Prithu chasing Prithvi, who is in the form of a cow
|Affiliation||Avatar of Vishnu, Chakravarti sovereign|
|Weapon||Bow and arrow|
Prithu (Sanskrit: पृथु, Pṛthu, lit. "large, great, important, abundant") is a sovereign (chakravartin), named in the Vedic scriptures of ancient India. According to Hindu mythology, he is an Avatar (incarnation) of the preserver god—Vishnu. He is also called Pruthu, Prithi and Prithu Vainya, literally, Prithu — the son of Vena. Prithu is "celebrated as the first consecrated king, from whom the earth received her (Sanskrit) name Prithvi." He is mainly associated with the legend of his chasing the earth goddess, Prithvi, who fled in the form of a cow and eventually agreed to yield her milk as the world's grain and vegetation. The epic Mahabharata and text Vishnu Purana describes him as a part Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
The birth of Prithu is without female intervention. Thus being a ayonija ("born without (the participation) of the yoni"), Prithu is untouched by desire and ego and can thus control his senses to rule dutifully upholding Dharma.
The Mahabharata traces Prithu's lineage from Vishnu.The Almighty Vishnu created a human named Virajas to rule the earth and bring order to the Humans. Virajas lost his desire to rule the earth after beholding Vishnu and became an ascetic. Virajas' son was Krittimat, who became an ascetic. Krittimat's son was Kardama. Kardama's son was Ananga and Ananga's son was Atibala. Atibala, also called Anga, conquered the earth and ruled well. Atibala married Mrityu's daughter, Sunita and had a son named Vena. Vena's son would be Prithu.
The Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana tells the story of Prithu: King Vena, from the lineage of the pious Dhruva, was an evil king, who neglected Vedic rituals. Thus the rishis (sages) killed him, leaving the kingdom without an heir and in famine due to the anarchy of Vena. So, the sages churned Vena's body, out of which first appeared a dark dwarf hunter, a symbol of Vena's evil. Since the sins of Vena had gone away as the dwarf, the body was now pure. On further churning, Prithu emerged from right arm of the corpse. To end the famine by slaying the earth and getting her fruits, Prithu chased the earth (Prithvi) who fled as a cow. Finally, cornered by Prithu, the earth states that killing her would mean the end of his subjects too. So Prithu lowered his weapons and reasoned with the earth and promised her to be her guardian. Finally, Prithu milked her using Manu as a calf, and received all vegetation and grain as her milk, in his hands for welfare of humanity. Before Prithu's reign, there was "no cultivation, no pasture, no agriculture, no highway for merchants", all civilization emerged in Prithu's rule. By granting life to the earth and being her protector, Prithu became the Earth's father and she accepted the patronymic name "Prithvi". However, the Manu Smriti considers Prithvi as Prithu's wife and not his daughter, and thus suggests the name "Prithvi" is named after her husband, Prithu.
The Vayu Purana records that when born, Prithu stood with a bow, arrows and an armour, ready to destroy the earth, which was devoid of Vedic rituals. Terrified, the earth fled in form of a cow and finally submitted to Prithu's demands, earning him the title chakravartin (sovereign). Prithu is the first king, recorded to earn the title. The creator-god Brahma is described to have recognized Prithu as an avatar of Vishnu, as one of Prithu's birthmark was Vishnu's chakram (discus) on his hand and thus Prithu was "numbered amongst the human gods". According to Oldham, the title Chakravarti may be derived from this birthmark, and may not be indicative of universal dominion. Prithu was worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu in his lifetime and now is considered a Nāga demi-god. Shatapatha Brahmana (Verse 3.5.4.) calls him the first anointed king and Vayu Purana calls him adiraja ("first king").
The epic Mahabharata states that Vishnu crowned Prithu as the sovereign and entered the latter's body so that everyone bows to the king as to god Vishnu. Now, the king was "endowed with Vishnu's greatness on earth". Further, Dharma (righteousness), Shri (goddess of wealth, beauty and good fortune) and Artha (purpose, material prosperity) established themselves in Prithu.
Prithu became the first true king. He became a Kshatriya after he healed the Brahmanas of their wounds, inflicted by Prithu's tyrannical father, Vena. After acquiring many presents from the gods, Prithu conquered and ruled the earth as well as the Devas, Asuras, Yakshas, Rakshasas and Nagas in all glory. It was where the Satya Yuga reached its pinnacle. Prithu liberated his father Vena, from the hell called Pūt, hence all sons are called Putras. Practicing detachment, Prithu ruled according to the Vedas and the Dandaneeti.
