Part 1 – The Puranas and Their Provenance – Part 1

Bhagvada Purana

Bhagvada is the Fifth Purana. There are several versions of it. There is also a Devi Bhagvada Purana which may also be equally authentic. One thing is clear, Bhagvata Purana is not in the list of eighteen. Veda Vyas added it last to the list. It is the Nineteenth Mahapurana by Veda Vyas’ own account to Narada.

The Bhágavata is a work of great celebrity in India, and exercises a more direct and powerful influence upon the opinions and feelings of the people than perhaps any other of the Puráńas. It is placed the fifth in all the lists; but the Padma Puráńa ranks it as the eighteenth, as the extracted substance of all the rest. According to the usual specification, it consists of eighteen thousand ślokas, distributed amongst three hundred and thirty-two chapters, divided into twelve Skandhas or books. It is named Bhágavata from its being dedicated to the glorification of Bhagavat or Vishńu.

The course of the narration opens with a cosmogony, which, although in most respects similar to that of other Puráńas, is more largely intermixed with allegory and mysticism, and derives its tone more from the Vedanta than the Sánkhya philosophy. The doctrine of active creation by the Supreme, as one with Vásudeva, is more distinctly asserted, with a more decided enunciation of the effects being resolvable into Máyá, or illusion. There are also doctrinal peculiarities, highly characteristic of this Puráńa; amongst which is the assertion that it was originally communicated by Brahmá to Nárada.

In the third book the interlocutors are changed to Maitreya and Vidura; the former of whom is the disciple in the Vishńu Puráńa, the latter was the half-brother of the Kuru princes. Maitreya, again, gives an account of the Srisht́i-lílá, or sport of creation, in a strain partly common to the Puráńas, partly peculiar; although he declares he learned it from his teacher Paráśara; referring thus to the fabulous origin of the Vishńu Puráńa, and furnishing evidence of its priority. Bhagvada borrows liberally from Vishnu Purana.

It then describes Varaha and Kapila avatars in detail.

The Manwantara of Swáyambhuva, and the multiplication of the patriarchal families, are next described with some peculiarities of nomenclature, which are pointed out in the notes to the parallel passages of the Vishńu Puráńa. The traditions of Dhruva, Veńa, Prithu, and other princes of this period, are the other subjects of the fourth Skandha, and are continued in the fifth to that of the Bharata who obtained emancipation. The details generally conform to those of the Vishńu Puráńa, and the same words are often employed, so that it would he difficult to determine which work had the best right to them, had not the Bhágavata itself indicated its obligations to the Vishńu. The remainder of the fifth book is occupied with the description of the universe, and the same conformity with the Vishńu continues.

The sixth book is somewhat suspect. Some of the legends may be novel.

The seventh book is mostly occupied with the legend of Prahláda. In the eighth we have an account of the remaining Manwantaras; in which, as happening in the course of them, a variety of ancient legends are repeated, as the battle between the king of the elephants and an alligator, the churning of the ocean, and the Vamana and Mastaya Avatáras. The ninth book narrates the dynasties of the Vaivaswata Manwantara, or the princes of the solar and lunar races to the time of Krishńa. All these conforms to Vishnu Purana.

The tenth book is the characteristic part of this Puráńa, and the portion upon which its popularity is founded. It is appropriated entirely to the history of Krishńa, which it narrates much in the same manner as the Vishńu, but in more detail; holding a middle place, however, between it and the extravagant prolixity with which the Hari Vanśa repeats the story. It is not necessary to particularize it farther. It has been translated into perhaps all the languages of India, and is a favourite work with all descriptions of people.

Colebrook believed that Bhagvada Purana was written by Grammaian Vopadeva in 1200 AD. The other scholars did not think so. They believed hat Vopadeva may have created a Bhagvada text collating legends and copying details and that text also passes as a Bhagvata Purana and is in vogue in some areas. But, more ancient and proven Bhagavad does exist and are in circulation.

