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...

The Upa-purāṇas

The Upa-purāṇas, in the few instances which are known, differ little in extent or subject from some of those to which the title of Purāṇa is ascribed. The Matsya enumerates but four; but the Devī Bhāgavata has a more complete list, and specifies eighteen. They are, 1. The Sanatkumāra, 2. Nārasinha, 3. Nāradīya, 4. Śiva, 5. Durvāsasa, g. Kāpila, 7. Mānava, 8. Auśanaśa, 9. Varuṇa, 10. Kālikā, 11. Śāmba, 12. Nandi, 13. Saura, 14. Pārāśara, 15. Āditya, 16. Māheśvara, 17. Bhāgavata, 18. Vaśiṣṭha. The Matsya observes of the second, that it is named in the Padma Purāṇa, and contains eighteen thousand verses. The Nandi it calls Nandā, and says that Kārtikeya tells in it the story of Nandā. A rather different list is given in the Revā Khaṇḍa; or, 1. Sanatkumāra, 2. Nārasinha, 3. Nandā, 4. Śivadharma, 5. Durvāsasa, 6. Bhaviṣya, related by Nārada or Nāradīya, 7. Kāpila, 8. Mānava, 9. Auśanaśa, 10. Brahmāṇḍa, 11. Vāruṇa, 12. Kālikā, 13. Māheśvara, 14. Śāmba, 15. Saura, 16. Pārāśara, 17. Bhāgavata, 18. Kaurma. These authorities, however, are of questionable weight, having in view, no doubt, the pretensions of the Devī Bhāgavata to be considered as the authentic Bhāgavata.

Of these Upa-purāṇas few are to be procured. Those in my possession are the Śiva, considered as distinct from the Vāyu; the Kālikā, and perhaps one of the Nāradīyas, as noticed above. I have also three of the Skandhas of the Devī Bhāgavata, which most undoubtedly is not the real Bhāgavata, supposing that any Purāṇa so named preceded the work of Vopadeva. There can be no doubt that in any authentic list the name of Bhāgavata does not occur amongst the Upa-purāṇas: it has been put there to prove that there are two works so entitled, of which the Purāṇa is the Devī Bhāgavata, the Upa-purāṇa the Śrī Bhāgavata. The true reading should be Bhārgava, the Purāṇa of Bhrigu; and the Devī Bhāgavata is not even an Upa-purāṇa. It is very questionable if the entire work, which as far as it extends is eminently a Sākta composition, ever had existence.

The Śiva Upa-purāṇa contains about six thousand stanzas, distributed into two parts. It is related by Sanatkumāra to Vyāsa and the Ṛṣis at Naimiṣāraṇya, and its character may be judged of from the questions to which it is a reply. “Teach us,” said the Ṛṣis, “the rules of worshipping the Liṅga, and of the god of gods adored under that type; describe to us his various forms, the places sanctified by him, and the prayers with which he is to be addressed.” In answer, Sanatkumāra repeats the Śiva Purāṇa, containing the birth of Viṣṇu and Brahmā; the creation and divisions of the universe; the origin of all things from the Liṅga; the rules of worshipping it and Śiva; the sanctity of times, places, and things, dedicated to him; the delusion of Brahmā and Viṣṇu by the Liṅga; the rewards of offering flowers and the like to a Liṅga; rules for various observances in honour of Mahādeva; the mode of practising the Yoga; the glory of Benares and other Śaiva Tīrthas; and the perfection of the objects of life by union with Maheśvara. These subjects are illustrated in the first part with very few legends; but the second is made up almost wholly of Śaiva stories, as the defeat of Tripurāsura; the sacrifice of Dakṣa; the births of Kārtikeya and Ganeśa the sons of Śiva, and Nandi and Bhriṅgarīti his attendants and others; together with descriptions of Benares and other places of pilgrimage, and rules for observing such festivals as the Śivaratri. This work is a Śaiva manual, not a Purāṇa.

The Kālikā Purāṇa contains about nine thousand stanzas in ninety-eight chapters, and is the only work of the series dedicated to recommend the worship of the bride of Śiva, in one or other of her manifold forms, as Girijā, Devī, Bhadrakālī, Kālī, Mahāmāyā. It belongs therefore to the Sākta modification of Hindu belief, or the worship of the female powers of the deities. The influence of this worship spews itself in the very first pages of the work, which relate the incestuous passion of Brahmā for his daughter Sandhyā, in a strain that has nothing analogous to it in the Vāyu, Liṅga, or Śiva Purāṇas.

The marriage of Śiva and Pārvati is a subject early described, with the sacrifice of Dakṣa, and the death of Sati: and this work is authority for Śiva's carrying the dead body about the world, and the origin of the Pīthasthānas, or places where the different members of it were scattered, and where Liṅgas were consequently erected. A legend follows of the births of Bhairava and Vetāla, whose devotion to different forms of Devī furnishes occasion to describe in great detail the rites and formulæ of which her worship consists, including the chapters on sanguinary sacrifices, translated in the Asiatic Researches. Another peculiarity in this work is afforded by very prolix descriptions of a number of rivers and mountains at Kāmarūpa-tīrtha in Asam, and rendered holy ground by the celebrated temple of Durgā in that country, as Kāmākśhī or Kāmākhyā. It is a singular, and yet uninvestigated circumstance, that Asam, or at least the north-east of Bengal, seems to have been in a great degree the source from which the Tāntrika and Śākta corruptions of the religion of the Vedas and Purāṇas proceeded.

The specification of the Upa-purāṇas, whilst it names several of which the existence is problematical, omits other works, bearing the same designation, which are sometimes met with. Thus in the collection of Col. Mackenzie[1] we have a portion of the Bhārgava, and a Mudgala Purāṇa, which is probably the same with the Ganeśa Upa-purāṇa, cited by Col. Vans Kennedy[2]. I have also a copy of the Ganeśa Purāṇa, which seems to agree with that of which he speaks; the second portion being entitled the Krīḍā Khaṇḍa, in which the pastimes of Ganeśa, including a variety of legendary matters, are described. The main subject of the work is the greatness of Ganeśa, and prayers and formulæ appropriate to him are abundantly detailed. It appears to be a work originating with the Gānapatya sect, or worshippers of Ganeśa. There is also a minor Purāṇa called Ādi, or ‘first,’ not included in the list. This is a work, however, of no great extent or importance, and is confined to a detail of the sports of the juvenile Kṛṣṇa.

Footnotes and references:


Mackenzie Collection, 1. 50, 51.


Anc. and Hindu Mythology, p. 251.

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