The Puranas (/pʊˈrɑːnəz/;[1] singular: Sanskrit: पुराण purāṇa), are ancient Hindu texts eulogizing various deities, primarily the divine Trimurti God in Hinduism through divine stories. Puranas may also be described as a genre of important Hindu religious texts alongside some Jain and Buddhist religious texts, notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.[2] The Puranas are frequently classified according to the Trimurti (Trinity or the three aspects of the divine).[3] The Padma Purana classifies them in accordance with the three gunas or qualities as Sattva (Truth and Purity), Rajas (Dimness and Passion) and Tamas (Darkness and Ignorance), an apparent means by which to rate the texts based on sectarian merit.[4]

Puranas usually give prominence to a particular deity, employing an abundance of religious and philosophical concepts. They are usually written in the form of stories related by one person to another.


An illustration of Varaha avatar based on the Bhagavata Purana

Vyasa, the narrator of the Mahabharata, is traditionally considered the compiler of the Puranas.[5]

The date of the production of the written texts does not define the date of origin of the Puranas.[6] They existed in an oral form before being written down, and were incrementally modified well into the 16th century.[6][7]

An early occurrence of the term 'purana' is found in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2), translated by Patrick Olivelle as "the corpus of histories and ancient tales" (The Early Upanisads, 1998, p. 259). The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad refers to purana as the "fifth Veda",[8] itihāsapurāṇaṃ pañcamaṃ vedānāṃ, reflecting the early religious importance of these facts, which over time have been forgotten and presumably then in purely oral form. Importantly, the most famous form of itihāsapurāṇaṃ is the Mahabharata. The term also appears in the Atharvaveda 11.7.24.[9][10] It is important to bear in mind that perhaps a thousand years separates the occurrence of this term in these Upanisads from 'The Puranas' understood as a unified set of texts (see below), and it is therefore by no means certain that the term as it occurs in the Upanisads has any direct relation to what today is identified as 'The Puranas'. As Olivelle points out in the notes to his translation (p 563), the term 'purana' is set within a list of other categories of knowledge, including 'the science of government' (ksatravidya), mathematics, and the science of demonic beings conceived of as serpents (sarpadevajanavidya).

In the 19th century, F. E. Pargiter believed the "original Purana" may date to the time of the final redaction of the Vedas.[9] Gavin Flood connects the rise of the written Purana historically with the rise of devotional cults centring upon a particular deity in the Gupta era: the Puranic corpus is a complex body of materials that advance the views of various competing cults.[11] Wendy Doniger, based on her study of indologists, assigns approximate dates to the various Puranas. She dates Markandeya Purana to c. 250 CE (with one portion dated to c. 550 CE), Matsya Purana to c. 250–500 CE, Vayu Purana to c. 350 CE, Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana to c. 450 CE, Brahmanda Purana to c. 350–950 CE, Vamana Purana to c. 450–900 CE, Kurma Purana to c. 550–850 CE, and Linga Purana to c. 600–1000 CE.[12]

Common ideas are found throughout the corpus but it is not possible to trace the lines of influence of one Purana upon another so the corpus is best viewed as a synchronous whole.[11]

The All India Kashiraj Trust, formed under Vibhuti Narayan Singh, the Maharaja of Kashi, dedicated itself to publishing editions of the Puranas.[13]


According to Matysa Purana,[14] they are said to narrate five subjects, called Pancha Lakshana pañcalakṣaṇa ("five distinguishing marks", though some scholars have suggested that these are shared by other traditional religious scriptures):[15][16]

  1. Sarga: the creation of the universe.
  2. Pratisarga: secondary creations, mostly re-creations after dissolution.
  3. Vamśa: genealogy of the gods and sages.
  4. Manvañtara: the creation of the human race and the first human beings. The epoch of the Manus' rule, 71 celestial Maha Yugas.
  5. Vamśānucaritam: the histories of the patriarchs of the lunar and solar dynasties.

