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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other meanings, see Purana (disambiguation).


The word Puranas (Sanskrit: , pura, /prnz/;[1])
literally means "ancient, old",[2] and it is a vast genre of Indian
literature about a wide range of topics particularly myths, legends
and other traditional lore.[3] Composed primarily in Sanskrit, but
also in regional languages,[4][5] several of these texts are named
after major Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.[6][7]
The Puranas genre of literature is found in both Hinduism and
Jainism.[4]
The Puranic literature is encyclopedic,[2] and it includes diverse
topics such as cosmogony, cosmology, genealogies of gods,
goddesses, kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, folk tales,
pilgrimages, temples, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mineralogy,
humor, love stories, as well as theology and philosophy.[3][5][6]
The content is highly inconsistent across the Puranas, and each
Purana has survived in numerous manuscripts which are
themselves inconsistent.[4] The Hindu Puranas are anonymous
texts and likely the work of many authors over the centuries; in
contrast, most Jaina Puranas can be dated and their authors
assigned.[4]
There are 18 Maha Puranas (Great Puranas) and 18 Upa Puranas
(Minor Puranas),[8] with over 400,000 verses.[9][3] The first
versions of the various Puranas were likely composed between the
3rd- and 10th-century CE.[10] The Puranas do not enjoy the
authority of a scripture in Hinduism,[8] but are considered a
Smriti.[11]

Purana Manuscripts from 15th- to


18th-century

They have been influential in the Hindu culture, inspiring major


national and regional annual festivals of Hinduism.[12] Their role and value as sectarian religious texts and
historical texts has been controversial,[13] and the sectarian religious practices included in them are considered
Vaidika (congruent with Vedic literature).[14] The Bhagavata Purana has been among the most celebrated and
popular text in the Puranic genre, and is of non-dualistic tenor.[15][16] The Puranic literature wove with the
Bhakti movement in India, and both Dvaita and Advaita scholars have commented on the underlying Vedantic
themes in the Maha Puranas.[17]

1 Etymology

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2 Origins
3 Texts
3.1 Mahapuranas
3.2 Upapuranas
3.3 Sthala Puranas
3.4 Skanda Purana
4 Content
4.1 Symbolism and layers of meaning
4.2 Puranas as a complement to the Vedas
4.3 Puranas as encyclopedias
4.4 Puranas as religious texts
4.4.1 Jainism
4.4.2 Sectarian, pluralistic or monotheistic theme
4.5 Puranas as historical texts
5 Manuscripts
5.1 Translations
6 Influence
7 References
7.1 Cited sources
8 External links
8.1 Translations

Douglas Harper states that the etymological origins of Puranas is from Sanskrit Puranah, literally "ancient,
former," from pura "formerly, before," cognate with Greek paros "before," pro "before," Avestan paro "before,"
Old English fore, from proto-Indo-European *pre-, from root *per-."[18]

Vyasa, the narrator of the Mahabharata, is hagiographically credited as the compiler of the Puranas.[19]
The date of the production of the written texts does not define the date of origin of the Puranas.[20] They existed
in an oral form before being written down, and were incrementally modified well into the 16th century.[20][21]
An early occurrence of the term 'purana' is found in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2), translated by Patrick
Olivelle as "the corpus of histories and ancient tales" (The Early Upanisads, 1998, p. 259). The Brhadaranyaka
Upanishad refers to purana as the "fifth Veda",[22] itihsapura pacama vedn, reflecting the early
religious importance of these facts, which over time have been forgotten and presumably then in purely oral
form. Importantly, the most famous form of itihsapura is the Mahabharata. The term also appears in the
Atharvaveda 11.7.24.[23][24] It is important to bear in mind that perhaps a thousand years separates the
occurrence of this term in these Upanisads from 'The Puranas' understood as a unified set of texts (see below),
and it is therefore by no means certain that the term as it occurs in the Upanisads has any direct relation to what
today is identified as 'The Puranas'. The extant Puranas, states Coburn, are not identical to the original
Puranas.[25] Rajendra Hazra notes that Puranas that survive presently do not follow, partially or totally, the

