The Puranas and Their Provenance – Part 1

In 56 BC, Amarkosha a great commentary was written on Puranas. It gives the rules for Puranas and identifies that there was a huge corpus of slokas, some one crore slokas, 25 times the number of slokas of current Puranas. It also gives a real time date and understanding of the current Purana literature.

This is a brief overview on the Puranas available to Col Vaas Kennedy, A Stirling and Horace H Wilson who worked with scholars of Royal Society of Asiatic Research from 1832 to 1840.

This was first critical look taken at the Puranas then in circulation. The second such event transpired with Banarsidass Motilal publishers in 1960s and 1970s.

The Brahma Purana

Number One Purana in most lists and 10000 slokas. It has following Samhitas:

  • Brahma narrating to Marichi
  • Brahma to Daksha
  • Supplement called Brahmottara Purana and a large 13000 sloka Brahmottara Khanda inside Skanda Library of Puranas.

The current Brahma Purana is 8000 slokas and dominated by Purushottam Khand and is most likely a Saura (solar) purana written after 1200 AD and is not the original Brahma Purana mentioned by Matsaya and by Amar Kosha. Some of the stories would be old and borrowed from older Puranic literature and would have antiquity. The ones in circulation is not original Purana as per messrs Kennedy, Stirling and Wilson.

Of course, hundred years later, more research and more copies were available, Chatursena and KM Munshi as well as Rajgopalachari worked with a what they believed more antique and maybe more true Brahma Purana. It is quoted in commentaries by Chatursena. Motilal Banarsidass also published a much larger Brahma Purana which is in 4 volumes and different than the one available and examined by Royal Society.

The Padma Purana

This Purana is 55000 verses long. It is in Five Khandas: Shrishti, Bhumi, Swarga, Patala, Uttara and then there is Kria Yoga Sara, the sixth part or appendix to Padma Purana.

  • Shrishti: Narrated by Sootji to Naimasharanya priests. (Brahma to Pulastya to Bheeshma). Most of this Khanda is genuine and may illustrate the Vana Parva tales. But sections on Pokharan teertha are not part of flow.
  • Bhumi Khanda is 127 chapters with hardly mention of Bhumi. It is filled with stories and parables collected ad hoc.
  • Patala Khand: This is story of Rama told by Shesha (Laxmana). This is taken from Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsham. So the story of Rama’s Asvamedha might be a missing Kalidasa play. The remaining part is from Sadashiva Parvati Bhagwata tantras.
  • Uttara Khand: This is dialogue between Dilipa and Vashishtha. The interesting part of this section is that it was taken from a great commentary of Bhagavada Geeta by either Siva or Vashishtha. Other than that this is a confused unorganized section.
  • Kriya Yoga Sara is Vyasa’s upadesha to Jaimini. That is finds its way shows it might be antique part of this haphazardly put together purana.

The different portions of the Padma Puráńa are in all probability as many different works, neither of which approaches to the original definition of a Puráńa. There may be some connection between the three first portions, at least as to time; but there is no reason to consider them as of high antiquity. They specify the Jains both by name and practices.

The Pátála Khańd́a dwells copiously upon the Bhágavata, and is consequently posterior to it. The Uttara Khańd́a is intolerantly Vaishńava, and is therefore unquestionably modern. It enjoins the veneration of the Sálágram stone and Tulasí plant, the use of the Tapta-mudra, or stamping with a hot iron the name of Vishńu on the skin, and a variety of practices and observances undoubtedly no part of the original system. It speaks of the shrines of Śrí-rangam and Venkatádri in the Dekhin, temples that have no pretension to remote antiquity; and it names Haripur on the Tungabhadra, which is in all likelihood the city of Vijayanagar, founded in the middle of the fourteenth century. The Kriyá Yoga Sára is equally a modern, and apparently a Bengali composition. No portion of the Padma Puráńa is probably older than the twelfth century, and the last parts may be as recent as the fifteenth century.

Padma is an ancient and large Purana but the copies available to the scholars analyzing it in 1830s were obviously much adulterated.

The Banarsidasa-Motilal version is about half the size described in ancient texts and they have thus constructed half a critical edition.

Vishnu Purana

This was constructed from Samhitas written by Three Pro-Kaurava and anti-Janamajaya rishis and then commentated upon by Romaharshana. The seven different editions the scholars had were just 7000 stanzas while the ancient texts indicate it should be more than 23000 stanzas. Thus the Vishnu Purana we have is about fourth of what it should be. But, also, it conforms a lot with the Amarkosha commentary.

A comparison of the subjects of the following pages with those of the other Puráńas will sufficiently shew that of the whole series the Vishńu most closely conforms to the definition of a Pancha-lakshańa Puráńa, or one which treats of five specified topics. It comprehends them all; and although it has infused a portion of extraneous and sectarial matter, it has done so with sobriety and with judgment, and has not suffered the fervor of its religious zeal to transport it into very wide deviations from the prescribed path. The legendary tales which it has inserted are few, and are conveniently arranged, so that they do not distract the attention of the compiler from objects of more permanent interest and importance.

