The Puranas are the richest collection of mythology in the world. The Puranas deal with many religious and moral matters of importance, and document Hindu religious concerns from about 400 to 1000 CE.
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 Puranas are a class of literary texts, all written in Sanskrit verse. There are eighteen main Puranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas.Below is the list of main Puranas –
The Brahma Purana –
This is in the form of teachings by Brahma to Daksha. This contains twenty-five thousand verses. This is called Adi Purana also. There is a special treatise in this book on Orissa, an ancient holy region of Bharata. There is in this a special annexure explaining the intimacy between Shiva and Surya which is a deviation from other Puranas. Brahma Purana states about a suryakshetra (sun-temple) situated at a place called Konarka near the holy place of Puri, installed there in the year 1241 A.D. If this Purana along with Jaladhenu is given as a gift on the full-moon day in the month of Vais akha (May) the donor will attain heaven.
The Padma Purana –
This book is divided into six Khandas comprising fifty-five thousand verses. The six Khandas are Srustikhanda, Bhumikhanda, Svargakhanda, Patalakhanda, Uttarakhanda and Kriyayogasara. The Uttarakhanda describes the importance of all months and also the lotus, the seat of Brahma. This contains the stories of Sakuntala and Sri Rama as described by Kalidasa in his works Sakuntala and Raghuvamsa which has made some believe that this Purana was written after Kalidasa. If this Purana is given as gift with a cow in the month of Jyestha (June) it brings prosperity. Contains the glory of Srimad-Bhagavatam; the stories of Rama, Jagannatha, Matsya, Ekadasi, Bhrgu, etc.
The Vishnu Purana – This is one of the most important of all the Puranas. This contains the five technical divisions of the Puranas. This is divided into six adisas. This deals with the events of Varahakalpa and contains twenty-three thousand slokas. The theme is the ten incarnations of MahaVishnu. Vishnu Purana is the most ancient of all the Puranas and has got the name Puranaratna (gem of Puranas). The method of narration is in the form of teaching his disciple Maitreya by sage Parasara. Since there is a reference in it to the Maurya dynasty it is to be surmised that this was composed in the first or second century A.D. The narrator himself states thus: “Vyasa an adept in the compositon of Puranas’ composed this Puranasarirhita with akhyanas, Upikhyanas, githas and Kalpanirnayas. A Suta named Romaharsana was Vyasa’s chief disciple. The broad-minded Vyasa gave that samhita to that suta. Romaharsana had six disciples named Sumati, Agnivarcas, Mitrayus. S`arhsapiyana, Akrtavrana, and Savarni. Of these Akrtavrana, Savarni and 8arirsapayana born in the Kasyapagotra have composed Puranasamhitas. There is yet another sarirhita composed by komaharsana which was the basis of the sarirhitas of his three disciples. I have composed Vishnupurana basing on the above four samhitas.” If a man gives as gift a book of Vishnu Purana on the full moon day in the month of asadha (July) with Jaladhenu he will attain Vishnupada. Stories of various devotees; a description of varnasrama; the six angas of the Veda; a description of the age of Kali; description of Sveta-Varaha Kalpa, Vishnu dharmotara.
The Bhavishya Purana-This is what is told to Manu by Surya (Sun). This contains statements about future events. The book praises the worship of Surya (Sun), Agnes (fire) and Naga (serpent). There is an annexure dealing with the several holy places of Bharata and the rights of pilgrims. The book contains fourteen thousand verses and it is considered to be uttama (best) to give this book along with treacle as a gift to a brahmin on the full-moon day in the month of Pausha (January). Contains the glories of devotional service; prediction of Lord Chaitanya.
The Bhagavata Purana –
This is the most popular and widely circulated of all the Puranas. It is dear to Visnu-devotees. Divided into twelve Skandhas this contains eighteen thousand shlokas. All the incarnations of Visnu are described in this. The most interesting Skandha is the tenth Skandha in which the author has described the life and activities of Sri Krishna. There was once a belief that it was Baladeva who lived in the thirteenth century A.D. that had composed this Purana. But this belief was smashed when it was found that Valialasena of Bengal who lived in the eleventh century A.D. had made references to this Purana in some of his works. Bhagavata accepts Kapila and Buddha as incarnations of Vishnu. The Bhagavatam has been translated into all Indian languages. This book has to be given as gift on the fullmoon day in the month of Prosthapada (September). Agni Purana instructs that this book is to be given along with a golden image of a lion.
The Shiva Purana –
The Shiva Purana has twenty-four thousand shlokas. These are divided into six samhitas or sections. This purana narrates the stories connected with Lord Shiva.
The Markandeya Purana –
This is one of the ancient Puranas. There are many stories regarding Indra, Surya and Agni in this. This includes a division called Devimahatmya containing praises about the goddess Durga. This contains nine thousand verses and it is considered as uttama (best) to give this book as a gift to a brahmin on a full-moon day in the month of Karttika (November). Stories of Rama and Krishna are also present.