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characteristic definition of the scope and contents of Puranas as described in ancient non-Puranic Indian
texts.[26]
In the 19th century, F. E. Pargiter believed the "original Purana" may date to the time of the final redaction of
the Vedas.[23] Gavin Flood connects the rise of the written Purana historically with the rise of devotional cults
centring 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.[27] Wendy Doniger, based on her study of indologists, assigns
approximate dates to the various Puranas. She dates Markandeya Purana to c. 250 CE (with one portion dated to
c. 550 CE), Matsya Purana to c. 250500 CE, Vayu Purana to c. 350 CE, Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana to c.
450 CE, Brahmanda Purana to c. 350950 CE, Vamana Purana to c. 450900 CE, Kurma Purana to c. 550850
CE, and Linga Purana to c. 6001000 CE.[10]

Mahapuranas
Of the many texts designated 'Puranas' the most important are the Mahpuras. These are said to be eighteen
in number, divided into three groups of six, though they are not always counted in the same way. Combining the
various lists Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen have collated twenty names, totalling 429,000
verses:[9]

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S.No.

Purana
name

Agni

Bhagavata

Brahma

Verses
number

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puranas

Comments

15,400
verses

Contains encyclopedic information. Includes geography of Mithila


(Bihar and neighboring states), cultural history, politics, education
system, iconography, taxation theories, organization of army, theories
on proper causes for war, diplomacy, local laws, building public
projects, water distribution methods, trees and plants, medicine, Vastu
Shastra (architecture), gemology, grammar, metrics, poetry, food,
rituals and numerous other topics.[28]

18,000
verses

The most studied and popular of the Puranas,[15][29] telling of Vishnu's


Avatars, and of Vaishnavism. It contains a controversial genealogical
details of various dynasties.[30] Numerous inconsistent versions of this
text and historical manuscripts exist, in many Indian languages.[31]
Influential and elaborated during Bhakti movement.[32]

10,000
verses

Sometimes also called Adi Purana, because many Mahapuranas lists


put it first of 18.[33] The text has 245 chapters, shares many passages
with Vishnu, Vayu, Markendeya Puranas, and with the Mahabharata.
Includes mythology, theory of war, art work in temples, and other
cultural topics. Describes holy places in Odisha, and weaves themes of
Vishnu and Shiva, but hardly any mention of deity Brahma despite the
title.[33]

Brahmanda

12,000
verses

One of the earliest composed Puranas, it contains a controversial


genealogical details of various dynasties.[30] Includes Lalita
Sahasranamam, law codes, system of governance, administration,
diplomacy, trade, ethics. Old manuscripts of Brahmanda Purana have
been found in the Hindu literature collections of Bali, Indonesia.[34][35]

17,000
Brahmavaivarta
verses

Discusses Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Devis, Vishnu, Krishna and Radha.


Primarily mythology, love and seduction stories of gods and
goddesses.[36] Mentions geography and rivers such as Ganga to Kaveri.

Garuda

19,000
verses

An encyclopedia of diverse topics.[35] Primarily about Vishnu, but


praises all gods. Describes how Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma collaborate.
Many chapters are a dialogue between Vishnu and the bird-vehicle
Garuda. Cosmology, Describes cosmology, relationship between gods.
Discusses ethics, what are crimes, good verses evil, various schools of
Hindu philosophies, the theory of Yoga, the theory of "heaven and
hell" with "karma and rebirth", includes Upanishadic discussion of
self-knowledge as a means of moksha.[37] Includes chapters on rivers,
geography of Bharat (India) and other nations on earth, types of
minerals and stones, testing methods for stones for their quality,
various diseases and their symptoms, various medicines, aphrodisiacs,
prophylactics, Hindu calendar and its basis, astronomy, moon, planets,
astrology, architecture, building home, essential features of a temple,
rites of passage, virtues such as compassion, charity and gift making,

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S.No.

Purana
name

Verses
number

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puranas

Comments
economy, thrift, duties of a king, politics, state officials and their roles
and how to appointment them, genre of literature, rules of grammar,
and other topics.[37] The final chapters discuss how to practice Yoga
(Samkhya and Advaita types), personal development and the benefits
of self-knowledge.[37]

Kurma

17,000
verses

Is the second of ten major avatars of Lord Vishnu.

Linga

11,000
verses

Discusses Lingam, symbol of Shiva, and origin of the universe. It also


contains many stories of Lingam, one of which entails how Agni
Lingam solved a dispute between Vishnu and Brahma.

9,000
verses

Describes Vindhya Range and western India. Probably composed in the


valleys of Narmada and Tapti rivers, in Maharashtra and Gujarat.[38]
Named after sage Markandeya, a student of Brahma. Contains chapters
on dharma and on Hindu epic Mahabharata.[39] The Purana includes
Devi Mahatmyam of Shaktism.

14,000
verses

An encyclopedia of diverse topics.[35] Narrates the story of Matsya, the


first of ten major Avatars of Vishnu. Likely composed in west India, by
people aware of geographical details of the Narmada river. Includes
legends about Brahma and Saraswati.[40] It also contains a
controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[30]

25,000
verses

Also called Naradiya Purana. Discusses the four Vedas and the six
Vedangas. Dedicates one chapter each, from Chapters 92 to 109, to
summarize the other 17 Maha Puranas and itself. Lists major rivers of
India and places of pilgrimage, and a short tour guide for each.
Includes discussion of various philosophies, soteriology, planets,
astronomy, myths and characteristics of major deities including Vishnu,
Shiva, Devi, Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi and others.[41]

10

11

Markandeya

Matsya

Narada

12

Padma

55,000
verses

A large compilation of diverse topics. The north Indian manuscripts of


Padma Purana are very different than south Indian versions, and the
various recensions in both groups in different languages (Devanagari
and Bengali, for example) show major inconsistencies.[42] Describes
cosmology, the world and nature of life from the perspective of Vishnu.
Discusses festivals, numerous legends, geography of rivers and regions
from northwest India to Bengal to the kingdom of Tripura, major sages
of India, various Avatars of Vishnu and his cooperation with Shiva, the
story of Rama-Sita that is different than the Hindu epic Ramayana.[43]
Like Skanda Purana, it is a detailed treatise on travel and pilgrimage
centers in India.[43][44] Discusses Bhagavad Gita.

13

Shiva

24,000
verses

Discusses Shiva, and stories about him.

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name

Verses
number

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Comments

14

Skanda

81,100
verses

Describes the birth of Skanda (or Karthikeya), son of Shiva. The


longest Purana, it is an extraordinarily meticulous pilgrimage guide,
containing geographical locations of pilgrimage centers in India, with
related legends, parables, hymns and stories. Many untraced quotes are
attributed to this text.[45]

15

Vamana

10,000
verses

Describes North India, particularly Himalayan foothills region.

16

Varaha

24,000
verses

Discusses Vishnu. Many illustrations also involve Shiva and Durga.[46]

24,000
verses

Possibly the oldest of all Maha Puranas. Some medieval Indian texts
call it Vayaviya Purana. Mentioned and studied by Al Biruni, the 11th
century Persian visitor to India. Praises Shiva. Discusses rituals, family
life, and life stages of a human being. The content in Vayu Purana is
also found in Markandeya Purana. Describes south India, particularly
Andhra Pradesh. It contains a controversial genealogical details of
various dynasties.[30]

23,000
verses

One of the most studied and circulated Puranas, it also contains a


controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[30] Better
preserved after the 17th century, but exists in inconsistent versions,
more ancient pre-15th century versions are very different from modern
versions, with some versions discussing Buddhism and Jainism. Some
chpaters likely composed in Kashmir and Punjab region of South Asia.
A Vaishnavism text, focussed on Vishnu.[47]

17

18

Vayu

Vishnu

The Mahapuranas have been classified, in modern times, based on whether the major focus of the text is on
Vishnu, Brahma or Shiva:[7]
Vaiava
Puranas:

Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Nradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha
Purana, Vmana Purana, Krma Purana, Matsya Purana

Brhma
Puranas:

Brahma Purana, Brahmnda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Mrkandeya Purana, Bhavishya
Purana

aiva
Puranas:

Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana

The Padma Purana, Uttara Khanda (236.18-21),[48] itself a Vaishnava Purana, classifies the Puranas in
accordance with the three gunas or qualities; truth, passion, and indifference (however, this classification is not
found in many versions of the Padma Purana manuscript):

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Sattva ("truth")

Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Naradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana,
Varaha Purana

Rajas ("passion")

Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana,


Vamana Purana, Brahma Purana

Tamas
("indifference")

Matsya Purana, Kurma purana, Linga Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni
Purana

