Ananta was the renowned son born to Kaśyapa (Kashyapa) and Prajāpati Dakṣa’s (Prajapati Daksha’s) ninth daughter Kadrū (Kadru).
Anantadeva’s wife was called Tuṣti (Tushti).
In the lower parts of the multitudes of hells lies the universal flame of annihilation or kālāgni (kalagni). Below that resides Anantadeva. Balanced on his head like a grain of mustard is the world. He is called Ananta for achieving this exceptional feat.
During the complete dissolution of the universe, the world was burned by the mythical kālānala (kalanala, same as kālāgni). With his appetite satiated after consuming the three lokas or planes, Parameśvara (Parameshwara) entered a self-absorbed trance. At this time, Anantadeva left the earth and came to him, bearing him on his middle hood. He spread his eastern hood in the shape of a lotus and provided him with a cover. Ananta created a pillow for Parameśvara with his southern hood, and with his northern one, shaped another pillow for Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa’s (Vishnu-Narayana’s) feet. He held out his western hood like a palm leaf and fanned Viṣṇu himself. On his īśāna (ishana) or north-east hood, he supported Nārāyaṇa’s saṃkha (sankha, or conch shell), chakra (or circle; war quoit), Nandaka (his sword), khaḍga (kharga), both his quivers, and even Garuḍa (Garura). Finally, on his āgneya (agneya) or south-east hood, he bore Nārāyaṇa’s mace, lotus, his Śārṅga (Sarnga) bow, along with his other weapons. Thus Ananta completely moulded his body into Nārāyaṇa’s śayyā (sajya, or bed). Perhaps this is what is referred to as ananta-śayyā.
It is said that once, when Vasundhara Pṛthīvi (Prithivi; the Earth) asked Anantadeva to elucidate on knowledge, he became speechless like a mute. Feeling helpless and afraid, he sought the counsel of his father, Kaśyapa. Kaśyapa advised him to sing hymns in praise of Sarasvatī (Saraswati), the goddess of knowledge and articulation. With her blessings, Ananta disproved all of Vasundhara’s misunderstandings and helped her with gentle consultations.
He is Nāgeśvara (Nageshwara, or the lord of the serpents). He is Manasā’s (Manasa’s) brother. For a period of hundred epochs of Manu he was engaged in rigorous religious austerities dedicated to Mūlaprakṛti Śakti (Mulaprakriti Shakti; the primordial feminine force of nature).
The weight of the Earth is borne by seven powers. One of those powers is Ananta—
dharmaḥ kāmaśca kaliśca vasurvāsukirevaca.
anantaḥ kapilascaiva saptaite dharaṇīdharāḥ.
- Another name of Śeṣa Nāga (Sesha Naga). While discussing Śeṣa Nāga, Ananta has been used as a synonym for him. He resides in pātāla (patala) or hell, situated below the Earth. He bears the weight of this Earth—
śeṣo’si nāgottama dharmadevo mahīmimāṃ dhārayase yadekaḥ.
Right after this śloka (shloka) it is said—
adhobhūmau basatyevaṃ nāgo’nantaḥ pratāpavān.
Therefore, Śeṣa and Ananta stem from the same thought. Also, Ananta and Śeṣa have been mentioned together in the same verse as synonyms sharing a noun-adjective relationship. Since Śeṣa and Ananta are being referred to at the same time, we may arrive at the conclusion that they are the same spiritual power—
śeṣaṃ cākalpayad devam anantaṃ viśvarūpiṇam.
- Being God Viṣṇu and also an incarnation of him, Kṛṣṇa (Krishna) identified Ananta as his own divine godhead—
anantaścāsmi nāgānām ananto bhujageṣu ca.
- At the Kurukṣetra (Kurukshetra) war, when Irāvān (Iravan), Arjuna’s son born to the serpent belle Ulūpī (Ulupi), was engaged in battle along with the serpent soldiers come from his mother’s clan, his gigantic form resembled that of Anandeva’s figure surrounded by numerous serpents—
dadhāra sumahadrūpam ananta iva bhogavān.
- Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother Balarāma (Balarama) is identified as an incarnation of God Ananta. At the time of the retreat of the incarnations, that is, when the reincarnated forms (of divine presences) left the earth, Ananta came out from Balarāma’s mouth and returned to hell.
