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...

Date of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa

The Viṣṇu Purāṇa has kept very clear of particulars from which an approximation to its date may be conjectured. No place is described of which the sacredness has any known limit, nor any work cited of probable recent composition. The Vedas, the Purāṇas, other works forming the body of Sanscrit literature, are named; and so is the Mahābhārata, to which therefore it is subsequent. Both Bauddhas and Jains are adverted to. It was therefore written before the former had disappeared; but they existed in some parts of India as late as the twelfth century at least; and it is probable that the Purāṇa was compiled before that period. The Gupta kings reigned in the seventh century; the historical record of the Purāṇa which mentions them was therefore later: and there seems little doubt that the same alludes to the first iñcursions of the Mohammedans, which took place in the eighth century; which brings it still lower. In describing the latter dynasties, some, if not all, of which were no doubt contemporary, they are described as reigning altogether one thousand seven hundred and ninety-six years. Why this duration should have been chosen does not appear, unless, in conjunction with the number of years which are said to have elapsed between the great war and the last of the Andhra dynasty, which preceded these different races, and which amounted to two thousand three hundred and fifty, the compiler was influenced by the actual date at which he wrote. The aggregate of the two periods would be the Kālī year 4146, equivalent to A. D. 1045. There are some variety and indistinctness in the enumeration of the periods which compose this total, but the date which results from it is not unlikely to be an approximation to that of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa.

It is the boast of inductive philosophy, that it draws its conclusions from the careful observation and accumulation of facts; and it is equally the business of all philosophical research to determine its facts before it ventures upon speculation. This procedure has not been observed in the investigation of the mythology and traditions of the Hindus. Impatience to generalize has availed itself greedily of whatever promised to afford materials for generalization; and the most erroneous views have been confidently advocated, because the guides to which their authors trusted were ignorant or insufficient. The information gleaned by Sir Wm. Jones was gathered in an early season of Sanscrit study, before the field was cultivated. The same may be said of the writings of Paulinus a St. Barolomæo[1], with the further disadvantage of his having been imperfectly acquainted with the Sanscrit language and literature, and his veiling his deficiencies under loftiness of pretension and a prodigal display of misapplied erudition. The documents to which Wilford[2] trusted proved to be in great part fabrications, and where genuine, were mixed up with so much loose and unauthenticated matter, and so overwhelmed with extravagance of speculation, that his citations need to be carefully and skilfully sifted, before they can be serviceably employed. The descriptions of Ward[3] are too deeply tinctured by his prejudices to be implicitly confided in; and they are also derived in a great measure from the oral or written communications of Bengali pandits, who are not in general very deeply read in the authorities of their mythology. The accounts of Polier[4] were in like manner collected from questionable sources, and his Mythologie des Hindous presents a heterogeneous mixture of popular and Paurāṇik tales, of ancient traditions, and legends apparently invented for the occasion, which renders the publication worse than useless, except in the hands of those who can distinguish the pure metal from the alloy. Such are the authorities to which Maurice, Faber, and Creuzer have exclusively trusted in their description of the Hindu mythology, and it is no marvel that there should have been an utter confounding of good and bad in their selection of materials, and an inextricable mixture of truth and error in their conclusions. Their labours accordingly are far from entitled to that confidence which their learning and industry would else have secured; and a sound and comprehensive survey of the Hindu system is still wanting to the comparative analysis of the religious opinions of the ancient world, and to a satisfactory elucidation of an important chapter in the history of the human race. It is with the hope of supplying some of the necessary means for the accomplishment of these objects, that the following pages have been translated.

Footnotes and references:


Systema Brahmanicum, &c.


Asiatic Researches.


Account of the Hindus.


Mythologie des Hindous, edited by Canoness Polier.

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