The Puranas and Their Provenance – Part 3

Part 1 – The Puranas and Their Provenance – Part 1

Part 2 – The Puranas and Their Provenance – Part 2

The Brahma-Vaivarta Purana

Radha’s Purana

That Puráńa which is related by Sávarńi to Nárada, and contains the account of the greatness of Krishńa, with the occurrences of the Rathantara Kalpa, where also the story of Brahma-varáha is repeatedly told, is called the Brahma-vaivartta, and contains eighteen thousand stanzas.” The account here given of the Brahma-vaivartta Puráńa agrees with its present state as to its extent. The copies rather exceed than fall short of eighteen thousand stanzas. It also correctly represents its comprising a Máhátmya or legend of Krishńa; but it is very doubtful, nevertheless, if the same work is intended.

The Brahma Vaivarta popular is not recitation by Savarni to Narada but by Rishi Narayana to Narada. That may be a Pancharatra. It is divided into four Khańdas, or books; the Bráhma, Prakriti, Ganeśa, and Krishńa Janma Khańdas; dedicated severally to describe the acts of Brahmá, Deví, Ganeśa, and Krishńa; the latter, however, throughout absorbing the interest and importance of the work. In none of these is there any account of the Varáha Avatára of Vishńu, which seems to be intended by the Matsya; nor any reference to a Rathantara Kalpa.

Matsaya states that Original Brahma Vaivarta did exist and was dedicated to Krishna. But the current one is definitely more Krishnafied than what Matsaya is describing.

Although some of the legends believed to be ancient are scattered through the different portions of this Puráńa, yet the great mass of it is taken up with descriptions of Vrindavan and Goloka, the dwellings of Krishńa on earth and in heaven; with endless repetitions of prayers and invocations addressed to him; and with descriptions of his person and sports, and the love of the Gopís and of Rádhá towards him. There are some particulars of the origin of the artificer castes, which is of value because it is cited as authority in matters affecting them, contained in the Bráhma Khańd́a; and in the Prákrita and Ganeśa Khańd́as are legends of those divinities, of which the source has not been traced. In the life of Krishńa the incidents recorded are the same as those narrated in the Vishńu and the Bhágavata;

Linga Purana

Original Linga Purana is supposed to describe Agni Kalpa, the one we have describes Isana Kalpa.

A short account is given, in the beginning, of elemental and secondary creation, and of the patriarchal families; in which, however, Śiva takes the place of Vishńu, as the indescribable cause of all things. Brief accounts of Śiva’s incarnations and proceedings in different Kalpas next occur, offering no interest except as characteristic of sectarial notions.

A notice of the creation in the Padma Kalpa then follows, and this leads to praises of Śiva by Vishńu and Brahmá. Śiva repeats the story of his incarnations, twenty-eight in number; intended as a counterpart, no doubt, to the twenty-four Avatáras of Vishńu, as described in the Bhágavata; and both being amplifications of the original ten Avatáras, and of much less merit as fictions. Another instance of rivalry occurs in the legend of Dadhíchi, a Muni and worshipper of Śiva.

Durvasa of vaishnavites is Dadhichi of Saivites.

A description of the universe, and of the regal dynasties of the Vaivaswata Manwantara to the time of Krishńa, runs through a number of chapters, in substance, and very commonly in words, the same as in other Puráńas. After which, the work resumes its proper character, narrating legends, and enjoining rites, and reciting prayers, intending to do honour to Śiva under various forms.

Data for conjecturing the era of this work are defective, but it is more of a ritual than a Puráńa, and the Pauráńik chapters which it has inserted, in order to keep up something of its character, have been evidently borrowed for the purpose. The incarnations of Śiva, and their ‘pupils,’ as specified in one place, and the importance attached to the practice of the Yoga, render it possible that under the former are intended those teachers of the Śaiva religion who belong to the Yoga school so around 8th century when this Purana was assembled.

Varaha Purana

The Original 24K sloka Varaha Purana is lost. We have a short 10K version which is more of Mathura Sthala Purana. Like the Linga Puráńa, it is a religious manual, almost wholly occupied with forms of prayer, and rules for devotional observances, addressed to Vishńu; interspersed with legendary illustrations, most of which are peculiar to itself, though some are taken from the common and ancient stock: many of them, rather incompatibly with the general scope of the compilation, relate to the history of Śiva and Durgá. The work we have is Mathura Mahamatyama.

