Puranas (पुराणानि)

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The word Puranas (Sanskrit: पुराण, purāṇa, Template:IPAc-en;[1]) literally means "ancient, old",[2] and it is a vast genre of Indian literature. They have been influential in the Hindu culture, inspiring major national and regional annual festivals of Hinduism.[3]


पुराणं सर्वशास्त्राणां प्रथमं ब्रह्मणा स्मृतम् ४५ (Padm. Pura 1.1.45)[4]

The list of Puranas is given in Padmapurana (2.3.5), Vishnupurana (3.6), Skanda purana (4.7.1), Agni Purana (10.8.3)

The Brahma Purana - twenty-five thousand The Padma Purana - twelve thousand The Vishnu Purana - thirteen thousand The Vayu Purana - fourteen thousand The Bhagavata Purana - eighteen thousand The Narada Purana - twenty-five thousand The Markandeya Purana - nine thousand The Agni Purana - twelve thousand The Brahmavaivarta Purana - eighteen thousand The Linga Purana - eleven thousand The Varaha Purana - fourteen thousand The Skanda Purana - eighty-four thousand The Vamana Purana - ten thousand The Kurma purana - eight thousand The Matsya Purana - thirteen thousand The Garuda Purana - eight thousand The Brahmanda Purana - twelve thousand The only mahapurana which is missing from the above list is the Bhavishya Purana.Agni purana 10.8.3

He also revealed to them that they could be categorized into three main types- Satvik, Rajas and Tamas. Satvik Puranas contain the tales of Lord Vishnu while Rajas Puranas contain the tales of Brahma and Tamas Purans contain the tales of Agni and Rudra. Skanda purana (4.7.1)

The Puranas have five characteristics (Pancha-Lakshana) viz., history, cosmology (with various symbolical illustrations of philosophical principles), secondary creation, genealogy of kings and of Manvantaras. All the Puranas belong to the class of Suhrit-Samhitas.[5] Vyasa is the compiler of the Puranas from age to age; and for this age, he is Krishnadvaipayana, the son of Parasara.[5]

The Puranas were written to popularise the teachings of the Vedas. They contain the essence of the Vedas. The aim of the Puranas is to impress on the minds of the masses the teachings of the Vedas and to generate in them devotion to God, through concrete examples, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories and chronicles of great historical events. The sages made use of these to illustrate the eternal principles of religion. The Puranas were meant, not for the scholars, but for the ordinary people who could not understand deep philosophy and who could not study the Vedas.[5]

The Darsanas are not easy to understand. They are meant only for the learned few. Through Puranas, essential teachings are taught in a very easy and interesting way. Even to this day, the Puranas are popular. The Puranas contain the history of remote times. They also give a description of the regions of the universe not visible to the ordinary physical eye. They are very interesting to read and are full of information of all kinds.

The Eighteen Puranas[5]

Ved Vyas created numerous puranas like - Brahma Purana, Padma-Purana, Vishnu Purana, Shiva Purana, Bhagawat Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Narad Purana, Markandeya Puran, Agni Puran, Brahma Vaivarta Puran, Linga Puran, Varah Puran, Kurma Puran, Matsya Puran, Garuda Puran, Vaman Puran, Skanda Puran and Brahmanda Puran. Shivamahapuranam 5.5.15[6]

There are eighteen main Puranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas. The main Puranas are:

Of these, six are Sattvic Puranas and glorify Vishnu. Six are Rajasic and glorify Brahma. Six are Tamasic and they glorify Siva.

The most renowned among the Puranas are the Srimad Bhagavata and the Vishnu Purana. The most popular is the Srimad Bhagavata Purana. Next comes Vishnu Purana.

Devi Mahatmya[5]

A portion of the Markandeya Purana is well known to all Hindus as Chandi or Devi Mahatmya. Its theme is worship of God as the Divine Mother. Chandi is read widely by the Hindus on sacred days and Navaratri (Durga Puja) days.

