Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Puranic Literature’ of the study on the Vedic influence of Sun-worship in the Puranas, conducted by Goswami Mitali in 2018. The tradition of observing Agnihotra sacrifice and the Sandhya, etc., is frequently observed among the Hindus. Another important innovation of the Sun-worship in the Puranas is the installation of the images of the Sun in the temples.—This section belongs to the series “General Characteristics of the Puranic Religion and its Link with the Vedic Tradition”.

The Purāṇic literature occupies a specific place in the field of Indian literature. Purāṇas represent a class of religious literature, and stands as an abundant source for the Indian religion, rightly called as Hinduism.[1] In the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, they are mentioned as one of the fourteen branches of knowledge, i.e. vidyāsthānas, and sources of dharma. [2] The Purāṇas are mythological in character having didactic contents, in which are collected ancient tradition of the creation, the deeds of the gods, heroes, saints and ancient ancestors of the human race, the beginning of the famous royal families, etc.[3]

The term purāṇa means ancient one.[4] In the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, in the sense of ancient, the term is used. [5] The deity Soma is called purāṇa in the relevant verse. According to the Vācaspatyam, two meanings, purābhavam and purā nīyate are conveyed by the term,[6] i.e. those, who remained in the past and dealt with the past are called as Purāṇas.

Yāskācārya in his Nirukta opines,

purāṇam kasmāt?purā navaṃ bhavatīti/[7]

Purāṇas are the new creation though old indeed. They are the old narratives or ancient legends having didactic contents. Different Purāṇas also have given the meaning of the term. According to the Matsyapurāṇa, Purāṇa means purātanakalpa,[8] as it deals with the history of the ancient period.

The Vāyupurāṇa states,

yasmāt purā hyanatīdaṃ purāṇaṃ tena tat smṛtam,[9]

i.e.—as it lived in the past or breathed in the ancient times, it is called purāṇa.

According to the Padmapurāṇa, purāṇa means the follower of the tradition:

purāparaṃparāṃvakti purāṇaṃ tena vai smṛtam/[10]

The Purāṇas along with the Itihāsas are regarded as the fifth Veda due to their close connection with the Vedic texts.[11] In the Chāndogyopaniṣad, they are placed in the same relationship to the Atharvaveda, where the northern rays of the Sun-god, i.e. the hymns of the Atharvaveda are mentioned as the northern honey-cells, and Itihāsas and Purāṇas are mentioned as the flowers.[12] In the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa, in the context of pāriplava, among other matters the Hotṛ priest is directed to narrate some Purāṇas, as they are the Vedas.[13] In the Sāṅkhyāyanaśrautasūtra[14] and the Āśvalāyanaśrautasūtra[15] also, Purāṇas are mentioned as the Vedas. The Purāṇas are the very soul of the Vedas. They possess a general approach and they are easier than that of the Vedas. They are the ultimate source of the Vedic tradition, for the people who are unable to have it.

The Purāṇas have sacred origin. They are mentioned as originated from the residue of the sacrifice along with the Ṛcs, the Sāmans, the metres and the Yajus mantras.[16]

In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, they are mentioned as born from the breath of the Mahad Bhūta:

mahato bhūtasya niśvāsitaṃ etayad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedoʹtharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇaṃ… /[17]

Different Purāṇas, such as the Matsyapurāṇa,[18] the Vāyupurāṇa,[19] the Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa,[20] the Liṅgapurāṇa,[21] the Nāradīyapurāṇa,[22] the Padmapurāṇa,[23] etc., refer to that there was only one Purāṇa in origin, that taught of by Brahmā, and from that the other Purāṇas were shaped out on the later date.

