by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words
This page relates ‘Religion of the Puranas’ 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”.
With the downfall of the Buddhism and declination of the Jainism, the Vedic faith with sectarianism was reconciled and as a result of that, Purāṇic religion formed out with a strong position. As the Purāṇic religion preceded the Buddhism, Jainism or other anti-Vedic religious systems, non-Vedic systems like Tāntricism, Śaktism, etc. and the Vedic ideas of Brāhmaṇism, Bhāgavatism, the elements of all these, are found in the Purāṇic religion in a wholesome way. The Purāṇas, along with its five or ten characteristics, contain chapters on varṇāśramadharma, ācāra, śrāddha, prāyaścitta, dāna, pūjā, vrata, tīrthas, pūrtadharma, pratiṣṭhā, dīkṣā, utsarga, etc., and the glories of various deities, and thus contain the Smṛti codes or conduct. They are mentioned along with the Dharmaśāstras and regarded as authoritative works on dharma. But, gradually, the position of the Purāṇas as the Dharmaśāstras degraded and it turned into important codes of Hindu rites and customs by including chapters on different matters. With the growth of the sectarianism, along with the Vedic and Smārta matters, the Purāṇic texts contain some new ideas relating to bhakti, pūjā, avatāra, vrata, pilgrimage, etc. The Vedic and Brāhmaṇical tradition, those regarded as authoritative and divinely ordained have contributed a lot towards the development of the Purāṇic religion.
The religion of the Veda was reinstalled in the Purāṇas with some changes and additions fulfilling the demand of the changing time. The Vedic concept of dharma was very wide and in different senses, the term was used in the Vedas. But in the Purāṇas, the term dharma was generally used to denote religious practices and social customs. The varṇāśramadharma was reinstalled in the Purāṇas. The Buddhists, the Jainas and some other pre-Purāṇic religious systems accepted the complete renunciation, i.e. sannyāsa, as the only way to attain the final emancipation. Unlike it, the Purāṇas accepted the four stages of life and prescribed the performances of the duties that ordained by the Smṛtis to follow in different stages of life, to reach to the stage of sannyāsa. Besides this, continuing the Vedic tradition, they highly appreciated the Gārhasthyāśrama. The householder is mentioned as the source of the other three stages and known as the only means to attain dharma in the Purāṇas. The manes are only pleased with the śrāddha that is performed by the person who is loyal to the duties of the stages of life and have acquired knowledge. Seven acts are prescribed by the Purāṇas for man, viz. celibacy, penance, sacrifice, begetting children, funeral sacrifices, acquirement of learning, and making gifts of food throughout the whole life. In the Vedic period, the Śūdras and the women had no right in the sacrificial performances.
But the Jainas and the Buddhas had given greater freedom and facilities to them. As an influence of it, in the Purāṇas, references are found of Śūdra’s becoming the king by dint of the observation of vows and worship, e.g. Buddhadvādaśīvrata. King Nṛga, who was a Śūdra in his previous birth, performed this vrata and became the king in his next birth. To popularise the participation of women in religious matters, the Purāṇas have contained chapters on chaste and devoted wife. A wife is mentioned as the potent cause of righteousness, wealth and love among men, and in particular, one who forsakes her, has indeed abandoned righteousness. A wifeless man is not appreciated in the Purāṇas.
Due to the growth and development of the sectarianism, most of the deities of the Vedic period went to the backdrop and five deities, viz. Viṣṇu, Śiva, Durgā (Śakti), Sūrya and Gaṇeśa were worshipped as the prominent deities in the Purāṇas. They were called as Pañcadeva. The worship of the deities had given rise to independent cult, such as Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, Śaktism, the Solar-cult and the cult of Gaṇeśa, centering round the worship of the individual deities, Viṣṇu, Śiva, Durgā or Śakti, Sūrya and Gaṇeśa, respectively. The Purāṇic religion is the sectarian religion where the personal gods were worshipped instead of the Vedic Brāhmaṇical community worship. The thirtythree numbers of the Vedic deities were transformed into thirty-three crores of gods in the Purāṇic religion. Some of the Vedic concept relating to the deities, remained unchanged in the Purāṇas too, e.g. the twelve months of the year are said as symbolic of the twelve Ādityas in the Purāṇas likewise the Vedas. But in course of time, Āditya, who included both Indra and Viṣṇu, lost his importance; of Indra and Viṣṇu, Viṣṇu remained and in course of time, had given rise to Vaiṣṇavism. In the same way, the Vedic Prajāpati assimilated into Brahmā, the creator in the Purāṇas.
