Shastras and sutras
Vishnu Purana' (IAST: Viṣṇu Purāṇa) is one of the eighteen
Mahapuranas, a genre of ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism. It
is an important
Pancharatra text in the
The manuscripts of
Purana have survived into the modern era in
many versions. More than any other major Purana, the Vishnu
Purana presents its contents in Pancalaksana format – Sarga
(cosmogony), Pratisarga (cosmology), Vamśa (mythical genealogy of the
gods, sages and kings), Manvañtara (cosmic cycles), and
Vamśānucaritam (legends during the times of various kings).
Some manuscripts of the text are notable for not including sections
found in other major Puranas, such as those on Mahatmyas and tour
guides on pilgrimage, but some versions include chapters on temples
and travel guides to sacred pilgrimage sites. The text is also
notable as the earliest
Purana to have been translated and published
in 1864 CE by HH Wilson, based on manuscripts then available, setting
the presumptions and premises about what
Puranas may have
Purana is among the shorter
Purana texts, with about 7,000
verses in extant versions. It primarily centers around the
Vishnu and his avatars such as Krishna, but it praises
Shiva and asserts that they are one with Vishnu. The
Purana, states Wilson, is pantheistic and the ideas in it, like other
Puranas, are premised on the Vedic beliefs and ideas.
Vishnu Purana, like all major Puranas, attributes its author to be
Veda Vyasa. The actual author(s) and date of its composition
are unknown and contested. Estimates range of its composition range
from 1st millennium BCE to early 2nd-millennium CE. The text was
likely composed and rewritten in layers over a period of time, with
roots possibly in ancient 1st-millennium BCE texts that have not
survived into the modern era. The
Padma Purana categorizes Vishnu
Purana as a
Purana which represents goodness and
1 Date of composition
3.1 First aṃśa: cosmology
3.2 Second aṃśa: earth
3.3 Third aṃśa: time
3.4 Fourth aṃśa: dynasties
3.5 Fifth aṃśa: Krishna
3.6 Sixth aṃśa: liberation
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Date of composition
Part of a series on
Brahma (Dvaita, Acintyabhedabheda)
Samudra mantham mythology, depicted in above sculpture, is described
Vishnu Purana. Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok
The composition date of
Purana is unknown and contested, with
estimates widely disagreeing. Some proposed dates for the earliest
version[note 1] of
Purana by various scholars include:
Vincent Smith (1908): 400-300 BCE,
CV Vaidya (1925): ~9th-century,
Moriz Winternitz (1932): possibly early 1st millennium, but states
Rocher, he added, "it is no more possible to assign a definite date to
Purana than it is for any other Purana".
Rajendra Chandra Hazra (1940): 275-325 CE
Ramachandra Dikshitar (1951): 700-300 BCE,
Roy (1968): after the 9th century.
Horace Hayman Wilson
Horace Hayman Wilson (1864): acknowledged that the tradition believes
it to be 1st millennium BCE text and the text has roots in the Vedic
literature, but after his analysis suggested that the extant
manuscripts may be from the 11th century.
Wendy Doniger (1988): c. 450 CE.
Rocher states that the "date of the Visnu
Purana is as contested as
that of any other Purana". References to
Purana in texts
such as Brihadvishnu whose dates are better established, states
Rocher, suggest that a version of
Purana existed by about 1000
CE, but it is unclear to what extent the extant manuscripts reflect
the revisions during the 2nd millennium.
Purana like all
Puranas has a complicated chronology. Dimmitt and van Buitenen state
that each of the
Puranas including the
Purana is encyclopedic
in style, and it is difficult to ascertain when, where, why and by
whom these were written:
As they exist today, the
Puranas are a stratified literature. Each
titled work consists of material that has grown by numerous accretions
in successive historical eras. Thus no
Purana has a single date of
composition. (...) It is as if they were libraries to which new
volumes have been continuously added, not necessarily at the end of
the shelf, but randomly.