Upapuranas
The difference between Upapuranas and Mahapuranas has
been explained by Rajendra Hazra as, "a Mahapurana is
well known, and that what is less well known becomes an
Upapurana".[49] Rocher states that the distinction between
Mahapurana and Upapurana is ahistorical, there is little
corroborating evidence that either were more or less known,
and that "the term Mahapurana occurs rarely in Purana
literature, and is probably of late origin."[50]
The Upapuranas are eighteen in number, with disagreement
as to which canonical titles belong in that list of eighteen.
They include among many: Sanat-kumara, Narasimha,
Brihan-naradiya, Siva-rahasya, Durvasa, Kapila, Vamana,
Bhargava, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parasara,
Vasishtha, Devi-Bhagavata, Ganesha, Mudgala, and Hamsa,
with only a few having been critically edited.[51][52]

The Goddess Durga Leading the Eight Matrikas in


Battle Against the Demon Raktabija, Folio from
Devi Mahatmyam, Markandeya Purana.

The Ganesha and Mudgala Puranas are devoted to Ganesha.[53][54] The Devi-Bhagavata Purana, which extols
the goddess Durga, has become (along with the Devi Mahatmya of the Markandeya Purana) a basic text for
Devi worshipers.[55]

Sthala Puranas
This corpus of texts tells of the origins and traditions of particular Tamil Shiva temples or shrines. There are
numerous Sthala Puranas, most written in vernaculars, some with Sanskrit versions as well. The 275 Shiva
Sthalams of the continent have puranas for each, famously glorified in the Tamil literature Tevaram. Some
appear in Sanskrit versions in the Mahapuranas or Upapuranas. Some Tamil Sthala Puranas have been
researched by David Dean Shulman.[56]

Skanda Purana
The Skanda Purana is the largest Purana with 81,000 verses,[57] named after deity Skanda, the son of Shiva and
Uma, and brother of deity Ganesha.[58] The mythological part of the text weaves the stories of Shiva and
Vishnu, along with Parvati, Rama, Krishna and other major gods in Hindu pantheon.[57] In Chapter 1.8, it
declares,
Vishnu is nobody but Shiva, and he who is called Shiva is but identical with Vishnu.

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Skanda Purana, 1.8.20-21[59][60]


The Skanda Purana has received renewed scholarship interest ever since the late 20th-century discovery of a
Nepalese Skanda Purana manuscript dated to be from early 9th-century. This discovery established that Skanda
Purana existed by the 9th century. However, a comparison shows that the 9th-century document is entirely
different than versions of Skanda Purana that have been circulating in South Asia since the colonial era.[61]

Several Puranas, such as the Matysa Purana,[62] list "five


characteristics" or "five signs" of a Purana.[3] These are
called the Pancha Lakshana ( pacalakaa), and are topics
covered by a Purana:[3][63][64]
1. Sarga: cosmogony
2. Pratisarga: cosmogony and cosmology[65]
3. Vama: genealogy of the gods, sages and kings[66]
4. Manvatara: cosmic cycles,[67] history of the world
during the time of one patriarch
5. Vamnucaritam: legends during the times of various
kings.
A few Puranas, such as the most popular Bhagavata Purana,
add five more characteristics to expand this list to ten:[68]
6. Utaya: karmic links between the deities, sages, kings
and the various living beings
7. Ishanukatha: tales about a god
8. Nirodha: finale, cessation
9. Mukti: moksha, spiritual liberation
10. Ashraya: refuge

The Puranas include cosmos creation myths such as


the Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean).
These ideas spread to southeast Asia. It is
represented in the Angkor Wat temple complex of
Cambodia, and at Bangkok airport, Thailand
(above).

These five or ten sections weave in biographies, myths, geography, medicine, astronomy, Hindu temples,
pilgrimage to distant real places, rites of passage, charity, ethics,[69] duties, rights, dharma, divine intervention
in cosmic and human affairs, love stories,[70] festivals, theosophy and philosophy.[3][5][6] The Puranas link gods
to men, both generally and in religious bhakti context.[68] Here the Puranic literature follows a general pattern.
It starts with introduction, a future devotee is described as ignorant about the god yet curious, the devotee learns
about the god and this begins the spiritual realization, the text then describes instances of god's grace which
begins to persuade and convert the devotee, the devotee then shows devotion which is rewarded by the god, the
reward is appreciated by the devotee and in return performs actions to express further devotion.[68]
Over time, states Om Prakash, chapters and verses from one Purana were transferred or interpolated into
another Purana. Similarly, texts from Vedic literature, Smritis and Sutras were incorporated into the Puranas,
older verses were replaced with new ones, thereby creating manuscripts with the same name but inconsistent
content.[71] The content about kings, history of various people, sages and kingdoms are in part based on real
events, in part hagiography, and in part expansive imagination or fabrication.[71] The high degree of
inconsistency and manuscript corruption occurred particularly from the 12th century onwards, evidenced by

