Monday, April 23, 2018

Brahma Purana, by Bibek Debroy

Brahma Purana, translated by Bibek Debroy

This is the seventeenth purana I am reviewing and is a Rajasika purana. It is the first purana in the order of puranas and has around nineteen thousand shlokas. The Purana is divided into 245 chapters (adhyayas). It is believed that the Brahma Purana was the first to be composed. We are not very sure of this because the original text of this Purana is lost, and the present text is not very old. If one notices the Brahma Purana, you will notice that it seems to have been reconstructed based on the accounts of the Vishnu Purana, the Markandeya Purana, the Vayu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Harivamsha. I do not know how this Purana is a Rajasika Purana because it doesn’t appreciate Brahma more than the rest of the gods, and the part about creation is the same as the other Puranas with no extra information. This Purana starts with creation and goes on to talk about the stories behind different tirthas and temples, which also have a hidden value behind them.

Favourite Stories

The Brahma Purana is also very interesting, as most of the stories after you have read about half of the Purana, are new stories which tell you stories that help answer some questions that may arise. This Purana praises Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in equal amount, and all the stories ask you to be righteous, follow the path of dharma, and pray to the gods selflessly. My favourite stories were when Garuda complains to Lord Vishnu how the other gods shower their vahanas, or vehicles with riches and how he is not even appreciated. My second favourite story was the story on how the Jagannath temple of Puri came to be. There are two different versions of the story on how this temple was made.

Garuda and Maninaga: 

Once, the great snake Ananta had a son named Maninaga. Garuda was the enemy of the snakes and he would slay any snake he came upon. To protect himself, Maninaga prayed to Shiva and obtained the boon that he would not be killed by Garuda. When Garuda came to know of this, he could not kill Maninaga, but captured him. When Nandi saw this, he went to Shiva and asked Shiva to save Maninaga. Shiva advised Nandi to pray to Vishnu. Nandi started praying and asked Vishnu to save Maninaga from imprisonment. Vishnu granted him this boon and asked Garuda to free Maninaga. Garuda found this very unfair and complained to Vishnu. He said that other gods treated their servants very well. He said that the servants get gifts, but if Garuda gets something on his own, Vishnu asks him to give it up. He also added that it was Garuda who would carry Vishnu to the battlefield to fight the demons and also helped Vishnu many a times. Vishnu smilingly accepted that Garuda was very strong, and asked Garuda to show his strength by bearing Vishnu’s little finger. Vishnu placed his little finger on Garuda’s head, but Garuda could not bear the weight, so it crushed his head. Garuda realized his folly and prayed to Vishnu that his appearance may be changed to his old self. Nandi took Garuda to Shiva, who asked Garuda to bathe in the Goutami Ganga. When Garuda did so, his appearance was normal again, and he also became stronger and swifter than earlier.

Indrayumna and Purushottama Kshetra: 

In the sata yuga there lived a powerful and righteous king named Indrayumna. Indrayumna was a great devotee of Vishnu, and he decided he would go to a tirtha to pray to Vishnu. When he saw all the tirthas, he did not think that any one of them was appropriate for worshipping Vishnu. Indrayumna’s capital was Avanti, and though Avanti had many beautiful temples, Indrayumna wasn’t satisfied, and wanted to build a new temple. He left Avanti with his soldiers to find a place where he could start building a temple. After travelling for many days, they arrived on the shores of a Southern Ocean named Lavana Samudra. The shores of the ocean were very beautiful and so was the place near it, called Purushottama Kshetra. This place is modern day Puri. This place was a very important tirtha, but its knowledge had been hidden. The story says that there used to be an image of Vishnu which if worshipped prevented a sinner from going to hell. Everyone started visiting this image, and so no one went to hell. In despair, Yama went to Vishnu and asked him to do something as there was no one he could punish. Vishnu hid the murti in the sands, so that no one knew it existed.

Indrayumna was very happy with the place and knew that near Purushottama Kshetra was a place where many religious people lived. He therefore decided to build a temple here. With the help of other kings, a sacrifice was held, and they started building the temple. Once the temple was built, the problem was that how should the main idol be made. One day when Indrayumna was asleep, he had a dream where Vishnu told him to cut the wood of a tree that was growing on the shores of the ocean. When Indrayumna was about to chop the tree, two brahmanas appeared and reprimanded him for trying to do so, but when they heard Indrayumna’s dream, they agreed. These two brahmanas were Vishnu and Vishvakarma in disguise. Vishnu suggested that Vishvakarma make the idols. Vishvakarma did this in a matter of minutes, and there were three idols in front of Indrayumna. One was of Balarama, the other of Krishna and the last of Subhadra. All the idols were beautiful, and elegant with the clothes and there was fine architecture. When Indrayumna saw this, he realized that they had to be gods. Vishnu and Vishvakarma revealed themselves to Indrayumna and told him that he would rule for ten thousand and nine hundred years. They also promised him a special seat in heaven. On an auspicious day, the idols were installed in the temple.

Everyone should listen to a recital of the Brahma Purana. If one does so, a brahmana becomes learned, a kshatriya becomes victorious, a vaishya becomes rich and a shudra attains happiness. Anyone wh listens to the recital obtains all his wishes and the punya acquired is greater than that obtained by visiting the most holy of tirthas or performing the most difficult of yajnas. However, the secrets of this Purana must not be shared with atheists who did not believe in god.

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© 2018, Anvita Agarwal. All rights reserved.

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