— Cornelia Dimmitt and J.A.B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu
Mythology: A Reader in the
Many of the extant manuscripts were written on palm leaf or copied
during the British India colonial era, some in the 19th
century. The scholarship on
Vishnu Purana, and other Puranas,
has suffered from cases of forgeries, states Ludo Rocher, where
liberties in the transmission of
Puranas were normal and those who
copied older manuscripts replaced words or added new content to fit
the theory that the colonial scholars were keen on publishing.
The extant text comprises six aṃśas (parts) and 126 adhyāyas
(chapters). The first part has 22 chapters, the second part
consists 16 chapters, the third part comprises 18 chapters and the
fourth part has 24 chapters. The fifth and the sixth parts are the
longest and the shortest part of the text, comprising 38 and 8
The textual tradition claims that the original
23,000 verses, but the surviving manuscripts have just a third of
these, about 7,000 verses. The text is composed in metric verses
or sloka, wherein each verse has exactly 32 syllables, of which 16
syllables in the verse may be free style per ancient literary
Purana is an exception in that it presents its contents in
Vishnu worship-related Pancalaksana format – Sarga (cosmogony),
Pratisarga (cosmology), Vamśa (mythical genealogy of the gods, sages
and kings), Manvañtara (cosmic cycles), and Vamśānucaritam (legends
during the times of various kings). This is rare, state
Dimmitt and van Buitenen, because just 2% of the known Puranic
literature corpus is about these five Pancalaksana items, and about
98% is about diverse range of encyclopedic topics.
Who is Vishnu?
Vishnu this universe has arisen,
in him its exists,
he is the one who governs its existence and destruction,
he is the universe.
Vishnu Purana, 1.14
Purana opens as a conversation between sage Maitreya and his
guru, Parashara, with the sage asking, "what is the nature of this
universe and everything that is in it?"
First aṃśa: cosmology
The first Amsha (part) of
Purana presents cosmology, dealing
with the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe.
The mythology, states Rocher, is woven with the evolutionary theories
Samkhya school of
Vishnu is presented as the central element of this
text's cosmology, unlike some other
Shakti are. The reverence and the worship of
described in 22 chapters of the first part as the means for
liberation, along with the profuse use of the synonymous names of
Vishnu such as Hari, Janardana, Madhava, Achyuta,
others. The chapters 1.16 through 1.20 of the
presents the legend of compassionate and
his persecution by his demon king father Hiranyakasipu, wherein
Prahlada is ultimately saved by Vishnu. This story is also
found in other Puranas.
Vishnu is described in the first book of
Purana as, translates
Wilson, all elements, all matter in the world, the entire universe,
all living beings, as well as Atman (soul) within every living being,
nature, intellect, ego, mind, senses, ignorance, wisdom, the four
Vedas, all that is and all that is not.
Second aṃśa: earth
The second part of the text describes its theory of earth, the seven
continents and seven oceans. It describes mount Meru, mount
Mandara and other major mountains, as well as Bharata-varsha
(literally, the country of Bharata) along with its numerous rivers and
diverse people. The seven continents are named Jambu, Plaksha,
Salmala, Kusha, Krauncha, Saka and Pushkara, each surrounded by
different types of liquids (salt water, fresh water, wine, sugarcane
juice, clarified butter, liquid yoghurt, and milk).
This part of the
Purana describes spheres above the earth,
planets, the sun and the moon. Four chapters (2.13 to 2.16) of the
second book of the text present the legends of King Bharata, who
abdicates his throne to lead the life of a sannyasi, which is similar
to the legends found in section 5.7 to 5.14 of the Bhagavata
Purana. The geography of
Mount Mandara as east of Mount Meru,
presented in this book and other Puranas, states Stella Kramrisch, may
be related to the word Mandir (
Hindu temple) and the reason of its
design, "image, aim and destination".