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cross referencing across the texts; Matsya Purana, for example, stated that Kurma Purana has 18,000 verses,
while Agni Purana asserts the same text has 8,000 verses, and Naradiya attests that Kurma manuscript has
17,000 verses.[71]
Along with inconsistencies, 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.[27] An
example of similar myths woven across the Puranas, but in different versions, include the lingabhava the
"apparition of the linga". The story features Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the three major deities of Hinduism,
who get together, debate, and after various versions of the story, in the end the glory of Shiva is established by
the apparition of linga. This myth, state Bonnefoy and Doniger, appears in Vayu Purana 1.55, Brahmanda
Purana 1.26, Shiva Purana's Rudra Samhita Sristi Khanda 15, Skanda Purana's chapters 1.3, 1.16 and 3.1, and
other Puranas.[72]
The texts are in Sanskrit as well as regional languages,[4][5] and almost entirely in narrative metric couplets.[2]

Symbolism and layers of meaning


The texts use ideas, concepts and even names that are symbolic.[72] The words can interpreted literally, and at
an axiological level.[73] The Vishnu Purana, for example, recites a myth where the names of the characters are
loaded with symbolism and axiological significance. The myth is as follows,
The progeny of Dharma by the daughters of Daksha were as follows: by Sraddh (devotion) he had
Kama (desire); by Lakshm (wealth, prosperity), was born Darpa (pride); by Dhriti (courage), the
progeny was Niyama (precept); by Tushti (inner comfort), Santosha (contentment); by Pushti
(opulence), the progeny was Lobha (cupidity, greed); by Medh (wisdom, experience), Sruta
(sacred tradition); by Kriy (hard work, labour), the progeny were Dad a, Naya, and Vinaya
(justice, politics, and education); by Buddhi (intellect), Bodha (understanding); by Lajj (shame,
humility), Vinaya (good behaviour); by Vapu (body, strength), Vyavasaya (perseverance). Shanti
(peace) gave birth to Kshama (forgiveness); Siddhi (excellence) to Sukha (enjoyment); and Krtti
(glorious speech) gave birth to Yasha (reputation). These were the sons of Dharma; one of whom,
Kama (love, emotional fulfillment) had baby Hersha (joy) by his wife Nandi (delight). The wife of
Adharma (vice, wrong, evil) was Hins (violence), on whom he begot a son Anrita (falsehood), and
a daughter Nikriti (immorality): they intermarried, and had two sons, Bhaya (fear) and Naraka
(hell); and twins to them, two daughters, My (deceit) and Vedan (torture), who became their
wives. The son of Bhaya (fear) and My (deceit) was the destroyer of living creatures, or Mrityu
(death); and Dukha (pain) was the offspring of Naraka (hell) and Vedan (torture). The children of
Mrityu were Vydhi (disease), Jar (decay), Soka (sorrow), Trisha (greediness), and Krodha
(wrath). These are all called the inflictors of misery, and are characterised as the progeny of Vice
(Adharma). They are all without wives, without posterity, without the faculty to procreate; they
perpetually operate as causes of the destruction of this world. On the contrary, Daksha and the other
Rishis, the elders of mankind, tend perpetually to influence its renovation: whilst the Manus and
their sons, the heroes endowed with mighty power, and treading in the path of truth, as constantly
contribute to its preservation.
Vishnu Purana, Chapter 7, Translated by Horace Hayman Wilson[74]

Puranas as a complement to the Vedas

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The Puranic literature, stated Max Muller, is independent, has changed


often over its history, and has little relation to the Vedic age or the Vedic
literature.[77] Some scholars suggest that the Puranas claim a link to the
Vedas but in name only, not in substance.[77] Yet a third group of
scholars state that the link is there, at least in spiritual themes and
theology. The Puranas aim to complement the Vedic literature, interpret
its theories, and help spread the ideas therein.[77][78]

