Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism…
Hindu Scriptures (Part 6b) Puranas
Post Vedic Scriptures (Smriti ‘Remembrance’ scriptures)
The scriptures that appeared after the Vedas and Upnishads fall under the category of smriti ‘remembrance’.
Smriti literature includes Puranas, historical epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, Agamas, Darshanas and Dharmashastras (law books)
The Puranas are post-Vedic texts which typically contain a complete narrative of the history of the Universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of the kings, heroes and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology and geography.
There are 18 canonical Puranas, divided into three categories, each named after a deity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. There are also many other works termed Purana, known as ‘Upapuranas.’ Puranas usually give prominence to a particular deity, employing an abundance of religious and philosophical concepts. They are usually written in the form of stories related by one person to another.
The Puranas are available in vernacular translations and are disseminated by Brahmin scholars, who read from them and tell their stories, usually in Katha sessions in which a traveling Brahmin settles for a few weeks in a temple and narrates parts of a Purana.
The earliest written versions available now date from the time of the Gupta Empire (3 – 5 century CE). The date of the production of the written texts does not define the date of origin of the Puranas as they existed in oral form before being written while at the same time, they have been incrementally modified well into the 16th century. An early reference of Purana is found in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2; 500 BCE). The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad refers to Purana as the ‘5th Veda’, reflecting the early religious importance of these stories, presumably then in purely oral form.The term Purana also appears in the Atharvaveda 11.7.24.
According to Pargiter, the origin of Purana may date to the time of the final redaction of the Vedas. Gavin Flood connects the rise of the written Purana historically with the rise of devotional cults centering upon a particular deity in the Gupta era: the Puranic corpus is a complex body of materials that advance the views of various competing cults. Wendy Doniger, based on her study of indologists, assigns approximate dates to the various Puranas. She dates Markandeya Purana to c. 250 CE, Matsya Purana to c. 250–500 CE, Vayu Purana to c. 350 CE, Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana to c. 450 CE, Brahmanda Purana to c. 350–950 CE, Vamana Purana to c. 450–900 CE, Kurma Purana to c. 550–850 CE, and Linga Purana to c. 600–1000 CE.
Common ideas are found throughout the corpus but it is not possible to trace the lines of influence of one Purana upon another so the corpus is best viewed as a synchronous whole.
- Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhaagwat (18,000 verses)
- The most celebrated and popular of the Puranas, literally meaning Divine-Eternal tales of Supreme God) is one of the greatest Puranic scripture of Hinduism. It tells the story of Vishnu’s ten incarnations (Avatars). Its tenth and longest canto narrates the deeds of Krishna, introducing his childhood exploits. The Bhagavata Purana includes many stories well known in Hinduism, It was the first Purana to be translated into a European language, with three French translations made also between 1840 and 1857. Veda Vyasa is credited for being the author of Bhagavata Purana. The Bhagavata Purana is considered to be the purest and greatest of all the puranas since it invokes devotion towards Lord Vishnu and his various incarnations, primarily focusing on Krishna since he was the complete incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Bhagavata Purana truly reveals the means for becoming free from all material work, together with the processes of pure transcendental knowledge, renunciation and devotion to Lord Vishnu and anyone who seriously tries to understand, hears and chants the verses of the Bhagavata Purana with devotion to Lord Vishnu, becomes completely liberated from material bondage and attains moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths in the material world. The Bhagavata Purana declares Lord Vishnu (Narayana) as Para Brahman Supreme Lord.
- Matsya Purana (14,000 verses)
- One of the oldest of the 18 post-Vedic Hindu scriptures called the Puranas, it is a composite work dated to c. 250–500 CE. It narrates the story of Matsya, the first of ten major Avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. During the period of mahapralaya, Lord Vishnu had taken Matsya Avatar (fish incarnation) to save the seeds of all lives and Manu. Matsya Purana contains a comprehensive description of Manu and Matsya avatar.
- Vishnu Purana (23,000 verses)
- It is considered one of the most important Puranas and has been given the name Puranaratna (gem of Puranas). Vishnu Purana includes many stories well known in Vedic tradition, including the various avatars of God Vishnu and the life of his complete incarnation, Krishna. Presented as a dialogue between Parashara and his disciple Maitreya and divided into six parts, the major topics discussed include creation, stories of battles fought between asuras and devas, the Avatars (divine descents) of Vishnu and genealogy and stories of legendary kings. Vishnu Purana ascribes its authorship to Veda Vyasa.
- Skanda Purana (81,100 verses)
- Mahapurana, the scripture is devoted mainly to Kartikeya, son of Shiva and Parvati. It also contains a number of legends about Shiva, and the holy places associated with him. Describes the birth of Skanda or Karthikeya, second son of Shiva. It is an extraordinarily meticulous pilgrimage guide, containing geographical locations of pilgrimage centers in India, with related legends, parables, hymns and stories.
- Brahma Purana (10,000 verses)
- Divided into two parts, the Purvabhaga (former part) and the Uttarabhaga (later part). The first part narrates the story behind the creation of the cosmos, details the life and deeds of Rama and Krishna; glorification of the Godavari River. The second part contains the details about the Purushottama Tirtha, which is one of the holy places.
