A long time ago, there lived a king by the name of Vena. However, Vena was not a considered to be a good king and was reviled because he had forcefully stopped all sacrifices on earth. He stopped the priests from praying and offering any oblations to Lord Vishnu, as he felt that there wasn’t any need to pray to him as he, a mere mortal at that, was superior to Vishnu. In retaliation, Bhoomi Devi, the earth goddess, decided to abandon his kingdom. She took the form of a cow and went into hiding.
The priests tried their best to bring the king around but when they failed, they decided to kill him. Through the power of their asceticism they converted the blades of the dhruva grass into deadly weapons and brought about his death. However, Vena had no sons and the kingdom needed a king. So the sages once again commandeered their ascetic powers and began massaging the dead king Vena’s thighs. From there emerged a dark human being, short in stature and slightly stout. He was the Nishada, but was banished into the forest by the priests, the descendants of who are said to be from the region of the Vindhyas.
The sages then started rubbing the arms of the dead Vena, and from that emerged Prithu. On his birth, divine bows and arrows fell in a shower from the heavens. There was happiness all around, at finally having found a king and also that Vena despite being evil, would not have to go to hell as he now had a son.
Prithu was crowned as the next king and was soon associated with Lord Vishnu, as it was observed that he had the mark of a chakra, which was Vishnu’s weapon, on his right hand. While his supremacy was established, Bhoomi Devi was still missing and thus the earth had turned into barren land.
The people appealed to their king. Prithu set out with his bow and arrow and chased the mother goddess who had assumed the form of a cow. A long chase ensued until the goddess finally succumbed. And to ensure that there was a rich harvest on earth and celebrate his victory, Prithu is supposed to have flattened out the mountains with his bow, and established agriculture and trade. All the credit of establishing the rule of law and order, and bringing the earth goddess back, was given to Prithu and thus since then the earth goddess was also referred to as Prithvi.
This myth is found in the Bhagvata and the Vishnu Purana, and is also mentioned in the Shanti parva of the Mahabharat where this story is narrated to Yudhishthir after the war. The myth has many references which are of interest. This is probably the only myth which shows the sages killing someone. Besides, Prithu was considered to be the first king on earth, and thus can be considered as the first Kshatriya, who was responsible for the welfare of people. It is also records the transformation of people from being hunters (Prithu who chases the cow) to agriculturists according to scholars.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Source: Mahabharata, Shanti Parva
Image details: Prithu appears from Vena’s corpse, Wikipedia