Importance of the Vishnupurana

This article is part 4 of 8 in the series Puranas

The Vishnupurana is important from several perspectives. As mentioned earlier, the five characteristics of Puranas are contained in this Purana. Unlike other Puranas, this does not contain details of Vrata-s. Nor does it contain the glories of tīrthaketra-s (places of pilgrimage). The sacred observances in this Purana are entirely in consonance with the Vedas and dharmasūtra-s. Wearing the sacred ash, sacred marks, nāma-s, and other sectarian displays of symbolism and rituals are absent in this work. It does not mention any elaborate details of various Dharmic practices. Owing to these reasons, this Purana is notable for its overall integrity, and has been subjected to the least amount of interpolations. It is true that the Third Amsa of this Purana contains significant details of śrāddha (death ceremonies). Indeed, it is surprising to note that compared to the other topics in this Purana, the śrāddha details are quite extensive. Perhaps, many portions in this section are interpolations.

The linguistic style of the Vishnupurana is charming. The prose passages that are interspersed therein are truly lovely. The other specialty is the extremely limited usage of the āraprayoga (diction and usage of the Vedic Sanskrit style in both prose and poetry). No Puranic episode has been unnecessarily stretched. The stories of Dhruva and Prahlada are enchanting akin to a piece of good poetry. Likewise, the story of Sri Krishna which occurs in the Fifth Amsa qualifies as good poetry.

Parāśara Maharshi narrated this Purana to his disciple, Maitreya. The Purana comprises six Amsa-s, and each Amsa in turn, comprises several chapters. The number of Slokas in the Vishnupurana roughly totals to twenty-three thousand. Sridhara Swami has authored a commentary titled ātmaprakāśa (literally, Light of the Soul). He is the same renowned Vidwan who also wrote commentaries for the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavata. He was a great luminary of the Bhakti school. We do not have exact details of Sridhara Swami’s time. One estimate places him in the sixteenth century CE. In his works, he has cited ancient commentators like citsukhayoni and others. We also find another commentary on the Vishnupurana titled viṣṇucittīya. The name of the author remains unknown. In the beginning of this commentary, there is a eulogy of Sri Viṣṇucitta Yati. This enables us to conclude that the work was composed by a disciple of this Yati (monk) and named in the honour of his Guru. Apart from this work, we also have the Vaiṣṇavākūtacadrikā, the critique of Ratnagarbha. Thus, the existence of numerous such commentaries shows the distinction of the Vishnupurana.

We can summarize the contents of the Vishnupurana as follows:

The First Amsa: Story of the creation of the world, which is imbued with twenty-four Elements (Tattva). The story of the creation of the various prajāpati-s (Supreme Being, son of Brahma) devatā-s, pitgaa-s (group of Divine Ancestors) and marudgaa-s (Group of Wind Gods). Stories of Dhruva and Prahlada. The glory of Vishnu.

The Second Amsa: Description of the earth; the nine continental divisions; description of the adholoka (Nether World) and ūrdhvaloka (Upper World); description of the Solar Wheel and the Nine planets; episode of Jaabharata and bhu and nidhāghara.    

The Third Amsa: Description of the Sons of Manu; the different Vyasas who appear in each of the Four Yugas; the Dharma of the Four Varnas; customs of the brahmacarya (Celibate) and ghastha (householder) Ashramas, and elaborate injunctions of Sastras for each.

The Fourth Amsa: Lineages of Vaivasvata Manu, and ikvāku with a brief exposition of Sri Rama’s story; lineages of Soma, Yadu, and Kuru; mention of the Kings who would rule Bharatavarsha in the future; lineage of the māgadhā-s; Kings of the Kali Yuga and description of the Kali Dharma.   

The Fifth Amsa: Detailed narration of the story of Sri Krishna; the destruction of the Yadava lineage; coronation of King Parikshit; description of the ascent of the Pandavas to Heaven.

The Sixth Amsa: Description of the Kali Dharma; importance of śūdra-s and women; exposition on the concept of Time; description of the naimittika praaya (periodic dissolution of the world) and prākta praaya (comprehensive destruction of all the Worlds); the Ultimate Form of the Bhagavan; Brahmayoga; succession of the disciples of Rishis; epilogue.

Parashara Maharshi states that the Vishnupurana is entirely consonant with the Veda: etatte yanmayākhyāta purāa vedasammatam (6.8.12). From this it is clear that the topics contained in the Vedas are discussed in this Purana. For example: nāho na rātrirnabho na bhūmi: nāsīttamo jyotirabhūcca nānyat (1.2.23). This Sloka is a magnification of the Rg-Vedic nāsadīya sūkta, which avers, nāsadāsīt no sadāsīt. Other Slokas such as sahasraśīrā purua sahasrāka sahasrapāt (1.12.58 thru 65) are explanations for the famous purua suktam. Likewise, we also notice the expositions of the meanings of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita in several sections. Apart from similarity in meaning between the Vishnupurana and Vedas and Bhagavad Gita, we also observe linguistic similarity. Overall, it is undoubted that the Vishnupurana was highly renowned and extraordinarily popular from really ancient times. We can also conclude that Mahakavi Kalidasa had thoroughly studied the Vishnupurana and was deeply influenced by it. There is a close match in the description of the Kings of the ikvāku lineage found in Kalidasa’s epic poem, Raghuvamsa with that found in the Vishnupurana. Describing the King Raghu, Kalidasa says, rājā praktirajanāt (4.12). This Kalidasan etymological derivation of the word rājā, meaning, “one who provides delight to his citizens,” is found in the Vishnupurana: rājā bhūjjanarajanāt (1.13.93). In the Raghuvamsa, the Rishi Vasiṣṭha describes King Dilīpa’s devoted service of the Divine Cow Nandini as follows:

prasthitāyām pratiṣṭhethāh sthitāyām sthitimācareh |
ni
aṇṇāyām niīdāsyām pītābhasi piberapah || (1.89)

The Vishnupurana instructs the method by which the disciple should serve his Guru:

sthite tiṣṭhe vrajedyāte nīcairāsīta cāsati | (3.9.4)

When we notice such comparisons, it is clear that Kalidasa was indeed influenced by the Vishnupurana.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...