Puranas – Ancient Texts

Purana (पुराण) literally means ancient. In addition to the Vedas, Upanishads and the epics Ramayana, and Mahabharata, these texts are major sources of the tales from Indian Mythology. There are said to be eighteen major Puranas.

The generally accepted list of puranas contains:

  1. Brahma Purana
  2. Padma Purana
  3. Vaishnava Purana
  4. Shiva Purana
  5. Bhagavata Purana
  6. Narada Purana
  7. Markandeya Purana
  8. Agni Purana
  9. Bhavishya Purana
  10. Brahma Vaivarta Purana
  11. Linga Purana
  12. Varaha Purana
  13. Skanda Purana
  14. Vamana Purana
  15. Kurma Purana
  16. Matsya Purana
  17. Garuda Purana
  18. Brahmanda Purana

The above list is from the Bhagavata Purana, and corresponds to the list given in the Vishnu Purana. Sometimes, the Vayu Purana is substituted for the Agni Purana or the Shiva Purana. Narasimha Purana sometimes replaces the Brahmanda Purana in this list. Some of the Puranas also contain a catalogue of the number of verses in each Purana, and the list is sometimes inconsistent. The aggregate is 400,000 verses. Tradition holds that the currently available verses are but an abridgement of the total amount of ten million verses.

The general form of a Purana is that of a dialogue, in which some person relates its contents in reply to the inquiries of others. This dialogue is interwoven with others, and is often repeated as having been held, on other occasions, between different individuals, arising out of similar questions having been asked. Generally, the immediate narrator is Lomaharshana, the disciple of Vyasa, who is said to have learned these Puranas from his perceptor.

The Puranas can be classified into three groups, based on the deity among the Trinity they are associated with. For instance, the Vishnu, Narada, Bhagavata, Garuda, Padma and Varaha Puranas belong to Vishnu. The Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Shiva, Skanda and Agni Puranas are associated with Shiva, and the Brahmanda, Brahma Vaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavishya, Vamana and Brahma are associated with Brahma.

In general, the Puranas deal with:

  1. Primary creation and cosmogony
  2. Secondary creation, or the destruction and renovation of worlds, including chronology
  3. Genealogy of Gods and patriarchs
  4. Reigns of the Manus, periods called Manwantaras
  5. History, chiefly of the princes of the solar and lunar races

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