By Swami Harshananda
Ancient legends preserved in the collective memory of the people gradually took the shape of the Mahāpurāṇas. Tradition enumerates them as eighteen and ascribes their authorship to the sage Vedavyāsa. Along with these Mahāpurāṇas, there gradually grew up another mass of literature, similar to them. These works came to be known as upapurāṇas. Though assigned to Vedavyāsa as the author, they are obviously the works of different sages composed over a few centuries.
List of Upapurāṇas
The lists of the eighteen upapurāṇas given in different purāṇas vary considerably. A few of these upapurāṇas are:
The printed version as available now is assigned to the period A. D. 600. This contains the story of Kṛṣṇa in detail.
Apart from some interesting stories, it gives descriptions of the code of conduct according to dharma, to be followed by all.
It appears to be an appendix of the Brahmapurāna. Comprising 3000 verses it describes the greatness of the river known as Balajā in the country of Mārvār.
This is a fairly big work. According to it, the whole creation depends upon Śiva and Śakti. The topics dealt with in this are:
- Stories of Dharmavyādha and Srī Rāma
- Descent of the Gaṅgā river
- Lives of great sages like Vyāsa and Vālmīki
- Stories of avatāras of Viṣṇu
- Greatness of the Mahābhārata
- One’s duties towards parents and other elders
- The need for a good and efficient king to rule over a country
This is a voluminous work containing the story of Mahiṣāsura being killed by the Devī. A lot of material connected with rituals and worship is also included.
This is a work devoted to the Śākta sect. It describes the following:
- Various aspects of Pārvatī such as Girijā, Devi, Bhadrakāli and Kālī
- Description of the temple of Kāmākhyā in Assam
- Story of Dakṣa’s sacrifice
- Worship of the Devī
- Some tāntrik rites
This is considered as an appendix of Bhāgavata. Probably composed during A. D. 1800, it gives the story of Kalki, as the tenth avatāra of Viṣṇu, to appear in future.
This work concentrates mainly on the story of Rukmāṅgada, a great devotee of Viṣṇu.
This is a comparatively ancient work assigned to the period A. D. 400. Loma-harṣaṇa, a disciple of Vedavyāsa, taught this to the sages like Bhāradvāja at Prayāga. The content of this Upapurāṇa is:
- Hymns to Lord Narasiṅha
- Creation of the world according to the Sāṅkhya system
- Origin of some Manus and ṛṣis
- Meditations on Brahmā and Viṣṇu
- Greatness of the aṣṭākṣarī mantra
- 108 names of Āditya
- Duties towards elders and superiors
- Construction details of the temple of Narasiṅha
- Evils of Kaliyuga
- Places of pilgrimage dedicated to Viṣṇu
This upapurāna, still in the manuscript from, is devoted entirely to the glorification of the pilgrim centre Puri including the details of the worship of the deities there.
This is one of the few upapurāṇas that has been printed. It probably belongs to the period A. D. 500-800. The principal hero of this work is Sāmba, the eldest son of Sri Kṛṣṇa. He is pictured as a votary of Surya and a propagator of the Surya-sect. He was responsible for bringing the Maga brāhmaṇas, worshipers of Surya and settled them in a colony. The subjects dealt with in this upapurāṇa are as follows:
- Establishing the image of Surya and Surya temples
- Geographical details of the earth
- The three Vedas
- Characteristics of a devotee of Surya
- Observance of vratas like Rathasaptamī
- Some śānti rites
- Few hymns on Surya
This is an appendix of the Brahma-purāṇa. It teaches that Śiva and Surya are identical. Liṅgapujā is described in detail.
This is a fairly big work. The greatness of Śiva is the main theme. Worship of Śiva through the Śivaliṅga is described in detail. Other topics are:
- Importance of fasting and festivals
- Few tāntrik practices
This work contains 4000 verses spread over 105 chapters. It was probably composed during the period A. D. 200-300. Some of the topics dealt with are:
- Stories of Ambariṣa and Prahlāda
- Various kinds of Vaiṣṇava vratas
- Descriptions of some hells
- Eulogy of dāna
- Greatness of a true brāhmaṇa and a true ksattriya hero
- Devotion to Viṣṇu
- Power of Sudarśana discus
- Temples and images
- Some beautiful stotras or hymns
- Sins and means of offsetting their effects
The Agnipurāṇa seems to have drawn upon this Upapurāṇa for some of its topics.
This is a fairly large work, almost encyclopedic in character. It might have been composed during the period A. D. 400 to 500. The following are some of the topics dealt with in this work:
- Śakunaśāstra or science of prognostication
- Karma and its consequences
- Dāna - giving gifts
- Science of war
- Science of music
- Election of a king and his coronation
- Duties of a king
- Few magical sciences
There is reason to believe that the Matsyapurāṇa has borrowed some chapters from this upapurāṇa.
Apart from these, many more upapurāṇas have been discovered and quoted in some nibandha works. Some of them are:
There is no doubt that these upapurāṇas also have considerably enriched popular religion.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore