The Puranas (Sanskrit: पुराण purāṇa, "of ancient times") are a genre of important Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religious texts, notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.
Puranas usually give prominence to a particular deity, employing an abundance of religious and philosophical concepts. They are usually written in the form of stories related by one person to another, the stories of the Puranas teach Hindus that God is indeed unbelievable, unthinkable and unimaginable so we must all submit before him. The Puranas are available in vernacular translations and are disseminated by Brahmin scholars, who read from them and tell their stories, usually in Katha sessions (in which a traveling Brahmin settles for a few weeks in a temple and narrates parts of a Purana, usually with a Bhakti perspective).
Vyasa, the narrator of the Mahabharata, is traditionally considered the compiler of the Puranas. However, the earliest written versions date from the time of the Gupta Empire (third-fifth century CE) and much material may be dated, through historical references and other means, to this period and the succeeding centuries. The texts were probably written all over India.
The date of the production of the written texts does not define the date of origin of the Puranas. On one hand, they existed in some oral form before being written while at the same time, they have been incrementally modified well into the 16th century and perhaps down to the present day.
An early reference is found in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2). (circa 500BCE.) The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad refers to purana as the "fifth Veda", itihāsapurāṇaṃ pañcamaṃ vedānāṃ, reflecting the early religious importance of these myths, presumably then in purely oral form. Importantly, the most famous form of itihāsapurāṇaṃ is the Mahabharata. The term also appears in the Atharvaveda 11.7.24.
According to Pargiter, the "original Purana" may date to the time of the final redaction of the Vedas. Gavin Flood connects the rise of the written Purana historically with the rise of devotional cults centring upon a particular deity in the Gupta era: the Puranic corpus is a complex body of materials that advance the views of various competing cults.
Common ideas are found throughout the corpus but it is not possible to trace the lines of influence of one Purana upon another so the corpus is best viewed as a synchronous whole.
According to Matysa Purana, they are said to narrate five subjects, called Pancha Lakshana pañcalakṣaṇa ("five distinguishing marks", though some scholars have suggested that these are shared by other traditional religious scriptures):
- Sarga: the creation of the universe.
- Pratisarga: secondary creations, mostly recreations after dissolution.
- Vamśa: genealogy of the gods and sages.
- Manvañtara: the creation of the human race and the first human beings. The epoch of the Manus' rule, 71 celestial Yugas or 308,448,000 years.
- Vamśānucaritam: the histories of the patriarchs of the lunar and solar dynasties.
The Puranas also lay emphasis on keeping a record of genealogies, as the Vayu Purana says, "to preserve the genealogies of gods, sages and glorious kings and the traditions of great men." The Puranic genealogies indicate, for example, that Sraddhadeva Manu lived 95 generations before the Bharata war. In Arrian's Indica, Megasthenes is quoted as stating that the Indians counted from "Dionysos" (Shiva) to "Sandracottus" (Chandragupta Maurya) "a hundred and fifty-three kings over six thousand and forty-three years." The list of kings in Kalhana's Rajatarangini goes back to the 19th century BCE.
Pargiter has argued that the Puranic Krta Yuga—in the Vayu Purana the four Yugas are divided into 4800, 3600, 2400, and 1200 years—"ended with the destruction of the Haihayas [by Rama Jamadagnya]; the Treta began approximately with Sagara and ended with Rama Dasarathi's destruction of the Raksasas; and the Dvapara began with his reinstatement at Ayodhya and ended with the Bharata battle".
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Of the many texts designated 'Puranas' the most important are the Mahāpurāṇas. These are always said to be eighteen in number, divided into three groups of six, though in fact they are not always counted in the same way. Combining the various lists Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen have collated twenty names:
|Purana name||Verses number||Comments|
|Agni||15,400 verses||Contains details of Vastu Shastra and Gemology|
|Bhagavata||18,000 verses||The most celebrated and popular of the Puranas, telling of Vishnu's ten Avatars. Its tenth and longest canto narrates the deeds of Krishna, introducing his childhood exploits, a theme later elaborated by many Bhakti movements.|
|Brahma||10,000 verses||Describes about Godavari and its tributaries.Shortest among Puranas.|
|Brahmanda||12,000 verses||includes Lalita Sahasranamam, a text some Hindus recite as prayer|
|Brahmavaivarta||17,000 verses||Describes Worshipping protocols of Devis,Krishna and Ganesha|
|Garuda||19,000 verses||Most hallowed Purana regarding the death and its aftermaths.|
|Harivamsa||16,000 verses||more often considered itihāsa|
|Linga||11,000 verses||Staunch Shaiva Theological Purana|
|Markandeya||09,000 verses||The Devi Mahatmya, an important text for the Shaktas is embedded in it|
|Narada||25,000 verses||Describe the greatness of Veda and Vedangas.|
|Skanda||81,100 verses||The longest Purana, it is an extraordinarily meticulous pilgrimage guide, containing geographical locations of pilgrimage centers in India, with related legends, parables, hymns and stories. Many untraced quotes are attributed to this text.|
|Vamana||10,000 verses||Mostly describes about North India and areas around Kurukshetra.|
Puranas are classified according to qualification of persons who can understand them: "Purāṇas are supplementary explanations of the Vedas intended for different types of men. All men are not equal. There are men who are conducted by the mode of goodness, others who are under the mode of passion and others who are under the mode of ignorance. The Purāṇas are so divided that any class of men can take advantage of them and gradually regain their lost position and get out of the hard struggle for existence."
