The Markandeya Purana (Study)

by Chandamita Bhattacharya | 2021 | 67,501 words

This page relates ‘Characteristics of Purana’ of the study on the Markandeya Purana, one of the oldest of the eigtheen Mahapuranas preserving the history, civilisation, culture and traditions of ancient India. The Markandeyapurana commences with the questions raised by Rishi Jaimini (a pupil of Vyasa), who approaches the sage Markandeya with doubts related to the Mahabharata. This study examines various social topics such as the status of women, modes of worship, yoga, etc.

1.3: Characteristics of Purāṇa

The Purāṇas are different in nature and their characters. The Purāṇas are having five-fold characteristics (pañcalakṣaṇas) i.e. which contains the five different types of content, viz.

  1. sarga,
  2. pratisarga,
  3. vaṃśa,
  4. manvantara and
  5. vaṃśānucarita.

These characteristics are expressed in a single verse which is quoted in various Purāṇas including the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa as same or with slight variation thus—

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

Here sarga means creation or evolution of the universe from its natural cause, pratisarga means recreation of the world from its constituent elements in which it is merged at the close of each kalpa, vaṃśa means genealogies of Gods, demons, patriarchs, sages and kings, especially of the last two, manvantara means cosmic cycle each of which is ruled over by a Manu, the first father of mankind and vaṃśānucarita which means accounts of royal dynasties. The Agnipurāṇa also mentions five characters of the Purāṇas.[2]

The verse mentioning pañcalakṣaṇas of the Purāṇa is also found in the Viṣṇupurāṇa with the variation of the second line as

sarveṣveteṣu kathyante vaṃśānucaritaṃ ca yat.[3]

All the Purāṇas do not completely agree with this definition. Some Purāṇas contain more subjects than these and some Purāṇas only touch these and deal with other topics. It is also seen that Pañcalakṣaṇas occupy but an insignificant part of the extant Purāṇas. Regarding the characteristics, the Purāṇas themselves state that the pañcalakṣaṇa is intended merely for the Upapurāṇas and the Mahāpurāṇas had to satisfy the daśalakṣana.

The Bhāgavatapurāṇa also mentions ten characteristics of the Purāṇas as:

tasmādidaṃ bhāgavataṃ purāṇaṃ daśalakṣaṇaṃ //[4]

The Bhāgavatapurāṇa mentions the ten characteristics namely:

  1. sarga,
  2. visarga,
  3. vṛtti,
  4. rakṣā,
  5. antara,
  6. vaṃśa,
  7. vaṃsānucarita,
  8. saṃsthāna,
  9. hetu and
  10. apāśraya.

Here, sarga means primary creation, visarga means secondary creation, vṛtti denotes means of livelihood, rakṣā means incarnation of God or protection, antara means reign of Manus, saṃsthāna means destruction of the world, final emancipation, hetu means jīva, the unmanifested cause of creation, and lastly apāśraya means Brahman, the final resort.

The Brahmavaivartapurāṇa states that the Upapurāṇas bear the five characteristics mentioned above[5] and the Mahāpurāṇas bear the ten characteristics, viz.

  1. sṛṣṭi (primary creation),
  2. visṛṣṭi (secondary creation),
  3. sthiti (stability of creation),
  4. pālana (protection),
  5. karmavāsanā (impression of past action),
  6. manuvārtā (information about different Manus),
  7. pralayavarṇanā (description of the final dissolution of the world),
  8. mokṣa-nirūpaṇa (showing the path to get rid of rebirth),
  9. hari-kīrtana (discourses on hari) and
  10. devakīrtana (discourses on other Gods).[6]

These daśalakṣaṇas are dealt with in the Mahāpurāṇas which possess ten characteristics including the adoration of Viṣṇu and other gods individually, and also an account of mokṣa[7] while the pañcalakṣaṇas prevail predominantly in the Upapurāṇas.[8] The same view is also expressed by Śrīdharaswāmin, the commentator of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa.[9]

All these characteristics have their roots in the materials, viz. ākhyānas (tales), upākhyānas (anecdotes), gāthās (songs) and kalpajoktis (that had come down through ages) which, as the Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, the Vāyupurāṇa, the Viṣṇupurāṇa say, were used by Vyāsa in compiling the original Purāṇa.[10]

Thus it is clear that the characteristic features of the Purāṇas have no fixed rule. It has been floating and dynamic and texts have been subjected to numerous revisions, editions, omissions and modifications. So, it is observed that there should be the pañcalakṣaṇa as the minimum for a Purāṇa. Anything old may be the subject of a Purāṇa and it covers all the aspects of life.[11]

Footnotes and references:


Mārkaṇḍyapurāṇa, 134.13; cf. Amarakoṣa, 1.6.5; Matsyapurāṇa, 53. 65; Kūrmapurāṇa, 1.1.12; Vāyupurāṇa, 4.11; Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 12.7.8-10


sargasya pratisargasya vaṃśamanvantarasya ca /
vaṃśānucaritādeśca matsyakūrmādirūpadhṛk // Agnipurāṇa, 1.14


Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6.25


sargo’syātha visargaśca vṛtti rakṣāntarāṇi ca /
vaṃśo vaṃśānucaritaṃ saṃsthā hetorapāśrayaḥ //
daśabhirlakṣanairyuktaṃ purāṇaṃ tadvido viduḥ /
kecit pañcavidhaṃ brahman mahadalpavyavasthayā// Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 12. 7. 8-10


sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṃśo manvantarāṇi ca /
vaṃśānucaritaṃ vipra purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam //
etadupapurāṇānāṃ lakṣaṇaṃ ca vidurbudhāḥ /
mahatāṃ ca purāṇānāṃ lakṣaṇaṃ kathayāmi te // Brahmavaivartapurāṇa, 4.133.6-7


sṛṣṭiścāpi visṛṣṭiśca sthitisteṣāṃ ca pālanam /
karmaṇāṃ vāsanā vārtā manūnāṃ cākrameṇa ca //
varṇanaṃ pralayānāṃ ca mokṣasya ca nirūpaṇam /
tatkīrtanaṃ harereva devānāṃ ca pṛthak pṛthak // Brahmavaivartapurāṇa, 4.133.8-9

daśādhikaṃ lakṣaṇaṃ ca mahatāṃ parikīrtitam // Ibid., 4.133.10


A.D. Gyani, Agnipurāṇa, A Study, p. 9


R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol. I, p.24


ākhyānaiścāpyupākhyānair gāthābhiḥ kalpajoktibhiḥ /
purāṇasaṃhitāṃ cakre purāṇārthaviśaradaḥ // Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, 2.34.21; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6.16.


A. D. Pusalker, Studies in Epics and Purāṇas, p.XIVII

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