Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Brahma-vaivarta-purana, Brahma-vaivarta-purANa, Brahma-vaivarta-puraana


Significance of Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa

Modern religion, though rooted in the Vedas and the Vedānta, is deeply influenced by the purāṇas, at least on the practical side. The Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa is a type of purāṇa that is often quoted by the writers of the dharmaśāstras while dealing with topics like castes, gifts, vratas (religious vows during festival days), descriptions of narakas or hells for transgression of dharma and so on. The original part of the purāṇa may be ancient. However, the extant edition, as available in print, seems to have evolved over the period A.D. 800-1600.

It is probable that this purāṇa may have acquired this title because it treats the created world as only a vivarta of or an appearance in Brahman, the Absolute. It is a fairly voluminous work comprising 18,000 verses spread over four khaṇdas or books, the total number of chapters being 276.

Sections of Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa

This purāṇa is divided into 4 sections or books. They are:

  1. Brahmakhanda
  2. Prakrtikhanda
  3. Gaṇapatikhanda
  4. Śri-Kṛṣna-janma-khanda

Brahmakhanda, The First Book

The first book is called Brahmakhanda. It gives a gist of the contents of the entire work. It declares that it is Śrī Kṛṣṇa who is the creator of the entire universe and that his world, the Goloka, is the highest of all the divine abodes. Even Vaikuṇtha and Kailāsa are considered inferior to it. A detailed account of creation which includes the emanation of other deities like Nārāyaṇa, Śaṅkara or Śiva, Brahmā and Dharma-puruṣa, along with goddesses like Murti, Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī, Durgā and Sāvitrī is also given. Other topics dealt with in this book include:

  1. Ayurveda (science of health)
  2. Worship of Śāligrāma (the stone symbol of Viṣṇu)
  3. Austerities to be practiced by the sanyāsins and widows
  4. Philosophical teachings concerning the ultimate identity of the jīva (individual soul) with Brahman
  5. Description of the Goloka

Prakṛtikhanda, The Second Book

Prakṛtikhanda, the second book, deals with the mulaprakṛti or the Mother Nature, who is pictured as the consort of God, forming the left part of his body. She evolves into five goddesses:

  1. Rādha
  2. Durgā
  3. Lakṣmī
  4. Sarasvatī
  5. Sāvitrī

God or Puruṣa splits himself into Śri Kṛṣṇa and Nārāyaṇa. Later, Brahmā and Śiva also emanate from him. Mulaprakṛti gives birth to a golden egg from which emerges Mahāvirāt, the Cosmic Being that creates the worlds. Like the previous khaṇḍa, a number of miscellaneous subjects have been dealt with in this one:

  1. Stories of various female deities including the river-goddesses
  2. Worship and meditation concerning Bhumi or Mother Earth
  3. Merits of a bath in the Gaṅgā River
  4. Importance of the tulasī leaves and rules concerning its use
  5. Details of the various śāligrāma stones
  6. The well-known story of Sāvitri and Satyavān
  7. Karma and its effects
  8. Descriptions of narakas or hells
  9. Detailed information about the growth of the human foetus in the womb
  10. Story of Durgā in brief
  11. Details about Durgā's worship

Gaṇapatikhanda, The Third Book

This book deals mainly with the following topics:

  1. Birth and exploits of Gaṇapati and Saṇmukha
  2. The two sons of Śiva and Pārvatī
  3. The story of Paraśurāma (the Rāma of the battle-axe)
  4. Beautiful hymns in praise of Gaṇapati

Śri-Kṛṣna-janma-khanda, The Fourth Book

Śri-Kṛṣna-janma-khanda is the most voluminous book of all. Though the story of Kṛṣṇa follows the one told in the Bhāgavata, the amorous deeds of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are portrayed prominently. Other topics dealt with in this book are:

  1. Stories of Ambarīṣa and Durvāsa
  2. Stories of Aṣṭāvakra and Śrī Rāma
  3. Evil omens indicated by bad dreams
  4. Duties of the people belonging to the four varṇas
  5. Special code of conduct for the widows
  6. Foods fit and unfit for consuming
  7. Description of Kaliyuga or the Iron Age
  8. Greatness of the country of Bhārata
  9. The science of architecture

The last chapter of this book gives a list of eighteen major purāṇas along with the total number of verses in each of them. A special feature of this purāṇa is that it gives several important mantras (esoteric formulas) along with their usage.

References

  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore