Puranas (Sanskrit: पुराण Purāna, “of ancient times”) is a Sanskrit word.
It means “ancient” or “old.”
Puranas are considered one of the most ancient Indian literature about Hinduism. In fact, the Puranas are post-Vedic Texts and are regarded as the fifth Veda.
Sage Vyasa is known to be the compiler of the Puranas from age to age. He is Krishna Dvaipayana, the son of Parasara.
Know The Puranas
Puranas are encyclopedic and cover various topics including cosmogony, cosmology, folk tales, pilgrimages, theology, medicine, temples, grammar, philosophy, astronomy, and even the genealogies of Gods, Goddesses, Kings, Heroes, Sages, and Demigods.
The Puranas contain a vivid description of the history of the Universe from creation to destruction. It describes Hindu cosmology and geography. It contains narratives of heroes and demigods and even the genealogies of the kings.
In fact, the first Purana was compiled between the 3rd and 10th centuries C.E.
By far the most famous Purana stands to be the Bhagavata Purana which narrates the childhood and early life of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Hindu God, Lord Vishnu. The Bhagavata Purana preaches the practice of Bhakti Yoga.
In fact, the Puranas contain a wealth of information on yogic practices as well as different branches of spiritual practice.
There are as many as 18 main Puranas and 18 minor Puranas (known as Upapuranas). Together they contain over 400,000 verses (slokas).
The Division of Puranas
The 18 main Puranas have been divided into three categories and have been named after the Deity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Out of the 18 main Puranas:
- Six are Satvic or Vaishnava Puranas which glorify Lord Vishnu
- Six are Rajasic or Brahma Puranas which glorify Lord Brahma
- The remaining (Six) are Tamasic or Shiva Puranas and glorify Lord Shiva
The Vaishnava Puranas include:
- Vishnu Purana
- Narada Purana
- Vamana Purana
- Matsya Purana
- Garuda Purana
- Srimad Bhagavata Purana
The Brahma Puranas include:
- Brahma Purana
- Bhavishya Purana
- Agni Purana
- Brahmavaivarta Purana
- Brahmanda Purana
- Padma Purana
The Shiva Puranas include:
- Shiva Purana
- Linga Purana
- Kurma Purana
- Markandeya Purana
- Skanda Purana
- Varaha Purana
In fact, it is believed that there were approximately 64 Puranas:
- 18 Maha Purana
- 18 Primary Upa Puranas
- And the rest secondary Upa Puranas
What Does Puranas Contain?
Typically, Puranas cover five major topics.
- Cosmic cycles
- Genealogy of the Gods, Sages, and Kings
- Legends during the time of various Kings
However, some other Puranas (such as the Bhagavata Purana) contain five more characteristics thereby making a list of 10.
- Tales about Gods
- Karmic links that exist between the Deities, Sages, Kings and living beings
- Spiritual Liberation or Moksha
- Finale or cessation
In fact, there are five characteristic features of Maha Puranas.
- Sarga – It describes the creation of the Universe
- Pratisarga – the cyclical process where destruction and creation occur repeatedly
- Manvantara – It describes the various eras
- Vamsa – It gives the histories of dynasties such as the solar and lunar
- Vamsanucharita – the royal lineage
Interesting Facts About Puranas
All the Puranas are related to the class of Suhrit-Sammitas or the Friendly Treatises. The Puranas belong to the class of Itihasas (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata).
The Puranas endeavour to bring people closer to the Gods.
It should be appreciated that the Puranas tell the Supreme Truth to one and all in a very simple manner.
All the Puranas are dedicated to certain deities.
Some are dedicated to Gods, and others are dedicated to Goddesses. They contain the essence of spiritual teachings and complex yogic philosophies of the ancient Vedic texts.
Puranas are the most important religious texts in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. They go on to emphasize the devotional aspect of Yoga. They cultivate devotion by using a personification of the chosen deities in the form of entertaining myths and stories.
For example, the Bhagavata Purana describes Bhakti Yoga and all the steps of its practices.
In the Linga Purana, you get a description of Yama (disciplines), Niyama (virtues), and Pranayama (breathing techniques).
Another text, the Vayu Purana covers information about Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation).
The Puranas go on to express the growth of Hindu Dharma, the condition of society in ancient times, social customs, religious ceremonies, as well as yogic methods of discipline.
All in all, Puranas endeavour to re-establish the eternal relation of living beings with God. They have been created so that any class of men (or women) can take advantage of them and experience the compassion and greatness of God.
