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The Puranas ( Sanskrit , n., Purāṇa , lit .: "ancient history") are among the most important sacred scriptures of Hinduism . According to the Vedas, they were created between AD 400 and AD 1000, but they often fall back on older content.

Of the 400,000 Puranas mentioned in the Brahma-vaivartta Purana, such as the Devi Bhagavata , 18 are regarded as main Puranas and 18 as secondary Puranas. The main Puranas in turn are divided into three groups according to the three main Hindu deities Brahma , Vishnu and Shiva :

Brahma Puranas:

Vishnu Puranas:

  • Vishnupurana
  • Bhagavatapurana
  • Naradiyapurana
  • Garudapurana
  • Padmapurana
  • Varahapurana

Shiva Puranas:

  • Shiva or Vayupurana
  • Lingapurana
  • Skandapurana
  • Agni
  • Matsyapurana
  • Kurmapurana

Puranas are written in Sanskrit and Tamil and most of the Indian vernacular. There are Puranas in Jainism as well. Since Puranas are traditionally passed on through oral recitation, there is no fixed version of the Puranas, because in oral recitation forms that differ from the texts are usually told, for example to make the text more exciting, easier to understand or to create a regional reference. For this reason there are also different text editions of the Puranas, which makes it difficult to find a fixed version of these texts.

Illustration from a manuscript of the Bhagavatapurana


The Puranas are to their followers as revelations of divine origin. The Puranas are the first scriptures of Hinduism in which a personal deity is devoted to devotional worship, which is why they are also regarded as a source for the theology of the Bhakti path. All Puranas are primarily dedicated to the worship of a deity and describe ceremonies and festivals (vrata) for their worship, in particular they also provide the ritual and social framework of the Bhakti movement. Most of these works also have major chapters on the rights and duties of the castes, the four stages of life, and sacrifices for the dead ( shraddha ), as well as extensive ethical and spiritual instructions.

Often cosmogonies and genealogical lists of the royal houses are recorded, going back to the heroes of the Mahabharata . As a historical source, however, the Puranas should be used with great caution. Nevertheless, the Vishnupurana is considered a good source for the Maurya dynasty and the Vayupurana for the Gupta period . The names of the rulers listed provide an indication of the dating of the respective Purana. The Persian scholar Al-Biruni gives a complete list of all 18 Puranas around 1030.

According to the philosopher Ramanuja , only the Veda study leads to true knowledge , whereas the Puranas only help with the cleansing of sins. In this sense, the Puranas are second-class sacred texts. They were not originally Brahmin- created literature. The sutas (charioteers and bards) are likely to have been the ones who contributed to the creation and spread of the Puranas. Only later did the Puranas pass into the hands of the Brahmins.

From a cultural and historical point of view, however, it was precisely their popularity that made the Puranas so popular. Since a large part of the population was excluded from studying the Veda, the Puranas took on a meaning for Hinduism as the Vedas had for Brahmanism . Women and Shudras in particular received literature that was open to them. As a source of Indian religious history, the Puranas are to be emphasized, especially since they already have a sectarian character and refer to the individual Hindu deities whose cult is represented.

Types of Puranas


Mahapuranas mainly refer to the gods of the Trimurti , Upapuranas mostly refer to other deities such as Devi , Krishna , Surya and Ganesha .

The Mahapuranas are considered to be the oldest Puranic scriptures in the Puranas themselves. The Mahapuranas are said to consist of 18 such Puranas, but the respective lists of the scriptures specified as Mahapuranas differ. It is believed that the Mahapuranas actually originated earlier than the Upapuranas. Although mahapuranas can also contain mahatmyas to specific locations, they are common all over India.


The Upapuranas are traditionally also said to consist of 18 of these scriptures, but there are significantly more than 18 Upapuranas. The Upapuranas and the Mahapuranas have no clear criteria for differentiation, but it is assumed that the Upapuranas originated later. In addition, they are dedicated to gods other than the Trimurti and more often refer to specific places.


Sthalapuranas refer to specific geographic locations. Often it is a well-known place mentioned in the title of Puranas. It describes temples and sacred places, which are believed to be used by the gods as places of pilgrimage.

Sthalapuranas were written in Sanskrit , Tamil, and other vernacular languages, and there are hundreds of them. Shtalapuranas are common all over India. An example of a Shtalapurana would be the Chidambaram Mahtymya, which is about Chidambaram , the Shiva temple there and the god Shiva and explains their holiness.


