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The Puranas

The Puranas are of the same class as the Itihasas. They have five characteristics (Panch-Lakshana):

1. History
2. Cosmology (with various symbolical illustrations of philosophical principles)
3. Secondary creation
4. Genealogy of kings
5. Manavantaras

All the Puranas belong to the class of Suhrit-Samhitas.

Vyasa is the compiler of the Puranas from age to age; and for this age, he is Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, the son of Parasara.

The Puranas were written to popularise the religion of the Vedas. They contain the essence of the Vedas. The aim of the Puranas is to impress on the minds of the masses the teachings of the Vedas and to generate in them devotion to God, through concrete examples, myths, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories and chronicles of great historical events. The sages made use of these things to illustrate the eternal principles of religion. The Puranas were meant, not for the scholars, but for the ordinary people who could not understand high philosophy and who could not study the Vedas.

The Darsanas are very stiff. They are meant only for the learned few. The Puranas are meant for the masses with inferior intellect. Religion is taught in a very easy and interesting way through these Puranas. Even to this day, the Puranas are popular. The Puranas contain the history of remote times. They also give a description of the regions of the universe not visible to the ordinary physical eye. They are very interesting to read and are full of information of all kinds. Children hear the stories from their grandmothers, Pandits and Purohits (priests) hold Katha’s in temples, on banks of rivers and in other important places. Agriculturalists, labourers and bazaar people (common masses) hear the stories.

There are eighteen main Puranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas. The main Puranas are:

1.Vishnu Purana, 2. Naradiya Purana, 3. Srimad Bhagavata Purana,

4.Garuda (Suparna) Purana, 5. Padma Purana, 6. Varah Purana,

7. Brahma Purana, 8.Brahmanda Purana, 9. Brahma Vaivarta Purana,

10. Markandeya Purana, 11. Bhavishya Purana, 12. Vamana Purana,

13. Matsya Purana, 14. Kurma Purana, 15.Linga Purana,

16. Siva Purana, 17. Skanda Purana and 18. Agni Purana.

Of these:

Six are Sattvic Puranas and glorify Vishnu;
Six are Rajasic Puranas and glorify Brahma;
Six are Tamasic Puranas and glorify Shiva.

Neophytes or beginners in the spiritual path are puzzled when they go through Shiva Purana and Vishnu Purana. In Shiva Purana, Lord Siva is highly eulogised, and an inferior position is given to Lord Vishnu. Sometimes Vishnu is belittled. In Vishnu Purana, Lord Hari (Vishnu) is highly eulogised and the inferior status is given to Lord Siva. Sometimes Lord Siva is belittled. This is only to increase the faith of the devotees in their particular Ishta-Devata (favourite or tutelary deity). Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are one.

The best among the Puranas are the Shrimadh Bhagavata and the Vishnu Purana. The most popular is the Shrimadh Bhagavata Purana. Next comes Vishnu Purana. A portion of the Markandeya Purana is well known to all Hindus as Chandi, or Devimahatmya. Worship of God as the Divine Mother is its theme. Chandi is read widely by the Hindus on sacred days and Navaratri (Durga Puja) days.

Shrimadh Bhagavata Purana and the Ten Avataras

The Shrimadh Bhagavad Purana is a chronicle of the various Avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are ten Avataras of Vishnu. The aim of every Avatara is to save the world from some great danger, to destroy the wicked and protect the virtuous.

The ten Avataras are: Matsya (the Fish), Kurma (the Tortoise), Varaha (the Boar), Narasimha (the Man-Lion), Vamana (the Dwarf), Parsurama (Rama with the axe, the destroyer of the Kshatriya race), Ramachandra (the hero of Ramayana, the son of King Dasharatha; Sri Rama who destroyed Ravana), Sri Krishna (the teacher of the Bhagavad Gita), Buddha (the prince-ascetic and the founder of Buddhism), and Kalki (the hero riding on a white horse, who is still to come at the end of the Kali-Yuga).

The objective of the Matsya (Fish) Avatara was to save Vaivasvata Manu from destruction by a deluge.

The objective of Kurma (Tortoise) Avatara was to enable the world to recover some precious things that were lost in the deluge. The Kurma gave its back for keeping (supporting) the churning rod when the gods and the Asuras (demons) churned the ocean of milk.

The purpose of Varaha Avatara was to rescue from the waters, the earth which had been dragged down by a demon named Hiranyaksha.

The purpose of Narasimha Avatara, half lion and half man, was to free the world from the oppression of Hiranyakasipu, a demon, the father of Bhakta Prahlada.

The objective of Vamana Avatara was to restore the power of the gods which had been eclipsed by the penance and devotion of King Bali.

The objective of Parasurama Avatara was to deliver the country from the oppression of the Kshatriya rulers. Parasurama destroyed the Kshatriya race twenty-one times.

The objective of Rama Avatara was to destroy the wicked Ravana.

The objective of Sri Krishna Avatara was to destroy Kamsa and other demons, to deliver His wonderful message of the Gita in the Mahabharata war, and to become the centre of the Bhakti Schools of India.

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