The Purpose of Puranas
In their perpetual struggle of existence, human beings have forgotten their relationship with God and are overly attached to material sense gratification from time immemorial.
Religious literature such as Vedas and Puranas attempt to bring human beings closer to God and re-establish their forgotten relation with God.
Puranas offer shelter to people who seek to conquer the darkest region of material existence.
Now, we take up and answer some of the important questions that you have always wanted to know about Puranas.
Q. How many Puranas are there?
There are total 18 Maha Puranas and 18 Upa Puranas.
Out of 18 Maha Puranas:
- Six are referred to as Satvic Puranas which glorify Lord Vishnu\
- Six are Rajasic and glorify Lord Brahma
- Six are termed as Tamasic and glorify Lord Shiva
18 Puranas Description
Now, we tell you about each of the Maha Puranas.
The Vishnu Purana contains almost 23,000 verses. It is one of the most popular Maha Puranas.
Vishnu Purana is centred on Hindu God, Lord Vishnu and his avatars such as Lord Krishna. It also praises Brahma and Shiva and asserts that they are one with Lord Vishnu.
The Vishnu Purana forms an important part of the Vaishnavism literature corpus.
It consists of six aṃśas (parts) and 126 adhyāyas (chapters).
In the Vishnu Purana, the contents are presented in Pancalaksana format:
- Sarga (cosmogony)
- Pratisarga (cosmology)
- Vamsa (mythical genealogy of the gods, sages, and kings)
- Manvañtara (cosmic cycles)
- Vamśānucaritam (it presents the legends which happened during the times of various kings)
Its composition date is unknown and contested.
However, some scholars believe that it was composed around 400 – 300 BCE.
Narada Purana is also known as Naradiya Purana. It contains almost 25,000 verses.
It discusses the Four Vedas and the Six Vedangas.
Narada Purana goes on to list the major rivers of India and places of pilgrimage. It even provides a short tour guide for each.
Narada Purana goes on to discuss various philosophies, soteriology, planets, and astronomy, myths and offers characteristics of major deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Rama, Krishna, Lakshmi, and others.
Here, Sage Narada has described the duties which were practised in the Vrihat Kalpa. Narada gave the sermon to the various rishis present in Naimisaranya, on the Gomati River.
3. Vamana Purana
Vamana Purana consists of 10,000 verses. It has named after the Vamana Avatar of Lord Vishnu, which is the dwarf avatar.
It contains chapters on Lord Vishnu and other Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Vamana Purana weaves in legends and mythology. It contains chapters glorifying Lord Vishnu and even more chapters glorifying Shiva. It also includes chapters which glorify various Goddesses.
Moreover, the Vamana Purana serves as a travel guide to many Shiva-related places in India.
It is believed that its first version was created in the 9th and 11th centuries CE.
4. Matsya Purana
The Matsya Purana contains 14,000 verses. It is a Vaishnavism text which got named after the half-human and half-fish avatar of Vishnu.
Matsya Purana narrates the story of Matsya who was the first of the ten major avatars of Lord Vishnu. It also includes legends about Brahma and Saraswati.
The Matsya Purana is encyclopedic in nature as it covers various topics in length. It describes various types of Yoga, Vastu Shastra, duties and ethics, the value and importance of charity (Dana), both Shiva and Vishnu-related festivals, duties of a King, pilgrimage, and other topics as well.
According to the research conducted by the famous scholar, Ramachandra Dikshitar, the first version of Matsya Purana was likely completed by about 3RD Century. However, according to other scholars such as Pandurang Vaman Kane, the earliest version of Matsya Purana likely dates back to 200-500 CE.
5. Garuda Purana
Garuda Purana forms a part of Vaishnavism literature corpus. It contains nearly 19000 verses.
It primarily centres on the Hindu God, Lord Vishnu. However, it also praises other Gods, as well. It describes how Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma collaborate.
Garuda Purana goes on to narrate the dialogue that occurred between Lord Vishnu and Garuda, the King of Birds. It has a vivid description of the details of the afterlife. Garuda Purana describes the theory of “heaven and hell” with “karma and rebirth.”
It emphasizes that self-knowledge is the key to liberation.
Garuda Purana includes chapters on the geography of India, its rivers, types of minerals and stones, various diseases and their symptoms, various medicines, astronomy, the basis of the Hindu calendar, the economy, and duties of a king, politics, and other topics.
Its final chapter goes on to discuss how to practice Yoga. The original text was composed in Sanskrit. It is said that the earliest version of the text was composed around the 1st millennium CE.
