The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes The Branches of the Atharva Veda: Characteristics of the Puranas which is chapter 7 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the seventh chapter of the Twelfth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 7 - The Branches of the Atharva Veda: Characteristics of the Purāṇas

[Note: This chapter is closely similar to Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.6]

Sūta said:

1. Sumantu was well versed in the Atharva Veda. He taught his collection (of Atharva hymns) to his disciple Kabandha[1]) who in his turn taught it to Pathya and Vedadarśa.

2. The disciples of Vedadarśa were Śauklāyani, Brahmabali, Modoṣa and Pippalāyani. ( Vedadarśa divided the Saṃhita [Saṃhitā?] in four parts and taught them). Listen to the (names of) disciples of Pathya, O Brāhmaṇa (Śaunaka). Kumuda, Śunaka, and Jājali, the expert knower of the Atharva-Veda (were the pupils of Pathya who divided the Saṃhitā in three parts and taught them).

3. Śunaka (born in the family of Aṅgiras) had two disciples—Babhru as well as Saindhavāyana. They studied the two collections (of the Atharva) their disciples—Sāvarṇya and others also (studied the same in their turn).

4. Nakṣatra-Kalpa, Śānti-Kalpa[2], Kaśyapa, Aṅgiras and others were the teachers of the Atharva Veda. O Śaunaka, now listen to the names of the teachers of the Purāṇic lore.

5. Traiyyāruṇi, Kāśyapa, Sāvarṇi, Akṛtavraṇa, Vaiśampāyana and Hārīta—these six are traditionally noted as the teachers of the Purāṇas.

6. These teachers learnt one Purāṇa collection each, by oral tradition, from my father (Romaharṣaṇa) who was a pupil of Vyāsa. While I, as a disciple of each of them, learnt them all.

7. I, Kaśyapa, Sāvarṇi and Paraśurāma’s disciple Akṛtavraṇa—We four learnt the original four collections of Purāṇa from Vyāsa’s disciple.

8. Now listen with intelligent attention the characteristics of Purāṇas as described by Brāhmaṇa sages in conformity to Vedas and Śāstras.

9. 10. Those who are experts in Purāṇic lore declare that a Purāṇa is distinguished by the following ten characteristics[3] (or topics dealt with): (1) Subtle creation (Sarga), (2) gross creation (Visarga), (3) Sustenance (Vṛtti), (4) Protection of the universe (Rakṣā), (5) Cause or the lust for Karmas (Hetu), (6) the periods of Manu (Antara i.e. Manvantara), (7) Dynasties of Kings (Vaṃśa), (8) Deeds of the Lord and dynastic kings (Vaṃśānucarita), (9) Physical annihilation (Saṃsthā) (10) The Last support or ultimate reality (Apāśraya). O Brāhmaṇa (Śaunaka), some say that Purāṇas have five characteristics[4] which distinguishes between great and small Purāṇas.[5]

11. Sarga (Subtle creation) is (i.e. consists of topics like) the evolution of Mahat (the principle of cosmic Intelligence) from the agitation of and disturbance in the balance of equilibrium of the three guṇas of the Unmanifest Prakṛti—the Primordial Matter) leading to the evolution of three-fold Ahaṃkāra (of the Vaikārika or Sāttvika, Rājasa and Tāmasa types, according to the dominance of the particular guṇa) the evolutes of which are subtle elements (bhūtas), the sense-organs and their objects (viz. gross elements and the deities presiding over the sense-organs).

12. Visarga (gross creation) is the creation of the gross mobile and immobile nature resulting from the collective effects evolved out of Mahat and other principles charged with the potency of creation by the Supreme Person and dominated by the influence of previous Karmas (of the Jīvas) evolving in the manner of the continuation of a seed from a seed.

13. The immobile creation (e.g. food-grains, fruits, roots) and some products of mobile creation also form the sustenance of the mobile creation. And in the case of human beings, the sustenance is determined by their nature, desire and scriptural injunctions[6] (the earth is the real supporter sustenance of mobile creatures as described in the fifth Skandha.

14. Rakṣā or Protection of the universe consists of the incarnations and the sportive acts (exploits, etc.) of Lord Viṣṇu, from age to age appearing among sub-human beings (e.g. the Boar incarnation), human beings (e.g. Paraśurāma, Rāma) sages (e.g. Kapila) and among gods, and the extermination of the haters of the three Vedas (e.g. demons).

15. Manvantara (Manu-period) is the period presided over by the particular Manu (e.g. Vaivasvata Manu at present), the set of gods, the sons of Manu, Indra, seven sages and the incarnations of Hari. Thus a Manvantara is characterized by the above six special features.

16. Vaṃśa (race) is the line or race of pure, blue-blooded kings born of god Brahmā and continued throughout the three divisions of time (viz. the past, present and future). Vaṃśānucarita is the history of these kings, and of their descendants.

17. The destruction of the universe created by Māyā[7] is of four types (1) Occasional or brought about by a particular cause, (2) Prākṛtika (of the Prakṛti), (3) Constant and (4) Absolute. This dissolution is called Saṃsthā by the sages.

