Vishnudharmottara Purana (Art and Architecture)

by Bhagyashree Sarma | 2021 | 59,457 words

This page relates ‘A General Note on Puranas’ of the study on the elements of Art and Architecture according to the Vishnudharmottara Purana: an ancient text whose third book deals with various artisan themes such as Architecture, Painting, Dance, Grammar, etc. Many chapters are devoted to Hindu Temple architecture and the iconography of Deities and their installation rites and ceremonies.

1. A General Note on Purāṇas

The Purāṇic literature gives a huge contribution in the development of Indian literature and it is regarded as the vast genre of Indian literature which comprises a wide range of subject matters such as Astrology, Astronomy, Medicine, Cosmology, Theology, Philosophy, Literature, Grammar, Art, Architecture, Iconography, etc. All these subject matters are generally depicted through stories and narratives in lucid style in the purāṇas. The simplicity of the stories and legends of purāṇas always helps the reader get the ideas of different aspects of literature very easily. In this regard the views of Mammaṭa reflected in his Kāvyaprakāśa can be traced where it is said that the purāṇas always teach like a friend.[1] The word purāṇa generally means old narrative or ancient legend—purāṇam ākhyānam.[2] Purāṇas are the only species of Indian literature which claims a great antiquity next to the Vedas.[3] But long before, at the beginning of the Christian era, it also came to be used as the designation of a class of books dealing, among other matters, with old-world stories and legends.[4]

In the Śabdakalpadruma, the word purāṇa is explained as that which belongs to past.[5] In the Nirukta of Yāska, the definition of purāṇa is found as—purā navaṃ bhavati.[6] It means purāṇa is that, which turned to be new even in the days of yore. The importance of purāṇa in the modern age can be assumed on the basis of the definition of purāṇa given by Yāska as it becomes new and fresh and can be connected even in the modern days. The Purāṇic literature gets its root in the Vedic literature as many of the legends of purāṇas are taken from Vedic hymns and Brāhmaṇas. It reminds us of the great dictum that the Veda has been expanded through itihāsa and purāṇa.[7] The great scholar M. Winternitz also agrees on it in his book A History of Indian Literature. [8]

According to the Matsyapurāṇa[9] and the Vāyupurāṇa[10], there are five characteristic features of purāṇas. These are—

  1. sarga i.e., creation,[11]
  2. pratisarga i.e., recreation,
  3. vaṃsa i.e., lineage,[12]
  4. manvantara i.e., the period or age of a Manu[13] and
  5. vaṃśānucarita i.e., the history of a dynasty or family[14].

Tradition accepts eighteen Mahāpurāṇas and eighteen Upapurāṇas. But in some purāṇas viz. the Matsyapurāṇa[15] the Nāradapurāṇa[16] etc., it is mentioned that originally there was only one purāṇa and it was composed by Vyāsa. It is also a noteworthy fact here, that the lists of eighteen Mahāpurāṇas and eighteen Upapurāṇas are not same everywhere, as some names are dropped in some references whereas some are included in others.

According to the Matsyapurāṇa, the list of eighteen Mahāpurāṇas goes as follows-

  1. Brahmapurāṇa,
  2. Padmapurāṇa,
  3. Viṣṇupurāṇa,
  4. Vāyupurāṇa,
  5. Bhāgavatapurāṇa,
  6. Nāradapurāṇa,
  7. Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa,
  8. Agnipurāṇa,
  9. Bhaviṣyapurāṇa,
  10. Brahmavaivartapurāṇa,
  11. Liṅgapurāṇa,
  12. Varāhapurāṇa,
  13. Skandapurāṇa,
  14. Vāmanapurāṇa,
  15. Kūrmapurāṇa,
  16. Matsyapurāṇa,
  17. Garuḍapurāṇa and
  18. Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa. [17]

But some controversies in connection with the list provided by the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, the Viṣṇupurāṇa and the Matsyapurāṇa. The Bhāgavatapurāṇa[18] and the Viṣṇupurāṇa[19] include the Śivapurāṇa in the list of eighteen Mahāpurāṇas and exclude the Vāyupurāṇa from it whereas, the Matsyapurāṇa accepts Vāyupurāṇa instead of Śivapurāṇa as Mahāpurāṇa. The list of the Kūrmapurāṇa excludes the Agnipurāṇa and includes the Vāyupurāṇa in the list of Mahāpurāṇas. The Agnipurāṇa omits Śivapurāṇa, and includes the Vāyupurāṇa in the list of Mahāpurāṇas. Again, the Barāhapurāṇa excludes the Garuḍapurāṇa and Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa and keeps the Vāyupurāṇa and the Narasiṃhapurāṇa in the list of Mahāpurāṇas. So, it can be noticed that, except the Vāyuapurāṇa and the Śivapurāṇa, the names of the Mahāpurāṇas are similar in almost all the purāṇas. R.C Hazra accepts seven purāṇas, viz., Mārkaṇḍeya, Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Viṣṇu, Matsya, Bhāgavata and Kūrma as major purāṇas in his work Studies in the Purāṇic Records, as they belong to earlier dates and contain older materials.[20]

