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A Purana text

A Purana is a text (from centuries ago) and treats these five subjects:

  • The creation;
  • Destruction and renovation of the world;
  • Some royal dynasties;
  • Reigns of Manus;
  • Genealogies.

The Vishnu Purana

Vishnu Purana look

The Vishnu Purana is thought to be one of the oldest of the dozens of Hindu Puranas. It was supposedly composed in the first or second century CE (current era) - or possibly as late as the 300s CD - and is devoted to god Vishnu (Narayana), that Krishna is said to be a complete descension of (avatar of.

H. H. Wilson thought the Vishnu Purana was one of the oldest of the Puranas, and dated it to the first century BCE (before the current era). However, Gavin Flood (1996) dates it later, to the fourth century CE, and a few more scholars place it between these stipulations. The original version could have been written during the later Vedic period, which was between 800 BCE and 300 BCE. The current, final version mentions rulers of the Gupta Empire (ca. 320 to 550 CE), and could not have been written before 320 CE for that reason.

The Vishnu Purana is presented as a dialogue between Parashara and his disciple Maitreya. Parashara was a great vedic seer (maharishi) and the author of many ancient Indian texts. It is thought that he narrated the Vishnu Purana to his son Veda Vyasa, and that Vyasa wrote it in its present form, in six parts and 126 chapters. The Vishnu Purana is said to contain some twenty-three thousand slokas (verses), but the actual number of verses it contains is less than seven thousand. [More on Vyasa].

Of Narayana

In the sacred text we are told how

  1. Narayana (Spirit) engages in creation of 14 worlds within the universe as Brahma (God Creator).
  2. Spirit (Narayana) sustains, maintains and preserves the universe as Vishnu.
  3. And Narayana destroys the universe (for a while) at the end of a great eon (maha-kalpa).

This Vaishnavist outlook regards the holy trinity of God Creator-Preserver-Destroyer as non-different from the Spirit (Narayana).

Good stories, avarice running wild and ruins of good folks

The work abounds in stories. The major topics include creation, stories of battles fought between asuras and devas, the Avatars (divine descents) of Vishnu and genealogy and stories of legendary kings.

Stories include the churning of the ocean, the story of Dhruva, the famous story of Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada, the sages Vyasa and Yajnavalkya, the sun (Surya), the god of death (Yama), the four stages of life (ashramas), famous kings from ancient dynasties. There are tales of different events in the life of the Avatar (divine descent) Krishna, birth, childhood and further, until the moment he leaves his body and his clan is destroyed.

The sixth and last part speaks of avarice, corruption, property in the hands of few in a sorry time era when property and wealth alone will give esteem (rank) and falsehood will be means of success. Such is the Kali Yuga (Kali era), alas.

A World Heritage Book and Translations of It

Horace H. Wilson translated the Vishnu Purana in 1840, and Manmatha Nath Dutt made a prose English translation from that work some dozens of years later. Both translatons are available online, and some recent editions exist too.


Shorn of lustre, the archer Arjuna one time saw and saluted Veda-Vyasa, who said, "Have you slept with a woman illegally? Or killed a priest?" - Cf. Visnhupuranam, p. 422-23

The Vishnu Purana is part of Unesco's world heritage of literature. The work is marked by simplicity, and covers topics of long-lived interest too.

Extracts from Manmatha Dutt's translation

Brahma, Creator; Vishnu, Preserver; and Siva, Destroyer are the three in One. (p. 1)

The supreme Soul, who pervades the universe, is the fundamental cause. (5)

Brahma is prime and eternal, without birth, change or deterioration. (6)

Primaeval Brahma, his forms are Manifested and Unmanifested, Time and the rest. (6)

The incomprehensible lord of the greatest became engaged in creation. (14)

Victory to you who are manifest and soul of the universe. (15)

The mighty Boar rose up like a gigantic dark-blue mountain. As he emerged, he rose up holding the Earth in his abdominal cavity and kept shaking. Motionless yogis with delighted hearts said to the holder of the Earth [the Boar]: "Victory to you! You of unparalleled power! Save you, supreme state, there is none whatever. You are the sole highest reality. Be gracious!" (16, 17, abr.)

Those of pure spirit look on this entire universe as your form, replete with knowledge, soul of all! (18)

Humans divided into four orders, reverent and of excellent ways, were pure in heart, with Pure Hari residing in their heart: they perceived that state which is genuine knowledge. (26. 27, abr.)

Vishnu Purana sayings, Visnupuranam extracts, Literature  

Dutt, Manmatha. Vishnupuranam. 2nd ed. Varanasi: Chowkhamba, 1972. Online.

Flood, Gavin. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Wilson, Horace H., tr. The Vishnu Purana. London: John Murray, 1840. Online. A recent edition was published in 2006 by Read Country Books in Cambridge.

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