The Puranas also lay emphasis on keeping a record of genealogies, as the Vayu Purana says, "to preserve the genealogies of gods, sages and glorious kings and the traditions of great men."[17] The Puranic genealogies indicate, for example, that Sraddhadeva Manu lived 95 generations before the Bharata war.[18]



Of the many texts designated 'Puranas' the most important are the Mahāpurāṇas. These are said to be eighteen in number, divided into three groups of six, though they are not always counted in the same way. Combining the various lists Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen have collated twenty names, totalling 429,000 verses:[19]

S.No. Purana name Verses number Comments
1 Agni 15,400 verses Contains details of Vastu Shastra and Gemology.
2 Bhagavata 18,000 verses Indologist Ludo Rocher considers it to be the most celebrated and popular of the Puranas,[20][21] telling of Vishnu's twenty four Avatars. Its tenth and longest canto narrates the deeds of Krishna, introducing his childhood exploits, a theme later elaborated by many Bhakti movements.[22]
3 Brahma 10,000 verses Describes the Godavari and its tributaries.
4 Brahmanda 12,000 verses Includes Lalita Sahasranamam, a text some Hindus recite as prayer.
5 Brahmavaivarta 17,000 verses Describes ways to worship Devis, Krishna and Ganesha.
6 Garuda 19,000 verses Describes death and its aftermath.
7 Harivamsa 16,000 verses Is considered to be a supplement to the Mahabharata and is sometimes classified with it as itihāsa instead of a purana.
8 Kurma 17,000 verses Is the second of ten major avatars of Lord Vishnu.
9 Linga 11,000 verses Describes the magnificence of the Lingam, symbol of Shiva, and origin of the universe. It also contains many stories of Lingam, one of which entails how Agni Lingam solved a dispute between Vishnu and Brahma.
10 Markandeya 09,000 verses Contains the Devi Mahatmya, an important text for the Shaktas.
11 Matsya 14,000 verses Narrates the story of Matsya, the first of ten major Avatars of Vishnu. It also contains genealogical details of various dynasties.[23]
12 Narada 25,000 verses Describes the greatness of Vedas and Vedangas.
13 Padma 55,000 verses Describes the greatness of Bhagavad Gita. Hence, it is also known as gītāmāhātmya (lit. the majesty of Gita).
14 Shiva 24,000 verses Describes the greatness of Shiva, greatness in worshiping Shiva, and other stories about him.
15 Skanda 81,100 verses Describes the birth of Skanda (or Karthikeya), son of Shiva. The longest Purana, it is an extraordinarily meticulous pilgrimage guide, containing geographical locations of pilgrimage centers in India, with related legends, parables, hymns and stories. Many untraced quotes are attributed to this text.[24]
16 Vamana 10,000 verses Describes areas around Kurukshetra in North India.
17 Varaha 24,000 verses Describes various forms prayer and devotional observances to Vishnu. Many illustrations also involve Shiva and Durga.[25]
18 Vayu 24,000 verses Sometimes confused with the Shiva Purana, it is considered one of the oldest examples of the genre.
19 Vishnu 23,000 verses Describes the many deeds of Vishnu and various ways to worship him.[26]


According to Prabhupada, the puranas are classified according to qualification of persons who can understand them: "Purāṇas are supplementary explanations of the Vedas intended for different types of men. All men are not equal. Padma Purana classifies the puranas into three types as sattvik, rajasic and tamasic puranas, each constitutes of six puranas. There are men who are conducted by the mode of goodness, others who are under the mode of passion and others who are under the mode of ignorance. The Purāṇas are so divided that any class of men can take advantage of them and gradually regain their lost position and get out of the hard struggle for existence."[27]

The Mahapuranas are frequently classified according to the three aspects of the divine Trimurti:[3]

Vaiṣṇava Puranas: Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Nāradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana, Vāmana Purana, Kūrma Purana, Matsya Purana
Brāhma Puranas: Brahma Purana, Brahmānda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Mārkandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana
Śaiva Puranas: Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana

The Padma Purana, Uttara Khanda (236.18-21),[28] itself a Vaishnava Purana, classifies the Puranas in accordance with the three gunas or qualities; truth, passion, and indifference. Notably this system is highly sectarian and classifies all Śaiva puranas as tamasic, all Vaiṣṇava puranas as sattvic, and those to Brahma are all classified as rajasic:

