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The Puranas - Discover stories of Hinduism's ancient texts in this insightful guide.

The Puranas are the core texts of Hindu religiosity. They expand on the ideas contained in the Vedas through stories, which hold immediate popular appeal. The Mahabharata says that the Vedas fear the person who tries to interpret them without knowing the Puranas first. The Devibhagavata puts it crisply: “Shruti and Smrti are the two eyes of dharma but the Purana is its heart” (XI.1.21).

The Puranas are usually in the form of dialogues between a spiritual aspirant and an accomplished saint. The major topics addressed in the Puranas include the purusharthas or “aims of humanity” (dharma, “sacred duty”; artha “material prosperity”; kama, “pleasure”; and moksha, “liberation”), religious observances, pilgrimage, charitable offerings, rites for the dead, the glorification of various divinities, descriptions of cycles of time, graphic portrayals of heavens and hells, philosophical expositions, delineation of social duties, and of course, the supreme amongst all spiritual practices - Bhakti.

The Puranas are traditionally said to be eighteen in number. However, there is no exactness according to which Puranas fall into the eighteen. The major Puranas are:

1. Brahma Purana

2. Padma Purana

3. Vishnu Purana

4. Vayu Purana

5. Bhagavata Purana

6. Narada Purana

7. Markandeya Purana

8. Agni Purana

9. Bhavishya Purana

10. Brahmavaivarta Purana

11. Linga Purana

12. Varaha Purana

13. Skanda Purana

14. Vamana Purana

15. Kurma Purana

16. Matsya Purana

17. Garuda Purana

18. Brahmanda Purana

19. Shiva Purana

All the Puranas are attributed to the divine sage Vyasa, who, according to the Bhagavata Purana, is an incarantion of Lord Vishnu.


Q1. How many Purana books are there?


Main Puranas are categorized in the Padma Purana as follows:


Sattva (Truth)


Shiva- 24,000 verses related to Shaivism.


Linga - 11,000 verses. Discusses Lingam, a symbol of Shiva


Vishnu - 23,000 verses. A Vaishnavism text


Bhagavata – 18,000 verses. Telling of Vishnu's Avatars, and of Vaishnavism


Naradeya- 25,000 verses, also called Naradiya Purana.


Garuda- 19,000 verses. An encyclopedia of diverse topics


Padma - 55,000 verses.


Varaha Purana- 24,000 verses. Focuses on Varaha as incarnation of Narayana


·        Rajas (Passion)


Markandeya- 9,000 verses


Bhavishya- 14,500 verses


Vamana - 10,000 verses


Brahma Purana- 10,000 verses


·        Tamas (Ignorance)


Matsya- 14,000 verses


Kurma- 17,000 verses


Skanda - 81,100 verses


Agni Purana - 15,400 verses

Q2. What five characteristics must a Purana have?


The five characteristics associated with the Puranas are


Sarga: Creation myths or stories are included in this sign. So the Purana should have proper distinctions about chapters that should speak about the creation of the universe.


Pratisarga: This can be about the origin or nature of the universe. It should be about secondary creations, mostly re-creations after dissolution.


Vamsa: Vamsa covers the genealogy of great individuals, which includes deities, kings, and sages or Rishis.


Manvantara: relates to the reigns of Manus or the rule of individuals like kings. It can also be about cosmic cycles.


Vamsanucharitam: recounts the history of royal dynasties- mostly, the great SuryaVamsha (solar) and the Chandra Lunar) Vamsh.

Q3. Which is the supreme Purana?


The Bhagavata Purana, also known as the Srimad Bhagavatam, Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, or simply Bhagavata, is one of Hinduism's eighteen great Puranas (Mahapuranas). Composed in Sanskrit by Veda Vyasa, it promotes bhakti (devotion) towards Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, integrating themes from the Advaita (Adi Shankara), the Vishishtadvaita (Ramanujacharya) and the Dvaita (Madhvacharya).


The Bhagavata Purana discusses a wide range of topics including cosmology, astronomy, genealogy, geography, legend, music, dance, yoga, and culture. The Bhagavata Purana is a revered text in Vaishnavism. The text presents a form of religion (dharma) that competes with that of the Vedas, wherein bhakti ultimately leads to self-knowledge, salvation (moksha), and bliss.