The date of Vishnu Purana

The Vedas, the Puráńas, other works forming the body of Sanskrit literature, are named; and so is the Mahabharata, to which therefore it is subsequent. Both Bauddhas and Jains are adverted to. It was therefore written before the former had disappeared; but they existed in some parts of India as late as the twelfth century at least; and it is probable that the Puráńa was compiled before that period. The Gupta kings reigned in the seventh century; the historical record of the Puráńa which mentions them was therefore later: and there seems little doubt that the same alludes to the first incursions of the Mohammedans, which took place in the eighth century; which brings it still lower. In describing the latter dynasties, some, if not all, of which were no doubt contemporary, they are described as reigning altogether one thousand seven hundred and ninety-six years. Why this duration should have been chosen does not appear, unless, in conjunction with the number of years which are said to have elapsed between the great war and the last of the Andhra dynasty, which preceded these different races, and which amounted to two thousand three hundred and fifty, the compiler was influenced by the actual date at which he wrote. The aggregate of the two periods would be the Kálí year 4146, equivalent to A. D. 1045. There are some variety and indistinctness in the enumeration of the periods which compose this total, but the date which results from it is not unlikely to be an approximation to that of the Vishńu Puráńa.

So we have two dates, the date of later copy is 1045 AD and earlier copy is 491 AD.

Banarsidasa Motilal never made a critical edition.

Vayu Purana

I have elsewhere described the Smahitas that form the Siva Purana. The Siva Purana available to the scholars for the first research were small texts. Banarsidass Motilal actually did their critical edition start by Scholars JL Shastri and GV Tagore work on editions of Siva Purana and construct one. The BAnarsidas Motilal edition is not a critical one but it is more complete than many out there. Siva Purana was a library of 12 to 17 samhitas and is a library in itself. That is really most of it lost in time.

So Siva Purana is listed by many later Puranas as MahaPurana but Vayu Purana is the one listed by older Puarans.

Amarkosha never counted Vayu Purana as a Purana. Vayu Purana does not follow the aspects of the Puranas described by AmarKosha. It follows the rules and construction of Itihasasa, Ramyana and Mahabharata. The copy used by royal society scholars was gifted by Maharaja Gaikwar was copied in 1483 AD from an older book and its oldest provenance takes it beyond the age of Amarkosa in tim. Vayu Purana we have is the Oldest Purana possible.

It is also probably the Third Epic which is missing. Vayu Purana should have 24000 verses, it has 12,000. The Purana part. It has an Epic part also which is missing. Vayu Purana is the Third National Epic of Hindus. Somewhere, an old temple or ruin is waiting for us to discover this missing Epic again.

The Váyu Puráńa is narrated by Súta to the Rishis at Naimishárańya, as it was formerly told at the same place to similar persons by Váyu; a repetition of circumstances not uncharacteristic of the inartificial style of this Puráńa. It is divided into four Pádas, termed severally Prakriyá, Upodgháta, Anushanga, and Upasanhára; a classification peculiar to this work. These are preceded by an index, or heads of chapters, in the manner of the Mahábhárata and Rámáyańa; another peculiarity.

The Prakriya portion of Vayu Purana treats elemental creation in obscure and unmethodical style.

The Upodgháta then continues the subject of creation, and describes the various Kalpas or periods during which the world has existed; a greater number of which is specified by the Śaiva than by the Vaishńava Puráńas. Thirty-three are here described, the last of which is the Sweta or ‘white’ Kalpa, from Śiva’s being born in it of a white complexion.

The genealogies of the patriarchs, the description of the universe, and the incidents of the first six Manwantaras, are all treated of in this part of the work; but they are intermixed with legends and praises of Śiva, as the sacrifice of Daksha, the Maheśwara Máhátmya, the Nilakántha Stotra, and others.

The genealogies also present some variations. A long account of the Pitris or progenitors is also peculiar to this Puráńa; as are stories of some of the most celebrated Rishis, who were engaged in the distribution of the Vedas.

Vayu Purana is judged by lot of later scholars like Pargiter to be the best, oldest and probably part of the real ancient Purana.

The third division commences with an account of the seven Rishis and their descendants, and describes the origin of the different classes of creatures from the daughters of Daksha, with a profuse copiousness of nomenclature, not found in any other Puráńa. With exception of the greater minuteness of detail, the particulars agree with those of the Vishńu Purana.

It is extended also by the insertion of detailed accounts of various incidents, briefly noticed in the Vishńu Purana, though derived apparently from a common original. The section terminates with similar accounts of future kings, and the same chronological calculations, that are found in the Vishńu.

The manuscript concludes with a different history of the successive teachers of the Váyu Puráńa, tracing them from Brahmá to Váyu, from Váyu to Vrihaspati, and from him, through various deities and sages, to Dwaipáyańa and Śúta.

It may perhaps be regarded as one of the oldest and most authentic specimens extant of a primitive Puráńa. The missing Epic is supposed to be the story from Kurukshetra to Naimisharanya in greatest of details.

It may be termed Naimishárańya Máhátmya.


Post Author: Mahabharata World

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