Jatipuranas, like Shtalapuranas, refer to a single topos. Jatis are sub-castes that represent the smallest subdivision of a caste. Jatipuranas are about the origin and history of a particular jati. Jatipuranas are often written in the Indian vernacular, although many are in Sanskrit. Due to the use of slang languages, it is believed that Jatipuranas are likely to be more common and recited more often than the Mahapuranas and Upapuranas. Many of the Jatipuranas probably didn't emerge until the beginning of the 20th century.

Jatipuranas mostly deal with the myth of the origin of the lineage and refer to a Hindu deity associated with this myth and worshiped by the respective sub-caste. This deity is often Vishnu, Shiva, or a member of the family of these gods.

Many Jatipuranas were written by Brahmins who transfigured the original myth of lower subcastes in order to give the Jati a higher status in the eyes of higher castes committed to Sankrit Hinduism. In these narratives it is sometimes shown that the Jati previously belonged to a higher caste, but now, due to a ritual error or an unwanted injury to a saint or god, have a lower status.

The myths told by Jatipuranas are often identical to the myths of more common Puranas. The Jatipuranas are mostly only of importance for a smaller region in which the respective Jati can be found, but the Brahmanic myths and stories connect the Jati with a larger, regionally not limited tradition.


The most common Purana scriptures, along with the Jatipuranas, are Mahatmyas, of which there are thousands. The term Mahatmya means glorification. There are three types of Mahatmyas: those relating to a particular place, those relating to a sacred substance, and those relating to a particular deity. Mahatmyas are mostly contained in other Puranas, in which they differ from the Shtalapuranas. Some Puranas, such as the Skandapurana, contain very many mahatmyas, but it is customary to read the mahatmyas separately from such scriptures.

Mahatmyas are used as devotional tracts by groups of devotees. Although they are written in the same style as the Mahapuranas and Upapuranas, they differ from them in that there are no shastric sequences relating to the conduct of life. Unlike the Mahapuranas and Upapuranas, Mahatmyas are considered limited in their purpose.

The most famous Mahatmya is the Devi Mahatmya from the Markadeyapurana.

Contents of some Puranas


The Vishnupurana, which was probably written around AD 300, explains that Vishnu represents the supreme deity in the universe. It starts with several myths about the creation of the universe. After that, the different classes of living beings are listed and the seven continents of which India is one. Even hell realms appear in Vishnupurana. According to these descriptions, the time of the manus , patriarchs who created groups of people and other living beings, begins , after which the Veda of Vyasa is created. Next, the social classes receive their rules, also with regard to the life stages and rituals of the life cycle. Vishnu now appears, excluding some heretics from the Vedas. Descriptions of various royal lines are followed by a long narrative of the birth and life of Krishna . An important description in this section is the dissolution of the world in a threefold way, whereby the liberation from a personal existence ( moksha ) is also addressed.


The Lingapurana was created between the 5th and 10th centuries and consists of two books with 150 chapters. It deals with Shiva and his theology, but with regard to these is not comparable with the later Shivapurana, whose theology, mythology and rituals are even more elaborate than those of the Lingapurana. The Lingapurana contains much Shastric material dealing with Shivaitic rituals and meditation.

The Lingapurana begins in the first 35 chapters with stories about creation and didactic explanations about yoga , visualizations of God, Shiva's forms of appearing as a teacher in the Yugas , stotras for worshiping Shiva and worshiping the Linga .

These first chapters also contain the famous myth of how the Linga first appeared and was found by Vishnu and Brahma, who studied it and became enlightened by it. According to this myth, the Lingapurana contains a comprehensive praise for Shiva.

After these first 35 chapters, further myths are described, then the thousand names of Shiva are enumerated, genealogies of kings of a divine nature and of kings who descend from Krishna are given. The next chapters deal with the correct worship of the Linga and the rituals and yoga of the Pashupatas .

In the next chapters of the first book there are myths about Shiva's admirer Andhaka, an avatar of Vishnu, the story about Daksha's sacrificial celebration, myths about Shiva's son Ganesha and his birth, Shiva's Tandava and at the end a myth about Upamanyu, another admirer of Shiva.

In the second book, myths are told in the first six chapters about the worship of Vishnu, whereupon the goddess of misfortune, Alakshmi, is created. Vishnu now tells about Shiva that he is the highest deity and that worshiping Shiva is auspicious. Then, in the next three chapters, mantras are given to drive away misfortune, and a theology is developed that explains Shiva's greatness and explains how to worship Shiva. The next 16 chapters deal with rituals of offering gifts, the next ten chapters deal with worshiping Shiva and the Linga in practice.


