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Vishnu Purana – Fifth Kandha

Chapter 34

An account of the burning of Varanasi by Krishna and killing of Paundraka

1-2Maitreya said: —Of a truth the divine Śauri, having assumed a mortal body, performed great achievements in his easy victories over Śakra and Śiva, and all their attendant divinities. I am now desirous to hear from you, illustrious sage, what other mighty exploit the humiliator of the prowess of the celestials performed.
3Parāśara said: —Hear, excellent Brahman, with reverent attention, an account of the burning of Varāṇasī by Kṛṣṇa, in the course of his relieving the burdens of the earth.
4-13There was a Vāsudeva who was called Pauṇḍraka[1], and who, though not the Vāsudeva, was flattered by ignorant people as the descended deity, until he fancied himself to be the Vāsudeva[2] who had come down upon earth. Losing all recollection of his real character, he assumed the emblems of Viṣṇu, and sent an ambassador to the magnanimous Kṛṣṇa with this message; “Relinquish, thou foolish fellow, the discus; lay aside all my insignia, my name, and the character of Vāsudeva; and come and do me homage; and I will vouchsafe thee means of subsistence.” At which Janārddana laughed, and replied, “Go, messenger, back to Pauṇḍraka, and say to him from me, ‘I will dispatch to thee my emblem the discus without fail. Thou wilt rightly apprehend my meaning and consider what is to be done; for I shall come to thy city, bringing the discus with me, and shall undoubtedly consign it to thee. If thou wilt command me to come, I will immediately obey, and be with thee to-morrow; there shall be no delay: and, having sought thy asylum, I will so provide, O king, that I shall never more have any thing to dread from thee.’” So saying, he dismissed the, ambassador to report these words to his sovereign; and summoning Garuḍa, mounted him, and set off for the city of Pauṇḍraka[3].
14-21When the king of Kāśī heard of the preparations of Keśava, he sent his army (to the aid of Pauṇḍraka), himself bringing up the rear; and with the force of the king of Kāśī, and his own troops, Pauṇḍraka, the false Vāsudeva, marched to meet Kṛṣṇa. Hari beheld him afar off, standing in his car, holding a discus, a club, a mace, a scimitar, and a lotus, in his hands; ornamented with a garland of flowers; bearing a bow; and having his standard made of gold: he had also the Srivatsa mark delineated on his breast; he was dressed in yellow garments, and decorated with earrings and a tiara. When the god whose standard is Garuḍa beheld him, he laughed with a deep laugh, and engaged in conflict with the hostile host of cavalry and elephants, fighting with swords, scimitars, maces, tridents, spears, and bows. Showering upon the enemy the shafts from his Śāraṅga bow, and hurling at them his mace and discus, he quickly destroyed both the army of Pauṇḍraka and that of the king of Kāśī.
22-23He then said to the former, who was foolishly wearing his emblems, “Pauṇḍraka, you desired me by your envoy to resign to you all my insignia. I now deliver them to you. Here is my discus; here I give up my mace; and here is Garuḍa, let him mount upon thy standard.”
24-27Thus speaking, he let fly the discus and the mace, by which Pauṇḍraka was cut to pieces, and cast on the ground; whilst the Garuḍa on his banner was demolished by the Garuḍa of Viṣṇu. The people, beholding this sight, exclaimed, “Alas! alas!” but the valiant king of Kāśī, adhering to the imposture of his friend, continued the conflict, till Śauri decapitated him with his arrows, shooting his head into the city of Kāśī, to the marvel of all the inhabitants. Having thus slain Pauṇḍraka and the king of Kāśī, with all their followers, Śauri returned to Dvārakā, where he lived in the enjoyment of heavenly delights.
28-31When the inhabitants of Kāśī saw the head of their king shot into their city, they were much astonished, and wondered how it could have happened, and by whom the deed could have been done. Having ascertained that the king had been killed by Kṛṣṇa, the son of the monarch of Kāśī[4], together with the priest of the family, propitiated Śaṅkara; and that deity, well pleased to be adored in the sacred place Avimukta, desired the prince to demand a boon: on which he prayed, and said, “O lord, mighty god, through thy favour let thy mystic spirit arise to destroy Kṛṣṇa, the murderer of my father.”
32-39“It shall be so,” answered Śaṅkara: and from out of the southern fire upsprang a vast and formidable female[5], like flame out of fire, blazing with ruddy light, and with fiery radiance streaming amidst her hair. Angrily she called upon Kṛṣṇa, and departed to Dvārakā; where the people, beholding her, were struck with dismay, and fled for protection to Madhusūdana, the refuge of all worlds. The wielder of the discus knowing that the fiend had been produced by the son of the king of Kāśī, through his adoration of the deity whose emblem is a bull, and being engaged in sportive amusements, and playing at dice, said to the discus, “Kill this fierce creature, whose tresses are of plaited flame.” Accordingly Sudarśana, the discus of Viṣṇu, immediately attacked the fiend, fearfully enwreathed with fire, and wearing tresses of plaited flame. Terrified at the might of Sudarśana, the creation of Maheśvara awaited not his attack, but fled with speed, pursued by him with equal velocity, until she reached Varānāśī, repelled by the superior might of the discus of Viṣṇu.
40-44The army of Kāśī, and the host of the demigods attendant upon Śiva, armed with all kinds of weapons, then sallied out to oppose the discus; but, skilled in the use of arms, he consumed the whole of the forces by his radiance, and then set fire to the city, in which the magic power of Śiva had concealed herself[6]. Thus was Varānāśī burnt, with all its princes and their followers, its inhabitants, elephants, horses, and men, treasures and granaries, houses, palaces, and markets. The whole of a city, that was inaccessible to the gods, was thus wrapped in flames by the discus of Hari and was totally destroyed. The discus then, with unmitigated wrath, and blazing fiercely, and far from satisfied with the accomplishment of so easy a task, returned to the hand of Viṣṇu[7].


