What are the Puranas

What are Puranas?

The Puranas belong to the medieval Smriti texts. They describe a world of gods similar to the Greek Olympus and tell a series of legends and myths.

The Puranas (Sanskrit, n., Purāṇa, lit .: ancient history) are among the most important texts of Hinduism. They were created between the years 400 and 1000, but often fall back on older content. Of the 400,000 Puranas mentioned in the Brahma-vaivartta Purana, such as the Devi Bhagavata, 18 are regarded as main Puranas, again divided into three groups:

1. Brahma (Brahmapurana, Brahmanandapurana, Brahmavaivartapurana, Markandeyapurana, Bhavishyapurana, Vamanapurana)
2. Vishnu (Vishnupurana, Bhagavatapurana, Naradiyapurana, Garudapurana, Padmapurana, Varahapurana)
3. Shiva (Shiva- or Vayupurana, Lingapurana, Skandapurana, Agni, Matsyapurana, Kurmapurana)
The Puranas do not have the irrefutable authority of the Vedas for all Hindus alike. However, they are regarded by their followers as revelations of divine origin. All Puranas are primarily dedicated to the worship of a deity and describe ceremonies and festivals (vrata) for their worship. Most of these works also have major chapters on the rights and duties of castes, the four stages of life, and sacrifices for the dead (shraddha), as well as extensive ethical and spiritual instructions.

Often cosmogonies and genealogical lists of the royal houses are recorded, going back to the heroes of the Mahabharata. As a historical source, however, the Puranas should be used with great caution. Nevertheless, the Vishnupurana is considered a good source for the Maurya dynasty and the Vayupurana for the Gupta period. The names of the rulers listed provide an indication of the dating of the respective Purana. The Persian scholar Al-Biruni gives around 1030 AD. a complete list of all 18 Puranas.

According to the philosopher Ramanuja, only the study of the Veda leads to true knowledge, whereas the Puranas only help with the cleansing of sins. In this sense, the Puranas are second class sacred texts. They were not originally Brahmin-created literature. The sutas (charioteers and bards) may have been the ones who contributed to the creation and spread of the Puranas. Only later did the Puranas pass into the hands of the Brahmins.