His capital is believed to be somewhere in modern-day Haryana. Prithu used his Kshatriya power to make the earth yield its riches. Hence the earth is called Prithvi, daughter of Prithu. Prithu, by mere fiat of will, created millions of men, elephants, chariots and horses. During his reign, there was no decreptitude, no calamity, no famine, no disease, no agriculture and no mining. Prithu enjoyed popularity amongst his subjects, hence all kings are called Rajas. Cows yielded buckets of rich milk when they were touched. Trees and lotuses always had honey in them. People were healthy and happy and had no fear of thieves or wild animals. Nobody died of accidents. Kusha grass was golden in colour. Fruits were always sweet and ripe and nobody went hungry. People lived in houses or caves or trees or wherever they liked. For the first time, civilization and commerce came into existence.
Prithu himself shattered many mountains with his arrows and made the earth even. He had divine powers of creating or disappearing any mundane object with his mental power; ability to play musical instruments, sing and act. His chariot could travel over land, water and air with complete ease. Mountains made way for Prithu on his chariot and his flagstaff was never entangled when Prithu travelled through dense forests as the trees made way for him. Prithu practised charity and donated colossal amounts of gold to the Brahmanas.
Prithu appointed Shukracharya, the son of Bhrigu and Garga, the son of Angirasa as his preceptors. The Valakhilyas, a group consisting of 60,000 thumb sized ascetics and known for their genius, became Prithu's counsellors.
The Atharvaveda credits him of the invention of ploughing and thus, agriculture. He is also described as one who flattened the Earth's rocky surface, thus encouraging agriculture, cattle-breeding, commerce and development of new cities on earth. In a hymn in Rigveda, Prithu is described as a rishi (seer). D. R. Patil suggests that the Rigvedic Prithu was a vegetarian deity, associated with Greek god Dionysus and another Vedic god Soma.
Bhagavata Purana further states that Prithu performed ninety-nine ashwamedha yagnas (horse-sacrifices), but Indra, kings of the demi-gods, disturbed Prithu's hundredth one. The yagya was abandoned, Vishnu gave Prithu his blessings and Prithu forgave Indra for the latter's theft of the ritual-horse. It also states that the Four Kumaras, the four sage-incarnations of Vishnu, preached Prithu about devotion to Vishnu. After governing his kingdom for a long time, Prithu left with his wife Archi, to perform penance in the forest in his last days. He experienced Samadhi and voluntarily gave up his body in the forest, and Archi went Sati on his funeral pyre.
Wives and children
Apart from Prithvi who is sometimes considered the daughter or wife of Prithu, Prithu has a wife called Archi and five sons. Archi, emerged from Vena's body, along with Prithu and is considered as an avatar of goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu. Prithu's son Vijitswa, became the sovereign and controlled the middle of the kingdom. Prithu's other sons, Haryarksha, Dhumrakesha, Vrika and Dravina ruled the east, south, west and north of kingdom respectively.
O'Flaherty interprets the myth of Prithu—his transformation from a hunter who chased the earth-cow to the herdsman-farmer—as a transition in Vedic or Hindu people from eating beef to having cow's milk and cultivated vegetables and grain instead of beef. David Shulman compares Prithu with the Vedic deity Rudra-Shiva. Prithu, like Rudra, is an ideal king, but with a violent side. Prithu's actions of chasing the earth-cow as a hunter and finally milking her, display this terrifying side of the king. Both, Prithu and Rudra, are closely associated with sacrifice.
Celebration in Indian society
Chinese scholar Hiuen Tsang (c. 640 AD) records the existence of the town Pehowa, named after Prithu, "who is said to be the first person that obtained the title Raja (king)". Another place associated with Prithu is Prithudaka (lit. "Prithu's pool"), a town on banks of Sarasvati river, where Prithu is believed to have performed the Shraddha of his father. The town is referred as the boundary between Northern and central India and referred to by Patanjali as the modern Pehowa.
Shriman Narayan, one of the protagonists of Indian Panchayati Raj movement, tracing its origin, writes: "It is believed that the system was first introduced by King Prithu while colonizing the Doab between the Ganges and Jamuna."
- Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary (2008 revision)
- Singh p.1712
- The Vedas use the Sanskrit word annam meaning generic "food-stuffs". "Annam". Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network. Archived from the original on 24 June 2010.
- Singh p.1713
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- For Bhagavata Purana, see
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- Pattnaik, Devdutt (1807). The Goddess in India: The Five Faces of the Eternal Feminine. India: Asiatic Society of Bengal (Original from Oxford University). pp. 253–5. ISBN 9780892818075.
- Oldham, C.F. (1988). The Sun and the Serpent: A Contribution to the History of Serpent-worship. Asian Educational Services. p. 74. ISBN 9788120604162.
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- O'Flaherty pp. 89–90
- O'Flaherty p. 91
- Singh pp.1713–4
- P. 14 Panchayati Raj By Pratap Chandra Swain
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- Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1995). Other Peoples' Myths: The Cave of Echoes. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-61857-9.