Sattva ("truth; purity") Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Naradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana
Rajas ("dimness; passion") Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Vamana Purana, Brahma Purana
Tamas ("darkness; ignorance") Matsya Purana, Kurma purana, Linga Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana


The Upapuranas are lesser or ancillary texts: these are sometimes also said to be eighteen in number, with still less agreement as to the canonical titles. They include among many: Sanat-kumara, Narasimha, Brihan-naradiya, Siva-rahasya, Durvasa, Kapila, Vamana, Bhargava, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parasara, Vasishtha, Devi-Bhagavata, Ganesha, Mudgala, and Hamsa, with only a few having been critically edited.[29][30]

The Ganesha and Mudgala Puranas are devoted to Ganesha.[31][32] The Devi-Bhagavata Purana, which extols the goddess Durga, has become (along with the Devi Mahatmya of the Markandeya Purana) a basic text for Devi worshipers.[33]

Sthala Puranas

This corpus of texts tells of the origins and traditions of particular Tamil Shiva temples or shrines. There are numerous Sthala Puranas, most written in vernaculars, some with Sanskrit versions as well. The 275 Shiva Sthalams of the continent have puranas for each, famously glorified in the Tamil literature Tevaram. Some appear in Sanskrit versions in the Mahapuranas or Upapuranas. Some Tamil Sthala Puranas have been researched by David Dean Shulman.[34]

Kula Puranas

These Puranas deal with a caste's origin myth, stories, and legends (the word kula means "family" or "tribe" in Sanskrit). They are important sources for caste identity though usually contested by rival castes. This subgenre is usually in the vernacular and may at times remain oral.[35] These have been little researched, though they are documented in the caste section of the British Census of India Report and the various Gazetteers.[36]


  1. ^ "Purana". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Puranas at Sacred Texts
  3. ^ a b Nair, Shantha N. (2008). Echoes of Ancient Indian Wisdom: The Universal Hindu Vision and Its Edifice. Delhi: Hindology Books. p. 266. ISBN 978-81-223-1020-7. 
  4. ^ As categorized in Padma Purana, Uttara Khanda (236.18-21)
  5. ^ The Puranas by Swami Sivananda
  6. ^ a b Johnson 2009, p. 247
  7. ^ Singh 1997, p. 2324
  8. ^ Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 2.4.10, 4.1.2, 4.5.11. Satapatha Brahmana (SBE, Vol. 44, pp. 98, 369). Moghe 1997, pp. 160,249
  9. ^ a b Pargiter 1962, pp. 30–54
  10. ^ Moghe 1997, p. 249 and the Satapatha Brahmana and SBE Vol. 44, pp. 98, 369
  11. ^ a b Flood 1996, p. 359
  12. ^ Collins, Charles Dillard (1988). The Iconography and Ritual of Śiva at Elephanta. SUNY Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-88706-773-0. 
  13. ^ Mittal 2004, p. 657
  14. ^ Matsya Purana 53.65
  15. ^ Rao 1993, pp. 85–100
  16. ^ Johnson 2009, p. 248
  17. ^ Vayu Purana 1. 31-2.
  18. ^ Majumdar & Pusalker 1951, p. 273
  19. ^ Dimmitt & van Buitenen 1978, p. 373
  20. ^ Thompson, Richard L. (2007). The Cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana 'Mysteries of the Sacred Universe. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 10. ISBN 978-81-208-1919-1. 
  21. ^ Monier-Williams 1899, p. 752, column 3, under the entry Bhagavata.
  22. ^ Hardy 2001
  23. ^ Dalal, Roshen (2011). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books India. p. 250. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6. 
  24. ^ Doniger 1993, pp. 59–83
  25. ^ Wilson, Horace H. (1864), Works: ¬Vol. ¬6 : ¬The Vishṅu Purāṅa: a system of Hindu mythology and tradition ; 1, Trübner, p. LXXI 
  26. ^ Lochtefeld, James G. (2002), The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z, The Rosen Publishing Group, p. 760, ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4 
  27. ^ Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.4 All the Vedic literatures and the Purāṇas are meant for conquering the darkest region of material existence. The living being is in the state of forgetfulness of his relation with God due to his being overly attracted to material sense gratification from time immemorial. His struggle for existence in the material world is perpetual, and it is not possible for him to get out of it by making plans. If he at all wants to conquer this perpetual struggle for existence, he must reestablish his eternal relation with God. And one who wants to adopt such remedial measures must take shelter of literatures such as the Vedas and the Purāṇas. Some people say that the Purāṇas have no connection with the Vedas. However, the Purāṇas are supplementary explanations of the Vedas intended for different types of men. All men are not equal. There are men who are conducted by the mode of goodness, others who are under the mode of passion and others who are under the mode of ignorance. The Purāṇas are so divided that any class of men can take advantage of them and gradually regain their lost position and get out of the hard struggle for existence.
  28. ^ Wilson, H. H. (1840). The Vishnu Purana: A system of Hindu mythology and tradition. Oriental Translation Fund. p. 12. 
  29. ^ R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. I, Calcutta, Sanskrit College, 1958. Studies in the Upapuranas, vol. II, Calcutta, Sanskrit College, 1979. Studies in Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, Delhi, Banarsidass, 1975. Ludo Rocher, The Puranas - A History of Indian Literature Vol. II, fasc. 3, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1986.
  30. ^ `Verbal Narratives: Performance and Gender of the Padma Purana, by T.N. Sankaranarayana in Kaushal 2001, pp. 225–234
  31. ^ Thapan 1997, p. 304
  32. ^ Purana at Gurjari
  33. ^ Mackenzie 1990
  34. ^ Shulman 1980
  35. ^ Handoo 1998, pp. 125–142
  36. ^ See for example Castes and Tribes of Southern India vol. I–V, Thurston Edgar. Cosmo Publication, Delhi.


