The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
Classification of the Puráńas
There is another classification of the Puráńas alluded to in the Matsya Puráńa, and specified by the Padma Puráńa, but more fully. It is not undeserving of notice, as it expresses the opinion which native writers entertain of the scope of the Puráńas, and of their recognising the subservience of these works to the dissemination of sectarian principles.. Thus it is said in the Uttara Khańd́a of the Padma, that the Puráńas, as well as other works, are divided into three classes, according to the qualities which prevail in them. Thus the Vishńu, Náradíya, Bhágavata, Gárud́a, Padma, and Váráha Puráńas, are Sátwika, or pure, from the predominance in them of the Satwa quality, or that of goodness and purity. They are, in fact, Vaishńava Puráńas. The Matsya, Kúrma, Linga, Śiva, Skanda, and Agni Puráńas, are Támasa, or Puráńas of darkness, from the prevalence of the quality of Tamas, 'ignorance,' 'gloom.' They are indisputably Śaiva Puráńas. The third series, comprising the Brahmáńd́a, Brahma-vaivartta, Márkańd́eya, Bhavishya, Vámana, and Brahmá Puráńas, are designated as Rájasa, 'passionate,' from Rajas, the property of passion, which they are supposed to represent.. The Matsya does not specify which are the Puráńas that come under these designations, but remarks that those in which the Máhátmya of Hari or Vishńu prevails are Sátwika; those in which the legends of Agni or Śiva predominate are Támasa; and those which dwell most on the stories of Brahmá are Rájasa. I have elsewhere stated 25, that I considered the Rájasa Puráńas to lean to the Sákta division of the Hindus, the worshippers of Śakti, or the female principle; founding this opinion
on the character of the legends which some of them contain, such as the Durgá Máhátmya, or celebrated legend on which the worship of Durgá or Kálí is especially founded, which is a principal episode of the Márkańd́eya. The Brahma-vaivartta also devotes the greatest portion of its chapters to the celebration of Rádhá, the mistress of Krishńa, and other female divinities. Col. Vans Kennedy, however, objects to the application of the term Sákta to this last division of the Puráńas, the worship of Śakti being the especial object of a different class of works, the Tantras, and no such form of worship being particularly inculcated in the Bráhma Puráńa 26. This last argument is of weight in regard to the particular instance specified, and the designation of Śakti may not be correctly applicable to the whole class, although it is to some of the series; for there is no incompatibility in the advocacy of a Tántrika modification of the Hindu religion by any Puráńa, and it has unquestionably been practised in works known as Upa-puráńas. The proper appropriation of the third class of the Puráńas, according to the Padma Puráńa, appears to be to the worship of Krishńa, not in the character in which he is represented in the Vishńu and Bhágavata Puráńas, in which the incidents of his boyhood are only a portion of his biography, and in which the human character largely participates, at least in his riper years, but as the infant Krishńa, Govinda, Bála Gopála, the sojourner in Vrindávan, the companion of the cowherds and milkmaids, the lover of Rádhá, or as the juvenile master of the universe, Jagannátha. The term Rájasa, implying the animation of passion, and enjoyment of sensual delights, is applicable, not only to the character of the youthful divinity, but to those with whom his adoration in these forms seems to have originated, the Gosains of Gokul and Bengal, the followers and descendants of Vallabha and Chaitanya, the priests and proprietors of Jagannáth and Śrínáth-dwár, who lead a life of affluence and indulgence, and vindicate, both by precept and practice, the reasonableness of the Rájasa property, and the congruity of temporal enjoyment with the duties of religion 27.
The Puráńas are uniformly stated to be eighteen in number. It is said that there are also eighteen Upa-puráńas, or minor Puráńas; but
the names of only a few of these are specified in the least exceptionable authorities, and the greater number of the works is not procurable. With regard to the eighteen Puráńas, there is a peculiarity in their specification, which is proof of an interference with the integrity of the text, in some of them at least; for each of them specifies the names of the whole eighteen. Now the list could not have been complete whilst the work that gives it was unfinished, and in one only therefore, the last of the series, have we a right to look for it. As however there are more last words than one, it is evident that the names must have been inserted in all except one after the whole were completed: which of the eighteen is the exception, and truly the last, there is no clue to discover, and the specification is probably an interpolation in most, if not in all.
