Definition - What does Purana mean?

Purana is a Sanskrit word that means "ancient" or "old." It is a genre of ancient Indian literature found both in Hinduism and Jainism.

Puranas are encyclopedic texts that cover various topics such as cosmogony, cosmology, folk tales, pilgrimages, temples, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mineralogy, humor, love stories, theology and philosophy as well as the genealogies of gods, goddesses, kings, heroes, sages and demigods.

It is believed that the first puranas were composed between the 3rd and 10th centuries C.E. The most famous purana by far is the "Bhagavata Purana," which outlines the childhood and early life of Krishna, the incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu.

There is a wealth of information about yoga contained within various puranas. The "Bhagavata Purana" instructs the reader on Bhakti yoga practice, while other texts cover other types of yoga and different branches of spiritual practice.

Yogapedia explains Purana

Traditionally, there are 18 main puranas and 18 minor puranas, which contain over 400,000 verses. Puranas typically cover five signs, or topics.

  1. Cosmogony
  2. Cosmology
  3. Genealogy of the gods, sages and kings
  4. Cosmic cycles
  5. Legends during the times of various kings

Some other puranas, like the "Bhagavata Purana," add five more characteristics, expanding the list to 10:

  1. Karmic links between the deities, sages, kings and living beings
  2. Tales about god(s)
  3. Finale or cessation
  4. Spiritual liberation (moksha)
  5. Refuge

The purpose of the puranas was to bring people closer to the gods. All of the purana texts are sectarian, dedicated to certain deities -- some to gods, some to goddesses. Puranas also served to give the common people access to and understanding of the essential teachings and complex yogic philosophies of the ancient Vedic texts.

Puranas are the most revered and pertinent texts in the Bhakti yoga tradition, where the devotional aspect of yoga is emphasized. This devotion is cultivated through the personification of the chosen deities in entertaining myths and stories.

The "Bhagavata Purana" describes Bhakti yoga and outlines all the steps of its practice. Another text, the "Linga Purana," covers the details about yama (disciplines), niyama (virtues) and pranayama(breathing techniques). Meanwhile, the "Vayu Purana" contains information about pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation).

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