The Shivapurana contains many forms of myths, but the main part is made up of myths about Shiva himself and his family, especially his two wives Sati and Parvati . The scope of the Shivapurana varies in different editions, one of them containing 477 chapters, others a lot less. The dating of Shivapurana is not possible as a whole, but only on the basis of the individual parts. Individual chapters of this Purana go back to 1000 AD. In Shivapurana, one book deals with the linga and its theology, another book deals with twelve lingas, the mythology and local distribution of which are discussed. Part of the Shivapurana are rituals related to Shiva and the worship of Shiva in order to gain the right knowledge, Jnana , for liberation . The ritual books also contain many references to Shaktism .


The Skandapurana is available in many different versions, which are also of different lengths. One output contains e.g. B. 87,000 verses while another contains only 8,000. Its creation is dated to the 8th to 15th centuries. The god Skanda is Shiva's son, so this Purana is considered Shivaitic . The Skandapurana differs from other Puranas in that its various forms are particularly long and extensive and there are many sub-texts that are ascribed to this Purana. There are hundreds of manuscripts ascribed to the Skandapurana in Indian libraries. Many of these manuscripts are Mahatmyas describing holy places, while others tell, for example, myths about Ganesha that cannot be found in other Puranas.

A print version of the Skandapurana consists of 5–7 volumes that contain seven Khandas, individual books that together correspond to the scope of the Skandapurana. These Khandas are in turn divided into Mahatmyas and Khandas. In these many holy places are thematically described, the Kashikhanda, for example, with its 100 chapters deals with Varanasi . Other holy places that are described are all over India. Since the discovery of an early new manuscript of the Skandapurana, it is believed to describe most of the famous sacred sites of the Indian Middle Ages.

Devi Bhagavata Purana

The Devi Bhagavata Purana probably originated in Bengal between the 11th and 12th centuries and found its final form in the 15th century. It is about the goddess, Mahadevi , her theology and the rituals that go with it. This Purana contains the Devigita and another version of the Devi Mahatmya . It is related to the Bhagavatapurana and one finds intertextual connections in these two Puranas . In addition to the name Mahadevi, other names of God are also used, for example Mahalakshmi or Bhagavati, and the goddess is viewed as the female force and power, Shakti , the male gods. Many of the myths are reminiscent of other Puranas, but the cosmogony and cosmology here are centered on the goddess. Bhagavati is the origin of the universe and creates himself as Brahma , Shiva and Vishnu and thus has the cosmic functions of the Trimurti .

In myths relating to Vishnu, the goddess appears in this Purana as the power that enables Vishnu to be embodied in the avatars .

The Devi Bhagavata Purana is divided into twelve sections, just like the Bhabgavata Purana. At the beginning it is told about how the Devi Bhagavata was recited for the first time in the Naimisa forest. Next, in relation to theology, it is shown how Devi embodies himself as the three Shaktis through which Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu perform their cosmic functions. In the second section the birth of Vyasa is described as well as certain lineages and a story in the Vyasa Janamejaya explains that his deceased father goes to heaven when Janamejaya worships the goddess. The following ten sections tell of myths in which the Trimurti transforms into young girls so that they can see the universe in their toenail. Then the goddess transforms herself again into the three Shaktis of the Trimurti. This is followed by the myths about Nara, Narayana and Prahlada in which it is pointed out that it is the goddess who guides Vishnus Avataras .

Chapters 30-40 of the seventh section of the Devi Bhagavata Purana contain the Devigita. In this the goddess appears as Brahman and it is explained how the identity with the Atman can be achieved through Jnana and Bhakti . The eighth section contains information on the geography of the earth, the ninth section deals with the various goddesses, the tenth section deals with the Manus and their worship of the goddess, which takes place in different places. The eleventh section explains good behavior and the daily rituals. The twelfth section explains the Gayatrimantra , which is used to understand the Goddess. Each syllable of the Gayatrimantra has 1008 names of the goddess.

The famous Devi Mahatmya from the Markandeya Purana is in a different version in the Devi Bhagavata Purana.


  • Carina S. Back: From the recited Purana to the painted picture story. Information transfer when translating Indian mythological tradition into comics . Münster: Lit, Münster 2007.
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Web links

Individual evidence

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  5. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, pp. 139f
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  8. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, pp. 140f
  9. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, pp. 141f.
  10. Cush, Robinson, York 2008, pp. 639 f.
  11. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, p. 146
  12. Cush, Robinson, York 2008, p. 640
  13. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, p. 149
  14. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, p. 149
  15. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (et al.), Brill 2010, pp. 147-148.
  16. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, p. 148.
  17. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, p. 148.
  18. Knut A. Jacobsen, Johannes Bronkhorst (Ed.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism; Vol. II. Leiden (inter alia), Brill 2010, p. 148