The Brihaddharma Purana (abridged)

by Syama Charan Banerji | 1915 | 50,976 words

The English translation of the Brihaddharma Purana, one of the several minor or Upa Puranas, and represents an epitome of several important (Major) Puranas. In this book one can observe the attempts made to reconcile the three main forms of Hindu worship, viz. the Shaiva Vaishnava and Tantrika (worship of God in the form of Kali, Durga, Ganga, and ...

Chapter 21 - On the Puranas (1)

Devi, Parvati, having been requested by her companions, Jaya and Vijaya, to give them the history of the Puranas, narrated as follows:—

Long, long, ago, Brahma was inspired with the desire of creating the world, aud created nine Prajapatis[1] first of all. He, however, saw that the entire universe was filled with darkness, and that he and his Prajapatis were void of speech. So he began to deliberate what he should do next. While in this mood, the word “Tapa”, (meaning, “practise tapa or austerity”) resounded in space, and filled it with light like the rays of the sun. Thereupon, Brahma regained his composure, and, in order to be able to look simultaneously on all four sides, developed a face on every side. Then he created speech, the four Vedas and the various Samhitas (codes), in succession. He created speech first, and so it is the best and the holiest of all. It is sweet, and is both nectar and poison. It purifies everything and is Brahma-like. He then created the vowels, consonants and the mixed alphabets[2].

He thereafter created fifty-six languages and the various grammatical arts (Vyakarana Sastra) for the instruction of children. Vyakarana imparts the knowledge of the science of words; Darsana Sastra the knowledge of truth; and Puranas the knowledge of dharma[3] (duty); while Mantras lead to salvation. Whoever abuses speech by telling a lie is bound for hell. No one should use speech falsely, because it is a form of Brahma, not even if he has to lose his life by not doing so. The goddess Vasumati has herself declared that there is no sin greater than a lie.

He who always speaks the truth and serves his Gurus need not perform any other kind of hard austerity.

Puranas are of two kinds, Mahapuranas and Upapuranas. They are full of truth. Each of these kinds of Puranas is eighteen in number, and their names are given below:—

The Mahapuranas are:—

  1. Brahmapurana,
  2. Padmapurana,
  3. Brahmandapurana,
  4. Vishnupurana,
  5. Brahmavaivartapurana,
  6. Nrisimhapurana,
  7. Bhavishyapurana,
  8. Garudapurana,
  9. Lingapurana,
  10. Sivapurana,
  11. Varahapurana,
  12. Markandeyapurana,
  13. Skandapurana,
  14. Kurmapurana,
  15. Matsyapurana,
  16. Agnipurana,
  17. Vayupurana,
  18. and Srimadbhagavata.

The Upapuranas are:—

  1. Adipurana,
  2. Adityapurana,
  3. Vrihannaradiyapurana [Brihannaradiyapurana],
  4. Naradapurana,
  5. Nandikesvarapurana,
  6. Vrihannandikesvarapurana [Brihannandikesvarapurana],
  7. Samvapurana [Sambapurana],
  8. Kriyayogasara,
  9. Kalikapurana,
  10. Dharmapurana,
  11. Vishnudharmottarapurana,
  12. Sivadharmapurana,
  13. Vishnudharmapurana,
  14. Vamanapurana,
  15. Varunapurana,
  16. Narasinhapurana,
  17. Bhargavapurana,
  18. and Vrihaddharmapurana [Brihaddharmapurana].

Besides the above, there are various Samhitas. They all treat of Dharma alike. The Mahakavya[4] known as Ramayana, written by the great Rishi, Valmiki, is the model for all the Puranas and Samhitas. Maharshi Vedavyasa wrote his Mahabharata and the Puranas and Samhitas on the lines of the above book, as did the authors of other great books also.

All the above books have extolled Dharma, and those who are well versed in them are truly learned, and cannot go astray. He who reads, practises the injunctions of, and teaches the Ramayana, the Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Dharma Sastras of Manu and others is liberated from Samsara[5]. The Dharma Samhitas and the Smriti Sastras teach Dharma and distinguish it from Adharma, while the historical and other similar works exemplify those teachings.

In ancient times, the god Brahma made all the various kinds of alphabets and languages, and also Dharmas according to the requirements of the different classes and grades of people. In order to secure their welfare, he thought it necessary to reduce those Dharmas into Sastras[6], and with this end in view, he codified the grammatical and the metrical rules. Thereafter, Sarasvati, the white goddess of learning, came into existence. She had a crescent moon on her forehead on which there was a third eye also, and she was adorned with many ornaments of divine workmanship.

She had four hands in one of which she held nectar, and in another Learning. The fingers of the third hand were formed into Mudra[7], and the fourth held a rosary.

On seeing her, Brahma said,

“Beautiful damsel, who are you, and whence have you come? What do you want, and what can I do for you? Who is your father, and who is your husband?”

