The Markandeya Purana (Study)

by Chandamita Bhattacharya | 2021 | 67,501 words

This page relates ‘Chapter 5: Conclusion’ 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.

Chapter 5: Conclusion

The Purāṇas occupy a unique position in Indian literature, both sacred and secular. This class of literature bears the famous sectarian narrative, collection of ancient stories of various periods, geographical knowledge, philosophical thoughts and some matters connected with religion. According to Bṛhadāraṇyaka, the Purāṇas are born from the breath of the Mahādbhūta.[1] According to Swami Prabhavananda, “The Purāṇas are written mainly to popularize the abstract ethical and spiritual truths of the Vedas and the Upaniṣads by means of concrete illustrations from the lives of avatāras, saints, sages, kings and devotees whether historical or legendary.”[2] The Purāṇas are said to be originated from the residue of the sacrifice along with the ṛks, the sāmans, the metres and the yajus.[3] Sage Vyāsa reflects two important massages through these eighteen Purāṇas. One is that the benevolence is the highest order of sacredness and the second is to hurt someone is the worst of the sins in the world. Therefore, man should lay his life on the path of benevolence instead of harming or hurting someone. The result of reading and listening to the Purāṇas can destroy the sins of a person as like as the dipping in to the Gangā can clean of a person all sins.[4] The Purāṇas shows us various works of the ancient era and a great perception into all features and detail view of Hinduism.[5] The Purāṇas greatly improves our lifestyle and thought process.

The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is one of the 18 Mahāpurāṇas which is considered as one of the oldest and most important of the extant Mahāpurāṇas. The vast body of this Purāṇa comprises of many aspects like religious, social, cultural, geographical, historical, political, ethical, natural, philosophical, literary aspects etc. In this work the socio cultural, religious and philosophical aspects of this Purāṇa have been discuss thoroughly.

The study starts with an introduction showing the description of Purāṇa literature specially of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. The first chapter is titled as “Introduction”. In the beginning of this chapter, the definition and meaning of the word purāṇa have been discussed. The word purāṇa means ‘that which is ever new though old’.[6] In this context the definitions of the Purāṇa given by various scholars at the ancient times have been quoted which declare the actual meaning of Purāṇa in different way. After that, the date of the Purāṇa has been discussed very briefly. In this regard the scholars opines that the Purāṇas must have written before 6th or 7th century A.D. Purāṇas are classifies into three classes according to three guṇas, and become known as sātvika purāṇa, rājasika purāṇa and tāmasika purāṇa. The mahāpurāṇas are eighteen in general and upapurāṇas also eighteen too. In the next point the importance of the Purāṇas has been discussed. From the next point entitled ‘an introduction to the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa’ discusses the contexts delineated in the 134 chapters, of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa divided into various classes. In general view the content is divided into three stages where as F. E. Pergitar has divided it into 5 divisions in the following way. i) 1st to 9th chapters. ii) 10th to 41st chapters. iii) 42nd to 77th chapters. iv) 78th to 90th chapters. v) 90th to 134th chapters. The famous Devī-māhātmya portion is included into the 4th part. And the next point is the authorship of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. The authorship of this Purāṇa is a topic of big controversy. According to some sources Vyāsa is the author of all the Purāṇas including the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. Again, sage Mārkaṇḍeya also accepted as the author of this Purāṇa. So far as the date of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is concerned it is seen that its date is very controversial. From the survey regarding the date the 7th century A.D. or even earlier to that period can be placed as the period of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. In the 134th chapter of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa itself described about the importance and result of studying and hearing of this Purāṇa. In the next point, described about some books which have been used in these research project.