|Sattva ("truth; purity")||Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Naradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana|
|Rajas ("dimness; passion")||Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Vamana Purana, Brahma Purana|
|Tamas ("darkness; ignorance")||Matsya Purana, Kurma purana, Linga Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana|
The Upapurāṇas are lesser or ancillary texts: these are sometimes also said to be eighteen in number, with still less agreement as to the canonical titles. Few have been critically edited. They include: Sanat-kumara, Narasimha, Brihan-naradiya, Siva-rahasya, Durvasa, Kapila, Vamana, Bhargava, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parasara, Vasishtha, Devi-Bhagavata, Ganesha, Mudgala, and Hamsa.
The Ganesha and Mudgala Puranas are devoted to Ganesha. The Devi-Bhagavata Purana, which extols the goddess Durga, has become (along with the Devi Mahatmya of the Mārkandeya Purana) a basic text for Devi worshipers.
This corpus of texts tells of the origins and traditions of particular Tamil Shiva temples or shrines. There are numerous Sthala Puranas, most written in vernaculars, some with Sanskrit versions as well. The 275 Shiva Sthalams of the continent have puranas for each, famously glorified in the Tamil literature Tevaram. Some appear in Sanskrit versions in the Mahapuranas or Upapuranas. Some Tamil Sthala Puranas have been researched by David Dean Shulman.
These Puranas deal with a caste's origin myth, stories, and legends (the word kula means "family" or "tribe" in Sanskrit). They are important sources for caste identity though usually contested by rival castes. This subgenre is usually in the vernacular and may at times remain oral. These have been little researched, though they are documented in the caste section of the British Census of India Report and the various Gazetteers.
Jain and Buddhist Puranas
Jain Puranas deal with Jain myths, history and legends and form a major part of early Kannada literature.  The best known is the Mahapurana of Acharya Jinasena. Among Buddhist Puranas, Swayambhu Purana narrates the mythological history of Nepal and describes Buddhist pilgrimage sites inside the Kathmandu Valley.
- Puranas at Sacred Texts
- The Puranas by Swami Sivananda
- Johnson 2009, p. 247
- Singh 1997, p. 2324
- Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 2.4.10, 4.1.2, 4.5.11. Satapatha Brahmana (SBE, Vol. 44, pp. 98, 369). Moghe 1997, pp. 160,249
- Pargiter 1962, pp. 30–54
- Moghe 1997, p. 249 and the Satapatha Brahmana 188.8.131.52. and 184.108.40.206. SBE Vol. 44, pp. 98, 369
- Flood 1996, p. 359
- Mittal 2004, p. 657
- Matsya Purana 53.65
- Rao 1993, pp. 85–100
- Johnson 2009, p. 248
- Vayu Purana 1. 31-2.
- Majumdar & Pusalker 1951, p. 273
- Pliny: Naturalis Historia 6:59; Arrian: Indica 9:9
- Elst 1999, with reference to Bernard Sergent
- Pargiter 1922, p. 177
- P.L. Bhargava 1971, India in the Vedic Age, Lucknow: Upper India Publishing; Talageri 1993, 2000; Subhash Kak, 1994, The astronomical code of the Rgveda
- Dimmitt & van Buitenen 1978, p. 373
- Monier-Williams 1899, p. 752, column 3, under the entry Bhagavata.
- Hardy 2001
- Doniger 1993, pp. 59–83
- Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.4 All the Vedic literatures and the Purāṇas are meant for conquering the darkest region of material existence. The living being is in the state of forgetfulness of his relation with God due to his being overly attracted to material sense gratification from time immemorial. His struggle for existence in the material world is perpetual, and it is not possible for him to get out of it by making plans. If he at all wants to conquer this perpetual struggle for existence, he must reestablish his eternal relation with God. And one who wants to adopt such remedial measures must take shelter of literatures such as the Vedas and the Purāṇas. Some people say that the Purāṇas have no connection with the Vedas. However, the Purāṇas are supplementary explanations of the Vedas intended for different types of men. All men are not equal. There are men who are conducted by the mode of goodness, others who are under the mode of passion and others who are under the mode of ignorance. The Purāṇas are so divided that any class of men can take advantage of them and gradually regain their lost position and get out of the hard struggle for existence.