The Srimad Bhagavata Purana and the Ten Avataras[5]

The Srimad Bhagavata Purana is a chronicle of the various Avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are ten Avataras of Vishnu. The aim of every Avatara is to save the world from some great danger, to destroy the wicked and protect the virtuous. The ten Avataras are:

The object of the Matsya Avatara was to save Vaivasvata Manu from destruction by a deluge. The object of Kurma Avatara was to enable the world to recover some precious things which were lost in the deluge. The Kurma gave its back for keeping the churning rod when the Gods and the Asuras churned the ocean of milk. The purpose of Varaha Avatara was to rescue, from the waters, the earth which had been dragged down by a demon named Hiranyaksha. The purpose of Narasimha Avatara, half-lion and half-man, was to free the world from the oppression of Hiranyakasipu, a demon, the father of Bhakta Prahlada. The object of Vamana Avatara was to restore the power of the gods which had been eclipsed by the penance and devotion of King Bali. The object of Parasurama Avatara was to deliver the country from oppression of the the Kshatriya rulers. Parasurama destroyed the Kshatriya race twenty-one times. The object of Rama was to destroy the wicked Ravana. The object of Sri Krishna Avatara was to destroy Kamsa and other demons, and to deliver His wonderful message of the Gita in the Mahabharata war. The object of Buddha Avatara was to prohibit animal sacrifices and teach piety. The object of the Kalki Avatara is the destruction of the wicked and the re-establishment of virtue.[5]

The Tamil Puranas[5]

Lord Siva incarnated himself in the form of Dakshinamurti to impart knowledge to the four Kumaras. He took human form to initiate Sambandhar, Manikkavasagar, Pattinathar. He appeared in flesh and blood to help his devotees and relieve their sufferings. The divine Lilas of Lord Siva are recorded in the Tamil Puranas like Siva Purana, Periya Purana, Siva Parakramam and Tiruvilayadal Purana.

The Upa-Puranas[5]

The eighteen Upa-Puranas are:

Sanatkumara, Narasimha, Brihannaradiya, Sivarahasya, Durvasa, Kapila, Vamana, Bhargava, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parasara, Vasishtha, Devi-Bhagavata, Ganesa and Hamsa.


Douglas Harper states that the etymological origins of Puranas is from Sanskrit Puranah, literally "ancient, former," from pura "formerly, before," cognate with Greek paros "before," pro "before," Avestan paro "before," Old English fore, from proto-Indo-European *pre-, from root *per-."[7]



Of the many texts designated 'Puranas' the most important are the Mahāpurāṇas or the major Puranas.[8] These are said to be eighteen in number, divided into three groups of six, though they are not always counted in the same way.