Third aṃśa: time
The initial chapters of the third book of the
its theory of manvantaras, or Manus-ages (each equals about 4.3
million years). This is premised upon the
Hindu belief that
everything is cyclic, and even
Yuga (era, ages) start, mature and then
dissolve. Six manvantaras, states the text, have already passed, and
the current age belong to the seventh. In each age, asserts the
Vedas are arranged into four, it is challenged, and this has
happened twenty eight times already. Each time, a Veda-Vyasa
appears and he diligently organizes the eternal knowledge, with the
aid of his students.
Purana includes several chapters in book 3 on rites of
passage from birth through death. Included are chapters on cremation
After presenting the emergence of Vedic schools, the text presents the
ethical duties of the four varnas in chapter 2.8, the four Ashrama
(stages) of the life of each human being in chapter 2.9, the rites of
passage including wedding rituals in chapters 2.10 through 2.12, and
Shraddha (rites in honor of ancestors, faith) in chapters 2.13 through
Purana asserts that the
Brahmin should study shastras,
worship gods and perform libations on behalf of others, the Kshatriya
should maintain arms and protect the earth, the
Vaishya should engage
in commerce and farming, while the
Shudra should subsist by profits of
trade, service other varnas and through mechanical labor. The
text asserts the ethical duties of all varnas is to do good to others,
never abuse anyone, never engage in calumny or untruth, never covet
another person's wife, never steal another's property, never bear
ill-will towards anyone, never beat or slay any human being or living
being. Be diligent in the service of the gods, sages and guru,
asserts the Purana, seek the welfare of all creatures, one's own
children and of one's own soul. Anyone, regardless of their
varna or stage of life, who lives a life according to the above duties
is the best worshipper of Vishnu, claims the
Similar statements on ethical duties of man are found in other parts
The text describes in chapter 2.9, the four stages of life as
brahmacharya (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprastha
(retirement) and sannyasa (renunciation, mendicant). The text
repeats the ethical duties in this chapter, translates Wilson.
The chapters on Shraddha (rites for ancestors) describe the rites
associated with a death in family, the preparation of the dead body,
its cremation and the rituals after the cremation.
The third book closes with the legend of Vishnu, through Mayamoha,
helping the Devas win over Asuras, by teaching the Asuras heretical
doctrines that deny the Vedas, who declare their contempt for the
Vedas, which makes them easy to identify and thereby defeat.
The longest part of the
Purana is dedicated to the legend of
Fourth aṃśa: dynasties
The fourth book of the text, in 24 long chapters, presents mythical
royal dynasties, starting with Brahma, followed by solar and lunar
dynasties, then those on earth over the Yugas (eras), with Pariksit
asserted as the "current king". The text includes the
legends of numerous mythical characters such as Shaubhri, Mandhatri,
Narmada, sage Kapila, Rama, Nimi, Janaka, Buddha, Satyavati, Puru,
Yadu, Krishna, Devaka, Pandu, Kuru, Bharata, Bhisma and others.
Fifth aṃśa: Krishna
The fifth book of the
Purana is the longest, with 38
chapters. It is dedicated to the legend of Krishna, as an
avatar of Vishnu. The book begins with the story of Krishna's
birth, his childhood pranks and plays, his exploits, his purpose of
ending the tyranny of demon-tyrant king of Mathura, named
Krishna story in the
Purana is similar to his legend in the
Bhagavata Purana, in several other
Puranas and the Harivamsa of the
Mahabharata. Scholars have long debated whether the Bhagavata
Purana expanded the
Krishna legend in the
Vishnu Purana, or whether
the latter abridged the version in former, or both depended on the
Harivamsa estimated to have been composed sometime in the 1st
millennium of the common era.
Sixth aṃśa: liberation
Soul and Prakriti
This soul is of its own nature,
pure, composed of happiness and wisdom.
The properties of pain, ignorance and impurity,
are those of Prakriti, not of soul.
Vishnu Purana, 6.7
The last book of the
Purana is the shortest, with 8
chapters. The first part of the sixth book asserts that Kali
Yuga is vicious, cruel and filled with evilness that create suffering,
Yuga is excellent" because one can refuse to join the evil,
devote oneself to
Vishnu and thus achieve salvation.
