1.1 In the religious tradition of India sruti (Vedas) and'
smrti (what is remembered by human teachers) are the two-
main branches of Sanskrit literature which are considered to
be the source and authority of the age old religion. Both of
them are described as the two commandments of God
Manu, while declaring two more in addition to these two
as the direct sources of dharma assigns the Vedas the first
place, which is to be regarded as superior to all others.
Smrti in the widest acceptance of the term "includes the
six vedangas, the sutras, both srauta and grhya, the law books
of Manu and others, the itihasa; i.e, the Mahabharata, and the.
Ramayana, the puranas, and the nitisastras,"
As the puranas come under smrti they are next only to
the Vedas in their authority to dharma. The puranas are also
regarded as the soul of the Vedas. (atma puranam vedanam).
Both itihasa and puranas are the supplement and complement
to the Vedas, and as such', the real meaning of .be Vedas is to
be interpreted With the help of itiasa and purana, without
the knowledge of which the meaning of the Vedas might
Historically speaking all the puranas are of later origin,
i.e. latter than the Vedas, and developed on what have been
adumbrated in the Vedas. Thus, 'he Puranas, in-a"Wide sense,
are the elaborate commentaries on the vedic tenets. It is why
itihasa and puranas are recommended for proper understand-
ing the meaning of the saying of the Vedas.
However, we come across with another traditional view
which holds that the puranas are older than the Vedas, .and
these came out from the mouth of Brahma before the Vedas
were emanated forth from him. Such an assertion, no doubt,
goes against the traditionally accepted order and seems to be
an anachronism. The significance of the saying may be traced
in the fact that the oral tradition of the puranas is as old, or
even older than the Vedas, Though the puranas were compiled
in historic time the oral tradition was handed down in the
society since time immemorial, which swelled with the passage
of time. In fact; some puranas seem to preserve certain pre-
Vedic traditions and rites.
The puranas are also regarded as the Vedas or the "fifth
Veda'. The Brhadaranyakopanisad says that puranas sprang
up from the remainder (ucchista) of Brahma after the destruc-
of tion the Universe.
reah samani chandamsi Puranam yajusa saha ,
ucchistaj-jajnire sarve divi deva divisrtah //
The Visnu-P.3, the Vayu.P.4 and the Brahmanda.P.5 speak
almost in the same tune that Vyasa produced the purana-
samhita out of the materials in the form of akhyaykas,
upakhyanas, gathas, and kalpajoktis (tradition handed down
since time immemorial). Puranas are recognised as a branch
of learning in the Brahmanas. The Satapatha.bra. speaks of
giving instruction on puranas to disciples by the teacher (atha
nayame'hani tan.upadisati puranam vedah 30'yamiti kimcit
The Gopatha-bra. also speaks about 'Itihasa-veda' and
Veda The divine origin ascribed to puranas and their
placement along with the Vedas are responsible for the recog-
nition of the puranas as vedangas. As such their study is regard.
ed as obligatory without which a person, even though well
versed in the Vedas is not considered as a skilful one'. The
Puranas for the ages have been the mines not only of mytho-
logy and cosmic theory of creation and destruction of the
world but also the fountain head of hopes and ideals for the
society, strength and inspiration of the people.
1.2. The puranas are encyclopedic in contents and exhaus-
tive in treatment of subjects. They are both the documents of
the socio- religious order of the contemporary society, and the
philosophy of life to the people of their time and to the
infuture generations. The Puranas used. to exercise tremendous
in fiuence on Indian. minds through the ages all over the
country, and even abroad, thus they used to serve as an
unifying force. The puranas are always popular with the
masses of this subcontinent because they are accessible and
intelligible to one and all, became: they disseminate knowledge
to the people of all strata of the. society tbrough• popular
myths and legends, which directly appeal to the human heart,
It is precisely not clear when the puranas have been formed
into a distinct class of literature and they have acquired.
certain characteristics as to their form. How these charac-
teristics have developed? When such characteristics came to
be regarded as essentials? To answer these questions the-
entire Purana literature is to be studied in chronological order.
There is no scope for such a study in this brief introduction
to this purana.
1.3.. The puranas with their unmistakable characteristics-
had been recognised as a distinct class of literature before
the compilation of the well known Sanskrit lexicon, Nama-
Iinganusasana by Amarasimha, who gives panca-laksana
(five characteristics) as the synonym of puranam (puranam
Ksirasvamin (11th cent. A.D,) in his commentary,
Amarodghatana, on Amarakosa (lst kanda) quotes the five
characteristics which a purana is to possess.
sargasca pratisargasca yamso manvaniarani ca/
vamsanucaritam caiya puranam panca-laksanam //
Presumably Ksirasvamin has taken this: verse from some
purana or puranas which had been codified long before him.
In eight of the aighteen puranas these five characteristics are
found mentioned. The Skanda.P. while stating those five
characteristics has introduced new elements such as the serial
order of the puranas, extension and the destruction of the
world, astronomy, etc'. H.T. Colebrooke in his edition of the
Amarakosa states on pancalaksana.
"Our theogony, comprising past and future events, under
five heads: tbe creation; the destructicn and the recreation
of the worlds; genealogy. of gods and heroes; the reigns of
Manus; and 'he transaction of their descendants".
M. Winterint his History of Indian Literature
observes on this point:
“Every purana. is to have five characteristics (panca-
laksana) that is to treat five subjects These five things only
partly form the contents banded down to us; some contain
much more than what is included in the 'five characteristics',
while others scarcely touch upon these subjects, but deal with
quite different things. What is significant almost all our
puranas, their sectarian character, i.e. their being dedicated
to some god or other, or, Visnu, is completely ignored by the
old definition. (Vol. I. p.522). H.H. Wilson in the preface
to his English translation of the Visnupurana (pp;. V-VI)
observed thus :
"The lexicon of Amarasimha gives as a synonym of purana,
'panca-laksana' that which has five characteristics". However,
Wilson goes on pointing out that non-adherence to these
-characteristics by majority. of the puro11a3 and asserts that
Visnu•p. alone may claim the distinction of conforming to
these characteristics. "such, at any rate, were the constituent
and characteristic portions of a purana in the days of Amara-
simha, fifty•six years hefore the Chrisfian era, and if the
puranas had undergone no change since his time, such as we
expect to find them all. Do they conform to the description?
Not exactly in anyone instance; to some it is utterly inapplic-
able; to others it only partially applies. There is not one to
which it belongs so entirely as to the Visnu.P., and it is one of
the circumstances which gives to this work a more authentic
character than most of its fellow can pretend".
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