Eighteen Purāṇas have been enumerated, which were handed down traditionally.[24] The Purāṇic literature consists of eighteen Mahāpurāṇas and more than a hundred Upapurāṇas, along with a large number of treatises belonging to one or other of these works. The list of the eighteen Mahāpurāṇas found almost in all the Purāṇas are, Brāhma, Pādma, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva or Vāyavīya, Bhāgavata, Nāradīya, Mārkaṇḍeya, Āgneya, Bhaviṣya, Brahmavaivarta, Laiṅga, Vārāha, Skānda, Vāmana, Kaurma, Mātsya, Gāruḍa and Brahmāṇḍa. [25] The Matsya, the Agni and the Nāradīyapurāṇa mention the Vāyupurāṇa among the eighteen Purāṇas in their list, while the Viṣṇu, the Mārkaṇḍeya, the Kūrma, the Padma, the Liṅga, the Bhāgavata and the Brahmavaivartapurāṇa mention the Śaivapurāṇa, substituting the Vāyupurāṇa.[26] In his commentary on the Mitākṣarā on the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, Bālaṃbhaṭṭa has mentioned that the Vāyavīyapurāṇa is also called the Śaivapurāṇa. [27] Al-beruni, in his work on India that was composed in 1030 A.D., cites the common names of the Purāṇas, those found in the other lists of the Mahāpurāṇas. Besides this, he has given another list of the Purāṇas that he had come to know from some other sources, which contains the names of some Upapurāṇas, along with the Mahāpurāṇas. The list contains the names of Ādi, Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Narasiṃha, Vāmana, Vāyu, Nanda, Skanda, Āditya, Soma, Sāmba, Brahmāṇḍa, Mārkaṇḍeya, Tārkṣya, i.e. Garuḍa, Viṣṇu, Brahma and Bhaviṣyapurāṇa.[28] Here in this list, the names of some Mahāpurāṇas are omitted and some Upapurāṇas are included.

The Devībhāgavata contains a verse containing the first letter of all the eighteen Mahāpurāṇas, which goes as:

madvayaṃ bhadvayaṃ caiva batrayaṃ vacatuṣṭayam /
anāpaliṅgakūskāni purāṇāni pṛthak pṛthak/[29]

The enumeration of the ślokas of the Mahāpurāṇas shows that almost a total of four lakh of verses are found in the Mahāpurāṇas.[30]

According to the Matsyapurāṇa, the Upapurāṇas are the sub-sections, i.e. upabhedas of the eighteen principal Purāṇas.[31] They are different from the eighteen Mahāpurāṇas; but closely connected to them and known as originated from them. The

Kūrmapurāṇa mentions them as the summaries or abridgements of the eighteen

Mahāpurāṇas, those come out from the sages, after listening to the eighteen Mahāpurāṇas from Vyāsa, who is regarded as the propounder of it:

anyānyupapurāṇāni munibhiḥ kathitāni tu/
śrutvā saṃkṣepato dvijāḥ//[32]

It is very difficult to draw a line in between the two classes of the Mahāpurāṇas and the Upapurāṇas, due to their close connectivity. In the Amarakośa, the term purāṇa is distinguished as purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam,[33] i.e., ‘What has five signs or characteristics,’ but the term upapurāṇa does not occur in it. Again, the list of the eighteen Mahāpurāṇas, that is found in the different Mahāpurāṇas prove the earlier origin of the Mahāpurāṇa class;but no list of Upapurāṇas is introduced in the major Purāṇas. Besides this, in a large number of cases the Upapurāṇas themselves furnish them as the Purāṇa, not the Upapurāṇa;even, sometimes, claim to be superior to the major Purāṇas.[34]

Different Purāṇas speak of Purāṇa as pañcalakṣaṇa:

sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṃśo manvantarāṇi ca/
caiva purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam//[35]

The pañcalakṣaṇas of the Purāṇas are sarga, “creation,” pratisarga, “re-creation,” vaṃśa, “genealogies of gods, kings and sages,” manvantaraṇi, “cosmic cycle or the Manu-periods of time” and vaṃśānucarita, “the history of the royal dynasties and of the families of sages,” i.e. the early and later dynasties, whose origin is traced back to the Sun (solar dynasty) and the moon (lunar dynasty). The same definition with little variation occurs in the Matsyapurāṇa and some others.[36] But, besides these five, the Purāṇas handed down to us contain much more characteristics. The Bhāgavatapurāṇa[37] mentions ten topics to be discussed in the Purāṇas, viz. sarga, visarga, i.e. dissolution, creation after destruction, vṛtti, i.e. modes of subsistence that occur naturally or prescribed by śāstra for all men, rakṣā, i.e. protection by the avatāras, destroying those, who hate the Vedas, antarāṇi, i.e. manvantaras, vaṃśa, vaṃśānucarita, saṃsthā, i.e. four kinds of laya, hetu, i.e. the cause of creation, apāśraya, i.e. the refuse of individual souls, i.e. Brahma. The Brahmavaivartapurāṇa makes a significant remark in this regard that the Upapurāṇas possess five characteristics whereas the Mahāpurāṇas possess the ten.[38] It mentions the ten characteristics thus: sṛṣṭi, visṛṣṭi, sthiti, pālana, karmavāsanā, manuvārtā, pralaya varṇana, mokṣa nirūpaṇa, harikīrtana and devakīrtana. But, the observation on the extant Upapurāṇas show that very few of the works belonging to the Purāṇic literature, only follow the norms ordained for them. Besides the five-fold characteristics, the Upapurāṇas deal with the local cults and fulfils the need of different sects than the Mahāpurāṇas.[39]

