Sunday, April 30, 2017

Brahma Purana, by Bibek Debroy

Brahma Purana

Translated by Bibek Debroy

This time I am reviewing the Brahma Purana. This Purana is the first Purana in the list of Mahapuranas. The Brahma Purana is a rajasik purana, a purana that glorifys Brahma. The Brahma Purana has nineteen thousand shlokas. It is an average Purana in length, if compared to the Skanda Purana that has eighty one thousand shlokas and Markandeya Purana that has nine thousand shlokas. The shlokas in the Brahma Purana are divided into 245 chapters [adhyays].

The Brahma Purana is not only the first Mahapurana in the list but it is also believed to be one of the first to be composed. Due to this it is also reffered. to as the adi purana. The current version of the Brahma Purana is not that old. The Purana also mentions the famous Konarka Sun temple that was not constructed before 1241 A.D. The current text of the Brahma Purana has been reconstructed from material in the Mahabharata, Harivamsha, the Vayu Purana, the Vishnu Purana and the Markandeya Purana.

This Purana has been recited by Romaharshana, a disciple of Vedavyasa to some sages who were performing a yagna.

I would like to tell a story in the Brahma Purana that I found very nice.

Once there lived a cruel hunter. He used to kill birds, animals, sages and brahmanas. One day he caught a female dove. It was raining and it was very cold that day. He took shelter under a tree. That same tree was the home of the female dove’s mate. He was mourning for the female dove as she had not come back. The latter heard him from inside the cage and told the male dove that she was trapped. The male dove wanted to free her but the female dove said that the hunter had taken refuge at their home so it was their duty to serve him. Since the hunter was suffering from cold the female dove asked the male dove to light a fire. Soon the fire was lit. The male dove immolated himself in the fire so that the hunter would have food to eat. The grief stricken female dove asked the hunter to be freed. The hunter did so and the female dove to hurled herself into the fire. The hunter had heard everything and was amazed. The female and male doves were taken to heaven for their selfless acts. The hunter repented for his misdeeds. He was told by the doves to bathe in Goutami Ganga for 15 days and all his deeds would be forgiven. So great was the river Goutami Ganga. The place where the dove immolated themselves is known as kapotatirtha as kapota means dove.

The Brahma Purana talks a lot about the Goutami Ganga. There are many such stories in which the Purana praises this great river. The Goutami Ganga is supposed to be very sacred as it cleanses the sins of a person who bathes in it.

I would now like to enlighten you about the four classes and the four stages of life.
The 4 classes are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra.
Brahmanas have to donate alms, study the shastras, perform yagnas and be well versed in the Vedas. They have to earn a living by teaching and becoming priests at sacrifices.
Kshatriyas have to bear arms, protect the Earth, donate alms and study the shastras.
Vaishyas should donate alms, perform sacrifices and study the shastras. They have to earn a living by trade, animal husbandry and agricultural business.
Shudras have to serve brahmanas. They have to earn a living by being shopkeepers and artisans.

Now let me tell you about the four phases of life.
The first phase {brahmacharya} – This phase is the student hood of life. The individual spends his days studying under his/her teacher.

The second phase {grahasthya} – This phase is the householder stage of life. The individual gets married and has children. He has to serve the gods, guests and ancestors well. It is the householders that provide alms for the sages. Due to this the householder stage is very important.

The third phase {vanaprastha} – This stage is the forest life phase. The individual retires to the forest. He detaches his mind from earthly things. He must eat fruits, berries and leaves. He must wear clothes of bark and skin. He is not allowed to cut and shave his hair.

The fourth phase {sannyasa} – This is the stage in which a brahmana completely detaches himself from things. He gets food from begging

The Brahma Purana talks a lot about the classes and phases of life so I decided to even include it in my review. This Purana is slightly different because it concentrates a lot on some things. Such as:

  • The creation and destruction of the Universe.
  • The river Goutami Ganga
  • Tirthas and sacred places.
  • The geography of the Earth.
  • Time division, the classifications in people and their life.
I found this different because most Puranas don’t concentrate a lot on a particular subject or topic. They just relate stories and the answers to questions on lots of topics.