  • Bhargava, P.L. 1971. India in the Vedic Age. Lucknow: Upper India Publishing.
  • Dimmitt, Cornelia; van Buitenen, J. A. B. (1978). Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 81-7030-596-9. 
  • Doniger, Wendy (editor) (1993). Purāṇa Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts. Albany, New York: State University of New York. ISBN 0-7914-1382-9. 
  • Handoo, Jawaharlal (editor) (1998). Folklore in Modern India. ISBN 81-7342-055-6. 
  • Hardy, Friedhelm (2001). Viraha-Bhakti - The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India. ISBN 0-19-564916-8. 
  • Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43304-5. 
  • Johnson, W.J. (2009). A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-861025-0. 
  • Kaushal, Molly (editor) (2001). Chanted Narratives - The Katha Vachana Tradition. ISBN 81-246-0182-8. 
  • Majumdar, R. C.; Pusalker, A. D. (1951). The History and Culture of the Indian People. 1: The Vedic age. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 
  • Mackenzie, Brwon (1990). The Triumph of the Goddess - The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the DevI-BhAgavata PuraNa. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0363-7. 
  • Mittal, Sushil (2004). The Hindu World. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-21527-5. 
  • Moghe, S. G. (editor) (1997). Professor Kane's contribution to Dharmasastra literature. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd. ISBN 81-246-0075-9. 
  • Monier-Williams, Monier (1899). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 
  • Pargiter, F.E. (1922). Ancient Indian Historical Tradition. London: Oxford University Press. 
  • Pargiter, F. E. (1962) [1922]. Ancient Indian historical tradition. Original publisher Oxford University Press, London. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass. OCLC 1068416. 
  • Rao, Velcheru Narayana (1993). "Purana as Brahminic Ideology". In Doniger Wendy. Purana Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-1381-0. 
  • Shulman, David Dean (1980). Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition. ISBN 0-691-06415-6. 
  • Singh, Nagendra Kumar (1997). Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. ISBN 81-7488-168-9. 
  • Thapan, Anita Raina (1997). Understanding Gaṇapati: Insights into the Dynamics of a Cult. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers. ISBN 81-7304-195-4. 

Further reading

External links



  • Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Full text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, with the original Sanskrit, word-for-word meanings, translation, and commentary by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
  • The Vishnu Purana Full text of the H.H. Wilson translation at sacred-texts.com