Sacred Texts  Hinduism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, [1840], at

Synopsis of the Vishńu Puráńa

From the sketch thus offered of the subjects of the Puráńas, and which, although admitting of correction, is believed to be in the main a candid and accurate summary, it will be evident that in their present condition they must be received with caution as authorities for the mythological religion of the Hindus at any remote period. They preserve, no doubt, many ancient notions and traditions; but these have been so much mixed up with foreign matter, intended to favour the popularity of particular forms of worship or articles of faith, that they cannot be unreservedly recognised as genuine representations of what we have reason to believe the Puráńas originally were.

The safest sources for the ancient legends of the Hindus, after the Vedas, are no doubt the two great poems, the Rámáyańa and Mahábhárata. The first offers only a few, but they are of a primitive character. The Mahábhárata is more fertile in fiction, but it is more miscellaneous, and much that it contains is of equivocal authenticity, and uncertain date. Still it affords many materials that are genuine, and it is evidently the great fountain from which most, if not all, of the Puráńas have drawn; as it intimates itself, when it declares that there is no legend current in the world which has not its origin in the Mahábhárata 84.

A work of some extent professing to be part of the Mahábhárata may more accurately be ranked with the Pauráńik compilations of least authenticity, and latest origin. The Hari Vanśa is chiefly occupied with the adventures of Krishńa, but, as introductory to his era, it records particulars of the creation of the world, and of the patriarchal and regal

p. lix

dynasties. This is done with much carelessness and inaccuracy of compilation, as I have had occasion frequently to notice in the following pages. The work has been very industriously translated by M. Langlois.

A comparison of the subjects of the following pages with those of the other Puráńas will sufficiently shew that of the whole series the Vishńu most closely conforms to the definition of a Pancha-lakshańa Puráńa, or one which treats of five specified topics. It comprehends them all; and although it has infused a portion of extraneous and sectarial matter, it has done so with sobriety and with judgment, and has not suffered the fervour of its religious zeal to transport it into very wide deviations from the prescribed path. The legendary tales which it has inserted are few, and are conveniently arranged, so that they do not distract the attention of the compiler from objects of more permanent interest and importance.


Click to view
'Unconnected with this narrative, no story is known upon earth.' Vol. I. p. 11. l. 307.

Next: Book One