There is a Trisakti Mahamatya, stories of Saraswatí, Lakshmí, and Párvati which may be inspiration and related to this Purana.

Skanda Purana

It is uniformly agreed that the Skanda Puráńa in a collective form has no existence; and the fragments in the shape of Sanhitás, Khańdas, and Máhátmyas, which are affirmed in various parts of India to be portions of the Puráńa, present a much more formidable mass of stanzas than even the immense number of which it is said to consist. The most celebrated of these portions in Hindustan is the Káśí Khańda, a very minute description of the temples of Śiva in or adjacent to Benares, mixed with directions for worshipping Maheśwara, and a great variety of legends explanatory of its merits, and of the holiness of Káśí: many of them are puerile and uninteresting, but some are of a higher character. The story of Agastya records probably, in a legendary style, the propagation of Hinduism in the south of India: and in the history of Divodása, king of Káśí, we have an embellished tradition of the temporary depression of the worship of Śiva, even in its metropolis, before the ascendancy of the followers of Buddha,

There is every reason to believe the greater part of the contents of the Káśí Khańd́a anterior to the first attack upon Benares by Mahmud of Ghizni. The Káśí Khańd́a alone contains fifteen thousand stanzas.

Another considerable work ascribed in upper India to the Skanda Puráńa is the Utkala Khańd́a, giving an account of the holiness of Urissa, and the Kshetra of Purushottama or Jagannátha. The same vicinage is the site of temples, once of great magnificence and extent, dedicated to Śiva, as Bhuvaneśwara, which forms an excuse for attaching an account of a Vaishńava Tírtha to an eminently Śaiva Puráńa. There can be little doubt, however, that the Utkala Khańd́a is unwarrantably included amongst the progeny of the parent work. Besides these, there is a Brahmottara Khańd́a, a Revá Khańd́a, a Śiva Rahasya Khańd́a, a Himavat Khańd́a, and others. Of the Sanhitás, the chief are the Súta Sanhitá, Sanatkumára Sanhitá, Saura Sanhitá, and Kapila Sanhitá: there are several other works denominated Sanhitás.

There are so many Mahamtyas. Then there is entire library of Sthala Puranas. According to the Súta Sanhitá, as quoted by Col. Vans Kennedy, the Skanda Puráńa contains six Samhitás, five hundred Khańd́as, and five hundred thousand stanzas; more than is even attributed to all the Puráńas. He thinks, judging from internal evidence, that all the Khańd́as and Sanhitás may be admitted to be genuine.

Skanda Purana assembled by colonel Kennedy was 10 times larger than Mahabharata! The critical edition of Banarsidass is almost 135K slokas.

In a list of reputed portions of the Skanda Puráńa in the possession of Mr. C. P. Brown, of the Civil service of Madras, the Samhitás are seven, the Khańd́as twelve, besides parts denominated as Gítá, Kalpa, Stotra etc.

In the collection of Col. Mackenzie, amongst the Máhátmyas thirty-six are said to belong to the Skanda Purana.

India House first edition printed a Skand Purana with two Samhitás, the Súta and Sanatkumára, fourteen Khańd́as, and twelve Máhátmyas.

Skanda, Siva, and Vyasa have a complete tradition of Puranas in themselves.

Vamana Purana

It is a Vaishnava Purana dedicated to worship of Linga. It is a neutral Purana which was supposed to have been recited after completion of War at Kurukshetra and as success party. This purana also does not recognize Sauptika Parva.

Kurma Purana

It had Four samhitas: Brahmi Koorma, Bhagvati Koorma, Sauri Koorma and Vaishnavi Koorma.

The Brahmi samhitas alone is 6000 slokas and contain the four Vedas.

It has Isvara Gita and Vyas Gita.

True Koorma Purana is lost.

Matsaya Purana

There are two editions, 20K sloka one and 14K sloka one. The larger version is lost. The Puráńa, after the usual prologue of Súta and the Rishis, opens with the account of the Matsya or ‘fish’ Avatára of Vishńu, in which he preserves a king named Manu, with the seeds of all things, in an ark, from the waters of that inundation which in the season of a Pralaya overspreads the world. This story is told in the Mahábhárata, with reference to the Matsya as its authority; from which it might be inferred that the Puráńa was prior to the poem. This of course is consistent with the tradition that the Puráńas were first composed by Vyása.