The second chapter is on the socio-cultural aspects reflected in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. The content of this chapter have been divided into seven sub-divisions. It starts with the explanation of the concept of varnasramadharma. Basically there are four varṇas and four āśramas and the śāstras prescribe different rites and rituals for both of varṇas and āśramas. These rites and rituals reflect the social and cultural status of the society at that time. This purāṇa gives a clear definition of varṇaśramadharma where four stages of varṇa and aśrama explained with their specific duties. The Śatapathabrāhmaṇa advocates learning Purāṇa and Itihāsa as texts of learn by a householder. In the context of revelation on pancamahāyajña it has been found.[7] The rituals of marriage ceremonies have been found from ancient times. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa reflects some valuable data regarding different marriage system including the syamvara. Among the different kinds of marriage more examples of the Rākṣas and the Gāndharva marriage are found. Examples of inter-caste marriage are present in this Purāṇa. Importance of family is seen from ancient times. Here the bonding of family members and their respect and love for each other are expressed. Like the present time at the time of this Purāṇa also there existed the patriarchal family system with good relationship among the family members. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa supports a very important and significant role of women in the society as like as in the Vedic society. As a wife and as a mother, a woman played a very significant role in the family. Wives are seen to be submissive and devoted to her husband. A mother is seen to be the well wisher of her children. There are examples of women having education. The names of Mena, Dharaninī can be mentioned in this case. Like the Veda the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa also does not prescribe a person without his wife to be liable to perform religious sacrifices. Regarding the tradition of satī the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa has given two examples it also advocates the extra ordinary power of a chaste lady. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa mentions both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian food used by the people. The eating of non-vegetarian food has been permitted under certain conditions like at the time of worshipping Devī, to satisfy the manes in the śraddhā ceremony. At that time the general people are found to use leather, woollen cloth, fine clothes, blanket, ragged garment, cotton cloth, silk cloth, linen cloth etc and the Brahmin sages are seen to use skin of black antelopes and bark garments by the forest hermits. There are some references of different types of customs prevailing in the society like modes of greeting to seniors, equals and younger, honour of a women to elder relatives of her husband house etc. There is also mention of some daily rites which should be done by everyone. To be happy and to enjoy a good life every member of the family should perform their duties at due time. It is believed that those who neglect these duties cannot lead a happy life. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa also contains some example of superstition prevailed in that society. Here is the mention of the existence of evil spirits who causes harm to the people causing physical injuries, moral vices and social offences. It is seen that the socio cultural features quoted in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa have impacts even in the present society. Thus this purāṇa is very important to evaluate the spirit of the culture and civilization of society at that time.

The third chapter is on worship and mythological aspects reflected in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. This chapter is divided into four sub-divisions containing discussion on worship, mythology and śrāddha. The Devī-māhātmya portion occupies an important place in this Purāṇa. In this part various functions of Devī, known by various names like Mahāmāyā, Yoganidra, Ambika, Kalī etc. have been discussed. This Devī has proclaimed to be incarnate in the various forms to slay the demon being praised by the gods disturbed by the evil demon. The power of Devī has been reflected through various stories included in the Devīmāhāmya portion. She is mainly described as the force behind the creation, preservation and destruction of the world. This Purana has a huge mythological data, which includes worship and mythology of various gods like Sūrya, Brahmā, Dattatreya, Viṣṇu, Agni etc and their worship story. While describing these gods innumerable epithets tribute to those Gods are also mentioned which express the powers and characteristics of each God. There are seven types of Sūrya worship which have been mentioned in this chapter. Among the types of worships the last one i.e. worship of Sūrya god in his sacred and beautiful shine by means of incense, flowers, oblations, unguents, prayers, foods, lamps and other offerings seems to be very popular. Besides the people, he is worshipped by lord Brahmā. It shows the greatness and the power of Sūrya. Śrāddha signifies the worship of manes i.e. dead person with flowers, oblations etc. It creates a peaceful relationship between the dead person and the leaving person. In the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa we find the reference of six types of śrāddha ceremony and description about how to perform these śrāddhas. In this context, places avoided for śrāddha ceremony prohibited actions for performers and invites, rules and regulations for Brahmins, used and prohibited food for śrāddha ceremony, tools and materials used and unused at śrāddha ceremony are also referred to. These mythological data can be regarded as assets of Indian culture. The religious section not only shows the different cults of the ancient time, but also shows the value and teaches how to perform the rituals in a society.

