About the Book:.
Agni Purana occupies an important place among the most popular works in the Mahapuranas exceptionally for its scientific tracts. It is also called Agneya-Purana and is narrated by Suta (Lomaharsana), a disciple of Vyasa, who received it from Vasistha to whom it was communicated by Agni. It consists of sixteen thousand stanzas distributed in three hundred and eighty-three chapters. The contents of this Purana clearly show that it has no sectarial leaning. It impartially treats of Vaisnava, Saiva and Sakta form of worship. It is more a compendium of Sanskrit learning than the advocacy of any particular form of religion. The early chapters of this Purana describe the Avataras and in those of Rama and Krsna, avowedly follow the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The chapters on medicine, materia medica and pharmacy as well as those on the treatment of elephants and horse diseases are highly interesting. Besides an exhaustive account of paravidya and the science of Brahman occurs in this Purana. It is a very interesting account and will prove highly useful to the readers. It can virtually be regarded as an encyclopaedia of Hinduism, teaching as it does among others many subjects such as cosmogony, religion, law and much legendary matter etc. which, to a Hindu, assumes the value of history and geographical matter such as description of various places of pilgrimage. This Purana also teaches archery, medicine, rhetoric, prosody and grammar.
It is first time that an authentic English translation of M. N. Dutt includes the Sanskrit text. The old usage of English version has been replaced by the corresponding modern usage in order that the contents of the translation may be easily made out even by a layman. The terminology of Indian medicine is given correctly, as well as in the end of the Purana, the index of Slokas is given for ready reference of the readers.
The Purana which describes the occurrences of the Isana Kalpa and was related by Agni to Vasistha, is called Agneya. It consists of sixteen thousand stanzas distributed in three hundred and eighty-three chapters. The Puranas have obtained the name of Pancalaksana because their contents generally embrace five topics namely (1) Primary creation or cosmogony, (2) secondary creation, (3) genealogy of gods and patriarchs, (4) reigns of the Manus, (5) history of the solar and lunar dynasties.
The definition does not however necessarily signify that the Puranas exclusively deal with these topics only. On the contrary, every Purana dwells at length on one or more particular subjects and in some, these five primary topics occupy a very subordinate position. Our remark is particularly applicable to Agni Purana more than three-fourths of which have no connection however with the five principal topics. In the introduction Suta describes the subjects of knowledge and therefore, the subject matter of this Purana, is two-fold-namely Paravidya, sacred knowledge or theology and Apara Vidya, profane knowledge or the arts and sciences known to the people. The subject matter of the Agni Purana is thus described in the Introduction :-
Agni said - Visnu is the fire of universal dissolution and I am Rudra. I will communicate unto you the essence of learnings, the Purana, that is that is the cream of all sciences and the cause of all; (13) [Containing an account of] creation and dissolution, of various families, periods of Manu and genealogies. The Lord Visnu assumes the forms of fish, tortoise etc. There are two sciences, superior and inferior. a twice born one, the Vedas, Rk, Yajuh, Sarna and Atharvan, the six auxiliaries of the Vedas, namely (Siksa), the science of proper articulation and pronunciation, (Kalpa) ritual or ceremonial, (Vyakarana) grammar, (Nirukta) etymological explanation of difficult Vedic words (Jyotisa) astronomy, (Chandas) science of prosody, (Abhidhana) lexicon, Mimamsa, Dharma Sastras, Puranakas, Nyaya, medical science, musical science, the science of archery and political economy - these all are the inferior sciences. The superior science is that by which Brahma is comprehended (14-17). I will describe unto you the great Purana, Agni, containing the great and eternal science of Brahma, that which is invisible, incomprehensible, stable and eternal; and is the cause of fish and other forms, recounted unto me by Visnu and unto the celestials in the days of yore by Brahma (18- 19).
The general character: In the general treatment of the subjects the author, however, docs not stick to the five principal topics which should constitute a Purana. He even loses sight of the two-fold knowledge, divine and secular set forth by him originally in the introduction. He has introduced a number of topics, useful to men, without any system or method. His work is more like an Encyclopaedia, containing a variety of useful topics bearing on later Sanskrit learning for Vedic rituals are seen no where in the book.