Whilst the ark floats, fastened to the fish, Manu enters into conversation with him; and his questions, and the replies of Vishńu, form the main substance of the compilation. The first subject is the creation, which is that of Brahmá and the patriarchs. Some of the details are the usual ones; others are peculiar, especially those relating to the Pitris, or progenitors. The regal dynasties are next described; and then follow chapters on the duties of the different orders. It is in relating those of the householder, in which the duty of making gifts to Brahmans is comprehended, that we have the specification of the extent and subjects of the Puráńas. It is meritorious to have copies made of them, and to give these away on particular occasions. Thus it is said of the Matsya; “Whoever gives it away at either equinox, along with a golden fish and a milch cow, gives away the whole earth;” that is, he reaps a like reward in his next migration. Special duties of the householder–Vratas, or occasional acts of piety–are then described at considerable length, with legendary illustrations. The account of the universe is given in the usual strain. Śaiva legends ensue; as, the destruction of Tripurásura; the war of the gods with Táraka and the Daityas, and the consequent birth of Kártikeya, with the various circumstances of Umá’s birth and marriage, the burning of Kámadeva, and other events involved in that narrative; the destruction of the Asuras Maya and Andhaka; the origin of the Mátris, and the like; interspersed with the Vaishńava legends of the Avatáras. Some Máhátmyas are also introduced; one of which, the Narmada Máhátmya, contains some interesting particulars. There are various chapters on law and morals; and one which furnishes directions for building houses, and making images. We then have an account of the kings of future periods; and the Puráńa concludes with a chapter on gifts.

The Matsya Puráńa, it will be seen even from this brief sketch of its contents, is a miscellaneous compilation, but including in its contents the elements of a genuine Puráńa. It has drawn largely also from the Mahábhárata.

Garuda Purana

There did not exist a genuine copy in 1830s. Since then Sastri and Tagore have published a three volume copy.

Brahmanda Purana

The edition looked at by Royal society was 12200 verses but the edition printed by Banarsidass is more than twice that size.

The Brahmáńd́a Puráńa is usually considered to be in much the same predicament as the Skanda, no longer procurable in a collective body, but represented by a variety of Khańd́as and Máhátmyas, professing to be derived from it. The facility with which any tract may be thus attached to the non-existent original, and the advantage that has been taken of its absence to compile a variety of unauthentic fragments, have given to the Brahmáńd́a, Skanda, and Padma, according to Col. Wilford

There is Brahmand Purana written by Jaimini as appendix to his Mahabharata. The lalita sangram in one edition of Brahmand is an allegory on the Kurukshetra war.

Upa Puranas

The Upa-puráńas, in the few instances which are known, differ little in extent or subject from some of those to which the title of Puráńa is ascribed. The Matsya enumerates but four; but the Deví Bhágavata has a more complete list, and specifies eighteen. They are, 1. The Sanatkumára, 2. Nárasinha, 3. Náradíya, 4. Śiva, 5. Durvásasa, g. Kápila, 7. Mánava, 8. Auśanaśa, 9. Varuńa, 10. Káliká, 11. Śámba, 12. Nandi, 13. Saura, 14. Páráśara, 15. Áditya, 16. Máheśwara, 17. Bhágavata or Bhargava, 18. Vaśisht́ha.

The Matsya observes of the Narasimha, that it is named in the Padma Puráńa, and contains eighteen thousand verses. The Matsaya calls a Nandá, Purana and says that Kártikeya tells in it the story of Nandá.

Revá Khańd́a lists the eighteen, 1. Sanatkumára, 2. Nárasinha, 3. Nandá*, 4. Śivadharma*, 5. Durvásasa, 6. Bhavishya*, related by Nárada or Náradíya, 7. Kápila, 8. Mánava, 9. Auśanaśa, 10. Brahmáńd́a*, 11. Váruńa, 12. Káliká, 13. Máheśwara, 14. Śámba*, 15. Saura*, 16. Páráśara*, 17. Bhágavata, 18. Kaurma*

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