6. Srimad Bhagavata Purana
Srimad Bhagavata Purana is regarded as the most popular Maha Purana. It consists of about 18000 verses.
Srimad Bhagavata tells about the avatars of Lord Vishnu, and of Vaishnavism. It contains the essence of all the Vedanta literature.
It is said that one who has experienced the nectar of its “Rasa” never desires anything else.
Srimad Bhagavata Purana teaches nine primary forms of bhakti:
- Śravaṇa (It refers to the “listening” of the scriptural stories of Krishna and his companions)
- Kirtana (praising the Lord, usually refers to ecstatic group singing)
- Smarana (remembering Lord Vishnu)
- Pāda-sevana (rendering service)
- Archana (worshipping an image of Lord Vishnu)
- Vandana (paying homage)
- Dāsya (servitude)
- Sākhya (friendship)
- Atma-nivedana (complete surrender of the self)
So, the Bhagavatam contains the essence of all Vedanta philosophy as it is related to the Absolute Truth.
Srimad Bhagavatam teaches us devotional service to the Supreme Lord Vishnu. It was popularized during the Bhakti movement.
7. Brahma Purana
The Brahma Purana contains 10,000 verses. It is also known as Adi Purana.
Another title for the Brahma Purana is Saura Purana as it contains many chapters related to Surya or the Sun God.
The text includes 245 chapters. It is written in the Sanskrit language. However, the text has nothing to do with the Hindu God Brahma. It is more of a travel guide and includes sections on diverse topics.
It is divided into two parts:
- Purva Bhaga (the former part)
- Uttara Bhaga (latter part)
The Brahma Purana has also borrowed passages from other Hindu Texts such as Mahabharata and Puranas such as Vishnu and Vayu.
In fact, 60% of its chapters describe holy sites such as the Godavari River region, places in and around Odisha, and even tributaries of the Chambal River in Rajasthan.
It also celebrates sites and temples related to Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, and Surya. It covers topics such as cosmology, mythology, genealogy, Manvantara (cosmic time cycles), etc.
8. Bhavishya Purana
Bhavishya Purana is a major Purana literature of Hinduism that has been written in Sanskrit. The title Bhavishya stands for “future.”
So, this Purana is a work that carries prophecies regarding the future.
Some of its texts have been borrowed from other Indian texts such as Brihat Samhita and Shamba Purana.
Its first part is called Brahmaparvan. It contains Surya (Sun God) related literature. The second part of the text is called Madhyamaparvan. It’s a Tantra-related work.
The third part is known as Pratisargaparvan. This part is related to “prophecy.” The fourth part of the text is called Uttaraparvan.
The last part describes festivals that are related to various Hindu Gods and Goddesses, as well as their Tithi (dates on the lunar calendar).
It also has sections on mythology and Dharma (such as Vrata and Dana). The text also serves as a travel guide and has chapters on geography and pilgrimage to holy sites. So, it turns out to be a Tirtha-focused Purana.
9. Agni Purana
Agni Purana contains 15,400 verses. It is a Sanskrit text and forms one of the major Puranas of Hinduism.
It offers encyclopedic information about the geography of Mithila, cultural history, mythology, cosmology, politics, education system, taxation theories, iconography, diplomacy, local laws, medicine, Vastu Shastra, gemology, grammar, trees and plants, metrics, rituals, food, poetry, and various other topics.
Moreover, it is a Purana related to Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and Smartism. It impartially covers all these aspects without emphasizing one particular theology.
Its earliest version was composed between the 7th and 11th centuries. It contains almost 383 chapters.
10. Brahmavaivarta Purana
Brahmavaivarta Purana contains almost 18,000 verses. It’s a voluminous Sanskrit text and of the major Maha Puranas of Hinduism. It’s a Vaishnavism text and centres around Krishna and Radha.
Although it is believed that its first version may have existed in the late 1st millennium CE, its current version was composed in the 15th or 16th century in the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent.
The text identifies Krishna as the Supreme Reality.
It asserts that all the Gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Ganesh are the same. Moreover, all the Goddesses such as Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Savitri are said to be equivalent and incarnations of Prakriti.
The text glorifies femininity through Radha. The Krishna-related Hindu traditions have influenced the stories and mythology of Brahmavaivarta Purana.
11. Brahmanda Purana
Brahmanda Purana contains as many as 12,000 verses. It is one of the earliest composed Puranas.
Its earliest core dates back to the 4th century CE. It is a Sanskrit text and one of the major Maha Puranas.