The fourth chapter is the philosophical reflection of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. It deals with the philosophical reflection shown in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. This chapter based on the essential metaphysical elements of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. In this chapter, the śaktisim, vaiṣṇavism and yoga have been discussed in an integrated philosophical view regarding man, world, delusion (maya), god and yoga. Here the doctrine of the self realization of soul and the bondage of samsāra. The philosophy of Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is concerned with māyā, yoga and brahmatatva etc. This Purāṇa deals with the philosophical view on the nature of reality (Devī, Viṣṇu) mode of Śakti (Devī, Viṣṇu), the function of Devī and Viṣṇu i.e. creation, sustenance and destruction etc of the world, relation with jīva, māyā, yoga etc. are discussed. The basic principle of Śākta philosophy is goddess Mahāmāya (śakti) who is the supreme reality and the only divine nature that created the whole universe. She is the eternal one heaving omnipresent and omnipotent power. The world is a māyā of Śakti and through the power of māyā, Goddess, Mahāmāyā misleads the people. Here it is emphatically stated that Visnu and Śakti are not two separate realities. They are the two aspects of the same non dual reality. Without the other one cannot exist nor can be conceived. This mutual dependence of Viṣṇu and Śakti is called lilā. So far as the vaiṣṇavism is concerned this Purāṇa contains little philosophical data regarding vaiṣṇavism. Here lord Viṣṇu is described as the all in all in the world. Some other thoughts like the nature of Supreme Reality, conception of god, description of the process of creation etc. described in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa may be termed as philosophical. Another philosophical aspects found in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is Yoga philosophy. In this section we found a brief description about the seven fold yogic practices and the importance of ‘OM’. The aim of yoga is to attain the highest state of mind through a systematic process. The practice of Yoga through the supervision of a trainer is very important because wrong exercises can destroy our health very easily. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa explains about the result of the wrong exercises. Only three āsana viz. padma, ardha and svastika are mentioned. This Purāṇa explains in detail about the upasarga, siddhis and ariṣṭas along with food, good and bad effects of yoga, omkāra etc.

The ultimate aim ofYoga is the unity with Brahman. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa follows the Upanisadic concept of union of jīva with the paramātman through Yoga. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa mentioned the seven limbs of yoga as mentioned in Yogasūtra but some of them shows difference in order. The central theme, on which different philosophical views are synthesized, can be summarized as the whole philosophical concept of Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa which is based on Sāṃkhya, Yoga and Vedānta philosophy.

The last chapter i.e. the concluding chapter is designed to record some major findings of the study along with an overall picture of the subjects delineated in different chapters of this work.

After discussing the summary of each chapter, various findings reflected in this work have been given below—

• Amongst all the Purāṇas the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is quite different in character. All the five characteristics of the Purāṇas viz. sarga, pratisarga, vaṃsa, manvantara and vaṃsānucarita have been reflected in this Purāṇa very beautifully. For example, the first characteristic sarga is dealt with in the chapters 42nd to 44th; chapters 45th to 49th contain materials which can be regarded as the pratisarga; chapter 49th shows the materials regarding vaṃśa. The chapters 50th,58th -64th, 66th,77th, 9st -97th describe the stories regarding the birth of the Manus and are regarded as manvantara. The chapter 98th, 108th-133rd contain the Vaṃśānucarita. This Purāṇa contains reference to only the Vaiśāla dynasty that descended from Svāyambhuva Manu’s son Diṣṭa. The chief princes of mentioned in this Purāṇa are Vatsaparī, khanitra, Khaninetra, Karandhama, Avīkṣit and Marutta (chapter, 110th to 133rd) and Rajyavardhana (chapter, 106-107). The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa narrates some stories in which the names and activities of kings from generation to generation have been discussed. Fourteen manvantaras are explained here briefly.

• The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa bears some characteristics which distinguishes it from the other Purāṇas. Most of the tales in this Purāṇa are narrative which shows little inclination towards special spirit and religious tone in the players. The stories are brief and moderate. Continuous successions of ancient legends embellished with modern circumstance have been presented in this Purāṇa.

Various Rules, laws and morals relating to social, culture, religious etc. have been reflected in this Purāṇa.

The exceptional point of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is that in this Purāṇa the conversation happens between the birds and sage Jaimini. It is significant that the birds are chosen for the narrative. Like the Sūtradhāra in the Sanskrit plays the birds give the lessons and recount the tales from the Mahāhārata and other scriptures. The birds are shown in the narrative as impartial observers. This clearly reveals that natural knowledge is far superior.

• The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa gives the detail description about the birth, death and consequences of actions.

• Another reason regarding the importance of this Purāṇa is that this Purāṇa gives details of the descendants of the various dynastics which are not easily available in the other works.

• The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is an unfailing source of information which helps us to reconstruct the history of Indian culture and civilisation.