The three deities, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva or Maheśa, are connected in the Purāṇas, to the three cosmic principles, viz. creation, preservation and destruction.
In the character of Brahmā, the Supreme Being creates mankind, then possessing an excess of goodness, he becomes Viṣṇu and protects them righteously; then associated with the Tamas, assuming the form of Rudra, dissolves the whole universe.  Besides the major sectarian gods, Purāṇas also introduce many minor gods, viz. Kārtikeya, Kuvera, etc. Some local gods also occurred in the Purāṇic pantheon, like the village deities, deities in the cremation ground, etc. Thus, in the Purāṇas, thirty-three crores of deities occur, but, the oneness of the deity is understood with the passage of time, where the three principal forms of creation are worshipped as the manifestation of a single deity:
In the Purāṇic religion, the elements of all kinds, from the primitive to advanced were found, e.g. ancestor worship found in śrāddha, Piṇḍapitṛyajña, spirit worship in the reference of Dākinīs, Sākinīs, Piścāsas, etc., worship of the Mother goddess observed in the reference of Pṛthivī, Aditi, Durgā, Kāli and Ambikā, worship of the cultural heroes in the worship of Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Sāmba, Vāmana,  tree worship in the worship of Bilva, Tulasī, etc., stone-worship in the worship of Śālagrāma, the stone-emblem of Viṣṇu, and Śivaliṅga.
Twofold devotees occurred in the Purāṇic period—firstly, the extreme sectarians, who confined their devotion and worship almost exclusively to their sectarian deity like Viṣṇu, Śiva, Śakti, etc., and secondly, the general followers of the Brāhmaṇical religion, those revered and worshipped all the deities though specially attached to a sectarian deity following some of the important Vedic rituals and practices. The Smārtas prescribed the regular worship of the five gods. Besides this, the rest of the Hindu pantheon was also freely worshipped.
In the Vedic period, emphasis was laid on the sacrificial activities or karmakāṇḍa, while in the Purāṇas, bhakti occupied the place of importance. Bhakti is one of the components of the Purāṇic religion. Sāṇḍilya, in his Bhaktisūtra defines bhakti as sā parānuraktirīśvare/ The derivative meaning of it can be interpreted into two ways: firstly, the highest form of bhakti is affection fixed on god or secondly, bhakti is the highest affection fixed on god. Prapatti, i.e. the self-surrender is connected to it. The two terms dhyāna and upāsanā are used as synonym of the term. Though the term bhakti occurs several times in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, but the great scholar D.C. Sircar holds it as an un-Āryan concept that gradually adopted by the mixed Ārya-non-Āryan population of the country, which cannot be a prominent feature of the Vedic religion as the Vedic religion was dominated by that of the sacrificial cult.
Bhakti is classified into several divisions. In the Padmapurāṇa, the different divisions of bhakti are mentioned as, laukikī bhakti related to the common people, vaidikī bhakti, laid down by the Vedas, and ādhyātmikī bhakti, i.e. philosophical, or as mānasī bhakti, i.e. mental, vācikī bhakti, i.e., verbal and kāyikī bhakti, that is done with the body, such as fasts and vratas. The Bhāgavatapurāṇa classifies it into sāttvikī bhakti, rājasī bhakti and tāmasī bhakti, and into uttamā (best), madhyamā (middle) and kaṇiṣṭha (inferior).
The Bhāgavatapurāṇa mentions that bhakti is of ninefolds, viz.
- śravana (hearing about Viṣṇu),
- kīrtana (repetition of the name of the deity),
- smaraṇa (remembering him),
- pādasevana (worshipping the feet of the image of Viṣṇu),
- arcana (offering pūjā),
- vandana (bowing or paying homage),
- dāsya (treating oneself as the slave of the deity),
- sakhya (treating him as a friend) and
- ātmanivedana (surrendering one’s soul to him).
A devotee practising anyone of these can achieve the god.
