Page:A history of Sanskrit literature (1900), Macdonell, Arthur Anthony.djvu/311

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.


The Purāṇas

Closely connected with the Mahābhārata is a distinct class of eighteen epic works, didactic in character and sectarian in purpose, going by the name of Purāṇa. The term purāṇa is already found in the Brāhmaṇas designating cosmogonic inquiries generally. It is also used in the Mahābhārata somewhat vaguely to express "ancient legendary lore," implying didactic as well as narrative matter, and pointing to an old collection of epic stories. One passage of the epic (I. v. 1) describes purāṇa as containing stories of the gods and genealogies of the sages. In Book XVIII., as well as in the Harivaṃça, mention is even made of eighteen Purāṇas, which, however, have not been preserved; for those known to us are all, on the whole, later than the Mahābhārata, and for the most part derive their legends of ancient days from the great epic itself. Nevertheless they contain much that is old; and it is not always possible to assume that the passages they have in common with the Mahābhārata and Manu have been borrowed from those works. They are connected by many threads with the old law-books (smṛitis) and the Vedas, representing probably a development of older works of the same class. In that part of their contents which is peculiar to them, the Purāṇas agree so closely, being often verbally identical for pages, that they must be derived from some older collection as a common source. Most of them are introduced in exactly the same way as the Mahābhārata, Ugraçravas, the son of Lomaharshaṇa, being represented as relating their contents to Çaunaka on the occasion of a sacrifice in the Naimisha forest. The object of most of these legendary compila-