Bhagvada follows Vishnu to great extent. The Vishnu version we have is 7000 verses while the Bhagvada is 18000 stanzas. The Vishnu Purana should be 23000 and more stanzas. The Bhagvada and Vishnu combined we have may be the real ancient Vishnu Purana. That makes sense because Bhagwada instead of just focusing on Krishna comes to him in 10th book while walking through the Dashavatra. The original larger Bhagvada may be lost in time.

It is also said that the original Bhágavata contains an account of the acquirement of holy knowledge by Hayagríva; the particulars of the Sáraswata Kalpa; a dialogue between Ambarísha and Śuka; these are missing in current Bhagvada.

So Bhagvada might be the Purana but not the one we think it is. The oldest version they had in 1830s was copied in 12th century from an earlier source. The Tagore-Sahastri edition for Motilal Banarsidass is 25000 slokas.

Naradiya Purana

This is supposed to focus on Vrihadiya Kalpa. It is supposed to be 25000 verses. It is lost. So is lost Vrihadiya Narada Purana. That was the conclusion in 1830s.

Tagore managed to work with later finds and has published a 5 volume 25000 verse Narada Purana. I have read only one volume of it.

It is focused on Prahalad, Dhruva, Mohini Avatar, Marakandeya and Sagara and Ganga avatara and other stories. Lot of versions of Narada floating in market are really Pauranika fiction and not original Puranas. Examples are Rukmangada Charita which is in large distribution.

Markandeya Purana

Last third of this Purana is lost. This is a Mahabharata Purana. Vyas wrote the Puaranas then wrote Itihasa. But Jaimini states that Markandeya was or is like an another appendix Purana like Harivamsa.

The real Marakandeya Purana is the conversation between the divine birds saved by Arjuna and Krishna on the field of battle of Kurukshetra and given by Yudhishthara to Shamika. They talk to Jaimini. Now, the battlefield where Arjuna and Krishna saved the birds was Khandava Vana daha. Markandeya plays on allegories. It makes Khandava vana daha equivalent to Kurkukshetra. There is extended information on sons of Draupadi who participate in Khandava vana daha. In Vana Parva Sahadeva talks about Panchala and Kuru armies fighting Indra and devas.

The Markandeya puts Vaishampayna’s brahmahatya on Balarama! The Rajasuya Harishchandra’s elevation to heaven is same as Yudhishthara the other Rajasuya emperor. The Vritrasura story is given again with different details as if describing a different event. There is a different description of quarrel between Vashishtha and Visvamitra, an allegory for different Brahmana-Kshatriya struggle. Lot of new characters are added in this Purana. Of most of the persons noticed, the work narrates particulars not found elsewhere. Sons, grandsons and great grandsons of Pandavas are described. The genealogical chapters are detailed lists, differing in a many respects from those commonly received, accompanied by great detailed particulars. This is not the case with other Puranas.

We also have a Chandi Patha and Durga Mahamatya added in this Purana.

This Puráńa has a character different from that of all the others. It has nothing of a sectarial spirit, little of a religious tone, rarely inserting prayers and invocations to any deity, and such as are inserted are brief and moderate. It deals little in precepts, ceremonial or moral. Its leading feature is narrative, and it presents an uninterrupted succession of legends, most of which, when ancient, are embellished with new circumstances; and when new, partake so far of the spirit of the old, that they are disinterested creations of the imagination, having no particular motive; being designed to recommend no special doctrine or observance. Whether they are derived from any other source, or whether they are original inventions, it is not possible to ascertain. They are most probably, for the greater part at least, original; and the whole has been narrated in the compiler’s own manner, a manner superior to that of the Puráńas in general, with exception of the Bhágavata.