Puranas as encyclopedias
The Puranas, states Kees Bolle, are best seen as "vast, often
encyclopedic" works from ancient and medieval India.[79] Some of
them, such as the Agni Purana and Matsya Purana, cover all sorts of
subjects, dealing with states Rocher "anything and everything", from
fiction to facts, from practical recipes to abstract philosophy, from
festivals to astronomy.[5][80] Like encyclopedias, they were updated to
remain current with their times, by a process called Upabrimhana.[81]
However, some of the 36 major and minor Puranas are more focussed
handbooks, such as the Skanda Purana, Padma Purana and Bhavishya
Purana which deal primarily with Tirthas, while Vayu Purana and
Brahmanda Purana focus more on history, mythology and legends.[82]

The mythology in the Puranas has


inspired many reliefs and sculptures
found in Hindu temples.[75] The
legend behind the Krishna and Gopis
relief above is described in the
Bhagavata Purana.[76]

Puranas as religious texts


The colonial era scholars of Puranas studied them primarily as religious texts, with Vans Kennedy declaring in
1837, that any other use of these documents would be disappointing.[83] John Zephaniah Holwell, who from
1732 onwards spent 30 years in India and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767, described the
Puranas as "18 books of divine words".[84] British officials and researchers such as Holwell, states Urs App,
were orientalist scholars who introduced a distorted picture of Indian literature and Puranas as "sacred scriptures
of India" in 1767. Holwell, states Urs App, "presented it as the opinion of knowledgeable Indians; But it is
abundantly clear that no knowledgeable Indian would ever have said anything remotely similar".[84]
Modern scholarship doubts this 19th-century premise.[85] Ludo Rocher, for example, states,
I want to stress the fact that it would be irresponsible and highly misleading to speak of or pretend
to describe the religion of the Puranas.
Ludo Rocher, The Puranas[83]
The study of Puranas as a religious text remains a controversial subject.[86] Some Indologists, in colonial
tradition of scholarship, treat the Puranic texts as scriptures or useful source of religious contents.[87] Other
scholars, such as Ronald Inden, consider this approach "essentialist and antihistorical" because the Purana texts
changed often over time and over distance, and the underlying presumption of they being religious texts is that
those changes are "Hinduism expressed by a religious leader or philosopher", or "expressiveness of Hindu
mind", or "society at large", when the texts and passages are literary works and "individual geniuses of their
authors".[88]

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Jainism
The Jaina Puranas are like Hindu Puranas encyclopedic epics in style, and are considered as anuyogas
(expositions), but they are not considered Jain Agamas and do not have scripture or quasi-canonical status in
Jainism tradition.[4] They are best described, states John Cort, as post-scripture literary corpus based upon
themes found in Jain scriptures.[4]
Sectarian, pluralistic or monotheistic theme
Scholars have debated whether the Puranas should be categorized as sectarian, or non-partisan, or monotheistic
religious texts.[13][89] Different Puranas describe a number of stories where Brahma, VIshnu and Shiva compete
for supremacy.[89] In some Puranas, such as Devi Bhagavata, the Goddess Devi joins the competition and
ascends for the position of being Supreme. Further, most Puranas emphasize legends around one who is either
Shiva, or Vishnu, or Devi.[13] The texts thus appear to be sectarian. However, states Edwin Bryant, while these
legends sometimes appear to be partisan, they are merely acknowledging the obvious question of whether one
or the other is more important, more powerful. In the final analysis, all Puranas weave their legends to celebrate
pluralism, and accept the other two and all gods in Hindu pantheon as personalized form but equivalent essence
of the Ultimate Reality called Brahman.[90][91] The Puranas are not spiritually partisan, states Bryant, but
"accept and indeed extol the transcendent and absolute nature of the other, and of the Goddess Devi too".[89]
[The Puranic text] merely affirm that the other deity is to be considered a derivative manifestation
of their respective deity, or in the case of Devi, the Shakti, or power of the male divinity. The term
monotheism, if applied to the Puranic tradition, needs to be understood in the context of a supreme
being, whether understood as Vishnu, Shiva or Devi, who can manifest himself or herself as other
supreme beings.
Edwin Bryant, Krishna: The Beautiful Legend of God: Srimad Bhagavata Purana[89]
Ludo Rocher, in his review of Puranas as sectarian texts, states, "even though the Puranas contain sectarian
materials, their sectarianism should not be interpreted as exclusivism in favor of one god to the detriment of all
others".[92]

