Beach 2: First Steps in the Ascent to the Divine

Wave 5: Ancient Scriptures of Hinduism

Drop 4. purANa

Sruti smRti itihAsa: Agama: darSana

Popular Hinduism mainly consists of three categories of scriptures, namely, itihAsa, purANa and Agama. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata constitute what is known as itihAsa. Vyasa authored the Mahabharata. In addition to the Mahabharata he wrote the eighteen purANas and the eighteen upa-purANas. These are chronicles and long narratives that popularize the content of the vedas by appealing to the reader's imagination. They are the magnifying glass for the ideas contained in the vedas.

Hundreds of special vratas and specialized forms of worship that are practised in different forms wherever Hindus reside, derive from one or other of these purANas. The very popular satya-nArAyaNa-pUjA, for instance, goes back to five chapters in the skanda-purANa, dedicated to Lord subrahmaNya. Incidentally, it is the longest of the purANas and is only slightly shorter than the Mahabharata. The eighteen purANas add up to 400,000 Slokas, four times the size of the Mahabharata. Of these eighteen, Vishnu purANa, considered as the chief authority almost like the Sruti by the followers of viSishTAdvaita philosophy, was written by Parasara, Vyasa's father. But Vyasa, just as he rearranged the vedas into various branches, also edited the vishNu purANa and put it in its present form. The purANas together form a comprehensive encyclopaedia of all the mythology, legends and history of Hinduism.

History for the modern mind is what is available through archeological research and due to the fashions set by the western traditions, any research of ancient literature that points to hoary periods several millenia before the common historical era, is looked at with disbelief and therefore not pursued to its logical conclusion. The chronology offered by the purANas and the scientific concepts of chronology of events do clash with each other. In order to sort this out a more open-ended research which is prepared to look into the purANas and sthala-purANas (i.e. the literature that abounds in each pilgrimage centre about that place) as history must be undertaken. It is necessary to stop falling back on the 19th century European viewpoint as if the last words have been said on the ancient scriptures of India. The word purA, in Sanskrit means 'past'. What is past is history. The purANas are history. Their difference from school books of history is in the fact the purANas have the single objective of talking only about those events and lives of the past which ennoble you and enable you to a better man. Since history always repeats itself, the purpose of history should be to learn the lessons of history and do better in the future. The purANa makes this its major objective and to that end it perhaps plays on your imagination. But instead of looking at the purANas as history we have tended to relegate it to the dustbin by branding it all as nonsensical fiction!

One List of the purANas:

Brahma-vaivarta-purANa, MArkaNDeya-purANa,

Matsya-purANa, Padma-purANa,

GaruDa-purANa, VAmana-purANa,

VishNu-purANa, VAyu-purANa,

KUrma-purANa, Linga-purANa,

Brahma-purANa, agni-purANa,

Bhavishyat-purANa, VarAha-purANa,

skanda-purANa, NArada-purANa,

BhAgavata-purANa

BrahmANDa-purANa.

The corresponding list of the upa-purANas:

sanat-kumAra-purANa, narasimha-purANa, Siva-dharma-purANa, nandi-purANa,

durvAsa-purANa, kapila-purANa, MAnava-purANa, aunasa-purANa,

VaruNa-purANa, devi-purANa, MAheSvara-purANa, Samba-purANa,

Saura-purANa, parASara-purANa, MArIca-purANa, Siva-purANa,

devI-bhAgavata-purANa, BRhan-nAradIya-purANa

Do'nt the different purANas deify different deities and

does this not mean that in Hinduism there is

a plethora of Gods and Goddesses with a confusing hierarchy?

Go to The Message of One-ness

Copyright V. Krishnamurthy Oct.26, '99 Homepage CONTENTS NEXT

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