18.[8] The Hetu (cause), the motive power or cause of the universe is the Jīva (individual soul). He is the doer of actions under the influence of Nescience or ignorance. From the point of those who emphasize his conscious or spiritual aspect, he is the enjoyer of the fruits of the balance of his Karmas, while from that of those who stress the Upādhi (conditioned existence) aspect, he is unmanifest i.e. without name and form before the creation.

19-20.[9] Apāśraya (The last support or ultimate reality) is Brahman. It is present as a witness to what is effected by Māyā, as in the three states of Jīva (viz. Viśva, Taijasa and Prājña) in wakefulness, dreaming and dreamless-deep-sleep and is also quite different or distinct from them as in Samādhi. Just as the basic matter (e.g. clay) is both related to and unrelated to its products (clay is found in all things made of clay and still it exists apart from them); or just as Sat (real existence) forms the substratum of the name and form, Brahman is related to all the. (nine) stages[10] of living beings since their inception to death (as the substratum) and is distinct from them. (The Apāśraya is the highest goal of these characteristics of Purāṇas).

21. When the mind transcends the (above-mentioned) three states (of Jīva) either of its own accord (as in the case of sages like Vāmadeva who realized that this creation is Māyā and Brahman is the only reality)—or by the practice of Yoga (as with Kapila’s mother Devahūtī), then a person realizes Ātman (the self) (ceases to have any Vāsanās) and desists from worldly activities.

22. Sages who are well versed in ancient lore declare that eighteen Purāṇas whether big or small are distinguished by the ten characteristics (described above).

23. 24. The names of the eighteen Purāṇas are: (1) Brahma, (2) Padma, (3) Viṣṇu, (4) Śiva, (5) Liṅga, (6) Garuḍa, (7) Nārada, (8) Bhāgavata, (9) Agni, (10) Skanda, (11) Bhaviṣya, (12) Brahmavaivarta, (13) Mārkaṇḍeya (14) Vāmana (15) Varāha, (16) Matsya (17) Kūrma and (18) Brahmāṇḍa.

25. O Brāhmaṇa sage (Śaunaka): Thus has been related (to you) the account of the classification of Vedas into different branches by the sage (Vyāsa) and his disciples and pupils of those disciples. It (listening to this account) enhances the glory of Brahman (of the listeners, if devoutly and attentively heard.)

Footnotes and references:


Vide Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.6.9.


As Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.6.13-14 states Nakṣatra-Kalpa, Śānti-Kalpa, Veda-Kalpa, Saṃhitā-Kalpa and Āṅgirasa Kalpa are the collection of Atharvan hymns and sages like Kaśyapa, Aṅgiras preserved them. These Kalpas treat of rituals connected with the worship of Nakṣatras, Śāntikarma (propitiatory rituals) etc. Here the names of the Saṃhitās stand for the authors (Bhāvāratha Dīpikā).


Bhāgavata Purāṇa Supra 2.10.3-7 has given these ten characteristics with some different nomenclature. For the discussion of these topics vide Vol. I. Introduction, pp. XVIII-XXXIV.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā enumerates them as follows: Sarga, Pratisarga, Vaṃśa, manvantara and Vaṃśānucarita.


As the Intro, mentioned in the above note shows these ten characteristics can be epitomised into five. Hence these need not be regarded as a differentia between a Mahā-Purāṇa and Upa-Purāṇa.


Padaratnāvalī The sustenance is determined according to the will of men (e.g. fruits, grain, etc.) and to the prescriptions laid down in the Śāstras (e.g. caru puroḍāśa).


The dissolution brought about by the Māyā.


Bhāgavata Candrikā Through his ignorance Jīva commits acts both of merits and sins. It is for enjoying the fruits of those Karmas that the world is there. Thus he becomes the cause of the creation. Some opine that Jīva has always a balance of Karmas to be enjoyed (bhukta-phala-karmāvaśeṣa [karmāvaśeṣaḥ]) and is full of desire to enjoy, while others say that before creation he had no name or form but possessed the impressions of Karmas (Vāsanā).

Padaratnāvalī Interprets anuśāyin as ‘one who enters into Paramātman at the time of deluge and sleeps and avyākṛta is disinterested (?) or immutable (nirvikāra) like the sky. The world is created for ths Jīvas to experience pleasure or pain as per their Karmas. Hence he is the cause of creation.


Bhāgavata Candrikā: Brahman is present in all the products of Prakṛti and the states of Jīva but is not affected by it essentially. Brahman is unconnected.

Padaratnāvalī: Viṣṇu is the only support (Apāśraya) and none else. He is present in all stales of Jīva but is not affected by them. He exists before, during and after these states (such as wakefulness and others). Brahman is both connected and unconnected with all states and substances. And hence their support. It, being without a second, is inferrable by invariable concomitance (anvaya) or the reverse of it (Vyatireka).


They are as follows: Entry into the womb (as a seed) gestation, birth, infancy (upto the age of five), boyhood (upto sixteen), youth (upto forty-five), middle age (upto sixty), old age and death—vide Supra 11.22.46.

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