It is not easy to conjecture a date for this Puráńa: it is subsequent to the Mahábhárata, but how long subsequent is doubtful. It is unquestionably more ancient than such works as the Brahmá, Padma, and Náradíya Puráńas; and its freedom from sectarial bias is a reason for supposing it anterior to the Bhágavata. At the same time, its partial conformity to the definition of a Puráńa makes it like Vayu an ancient Purana. Older than most others. Again, the text stating to be Marakandeya Purana may not be a Purana but an appendix of Mahabharata, missing slokas and sub-parvas. Vyas believed in duplicating work so it passes down the ages.

Agni Purana

This deals with Isana Kalpa. It is supposed to have 16000 stanzas and is told by Agni to Vashishtha. There were atleast five very different versions floating around in 1830s. Akbar had two versions transcribed in 1589 AD from older sources and used to listen to Agni Purana.

The Agni Purana which the Royal Society looked at hardly had an original line. The large sections of Purana is Tantrika and some describes worships rare or not extant in modern Hinduism.

There is lot borrowed from Vishnu Purana. Also, Chapters on the duties of kings, and on the art of war, then occur, which have the appearance of being extracted from some older work, as is undoubtedly the chapter on judicature, which follows them, and which is the same as the text of the Mitákshara.

Similarly Susrutha Samhita, Pingala and Panini’s works are quoted inside this Purana.

The cyclopedia character of the Agni Puráńa, as it is now described, excludes it from any legitimate claims to be regarded as a Puráńa, and proves that its origin cannot be very remote. It is subsequent to the Itihásas; to the chief works on grammar, rhetoric, and medicine; and to the introduction of the Tántrika worship of Deví. When this latter took place is yet far from determined.. The materials of the Agni Puráńa are, however, no doubt of some antiquity. The medicine of Suśruta is considerably older than the 5th cen BC; and the grammar of Pánini probably precedes Christianity by five hundred years. The chapters on archery and arms, and on regal administration, are also distinguished by an entirely Hindu character, and must have been written long anterior to the even Kushana invasions. So far the Agni Puráńa is valuable, as embodying and preserving relics of antiquity, although compiled at a more’ recent date.

Colonel Wilford liked its genealogical lists to be very good. Agni Purana original is lost and we have a encyclopaedia left behind of very old origin.

Bhavishya Purana

Skanda Purana denotes there are like eight different Bhavishya Puranas. We have half of the Bhavishya Purana and its appendix Bhavishottar Purana. It is conversations between Satanika Pandava and Sumantu. The 1830s translations made it clear that this is Satanika Pandava and not Satanika Chandrapida, son of Janamjaya.

Modern or later translations, do not make the differentiation. The Bhavishya has Five samhitas: Brahma, Vaishnava, Saiva, Twashtra and Pratisarga. Only first Brahma is extant.

It describes Chayavana legends and lot of Asvini Kumar stories and Naga panchami which is associated with Asvini Kumars and new types of Nagas being created.

This Purana states that the destruction of Yadavas was an allegory. Samba was cursed by Durvásas, Vaśisht́ha, Nárada, and Vyása. But he prayed at Multan or Moolsthana and that curse was lifted. He built a Sun temple at Moolsthana and ruled there. His progeny ruled and even now Sindh has Rajputs who are descended from Samba and other sons of Krishna. The destruction of Dwarka was the mini pralaya that destroyed the city but people left and founded several kingdoms including nine described in North. The last part of this Purana is interesting as it details that Magas, silent worshippers of the sun, from Sákadwípa, as if the compiler had adopted the Persian term Magh, and connected the fire-worshippers of Iran with those of India. This is a subject, however, that requires farther investigation. This is same as legend of Kayasthas caste being formed.

Bhavishyottar Purana is also half left, around 7000 stanzas of original 14500. It is Krishna’s description of War and religious festivals to Yudhishthara, told on occasion of Madanotsava after the war. The religious festivals described are not followed by Hindus any longer denote some antiquity to the Purana. Madanotsava is most likely Holi. This Purana also does not list Sauptika and Stree Parvas in Mahabharata like in the anukarmika of the Mahabharata. It talks of 14 Maha Parvas.

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