[1] From being, the commentator says, king of Puṇḍra. The Bhāgavata calls him chief of the Kārūṣas; the Padma, king of Kāśī; but the Bhāgavata, as well as our text, makes the king of Kāśī his friend and ally.
[2] According to the Padma P., he propitiates Śiva, and obtains from him the insignia which constitute a Vāsudeva. The different authorities for this legend all use the term Vāsudeva in the sense of a title.
[3] The Hari V. and Padma P. send Pauṇḍraka to Dvārakā. According to the latter, Nārada incites Pauṇḍraka to the aggression, telling him he cannot be a Vāsudeva till he has overcome Kṛṣṇa: he goes, and is killed. The former work, as usual, enters into particulars of its own invention. Kṛṣṇa is absent on a visit to Śiva at Kailāsa, and during his absence Pauṇḍraka, assisted by Ekalavya, king of the Niṣādas, makes a night attack upon Dvārakā. They are resisted by the Yādavas under Sātyaki and Balarāma; by the former of whom Pauṇḍraka is repeatedly overthrown, and all but slain: he requires so much killing, however, that he is likely to obtain the victory, when Kṛṣṇa conies to the aid of his kinsmen, and after a protracted encounter, described in language employed a hundred times before, kills his competitor. The whole of the sections called the Kailāsa Yātrā, or Kṛṣṇa’s journey to Kailāsa, must have been wanting in the copy used by M. Langlois, as they are not included in his translation. The chapters of the Hari V. according to his enumeration of them are 261: my copy has 316.
[4] The Bhāgavata names him Sudakṣiṇa; the Padma, Daṇḍapāni.
[5] A personified Krityā, a magical creation. The Padma has the same. The Bhāgavata makes the product of the sacrificial fire a male, and sends him to Dvārakā, accompanied by a host of Bhūtas, Suva’s attendant goblins.
[6] According to the Bhāgavata, the magical being himself destroys Sudakṣiṇa and his priest; but Sudarśana consumes the people and the city. The Padma ascribes the destruction of the king and all his city to the discus. The Hari V. closes its narrative with the death of Pauṇḍraka, and makes no mention of the destruction of Benares. The circumstance is alluded to in a preceding section (s. 159) by Nārada, when detailing the exploits of Kṛṣṇa.
[7] In this legend, again, we have a contest between the followers of Viṣṇu and Śiva intimated, as, besides the assistance given by the latter to Pauṇḍraka, Benares—Varānāśī or Atimukta—has been from all time, as it is at present, the high place of the Śaiva worship. There is also an indication of a Vaiṣṇava schism, in the competition between Pauṇḍra and Kṛṣṇa for the title of Vāsudeva, and the insignia of his divinity.

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