The contents of this Purana clearly show that it has no sectarian leaning. It impartially treats of Vaisnava, Saiva and Sakta forms of worship. It is more a compendium of Sanskrit learning than the advocacy of any particular form of religion. It is classed among the Tames or the delusive division of the Puranas, Professor Wilson thus remarks on the general character of this Purana,
"From this general sketch of the Agni Purana it is evident that it is a compilation from various works; that consequently it has no claim in itself to any great antiquity, although from the absence any exotic materials, it might be pronounced earlier, with perhaps a few exceptions, than the Mahomedan invasion. From the absence also of a controversial or sectarian spirit, it is probably anterior to the struggles that took place in 8th and 9th centuries of our era between the followers of Siva and Visnu. As a mere compilation however, its date is of little importance, except as furnishing a testimony to that of the materials of which it is composed. Many of these may pretend no doubt to considerable antiquity, particularly the legendary accounts of the A vataras, the section on regal policy and judicature and genealogical chapters, how far the rest may be ancient is perhaps questionable, for there can be little doubt that the Purana and comprehending such incongruous admixtures, is not the entire work as it at first stood. It is not unlikely that many chapters were arbitrarily supplied about 8 or 9 centuries ago and a few perhaps even later, to fill up the chasms which time and accident had made in the original Agneya Purana."
He again remarks in his introduction to the Visnu Purana :-
The cyclopaedical character of the Agni Purana, as it is now described, excludes it from any legitimate claims to be regarded as a Purana and proves that its origin cannot be very remote. It is subsequent to the ltihasas, to the chief work on grammar, rhetoric and medicine and to the introduction of the Tantrik worship of Devi. When this latter took place, is yet far from determined; but there is every probability that it dates long after the beginning of our era.
The materials of the Agni Purana are, however, no doubt, of some antiquity. The medicine of Susruta is considerably older than the ninth century an the grammar of Panini probably precedes Christianity. The chapters on archery and arms and on regal administration, are also distinguished by an entirely Hindu character and must have been written long anterior to the Mahomedan invasion. So far the Agni Purana is valuable, as embodying and preserving relics of antiquity, although compiled at a more recent date.
Summary: Professor Wilson gives the following summary of the contents of this Purana which will give our readers some idea of the numerous subjects treated of in this work.
The early chapters of this Purana describe the A vataras and in those of Rama and Krsna, avowedly follow the Ramayana and Mahabharata. A considerable portion is appropriated to instructions for the performance of religious ceremonies; many of which belong to the Tantrik rituals and are apparently transcribed from the principal authorities of that system. Some belong to mystical forms of Saiva worship, little known in Hindustana, though perhaps, still practised in the south. One of these is the Diksa or initiation of a novice: by which with numerous ceremonies and invocation, in which the mysterious monosyllables of Tantras are constantly repeated, the disciple is transformed into a living personation of Siva and receives, in that capacity, the homage of his Guru. Interspersed with these are chapters descriptive of the earth and of the universe, which are same as those of the Visnu Purana; and Mahatmyas or legends of the holy places, particularly of Gaya. Chapters on the duties of kings and on the art of war then occur, which have the appearance of being extracted from some older work, as is, undoubtedly, the chapter on judicature, which follows them and which is the same as he text of the Mitaksara. Subsequent to these we have an account of the distribution and arrangement of the Vedas and Puranas and in a chapter on gifts, we have a description of the Puranas, which is precisely the same and in the same situation, as the similar subject in the Matsya Purana. The genealogical chapters are meagre lists, differing, in a few respects, from those commonly received, as hereafter noticed, but unaccompanied by any particulars such as those recorded or invented in the Markandeya. The next subject is medicine, compiled, avowedly, but injudiciously from the Susruta, A series of chapters on the mystic worship of Siva and Devi follows; and the work winds up with a treatise on rhetoric, prosody and grammar according to the Sutras of Pingala and Panini.