It is recognized as the eighteenth Maha Purana in almost all the anthologies. The text has also been referred to as the Vayaviya Purana or Vayaviya Brahmanda.
It relates to one of the main cosmological theories of Hinduism, namely the “cosmic egg” (Brahma-Anda).
Brahmanda Purana is encyclopedic in nature and covers topics such as cosmogony, genealogy, Dharma (ethics and duties), Yoga, geography, administration, good government, trade, and festivals.
It also serves as a travel guide to places such as Kashmir, Cuttack, and Kanchipuram. It also has various other topics.
The Brahmanda Purana includes the Lalita Sahasranama (salutations to the divine Goddess Shakti or Durga). The text is also notable for Adhyatma-Ramayana.
12. Padma Purana
Padma Purana contains as many as 55,000 verses. It’s a large compilation of diverse topics.
It has been named after the lotus in which the creator God Brahma appeared. It has large sections dedicated to Vishnu as well as many sections of Shiva and Shakti.
It’s a compilation of different parts that have been written in different eras by different authors.
It has sections on cosmology, mythology, genealogy, geography, temples, rivers and seasons, and pilgrimage (notably the Brahma temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan). It discusses ethics and guest hospitality.
Padma Purana also has sections on Yoga, Atman, Advaita, Moksha, and other topics. It also includes versions of the story of Ram and Sita other than the Valmiki Ramayan. It glorifies Lord Vishnu as well as Shiva.
13. Shiva Purana
The Shiva Purana contains almost 24,000 verses. It is one of the major Puranas that has been rendered in Sanskrit. It forms part of the Shaivism literature corpus.
Shiva Purana focuses on the Hindu God Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. However, it also refers to and reveres all Gods.
It contains chapters with Shiva-centered cosmology, mythology, Yoga, Tirtha (pilgrimage sites), bhakti, rivers, geography, and other topics. Some of its chapters focus on Advaita Vedanta’s philosophy. It is also loaded with theistic elements of bhakti.
However, the date and authors of Shiva Purana are unknown.
14. Linga Purana
Linga Purana contains 11,000 verses. It is a Sanskrit text that discusses Lingam, the symbol of Shiva, and the origin of the Universe.
It has many stories of Lingam one of which narrates how Agni Lingam solved a dispute between Vishnu and Brahma.
Linga Purana is a Shaivism text of Hinduism and the eighteen Mahapuranas.
It has been estimated that the original text may have been composed between the 5th and 10th century CE. However, the exact date and author(s) of the Linga Purana are unknown.
15. Kurma Purana
The Kurma Purana contains as many as 17000 verses.
It is a Sanskrit text which discusses the second of the ten major avatars of Lord Vishnu. It has been named after the tortoise avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Kurma Purana is considered an important Vaishnavism text of Hinduism. The critical edition of Kurma Purana contains 95 chapters.
Kurma Purana is regarded as the most interesting of all the Puranas. The text goes on to discuss many religious ideas. However, it should be noted that Vishnu does not dominate the text. Instead, the text expresses reverence for Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti with the same enthusiasm.
Much like other Puranas, the Kurma Purana also includes legends, mythology, Tirtha (pilgrimage), geography, theology as well as philosophical Gita. Its Gita is called Ishvaragita wherein Lord Shiva presents ideas similar to those in the Bhagwad Gita.
16. Markandeya Purana
Markandeya Purana contains as many as 9000 verses. It is a Sanskrit text of Hinduism. It is one of the major Puranas.
The title Markandeya refers to an ancient sage in Hindu mythology. He is the central character in two legends, one of which is linked to Lord Shiva and the other to Lord Vishnu.
The biggest highlight of this Purana is the fact that it is rare that you read any deity being invoked nor do you find any deity prayers in the text.
Markandeya Purana is regarded as one of the oldest Puranas. It includes the Devi Mahatmya within it which salutes the power and magic of Goddess Durga. Moreover, Markandeya Purana is a central text related to the Shaktism tradition. Its Devi Mahatmya is ranked at par with the Bhagwad Gita.
Its extant manuscript contains 137 chapters out of which chapters 81 to 93 are the Devi Mahatmya. The text also presents Vedic ideas and metaphysical thought.
17. Skanda Purana
Skanda Purana is the largest of the Maha Puranas. It contains over 81,000 verses. Skanda Purana is part of Shaivite literature.
This Purana has been named after Skanda who is a son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. He is also known by different names such as Kartikeya or Murugan.