S.No. Purana name Verses number Comments
1 Agni 15,400 verses Contains encyclopedic information. Includes geography of Mithila (Bihar and neighboring states), cultural history, politics, education system, iconography, taxation theories, organization of army, theories on proper causes for war, diplomacy, local laws, building public projects, water distribution methods, trees and plants, medicine, Vastu Shastra (architecture), gemology, grammar, metrics, poetry, food, rituals and numerous other topics.[9]
2 Bhagavata 18,000 verses The most studied and popular of the Puranas,[10][11] telling of Vishnu's Avatars, and of Vaishnavism. It contains a controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[12] Numerous inconsistent versions of this text and historical manuscripts exist, in many Indian languages.[13] Influential and elaborated during Bhakti movement.[14]
3 Brahma 10,000 verses Sometimes also called Adi Purana, because many Mahapuranas lists put it first of 18.[15] The text has 245 chapters, shares many passages with Vishnu, Vayu, Markendeya Puranas, and with the Mahabharata. Includes mythology, theory of war, art work in temples, and other cultural topics. Describes holy places in Odisha, and weaves themes of Vishnu and Shiva, but hardly any mention of deity Brahma despite the title.[15]
4 Brahmanda 12,000 verses One of the earliest composed Puranas, it contains a controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[12] Includes Lalita Sahasranamam, law codes, system of governance, administration, diplomacy, trade, ethics. Old manuscripts of Brahmanda Purana have been found in the Hindu literature collections of Bali, Indonesia.[16][17]
5 Brahmavaivarta 17,000 verses Discusses Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Devis, Vishnu, Krishna and Radha. Primarily mythology, love and seduction stories of gods and goddesses.[18] Mentions geography and rivers such as Ganga to Kaveri.
6 Garuda 19,000 verses An encyclopedia of diverse topics.[17] Primarily about Vishnu, but praises all gods. Describes how Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma collaborate. Many chapters are a dialogue between Vishnu and the bird-vehicle Garuda. Cosmology, Describes cosmology, relationship between gods. Discusses ethics, what are crimes, good verses evil, various schools of Hindu philosophies, the theory of Yoga, the theory of "heaven and hell" with "karma and rebirth", includes Upanishadic discussion of self-knowledge as a means of moksha.[19] Includes chapters on rivers, geography of Bharat (India) and other nations on earth, types of minerals and stones, testing methods for stones for their quality, various diseases and their symptoms, various medicines, aphrodisiacs, prophylactics, Hindu calendar and its basis, astronomy, moon, planets, astrology, architecture, building home, essential features of a temple, rites of passage, virtues such as compassion, charity and gift making, economy, thrift, duties of a king, politics, state officials and their roles and how to appointment them, genre of literature, rules of grammar, and other topics.[19] The final chapters discuss how to practice Yoga (Samkhya and Advaita types), personal development and the benefits of self-knowledge.[19]
7 Kurma 17,000 verses Is the second of ten major avatars of Lord Vishnu.
8 Linga 11,000 verses Discusses Lingam, symbol of Shiva, and origin of the universe. It also contains many stories of Lingam, one of which entails how Agni Lingam solved a dispute between Vishnu and Brahma.
9 Markandeya 9,000 verses Describes Vindhya Range and western India. Probably composed in the valleys of Narmada and Tapti rivers, in Maharashtra and Gujarat.[20] Named after sage Markandeya, a student of Brahma. Contains chapters on dharma and on Hindu epic Mahabharata.[21] The Purana includes Devi Mahatmyam of Shaktism.
10 Matsya 14,000 verses An encyclopedia of diverse topics.[17] Narrates the story of Matsya, the first of ten major Avatars of Vishnu. Likely composed in west India, by people aware of geographical details of the Narmada river. Includes legends about Brahma and Saraswati.[22] It also contains a controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[12]
11 Narada 25,000 verses Also called Naradiya Purana. Discusses the four Vedas and the six Vedangas. Dedicates one chapter each, from Chapters 92 to 109, to summarize the other 17 Maha Puranas and itself. Lists major rivers of India and places of pilgrimage, and a short tour guide for each. Includes discussion of various philosophies, soteriology, planets, astronomy, myths and characteristics of major deities including Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi and others.[23]
12 Padma 55,000 verses A large compilation of diverse topics. The north Indian manuscripts of Padma Purana are very different than south Indian versions, and the various recensions in both groups in different languages (Devanagari and Bengali, for example) show major inconsistencies.[24] Describes cosmology, the world and nature of life from the perspective of Vishnu. Discusses festivals, numerous legends, geography of rivers and regions from northwest India to Bengal to the kingdom of Tripura, major sages of India, various Avatars of Vishnu and his cooperation with Shiva, the story of Rama-Sita that is different than the Hindu epic Ramayana.[25] Like Skanda Purana, it is a detailed treatise on travel and pilgrimage centers in India.[25][26]
13 Shiva 24,000 verses Discusses Shiva, and stories about him.
14 Skanda 81,100 verses Describes the birth of Skanda (or Karthikeya), son of Shiva. 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.[27]
15 Vamana 10,000 verses Describes North India, particularly Himalayan foothills region.
16 Varaha 24,000 verses Primarily Vishnu-related worship manual, with large Mahatmya sections or travel guide to Mathura and Nepal.[28] Presentation focuses on Varaha as incarnation of Narayana, but rarely uses the terms Krishna or Vasudeva.[28] Many illustrations also involve Shiva and Durga.[29]
17 Vayu 24,000 verses Possibly the oldest of all Maha Puranas. Some medieval Indian texts call it Vayaviya Purana. Mentioned and studied by Al Biruni, the 11th century Persian visitor to India. Praises Shiva. Discusses rituals, family life, and life stages of a human being. The content in Vayu Purana is also found in Markandeya Purana. Describes south India, particularly modern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh regions. It contains a controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[12]
18 Vishnu 23,000 verses One of the most studied and circulated Puranas, it also contains a controversial genealogical details of various dynasties.[12] Better preserved after the 17th century, but exists in inconsistent versions, more ancient pre-15th century versions are very different from modern versions, with some versions discussing Buddhism and Jainism. Some chapters likely composed in Kashmir and Punjab region of South Asia. A Vaishnavism text, focussed on Vishnu.[30]

