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Purana Lakshana

What makes a text a Purana? Pancha Lakshana

Home » What makes a text a Purana? Pancha Lakshana

Purana texts are story collections that adhere to a fixed literary format. However, each Purana may offer its unique moral stories, some semi-historical information, and guidance on Puja practices. Amarakosha, a famous grammar text from the fifth century, lists five mandatory requirements or Lakshanas for a story collection to be called a Purana. These Lakshana-requirements provide a deeper insight into the ingenuity of Vyasa in choosing the medium of stories to educate the masses.

The following verse from the Amarakosha lists Pancha (5) Lakshana: Sarga, Pratisarga, Vamsa, Manvantara, and Vamsa Anucharita. Vyasa achieved a specific purpose with each Lakshana. This post reviews the purposes in the following paragraphs.

सर्गस्च प्रतिसर्गस्च वंशो मन्वन्तराणि च |
वंशानुचरितम् चैव पुराणम् पञ्च लक्शनम् ||

sargasca pratisargasca vaṃśo manvantarāṇi ca
vaṃśānucaritam caiva purāṇam pañca lakśanam

Amarakosha on Purana Lakshana

Purana Lakshana 1: Sarga

Human beings have a physical body which is a part of material existence. In addition, everyone has an unseen mind-intellect complex. Similarly, the cosmos must have a subtle aspect besides its material component. Scientists say that dark matter and dark energy constitute the most considerable chunk of the universe. The Sarga portion of a Purana teaches the idea of the creation of the unseen universe through exciting stories.

The Sarge stories suggest to us the nature of Brahma, the creator, and his mental creation. Prajapati class of beings, the Devas, the Asuras and other celestial beings were a part of Brahma’s immediate creation. Prajapati beings took creation forward, by producing creatures in the material domain. Vyasa uses stories to explain complex ideas in the Vedas. His eighteen Puranas complement the Vedas.

Pratisarga Stories

Nature recycles everything. Our distant ancestors breathed the same air and drank the water we enjoy today. Nature assures the purity of its recycled resources. Nature has also evolved species over the eons. In a subtle sense, the Vedas acknowledge the evolution of living beings. What was the role of the Devas in the interim period until human beings appeared on Earth? How did they adapt themselves to influencing human societies?

The Prati-Sarga stories provide many clues. One famous story is that of Devi Sati and her rebirth as Parvati. Vyasa brings many Rishis and Devas from a legendary Era of Sarga creation to an Era relating to human beings. Shiva descends to the Earth to marry Parvati in her human form. The Sapta Rishis of an earlier Era appear in their human form to guide great Kings.

Manvantara Model

The cosmos is fourteen billion years old. Scientists feel excited to ponder on this truth. An ordinary person does not grasp the full significance of astronomical units. Rishis learned about the ancientness of the universe through their meditative insight. They desired for the commoner to catch a bit of their wonder. Therefore, they cognized the Manu units of time, the Manvantara, based on the more apparent time cycles in nature.

The Puranas effortlessly convey the age of the planet Earth to be a few billion years using the Manu Eras. They convey the age of the cosmos, in terms of Brahma’s Day units which is even larger. A commoner understood the idea of an endless cycle of creation and annihilation through the Puranas.

The Manvantara model is an apt tool for us to understand geological Eras. Each Manu period corresponds to a significant geological transformation. Vyasa set Sarge and Pratisarga stories against a backdrop of a different Manu era. For example, important sensory organs (Prachetas) developed in the Chakshusa Manvantara Era. Coincidentally, this Era corresponds to the Cambrian. Geologists map an explosion of mammal species to this Era.

Purana Lakshana 4: Vamsa

Firstly, life is as old as Planet Earth. Secondly, an individual being goes through different life forms before taking a human birth. Thirdly, a being exists in a subtle form between lifetimes. Thus, individual beings are as eternal as existence. Some Purana stories remind us of this fact through the examples of Vamsa or the great dynasties.

The Surya Vamsa, the Chandra Vamsa, and the Agni Vamsa are the most important dynasties in Purana lore. Many sub-dynasties arose from them. Yadu Vamsa, Kuru Vamsa, and Ikshvaku Vamsa are examples of sub-dynasties. Vyasa highlights the influences of Devas, exalted Rishis, and the celestial Yogis during the early phase of the three important Vamsas. For example, the Surya Vamsa starts with Vaivasta Manu, the direct descendent of Surya. Chandra Vamsa starts with Soma, one of the three sons of Atri Rishi. The Vamsa stories emphasize the interactions between the beings in the material domain and those in the subtle domain.

Vamsa Anucharita Stories

We will find the brilliant and ordinary in any family tree. A family can remain together despite these variations. Similarly, some great and a few average rulers maintain law and order in society over the generations. Great kings reestablished Dharma, which weakened during the reign of ordinary kings. A Purana author takes the opportunity to praise kings who were just and their devotion to Dharmic values through Vamsa Anucharita stories. These stories teach ordinary citizens to go through trying times with faith. They inspire a sense responsibility to the environment and society as laid down in the Vedas.

Vamsa Anucharita forms the significant bulk of any Purana text. We can also learn about past social customs and rituals that were popular through this portion of a Purana. For example, the Bavishya Purana explains the worship rituals of the Sun, which existed in the past.

Related Links

Secret of the Puranas – Sri Sri Ravishankar

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