Sunday, 3 March 2013

Puranas - The History Manuals of Ancient India

यो विद्याच्चतुरो वेदान्ताङ्गोपनिषदो द्विजः | न चेत्पुराणं संविद्यान्नैव स स्याद्विचक्षणः ||

"The Dvija who knows the Vedas with it's Angas and Upanishads cannot be called a proficient person unless he has thoroughly studied the Puranas. "

Perhaps the above verse tells why the Puranas are so important for knowing the Indian History. The descriptive information of our ancient world with it's kings,sages, kingdoms and all the important events occur in the Puranas. The additive thing is, all this was transmitted orally. 
Perhaps this is the reason why Puranas hold such a special position in our scriptures. 

The Matsya Purana describes the following 5 characteristics or Pancha- Lakshana of Puranas- 
  1. Sarga - Regarding the creation of universe from the Virat Purush.
  2. Pratisarga- The other creations of the divine.
  3. Vansha- Regarding the genealogies of sages.
  4. Manvantara- Description of various Manus and Manvantara.
  5. Vanshanucharita- The description of Surya and Chandra Vansha.
For history students, the last 3 Lakshanas matter the most. These are the proper historical descriptions from where we get the info about the different sages, kings and their stories. 

Just think about this, how much of the above information is given properly in the Vedas ? Very few. Perhaps without Itihasa and Puranas, we wouldn't have known to which vansh did Ram or Krishna belong, or where were their kingdoms situated. Imagine the darkness around us if we didn't know even the basic info about our own Gods.
That is why it is said - इतिहासपुराणंच पञ्चमो वेद उच्यते | or Itihasa and Puranas are rightfully called the 5th Veda. 

Many a times questions are asked, Puranas have proven antiquity but what about authenticity ? So can we furnish any proof saying that the contents of Puranas are original and not or have just been shuffled ?
The answer lies in the genuine tradition of Puranas. Puranas are composed majorly by Ved Vyasa during the Mahabharata era around 3000 BC. But the information of kings and sages can go as back as 8000 BC. So technically, Vyasa was describing about the events and people in his Puranas who lived 5000 years before him..! But from where did he get this information ?
The answer is, the Suta,Magadha and Stutipathak tradition. These were bards in the court of every king who used to record every event and pass it through generations. The earliest evidence of the existence of Suta, Magadha and Stutipathak goes to the era of king Prithu, almost 110 generations before Vyasa. From that time, we have these bards collecting information and passing on through generations. 
In the Mahabharata era, we have this information split into various bards in different kingdoms. This information was collected together by Vyasa and compiled in the Puranas. Thus the Puranas became a full fledged books which contained the names, genealogies and stories of different kings and sages. That is why, it is mere waste of time doubting the authenticity of Puranas.
Also go through my 1 yr old post of Credibility of Puranas

As for a formality, the general information on Puranas is thus- 
There are 18 Maha Puranas namely Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Agni, Garuda, Narada, Linga, Matsya, Bhagvata, Vishnu, Kurna, Varaha, Bhavishya, Vamana,Markandeya, Padma, Shiva and Skanda.
There are 18 Upa Puranas too.
The combined verses of the 18 Maha Puranas totals upto 4000000 i.e 4 Lakhs ..!!!
The Skanda Purana is the largest with 81000 verses thus making it the third largest scripture in Hinduism after Mahabharata and Yoga Vasishtha.

For a reader, we shouldn't take only 1 Purana. Consider the 18 Puranas as one book. The reason for this is, the information is scattered into various Puranas. Thus only the name of X king appears in one, his story in other and his genealogy in the third. For a complete view. we need to look in all the Puranas.

Technically, Puranas also have incomplete information. But we should be grateful that we have at least the present information. Some of the stories are intangible. But still, the crux and the central ideas are to be taken. Through these years of propagation, there is some corruption in names or contexts. But that is an obvious effect after almost 5000 years of propagation from 3000 BC till now. 
But sitting here, using the Puranas, I am able to tell who was my ancestor some 250 generations back. It was Swayambhuva Manu..!!

Puranas also contain some religious stuff like information on different pilgrimage sites, stories of Gods and their description and above all, brilliant philosophy that parallels with that of Bhagvad Geeta. The dialogues of Krishna with his colleagues, speeches of kings,etc are filled with deep philosophical thought. Bhagvata Purana is considered the best among the Puranas.
Plus, the Puranas are classified after the sects they belong to i.e Shaiv, Vaishnava and Brahma. We get brilliant knowledge and spiritual guidance.

At last, the Puranas complement the Vedas and make them complete. As Narada rishi says,

वेदाःप्रतिष्ठितादेवि पुराणैर्नात्नसंशयः |
"Without any doubt, the Puranas increase the reputation of the Vedas."

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