The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
Form of the Puráńas
The invariable form of the Puráńas is that of a dialogue, in which some person relates its contents in reply to the inquiries of another. This dialogue is interwoven with others, which are repeated as having been held on other occasions between different individuals, in consequence of similar questions having been asked. The immediate narrator is commonly, though not constantly, Lomaharshańa or Romaharshańa, the disciple of Vyása, who is supposed to communicate what was imparted to him by his preceptor, as he had heard it from some other sage. Vyása, as will be seen in the body of the work 19, is a generic title, meaning an 'arranger' or 'compiler.' It is in this age applied to Krishńa Dwaipáyana,
the son of Paráśara, who is said to have taught the Vedas and Puráńas to various disciples, but who appears to have been the head of a college or school, under whom various learned men gave to the sacred literature of the Hindus the form in which it now presents itself. In this task the disciples, as they are termed, of Vyása were rather his colleagues and coadjutors, for they were already conversant with what he is fabled to have taught them 20; and amongst them, Lomaharshańa represents the class of persons who were especially charged with the record of political and temporal events. He is called Súta, as if it was a proper name; but it is more correctly a title; and Lomaharshańa was 'a Súta,' that is, a bard or panegyrist, who was created, according to our text 21, to celebrate the exploits of princes; and who, according to the Váyu and Padma Puráńas, has a right by birth and profession to narrate the Puráńas, in preference even to the Brahmans 22. It is not unlikely therefore that we are to understand, by his being represented as the disciple of Vyása, the institution of some attempt, made under the direction of the latter, to collect from the heralds and annalists of his day the scattered traditions which they had imperfectly preserved; and hence the consequent appropriation of the Puráńas, in a great measure, to the genealogies of regal dynasties, and descriptions of the universe. However this may be, the machinery has been but loosely adhered to, and many of the Patinas, like the Vishńu, are referred to a different narrator.
An account is given in the following work 23 of a series of Pauráńik compilations, of which in their present form no vestige appears. Lomaharshańa is said to have had six disciples, three of whom composed as many fundamental Sanhitás, whilst he himself compiled a fourth. By a Sanhitá is generally understood a 'collection' or 'compilation.' The Sanhitás of the Vedas are collections of hymns and prayers belonging to them, arranged according to the judgment of some individual sage, who is therefore looked upon as the originator and teacher of each. The Sanhitás of the Puráńas, then, should be analogous compilations, attributed respectively to Mitrayu, Śánśapáyana, Akritavrańa, and Romaharshańa: no such Pauráńik Sanhitás are now known, The
substance of the four is said to be collected in the Vishńu Puráńa, which is also, in another place 24, itself called a Sanhitá: but such compilations have not, as far as inquiry has yet proceeded, been discovered. The specification may be accepted as an indication of the Puráńas having existed in some other form, in which they are no longer met with; although it does not appear that the arrangement was incompatible with their existence as separate works, for the Vishńu Puráńa, which is our authority for the four Sanhitás, gives us also the usual enumeration of the several Puráńas.
x:19 p. 272.
xi:20 See P. 276.
xi:21 P. 102.
xi:22 Journ, Royal As. Soc. vol. V. p. 281.
xi:23 P. 283.
xii:24 P. 5.