Purana Lakshana (पुराणलक्षणम्)

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Purana lakshana (Samskrit : पुराणलक्षणम्) chiefly deals with the compilation of characteristic subject matter of a class of texts namely Puranas. Many Puranas themselves acknowledge that at least five topics (पञ्चलक्षणम्) form their essential characteristics. Amarakosha summarizes the characteristics of Puranas as follows

व्यासादिमुनिप्रणीत-वेदार्थवर्णित-पञ्चलक्षणान्वित-शास्त्रम् । तत्पर्य्यायः । पञ्चलक्षणम् २ । इत्यमरः । १ । ६ । ५ ॥

Purana is that shastra, which written by Vyasa, describes the meanings of Vedas and is comprised of the panchalakshanas.


According to Shabdakalpadruma, the word Purana is used in the sense of पुरा भवमिति । which means "that which existed in the past" and पुरा नीयते इति । which means "that which takes (you) back (in time)"

Vayu Purana says that it is called Purana because it talks about the past or that which existed in olden times.

यस्मात्पुरा ह्यनन्तीदं पुराणं तेन चोच्यते। (Vayu. Pura. 41.55)[1]

Padma Purana specifically mentions that Puranas speak about the past traditions.

पुरा परंपरां वक्ति पुराणं तेन वै स्मृतम् ...५४ (Padm. Pura. 1.2.54)[2]

Brahmanda Purana says that Puranas are so called because they existed in olden times

यस्मात्पुरा ह्यभूच्चैतत्पुराणं तेन तत्स्मृतम् । (Brah. Pura. 1.1.173)[3]

It therefore appears that originally the term Purana signified an ancient event recounted as a tale or narrative in subsequent generations. Matsya Purana (53.63)[4] even records that Puranas have been recounted from across the various Kalpas. This is correlated by many puranic statements that they have been first recollected by Brahma (Kalpa is the time period of one day for Brahma)

पञ्चलक्षणम् ॥ Five Lakshanas

One certainly would be awed at the collection of such great texts containing over thousands of slokas, (transmitted over generations) all of which have a few unique (common across Puranas) special characteristics in their content. Several puranas have mentioned पञ्चलक्षणम् ॥ five characteristics of puranas

  1. Agni Purana (1.14)
  2. Bhavishya Purana (1.2.4 and 5[1])
  3. Garuda Purana (1.2.28-29)[2]
  4. Vishnu Purana(3.6.25)[5]
  5. Kurma Purana (1.12)[6]
  6. Skanda Purana (5.1.31)[7]
  7. Vayu Purana (Prakriya Pada 1.4.10)[8]
  8. Shiva Purana (Vayuviya samhita 1.41)
  9. Brahmanda Purana (1.1.37-38)[3]

Vishnu Purana largely conforms to having all the five lakshanas whereas few other Puranas barely touch upon them. Apart from these topics Puranas predominantly describe about Danas (gifts), Vratas (religious observances), Tirtha (sacred places), and Shraddha (observances for forefathers). The slokas pertaining to the Panchalakshanas are very similar across the puranas with minor variations. Given below is the sloka and explanation for the Panchalakshanas from Matsya Purana.

सर्गश्च प्रतिसर्गश्च वंशो मन्वन्तराणि च । वंश्यानुचरितं चैव पुराणं पञ्चलक्षणम् ६५ (Mats. Pura. 53.65)[4]

  • सर्गः ॥ Sarga : srsti siddhantas (theories of creation) starting from Brahma (primary creation)
  • प्रतिसर्गः ॥ Pratisarga: srsti siddhantas starting from the first beings created by Brahma (secondary creation)
  • वंशः॥ Vamsa: Genealogy of devatas, rshis, rajas and maharajas
  • मन्वन्तराणि ॥ Manvantaras: Cosmic cycles of time, origin and lineages of people, creatures in the world during the time of one Manu
  • वंशानुचरितम् ॥ Vamsanucharitam: Legends and anecdotes of various rajas, maharajas and chakravartis.