The Purāṇas give the purāṇalakṣaṇa with the verse:

ākhyānaiścopākhyānairgāthābhiḥ kalpaśuddhibhiḥ/
cakre purāṇārthaviśāradāḥ//[40]

According to it, Vyāsa, the compiler, to accomplish the purpose of the Purāṇas compiled a Purāṇa Saṃhitā, consisting of ākhyāna, upākhyāna, gāthā and kalpaśuddhi. These four are regarded as the four elements of the Purāṇas that constitute the body of it. Ākhyāna signifies the Purāṇic stories. The historical and legendary tradition of the Purāṇas is maintained by it. It is mentioned in the Viṣṇupurāṇa that ākhyāna, i.e. the religious manuals, along with the Vedāṅgas, institutes of Manu and other lawgivers, traditional scriptures, poem, etc., form the body of the mighty Viṣṇu, assuming the form of the sound: vedāṅgāni samastāni manvādigaditāni ca/ śāstrāṇyaśeṣāṇyā-khyānānyunuvākāśca ye kvacit/ kāvyālāpāśca ye kecit gītakānyakhilāni ca/ śabdamūrttidharasyaitad vapurviṣṇomahātmanaḥ//[41] In the Purāṇas, the ākhyāna of Kuvalayāśva,[42] Prahlāda,[43] etc., are found. The upākhyānas maintain close connectivity with the ākhyānas. Sir Monier Monier-Williams gives the meaning of the term as a subordinate tale story.[44] Gāthās are the metrical composition found in the Purāṇas. The ancient popular songs are called as gāthā. They are dedicated to some particular divinities. For example, in the Viṣṇupurāṇa, it is stated that the divine Ṛṣis utter the greatness of the Gayātīrtha by the mouth of Pitṛs.

The Pitṛs, desiring to participate in the śrāddha at Gayā mentions the Pitṛtīrtha of Gayā as best of all the holy places, and Pitāmaha, the god of gods remaining there bestows welfare to all:

pitṛtīrthaṃ gayā nāma sarvatīrthavaraṃ śubham/
āʹʹste devadeveśaḥ svayameva pitāmahaḥ//
pitṛbhirgītā gāthā bhāgamabhīpsubhiḥ//[45]

Kalpaśuddhi is the last element found in the Purāṇic texts. All the Purāṇic texts contain the account of the period. And such periodic account is called as kalpaśuddhi. In the Purāṇas, Brahmakalpa, Vārāhakalpa, etc., are found.[46]

On the basis of their contents, Purāṇas are classified into several groups, viz. the encyclopaedic, including the Agnipurāṇa, the Garuḍapurāṇa and the Nāradīyapurāṇa; some primarily deal with the tīrthas such as the Padmapurāṇa, the Skandapurāṇa, the Bhaviṣyapurāṇa; the sectarian, including the Liṅgapurāṇa, the Vāmanapurāṇa and the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa; and the historical, such as the Vāyupurāṇa, the Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, the Viṣṇupurāṇa, etc.[47]

Again, according to the three qualities, viz. sattva, rajas and tamas, the Mahāpurāṇas are classified into three divisions; viz. Sāttvika or Viṣṇuite, Rājasika or dedicated to Brahmā and Tāmasika, dedicated to lord Śiva.[48] The Viṣṇu, the Nāradīya, the Bhāgavata, the Garuḍa, the Padma and the Vārāha are the Sāttvikapurāṇas while the Brahma, the Brahmāṇḍa, the Brahmavaivarta, the Mārkaṇḍeya, the Bhaviṣya, the Vāmana are the Rājasikapurāṇas and the Matsya, the Kūrma, the Liṅga, the Śiva, the Skanda and the Agnipurāṇa are the Tāmasikapurāṇas.

