Brahmavaivarta Purana

Brahmavaivarta Purana (c 8th-16th century AD) belongs to the category of a Upapurana. The major Puranas are 18 in number and the Puranas without authors other than the major Puranas are called Upapuranas. This particular one is called Brahmavaivarta Purana because Brahma has been defined in this Purana.

The word Purana means old narrative (puranam akhyanam), that is to say, narrative relating probably to mythological and legendary lore. The Puranas, as a species of literature, constitute a major source of information to historians of early Indian society and culture, though their information should be used carefully for historical purposes.

It has been observed that there might have been an original Brahmavaivarta Purana written before 700 AD, but it is now lost. This original Purana might have been a Laghu-Brahmavaivarta Purana. The present voluminous work of the Brahmavaivarta Purana, however, has been dated to 8th century AD. From about the 10th century AD, the Purana began to be changed by different authors at different times. In the 16th century, it reached its present form.

The Brahmavaivarta Purana consists of four parts (khandas): Brahma Khanda, Prakrti Khanda, Ganexa Khanda and Xrikrsna Janma Khanda. The number of chapters in each of the khandas is 30, 67, 46 and 131 respectively. The Brahma Khanda verses describe creation, birth of Mars, Daksa-Samvada, mixed castes, medical treatment, Krsna-Kavacha, Visnu-dhyana, Visnu-mantra, duties to be done and not to be done by human beings etc. The Prakrti Khanda describes the origins of the gods and goddesses, eulogies of and salutation to the goddess Sarasvati, Gabga Puja; the Vedavati Ravana, Tulasi and Savitri legends; the stories about the goddesses Mahalaksmi, Sasthi, Mabgala-Chandi etc, Radha-Xruti, Chandra story, and Durga puja by King Suratha etc. The Ganexa Khanda is primarily concerned with the birth stories and exploits of Ganexa who is known to have been an incarnation (avatara) of Krsna. The Xrikrsna Janma Khanda hints literally at the birth of Krsna, but describes elaborately the entire life of Lord Krsna with particular emphasis on his adventures relating to Kaliyanaga-damana, Kamsa-vadha, Jarasandha-damana, annihilation of Yadu Vamxa etc. Elaborate descriptions are also available about Xri Radha's representation as Krsna's Xakti.

In addition, Smrti matters of diverse character have been described in different khandas of the present Purana. Thus they contain discussions about mixed castes in the 10th chapter (adhyaya) of the Brahma Khanda; about land donations in the 9th chapter of the Prakrti Khanda; about worship in the 10, 22-23, 39, 43-46, 55 and 65 chapters of Prakrti Khanda and 13, 19, 32 chapters of the Ganexa Khanda; about hell and results of actions done in the 24-27, 29-33, 52 chapters of the Prakrti Khanda; about the worship and glorification of the Brahmanas in the 54th chapter of the Prakrti Khanda and 21st chapter of the Xrikrsna Janma Khanda; about vratas such as Harivrata, Ekadaxi vrata etc in the 3-4 chapters of the Ganexa Khanda and 8, 26, and 27 chapters of the Xrikrsna Janma Khanda; and about Varnaxramadharma and the duties of women in the 83-84 chapters of the Xrikrsna Janma Khanda.

A few typical features of society in early medieval Bengal, eg the prominent position of the Vaidyas as a leading non-Brahmana caste, the mention of the Kaivartas and the Sadgops as low castes, the merits of donation of land, and the performance of Vratas figure prominently in the text. This has logically led scholars to consider this text as one directly relevant to the society and culture of early medieval Bengal. [Krishnendu Ray]

Bibliography RC Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, II, Calcutta, 1979; S Bhattacharyya and Nityananda (ed), Sri Brahmavaivarta Puranam, (Babgla), Calcutta, 1984.