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...

Synopsis of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa

From the sketch thus offered of the subjects of the Purāṇas, and which, although admitting of correction, is believed to be in the main a candid and accurate summary, it will be evident that in their present condition they must be received with caution as authorities for the mythological religion of the Hindus at any remote period. They preserve, no doubt, many ancient notions and traditions; but these have been so much mixed up with foreign matter, intended to favour the popularity of particular forms of worship or articles of faith, that they cannot be unreservedly recognised as genuine representations of what we have reason to believe the Purāṇas originally were.

The safest sources for the ancient legends of the Hindus, after the Vedas, are no doubt the two great poems, the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. The first offers only a few, but they are of a primitive character. The Mahābhārata is more fertile in fiction, but it is more miscellaneous, and much that it contains is of equivocal authenticity, and uncertain date. Still it affords many materials that are genuine, and it is evidently the great fountain from which most, if not all, of the Purāṇas have drawn; as it intimates itself, when it declares that there is no legend current in the world which has not its origin in the Mahābhārata[1].

A work of some extent professing to be part of the Mahābhārata may more accurately be ranked with the Paurāṇik compilations of least authenticity, and latest origin. The Hari Vanśa is chiefly occupied with the adventures of Kṛṣṇa, but, as introductory to his era, it records particulars of the creation of the world, and of the patriarchal and regal dynasties. This is done with much carelessness and inaccuracy of compilation, as I have had occasion frequently to notice in the following pages. The work has been very industriously translated by M. Langlois.

A comparison of the subjects of the following pages with those of the other Purāṇas will sufficiently shew that of the whole series the Viṣṇu most closely conforms to the definition of a Pañca-lakṣaṇa Purāṇa, or one which treats of five specified topics. It comprehends them all; and although it has infused a portion of extraneous and sectarial matter, it has done so with sobriety and with judgment, and has not suffered the fervour of its religious zeal to transport it into very wide deviations from the prescribed path. The legendary tales which it has inserted are few, and are conveniently arranged, so that they do not distract the attention of the compiler from objects of more permanent interest and importance.

Footnotes and references:


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‘Unconnected with this narrative, no story is known upon earth.’ Vol. I. p. 11. l. 307.

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