- Nair, Shantha N. (2008). Echoes of Ancient Indian Wisdom: The Universal Hindu Vision and Its Edifice. Delhi: Hindology Books. p. 266. ISBN 978-81-223-1020-7. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=ekehXVP3W8wC&pg=PA266&dq=Vaishnava+Shaiva+Brahma+Puranas&hl=en&ei=wKkQTau5EMjKrAfym4DoCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Vaishnava%20Shaiva%20Brahma%20Puranas&f=false.
- The Puranic Encyclopedia
- Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, 236.18–21
- R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. I, Calcutta, Sanskrit College, 1958. Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. II, Calcutta, Sanskrit College, 1979. Studies in Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, Delhi, Banarsidass, 1975. Ludo Rocher, The Puranas - A History of Indian Literature Vol. II, fasc. 3, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1986.
- Thapan 1997, p. 304
- Purana at Gurjari
- Mackenzie 1990
- `Verbal Narratives: Performance and Gender of the Padma Purana, by T.N. Sankaranarayana in Kaushal 2001, pp. 225–234
- Shulman 1980
- Handoo 1998, pp. 125–142
- See for example Castes and Tribes of Southern India vol. I–V, Thurston Edgar. Cosmo Publication, Delhi.
- Jaini, Padmanabh S. (1993). "Jaina Puranas: A Puranic Counter Tradition." in Doniger 1993, pp. 207–249
- Cort, John E. (1993). "An Overview of the Jaina Puranas". in Doniger 1993, pp. 185–206
- Bhargava, P.L. 1971. India in the Vedic Age. Lucknow: Upper India Publishing.
- Dimmitt, Cornelia; van Buitenen, J. A. B. (1978). Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskirt Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 8170305969.
- Doniger, Wendy (editor) (1993). Purāṇa Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts. Albany, New York: State University of New York. ISBN 0-7914-1382-9.
- Handoo, Jawaharlal (editor) (1998). Folklore in Modern India. ISBN 81-7342-055-6.
- Hardy, Friedhelm (2001). Viraha-Bhakti - The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India. ISBN 0-19-564916-8. </ref>
- Flood, Gavin (1996) (Book). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521433045.
- Johnson, W.J. (2009). A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-861025-0.
- Kaushal, Molly (editor) (2001). Chanted Narratives - The Katha Vachana Tradition. ISBN 81-246-0182-8.
- Majumdar, R. C.; Pusalker, A. D. (1951). The history and culture of the Indian people. 1: The Vedic age. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
- Mackenzie, Brwon (1990). The Triumph of the Goddess - The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the DevI-BhAgavata PuraNa. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0363-7. </ref>
- Mittal, Sushil (2004). The Hindu World. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415215275.
- Moghe, S. G. (editor) (1997). Professor Kane's contribution to Dharmasastra literature. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.. ISBN 81-246-0075-9.
- Monier-Williams, Monier (1899). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.
- Pargiter, F.E. (1922). Ancient Indian Historical Tradition. London: Oxford University Press.
- Pargiter, F. E. (1962)  (Book). Ancient Indian historical tradition. Original publisher Oxford University Press, London. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass. OCLC 1068416.
- Rao, Velcheru Narayana (1993). "Purana as Brahminic Ideology". in Doniger Wendy (Book). Purana Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-1381-0.
- Shulman, David Dean (1980). Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition. ISBN 0-691-06415-6.
- Singh, Nagendra Kumar (1997). Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. ISBN 8174881689.
- Thapan, Anita Raina (1997). Understanding Gaṇapati: Insights into the Dynamics of a Cult. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers. ISBN 81-7304-195-4.
- Thurston Edgar. Castes and Tribes of Southern India (Vols I-V). Cosmo Publication, Delhi.
- The Puranas (bharatadesam.com)
- Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Full text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, with the original Sanskrit, word-for-word meanings, translation, and commentary.
- The Vishnu Purana Full text of the H.H. Wilson translation at sacred-texts.com
- Contents of 18 Puranas and a list of Upapuranas (lesser Puranas) (a Java applet)
- Extensive synopsis of several Maha Puranas
- Synopsis of Puranas at Urday.com
- Agni Purana - A synopsis
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