Although the text has been named after Skanda, he does not feature prominently in this text. However, the text serves as an important record of the War-God, Skanda.
The earliest version of Skanda Purana existed by the 6th Century CE. However, the text has been widely edited and spread over many centuries thereby creating numerous variants.
The Skanda Purana is thoroughly encyclopedic in nature.
It covers cosmogony, mythology, genealogy, Dharma, festivals, gemology, festivals, temples, and theology, and discusses virtues and evil. It narrates the qualities of Shiva and defines him as the absolute source of true knowledge.
The Skanda Purana also contains the Tirtha Mahatmya which proves to be a pilgrimage travel guide. It also contains related legends, parables, hymns, and stories.
The Maha Purana is attributed to the sage Vyasa.
18. Varaha Purana
Varaha Purana contains as many as 24000 verses in 217 chapters. It is a Sanskrit text and belongs to the Vaishnavism literature corpus praising Lord Vishnu (Narayan).
It’s mainly a Vishnu-related worship manual.
The presentations in the Varaha Purana focus on the Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu. It also includes large Mahatmya sections or travel guides to places such as Mathura and Nepal.
Plus, it also includes chapters that are centred on Shiva and Shakti. That said major portions have been lost to history.
It has been estimated that the text was completed between the 10th to 12 centuries. However, it has been continuously revised after that.
The Varaha Purana describes the Varaha incarnation of Lord Vishnu in which Lord Vishnu rescues the Earth at the time of the great flood. It also includes sections on Shiva and Shakti.
It discusses Karma and Dharma called Dharma Samhita.
Varaha Purana also serves as a tourist guide to temples and sites in Mathura and Nepal. However, it does not adore Krishna in the Mathura-related section.
Q. Who wrote the 18 Puranas?
Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa who is popularly known as Veda Vyasa has been credited with the authorship of the eighteen (18) principal Puranas.
Vyasa also divided the Vedas in the Dwapara Age and wrote the famous epic Mahabharata.
The Puranas are a repository of ancient lore and expand on legends that are present in an elementary form in the Vedas.
Puranas are known as Smriti and were less rigorously preserved than the Vedas. They also offer much information on what happened in India after the Mahabharata War.
Moreover, it should be understood that Veda Vyasa is a title born by many people. So, Puranas have been written by many scholars under the collective name of Vyasa. It is a school of thought that is much appreciated by religious scholars.
Q. Is Puranas part of Vedas?
The Puranas are regarded as post-Vedic texts. They were composed much later than the Vedas which are believed to have been composed about 1500 BC.
The Puranas contain a complete narrative of the history of the Universe right from creation to destruction. They also contain genealogies of the kings, heroes, and demigods. They offer vivid descriptions of Hindu cosmology and geography.
As you know now, there are 18 Puranas which have been divided into three categories each named after one of the deities such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Q. Is Mahabharata a Purana?
Mahabharata can rightly be considered a bridge between Vedic and Puranic cultures. However, scholars attribute that Mahabharata is still more Puranic.
Most importantly, Mahabharata is a history-based mythological, religious scripture. In Vedas, you don’t find any history. It’s all about philosophy. So, Mahabharata is not related to Vedas at all.
Mahabharata is closer to Puranas. It has Puranic Myths, and so it falls in the Puranic category.
Mahabharata was written at a time when the Hindu religion was moving towards the concept of the Puranas.
Mahabharata was written to teach the reader the four Purusharthas (goals of life) – Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. It also teaches how best to attain these goals.
Q. How many Upanishads are there in total?
There are in all 251 Upanishads whose text has been found.
However, in print, there are 108 of them. The concept of Brahman and Atman are the central ideas in all of the Upanishads.
The most important ones are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas.
In the beginning, the Upanishads were memorized by each generation and were passed down orally.
Later on, they were written down, probably between 800 BCE and 500 BCE.
Here, we have shown a list of some of the most popular Upanishads:
- Isha Upanishad
- Kena Upanishad
- Katha Upanishad
- Prashna Upanishad
- Mundaka Upanishad
- Mandukya Upanishad
- Taittiriya Upanishad
- Aitareya Upanishad
- Chandogya Upanishad
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
With this, we have reached the end of this presentation on Puranas. We hope that it serves as a valuable source of information for you.
We have answered some of the most important questions related to Puranas. Now, you know what Purana is and how many Puranas are there.
Puranas are surely a treasure and valuable source of information on the Hindu religion. They are easy to follow and very interesting indeed.
We hope that you would like to begin your religious journey with one of the Puranas.
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