King Prithu is celebrated as the first consecrated (dedicated to God) king. He is also considered as the first chakravartin (the universal ruler). He is also known as Pruthu, Prithi and Prithu Vainya, literally, Prithu — the son of Vena.
Birth of Prithu:
He was the son of King Vena. He was born without female intervention i.e. he was ayo-Jina (born without the participation of yoni). Consequently, he is untouched by desire and ego and is able to control his senses.
King Vena was the descendant of Dhruva. He was an evil king, who did not respect dharma. He neglected Vedic rituals. Due to this, the rishis (sages) killed Vena. King Vena has no children. Thus he has no successor.
The kingdom was in famine due to the evilness of Vena. In order to give the kingdom its new ruler, who will bring prosperity to its people and to the whole humanity, they churned out the dead body of King Vena.
As a result of churning first appears a nasty looking creature. A dark dwarf hunter, a symbol of Vena’s evil. He was driven to the forest. Now the dead body of Vena, free from sins becomes pure. On further churning, Prithu emerged from the right arm of the corpse.
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An incarnation of Lord Vishnu:
He has a symbol of lotus in his palm and foot. And a symbol of chakra on his hand. That’s why he is also said to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The story of King Prithu chasing Earth goddess:
According to Bhagavata Purana, after the coronation of Prithu by Brahmins, he was made the Emperor. At that time, there was famine everywhere. He came to know that mother earth has hidden food, medicine, wealth, etc. in her abdomen. He asked the earth to release her fruits (wealth) for the welfare of the humanity. Earth refuses and ran away in the form of a cow.
To end this famine by slaying earth and getting her fruits, he chased earth who fled away in the form of a cow. He raised his bow, ran after earth and subdued her by threatening to shoot her.
When earth saw there is nobody who can save her from him, she came into his auspice. Earth states that killing her would mean the end of his subjects too. Prithu lowered his weapons, reassured her that he would uphold dharma and promised her to be her guardian.
He then milked her using Manu as a calf and received all vegetables, grains, wealth, etc. as her milk for the welfare of humanity.
Why is earth also called as Prithvi?
By granting life to earth and being her protector, he became Earth’s father and that’s why Earth came to be known as Prithvi, daughter of Prithu.
However, Manu Smriti considers Prithvi as Prithu’s wife and not his daughter. Thus suggesting the name Prithvi as named after her husband, Prithu.