By Swami Harshananda
The king Vena of the Suryavamśa or the solar race was an atheist and an inveterate sinner. Hence the sages killed him by the power of their tapas or austerity and created the king Prthu out of his dead body, also by using the same power.
Pṛthu was crowned as the emperor of the whole earth. He was the first king who organised a State and a government.
After he became the emperor, the people of the earth who had been famished approached him for food. When he learnt that the earth had been swallowing all the seeds sown, instead of allowing them to grow (being angry with the evil people then living on earth), he was about to attack it and punish it.
The earth however, appeared before him in the form of a cow, apologised and requested him to milk her and get whatever he wanted.
Pṛthu as also the sages and others— like the ṛṣis (sages), devas (gods), daityas (demons), gandharvas (demigods) and others—‘milked’ her and got whatever they wanted. The ‘milk’ thus got was:
agricultural crops, Vedas, soma juice, strength, alchoholic drinks, music, offerings fit for śrāddha ceremonies, yogic powers and so on.
In other words, the earth (or the created world) gave all things to all persons!
From that day the earth came to be known as Pṛthvī or Pṛthivī, the daughter of the emperor Pṛthu.
Other achievements of Pṛthu were: making the uneven earth into a plane ground, creation of villages and towns with all the facilities for civilised living, protection from fears and dangers, as also the performance of many Vedic sacrifices.
His hundredth Aśvamedha sacrifice was disrupted by Indra, the king of gods in heaven. Hence he got angry and was about to destroy him (Indra) when Brahmā (the four-faced creator) appeared and brought about a reconciliation between them. Lord Viṣṇu also appeared in his Yāgaśālā (sacrificial shed) and was worshipped by him.
After giving suitable advice to his subjects and receiving spiritual instructions from the great sage Sanatkumāra, Pṛthu coronated his eldest son Vijitāśva as the next king. Then he retired to the forest along with his queen Arci, performed tapas or austerities, ultimately attaining the highest divine world.
This story of Pṛthu is given in detail in the Bhāgavata (4.15-23) and in the Visnupurāna (1.13).
prthvī (‘daughter of [the king] Pṛthu;’ ‘[that whose] quality is hardness or solidity’)
This word has generally been used in two senses: the element earth, being
one of the five fundamental elements involved in creation; and the earth in which we live. For the former, see BHUTA.
The latter is said to comprise seven dvīpas or islands known as: Jambudvīpa, Plakṣadvīpa, Sālmalīdvīpa, Kuśadvīpa, Krauñcadvīpa, Sākadvīpa and Puṣkara-dvīpa.
All these seven dvīpas are surrounded by different oceans like Lavaṇasamudra (ocean of salt-water).
Bhāratavarṣa (India) is in the Jambudvīpa.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore