Brahmā, which is there situated, they are repelled and driven back by the overpowering radiance which there prevails:

consequently there is always the alternation of day and night, according as the divisions of the continent lie in the northern (or southern) quarter, or inasmuch as they are situated north (or south) of Meru.

The radiance of the solar orb, when the sun has set, is accumulated in fire, and hence fire is visible at a greater distance by night than by day:

during the latter a fourth of the rays of fire blend with those of the sun, and from their union the sun shines with greater intensity by day.

Elemental light, and heat derived from the sun or from fire, blending with each other, mutually prevail in various proportions, both by day and night.

When the sun is present either in the southern or the northern hemisphere, day or night retires into the waters, according as they are invaded by darkness or light:

it is from this cause that the waters look dark by day, because night is within them; and they look white by night, because at the setting of the sun the light of day takes refuge in their bosom.

When the sun has travelled in the centre of Puṣkara a thirtieth part of the circumference of the globe, his course is equal in time to one Muhūrta; and whirling round like the circumference of the wheel of a potter, he distributes day and night upon the earth.

In the commencement of his northern course, the sun passes to Capricorn, thence to Aquarius, thence to Pisces, going successively from one sign of the Zodiac to another.

After he has passed through these, the sun attains his equinoctial movement (the vernal equinox), when he makes the day and night of equal duration.

Thenceforward the length of the night decreases, and the day becomes longer, until the sun reaches the end of Gemini, when he pursues a different direction, and, entering Cancer, begins his declension to the south.

As the circumference of a potter's wheel revolves most rapidly, so the sun travels rapidly on his southern journey: he flies along his path with the velocity of wind, and traverses a great distance in a short time.

In twelve Muhūrtas he passes through thirteen lunar asterisms and a half during the day; and during the night he passes through the same distance, only in eighteen Muhūrtas.

As the centre of the potter's wheel revolves more slowly than the circumference, so the sun in his northern path again revolves with less rapidity, and moves over a less space of the earth in a longer time, until, at the end of his northern route, the day is again eighteen Muhūrtas, and the night twelve; the sun passing through half the lunar mansions by day and by night in those periods respectively.

As the lump of clay on the centre of the potter's wheel moves most slowly, so the polar-star, which is in the centre of the zodiacal wheel, revolves very tardily, and ever remains in the centre, as the clay continues in the centre of the wheel of the potter.

The relative length of the day or night depends upon the greater or less velocity with which the sun revolves through the degrees between the two points of the horizon.

In the solstice period, in which his diurnal path is quickest, his nocturnal is slowest; and in that in which he moves quick by night, he travels slowly by day.

The extent of his journey is in either case the same; for in the course of the day and night he passes through all the signs of the Zodiac, or six by night, and the same number by day:

the length and shortness of the day are measured by the extent of the signs; and the duration of day and night by the period which the sun takes to pass through them.

In his northern declination the sun moves quickest by night, and slowest by day; in his southern declination the reverse is the case.

The night is called Uṣā, and the day is denominated Vyuṣṭa, and the interval between them is called Sandhya.

On the occurrence of the awful Sandhya, the terrific fiends termed Mandehas attempt to devour the sun; for Brahmā denounced this curse upon them, that, without the power to perish, they should die every day (and revive by night), and therefore a fierce contest occurs daily between them and the sun.

At this season pious Brahmans scatter water, purified by the mystical Oṁkāra, and consecrated by the Gāyatri; and by this water, as by a thunderbolt, the foul fiends are consumed.

When the first oblation is offered with solemn invocations in the morning rite, the thousand-rayed deity shines forth with unclouded splendour.

Oṁkāra is Viṣṇu the mighty, the substance of the three Vedas, the lord of speech; and by its enunciation those Rākṣasas are destroyed.

The sun is a principal part of Viṣṇu, and light is his immutable essence, the active manifestation of which is excited by the mystic syllable Om. Light effused by the utterance of Oṁkāra becomes radiant, and burns up entirely the Rākṣasas called Mandehas.

The performance of the Sandhya (the morning) sacrifice must never therefore be delayed, for he who neglects it is guilty of the murder of the sun. Protected thus by the Brahmans and the pigmy sages called Bālakhilyas, the sun goes on his course to give light to the world.