Puranas as historical texts


Despite the diversity and wealth of manuscripts from ancient and medieval India that have survived into the
modern times, there is a paucity of historical data in them.[30] Neither the author name nor the year of their
composition were recorded or preserved, over the centuries, as the documents were copied from one generation
to another. This paucity tempted 19th-century scholars to use the Puranas as a source of chronological and
historical information about India or Hinduism.[30] This effort was, after some effort, either summarily rejected
by some scholars, or become controversial, because the Puranas include fables and fiction, and the information
within and across the Puranas was found to be inconsistent.[30]
In early 20th-century, some regional records were found to be more consistent, such as for the Hindu dynasties
in Andhra Pradesh. Basham, as well as Kosambi have questioned whether lack of inconsistency is sufficient
proof of reliability and historicity.[30] More recent scholarship has attempted to, with limited success, states
Ludo Rocher, use the Puranas for historical information in combination with independent corroborating
evidence, such as "epigraphy, archaeology, Buddhist literature, Jaina literature, non-Puranic literature, Islamic

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records, and records preserved outside India by travelers to or from India in medieval times such as in China,
Myanmar and Indonesia".[93][94]

The study of Puranas manuscripts has been challenging


because they are highly inconsistent.[95][96] This is true for
all Mahapuranas and Upapuranas.[95] Most editions of
Puranas, in use particularly by Western scholars, are "based
on one manuscript or on a few manuscripts selected at
random", even though divergent manuscripts with the same
An 11th-century Nepalese palm-leaf manuscript in
title exist. Scholars have long acknowledged the existence
Sanskrit of Devimahatmya (Markandeya Purana).
of Purana manuscripts that "seem to differ much from
printed edition", and it is unclear which one is accurate, and
whether conclusions drawn from the randomly or cherrypicked printed version were universal over geography
or time.[95] This problem is most severe with Purana manuscripts of the same title, but in regional languages
such as Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and others which have largely been ignored.[95]
Modern scholarship noticed all these facts. It recognized that the extent of the genuine Agni Purana
was not the same at all times and in all places, and that it varied with the difference in time and
locality. (...) This shows that the text of the Devi Purana was not the same everywhere but differed
considerably in different provinces. Yet, one failed to draw the logical conclusion: besides the
version or versions of puranas that appear in our [surviving] manuscripts, and fewer still in our
[printed] editions, there have been numerous other versions, under the same titles, but which either
have remained unnoticed or have been irreparably lost.
Ludo Rocher, The Puranas[49][97]
Newly discovered Puranas manuscripts from the medieval centuries has attracted scholarly attention and the
conclusion that the Puranic literature has gone through slow redaction and text corruption over time, as well as
sudden deletion of numerous chapters and its replacement with new content to an extent that the currently
circulating Puranas are entirely different than those that existed before 11th century, or 16th century.[98]
For example, a newly discovered palm-leaf manuscript of Skanda Purana in Nepal has been dated to be from
810 CE, but is entirely different than versions of Skanda Purana that have been circulating in South Asia since
the colonial era.[61][98] Further discoveries of four more manuscripts, each different, suggest that document has
gone through major redactions twice, first likely before the 12th century, and the second very large change
sometime in the 15th-16th century for unknown reasons.[99] The different versions of manuscripts of Skanda
Purana suggest that "minor" redactions, interpolations and corruption of the ideas in the text over time.[99]

Translations
Horace Hayman Wilson published one of the earliest English translations of one version of the Vishnu Purana in
1840.[100] The same manuscript, and Wilson's translation, was reinterpreted by Manmatha Nath Dutt, and
published in 1896.[101] The All India Kashiraj Trust has published editions of the Puranas.[102]
Maridas Poull (Mariyadas Pillai) published a French translation from a Tamil version of the Bhagavata Purana

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in 1788, and this was widely distributed in Europe becoming an introduction to the 18th-century Hindu culture
and Hinduism to many Europeans during the colonial era. Poull republished a different translation of the same
text as Le Bhagavata in 1795, from Pondicherry.[103] A copy of Poull translation is preserved in Bibliothque
nationale de France, Paris.