The names that are specified are commonly the same, and are as follows: 1. Bráhma, 2. Pádma, 3. Vaishńava, 4. Śaiva, 5. Bhágavata, 6. Nárada, 7. Márkańd́a, 8. Ágneya, 9. Bhavishya, 10. Brahma-vaivartta, 11. Lainga, 12. Váráha, 13. Skánda, 14. Vámana, 15. Kaurma, 16. Mátsya, 17. Gárud́a, 18. Brahmáńd́a 28. This is from the twelfth book of the Bhágavata, and is the same as occurs in the Vishńu 29. In other authorities there are a few variations. The list of the K.úrma P. omits the Agni Puráńa, and substitutes the Váyu. The Agni leaves out the Śaiva, and inserts the Váyu. The Varáha omits the Gárud́a and Brahmáńd́a, and inserts the Váyu and Narasinha: in this last it is singular. The Márkańd́eya agrees with the Vishńu and Bhágavata in omitting the Váyu. The Matsya, like the Agni, leaves out the Śaiva.
Some of the Puráńas, as the Agni, Matsya, Bhágavata, and Padma, also particularize the number of stanzas which each of the eighteen contains. In one or two instances they disagree, but in general they concur. The aggregate is stated at 400,000 slokas, or 1,600,000 lines. These are
fabled to be but an abridgment, the whole amount being a krore, or ten millions of stanzas, or even a thousand millions. If all the fragmentary portions claiming in various parts of India to belong to the Puráńas were admitted, their extent would much exceed the lesser, though it would not reach the larger enumeration. The former is, however, as I have elsewhere stated 30, a quantity that an individual European scholar could scarcely expect to peruse with due care and attention, unless his whole time were devoted exclusively for many years to the task. Yet without some such labour being achieved, it was clear, from the crudity and inexactness of all that had been hitherto published on the subject, with one exception 31, that sound views on the subject of Hindu mythology and tradition were not to be expected. Circumstances, which I have already explained in the paper in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society referred to above, enabled me to avail myself of competent assistance, by which I made a minute abstract of most of the Puráńas. In course of time I hope to place a tolerably copious and connected analysis of the whole eighteen before Oriental scholars, and in the mean while offer a brief notice of their several contents.
In general the enumeration of the Puráńas is a simple nomenclature, with the addition in some cases of the number of verses; but to these the Matsya Puráńa joins the mention of one or two circumstances peculiar to each, which, although scanty, are of value, as offering means of identifying the copies of the Puráńas now found with those to which the Matsya refers, or of discovering a difference between the present and the past. I shall therefore prefix the passage descriptive of each Puráńa from the Matsya. It is necessary to remark, however, that in the comparison instituted between that description and the Puráńa as it exists, I necessarily refer to the copy or copies which I employed for the purpose of examination and analysis, and which were procured with some trouble and cost in Benares and Calcutta. In some instances my manuscripts
have been collated with others from different parts of India, and the result has shewn, that, with regard at least to the Brahmá, Vishńu, Váyu, Matsya, Padma, Bhágavata, and Kúrma Puráńas, the same works, in all essential respects, are generally current under the same appellations. Whether this is invariably the case may be doubted, and farther inquiry may possibly shew that I have been obliged to content myself with mutilated or unauthentic works 32. It is with this reservation, therefore, that I must be understood to speak of the concurrence or disagreement of any Puráńa with the notice of it which the Matsya P. has preserved.
xii:25 As. Res. vol. XVI. p. 10.
xiii:26 Asiatic Journal, March 1837, p. 241.
xiii:27 As. Res. vol. XVI. p. 85.
xiv:28 The names are put attributively, the noun substantive, Puráńa, being understood. Thus Vaishńavam Puráńam means the Puráńa of Vishńu; Śaivam Puráńam, the P. of Śiva; Bráhmam Puráńam, the P. of Brahmá. It is equally correct, and more common, to use the two substantives p. xv in apposition, as Vishńu Puráńa, Śiva Puráńa, &c. In the original Sanscrit the nouns are compounded, as Vishńu-puráńam, &c.; but it has not been customary to combine them in their European shape.
xiv:29 P. 284.
xv:30 Journ. Royal As. Soc. vol. V. p. 61.
xv:31 I allude to the valuable work of Col. Vans Kennedy, on the Affinity between Ancient and Hindu Mythology. However much I may differ from that learned and industrious writer's conclusions, I must do him the justice to admit that he is the only author who has discussed the subject of the mythology of the Hindus on right principles, by drawing his materials from authentic sources.
xvi:32 Upon examining the translations of different passages from the Puráńas, given by Col. Vans Kennedy in the work mentioned in a former note, and comparing them with the text of the manuscripts I have consulted, I find such an agreement as to warrant the belief that there is no essential difference between the copies in his possession and in mine. The varieties which occur in the MSS. of the East India Company's Library will be noticed in the text.