Fifteen twinklings of the eye (Nimeṣas) make a Kāṣṭhā; thirty Kāṣṭhās, a Kalā; thirty Kalās, a Muhūrta (forty-eight minutes); and thirty Muhūrtas, a day and night:

the portions of the day are longer or shorter, as has been explained; but the Sandhyā is always the same in increase or decrease, being only one Muhūrta.

From the period that a line may be drawn across the sun (or that half his orb is visible) to the expiration of three Muhūrtas (two hours and twenty-four minutes), that interval is called Prātar (morning), forming a fifth portion of the day.

The next portion, or three Muhūrtas from morning, is termed Sangava (forenoon): the three next Muhūrtas constitute mid-day: the afternoon comprises the next three Muhūrtas: the three Muhūrtas following are considered as the evening: and the fifteen Muhūrtas of the day are thus classed in five portions of three each.

But the day consists of fifteen Muhūrtas only at the equinoxes, increasing or diminishing in number in the northern and southern declinations of the sun, when the day encroaches on the night, or the night upon the day.

The equinoxes occur in the seasons of spring and autumn, when the sun enters the signs of Aries and Libra. When the sun enters Capricorn (the winter solstice), his northern progress commences; and his southern when he enters Cancer (the summer solstice).

Fifteen days of thirty Muhūrtas each are called a Pakṣa (a lunar fortnight); two of these make a month; and two months, a solar season; three seasons a northern or southern declination (Ayana); and those two compose a year.

Years, made up of four kinds of months, are distinguished into five kinds; and an aggregate of all the varieties of time is termed a Yoga, or cycle. The years are severally called Samvatsara, Parivatsara, Idvatsara, Anuvatsara, and Vatsara. This is the time called a Yuga.

The mountain range that lies most to the north (in Bhārata-Varṣā) is called Śrīngavan (the horned), from its having three principal elevations (horns or peaks), one to the north, one to the south, and one in the centre;

the last is called the equinoctial, for the sun arrives there in the middle of the two seasons of spring and autumn, entering the equinoctial points in the first degree of Aries and of Libra, and making day and night of equal duration, or fifteen Muhūrtas each.

When the sun, most excellent sage, is in the first degree of the lunar mansion, Krittikā, and the moon is in the. fourth of Viśākhā, or when the sun is in the third degree of Viśākhā, and the moon is in the head of Krittikā (these positions being cotemporary with the equinoxes), that equinoctial season is holy (and is styled the Mahāvishubha, or the great equinox).

At this time offerings are to be presented to the gods and to the manes, and gifts are to be made to the Brahmans by serious persons; for such donations are productive of happiness.

Liberality at the equinoxes is always advantageous to the donor: and day and night; seconds, minutes, and hours; intercalary months; the day of full moon (Paurnamāsī); the day of conjunction (Amāvāsya), when the moon rises invisible; the day when it is first seen (Śinivālī); the day when it first disappears (Kuhū); the day when the moon is quite round (Rākā); and the day when one digit is deficient (Anumati), are all seasons when gifts are meritorious.

The sun is in his northern declination in the months Tapas, Tapasya, Madhu, Mādhava, Śukra, and Śuchi; and in his southern in those of Nabhas, Nabhasya, Iṣa, Ūrja, Sahas, Sahasya.

On the Lokāloka mountain, which I have formerly described to you, reside the four holy protectors of the world; or Sudhāman and Sankhapād, the two sons of Kardama, and Hiraṇyaroman, and Ketumat. Unaffected by the contrasts of existence, void of selfishness, active, and unencumbered by dependants, they take charge of the spheres, themselves abiding on the four cardinal points of the Lokāloka mountain.

On the north of Agastya, and south of the line of the Goat, exterior to the Vaiśvānara path, lays the road of the Pitris:

There dwell the great Ṛṣis, the offerers of oblations with fire, reverencing the Vedas, after whose injunctions creation commenced, and who were discharging the duties of ministrant priests: for as the worlds are destroyed and renewed, they institute new rules of conduct, and re-establish the interrupted ritual of the Vedas.