Of the three mārgas that lead to the salvation or the final emancipation, viz. the karmamārga, the bhaktimārga and the jñānamārga, the bhaktimārga is referred to as the best mārga. In the bhaktimārga, the bhakta or devotee resigns himself to god’s grace. In the Śrīmadbhagavadgīta, the supreme soul Lord Kṛṣṇa himself states bhakti as the best mārga for achieving him. The devotees, who dedicate all their actions to god and regarding him as their highest goal, worship him, meditating on him with devotion towards none beside the deity, and whose minds are always placed on the Lord and without delaying, the Lord deliver them from the ocean of saṃsāra and death. The karmamārga leads to the salvation by means of the sacrificial performances, while the jñānamārga leads to the Brahman with the brāhmīsthiti, i.e. the state of identifying one with Brahman. Bhakti establishes a personal relationship in between the god and devotees. As a result of such relationship, miraculous element becomes prominent. The episode of Prahlāda, found in the Purāṇas, is the best example of it. Pleased with the bhakti of the devotees, the Supreme Soul grants them the desired boons and protect them from every danger. The japa, dhyāna, tīrthayātrās, dāna, pāṭha, i.e. recitation, and śravaṇa, i.e. hearing of the sacred books were regarded as the act of devotion in the Purāṇas. The Brahmapurāṇa refers to that men, even after having committed many sins under the influence of error or delusion, do not go to hell, if they worship Hari, the remover of all sins. Those who always remember Janārdana, though they may be quietly of roguery, after their death, reach to the happy world of Viṣṇu.
Even a man, habituated to flying into extreme rage, also reciting the name of Hari, attains mukti as his fault destroys at the grace of the Lord:
kṛtvāpi bahuśaḥ pāpaṃ narā mohasamanvitāḥ/
na yānti narakaṃ natvā sarvapāpaharaṃ harim/
śāvyenāpi narā nityaṃ ye smaranti janārdanam/
tepi yānti tanuṃ tyaktvā viṣṇulokamanāmayam//
sopi doṣakṣayānmuktiṃ labheccedipatiryathā//
Besides the bhakti, another new addition in the Purāṇic religion is the introduction of the avatāras of the deities. The depiction of different avatāras is one of the specific characteristic of the religion. The term avatāra is derived from root tṛ, that along with the prefix ava gives the meaning descending or descent and applied to the gods, who assumed the form of a human being or even of an animal or birds and continued to live in that form up to the fulfilment of the purpose for which he had assumed the form. In the Durgāsaptaśatī of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, the mother goddess declares that whenever trouble will arise, caused by the Dānavas, at each such time she will accomplish the foes’ destruction incarnating her. Whenever virtue declines and evil flourishes the divine entity incarnates him or her in human form or in the form of other creatures for the protection of holiness.
The incarnations of the deities are mentioned as the re-installer of dharma and the performance of sacrifices:
i.e.—when sacrifices grew rare, Lord Viṣṇu was born again and again to establish dharma, destroying adharma. The sectarian deities, i.e. fully personal and anthropomorphic gods and their incarnations were the object of bhakti in the Purāṇic religion.
The Purāṇic texts refer to different avatāras. Though variations are there in different Purāṇas regarding their names and forms, but ten incarnations of Viṣṇu are commonly mentioned in different Purāṇas. The Bhāgavatapurāṇa, in one place, mentions twenty-two avatāras of Viṣṇu. They are: Brahmā, Vārāha, Nārada, Naranārāyaṇa, Kapila, Dattātreya, Yajñāvatāra, Ṛṣabhadeva, Pṛthu, Matsya, Kūrma, Dhanvantari, Mohinī, Nṛsiṃha, Vāmana, Paraśurāma, Parāśara, Rāma, Balabhadra, Kṛṣṇa, Buddha and Kalki. Again, in another place, it mentions twenty-three avatāras including Hayagrīva. Sixteen avatāras, viz. Matsya, Kūrma, Nṛsiṃha, Vāmana, Paraśurāma, Balabhadra, Varāha, Rāma, Buddha, Kalki, Haṃsa, Dattā, Kumāra i.e. Nārada, Ṛṣabha, Vyāsa are also mentioned in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa and along with Hayagrīva also, the avatāras are mentioned in the same Purāṇa. Again the Vāyupurāṇa mentions twenty-eight avatāras of Lord Śiva.
There are references of aṃśāvatāras or kalāvatāras in the Purāṇas. In the Durgāsaptaśatī, the supreme mother is mentioned as helped by the different aṃśāvatāras, those indeed are the different manifestations of the deity. In the Purāṇic religious history, the doctrine of avatāra, occupied a specific place. One of the principal aims of any religion, to bring unity in the society, in against to the diversity, was partially fulfilled by such avatāravāda. The use of image and temples are common in their worship.
With the rise and development of bhakti, in the Purāṇic religion developed the idea of pūjā. The Paurāṇikapūjā was different from that of the Vedic yajña. The mode and method of both the rituals were different. Instead of twelve or sixteen priests, the pūjā was performed by only one priest; sometimes with one or two assistants. Sixteen upacāras, viz. āvāhana, āsana, pādya, arghya, ācamana, snāna, vastra, yajñopavīta, anulepana or gandha, puṣpa, dhūpa, dīpa, naivedya, tāmbūla, dakṣiṇā and pradakṣiṇa were used there in the pūjā. The offering of puṣpa, gandha, dhūpa, dīpa and naivedya were unknown in the Vedic period. They were the later innovations in the age of the Purāṇas. The concept of upācāra was of Vedic origin, as the term upācāra is used in the sense of ‘honour’ or ‘mode of showing honour’ in the Vedic texts.
