Sri Vishnu Puranam – Commentary-Part 1



Chapter One: The Question and the Arrangement

The Vishnu Purana has six sections (amsa-s). Each section has several chapters. The purana begins with the sloka:

Paraasaram muniuararn kritapaurvaanhikakriyam

Maitreyah paripapraccha pranipatyaabhivaadya  cha

A diktat of the Upanishads  is as follows: ‘Go in search of a good  teacher  to know  the Truth.’ Maitreya,  a student,  stresses the meaning  of this statement  in his own unique way. [He feels] One’s intelligence is keen and clear in the early hours of the  morning.  Parasara Bhagavan has completed his morning work and is resting. Maitreya is his disciple. He wants to know from his teacher about the Supreme as the ‘eternal way’. He finds that this auspicious time is most appropriate for such ‘learning’.  The  teacher has already completed  the morning  rituals and  so will not  consider him an intrusion. Maitreya thinks this is the right time to receive  teachings   (This  indicates   that  teaching should not come in the way of fulfilling one’s daily rituals. The rituals are important.  After completing them,  one may follow other pursuits).

Maitreya  approaches   his teacher  formally  to satisfy   his  own  longing. He first prostrates (pranipaata), salutes the teacher and then  repeats his family name  (abhivaadana).  He  follows this with  his request.  [It  is recommended   that]  One should  not  directly  refer to  the  object  of  one’s search. One must come to it by asking about other, allied subjects. This is known as reverential enquiry (pariprasna). It may be noted  that Krishna  speaks to Arjuna even thus (IV 34): ‘You must follow this custom  in the presence of the teacher. Only then will the learned  ones be pleased and  teach  you.’

We may note an identical usage in the purana and the Gita too.

“Pranipatya, abhivaadya, paripaprachcha” are the words used in the verse quoted  earlier. In the Gita (IV 34)  you have, “Pranipaatena, pariprasnena, sevayaa”.

In the former we have verbal participles and a finite verb and  in the  latter, merely nouns. This  is the only difference. In the Gita, Arjuna learnt about the method of questioning. Here Maitreya shows how to go about  it. Further on, he speaks of his qualifications  for learning  about  what  he wants, and stresses that there is no one but Parasara who can help him.

Maitreya requests

[He says], “My  teacher! Have I not  learnt  all the Veda-s  from you? In the same way I received training in Dharmashatras,  the limbs of Vedas like Sisha  and  Vyakarana.  By your grace I have achieved proficiency in all the shastra-s. Even other learned  ones who  have mastered  all shastra-s will not reject me as ignorant for I have achieved mastery of the shastra-s to their admiration.  For all this,  the  main  cause is your  grace. Do grant me such kindness now also.

The subjects he wants to know

These are the subjects I wish to know: How was the world earlier? When is it going to be recreated? What is it from which the world gets created? What is its primal cause? How does it remain staid? Where has it gone to rest? Where  will it go to rest? What are the measures of the five great elements? I want to know all about these and also about the birth  of gods, the form and size of oceans, mountains,  the sun and the rest, the dynasties of gods, the times of  the  Manus, long  aeons  (mahakalpa-s), the succession  of aeons  (kalpa-vikalpa-s) which are known  as Brahma’s day, the four cycles of periods (yuga-s), the form of the deluge, the characteristics of periods  (yuga dharma-s),   the divine  sages, the histories of kings,  the  manner   in which  Vyasa codified  the Vedas   and  the  duties bearing  upon one’s caste and station in life (varnaashrama-dharma-s).

Do  kindly  favour  me.”  This  is the  summary  of Maitreya Bhagavan’s queries. The purana proceeds  in the manner  of giving replies to these questions.

One who has realized the Supreme

Parasara comes forward to answer Maitreya who has  asked his questions in the  proper  way. The questions are not  merely about  subjects  like the creation of the world. They deal with the Supreme Brahman  as well. Indeed,  the world  comes forth from  the Parabrahman.  The  creation,  sustenance and destruction  of the world are but the stages of His  play. ‘Isn’t  He  the  Supreme who  enjoys  the endless play of creating the entire world, sustaining it and  destroying  it?’ Hence  these are the  allied questions  (pariprasna-s).

As an answer, the Parabrahman will have to be explained. During this time, the disciple must listen to  the teacher’s words  with  concentration. Only then  will he gain steady illumination. Parasara thinks of all this. To make his disciple concentrate on what is being told to him,  he conveys that he knows what he is speaking about. He also indicates how he came by such knowledge and recounts the life-stories of two great men from whom he gained wisdom.  This  forms his introduction.   Only  later does he give appropriate  answers to the questions.

This passage reveals that when someone wants to teach others the higher  knowledge of vedanta, one must remember with gratitude the  help rendered by one’s teachers and illumine the lineage of teachers (guruparampara).

To be continued….

This English Commentary is written by smt Prema  Nandakumar based on the tamil commentary written by H.H. 45th Azhagiyasingar of the Ahobila MuttHis Holiness has ‘commented’ only on select chapters of the Vishnu Purana. The English translation faithfully follows the original in this aspect. Words that appear in square brackets [ ] have been placed there to serve as a link and do not form part of the original. Reproduced from Nrusimhapriya.

For Tamil commentary and Upanyasam of Vishnu Puranam, please visit:

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