The last chapters, from 6.6 to 6.7 of the text discusses
meditation, as a means to
Vishnu devotion. Contemplative
devotion, asserts the text, is the union with the
soul, ultimate reality), which is only achievable with virtues such as
compassion, truth, honesty, disinterestedness, self-restraint and holy
studies. The text mentions five Yamas, five Niyamas,
Pratyahara. The pure and perfect soul is called Vishnu, states the
text, and absorption in
Vishnu is liberation.
The final chapter 6.8 of the text asserts itself to be an
"imperishable Vaishnava Purana".
Purana is one of the 18 major Puranas, and these text share
many legends, likely influenced each other. The fifth chapter of
Purana was likely influenced by the Mahabharata.
Similarly, the verses on rites of passage and ashramas (stages) of
life are likely drawn from the
Dharmasutra literature. Rajendra Hazra,
in 1940, assumed that
Purana is ancient and proposed that texts
such as Apasthamba
Dharmasutra borrowed text from it. Modern
scholars such as Allan Dahlaquist disagree, however, and state that
the borrowing may have been in the other direction, from Dharmasutras
into the Purana.
Other chapters, particularly those in book 5 and 6 of the Vishnu
Advaita Vedanta and
Yoga influences. The
Vedanta scholar Ramanuja, according to Sucharita Adluri,
incorporated ideas from the
Purana to identify the Brahman
concept in the
Upanishads with Vishnu, thus providing a Vedic
foundation to the Srivaishnava tradition.
^ This is not the version that has survived into the modern era. The
estimates for earliest version are based on the analysis of the
content, events described, literary style, references to other Indian
texts within this Purana.
^ a b c Dalal 2014, p. 460.
^ Rocher 1986, pp. 245-249.
^ Rocher 1986, pp. 18, 245-249.
^ Wilson 1864, pp. xxxiv-xxxv.
^ a b Gregory Bailey (2003). Arvind Sharma, ed. The Study of Hinduism.
University of South Carolina Press. pp. 141–142.
^ a b Rocher 1986, pp. 248-249.
^ a b Rao 1993, pp. 85–100.
^ a b Johnson 2009, p. 248.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Rocher 1986, p. 249.
^ Ariel Glucklich 2008, p. 146, Quote: The earliest promotional
works aimed at tourists from that era were called mahatmyas.
^ Wilson 1864, pp. i-xviii, for full context and comparison of
Purana with other
Puranas then known, see all of the Preface
^ Gregory Bailey (2003). Arvind Sharma, ed. The Study of Hinduism.
University of South Carolina Press. pp. 148–149.
^ a b Wilson 1864, p. xxxv.
^ a b Rocher 1986, p. 246, 248 with footnote 501.
^ Wilson 1864, pp. xii-xiv.
^ Rocher 1986, p. 48.
^ Rocher 1986, pp. 41-48, 249.
^ Wilson, H. H. (1840). The
Vishnu Purana: A system of
and tradition. Oriental Translation Fund. p. 12.
^ Dimmitt & van Buitenen 2012, p. 1-7.
^ Rocher 1986, p. 38-49, 59-66.
^ K P Gietz 1992, p. 986 with note 5739.
^ Edward Balfour (1885). The Cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and
Southern Asia. B. Quaritch. p. 1025.
^ Collins 1988, p. 36.
^ a b Dimmitt & van Buitenen 2012, p. 5.
^ a b Rocher 1986, pp. 49-53.
^ a b Avril Ann Powell (2010). Scottish Orientalists and India: The
Muir Brothers, Religion, Education and Empire. Boydell & Brewer.
pp. 130, 128–134, 87–90. ISBN 978-1-84383-579-0.
^ a b Rocher 1986, p. 246.
^ Rocher 1986, pp. 246-248.
^ Wilson 1864.
^ Kireet Joshi (1991). The
Veda and Indian Culture: An Introductory
Essay. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 106.
