The Padma Purana

by N.A. Deshpande | 1951 | 1,261,945 words | ISBN-10: 8120838297 | ISBN-13: 9788120838291

The English translation of the Padma Purana, one of the largest of the eighteen major puranas. It contains detailled information regarding ancient Indian society, traditions, geography, as well as religious pilgrimages (yatra) to sacred places (tirthas), instructions on ancestor worship (shraddha) and the traditional Puranic view on the creation of...

Introduction to Puranas

Originally the word Purāṇa seems to have been understood in the sense of an ‘old legend’ (purāṇam ākhyānam); but it is variously explained by different Purāṇas. Vāyu Purāṇa says that it is called Purāṇa because it lives in the past or it breathes ancient times (“yasmātpurā hyanatīdaṃ purāṇaṃ tena tatsmṛtam | 1.203”).

Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa says that it is so called since it existed in olden times (“yasmātpurā hyabhūccaitatpurāṇaṃ tena tatsmṛtam | 1.1.173”).

Padma Purāṇa offers the following explanation: “purā paramparāṃ vaṣṭi purāṇaṃ tena cai smṛtam (V.2.53)”: It is called Purāṇa because it desires or likes the past. It is, in other words, interested in the past, and therefore describes the past.

Thus these explanations suggest that the Purāṇa literature deals with the past. Matsya Purāṇa (53.63), in fact, describes the Purāṇas as ‘containing the records of past events’. It therefore appears that originally the term Purāṇa signified an ancient tale or narrative. Such tales existed prior to Vedas. This seems to be the meaning of such statements as “purāṇaṃ sarvaṣāstrāṇāṃ prathamaṃ brahmaṇā smṛtam | (Padma 1.1.45)”.

Various traditions also accept the sacredness of Purāṇas. Atharva Veda refers to Purāṇas in the singular at XI.7.24 and XV.6.10-11. Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (XI.5.6-8) also mentions Itihāsa-purāṇa as one word. It gives Purāṇa the status of Veda. Taittiriya Āraṇyaka (11.10) refers to Purāṇas and Itihāsas. Gautama Dharmasūtra (XI.19), Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra (V.6, p.257), and Smṛtis like Manu (111.232) refer to Purāṇas. Mahābhārata refers to Purāṇas both in the singular (at Ādiparvan 5.2, Śāntiparvan 208.5 etc.) and in the plural (at Strīparvan 13.2). Mahābhārata also mentions by name Matsya Purāṇa (in Vanaparvan 185.53). It is not proved beyond doubt whether Atharva Veda XI.7.24 refers to actual books by the word Purāṇa. Thus it is not certain when actually Purāṇas as books came to be referred to. Purāṇas themselves say that originally there was one Puraṇa only (Vāyu 1.60.61; Liṅga 1.2.2; Padma V.1.45). Later on they came to be divided into 18 (Padma V.1.51-52).

Amarasiṃha, the author of the Amarakośa gives the following verse explaining the characteristics of a Purāṇa:

sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṃśo manvantarāṇi ca |
vaṃśānucaritaṃ caiva purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam ||

This definition is also found in some of the Purāṇas like Vāyu 4.10-11; Varāha 2.4. Sarga—creation; Pratisarga—re-creation after dissolution of the world; Vaṃśa—dynasties of gods, the Sun and the Moon and the patriarchs; Manvantara—the vast periods of time, so called after a Manu; Vaṃśā (or Vaṃśyā) nucarita—deeds and history of the descendants of the solar, lunar and other dynasties. But the Purāṇas do not fully conform to this description. Some contain many more topics, while some barely touch these five topics at some length. It has been shown that these five characteristics occupy less than three percent (or about l/40th part) of the extent of the Purāṇas that have come down to us. It is only Viṣṇu Purāṇa that largely conforms to this description; but even it also contains other religious and social topics. Dāna (gifts), Vrata (religious observances), Tīrtha (sacred places) and Śrāddha (rites in honour of the dead ancestors) occupy a bulk of the contents (at least one lakh slokas) of the extant Purāṇas. The Pañcalakṣaṇa description, therefore, does not properly cover their contents. So it is maintained that the Pañcalakṣaṇa definition is applicable to Upapurāṇas, and the Daśalakṣaṇa definition to Mahāpurāṇas.