I hope you liked and enjoyed reading my review. This is the third book I am reviewing that is written by Bibek Debroy. He has a very nice style of writing and I really enjoy reading his books.
I will soon come back again with another amazing review on another Purana.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Padma Purana, Translatd by Bibek Debroy

Padma Purana (Great Epics of India: Puranas Book 2)

Translated by by Bibek Debroy, Dipavali Debroy

Last time I had written about the Shiva Purana. This time I have decided to write about the Padma Purana. The Padma Purana comes second in the list of Puranas after the Brahma Purana. All 18 Mahapuranas share 4 lakh shlokas between them but they are not equal in length. The Padma Purana is the second longest Purana. It is fifty-five thousand couplets long, second only to the Skanda Purana which is eighty-one lakh couplets long. The shlokas in this Purana are divided into 5 sections. They are:
  • Shrishti khanda
  • Bhumi khanda
  • Svarga khanda
  • Patala khanda
  • Uttara khanda
The Puranas usually glorify all three main Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva but sometimes they devote more attention towards one god. The Padma Purana is a satvik Purana, a Purana that glorifies Vishnu and describes his avatars in more detail.

Each Purana is believed to be composed in a different kalpa. A kalpa is one of Brahma’s days. At the end of the kalpa the universe is destroyed and at night evil prevails. The next kalpa again starts with the creation of the Universe. The Padma Purana was composed in a kalpa known as the Padma kalpa. It is also agreed that the final form of the Puranas were composed between 300 A.D and 1000 A.D but the earlier sections of the Puranas could have been composed around 500 B.C. Bibek Debroy decides to describe the Bhumi khanda in his version of this Purana.

The Puranas have been recited by Lomaharshana on a request by some sages. I am going to tell you a story which I found very interesting.

One day during the Dvapara yuga there lived a petty and mean thief called Dandaka. He stole from Brahmans, lied, ate beef and drank wine. Dandaka once decided to steal from the temple of Vishnu. His feet were muddy so he wiped it on the threshold before coming in. This action of his had a very unexpected result. Dandaka entered the main chamber of the temple. He thought that the statue was not of use to him but there were other gold and silver objects in the room that he proceded to take. Some objects fell down and awoke some people. Dandaka ran but he stepped on a sleeping snake and died of snake bite. Yama’s servants came to take him to hell for his various crimes but Vishnu’s messengers stopped them. Vishnu’s messengers explained that when Dandaka had wiped his feet, the threshold was dirty. Some dust was brushed away when Dandaka wiped his feet. Due to this all his sins were forgiven and he was taken straight to Vishnuloka. Such are the effects of cleaning Vishnu’s temples.

I really liked this story because it taught me a new fact and was very interesting.
Each of the Mahapuranas is connected with a part of Vishnu’s body. They are as follows:
  • Brahma Purana – The head
  • Padma Purana – The heart
  • Vishnu Purana – The right arm
  • Shiva Purana – The left arm
  • Bhagvata Purana – The thighs
  • Narada Purana – The navel
  • Markandeya Purana – The right foot
  • Agni Purana – The left foot
  • Bhavishya Purana – The right knee
  • Brahmavaivarta Purana – The left knee
  • Linga Purana – The right calf
  • Varaha Puana – The left calf
  • Skanda Purana – The body hair
  • Vamana Purana – The skin
  • Kurma Purana – The back
  • Matsya Purana – The fat of the body
  • Garuda Purana – The marrow
  • Brahmanda Purana – The bones

If we hear the recital of one shloka from the Padma Purana all our sins that have been committed in a single day are washed away. We can obtain lot of punya by donating thousand cows but the same amount of punya can be obtained by hearing the recital of one chapter of the Padma Purana. An enormous amount of punya can be obtained by performing the asvamedha yagna but an equivalent amount of punya can be obtained by hearing the recital of the whole Padma Purana. It is better to hear the recital of texts than performing yagnas.

I enjoyed this Purana of Bibek Debroy’s also. He has used the same pattern and used simple and understandable English. This Purana had many interconnecting stories so you had to remember all the stories to understand the Purana.

I hope all the Puranas are like this and it has been really nice experience reading this Purana too.