दशलक्षणानि ॥ Ten Lakshanas of Mahapuranas

Shabdakalpadruma further describes Dashalakshana or ten characteristics of a Mahapurana as follows

महापुराणस्य दश लक्षणानि । यथा, सर्गः १ विसर्गः २ वृत्तिः ३ रक्षा ४ अन्तरम् ५ वंशः ६ वंश्यानुचरितम् ७ संस्था ८ हेतुः ९ अपाश्रयः १० ॥

The same list as evidenced in Bhagavata Purana, is translated below

पुराणलक्षणं ब्रह्मन् ब्रह्मर्षिभिः निरूपितम् । श्रृणुष्व बुद्धिमाश्रित्य वेदशास्त्रानुसारतः ॥ ८ ॥

सर्गोऽस्याथ विसर्गश्च वृत्तिरक्षान्तराणि च । वंशो वंशानुचरितं संस्था हेतुरपाश्रयः ॥ ९ ॥

दशभिः लक्षणैर्युक्तं पुराणं तद्विदो विदुः । (Bhag. Pura. 12.7.8-9)[9]

Summary : Listen (O Saunaka!) with complete attention the characteristics of Puranas as described by the Brahmarshis in conformity to Vedas and Shastras. Those who are experts in puranic lore declare that Purana has the following ten lakshanas

  1. सर्गः ॥ Sarga - the elemental primary creation (subtle)
  2. विसर्गः ॥ Visarga - the secondary creation (gross)
  3. वृत्तिः ॥ Vrtti - Sustenance, means of livelihood
  4. रक्षा ॥ Raksha - Protection (of the devotees)
  5. अन्तराणि ॥ Antaras - Time periods of Manus (Manvantaras)
  6. वंशः ॥ Vamshas - Dynasties and lineages of Rajas and Maharajas
  7. वंशानुचरितम् ॥ Vamshanucharita - Deeds and legends of the Rajas of different dynasties including Avatara purushas
  8. संस्था ॥ Samstha - destruction of the world (4 kinds of Laya)
  9. हेतुः ॥ Hetu - Cause of Creation (Karma)
  10. अपाश्रयः ॥ Apashraya - ultimate recourse of individual

Ten Characteristics of Bhagavata Purana

In Bhagavata Purana ten characteristics are specifically mentioned about the type of its contents. It may be noted that a few of the topics namely Sarga, Visarga (same as Pratisarga), and Manvantaras are identical to those given in the ten purana lakshanas. In the subsequent explanation we find the definition of these characteristics.

अत्र सर्गो विसर्गश्च स्थानं पोषणमूतयः । मन्वन्तरेशानुकथा निरोधो मुक्तिराश्रयः ॥ १ ॥

दशमस्य विशुद्ध्यर्थं नवानामिह लक्षणम् । वर्णयन्ति महात्मानः श्रुतेनार्थेन चाञ्जसा ॥ २ ॥

Summary : Here (in the purana) the topics are

  • सर्गः ॥ Sarga - the elemental primary creation (subtle)
  • विसर्गः ॥ Visarga - the secondary creation (gross)
  • स्थानम् ॥ Sthana - the planetary situations
  • पोषणम् ॥ Poshanam - Protection (of the devotees), material maintenance
  • ऊतयः ॥ Utaya - the impetus for activity
  • मन्वन्तरम् ॥ Time periods of Manus (Manvantaras) and history thereof
  • ईशानुकथा ॥ Ishanukatha - accounts of divine avataras and supreme beings, activities of incarnations
  • निरोधः ॥ Nirodha - dissolution of the worlds and beings
  • मुक्तिः ॥ Mukti - the real and eternal state/situation
  • आश्रयः ॥ Aashraya - ultimate recourse or shelter of all existence

Definitions of the Topics

Bhagavata Purana elaborates delves on the definitions of each of the above mentioned subject matters in Skanda 2 Adhyaya 10.


