Puranas are almost like an encyclopaedia listing the human achievements in this part of the world till the time they were edited or compiled. In every cycle of time the master editor called Vedavyas emerges to edit, vet and compile these records. Their significance is enormous even in the present, as they give a peep into the distant past of Hindus when the world was evolving and the psyche of the race was being formed. These Puranas record the arguments that make us to decide as to what is holy and what is vile; what is good and what is bad. By going through them we can compare our present day jurisprudence vis-à-vis the ancient norms. A Part from that, they are a huge store-house of information conceiving every subject under the sun. It is with the view of unearthing these gems that the present series of the puranas has been planned.
Garuda Purana is one of the most sacred Mahapuranas for the devout Hindus. It gains importance because of a single factor : It is the only Purana which gives a detailed description of the postmortem conditions and rituals as believed by this faith. However, it is a belief as spread by the dogmatic priestly class. The fact is that the Garuda Purana contains many more details other than these. It reveals the consequences of an action in a very graphic and logical way. While most of the puranas tell one what to do, it also tells us what one should not do!
This Purana will answer all your queries related to deliverance and salvation. You will be more informed on the body’s emancipation after death.
Since this Purana throws in so much of information in the narration, while containing the narration as in the text, a separate chapter called ‘Interlude’ has also been sandwiched to make the reference of other non-death relation - details more comprehensible. Copious foot-notes have been given to help the uninitiated learn and appreciate the details in the right perspective. In the end, the 1000 names of Lord Vishnu have also been appended, because it is believed that since this Purana reveals the grim reality of this mortal world in a most uninhibitive manner - that is death - the reader may derive solace by chanting these holy names.
Lastly, the translator-cum-interpretor wants to share his gratitude with Narendra ji of Diamond Books for taking up such a daring project with his readers. May Lord Vishnu shower his grace upon all of us.
The Garuda Purana has come to the so thickly linked with the post-mortem ceremonies among the Hindus that it has perhaps never been studied as a Purana deserving a separate study. The traditional Hindus must have heard it only in the hours of some personal grief and sorrow. Its association with the post-mortem rituals has been so strong that the general belief is that he who needs it in his normally happy time might suffer some personal sorrow. The traditional and obscurant priestly class has deliberately woven a taboo around it, perhaps for the reason of its individual benefit! In the absence of its getting a chance of being read independently, the priests are likely to say the last word about it. And they have succeeded to a great extent in having this rare Purana projection as some jinxed tome - to be touched and interpreted only by those greedy priests. Thanks to the inquisitive mind of the NRI’s younger generation which started questioning the relevance of these rituals which apparently looked absurd to them since they didn’t know the rationale behind them. This work tries to explain the relevance and provides a fillip to the apparent illogicality.
Most of the times, it is asked as to why such horrendous details have been given which appear downright reprehensible. Why this vivid description of the hells and why this elaboration on the punishments for different crimes? But when the people raise such questions, they forget one basic fact of human psychology. The whole idea behind this lucid details’ description is to raise the fear against committing a wrong and unrighteous act. The recitation of this Purana after a person’s death in the traditional Hindu households is recommended only for instilling this fear in the hearts of the listeners, so that even if they are on the wrong track, they may still mend their ways. It is the negative way of leading the persons to the righteous track. Furthermore, the details of the hells and the punishment don’t appear to be entirely without a sense of logic. If one usurps another’s share in money, in the next birth he is likely to be a pauper himself. This is in fact, what is called the ‘poetic justice’. So, even if one may not believe in the certitude of the consequences of a wrong action, the logic inherent in these descriptions may convince the people of treading only the recommended path.
In fact, this is the basic thought behind all these Puranas. Although the word ‘Purana’ & originally means ‘ancient’ or ‘old narrative’, long before the beginning of the Christian Era, it designated a class of books dealing among other matters, with old-world stories and legends of India. The purpose of compiling these into the form of the tomes was to make the ancient thinking process, its norms of righteous conduct etc available to the subsequent generation, so that with the past experiences and present observations, the ethos of the people of a particular region could be developed. Through the narration of various anecdotes and legends it is repeatedly hammered on the people’s pysche as to what is good and what is bad. The stories, epilogues and the parables in the Puranic texts, were put together, but not for the purpose of furnishing a chronologically accurate history. It should be borne in mind that these were composed to furnish the living examples and models of virtues. Though each Purana exalts a particular deity, it must be noted that the catholicity and the uniformity of the Hindus approach to the Supreme Reality is affirmed at every turn.
One word about why Lord Vishnu chose to reveal these details of the post-mortem rituals or ceremonies to Garuda, his mount who was (and is) not likely to face them as this Great Bird is also said to be immortal. Perhaps, Lord Vishnu chose Garuda because the latter has access to every realm, whether it was a hill or heaven - the sublime Vaikuntha lok, or the dreadful Patal lok. Since Garuda is the source of this Purana, it is generally believed that be might have as well checked all these details himself, before passing them on to the sages from whom Vedavyas received’ them and compiled them in the form of the books. This way it bears a sort of authenticity from the competent authorities.
Secondly, in their description of the negative human aspects, one can also gauge the extent of human depravity. One may be amazed to learn that though this Purana was compiled millennia ago, it contains every conceivable crime that human beings could commit, right from the most lowly incest to even sodomy.
All told, even though the apparent garb of the myths may look absurd and ludicrous, the essence lying with it is quite enlightening and educative. Since this Purana deals more in ‘don’ts’ and by inference on ‘dos’, it forms the moral code for developing the penal system for all classes of people. It reveals the logic of the moral working at the back of this ancient culture. Of course, there may have been very many interpretations, but they reveal, in the final analysis, the importance attached to these Puranas, which reveal what we have been and what we aspire to be.
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