Most people only know about Vishnu's incarnation Rama, who was a king of the solar dynasty. But many generations before Rama, Vishnu incarnated as another solar dynasty king, known as Mandhata (AKA Mandhatri). The story of Mandhata's birth is told in numerous Hindu scriptures, including this chapter of the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata, this chapter of the Vishnu Purana, and this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam. It goes roughly as follows.

There was once a king of Ayodhya named Yuvanshva who had numerous wives but no children, so he conducted a Yagna to have a son. The priests gave him a pot of water and told him to instruct one of his wives to drink it in order to become pregnabtt. But in the middle of the night, Yuvanshva was thirsty and accidentally drank the water himself. So despite being a man, he became pregnant! The Ashwini Kumaras, gods associated with medicine, helped deliver the child, named Mandhata, and then Indra provided it with milk from his finger. Mandhata grew up to be a great emperor who apparently conquered the three worlds. He had numerous daughters, who married the sage Saubhari, and he had illustrious sons like Muchukunda and Ambarisha (whom I discuss here.)

But my question is, what is the purpose of Vishnu incarnating as Mandhata? As I discuss in this answer, the Matsya Purana describes various incarnations of Vishnu in the present Vaivasvata Manvantara, and here is all it says about the Mandhata incarnation:

The fifth incarnation was that of the world-Emperor, Mandhatri, which took place in the fifteenth Treta, when Uttanga was the officiating priest.

This excerpt from the Prabhasa Khanda of the Skanda Purana says the same thing:

The fifth incarnation was in the fifteenth Treta Yuga. He was Mandhata, the emperor, along with Uthathya (as preceptor).

So was the purpose of this incarnation simply to become emperor of the world, or was there more to it than that? I first heard about Mandhata when I was a little kid, while reading Devdutt Pattanaik's book "Vishnu: an Introduction" (which I recommend if you want a good basic understanding of things). Pattanaik claims that Mandhata was the first king to propagate the system of Varnashrama Dharma, or the system of castes and stages of life. Pattanaik is known to take artistic license, though, so is there any scriptural basis for that?

1 Answer 1


Overall Objective: to get rid off Gandharvas and do justice to nagas.

Part 1: There were many sons/daughter's of Rishi's wife - Mauneya and Nagas. Mauneya's and Nagas had a rivalry since Mauneya was offered with heritage over wind (eagles) and Nagas were to live upon Earth but with Amrit (which Shiva discarded and gave them in parts to both Asura and Devas). Part of Asuras were later Mauneya and Nagas (this doesn't mean they were bad and destructive but had rivalry among brothers).

Part 2: The Nagas hoped and prayed to Narayana to rescue them. Narayana told them that he would appear in Mandhata's son Purukutsa and kill the Gandharvas. Afterwards Narmada brought Purukutsa to Rasatal where Lord Narayana appeared in his body. Thus having the strength of Lord Vishnu, Purukutsa defeated and killed the Gandharvas. Pleased by the action of Narmada, the Nagas blessed her with a boon that whoever remembered her would have no fear of snake venom and Purukutsa that he would have an immortal son.

Refer Vishnu Purana.

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    Welcome to Hinduism.SE! I'm trying to find out about why Vishnu incarnated as Mandhata, not why he incarnated as Mandhata's son Purukutsa. Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 18:45
  • Hi, thanks. The answer would be that to get rid off Gandharvas who had done betrayal to nagas. Again, it's mentioned in my above answer. You could alternatively refer here: books.google.co.in/… (overall objective for Narayana to get into Purukutsa's body). Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 21:37
  • First of all, that book is not the actual Vishnu Purana; you can read the Vishnu Purana here: sacred-texts.com/hin/vp/index.htm Second of all, why wouldn't Vishnu just incarnate as Mandhata's son Purukutsa? What is the purpose of Vishnu incarnating as Mandhata himself? Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 15:29
  • I don't understand. Why'd you say that the reference I had given isn't VP and yours is - just because you referred to the one you think is and others not? Second: the reference I had given, it clearly mentions Narayana did not incarnate - he entered into Purukutsa and then killed Gandharvas. I re-checked and I found references for Gandharvas in many texts. Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 17:46
  • The book you cited is just someone's summary of the Vishnu Purana. The book I cited is an actual English translation of the Vishnu Purana. In any case, I'm not interested in the story of Purukutsa killing the Gandharvas, I'm interested in why Vishnu incarnated as Mandhata. Purukutsa has nothing to do with my question. Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 19:19

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