(Last Updated on : 05/10/2010)
Harivamsa Purana is a vital work of Sanskrit literature
. It is also known as Harivamsa or the lineage of Hari. It is not a poem and in no sense the work of any one poet, but a jumbled or quite loosely connected mass of texts- legends, myths and hymns- serving for the glorification of Lord Vishnu. The book is not termed as a nineteenth "Parva," but a Khila, i.e. a supplement or appendix to the Mahabharata
. Even if this Parva is not included in the eighteen Parvas of Mahabharata, the Harivamsa Parva contains the final two of the one hundred sub-parvas of the great epic. This episode is considered to be of a much later date than the epic of Mahabharata.
Composition of Harivamsa Parva
The Harivamsa is not the work of one compiler. The last third of it is surely only a later appendix to the appendix, and also in the remaining parts of the work many portions were probably inserted at quite different times. As far as the contents are concerned, the Harivamsa has no more in common with the Mahabharata than the Indian Puranas
, for many legends, in particular Brahmanical legends and myths, which occur in the Mahabharata, reappear in different versions in the Harivamsa as well as in the Puranas.
The Harivamsa Parva contains 16,374 verses and this Parva or episode was first recited by the renowned sage, Vaisampayana, to King Janamejaya
. In that assembly, Ugrasrava or Sauti was also present. Later on, by the request of the sages at Naimisaranya, headed by Saunaka, Sauti again narrated the Harivamsa Parva. In connection with the frame story of the Mahabharata, Saunaka, at the beginning of the appendix, requests Ugrasravas, after he has told him all the beautiful stories of the Bharatas, to relate something about the Vrsnis and Andhakas- the families to which Lord Krishna belongs. Thereupon Ugrasravas remarks that exactly the same request had been made by Janamejaya to Vaisampayana after the recitation of the Mahabharata, and the latter had then related all that which he himself was now going to repeat. Thus all that follows is placed in the mouth of Vaisampayana. Besides this, in a few verses at the beginning and a complete lengthy song at the end of the appendix, the praise of the Mahabharata including the Harivamsa is sung in extravagant verses, and the religious merit acquired by the reciting and hearing of the whole poem is emphasized.
Content of Harivamsa parva
The Harivansa consists of three great sections, the first of which is entitled Harivamsa Parva. The title "Harivamsa" i.e. "genealogy of Hari," which was given to the whole appendix is in reality only applicable to this first book. It begins in the manner of the Puranas with a rather confused account of the Creation and all sorts of mythological narratives- of Dhruva
, who became the Pole Star (62), of Daksha and his daughters, the female ancestors of the gods and demons (101), and others. The story of Vena, the Titan who was opposed to the Veda
and to sacrifice, and his son Prthu, the first king of men, is narrated in detail. Numerous legends, for instance those of Visvamitra and Vasistha (706) are worked into the genealogy of the solar dynasty (545), i.e. of King Iksvaku and his descendants, who trace their origin back to the sun-god. Regardless of any connection with this genealogy there is then inserted a ritual portion about the fathers and the sacrificial service due to them. Then follows (1312) the genealogy of the lunar dynasty, which sprang from Atri, the son of the moon-god (Soma). One of Soma`s grandsons was the renowned Pururavas
, whose love adventures with Urvasi
are related in a very archaic form. Among the descendants of Pururavas are Nahusa and Yayati. Yadu, the son of the latter, is the ancestor of the Yadavas, to whom Yasudeva belongs, as whose son Krishna the Lord Vishnu is born on earth. After the genealogy of the human Krishna has thus been given, there follow a series of songs (2131) dealing entirely with the god Vishnu and thus, to a certain extent, containing the divine previous history of Krishna.
The second great section of the Harivamsa, entitled Vishnuparvan, deals almost exclusively with Krishna, the god Vishnu become mortal. All the stories of the birth and childhood, the heroic deeds and love adventures of the human, often all-too-human, cowherd-god, are related here at great length. It essentially describes the life of Lord Krishna after the end of the great battle at Kurukshetra
Book III, called Bhavisyaparvan (11063), is only a loose collection of Purana texts. The title Bhavisyaparvan, i.e. "section of the future" refers only to the first cantos of this book, which contain prophecies regarding the coming ages of the world. Here is related the story of a horse-sacrifice which Janamejaya wished to offer; but Vyasa foretells him that this sacrifice would not be successful, for the godless age of Kali Yug will dawn, which will be followed only a long time later by the Krta age of virtue and piety. This section forms a complete whole and is even termed an independent poem. Then follow, without any connection, two differ ant accounts of the Creation. A third section deals in great detail with the incarnations of Vishnu as a boar, a man-lion and dwarf. Next follows a section which, like the last one in Book II, pursues the tendency to harmonise Vishnu- and Shiva-worship. Alternately Vishnu sings a hymn to Lord Shiva
and Shiva to Vishnu. The last longer section of the Harivamsa is the legend (Upakhyana) of the two Shiva-worshippers Hamsa and Dimhhaka, who are humiliated by Krishna-Vishnu. There is appended yet another long canto which, in most extravagant fashion, tells of the merit of reading the Mahabharata and the reward of heaven which awaits the reader, and further prescribes the presents which one should give to the readers (Vacaka) after the close of every Parva, and finally ends with a song in praise of the Mahabharata as the most sacred and most exalted of all "text-books" (Sastra). The book finally concludes with a short summing-up of the contents of the Harivamsa and an enumeration of the religious gains one acquires by hearing this Purana.
The fact that the Harivamsa is absolutely and entirely a Purana is also shown by the numerous, often literally identical, coincidences with passages in several of the most important Puranas. The importance of the Harivamsa lies not only in the fact that it is a part of the Mahabharata but also in that the way in which it is added to the epic is peculiarly adapted for throwing light on the history of the Mahabharata itself.