The Daśalakṣaṇa definition runs as follows:

sargo'syātha visargaśca vṛttirakṣāntarāṇi ca |
vaṃśo vaṃśānucaritaṃ saṃsthā heturapāśrayaḥ ||
daśabhirlakṣaṇairyuktaṃ purāṇaṃ tadvido viduḥ |

(Bhāgavata XI.7.9-10).

In addition to the topics like sarga, this definition includes Vṛtti (means of livelihood), Rakṣā (protection, i.e. incarnations of God for protection of devotees), Saṃsthā (four kinds of Laya), Hetu (Jīva—the soul, that is subject to avidyā, and that collects karman), and Apāśraya (Brahman, the refuge of individual souls). Matsya Purāṇa (53.66-67) says that in addition to these ten characteristics Purāṇas also deal with such topics as the glorification of Brahman, Viṣṇu, the Sun, Rudra, preservation and dissolution of the world, the four goals of human life, like Dharma, Artha etc. But even this Matsya description is not adequate, since Purāṇas have undergone re-editions, due to the addition of fresh matter, supstitution of existing matter, and omission and modification of it. As Haraprasad Sastri observes (Journal of the Behar [ and Orissa] Research Society, XIV, p. 329), “Anything old may be the subject of a Purāṇa, and it covers all the aspects of life.”

The characteristics like Sarga are discussed in various Puràṇas: Brahma (1.3), Brahmāṇḍa (II.8-13), Vayu (4-6), Padma (1.3) discuss Sarga. Brahma (2.32-37), Viṣṇu (I.2ff) deal with Pratisarga. Vāyu (99), Viṣṇu (IV), Kūrma (1.20-25), Bhāgavata (IX and XII) treat Vaṃśas; while Viṣṇu (III.l.2), Kūrma (1.51) deal with Manvantaras.

Purāṇas are divided into two categories: Mahāpurāṇas and Upapurāṇas. The number of Purāṇas is stated to be eighteen. As Kane observes, “The number 18 was probably due to the fact that the number is prominent in several connections as regards Mahābhārata. The Bhārata war was fought for 18 days, the total of the vast armies engaged in the conflict came to be 18 akṣauhiṇis, the epic has 18 parvans, the Gītā also has 18 chapters” History of Dharmaśāstra, Vol. V, p. 842). This list of 18 Mahāpurāṇas is given in almost every Purāṇa (see e.g. Padma IV.100.51-54 ). The order of Purāṇas that is generally accepted by the tradition is: (1) Brahma, (2) Padma, (3) Viṣṇu, (4) Vayu, (5) Bhāgavata, (6) Nāradīya, (7) Mārkaṇḍeya, (8) Agni, (9) Bhaviṣya, (10) Brahmavaivarta, (11) Varāha, (12) Liṅga, (13) Skanda, (14) Vāmana, (15) Kūrma, (16) Matsya, (17) Garuḍa, and (18) Brahmāṇḍa. Some place Devībhāgavata (or Kālikāpurāṇa) in place of (Vaiṣṇava) Bhāgavata and Śiva in place of Vāyu. But Śiva is not looked upon as a Mahāpurāṇa.

Devī-bhāgavata has the following couplet to help memorise the names of the Purāṇas:

madvayaṃ bhadvayaṃ caiva bratrayaṃ vacatuṣṭayam |
nāliṃpāgniṃ kūskaṃ gāruḍameva ca || (Devībhāgavata 1.3.2)

madvayam-refers to the two Purāṇas the names of which begin with ma. They are: Mārkaṇḍeya and Matsya. Similarly the word bhadvayam signifies the two Purāṇas, the names of which begin with bha, They are: Bhāgavata and Bhaviṣya. The names of other Purāṇas are to be memorised similarly.

The controversy like the claim of Śiva Purāṇa to be a Mahā-purāṇa is tried to be set at rest by taking their number to be 19 or 20.

