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Garuda Purana

For centuries, the purana stories of the ancient period, mythological lore have served the purpose of educating the masses, both in the religious and in the secular fields. Recitation and exposition of the puranas in temples and dharmasalas by a learned brahmana for the benefit of the masses was a common sight in the towns and villages of India, even hundred years ago.

Out of the eighteen mahapuranas all ascribed to the sage Vyasa the Garuda purana is listed as the seventeenth. It is said to have derived its name from the fact that Visnu taught it to Garuda at his request.

It comprises two parts: the Purvakhanda (with 240 chapters) and the Uttarakhanda. The latter again, is divided into two sections, called Pretakalpa (42 chapters) and Brahmakhanda (29 chapters).

The work is encyclopaedic in character. The contents of the two epics, as also of the Harivamsa have been retold here.

The topics dealt with in the Puravakhanda can be summarised as follows: creation of the world; worship of the deities Surya (the Sun-god), Siva, Devi, Ganesa, various aspects of Visnu and also his ayudhas or weapons; yoga or meditations based on the Vaisnava view-point; the sandhya ritual; architecture and town- planning; iconography; dana or gifts; varna asrama dharmas; sins and their expiations; geographical and cosmological description of the universe; various vratas or religious observances; the solar and the lunar races of kings; incarnations of Lord Visnu; Ayurveda or the science of medicine and surgery; Asvavidya or the science of horses; grammar, poetry and rhetoric; astangayoga (eightfold yoga); hymns on various aspects of Visnu as Narasimha or Acyuta; mantras and astrology.

The subjects discussed in the Pretakalpa are:

Exposition of dharma; causes for various kinds of births; way to the abode of Yama, the god of death; description of Yama's world and his affluent palace; rites connected with the death of a person; after-death ceremonies; various types of sraddhas: sapindikarana rite; Narayanabali rite; results of good and bad deeds of human beings.

The BrahmaKhanda deals with the following topics: procedure for saluting Srihari; the three gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas; unity of Brahma, Visnu and Siva; creation of the world; incarnations of Visnu and Laksmi; the salagrama stone; importance of many holy rivers; worship of Visnu and eulogy of dharma.

On the whole, this is a very useful work throwing light on several facets of Hindu religion, culture and social conditions.