- According to Viṣṇupurāṇa (Vishnupurana), there is no anta, that is, limit or end to heavenly qualities. That is why Ananta is another name for Iśvara or the Supreme One—
nāntaṃ guṇānāṃ gacchanti tenānto’yamavyayaḥ.
Matsyapurāṇa (Matsyapurana) says the the ancient god Brahmā (Brahma) and saints, sages and ascetics cannot find anta or end to the boundless divine grace and power of Iśvara; hence his appellation as Ananta.
- Viṣṇupurāṇa, while portraying the seven hells, has described Ananta’s grace and glory in his oneness with Śeṣanāga and Balarāma. It is said, the dark form of Viṣṇu renowned as Śeṣa, that lies beneath everything in hell, whose remarkable qualities cannot be captured in words by daitya (giant), dānava (danava, or ogre), gandharva, apsarā (apsara), or holy minstrels who have achieved divine grace, that god worshipped by gods and kings is called Ananta by great men who have attained mokṣa (moksha)—
so’nantaḥ paṭhyate siddhairdevo devarṣipūjitaḥ.
Ananta has one thousand heads, one thousand hoods, and his heads are adorned by the symbol of svastikā (swastika). With his one thousand hoods, he has kept asuras (demons) rendered powerless.
- Viṣṇupurāṇa, has imposed Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother Balarāma’s appearance in describing Ananta—eyes rolling in pride, kuṇḍalas (kundalas) adorning his ears, crest and garland around his neck; dressed in blue attires and white necklace, he carried a plough in one hand and a club in the other. Both Lakṣmi (Lakshmi) and Vāruṇī (Varuni) were seen to have taken forms to serve him.
At the end of the kalpa (aeon), Ananta spouted from his mouth venomous fire; a dazzling formed rudra (force) known as Saṅkarṣaṇa (Sankarshana) appeared from his body and devoured the three worlds. At the time of the end of the world, the Supreme Man bore the entire world within his stomach and went into a self-absorbed trance in Ananta’s lap.
With the entire earth on his head like a crown, he is situated at the core of pātāla (patala, roughly hell), in the form of Śeṣanāga, thus maintaining in their places all gods, human beings, and asuras—
āste pātāla-mūlasthaḥ śeṣo’śeṣa surārcitaḥ.
- More detailed descriptions are available in Bhāgavatapurāṇa (Bhagavatapurana). At the base of hell, the craft of God Viṣṇu embodying the element of vice that spread over an expanse of thirty thousand yojanas (a measure of distance), was renowned as Ananta. To the Sāttvata (Sattwata) sect who follow the Pancarātra Samhitā (Pancharatra Samhita), he is known as Saṅkarṣaṇa (Sankarshana), one of the four alignments of their worship.
The whole universe, held on only on of Anantadeva’s one thousand heads, looked like a mere grain of mustard, so massive is the expanse of Ananta’s true form. At the time of universal annihilation, when he is ready to destroy the entire world, a three-eyed god of rage (Rudradeva) armed with a trident and twenty-one alignments of troops, known as Saṅkarṣaṇa, would from the frowning glare of Ananta.
Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother Balarāma is seen as one with this form of Ananta, Saṅkarṣaṇa, and his Balarāma’s form is inherent within Ananta’s. Bhāgavata (Bhagatava) refers to that description—Ananta’s arms are like pillars of silver and adorned by white ornaments. He is dressed in blue garments, with one arm on a plough; he wears a kuṇḍala (kundala, an ornament) in one ear, and both his eyes are in a constant state of frenzy from elation, rolling and overwhelmed with wonder. Nārada (Narada), Tumburu, et al eulogise him, gods, demons and hermits pray to him. Yet, despite having such untamable strength, great qualities and immense power, he placed himself at the bottom of the earth as a vessel and bore the world for men to exist upon.
- The reference of Anantanāga that we get in Rāmāyaṇa (Ramayana) is also to a pure form of Anantadeva. When Sugrība (Sugriba) was deploying monkey warriors to different places in search of Sītā (Sita), he mentioned Anantanāga while talking about the locations in the east.There is a golden mountain known as Jātarūpaśīla (Jatarupashila) on the northern bank of Jalod Sea. The great serpent as white as the moon, who resides there, is Anantadeva.
He has a thousand heads and is dressed in blue garments. At the peak of the mountain that is his residence, there is a palm tree with three branches that stands as a symbol of his prowess. It must be mentioned that Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother Balarāma also used to dress in blue and possessed a chariot of palm trees.