Brihaddharma Purana (8-16 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. Brihaddharma Purana is also called Dharmma-Savgjnita/Dharmmanamaka and is known to have translated into practice the tradition of religious catholicity. As such, it is a non-sectarian Upapurana.
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 an important source for the historians of early Indian society and culture, though their information should be used carefully for historical purpose.
The reference to the Mlechchha and Yavana tyrannies in Bengal and to the standards of measurements, particularly Seraka (found as Setakam) have led scholars to date the composition of the Brhaddharma Purana at about 13th century AD.
The Brhaddharma Purana is divided into three parts (khandas)': 'Purvva Khanda, Madhyama Khanda and Uttara Khanda. The Purvva and the Madhyama Khandas each consists of 30 chapters (adhyayas), while the Uttara Khanda contains 21.
The Purvva Khanda is characterised by such subjects as the praise of dharma and the necessity of its practice. Dharma consists of the qualities of daya, satya, xanti and ahimsa; obedience and services to parents and gurus (preceptors); the praise of the diksaguru with reverence to his mantras; religious rites at tirthas (holy places); the narration of the story of the Ramayana (c 2nd century BC - 2nd century AD); the method of Devi-worship; the description of a number of religious rites and festivals such as Laksmi puja and Rasayatra; the creation of words (Vacha); philosophical works; the description of the seven parts (saptakhanda) of Ramayana etc.
The Madhyama Khanda emphasises the origins of Brahma; the creation of the gods and Sati`s svayambara; Daksas Yajva and the incidents related to it; the origins of the pithas, propitiation of Sati by Brahma, Visnu and Xiva; the origins of Gabga, the union of Shiva with Gabga; the songs of Shiva; Balis episodes; Bhagirathas performances relating to the bringing of Gabga to earth; Gabgas mahatmya etc.
The Uttara Khanda is devoted to various religious teachings such as the praises of the duties of the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaixyas and Xudras as well as of the axramas; the duties of women; the determination of castes; the arrangement of varnaxabkara (mixed castes); glorification of gifts; birth of Lord Krsna and his adventures; description of Kala (auspicious time); praise of Brhaddharma Purana etc.
There are a number of references which indicate that the Brhaddharma Purana were composed in Bengal. The evidences come from the thirty-six mixed castes, Vaidyas, Ganakas; the use of such surnames as Deva-Sarman, Raya and Varman for Ksatriyas, Dhana for Vaidayas etc; the use of the word ma in the sense of mother and the word Bhagni in the sense of sister; the use of a few Sanskrit words and verbal roots such as vas in the sense of sitting (vas > usito); the use of the word svikara in the sense of promise; the descripton of the worship of the goddess Kali; the method of Rasa festival; the performance of Xivotsva (Chadakapuja) in the month of Chaitra in all parts of Bengal; reference to the pitha of Mabgolkostha (mabgolkot in the Burdwan district) etc.
Information about the position of gods and goddesses are also available from the Brhaddharma Purana. Lord Visnu says to goddess Laksmi that Xiva is dearest to him and identical with him. The relevant verses of chapter 22 of the Purvva Khanda inform us about the method of the worship of Devi -Devi bodhana, Devi worship in the Bilva tree upto Xukla Sasthi, the bringing of Devi to the house constructed for her worship on the Saptami tithi, the performance of homa, keeping awake at night on Mahastami tithi, sandhi puja at astami-navami sandhi,, singing of amorous songs relating to male-female generative organs on the Vijaya daxami tithi. It is stated in the Brhaddharma Purana that the goddess should be worshipped at dusk (pradosa); worshippers have been advised to fast at daytime and drink coconut water after worshipping Laksmi. During the Kali/ Shyama puja, lamps should be lighted and the goddess should be worshipped at dead of night. Kali has been described in verses 12-17 of the Purvva Khanda. Krsna is still worshipped through the observance of the Rasa festival. Maharudras origin from Brahmas rage has been included in verse 43 of the Madhya Khanda. In connection with the origins of Brahma, Visnu and Shiva, Sati explains to Shiva her true self as mula- prakrti from which her ten forms (daxamahavidya) originated, viz Kali, Tara, Sodaxi, Bhuvanexvari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Sundari, Vagalamukhi, Dhumavati, and Matabgi.
Therefore, it appears that the gods and goddesses gained social acceptance in Bengal by the 13th century AD. Ordinary people have been advised to duly worship the five deities (Ganexa, Surya, Visnu, Ambika and Xiva), ten Dikpalas (Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirrta, Varuna, Vayu, Kuvera, Isana, Brahma and Ananta) and the nine planets (Surya, Soma etc) so that their works can become successful.
The Brhaddharma Purana is important because it describes the contemporaneous state of religion and society in the Kali age in Bengal. During the Kali age, it has been said, people will be at daggers drawn (paraspara ... vadhepsavah), the vedic religion will be replaced by the Pasanda-dharma, the Pasandas and Yavanas will destroy the varnaxrama-dharma, there will be fierce disagreement between the Puranas and other systems of philosophy, the gods will leave this earth, and the Yavanas and Mlechchhas will become powerful. In a word, a period of social crisis is implied in this much debated chapter of the Purana.
At the end a few words about the Mlechchhas, Yavanas and Pasandas. The Purana endeavoured to create in Bengal a Brahmanical society based on the Puranic religious beliefs and practices. Society recognised local gods and goddesses and cults, the superiority of Brahmanas well versed in the Vedas, and the necessity of the Varnaxramadharma. Actually, the Purana tried to create a regional Brahmanical culture in Bengal. Those who did not conform to the usual Brahmanical religious ideals were considered outsiders and were probably designated as Mlechchhas and Yavanas. The Buddhists were described as Pasandi because they considered the Vedas as improper (Bauddhah pasandinah prokta yato vai Vedanindakah). Also, they deviated from the path prescribed by the Vedas (Vedamargabahiskrta), because they gave up Varnadharma. The Buddhists were considered harmful and the visible symbols of inauspiciousness and held responsible for problems and disorders in society. In fact, such a spirit of intolerance arose out of the observation that it was impossible to establish the Brahmanical religion until and unless the religio-social influence of Buddhism could be eliminated. [Krishnendu Ray]
Bibliography RC Hazra, Studies in the Upapuranas, II, Calcutta, 1979; P Tarkaratna (ed), Brihaddarmma Purana, (in Bangla), Calcutta, 1989.