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The Puranas

________________________________________ By Volkmar Schaefer ________________________________________

he origins of the (divine) myths of India are the Puranas which are Sanskrit writings about primordial times; and part of the sacred literature of Hinduism. Tradition attributes the Puranas to Vyasa, a semi-legendary rishi, or sage, purportedly the compiler also of the Vedas 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. In 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. Each 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 ( also see IW poetry archives Vacanas to Shiva by Basavanna,) and the remaining six to Vishnu. On the whole, Vishnu is probably the most prominent. According 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 dynasties. The 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. from Encarta