The Purāṇic religion introduced the worship of images of different deities. J.N. Banerjea holds that pratimā and sandṛś as used for symbolic representation of divinities, those were not associated with particular cults, but in course of time acquired the significance of arcā, i.e. the object of regular worship. Pāṇini in his Aṣṭādhyāyi uses two terms pratimā and pratikṛti probably for images of gods. The Vedic scholars like Max Müller, Wilson, Macdonell, etc., had remarked that the Āryans knew no image worship or temple, as it was the religion of the yajñas. But in against to it, Bollensen and a group of scholars have pointed out that in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, gods were often described as divo naras or naras and mentioned was made of their vapuḥ, tanu, rūpa, etc., that presupposes the image worship in the Vedic period. Again, several Ṛgvedic passages refer to the images of gods and in a passage, reference is made of the kartā of Indra (Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 4.17.4). Again the term vṛttāni is found, used in the plural form for the Vṛtta, the foe of Indra in several passages, which may also indicate the various images of Vṛtta. The Vedic gods were supposed to have two types of bodies: abstract and finite. Images were regarded as the temporary finite resting place of the abstract body. In a passage in the Atharvaveda (Atharvavedasaṃhitā, 7.31), the deity was worshipped by his worshippers to enter into the concrete body with his real body.  J.N. Banerjea has denied the matter and remarks that there was no place for imageworship in early Vedic religion. According to him, the anthropomorphic interpretation of the deities cannot be the proof of image worship of the deities, as even Yāska, in the discussion of the form of gods, clearly states them as apauruṣavidhāḥ. Again, in the Brāhmaṇas and the Sūtras also, yajñas are described in detail and there is no mention of the arcā and no record of temples or images worship.
Vratas occupied a specific place in the Purāṇic religion. The term vrata is used in the sense of religious undertaking or vow in which one has to observe certain restrictions about food or one’s general behaviour. Apte has mentioned that a vrata comprehends several items such as snāna, the morning prayer, sandhyā, saṅkalpa, homa, pūjā of the deity or deities in whose honour, or for securing whose favour, the vrata is undertaken, upavāsa, feeding of Brāhmaṇas, maiden or married women or the poor or helpless (according to the nature of the vrata), gifts (of cows, money, apparel, sweetmeats) and the observance of certain rules of conduct during the period of vrata. The matter becomes more clear with the observations of R.C. Hazra, according to whom, the main component parts of a vrata are generally selection of a proper tithi, determination of taking the vow, lying on the ground, bath, appointment of Brāhmaṇas as priest, muttering (japa), offering oblations to the fire (homa), fasting, abstinence (especially from food), making gifts, feeding Brāhmaṇas, keeping awake during the night and listening to tales, i.e. ākhyānaśravaṇa. On certain tithi, week day, month or other period, a vrata is observed for securing some desired object by the worship of a deity, usually accompanied by restrictions as to food and behaviour.
Ordaining the rules of vrata the Agnipurāṇa states that one who undertakes a vrata must always take a bath everyday, should subsist on a limited quantity of food, should worship and honour his guru, gods and Brāhmaṇas and should avoid kṣāra, i.e. saline, kṣaudra, i.e. species of honey, lavaṇa, i.e. salt, madhu, i.e. honey and māṃsa, i.e. meat:
The Purāṇic texts tried their best to popularise the vows. The Matsyapurāṇa prescribes the observance of vows without any discrimination. The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa states that, the vows along with the upavāsas and niyamas, are the boats to cross the deep ocean of hells. The vows are closely associated with the dānas. They are offered observing the vows or vratas, on occasion of funeral ceremonies, etc.