Sarasvati said,

“He who was born from Akasa[8] and is the lord of the world has given me birth. My name is Sarasvati. As you are my elder brother, be pleased to hear what I have to say. Fix a place for my abode and select a suitable husband for me. I am perfectly immaculate, and have been created for advancing your glory.”

Brahma said,

“Welcome, beautiful-eyed maid, we are well met. My four mouths will be your fitting abode, and the lord Hari whose seat is my heart, will be your husband. For the present, go and live in the mouths of the poets in the shape of poetry, to enable them to compose various Sastras[9] for the propagation of Dharma[10]. Narayana (or Hari) who will be your husband and who is the Atma[11] and the creator of the universe, will be the presiding Deity of the Sastras.”

Sarasvati said,

“Brahma, how can I dwell in the mouths of all the poets in the world! Please direct me to do something more reasonable.”

Brahma said,

“Goddess, makeatour of the three Lokas (worlds), and find out the most suitable man for your purpose. When you have found him out, make his mouth your abode. I shall then plan out in my imagination the incomparable future[12] exploits of the Lord Vishnu, and it will be your duty to give expression to those thoughts of mine through the mouth of that poet. This primeval poet will, through your grace, be the guide of all future poets.”

The goddess, Sarasvati, having been thus instructed by Brahma, commenced a search for a suitable person throughout the length and breadth of the universe. She spent the whole of the Satya Yuga[13] in her tour through the seven[14] worlds of the Suras (gods), and the seven Patala (nether worlds of the serpents). At last, in the beginning of the Treta Yuga[15], while carrying on her search on this earth, she came to Bharatvarsa, where she met the great Rishi, Valmiki, shining like fire in the lustre of his austerities. Accompanied by his disciples he was walking in the beautiful forest on the banks of the river, Tamasa, after having taken his bath and performed the worship of the gods. The plaited hair on his head was shining like gold, and he was carrying the sacred Kusa[16] grass in his hand. A tiger’s skin was girt round his loins and his complexion was like copper. His face was serene and his chest full and broad. His navel pit was deep and his arms so long that his hands reached down to his knees. His gait was like that of an elephant All the Munis who passed by him bowed down before him with respect.

While he was thus walking through the calm beauties of nature, his tranquillity was suddenly disturbed by the sight of a male bird falling down before him, pierced by the arrow of a fowler, and by hearing the pitiful cries of its sorrowing mate. He lost his natural cheerfulness of mind, and his heart was plunged in deep sorrow. His disciples who had never seen his serenity ruffled in the slightest degree before, were greatly surprised to find him so much moved by such a trifling incident.

The goddess, Sarasvati, who was watching him from above, came to his rescue, and, in order to relieve his mind from such unbecoming sorrow, entered his heart through his mouth, in the shape of poetic inspiration.

No sooner was this done than the great sage’s sorrow was turned into pity, and he addressed the fowler as follows:—

“Fowler, since, out of a pair of birds filled with amorous passion, thou hast killed one, thou shalt be deprived of salvation for an infinitely long period of time.”

The above words fell from his lips in the shape of a perfect couplet, and as the couplet was inspired by grief, it was called a sloka[17].

No sooner had Valmiki uttered the above sloka than he was freed from the grief with which he had been overpowered, and the god Brahma appearing before him addressed him to the following effect:—

“Reverend sage Valmiki, the goddess of speech has entered into you in the shape of poetic inspiration, and I request you to use this inspiration for the purpose of expounding the meaning of the Vedas. You know I am the god of. creation, and that the Almighty Lord, Hari, becomes incarnate on this earth from time to time. I entrust you with the duty of describing His exploits for the guidance and welfare of men. You need not be afraid of the task, because the goddess of speech and learning has come herself to your aid. Poetry is an inspiration which comes to a man through his exceptionally meritorious actions in past births.

A true poet[18] is himself a Prajapati, (god of creation) a Brahma, a Vishnu, and a Siva. He is an expounder of Dharma and omniscient: he has the power of seeing the gods even. His description cannot, therefore, be false. Moreover, you yourself know the past, the present and the future. You are truthful and have an established reputation. Compose, therefore, a poem singing the sayings and doings of Vishnu, in his future incarnation on earth as Rama, and it shall be a prophetic description: the Lord will act exactly in accordance with it. Your composition will be called the Ramayana, and it will last as long as the moon and the stars endure.”

Footnotes and references:


Gods who preside over creation.


e.g. “Ksha” which is composed of “ka” and “aha.”


See footnote at page 3.


Great poem.


Worldly bonds.




A certain position of the fingers for the purpose of worship or devotion.






See foot note at page 3.


Self or soul.


Note that these exploits were composed before they actually took place. A gentle hint is given here that they are all allegorical.


For a description of the Yugas see Chapter LVII page [?].


For names of the different Lokas see footnote at page.


See page Chapter LVII.


A kind of grass considered holy. It forms an essential requisite of many religions ceremonies.


A stanza or verse in general.


The Sanskrit word for poet is Kavi which also means omniscient.

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