The total number of the ślokas in each Purāṇa is: (1) Brahma-10000 (according to Purāṇas like Vāyu; Agni Purāṇa 272.1 says that the number is 25000); (2) Padma-55000; (3) Viṣṇu-23000; (4) Vāyu-24000 (but the figures given by Agni 272.4-5 and Devī Bhāgavata 1.3.7 are different); (5) Bhāgavata-18000; (6) Nāradīya-25000; (7) Mārkaṇḍeya-9000; (8) Agni-16000; (9) Bhavisya-14500; (10) Brahmavaivarta-18000; (11) Liṅga 11000; (12) Varaha-24000; (13) Skanda-81000; (14) Vāmana-10000; (15) Kūrma-18000 (according to Agni 272.19, the number is 8000); (16) Matsya-14000; (17) Garuḍa-18000 and (18) Brahmāṇḍa-12200. The total number of verses would come to 400600. As noted in the brackets after the figures of verses of some of the Purāṇas given above, it would be clear that Agni Purāṇa gives a different number of the slokas from the one given by Purāṇas like Matsya or Vāyu.

Upa-purāṇas are also said to be eighteen. Their names are given as: Sanatkamāra, Narasiṃha, Nanda, Śivadharma, Durvāsas, Nāradiya, Kapila, Vāmana, Uśanas, Mānava, Varuṇa, Kali, Maheśvara, Sāmba, Saura, Parāśara, Mārica and Bhārgava. They do not generally differ essentially from Mahāpurāṇas in their contents. They have a more sectarian character. Their nature is composite. They are more akin to the local cults and historically not as important as Mahāpurāṇas.

Taking in view the Pañcalakṣaṇa description Purāṇas are divided into two classes as ancient and later. The older Purāṇas like Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Matsya and Viṣṇu are more loyal to the Pañcalakṣaṇa descrition.

Haraprasad Sastri divides Purāṇas into six classes, viz.

(1) Encyclopaedic Purāṇas—Garuḍa, Agni and Nārada; (2) Those mainly dealing with tīrthas and vratas—Padma, Skanda and Bhaviṣya; (3) Those which apparently underwent two revisions—Brahma, Bhāgavata and Brahmavaivarta; (4) The historical group—Brahmāṇḍa and Vāyu; (5) Sectarian group—Liṅga, Vāmana and Mārkaṇḍeya; (6) Old Purāṇas ‘revised out of existence’—Varāha, Kūrma and Matsya.

The classification of Purāṇas based on the Vaiṣṇava standpoint is found in Garuḍa, Padma and Matsya. Padma (VI.236.18-21) gives the following classification:

  1. SāttvikaVīṣṇu, Nāradiya, Bhāgavata, Garuḍa, Padma and Varāha.
  2. RājasaBrahmāṇḍa, Brahmavaivarta, Mārkaṇḍeya, Brahma, Vāmana and Bhaviṣya.
  3. TāmasaMatsya, Kūrma, Liṅga, Śiva, Agni and Skanda,

This classification slightly differs from the one given in Garuḍa and Bhaviṣya. Padma regards itself to be Sāttvika; Bhaviṣya agrees with it; but Garuḍa classifies Padma as Rājasa (see Giorgio Bonazzoli’s article “Schemes in the Purāṇas”, Purāṇa, Vol. XXIV, No. I, p. 169). Padma Purāṇa (III. 62.1 ff) states that all the Purāṇas are parts of Viṣṇu’s body, and so also are sacred. Skanda (Kedārakhaṇḍa, I) says that 10 Purāṇas describe Śiva’s greatness, four glorify Brahmā, two Devī and two Hari.

Purāṇas give various accounts of their origin. Vāyu (1.60-61 says that before Vedas were revealed to Brahmā, he had composed Purāṇas. That is why Purāṇas seem to claim themselves to be equal to Vedas (e.g. Vāyu 1.11—“purāṇaṃ saṃpravakṣyāmi brahmoktaṃ vedasaṃmitam”—or Brahma 1.29—“puruṃ praṇamya vakṣyȧmi purāṇaṃ vedasaṃmitam”). The task of the presentation of Purāṇas was assigned to Sūtas.

Viṣṇu (III.6.15ff) has a different account. It says that Vyāsa first divided the Veda and entrusted it to his four disciples. He also compiled a Purāṇa-Saṃhitā In it he had included tales, anecdotes, songs etc. He taught this Saṃhitā to his fifth disciple, Sūta Lomaharṣaṇa or Romaharṣaṇa. He made six versions of this Saṃhitā and taught them to his disciples. The three known Saṃhitās, to which additions were made by his three disciples, after whom they are named, are: Kāśyapika, Sāvarṇika and Śāṃśapāyanika. ‘These four were regarded as the “root-saṃhitās” (Studies in the Epics and Purāṇas, p. li.).