The Mahapuranas have also been classified based on a specific deity, although the texts are mixed and revere all gods and goddesses:

Brāhma:[24] Brahma Purana, Padma Purana
Surya:[24] Brahma Vaivarta Purana
Agni:[24] Agni Purana
Śaiva:[24] Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana, Varaha Purana, Vāmana Purana, Kūrma Purana, Matsya Purana, Mārkandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Brahmānda Purana
Vaiṣṇava:[24] Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Nāradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Vayu Purana, Varaha Purana

The Padma Purana, Uttara Khanda (236.18-21),[31] itself a Vaishnava Purana, classifies the Puranas in accordance with the three gunas or qualities; truth, passion, and ignorance.

Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Naradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana
Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Vamana Purana, Brahma Purana
Matsya Purana, Kurma purana, Linga Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana

All major Puranas contain sections on Devi (goddesses) and Tantra, but of these the six most significant ones are: Markandeya Purana, Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Agni Purana and Padma Purana.[32]


Several Puranas, such as the Matysa Purana,[33] list "five characteristics" or "five signs" of a Purana.[34] These are called the Pancha Lakshana ( pañcalakṣaṇa), and are topics covered by a Purana:[34][35][36]

  1. Sarga: cosmogony
  2. Pratisarga: cosmogony and cosmology[37]
  3. Vamśa: genealogy of the gods, sages and kings[38]
  4. Manvañtara: cosmic cycles,[39] history of the world during the time of one patriarch
  5. Vamśānucaritam: legends during the times of various kings.

    A few Puranas, such as the most popular Bhagavata Purana, add five more characteristics to expand this list to ten:[40]

  6. 'Utaya: karmic links between the deities, sages, kings and the various living beings
  7. Ishanukatha: tales about a god
  8. Nirodha: finale, cessation
  9. Mukti: moksha, spiritual liberation
  10. Ashraya: refuge

The Puranas link gods to men, both generally and in religious bhakti context.[40] Here the Puranic literature follows a general pattern. It starts with introduction, a future devotee is described as ignorant about the god yet curious, the devotee learns about the god and this begins the spiritual realization, the text then describes instances of god's grace which begins to persuade and convert the devotee, the devotee then shows devotion which is rewarded by the god, the reward is appreciated by the devotee and in return performs actions to express further devotion.[40]

The texts are in Sanskrit as well as regional languages,[41][42] and almost entirely in narrative metric couplets.[2]


The Puranic literature, suggests Khanna, influenced "acculturation and accommodation" of a diversity of people, with different languages and from different economic classes, across different kingdoms and traditions, catalyzing the syncretic "cultural mosaic of Hinduism".[43] They helped influence cultural pluralism in India, and are a literary record thereof.[43]

Om Prakash states the Puranas served as efficient medium for cultural exchange and popular education in ancient and medieval India.[44] These texts adopted, explained and integrated regional deities such as Pashupata in Vayu Purana, Sattva in Vishnu Purana, Dattatreya in Markendeya Purana, Bhojakas in Bhavishya Purana.[44] Further, states Prakash, they dedicated chapters to "secular subjects such as poetics, dramaturgy, grammar, lexicography, astronomy, war, politics, architecture, geography and medicine as in Agni Purana, perfumery and lapidary arts in Garuda Purana, painting, sculpture and other arts in Vishnudharmottara Purana".[44]

Indian Arts

The cultural influence of the Puranas extended to Indian classical arts, such as songs, dance culture such as Bharata Natyam in south India[45] and Rasa Lila in northeast India,[46] plays and recitations.[47]


