By Swami Harshananda
Education and culture should go together. Or, rather, that which imparts culture alone is true education. This is exactly what the purāṇas did in the olden days when formal education given in the
gurukulas was restricted to the three higher castes.
Out of the eighteen major purāṇas— called Mahāpurāṇas—the Padmapurāna (or Padmapurāna) is the second.
There seem to be two recensions—the Bengal recension and the South Indian recension—of this purāṇa, though it is only the latter that has been printed.
The total number of granthas or verses is 55,000 distributed among 690 adhyāyas or chapters accommodated in six khaṇḍas or books.
This purāṇa has been classed among the sāttvika (and Vaiṣṇava) purāṇas.
A very brief synopsis of its contents may now be attempted.
1. Ādikhanda (62 chapters)
This khaṇḍa is sometimes called Svargakhanda also. Geographical details of ancient India (called Jambudvīpa and Bhāratavarṣa), description of a large number of tīrthās (places of pilgrimage) including the rites and formalities connected with visiting them are described here. Prayāga (modern Allahābād) containing the Triveiii sañgama (the confluence of the three rivers Gaṅgā, Yamunā and the subterranean Sarasvatī) is eulogised as the best of all the tīrthas. Code of conduct and the duties of the four āśramas are also delineated.
2. Bhumikhanda (125 chapters)
This book is perhaps named as Bhumikhanda to show the importance of this bhumi or earth where alone spiritual progress is possible.
Performance of one’s duty is stressed here as important like a tīrtha or a holy
place, since it purifies one who does it. Incidentally a number of stories are narrated, bringing out the importance of devotion to one’s parents, repetition of Lord Hari’s name and certain aspects of dharma. Description of svarga (heaven) and naraka (hell) are also given briefly.
3. Brahmakhanda (26 chapters)
This is the shortest of all the books.
The name of this book does not seem to have any direct connection with the contents.
Devotion to Lord Viṣṇu, importance of physical service in a temple, greatness of the Kṛṣṇajayantī festival, virtuous deeds to be performed by which one can get good children, significance of ekādaśī vrata (vow), the power of Lord Hari’s name and what offends it—these are the topics dealt with here.
4. Pātālakhanda (113 chapters)
In this book there is a detailed description of the Aśvamedhayāga (Horse-sacrifice) performed by Rāma. Unlike Valmīki’s Rāmāyana, here Sītā is reunited with Rāma and lives for many more years.
The battles between Lava and Kuśa on one side and the army of Rāma on the other, are described in great detail.
The latter part of this purāṇa is devoted to describing the story and the greatness of Rrsna. The gopīs of Vṛndāban are stated here, to be the ṛṣis or the sages of the Tretāyuga who had been captivated by the beauty and charm of Rāma, reborn to enjoy his company.
Incidentally, information about śālagrāmas, a special mantra of Kṛṣṇa and its repetition, pujā of Lord Visnu,
characteristics and effects of true bhakti or devotion, are also explained.
It is interesting to note that in this book, the greatness of Siva, his emblem (the liṅga) and his name as also the importance of bhasma (holy ash) are also given a wide coverage.
5. Srstikhanda (82 chapters)
Though this book is called Srstikhanda, the topic of sṛṣṭi or creation is only a minor aspect of the subjects dealt with.
Apart from the stories connected with the devas (gods) and the dānavas (demons), the topic of śrāddha (obsequial rites) is dealt with in detail. The other subjects delineated are: sacrifice performed by Brahmā; the story of the sage Agastya subjugating the Vindhya mountain; some vratas or religious observances; story of Mahiṣāsura; the arising of a golden lotus from the navel of Viṣṇu; birth of Brahmā from this lotus; characteristics of a bad and a good brāhmaṇa; greatness of a pativratā (chaste woman); importance of various kinds of dāna or gifts; on the rudrākṣī beads and the tulasī leaves; significance of the worship of Gaṇeśa; and, finally on the worship of the Navagrahas (nine planets) and the goddess Durgā.
6. Uttarakhanda (282 chapters)
The title ‘uttara’ for this book simply signifies ‘last’. It is the last of the series of khaṇdas comprising this purāṇa.
The contents of this book may be briefly summarised as follows:
Greatness of certain places of pilgrimage like Śriśaila and Haridvāra as also the rivers Gaṅgā and Yamunā; importance
of annadāna or gifting food; description of the 24 ekādaśis (eleventh days of every fortnight); Visnusahasranāma (which is different from the one given in the Mahābhārata)', description and greatness of the Vaiṣṇavas (devotees of Viṣṇu); battles between the gods and the demons; worship of śālagrāma (stone symbol of Viṣṇu); method of observing the Dīpāvalī festival; on some more places of pilgrimage; greatness of the Bhagavadgitā explained through stories; importance of the Bhāgavata-, description of certain hells, numbered here as 140; how a bath in a sacred river in the month of Māgha (11th lunar month, generally in February) purifies even a great sinner; certain ritualistic processes connected with the mantra of Lord Viṣṇu; the story of churning the ocean of milk to get amṛta or ambrosia; the ten avatāras or incarnations of Viṣṇu.
On the whole, it can be stated that this purāṇa, which might have evolved over the period A. D. 600 to 1400, though it extols the greatness of Viṣṇu, is not antagonistic to Śiva (who is also greatly revered here). It also gives a lot of information about the places of pilgrimage in India.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore