Article

Purāṇas

Greg Bailey

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0043
Purāṇas

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The Purāṇas constitute a body of literature, divided into several subcategories, dating from the 2nd century ce and continuing until the present day. It is one of the longest running genres in Indian literature. Purāṇas are composed in both Sanskrit and vernacular languages and constitute the genre that most expresses a distinctively recognizable image of Hinduism, indeed the earliest literary expressions of a religious system that can genuinely be called Hinduism. Three qualities describe the Purāṇas: exuberance, transformation, and bulk. They are exuberant because they celebrate Hinduism as a religiocultural system, centered on devotion to deities, incorporating new religious elements as they have arisen from the 2nd century of the Common Era onward. This process of incorporation has a strong transformative element associated with it such that every major development in religion that has occurred from the first appearance of the Purāṇas as a specific genre has been integrated into a devotional framework. Finally, ranging in size from texts as short as twenty-five chapters, their bulk is highlighted by Purāṇas like the Padma and the Skanda, both as long or longer than the giant epic, the Mahābhārata. Nobody, scholar or adherent of the kind of Hinduism expressed in the Purāṇas, can master the complete bulk of this literature and for this reason the majority of them have been neglected, only some such as the Viṣṇu, the Bhāgavata and the Skanda (in different forms) achieving a high level of popularity.

Article.  11259 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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