Date:It is extremely difficult to find out exactly the period when this cyclopaedic work was written. It was undoubtedly written long before the Mahornedan invasion. "The chapters, twelfth to fifteenth, in which a synopsis of the Rarnayana and Mahabharata is given, conclusively prove that the work was written long after Ramayana and the Mahabharata and at a time when those works had become very old and abstracts of them, were likely to be prized by the general readers." This is the view of Dr. Rajendra Lala Mitra. Besides many mystic rites, mantras and ceremonies, with which this Purana teams and many of which are entirely obsolete now and thoroughly inexplicable clearly prove its antiquity. The mantras are generally of the Tantric type. It may be that this work might have been written after Tantric form of worship had been introduced in this country. The likely inference is that this work was written after the Tantric period and as the author wanted to make a compilation or the history, mythology, rites, ceremonials, etc., of the Hindus for the information of the general readers he gave an account of many obsolete ritres and mantras that were in vogue in very ancient time.
Important topics: The numberless obsolete rites, ceremonials and mantras described in this Purana, are of no interest to a general reader. But the chapters on medicine, materia medica and pharmacy as well as those on the treatment of elephants and horse diseases are highly interesting. Besides an exhaustive account of Para-vidva and the science of Brahma occurs in this Purana. It is a very interesting account and will prove, without doubt, highly useful to the readers. The chapters on Law-Courts, Judicial Officers, evidences, inheritance, boundary and other disputes, etc., may not be very useful to those who arc familiar with the law literature or the Hindus codified by Manu, Mitaksara etc., but they will afford a very profitable and interesting study to the general readers who have not the time and patience to go through those voluminous treatises. The subject of training in the use of arms and armour is treated in four chapters; of these archery is principally dealt with. These chapters are highly interesting and their abstracts will be found in Dr. Wilson's "essay on the Art of War as known to the Hindus." Dr. Rajendra Lala Mitra thus writes on the subject of Gaja Ayurveda and the veterinary art treated of in this Purana.
"The subject is named Gaja Ayurveda and is explained by one called Palakapya and the latter, instead of addressing Susruta, makes Lornapada, king of Anga, the receiver of his instructions. At the close of chapter 291 Agni distinctly says that the instructions regarding horses had been imparted by Salihotra to Susruta and those regarding elephants had been communicated by Palakapya to the king of Anga; the obvious infcrenee is that the two names indicate not the same but two different persons.
In the next chapters Dhanvantari again takes up the thread of the discourse and dwells at some length on the value of the horse as a vehicle and proper times and modes of using the animal. He concludes by saying that he would quote the words of Salihotra on the good and bad points of horses and on the veterinary art. Accordingly chapter 288th is devoted to the quotation in question. Salihotra is said to have been a Rsi of great renown who had acquired the veterinary art from the celestial horse doctors the two Asvins and had written the first book on the subject for human use. His work has not yet been met with, but an abridgement of it by Nakula, the fourth of the Pandu brothers, is still current and veterinary art is in India indicated by the name of the Rsi. The vernacular form in northern India and also in Bengal is Saluteri and the practitioner of the art Saluter. In the reign of Ghiasuddin Muhammad Shah Ghilzai, A.H. 783-A.B. 1381, a Sanskrit work, styled Salotar appeared in a Persian dress under the name of Kurrat-ul-mulk and extended to 41 pages. Even before that, an Arabic version had appeared under the name of Kitabul Baitarat and subsequently in the reign of Shah Jahan a Persian translation was prepared of a Sanskrit work named Salotorai which extended to 16,000 slokas. There is nothing however to show whether the original of any of these three versions was the work of Salihotra or a later compilation on furriery. Seeing that the word Saloteri is now become a common noun for furriery, I am of opinion, that the Persian versions were not taken from the original work of Salihotra, but from a later compilation and this is confirmed by the fact of the originals of the three versions having been of very unequal lengths. It is doubtful if the verses quoted in the Agni Purana retain the ipsissima verba of Salihotra or are para- phrases."
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