The Vishnu Purana

by Horace Hayman Wilson | 1840 | 287,946 words | ISBN-10: 8171102127

The English translation of the Vishnu Purana. This is a primary sacred text of the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism. It is one of the eighteen greater Puranas, a branch of sacred Vedic literature which was first committed to writing during the first millennium of the common era. Like most of the other Puranas, this is a complete narrative from the cr...

8. The Agni Purāṇa

8. Agni Purāṇa. “That Purāṇa which describes the occurrences of the Īśāna Kalpa, and was related by Agni to Vaśiṣṭha, is called the Āgneya: it consists of sixteen thousand stanzas[1].” The Agni or Agneya Purāṇa derives its name from its having being communicated originally by Agni, the deity of fire, to the Muni Vaśiṣṭha, for the purpose of instructing him in the twofold knowledge of Brahma[2]. By him it was taught to Vyāsa, who imparted it to Sūta; and the latter is represented as repeating it to the Rising at Naimiṣāraṇya. Its contents are variously specified as sixteen thousand, fifteen thousand, or fourteen thousand stanzas. The two copies which were employed by me contain about fifteen thousand ślokas. There are two in the Company's library, which do not extend beyond twelve thousand verses; but they are in many other respects different from mine: one of them was written at Agra, in the reign of Akbar, in A. D. 1589.

The Agni Purāṇa, in the form in which it has been obtained in Bengal and at Benares, presents a striking contrast to the Mārkaṇḍeya. It may be doubted if a single line of it is original. A very great proportion of it may be traced to other sources; and a more careful collation —if the task was worth the time it would require—would probably discover the remainder.

The early chapters of this Purāṇa[3] describe the Avatāras; and in those of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa avowedly follow the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. A considerable portion is then appropriated to instructions for the performance of religious ceremonies; many of winch belong to the Tāntrika ritual, and are apparently transcribed from the principal authorities of that system. Some belong to mystical forms of Śaiva worship, little known in Hindustan, though perhaps still practised in the south. One of these is the Dīkṣā, or initiation of a novice; by which, with numerous ceremonies and invocations, in which the mysterious monosyllables of the Tantras are constantly repeated, the disciple is transformed into a living personation of Śiva, and receives in that capacity the homage of his Guru. Interspersed with these, are chapters descriptive of the earth and of the universe, which are the same as those of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa; and Māhātmyas or legends of holy places, particularly of Gaya. Chapters on the duties of kings, and on the art of war, then occur, which have the appearance of being extracted from some older work, as is undoubtedly the chapter on judicature, which follows them, and which is the same as the text of the Mitākṣara. Subsequent to these, we have an account of the distribution and arrangement of the Vedas and Purāṇas, which is little else than an abridgment of the Viṣṇu: and in a chapter on gifts we have a description of the Purāṇas, which is precisely the same, and in the same situation, as the similar subject in the Matsya Purāṇa. The genealogical chapters are meagre lists, differing in a few respects from those commonly received, as hereafter noticed, but unaccompanied by any particulars, such as those recorded or invented in the Mārkaṇḍeya. The next subject is medicine, compiled avowedly, but injudiciously, from the Sauśruta. A series of chapters on the mystic worship of Śiva and Devī follows; and the work winds up with treatises on rhetoric, prosody, and grammar, according to the Sutras of Piṅgala and Pānini.

The cyclopædical character of the Agni Purāṇa, as it is now described, excludes it from any legitimate claims to be regarded as a Purāṇa, and proves that its origin cannot be very remote. It is subsequent to the Itihāsas; to the chief works on grammar, rhetoric, and medicine; and to the introduction of the Tāntrika worship of Devī. When this latter took place is yet far from determined, but there is every probability that it dates long after the beginning of our era. The materials of the Agni, Purāṇa are, however, no doubt of some antiquity. The medicine of Suśruta is considerably older than the ninth century; and the grammar of Pānini probably precedes Christianity. The chapters on archery and arms, and on regal administration, are also distinguished by an entirely Hindu character, and must have been written long anterior to the Mohammedan invasion. So far the Agni Purāṇa is valuable, as embodying and preserving relics of antiquity, although compiled at a more' recent date.

Col. Wilford[4] has made great use of a list of kings derived from an appendix to the Agni Purāṇa, which professes to be the sixty-third or last section. As he observes, it is seldom found annexed to the Purāṇa. I have never met with it, and doubt its ever having formed any part of the original compilation. It would appear from Col. Wilford's remarks, that this list notices Mohammed as the institutor of an era; but his account of this is not very distinct. He mentions explicitly, however, that the list speaks of Sālivāhana and Vikramāditya; and this is quite sufficient to establish its character. The compilers of the Purāṇas were not such bunglers as to bring within their chronology so well known a personage as Vikramāditya. There are in all parts of India various compilations ascribed to the Purāṇas, which never formed any portion of their contents, and which, although offering sometimes useful local information, and valuable as preserving popular traditions, are not in justice to be confounded with the Purāṇas, so as to cause them to be charged with even more serious errors and anachronisms than those of which they are guilty.

The two copies of this work in the library of the East India Company appropriate the first half to a description of the ordinary and occasional observances of the Hindus, interspersed with a few legends: the latter half treats exclusively of the history of Mina.

Footnotes and references:


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Analysis of the Agni Purāṇa: Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, March 1832. I have there stated incorrectly that the Agni is a Vaiṣṇava Purāṇa: it is one of the Tāmasa or Śaiva class, as mentioned above.


Essay on Vikramāditya and Sālivāhana: As. Res. vol. IX. p. 131.

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