Mutually descending from each other, progenitor springing from descendant, and descendant from progenitor, in the alternating succession of births, they repeatedly appear in different houses and races along with their posterity, devout practices and instituted observances, residing to the south of the solar orb, as long as the moon and stars endure.

The path of the gods lies to the north of the solar sphere, north of the Nāgavīthī, and south of the seven Ṛṣis.

There dwell the Siddhas, of subdued senses, continent and pure, undesirous of progeny, and therefore victorious over death: eighty-eight thousands of these chaste beings tenant the regions of the sky, north of the sun, until the destruction of the universe:

they enjoy immortality, for that they are holy; exempt from covetousness and concupiscence, love and hatred; taking no part in the procreation of living beings, and detecting the unreality of the properties of elementary matter.

By immortality is meant existence to the end of the Kalpa: life as long as the three regions (earth, sky, and heaven) last is called exemption from (reiterated) death.

The consequences of acts of iniquity or piety, such as Brāhmiṇicide or an Aśvamedha, endure for a similar period, or until the end of a Kalpa, when all within the interval between Dhruva and the earth is destroyed.

The space between the seven Ṛṣis and Dhruva, the third region of the sky, is the splendid celestial path of Viṣṇu (Viṣṇupāda), and the abode of those sanctified ascetics who are cleansed from every soil, and in whom virtue and vice are annihilated.

This is that excellent place of Viṣṇu to which those repair in whom all sources of pain are extinct, in consequence of the cessation of the consequences of piety or iniquity, and where they never sorrow more.

There abide Dharma, Dhruva, and other spectators of the world, radiant with the superhuman faculties of Viṣṇu, acquired through religious meditation; and there are fastened and inwoven to all that is, and all that shall ever be, animate or inanimate.

The seat of Viṣṇu is contemplated by the wisdom of the Yogis, identified with supreme light, as the radiant eye of heaven.

In this portion of the heavens the splendid Dhruva is stationed, and serves for the pivot of the atmosphere. On Dhruva rest the seven great planets, and on them depend the clouds.

The rains are suspended in the clouds, and from the rains come the water which is the nutriment and delight of all, the gods and the rest; and they, the gods, who are the receivers of oblations, being nourished by burnt-offerings, cause the rain to fall for the support of created beings. This sacred station of Viṣṇu, therefore, is the support of the three worlds, as it is the source of rain.

From that third region of the atmosphere, or seat of Viṣṇu, proceeds the stream that washes away all sin, the river Gangā, embrowned with the unguents of the nymphs of heaven, who have sported in her waters.

Having her source in the nail of the great toe of Viṣṇu's left foot, Dhruva receives her, and sustains her day and night devoutly on his head; and thence the seven Ṛṣis practise the exercises of austerity in her waters, wreathing their braided locks with her waves.

The orb of the moon, encompassed by her accumulated current, derives augmented lustre from her contact. Falling from on high, as she issues from the moon; she alights on the summit of Meru, and thence flows to the four quarters of the earth, for its purification.

The Sītā, Alakanandā, Chakṣu, and Bhadrā are four branches of but one river, divided according to the regions towards which it proceeds.

The branch that is known as the Alakanandā was borne affectionately by Mahādeva, upon his head, for more than a hundred years, and was the river which raised to heaven the sinful sons of Sagara, by washing their ashes.

The offences of any man who bathes in this river are immediately expiated, and unprecedented virtue is engendered. Its waters, offered by sons to their ancestors in faith for three years, yield to the latter rarely attainable gratification.

Men of the twice-born orders, who offer sacrifice in this river to the lord of sacrifice, Puruṣottama, obtain whatever they desire, either here or in heaven.

Saints who are purified from all soil by bathing in its waters, and whose minds are intent on Keśava, acquire thereby final liberation.

This sacred stream, heard of, desired, seen, touched, bathed in, or hymned, day by day, sanctifies all beings; and those who, even at a distance of a hundred leagues, exclaim "Gangā, Gangā," atone for the sins committed during three previous lives.

The place whence this river proceeds, for the purification of the three worlds, is the third division of the celestial regions, the seat of Viṣṇu.