Various views are put forward about the growth of the Purāṇa literature. It is maintained by some that originally there was one Purāṇa only as the references in Atharva Veda (XI. 7.24 and XV.6..10-11) show. In his article on the “Date of the Purāṇas” (Purāṇa, Vol. II, Nos. 1-2) Gyani says that the Purāṇa[a] literature passed through the following four stages:

  1. Ākhyāna vaṃśa—circa B.C. 1200 to B.C. 950.
  2. Bifurcation stage—c. B.C. 950 to c. B.C. 500.
  3. Pañcalakṣaṇa stage—c. B.C. 500 to the beginning of the Christian era.
  4. Sectarian or Encyclopaedic stage—From the beginning of the Christian era to c. A.D. 700.

Haraprasad Sastri says that in the stage after the root-saṃhitās the number of Purāṇas grew to ten, and in the last stage it reached eighteen. Amarakośa mentions the five characteristics of Purāṇas. From this it may be concluded that before his time the number of Purāṇas was not large; nor were they inflated; and they had certain matters common with Itihāsa, with which they were often linked in usage. Amarakośa and the Purāṇas which gave the Pañcalakṣaṇa definition took up only those topics in which Purāṇas differed from Itihāsas. The title Bhaviṣyat Purāṇa found in Āpastamba Dharma Sūtra ( indicates that during that period the term Purāṇa had lost its original meaning and had become a term denoting a particular class of works. Topics like dāna, śrāddha, vrata, which are mainly the subject of Smṛtis or Dharmaśāstras, found a place in Purāṇas; and soon they vied with Mahābhārata to become all-comprehensive; and with additions being made by every generation their contents included topics on creation, e.g. one account (Padma Purāṇa, Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa, ch. 2) tells how the self-existent Brahman enters Puruṣa or Pradhāna and how Mahat is produced from Pradhāna, and also how the subtle and gross elements and the eleven organs spring up. The same Brahmā, possessing Rajas, creates all beings; having Sattva, preserves the universe; and with Tamas being predominant, destroys it. The Sāttvika and Tāmasa forms are respectively known as Viṣṇu and Rudra. Another account occurring in the Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa (Ch. 6. 2-3) of Padma Purāṇa tells how the lord of the form of Boar took out earth from ocean. Then came up Nāgas, animals etc. From the mind of Brahman came up gods, demons etc. He also created other beings like sheep, cows, buffaloes etc. Manvantaras are described and also the different yugas. The description of the earth’s expanse, various islands and regions, as well as of the nether regions, and of the sun, the moon etc. seems to be exaggerated, and is at many places imaginary and fabulous.

The genealogies begin with Manu, who was the saviour of mankind at the time of the great flood. The first king Vaivasvata Manu had ten sons. The account of the various generations from Manu upto the Bhārata War and also of the dynasties subsequent to the War is given.

The chief deities of Purāṇas are Brahmā—the Creator, Viṣṇu—the Preserver, and Śiva (or Rudra)—the Destroyer. The old gods except Agni and Indra have almost disappeared. Varuṇa has changed his domain. In the Purāṇas he is the lord ofocean. The celestial beings like Gandharvas and Apsaras-s are present on many occasions to celebrate them with their music or dancing.

Though either Viṣṇu or Śiva is extolled in the Vaiṣṇavite or the Śaivite Purāṇas, other deities are not totally condemned. The ten avatāras (incarnations) of Viṣṇu appear in most of the Purāṇas. About the incarnations Pusalkar observes: “The Daśāvatāra (ten incarnations) theory suggests the idea of evolutionary process of human development. The fish emerges out of the early palaeozoic seas, followed by the tortoise and boar in the Mesozoic period. Next came the man-lion and dwarf in the period of cavemen and bushmen. Parasurāma represents the nomadic or hunter stage and Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, the fully civilised stage of city life.” (Studies in Epics and Puranas, p. lxi).

Though Dharma predominates in Purāṇas, they have not neglected the other goals of human life. Like the orthodox systems, the heterodox systems like Buddhism and Jainism find a place in them.

Thus they have not left any field of human life untouched, and so are useful for the study of early Indian life in all its aspects—religious, cultural, social, political and historical.

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