Footnotes and references:


Vide, Winternitz, M., A History of Indian Literature, Vol. I, p.517


cf., purāṇanyāyamīmāṃsādharmaśāstrāṅgamiśritāḥ/vedāḥ sthānāni vidyānāṃ dharmasya ca


Vide, Winternitz, M., Op. cit., Vol. I, p.520


cf., purā purvasmin kāle bhava/ Śabdakalpadruma, Vol. IV, p.190

purāṇyā purā kṛtayā…/ Sāyaṇācārya on Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 9.99.4


cf., … purāṇyā purā kṛtayā/ Ibid., 9.99.4


Vācaspatya, Vol. V, p. 4369


Nirukta, 3.19


Matsyapurāṇa, 53.72.


Vāyupurāṇa, 1.203


Padma P., 1.2.54


cf., ṛgvedaṃ bhagavoʹdhyemi yajurvedaṃ sāmavedamātharvaṇaṃ caturthamitihāsapurāṇaṃ pañcamaṃ vedānāṃ vedaṃ…/ Chāndogyopaniṣad, 7.1.2


cf., atha yeʹsyodañco raśmayastā evāsyodīcyo madhunādyoʹtharvāṅgirasa eva madhukṛtaḥ itihāsapurāṇaṃ puṣpam tā amṛtāʹpaḥ/ Ibid., 3.4.1


cf., athāṣṭameʹhan/… matsyāśca matsyahanaścopasametā bhavanti/ tānupadiśatītihāso vedaḥ soyamiti kañciditihāsamācakṣīta/ atha navameʹhan/… tānupadiśati purāṇaṃ vedaḥ soyamiti kiñcitpurāṇamācakṣīta/ Śatapathabrāhmaṇa,




Āśvalāyanaśrautasūtra, 10.7.1


cf., ṛcaḥ sāmāni chandāṃsi purāṇaṃ yajuṣā saha/ ucchiṣṭāj jajñire…/ Atharvavedasaṃhitā, 11.7.24


Bṛhadāraṇyaka, 2.4.10


Mat. P., 53.3-11


Vāyupurāṇa, 1.60-61


Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, 1.1.40-41






Padma P., 5.1.45-52


Matsyapurāṇa, 53.11; Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 134.7-11; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6.21-23 and so on.


Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 12.7.23,24, Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6.19-24 and so on.


Agni P., 272.4,5, Matsyapurāṇa,53.18,19; Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 134.8; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6.19 and so on




Vide, Kane, P.V., History of Dharmaśāstra , Vol. V, Part-II, p. 831


Vide, Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-II, pp. 831-832


cf., upabhedān pravakṣyāmi loke ye sampratiṣṭhitāḥ/ Matsyapurāṇa, 53.58


Kūrmapurāṇa, 1.1.16




Vide, Hazra, R.C., Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol. I, p. 16


Kūrmapurāṇa,1.1.12; Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 134.13,14; Varāhapurāṇa, 2.4; Vāyupurāṇa, 4.10,11 and so on


cf., pañcāṅgāni purāṇeṣu ākhyānakamiti smṛtam/ sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṃśo manvantarāṇi ca/ vaṃcānucaritaṃ caiva purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam// Matsyapurāṇa, 53.65


cf., sargoʹsyātha visargaśca vṛtti-rakṣāntarāṇi ca/ vaṃśo vaṃśānucaritaṃ saṅsthā heturapāśrayaḥ//


Brahmavaivartapurāṇa, 4.131.6-10


Vide, Hazra, R.C., Op cit., Vol. I, p. 25


Vāyupurāṇa, 60.21; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6.15


Viṣṇupurāṇa, 1.22.83,84


Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 18


Matsyapurāṇa, 47


Vide, Monier-Williams, M.(ed.), The Sanskrit English Dictionary, under upākhyāna, p. 212


Matsyapurāṇa, 22.4,5


Ibid. 53


Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-II, p. 842


Garuḍapurāṇa, 1.223.17-20; Padma P., 6.263.81-84

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