The Upapurāṇas can be considered as the supplements of the Mahāpurāṇas as those are mostly based on the Mahāpurāṇas. The Saurapurāṇa considers the Upapurāṇas as khilas i.e., supplements[21] and states as- upapurāṇānāṃ khilatvāllakṣaṇaṃ smṛtam.[22] In support of it R. C. Hazra states that the purāṇas are called Upapurāṇas as they are supposed to have been declared by the sages after hearing the Mahāpurāṇas from Vyāsa or some trustworthy authorities.[23] The lists of Upapurāṇas are also uncertain like the lists of Mahāpurāṇas.

According to the Kūrmapurāṇa, the names of Upapurāṇas are-

  1. Ādyapurāṇa,
  2. Narasiṃhapurāṇa,
  3. Skāndapurāṇa,
  4. Śivadharmapurāṇa,
  5. Durvāsasoktapurāṇa,
  6. Nāradīyapurāṇa,
  7. Kāpilapurāṇa,
  8. Mānavapurāṇa,
  9. Uśanaseritapurāṇa,
  10. Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa,
  11. Vāruṇapurāṇa,
  12. Kālikāpurāṇa,
  13. Māheśvarapurāṇa,
  14. Sāmbapurāṇa,
  15. Saurapurāṇa,
  16. Parāśaroktapurāṇa,
  17. Mārīcapurāṇa and
  18. Bhārgavapurāṇa.[24]

The Devībhāgavatapurāṇa and the Ekāmrapurāṇa share similar list of Upapurāṇas which includes-

  1. Bṛhannarasiṃhapurāṇa,
  2. Bṛhadvaiṣṇavapurāṇa,
  3. Garūḍapurāṇa,
  4. Bṛhannāradīyapurāṇa,
  5. Nāradīyapurāṇa,
  6. Prabhāsakapurāṇa,
  7. Līlāvatīpurāṇa,
  8. Devīpurāṇa,
  9. Kālikāpurāṇa,
  10. Ākhetakapurāṇa,
  11. Bṛhannāradipurāṇa,
  12. Nandīkeśvarapurāṇa,
  13. Ekāmrapurāṇa,
  14. Ekapādapurāṇa,
  15. Laghūbhāgavatapurāṇa,
  16. Mṛtyuñjayapurāṇa,
  17. Śāmbapurāṇa and
  18. Aṅgīrasakapurāṇa.

R.C. Hazra mentions approximately twenty three lists from different sources regarding the names of the eighteen Upapurāṇas.[25] Actually, though the numbers of Upapurāṇas are specified as eighteen, there are many important Upapurāṇas which are excluded from the lists of Upapurāṇas given by different sources. Among those important Upapurāṇas the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa is a remarkable one as it is encyclopedic in nature. A brief discussion on this great work is done here.

Footnotes and references:


…..suhṛtsammitārthatātparyavatpurāṇādītihāsebhyaśca……/ Kāvyaprakāśa, p.3


M. Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature, Vol. 1, p. 496


R.C Hazra, Studies in the Purāṇic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, p.1


S.K. De, The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. 2, p. 240


purā bhavamiti / Śabdakalpadruma, vol-3, p.179


Nirukta, 3.19


itihāsapurāṇābhyāṃ vedaṃ samupavṛṃhayet/ Mahābhārata, 1.1.204


M.Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature, Vol.1, p.495


Matsyapurāṇa, 53.64


sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṃśo manvantarāṇi ca/ vaṃśyānucaritaṃ caiva purāṇaṃ pañcalakṣaṇam// Vāyupurāṇa, 4.11


V.S Apte, The Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p.593


Ibid., p.486


Ibid., p.424


Ibid., p.486


purāṇamekamevāsīt tadā kalpāntare/ Matsyapurāṇa, 53.4


Nāradapurāṇa, 1.12.22


Matsyapurāṇa, 53.12-55


Bhāgavatapurāṇa, 12.7.23-24


Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.6


R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol.1, p.8


V.S Apte, The Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p.176


Saurapurāṇa, 9.5


R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol.1, p.16


Kūrmapurāṇa, 1.17-20


R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol.1, p.4

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