The Purāṇas glorify the greatness of gifts with the sayings that dānaṃ ekaṃ kalau yuge,  dānadharmāt paro dharmo bhūtānāṃ neha vidyate, etc. The making of gift is the only pity in the Kali age. The creatures have no other piety on earth than that of the dāna. By making gifts, one occupies health, wealth, a beautiful wife and children on earth and after death attains Brahmaloka, Viṣṇuloka, etc. The person, who never donates, becomes unable to get those things in the next world. The Purāṇic texts were familier with the great varieties of gifts. Along with the land, gold, silver, etc., Purāṇas mention about the gift of artificial cow, made of paddy, raw sugar (guḍa), seasamum, water, ghee, etc., of hillock, made of gold, silver, gems, salts, sesamum, ghee, sugar, cotton, etc.; of tulāpuruṣa, kalpapuruṣa, pādapa, kāmadhenu, horse, universe, earth, horse and chariot, elephant and chariot, five ploughs, kalpalatā, cows, etc., all made of gold; and so forth. The references are found in the Purāṇas of the process of making the guḍadhenudāna, i.e. the gift of a cow made of raw sugar, the dhānyācaladāna, i.e. the gift of a hillock made of paddy, etc. Among different dānas, the gift of food and the gifts to the Brāhmaṇas are regarded as the best.
The distribution of the food, particularly offered to the learned Brāhmaṇas is highly praised in the Purāṇas:
sarveṣāmeva dānānāmannaṃ śreṣṭhamudāhṛtam/
…prāṇā hyannaṃ manuṣyāṇāṃ tasmājjantuḥ prajāyate//
anne pratiṣṭhitā lokāstasmādannaṃ praśasyate/
…annasya hi pradānena svargamāpnoti mānavaḥ/
…nyāyenāvāptamannaṃ tu harṣa samanvitaḥ/
dvijebhyo vedavṛddhebhyo datvā pāpātpramucyate/
Among all gifts, the gift of food is superior to all; food is the life of men and from food all beings spring forth. The world is dependent on it and by the gift of food, man secures heaven. It makes the man free from sin also when given to the Brāhmaṇas, deeply learned in the Vedas.
The Purāṇas deal with the occasion of making the gifts according to which the great gifts should be made on the days of the Ayana, Viṣuvan, Vyatipāta, Dinakṣaya, Yugādi and Manvantaras, on Saṃkrānti, Vaidhṛti, Caturdaśī, Aṣṭamī, Śuklapañcadaśī, Parvan days, Dvādaśī, etc. According to their qualities or conditions, different kinds of recipients of gifts are introduced in the Purāṇas, e.g. Śrotriya (versed in Śruti), Kulīna (of high lineage), Vinīta (well disciplined), Vratastha (observing a vow), Tapasvin (practicing penance), etc.
Footnotes and references:
Vide. Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., p.5
Matsyapurāṇa, 144.61; Vāyupurāṇa, 56.68
Matsyapurāṇa, 141.61,62; Vā. P., 56.69-71
Vide, Hazra, R.C., Op cit., p.231
Vide, Goyal, S.R., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.73, fn.1
Matsyapurāṇa, 5.27; 53.61
Ibid., 67.15; Vi. P., 5.36.12
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 4.1.34; Vāyupurāṇa, 96.182
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 10.6.27-29; 63.10,11
Matsyapurāṇa, 10.1,35; 166.6; Vā. P., 42.78-81; 50.2-4
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 9.1.10; 6.6.25;Matsyapurāṇa, 172.5; 179.15; 253.27
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 10.2.11; Matsyapurāṇa, 93.16; 260.55-66
Brahmāṇḍa.P., 4.7.72; 44.59; Matsyapurāṇa, 13.32;172.19
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 3.12.13; Matsyapurāṇa, 58.26
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 10.8.14,19; Vāyupurāṇa, 1.148
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 1.10.29; Vi.P., 4.15.37
Matsyapurāṇa, 47.23; 93.51
Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 1.19.6; 5.3.6
Radhakrishnan, S., Op.cit., Vol. I, p. 49
Vide, Kane, P.V., Op.cit, Vol. V, Part-II, p. 959
Vide, Ibid., Vol. V, Part-II, p. 960
Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.127.5, 8.27.11
Vide, Goyal, S.R., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.91
cf., pṛthivyāṃ yāni tīrthāni puṇyānyāyatanāni ca/ tāni sarvāṇyavāpnoti viṣṇornāmakīrtanāt// Padma
Kane, P.V., Op. Cit., Vol. V, Part-II, p. 992
Matsyapurāṇa, 285.6,7; Varāhapurāṇa, 4.2; 48.17-22; 55.36,37 and so on.
Vide. Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-I, p.35
Goyal, S.R., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.117
Goyal, S.R., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.128
Vide, Ibid., p.50-51
Vide. Goyal, S.R., Vol. II, pp.129,130
Vide, Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-I, p.31
Vide, Hazra, R.C., Op.cit., p.240
Vide, Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-I, p. 28
Kūrmapurāṇa, 1.28.17; Vāyupurāṇa, 68.8
Padma P., 1.31.124
Vide, Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., p.247
Brahma P., 218.10-13,22-23