Sanskrit writings about primordial times; part of the sacred
literature of Hinduism. Tradition
attributes the Puranas to Vyasa, a semilegendary rishi,
or sage, purportedly the compiler also of the Veda and the
epic poem Mahabharata. Scholars, however, regard the Puranas
as having been compiled by many hands between the 4th and
the 16th centuries AD.
all, there are 18 great Puranas (many more subordinate works,
and some modern ones, dealing with primordial times also
are known as Puranas). All are written in verse, are represented
as being divinely or supernaturally transmitted, and take
the form of a dialogue between an interpreter and an inquirer.
They vary in length from about 10,000 couplets each to more
than 81,000 couplets; the 18 Puranas are said to contain,
collectively, about 400,000 couplets.
Purana is devoted largely to one of the three Hindu gods;
each is also characteristically pantheistic, telling of
other gods as well. Thus, six are devoted primarily to Brahma,
six others to Shiva, and the remaining
six to Vishnu. On the whole, Vishnu
is probably the most prominent.
to tradition, each Purana is supposed to deal with five
topics; this subject matter marks the Puranas as genuine
and sets them all apart from other writings. The five distinguishing
topics are the creation of the universe; the destruction
and re-creation of the universe, including the history of
humankind; the genealogy of the gods and holy sages; the
reigns of the Manus; and the history of the lunar and solar
Puranas date from a later time than the Veda
and the epics and thus represent a different stage of Hinduism,
in which the Vedic and epic concepts and legends concerning
the Hindu pantheon gradually were transformed according
to the sectarian tendencies of the masses.
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