Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Garuda Purana, by Bibek Debroy

Garuda Purana, translated by Bibek Debroy

This is the ninth Purana I am reviewing, and as you all might have guessed, is a Sattvika Purana. It is listed seventeenth in the list of Puranas, and is nineteen thousand shlokas long. It is divided into two parts, the Purva khanda, and the Uttara khanda. The Purva khanda has two hundred and thirty-four adhyayas (chapters), and the Uttara Khanda has only forty-five adhyayas. This Purana was recited to Rishi Kashyapa by the great bird Garuda himself. This Purana says that Vishnu had twenty-two incarnations, not ten! The names of the incarnations are as listed below:
  1. Kumara (young boy)
  2. Varaha (boar)
  3. Devarishi (great sage)
  4. Nara and Narayana
  5. Sage Kapila
  6. Sage Dattatreya
  7. Son of Ruchi and Akuti
  8. Urukrama (son of Nabhi and Meru)
  9. King Prithu
  10. Matsya (fish)
  11. Kurma (turtle)
  12. Dhanavantari (physician of the gods)
  13. Mohini avatara
  14. Narasimha
  15. Vamana
  16. Parashurama
  17. Vedavyasa
  18. Narada
  19. Rama
  20. Krishna
  21. Buddha
  22. Kalki (yet to come)

There is a story behind how this Purana has come to be written. It so happens that Garuda pleased Vishnu with tapasya, and Vishnu granted him boons. Garuda asked him that he might be Vishnu’s carrier, that he might prevail over all snakes, and that he should be granted the knowledge that would help him write a Purana. These boons were granted. Garuda then started composing the Garuda Purana.

This Purana includes a lot of rituals, and covers many interesting topics. It talks about the different ways to give daan, the different prayers one can offer to Lord Vishnu, how to identify which god does a Shalagrama depict, and much more. I will include one of the prayers, and a story that I enjoyed. I will also write a little about the different topics covered in the Purana. Here is one prayer you can recite, so that Lord Vishnu may protect you at all times.
I pray to you Lord Vishnu. Take your sudarshana chakra (a bladed disk) and protect my east. I seek your protection. Take your koumodaki gada (mace) and protect my south. I salute you. Take your sounanda hala (a plough) and protect my west. O, lotus-eyed, you alone are my refuge. Take your shatana mushala (a club) and protect my north.
It then continues to talk about the different types of daan: nitya, naimittika, kamya and vimala. This leads to the topic of Prayashchitta, meaning atonement for one’s sins. It tells you what you should do if you perform a particular sin, and for how long.

 It also tells you where your atonement must be performed. Like most of the Puranas I have read, it describes the India’s geography. The Purana then describes little on astronomy, and how you can identify whether a person is fortunate or not. I also found the most amazing story on how the different jewels were formed, and more about the different jewels. Let me move on to narrating to you my two favourite stories from this Purana. There were very few stories in this Purana, but the ones that were there were very interesting.

Before I get started, readers please do not get him confused with the Pandava Arjuna’s son. Both are two entirely different people. King Babhruvahana was a kind and generous, and lived in a prosperous kingdom. He had once gone hunting, and got separated from the soldiers in the process of pursuing a deer. He was thirsty, and soon found a pond. After quenching his thirst, he lay down to sleep. As soon as the king fell asleep, a ghost arrived at the scene, followed by many more. They started clamouring, and so the king woke. He took up his bow to shoot, but the first ghost was not scared. Babhruvahana asked him why he had become a ghost. The ghost replied that people who die unnatural deaths and those who do not get shraddha ceremonies become ghosts. He asked the king to perform a ceremony for all the ghosts, as it was a king’s duty to do this ceremony for this for people who did not have sons or parents. Babhruvahana did so, but only after hearing why he was a ghost. The ghost told him that though he was a Vaishya who was always righteous, he did not hve anyone who could perform his funeral rites. Babhruvahana returned to his capital and performed the funeral rites. This way the ghosts went straight to heaven. Sudeva, the ghost, gave Babhruvahana a precious gem in return.

The Story of Rama and Sita:
Garuda ha a question for Vishnu. He asked Vishnu, “How do the ancestors partake the pindas (oblations) that they are offered? They have no bodies. Please explain this to me.” Vishnu replied that at every shraddha ceremony, brahmans are invited. The ancestors enter the brahmans and partake the pindas. Let me tell you the story of Ram and Sita.” During Lord Rama’s exile, his father Dasharatha died of grief. A funeral ceremony had to be performed. Sita cooked the food, and several sages were invited. However, when the food was served, Sita was not to be seen. Rama then served the food himself. Only when all the guests had dispersed, did she appear. When Rama asked her where she was, she replied that she was hiding. When Rama further questioned her why, she told him that she was ashamed to appear before Rama’s ancestors in those skins and she could not believe that they were giving kings such a poor meal. This is how ancestors partake food during a shraddha ceremony.

I loved this purana as the stories were interesting and many questions that arose about funerals, ancestors, and more on that topic was answered through stories. A lot of punya is accumulated after reading this Purana. A word of warning. One must donate something to the reciter of the Purana, otherwise no punya is accumulated. The text of thee Purana should be worshipped and the reciter should be worshipped with clothes, cows, food, gold, and land. I would love to accumulate punya, especially as this is the Kali yuga. Why don’t you give the Purana a try?

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© 2017, Anvita Agarwal. All rights reserved.

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