The Markandeya Purana (Study)

by Chandamita Bhattacharya | 2021 | 67,501 words

This page relates ‘Importance 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.

1.11: Importance of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa

It has been mentioned earlier that the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa is one of the most popular and ancient religious treatises of the Hindus. As Prof. H. H. Wilson remarks, this Purāṇa comprises of various characteristics which differentiate it from other Purāṇas.

He opines,

“The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa has a character different from that of all the other purāṇas. It has nothing of a sectarian spirit, little of a religious tone, rarely inserting prayers and invocations to any deity, and such as which are inserted are brief and moderate. It deals little in precepts, ceremonial or moral. Its leading feature is narrative and it presents an uninterrupted succession of legends, most of which are ancient and occasionally embellished with new circumstances........ Most probably the greater part is, at least, original and the whole has been narrated in the compiler’s own manner, a manner superior to that of the Mahapurāṇas in general with the exception of the Bhāgavatpurāṇa.”[1]

This Purāṇa, conforming closely to the Pañcalakṣaṇa definition of the complete Purāṇa, bears the importance. The description of cosmology, the process of dissolution, the description of the genealogies, the Manus’ description along with their Manvantaras, the history of the solar race etc. make it a complete Purāṇa.[2] As answer to the probable question of the readers that in spite of the existence of the sages like Vasiṣṭha, Viśvāmitra etc. why this Purāṇa is attributed to sage Mārkaṇḍeya, it may be said that Mārkaṇḍeya was a great sage and a great observer. He is said to be immortal and the first sage to arrive at the scene even after the pralaya the creation has not taken place. The Mahābhārata claims that it was he who first visualised Lord Viṣṇu as the primal existence of the universe.[3]

The importance of this Purāṇa lies in the fact that this Purāṇa reveals certain events referred to in the Mahābhārata which are logically or convincingly explained. In fact the questions asked by Jaimini in the very first chapter may appear to be quite unnerving. In answering these questions the birds give reasons with much more clarity than offered by even the Mahābhārata. This Purāṇa also is significant in giving the details regarding conceptions, foetal life, birth, growth, death and consequences of actions which are answered by the wise birds by reproducing instructions. Besides, due to incorporation of the śakti worship described in the Devī-māhātmya portion this Purāṇa is very popular among the common people. It incorporates all the three mythological discourses in Durgā-saptaśatī.[4] The Devī- worship forms a very important section of Indian religion with a great influence on Indian society which can even be seen in present times. The description of several brave, learned, religious and adventurous kings inspires people to acquire those good qualities. People have been made to be careful about their Dharma and Karma. Through the interesting and detailed description of fourteen Manus and manvantars, the ruling section has been taught the lesson of lawful governance. Again, the subtle description of the post death end of Jīva, fortune at the hell, rebirths etc. have been found in the conversation of Subuddhi and Sumati.

The Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa narrates at length the achievements of these kings but only down to Rājyavardhana.[5] Besides the traditional topics of the Purāṇas, the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa contains a good deal of information on Rājadharma (chapter.24), Varṇāśramadharma (chapter 27), Sadācāra (chapter 31), Varyāvarjya (chapter 32), Śrāddha (chapter 27-30) etc. It is thus a rich mine of dharmaśāstric matters and it sheds a flood of light on religious beliefs and practices in ancient India. It is needless to say that these topics are dealt with in other Purāṇas also.[6] Later on, the writer of dharmaśāstras like Aparārka, Ballālasena, Devaṇabhaṭṭa, Hemādri and Srīdatta Upādhyāya have taken the dharmāśāstra-material from this Purāṇa in some of their books. For example, the authors of the works like Yājñavalkyasmṛti, Adbhutasāgara and Dānasāgara, Smṛti-candrikā, Caturvargacintāmaṇi, Kṛtyācāra etc. have taken various materials from this Purāṇa.[7] Besides, some verses of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa have been quoted in the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyana, the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, the Pāraskaragṛhyasūtra and certain other Gṛhya-sūtras, Yajñavalkyasmṛti, Srāddha-sūtra of Kātyāyana etc. It appears that certain outlooks found in the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa are similar to those of some of the Gṛhyasūtras, the Dharmaśāstras or the Smṛtis.

In the context of describing the importance of the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa it is found that the importance and benefits of this Purāṇa has been focused by the birds before sage Jaimini in the 134th chapter of this Purāṇa. The result of studying of and listening to this Purāṇa is stated that a person who studies or listens to the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, achieves great accomplishment. All the desires of that person become fulfilled and he can enjoy a long life.[8] It also helps a man to atone for all the sins committed during the period of one hundred core kalpas.[9] The result of listening to this Purāṇa is similar to the virtues attained by making donations at pushkar or by studying all the Vedas.[10] After listing this Purāṇa one may be able to unite with the Supreme Brahma.[11]

It may be noted here that the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa is comparatively free from the sectarian element which so often predominates in the other Purāṇas. Among the deities, Indra and Brahmā are mentioned very often. Next stand Viṣṇu and Śiva, then Dattātreya, Sūrya and Agni and lastly Dharma and others. Indra is mentioned most often in the first and fifth parts and Brahmā in the third and fifth parts, while Viṣṇu and Śiva do not show any particular preponderance. Dattātreya is mentioned in the second section. If the Devī-māhātmya portion is kept aside, then the Sun is the deity that receives the most special adoration and his story is related briefly in chapter 74th, 75th and afterwards with fullness in chapter 99th to 107th. To this may be added the cognate worship of Agni in chapter 96th and 97th.

Though this Purāṇa generally bears the characteristics of the old definition of the Purāṇa i.e. having five characteristics, it contains a few chapters on topics which come within the description of Dharma, Naraka, Karma-vipāka, Varṇaāśramadharma, Śrāddha, Ācāra etc.[12] It is perhaps, for these reasons, that this Purāṇa is given so much of importance and treated as one of the Mahāpurāṇas.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

B. K. Chaturvedi, Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, p.109

[2]:

Ibid., p.3

[3]:

B. K. Chaturvedi, Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, p.111

[4]:

B.B. Paliwal, Massage of the Puranas, p. 121

[5]:

Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 106-107; 110-133

[6]:

P. V. Kane, History of Dharmaśāstras, Vol.I., p.164

[7]:

R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapurāṇas, p.266-269

[8]:

Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 134.3-4

[9]:

Ibid., 134.14-15

[10]:

Ibid., 134.16

[11]:

purāṇaśravaṇādeva paramayogamavāpnuyāt / Ibid., 134.27 a

[12]:

R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapurāṇas, p.9

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