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.

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