- Brahma Vaivarta Purana (17,000 verses)
- It mainly describes ways to worship Devis, Krishna and Ganesha. it was supposed to be recited by Sage Suta to the sages at the forest of Naimisharanya. The first part is called Brahma Khanda and describes Brahma and his sons, especially Narada. The second part called Prakriti Khanda deals with the goddesses or shaktis who are manifestations of Prakriti. The Third part, Ganesha Khanda, is about Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati. The fourth and last part is called Krsna Janma Khanda about birth and life of Krishna.
- Garuda Purana (19,000 verses)
- Generally read during the grieving period by Hindus when a close family member passes away, it describes death and its aftermaths. It contains instructions by Vishnu to his carrier, Garuda (the King of Birds; the vehicle of Vishnu). It is considered the authoritative Vedic reference describing ancient Indian gemology. Garuda Purana is divided into two parts, a purva khanda (first part) and an uttara khanda (subsequent part). The latter half of Garuda Purana deals with life after death.
- Harivamsa Purana (16,000 verses)
- The Harivamsha is divided into two parvas or books; the Harivamsha Purana and the Bhavishya Purana. The first book describes the creation of the cosmos and the legendary history of the kings of the Solar and Lunar dynasties leading up to the birth of Krishna. The second book recounts the history of Krishna up to the events prior to the Mahabharata. The last section provides a list of future kings and a description of Kaliyuga. Thus the book provides a sort of universal history of the Hindus.
- Markandeya Purana (09,000 verses)
- The Devi Mahatmya, an important text for the Shaktas, is embedded in it. It is written in the style of a dialogue between the ancient sage Markandeya and Jaimini, a disciple of Vyasa.
- Narada Purana (25,000 verses)
- It deals with the places of pilgrimages. It is in the style of dialogue between the sage Narada, and Sanatkumara. During the course of the dialogue between the two, Narada explains to Sanatkumara the major places of piligrimages, their location, and significance.
- Padma Purana (55,000 verses)
- In the first part of this scripture, sage Pulastya explains to Bhishma about religion and the essence of religion. The second part describes in detail Prithvi (Earth). In the third part, a description of the cosmos is given, including creation, and description of India (Bharata Varsha). The fourth part describes the life and deeds of Rama. The fifth part is in the style of a dialogue between Shiva and his consort, Parvati, and deals with the essential knowledge about religion.
- Purana/ Vayu Purana (24,000 verses)
- It describes the greatness of Shiva, greatness in worshiping Shiva and other stories about him.
- Linga Purana (11,000 verses)
- Describes the magnificence of Lingam, symbol of Shiva, and origin of the universe. It also contains many stories of Lingam one of which entails how Agni Lingam solved dispute between Vishnu and Brahma. The scripture is divided into two parts, These parts contain the description regarding the origin of universe, origin of the linga, and emergence of Brahma and Vishnu, and all the Vedas from the Linga. Shiva directly tells sometimes the importance of worship of Linga and the correct rituals to be followed during the puja of the linga.
- Agni Purana (15,400 verses)
- It contains descriptions and details of various incarnations of Vishnu, detailed account of Rama, Krishna, Prithvi (Earth), and the stars. It has a number of verses dealing with ritual worship, cosmology and astrology, history, warfare, sections on grammar and meter, law, medicine, and martial arts. Tradition has it that it was originally recited by Agni to the sage Vasishta. It also contains details of Vastu Shastra and Gemology.
- Kurma Purana (17,000 verses)
- It is believed to have been directly narrated by the Lord Vishnu to the sage Narada, and contains the details about the Kurma Avatar of Lord Vishnu. Narada is believed to have stated the contents of this Puranas to Sage Suta, who narrated this Purana to an assembly of great sage.
- Vamana Purana (10,000 verses)
- In this Purana, Narada asks Pulastya about the assumption of the Vamana avatar by Vishnu. It gives a detailed and exhaustive account of the tirthas, rivers and forests of Kurukshetra region in North India.
- Varaaha Puarana (24,000 verses)
- It describes in detail about the Varaaha incarnation (Avatar) of Vishnu, and narrates the story how Vishnu came to the rescue of Prithvi (Earth).
- Bhavishya Purana (14,500 verses)
- Contains a record of prophecies. This book have many later insertion. Portions of the extant text are drawn from the law book of Manu.
- Brahmanda Purana (12,000 verses)
- Brahma in Sanskrit means ‘the biggest’ or ‘the universe’, anda means Egg. So, Brahmanda refers to the ‘Biggest Egg’ signifying the life from which Universe is born. The Brahmanda Purana gets its name from the account of Brahmanda (the Biggest cosmic egg ) and the future cosmic ages revealed by Brahma. It deals with the origin of the Universe as told by Brahma. In the beginning, there was a golden egg, and the prapanca (Universe with its activities) was formed out of it. According to tradition, this scripture is believed to be the best to give this book as a gift to a Brahmin.
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