^ Dimmitt & van Buitenen 2012, p. xiii.
^ Dimmitt & van Buitenen 2012, p. 9.
^ a b c d e f g h i j Rocher 1986, p. 247.
^ Wilson 1865, pp. 94-95.
^ "A Brief History of India", by Alain Daniélou, publisher = Inner
Traditions / Bear & Co., p. 25
^ a b c Rocher 1986, pp. 246-247.
^ a b Wilson 1865, pp. 93-96.
^ Dutt 1896, pp. ii-iii.
^ Wilson 1865, pp. 32-68.
Wendy Doniger (2000), Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World
Religions, Merriam-Webster, ISBN 978-0877790440, page 455
^ Wilson 1864, pp. 170-172, 196-198.
^ a b Wilson 1865, pp. 109-126.
^ Wilson 1865, pp. 127-190.
^ Wilson 1865, pp. 312-336.
^ Kramrisch 1976, p. 161 with footnote 78.
^ a b Wilson 1866, pp. 1-19.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 33-51.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 40-42.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 80-199.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 85-87.
^ a b Dutt 1896, pp. 191-192.
^ a b c Wilson 1866, pp. 80-90.
^ a b Dutt 1896, pp. 191-193.
^ NK Devaraja (1976), What is living and what is dead in traditional
Indian philosophy?, Philosophy East and West, Volume 26, Issue 4,
pages 427-442, Quote: "Thus in the Visnu Purana, Prahlada, the great
devotee of Visnu, is found making a number of statements of the
following type: Knowing that god Visnu is present in all creatures -
since neither the totality of living beings, nor myself, nor the food
is other than Viṣṇu - I serve all creatures with food; may this
food bring them satisfaction. Elsewhere, in the same text, we read: We
offer obeisance to that unborn, imperishable
Brahman which is present
in our and others bodies and in everything else, there being nothing
other than it anywhere. This teaching of the ethics of universal love
^ a b Wilson 1866, pp. 92-96.
^ a b Dutt 1896, pp. 194-196.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 1 48-170.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 207-227.
^ Wilson 1866, pp. 229-336.
^ Wilson 1868, pp. 1-242.
^ Dutt 1896, pp. 237-306.
^ a b c d e f g Rocher 1986, p. 248.
^ Wilson 1868, pp. 245-342.
^ a b Wilson 1870, pp. 1-167.
^ Dutt 1896, pp. 317-418.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 245-342.
^ a b Walter Ruben (1941), The Kṛṣṇacarita in the Harivaṃśa
and Certain Purāṇas, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.
61, No. 3, pages 115-127
^ Bryant 2007, pp. 9-10, 95-109 (Chapter by Ekkehard Lorenz).
^ Wilson 1870, p. 225.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 168-255.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 177-185 with footnotes.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 216-255.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 227-229 with footnotes.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 230-232 with footnotes.
^ Wilson 1870, pp. 242-243.
^ Wilson 1870, p. 244.
^ a b Allan Dahlaquist (1996). Megasthenes and Indian Religion.
Motilal Banarsidass. p. 92 with footnote 1.
^ NK Devaraja (1970), Contemporary Relevance of Advaita Vedānta,
Philosophy East and West, Vol. 20, No. 2, pages 129-136
^ KSR Datta (1978), The Visnu
Purana and Advaita, Journal: Purana, Vol
20, pages 193-196
^ R. Balasubramanian (2000). "Advaita in the Puranas". Advaita
Vedānta. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 51–78.
^ Sucharita Adluri (2015), Textual authority in Classical Indian
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Purana translation by
H.H. Wilson at sacred-texts
Purana English translation correct
IAST transliteration and
Other language versions on the Internet Archive:
Vishnuchitta Alwar, 1922), Bengali by Kaliprasanna Vidyaratna (1926),
Hindi, Telugu by K. Bhavanarayana (1930)
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Gurus, saints, philosophers
Hinduism by country