भूतमात्रेन्द्रियधियां जन्म सर्ग उदाहृतः । (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.3)

The elemental creation of the panchabhutas (five gross elements), indriyas (includes karma and jnana indriyas) and the dhi (intellect/mind) are said to be Sarga.


ब्रह्मणो गुणवैषम्यात् विसर्गः पौरुषः स्मृतः ॥ ३ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.3)

Visarga is to be known as that (creation) arising from the Purusha (Virat Purusha) through the disturbance in the equilibrium (inequality) of the gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas)


स्थितिर्वैकुण्ठविजयः (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.4)

Sthiti is the suitable situation (realm) of Vaikuntha.


पोषणं तदनुग्रहः । (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.4)

Poshanam includes the protection (and welfare) as the causeless kindness of Purusha.


मन्वन्तराणि सद्धर्म (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.4)

The reign of the Manus is the Manvantara, wherein establishing the rules of righteous living takes place. Utayah

ऊतयः कर्मवासनाः ॥ ४ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.4)

Utayah refers to the impetus for activity or the desire for fruitive work.

Karma vasana refers to the accumulated residue of one's previous activities. Every material activity one performs creates a residual impression within the consciousness, carried with it life after life. Sum total of these impressions form the creative impetus to perform Karma.


अवतारानुचरितं हरेश्चास्यानुवर्तिनाम् । पुंसां ईशकथाः प्रोक्ता नानाख्यान उपबृंहिताः ॥ ५ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.5)

Description of activities of the avatara purushas, various detailed anecdotes or stories of Shrihari and his devotees constitute Ishanukatha.


निरोधोऽस्यानुशयनं आत्मनः सह शक्तिभिः । (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.6)

The merging of the living entity (Jiva) along with all his powers and limitations in Shrihari when he enters his yogic sleep (अनुशयनं).


मुक्तिः हित्वान्यथा रूपं स्वरूपेण व्यवस्थितिः ॥ ॥ ६ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.6)

Mukti (of the living entity) consists of abandoning the unreal form and stayin in the essential constitutional nature of the Self.


आभासश्च निरोधश्च यतश्चाध्यवसीयते । स आश्रयः परं ब्रह्म परमात्मेति शब्द्यते ॥ ७ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.7)

That from which the cosmic manifestation and dissolution are definitely known to emerge, is the supreme resort called the Param Brahma, Paramatma.

योऽध्यात्मिकोऽयं पुरुषः सोऽसौ एवाधिदैविकः । यः तत्र उभय विच्छेदः स स्मृतोह्याधिभौतिकः ॥ ८ ॥

एकं एकतराभावे यदा न उपलभामहे । त्रितयं तत्र यो वेद स आत्मा स्वाश्रयाश्रयः ॥ ९ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 2.10.8-9)

The individual person possessing different instruments of senses (seer or witness) is called the adhyatmika person, and the individual presiding deity of the senses is called adidaivika jiva. The person having the physical sense organ is termed adibhoutika purusha. All three of the above mentioned stages of different living entities are interdependent. In the absence of one, another is not understood. He who knows all these three is the Atma, who is not dependent on others, but is the support (shelter) of all.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Vayu Purana (Uttaratha Adhyaya 41)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Padma Purana (Srshti Khanda 1, Adhyaya 2)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Brahmanda Purana (Purvabhaga Adhyaya 1)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Matsya Purana (Adhyaya 53)
  5. Vishnu Purana (Amsha 3 Adhyaya 6)
  6. Kurma Purana (Purvabhaga Adhyaya 1)
  7. Skanda Purana (Reva Khanda-5, Adhyaya 1)
  8. Vayu Purana (Purvardha Adhyaya 4)
  9. Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 12 Adhyaya 7)
  10. J. L. Shastri and G. V. Tagare (1950) The Bhagavata Purana, English Translation. Part 1. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pvt. Ltd. (Page 211)