  1. "Purana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature (1995 Edition), Article on Puranas, ISBN 0-877790426, page 915
  3. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 12-13, 134-156, 203-210
  4. Padma Puranam (Khanda 1 Srustikhandam)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 41-45
  6. 18 Puranas - English Translation by Dharmic Scriptures Team
  7. Douglas Harper (2015), Purana, Etymology Dictionary
  8. Cornelia Dimmitt (2015), Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas, Temple University Press, ISBN 978-8120839724, page xii, 4
  9. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 134-137
  10. Thompson, Richard L. (2007). The Cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana 'Mysteries of the Sacred Universe. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 10. ISBN 978-81-208-1919-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Monier-Williams 1899, p. 752, column 3, under the entry Bhagavata.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 115-121 with footnotes
  13. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 139-149
  14. Hardy 2001
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 154-156
  16. H Hinzler (1993), Balinese palm-leaf manuscripts, In: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde, Manuscripts of Indonesia 149 (1993), No 3, Leiden: BRILL, page 442
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, page 78-79
  18. Giorgio Bonazzoli (1977), Seduction Stories in the Brahmavaivarta Purana, Purana, Vol. XIX, No. 2, pages 321-341
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 MN Dutt, The Garuda Purana Calcutta (1908)
  20. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 70-71
  21. RC Hazra (1987), Studies in the Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120804227, pages 8-11
  22. Catherine Ludvik (2007), Sarasvatī, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge, BRILL, ISBN 978-9004158146, pages 139-141
  23. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 202-203
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 59-61
  25. 25.0 25.1 Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 209-215
  26. Klaus Klostermaier (2007), A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791470824, pages 281-283 with footnotes on page 553
  27. Doniger 1993, pp. 59–83
  28. 28.0 28.1 RC Hazra (1940), Studies in the Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, Motilal Banarsidass (1987 Reprint), ISBN 978-8120804227, pages 96-97
  29. Wilson, Horace H. (1864), The Vishṅu Purāṅa: a system of Hindu mythology and tradition Volume 1 of 4, Trübner, p. LXXI<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Lochtefeld, James G. (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z, The Rosen Publishing Group, p. 760, ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Wilson, H. H. (1840). The Vishnu Purana: A system of Hindu mythology and tradition. Oriental Translation Fund. p. 12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Ludo Rocher (1986), The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447025225, pages 113-114, 153-154, 161, 167-169, 171-174, 182-187, 190-194, 210, 225-227, 242
  33. Matsya Purana 53.65
  34. 34.0 34.1 Greg Bailey (2001), Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy (Editor: Oliver Leaman), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415172813, pages 437-439
  35. Rao 1993, pp. 85–100
  36. Johnson 2009, p. 248
  37. Jonathan Edelmann (2013), The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition (Editors: Ravi Gupta and Kenneth Valpey), Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149983, pages 48-62
  38. Vayu Purana 1. 31-2.
  39. RC Hazra (1987), Studies in the Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120804227, page 4
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Greg Bailey (2001), Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy (Editor: Oliver Leaman), Routledge, ISBN 978-0415172813, pages 440-443
  41. John Cort (1993), Purana Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts (Editor: Wendy Doniger), State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791413821, pages 185-204
  42. Gregory Bailey (2003), The Study of Hinduism (Editor: Arvind Sharma), The University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 978-1570034497, page 139
  43. 43.0 43.1 R Champakalakshmi (2012), Cultural History of Medieval India (Editor: M Khanna), Berghahn, ISBN 978-8187358305, pages 48-50
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Om Prakash (2004), Cultural History of India, New Age, ISBN 978-8122415872, pages 33-34
  45. Katherine Zubko (2013), The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition (Editors: Ravi Gupta and Kenneth Valpey), Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149983, pages 181-201
  46. Guy Beck (2013), The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition (Editors: Ravi Gupta and Kenneth Valpey), Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149983, pages 181-201
  47. Ilona Wilczewska (2013), The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition (Editors: Ravi Gupta and Kenneth Valpey), Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149983, pages 202-220