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Review of Shiva Purana


© 2017, Anika Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Shiva Purana by Bibek Debroy

Shiva Purana (Great Epics of India: Puranas Book 4)

Translated by Bibek Debroy, Dipavali Debroy

This book is about a Purana. Well, what is a Purana? A Purana is a sacred text. There are many Puranas. It is believed that Vedvyasa or Krishna Dvaipayana had written them. The word Vedvyasa is just a title. It means the person who compiled the Vedas. Vedvyasa first divided the Vedas into 4 parts. The Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda. After this he wrote the Mahabharata. Mahabharata has one lakh shlokas. Still feeling unsatisfied he wrote the Puranas. The Puranas together make one crore shlokas. Since this number was too much for mere mortals to read, he summarized it to 4 lakh shlokas. The truth is that no one person wrote the Puranas. Many people wrote them. The eighteen main ones are the ones that Vedvyasa wrote. They are:
  • Brahma Purana
  • Padma Purana
  • Vishnu Purana
  • Shiva Purana/ Vayu Purana
  • Bhagwata Purana
  • Narayana Purana
  • Markandeya Purana
  • Agni Purana
  • Bhavishya Purana
  • Brahma vaivarta Purana
  • Linga Purana
  • Varaha Purana
  • Skanda Purana
  • Vamana Purana
  • Kurma Purana
  • Matsya Purana
  • Garuda Purana
  • Bhramanda Puarana

These eighteen Puranas are known as Mahapuranas. Every Mahapurana should have 5 things:
  • The creation of the universe [sarga]
  • The periodical destruction and recreation [pratisarga]
  • The solar dynasty [surya vansha] and the lunar dynasty [Chandra vansha]
  • The fourteen different eras [manvantaras]
  • The royal genealogies [vamshanucharita]
If a purana does not have these 5 things, then it is not a Mahapurana. There is some confusion about the Shiva Purana. Some people say the fourth Mahapurana is the Shiva Purana. While others say the fourth Mahapurana is the Vayu Purana. All the Mahapuranas are mostly concentrated on the three main Hindu Gods. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is considered the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. The Vishnu concentrated Puranas are called the ‘satvik puranas’. The Brahma concentrated Puranas are called the ‘rajsik puranas’. The Shiva concentrated Puranas are called the ‘tamsik puranas.'

The Shiva Purana is 24,000 shlokas long. It has been told to some sages by Romaharshana alias Lomaharshana, who was a disciple of Vedvyasa. Romaharshana also describes all the 12 Jyotirlingas. They are:
  • Somnath
  • Mallikarjuna
  • Mahakala
  • Kedara
  • Omkara
  • Bhimashankara
  • Vishvanatha
  • Vaidyanatha
  • Nagesha
  • Rameshvara
  • Tryambaka
  • Ghushnesha
I like the story in which Romaharshana describes the curses of the ketaki and champak flower, due to which they are not used to worship Shiva.

The ketaki flower has a unique story from the Ramayana on why it is not used to worship Shiva. The story takes place in the forest where Ram, Lakshmana and Sita were spending their exile. They had just received the news of Dasharatha’s death. Ram as the eldest decided to perform the funeral rights in the forest. He sent Lakshmana to get the required materials. Lakshmana did not return for a long time so Ram set out to find him. It was nearing afternoon and both Ram and Lakshmana had not returned. Sita decided to do the funeral rites herself. Two disembodied hands appeared and claimed to be Dashratha. They accepted the offering. Sita said that Ram and Lakshmana would not believe her. The hands said that the river Phalgu, the fire, a cow standing nearby and a ketaki flower would be the witnesses. Ram and Lakshman returned and did not believe her. Sita asked all 4 witnesses and all of them denied it. Ram and Lakshmana performed the rites and a voice from heaven explained that Sita had already completed it. The Sun God confirmed it. Sita was angry that the witnesses lied. She cursed the Phalgu river that it would only flow underground. The fire would consume all things irrespective of what it was. The cow’s mouth would become impure because it had lied through that. Lastly the ketaki flower would never be used to worship Shiva.

I liked the story because it was a new thing to me and it has not been described in most versions of the Ramayana. The twelve Jyotirlingas also have a different and unique story about them. It is said that at those 12 places Lord Shiva is always there. At those 12 places people did great tapasya and got a boon, with which they asked Shiva to always be there.

The Purana also describes the different types of hell for a person according to their sin. I am also sure the Shiv Purana is a Mahapurana because it has all 5 components needed for a Mahapurana.

If we hear or read the Shiv purana all our sins our forgiven. If we repeatedly read the Shiv Purana, Shiva himself will come to bless the devotees. If one donates the Shiv Purana with a bull and gold gets to live in Shivaloka forever.

It has been a nice experience reading this book and I hope all the other Puranas are the same. Bibek Debroy has used simple English that is easy and understandable.

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© 2017, Anika Agarwal.