• It is believed that the Purāṇas were written to make the ethical and spiritual truths of the Vedas popular. This purpose was fulfilled through the physical illustration of the lives of personalities like-sages, kings, saints, devotees, incarnations etc.

• In this Purāṇa we find vast description regarding Brahmaṇa varṇa and the two aśramas, viz. brahmacarya and gārhasthya and less description is found regarding another three varṇas and remaining two aśramas comparatively.

• Among the eight forms of marriage the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa gives stress on describing the Rākṣasa and Gāndharva marriages.

This Purāṇa preferres monogamy to polygamy and polyandry.

• It is stated in this Purāṇa that a person having wife is entitled to perform sacrificial performances. Again in case of a person having more than one wife, the first wife is permitted to accompany him in religious rites. Also, he who abandons his wife is not considered to be worthy to do religious rites.

• In the Vedic period, the Gods were worshipped without any idol. But in this Purāṇa we find the reference of idol worship.

• The methods of worship of various Gods and Goddess Mahāmāya in different names and the benefits of worship have been mentioned in this Purāṇa.

• Such open, unparallel prayer to the female energy of the divine creator as found in the Devī -māhātmya portion is hardly found even in Sanskrit Literature.

Devī-māhātmyam is the vast account of the Goddess in Sanskrit, and it has maintained its position and importance in the Goddess worship tradition till date.

• While some of the Purāṇas divides śrāddha into three types, viz. nitya, naimittika and kāmya, the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa mentions six types of śrāddha ceremony such as- nitya, ābhyudayika, ekoddiṣṭa, sapiṇḍīkaraṇa, nitya-naimittika or parva-śrāddha and kāmya-śrāddha.

• In various stories, three guṇas, viz. sattva, rajas and tamas of Devī-Mahāmāyā have been exhibited.

• In Patanjali’s Yogasūtra we find eight types of stages of Yoga. But this Purāṇa mentions seven stages of Yoga.

• This Purāṇa describes the various forms of Yoga, it’s utility, harmful results of neglecting Yoga, the specificities regarding time and place of Yoga practice, obstacles etc.

• The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa can be distinguished from the other Purāṇas by the fact that it is not subject to any cult feeling. It is seen that the Śivapurāṇa emphasises on the greatness of the Śiva and completely overlooks the greatness of Brahmā and Viṣṇu. Similarly in the Viṣṇupurāṇa, Viṣṇu has been portrayed as the supreme god. The Brahmapurāṇa is also no different. It focuses only on the greatness of lord Brahmā. Hence, it can be said that all the purāṇas except Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, are associated with particular communal sentiments. The Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is seen to be unbiased towards the greatness of only one particular god. Rather it gives equal importance to all the gods and goddesses. Apart from Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva,

Durgā other gods like Agni, Sūrya, Indra etc. also have been given equal importance with enough examples of their greatness. A major part of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa is devoted to the greatness of goddess with equal importance and evidences. In this Purāṇa, it is seen that whenever it depicts the greatness of any god it provides evidences to support its description. While doing so, one striking characteristic of this Purāṇa is to be highlighted that it does not suppress the greatness of other gods. From the above discussion in the previous chapters, it is evident that the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa portrays a vivid picture of the then society. All the above mentioned points show that the study of this Purāṇa is very useful for understanding and evaluating Indian culture, religion as well as modern Indian society in some of its important aspects.

Footnotes and references:


mahato bhūtasya niḥśāsitaṃ etadyad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo’tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇam / Bṛhadāraṇyaka, 2.4.10


Swami Prabhavananda, to reword by Hustion Smith, The Spiritual Heritage of India, p.136


cf. ṛcaḥ sāmāni chandāṃsi purāṇaṃ yajuṣā saha / ucchiṣṭājjajñire.../ Atharvaveda,


yathā pāṇāni yuyante garhā vārivigāhanāt /
tathā purāṇasravaṇāt duritānāṃ vināśnam //


S. K. De, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol.II., p.270


Swami Prabhavananda, Spiritual Heritage of India, p. 136


madhvāhutayo havā etā devānāṃ yadanuśāsanāni vidyā vākovākyam itihāsapurāṇaṃ gāthā nārāśaṃsyaḥ / saya evaṃ vidvānanuśāsanāni vidyā vākovākyamitihasapurāṇaṃ gāthā nārāśasiriti aharaḥ svādhyāyamadhīte / Śatapathabrāhmaṇa,

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