The most significant influence of the Puranas genre of Indian literature


have been, state scholars and particularly Indian scholars,[105] in "culture
synthesis", in weaving and integrating the diverse beliefs from ritualistic
rites of passage to Vedantic philosophy, from fictional legends to factual
history, from individual introspective yoga to social celebratory
festivals, from temples to pilgrimage, from one god to another, from
goddesses to tantra, from the old to the new.[106] These have been
dynamic open texts, composed socially, over time. This, states Greg
Bailey, may have allowed the Hindu culture to "preserve the old while
constantly coming to terms with the new", and "if they are anything,
they are records of cultural adaptation and transformation" over the last
2,000 years.[105]

The Puranas have had a large cultural


impact on Hindus, from festivals to
diverse arts. Bharata natyam (above)
is inspired in part by Bhagavata
Purana.[104]

The Puranic literature, suggests Khanna, influenced "acculturation and


accommodation" of a diversity of people, with different languages and
from different economic classes, across different kingdoms and
traditions, catalyzing the syncretic "cultural mosaic of Hinduism".[107] They helped influence cultural pluralism
in India, and are a literary record thereof.[107]
Om Prakash states the Puranas served as efficient medium for cultural exchange and popular education in
ancient and medieval India.[108] These texts adopted, explained and integrated regional deities such as
Pashupata in Vayu Purana, Sattva in Vishnu Purana, Dattatreya in Markendeya Purana, Bhojakas in Bhavishya
Purana.[108] Further, states Prakash, they dedicated chapters to "secular subjects such as poetics, dramaturgy,
grammar, lexicography, astronomy, war, politics, architecture, geography and medicine as in Agni Purana,
perfumery and lapidary arts in Garuda Purana, painting, sculpture and other arts in Vishnudharmottara
Purana".[108]
Indian Arts
The cultural influence of the Puranas extended to Indian classical arts, such as songs, dance culture such as
Bharata Natyam in south India[104] and Rasa Lila in northeast India,[109] plays and recitations.[110]
Festivals
The myths, lunar calendar schedule, rituals and celebrations of major Hindu cultural festivities such as Holi,
Diwali and Durga Puja are in the Puranic literature.[111][112]

1. "Purana" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/purana). Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.


2. Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature (1995 Edition), Article on Puranas, ISBN 0-877790426, page 915

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3. Greg Bailey (2001), Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy (Editor: Oliver Leaman), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415172813,
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14. Dominic Goodall (1996), Hindu Scriptures, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520207783, page xxxix
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32. Hardy 2001
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44. Klaus Klostermaier (2007), A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN
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51. R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. I, Calcutta, Sanskrit College, 1958. Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. II,
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59. Gregor Maehle (2009), Ashtanga Yoga, New World, ISBN 978-1577316695, page 17
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Samhita Part 1, Verses 1.8.20-21 (Sanskrit)
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62. Matsya Purana 53.65
63. Rao 1993, pp. 85100
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80. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 1-5, 12-21, 79-80,
96-98; Quote: These are the true encyclopedic Puranas. in which detached chapters or sections, dealing with
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88. Ronald Inden (2000), Querying the Medieval : Texts and the History of Practices in South Asia, Oxford University
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89. Edwin Bryant (2003), Krishna: The Beautiful Legend of God: Srimad Bhagavata Purana, Penguin, ISBN
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Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 81-7030-596-9.
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Handoo, Jawaharlal (editor) (1998). Folklore in Modern India. ISBN 81-7342-055-6.
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GRETIL (http://www.sub.uni-goettingen.de/ebene_1/fiindolo/gretil.htm#Pur) (uni-goettingen.de)

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Translations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puranas

Wikiquote has quotations


related to: Puranas

Vishnu Purana (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/vp/index.htm)


H.H. Wilson
Vishnu Purana (https://archive.org/stream/Vishnupurana-English-MnDutt#page/n15/mode/2up), MN Dutt
Brahmanda Purana (https://archive.org/stream/BrahmandaPurana/BrahmandaPuI#page/n1/mode/2up),
GV Tagare
Yuga Purana (https://archive.org/stream/TheYugaPurana/The%20Yuga%20Purana#page/n1/mode/2up), J
Mitchiner
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Categories: Hindu texts Puranas Chronicles
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1/2/2016 12:46 PM