The Agni Purana – This Purana was instructed to the sage Vasishtha by Agnideva. There are several references in this to Shivalinga and Durgadevi. The incarnations of Rama and Krishna are also dealt with in this. Distinct from other Puranas this book deals with arts and science like Kavyalankaranatakas (Poems, dramas, figures of speech), Jyotish shastra (Astronomy) and Shilpakala (architecture). This Purana is capable of imparting knowledge on all arts and sciences.
The Brahmavaivarta Purana –
This was instructed to Savarnika by Narada. The theme is the story of Rathantara. There are four kandas in this Purana called Brahma-kanda, Prakrtikanda, Ganesa-kanda and Krsnajanma-kanda. This deals with Prapancasrsti (creation of the universe). It says that Prapanca is nothing but the Vaivarta (transformation) of Brahman. It is considered to be holy to give this book containing eighteen thousand verses as a gift on the full-moon day in the month of Magha (February).Contains the glories and pastimes of Radha and Krishna.
The Linga Purana –
This contains instructions of Shiva on Dharma sitting in the form of linga (Phallus). The twenty-eight different forms of Siva are described in this. This contains twelve thousand verses and if this book is given as a gift to a brahmin with tiladhenu on the full-moon day in the month of Phalguna (March) the donor will attain Shivasayujya. Contains the glory of Lord Nrismhadeva; Janardhana; the story of Ambarisha; the glories of Gayatri.
The Varaha Purana –
The mode of narration is in the form of narrating the story by Varaha, the third incarnation of Vishnu. The theme is about holy places and mantras. It states that the goddess of earth prayed to Mahavishnu and that prayer took the form of a goddess. This book contains fourteen thousand verses. If one copies down this Purana and gives it as gift along with a golden image of Garuda on the full-moon day in the month of Caitra (April) one will attain Vishnuloka. Describes different vratas; Lord Vishnu’s glories.
The Skanda Purana –
This Purana is narrated by Skanda. The theme is the slaughter of the demon Tarakasura by Skanda (Subrahmanya). There is a great similarity between this Purana and the Kumarasambhava of Kalidasa. There are eighty-four thousand verses in this Purana and giving this book as a gift is thought to be good.
The Vamana Purana – There is a great similarity between the contents of this Purana and that of Varaha Purana. All the incarnations of Vishnu from Vamana downwards are described in this Purana. The scene of Shiva marrying Parvati is vividly described in this book. This Purana contains ten thousand verses and it is considered to be uttama (best) to give this book as a gift in the autumn season or at the time of Visuva to a Brahmin. Contains the story of Lord Trivikrama.
The Kurma purana –
This Purana is taught by Kurmamurti (incarnation of Visnu as Kurma (tortoise) while narrating the story of Indradyumna at Patala. All the seven islands and seven oceans are described in this book. Bharata is situated in the centre of all these and is called Jambudvipa. Though it is believed that there were four samhitas for this, only the Brahma-samhita is available now. It includes varagita and Vyasagita. The book is to be given as gift along with a golden image of tortoise. Contains the conversation between Krishna and the Sun-god (mentioned in Bhagavad-gita); Danvantari; Describes the Lakshmi Kalpa.
The Matsya Purana – This Purana was taught to Manu by Matsya, the incarnation of Vishnu, The incarnation of Matsya is dealt in this. Several subjects like Jainamata (religion of Jainism), Buddhamata (Buddhism), Natyasastra (histrionics) and Andhraraja-vamsa (kingdom and Kings of Andhra) are discussed in this book. The book contains thirteen thousand verses and this is to be given as gift along with a golden image of a fish at the time of Visuva. Temple construction; describes Vamana and Varaha Kalpas.
The Garuda Purana – This is in the form of instructions to Garuda by Vishnu. This deals with astronomy, medicine, grammar, and with the structure and qualities of diamonds. This Purana is dear to Vaishnavites. The latter half of this Purana deals with life after death. The Hindus of north-India generally read this Purana while cremating the bodies of the dead. This has given great importance to the origin of Garuda. There are eight thousand verses in this book. This book should be given as gift along with an image in gold of a swan to get prosperity. Subject of Bhagavad-gita; reincarnation; vishnu-sahasranama; description of Tarsya Kalpa.
The Brahmanda Purana – This deals with the origin of the universe as told by Brahma. In the beginning there was a golden egg and the prapanca (universe with its activities) was formed out of it. Portions of Adhyatma Ramayana, references to Radha and Krsna and the incarnation of Parasurama are included in this. This book contains twelve thousand verses and it is believed to be uttama (best) to give this book as a gift to a brahmin. Describes the vedangas; describes the Adi Kalpa.
The Vayu Purana –
The Vayu Purana itself states that the Puranas were originally recited by the great god Brahma and that one has to understand the Puranas if one is to appreciate the Vedas and the Upanishadas. A person who has learnt the Vedas and the Upanishadas, but has not bothered to study the Puranas, can never be wise. The knowledge of the Puranas supplements that of the Vedas and the Upanishadas. As such, the Puranas contain many stories and history. There is no race on earth that does not have its own history. But the immense volume of the Puranas is unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.