The Markandeya Purana (Study)

by Chandamita Bhattacharya | 2021 | 67,501 words

This page relates ‘An Introduction of the Markandeya-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.

1.8: An Introduction of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa

The Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa is one of the ancient Purāṇas. It is one of the oldest and most important of the extent Mahāpurāṇas. It contains 9000 verses divided into 134 chapters. This Purāṇa commences with the questions raised by Ṛṣi Jaimini, a pupil of Vyāsa, who approaches the sage Mārkaṇḍeya for the solution of some doubts raised in his mind by the study of the Mahābhārata.

The Questions put by Jaimini are—

i Why did Parabrahma Śrīkṛṣṇa, the lord of universe, omnipresent and formless, takes incarnation in the human form?

ii How did Draupadī get the place among the five satīs in spite of being wife of five Pāṇḍavas?

iii How did Balarāma becomes free from the effect of a sin (Brahmahatyā) in the context of pilgrimage?

iv How did Draupadī’s five warrior sons, whose father were very brave Pāṇḍavas and on whom lord Kṛṣṇa was so kind, get killed at the hands of Aśvatthāmā like orphans?

The sage Mārkaṇḍeya, due to want of sufficient time, does not answer the four questions put to him by Jaimini and dirests [directs?] Jaimini to the four wise birds, viz. Piṅgalākṣa, Vivodha, Suputra and Sumukha living in the Vindhyācala hills for the answers. Accordingly Jaimini approaches the birds and got the answers.

The incident narrated on the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa which is also agrees by the Matsyapurāṇa through the following statement—

yatrādhikṛtya śakunīn dharmādharmavicāraṇā /
vyākhyātā vai munipraśne munibhir dharmacāribhiḥ //
mārkaṇḍeyena kathitaṃ tat sarvaṃ vistareṇa tu /
purāṇaṃ navasāhasraṃ mārkaṇḍeyamihocyate //

This huge number of verses makes the scholars believe that it is not compiled in one time. Like other Purāṇas, this Purāṇa is also considered to be compiled in various stages. And like the Mahābhārata, there are three stages of development of this Purāṇa. According to B. K. Caturvedi the first stage, consisting of 70 to 80 verses only forms the basic part. Here Mārkaṇḍeya is the main figure who appears to be the real teacher. He heard it when it is related by Dakṣa. It was also clarified by Mārkaṇḍeya that like other precious scriptures, this Purāṇa had also emerged from the mouth of Brahmā.

In the second stage, the initial about forty verses were composed which were put before the earlier written 70 to 80 verses. In these verses, Jaimini is referred by Mārkaṇḍeya to the wise birds and they explained to him the four questions that perplexed him and some other relevant matters. That this part is undoubtedly a latter addition is proved by the fact that no higher authority than sage Mārkaṇḍeya or the unknown Brahmaṇa, Sumati is claimed for this part. Thus the birds were raised to the primary position in this part, yet the supremacy of Mārkaṇḍeya was maintained, because at the very beginning Mārkaṇḍeya declares the wisdom of the birds and thereby has given impression that the birds were merely repeating the teaching of him. Though birds, in the beginning of the Purāṇa, exist from further notice, but reappear with Jaimini in the final chapter to conclude their discourse and give consistency to combined instruction. This was the termination rendered necessary by the prefixing of this part to the original Purāṇa.

In the third stage, a long episodically and independent narrative of the action of the goddess Durgā (Mahāmāya) called Devīmāhātmya is inserted in this Mahāpurāṇa. The subject of the character attributed to the goddess shows that it is the product of a later age which developed sanguinary features of popular religion. Hence the Devī-māhātmya, in which the real speaker is a Ṛṣi named Medhā is considered to be a spurious portion added later when the Śākta School began to predominate from central or western India. The first two sections seem to have originated in the middle portion of the Narmadā and Tāpti valley where Narmadā valley was specially connected with demon legends.[2] In this stage, the Devī-māhātmya portion has been inserted to this Purāṇa.

Through the minute observation the content of this Purāṇa has been divided by Pargiter, the editor of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa, into five distinct parts.[3]

I) In the first nine chapters of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa it is stated that Jaimini, the disciple of Vyāsa is directed to the four learned and wise birds namely Piṅgalākṣa, Vivodha, Suputra and Sumukha, living in the cave of the Vindhya mountain who are expected to explain and solve the four questions that arise in his mind about the Mahābhārata and some allied topics. Accordingly, after approaching Jaimini, the birds solve the four questions.

II) In the 2nd part (chapters 10th to 41 st) it is found that Jaimini propounds some further questions and these have been nominally expounded by the birds. But the real speakers are Sumati, nick named Jaḍa, and his father.

III) In the 3rd part, (chapters from 42nd to 77th) the real speakers were Mārkaṇḍeya and his disciple Krauṣṭuki, though Jaimini and the birds are nominal speakers.

IV) The chapters from 78th to 89th comprising the 4th part and entitled as Devī-māhātmya, in which the famous episode relating to goddess Durgā is included, are considered as a pure interpolation. The real speaker of this portion are sage Medhas and king Suratha which is only repeated by Mārkaṇḍeya.

V) In the 5th part Mārkaṇḍeya and Krauṣṭuki carry on their discourse from chapters 90th to 133 rd. The concluding 134th chapter is a necessary corollary to the first part. Thus the contents of this Purāṇa can be arranged in these five sections.

According to the view of F.E.Pargiter the third and fifth part of this Purāṇa constitute the original part of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa and the first, second and fourth parts were composed later and added to it.[4] So far as these arguments are concerned, this may be said that actually the first forty one chapters of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa are neither the words nor a report of the words of Mārkaṇḍeya. These are related by the birds to which Jaimini was directed by Mārkaṇḍeya. They make some references to Mārkaṇḍeya. In the chapter 42 nd to 77 th and 91 st to 133 rd, though the birds are relating, they are giving a report of what Mārkaṇḍeya once related to his disciple Krauṣṭuki. Moreover, the proper topics of the Purāṇa viz., sarga, pratisarga etc. start here only. Obviously it is clear that the first and second parts form a separate section added to the Mārkaṇḍeya-Krauṣṭuki dialogue i.e. the third and fifth, which form probably the original Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa.

The meaning is that Purāṇa in which, in reply to the Muni, the duties and non-duties have been explained by the holy sages in connection with the birds and which, again, is narrated fully by Mārkaṇḍeya is called the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa, containing 9000 verses.

This book contains many stories regarding Indra, Sūrya, Agni, Kṛṣṇa etc. Besides, it also includes a division called Devī-māhātmya containing praises about the goddess Durgā. In the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa there is dialogue of Maharṣi Mārkaṇḍeya and Jaimini. Therefore, this Purāṇa is called the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa. Actually this Purāṇa is written in conversation style. A number of stories get interlocked with one another. Most of the general characteristics of the Purāṇas have been reflected in the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa. It represents valuable data of ancient Indian culture. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa itself announces that among the eighteen Mahāpurāṇas the 7 th Mahāpurāṇa i.e. the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa is known as the very famous Purāṇa.[5]

Footnotes and references:


Matsyapurāṇa, 53.25-26


B. K. Chaturvedi, Markandeyapurāṇa, p.110-111


F. E. Pargiter, The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, Introduction, p.III


F. E. Pargiter, The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, p. XV


teṣāṃ tu saptamaṃ jñeyaṃ mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇaṃ suviśrutam / Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 134.8 a

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