The 3 Chapters of Yajnavalkya Smriti | What are the 18 Puranas and Upa Puranas?

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The Yajnavalkya Smriti (याज्ञवल्क्य स्मृति) consists of 3 Adhyayas (अध्याय), or chapters, which contain 1010 shlokas (श्लोक). They deal respectively with Achara (आचारा Conduct), Vyavahara (व्यवहारा Civil Law), and Prayashchitta (प्रायश्चिता Penances).

In the first Adhyaya the duties of the Castes and Ashramas (आश्रम) are expounded, foods are dealt with, gifts, offerings, certain rites, and the duties of a king are explained.

In the second, civil law and procedure and punishment for crimes are laid down.

In the third, purifications are given, and these are followed by an explanation of duties in time of distress, and those of a forest-dweller and an ascetic, and some physiological details;

Then follows a disquisition on the universal and the individual Soul, the paths of liberation and of bondage, yoga, the siddhis, and transmigration, together with a number of penances.

Next in succession to the Smriti come the Puranani (पुराणानि), the Puranas and the Itihasah (इतिहासा), the history, are sometimes said to form Panchamo Vedah, (पंचम वेदा) the Fifth Veda.

In the Vishnu Bhagavatha occurs the phrase: Vyasa “having recovered the four Vedas, named the Rik, Yajuh, Sama, and Atharva, completed the Itihasah and Puranas, and called them the fifth Veda.”

So also is it written: “Always, in each Dvapara age, Vishnu, in the form of Vyasa, reveals the Puranas, as is fitting, for the sake of Dharma” Madhava says that “Like the six Angas  (अंग) the Puranas, etc. are adapted to give a knowledge of the Vedas, and are therefore worthy objects of study. “So also Yajnavalkya:” The Vedas, along with the Puranas, the Nyayas (न्याय), the Mimansas (मिमांसा), the Dharmashastras (धर्मशास्त्र) and the Angas, are the fourteen sources of knowledge and Dharma. (The student should) expound the Vedas with (the help of) the Itihasah and Puranas.

“Eighteen Puranas are reckoned the chief, and there are another eighteen, styled Upa-Puranas (उप-पुराण), or lesser Puranas. The 18 mukhya (मुख्य), or great, Puranas are : Brahma (ब्रह्म), Padma (पद्म), Vishnu (विष्णु), Shiva (शिव), Bhagavata (भागवत), Narada (नारद), Markandeya (मार्कण्डेय), Agni (अग्नि), Bhavishya (भविष्य), Brahmavaivarta (ब्रह्मवैवर्त), Linga (लिंग), Varaha (वराह), Skanda (स्कंद), Vamana (वामन), Kurma (कूर्म), Matsya (मत्स्य), Suparna (सुपर्ण)or Garuda (गरुड), and Brahmananda (ब्रह्मानंद).

The 18 Upa-Puranas are : Sanatkumara (सनतकुमार), Narasimha (नरसिंह), Brihannaradiya (बृहन्नारदीय), Shivarahasya (शिवरहस्य), Durvasas (दुर्वास), Kapila (कपिला), Vamana (वामन) (in addition to the Purana thus named), Bhargava (भार्गव), Varuna (वरुण), Kalika (कलिका), Samba (सांबा), Nandi (नंदि), Surya (सूर्या), Parashara (पराशर), Vashishta (वशिष्ट), Devi Bhagavata (देवी भागवत), Ganesha (गणेश), and Hamsa (हंसा). There has arisen a dispute as to which of the two, the Vishnu Bhagavata or the Devi Bhagavata, is the Purana and which the Upa-Purana, and the point remains undecided: but it is certain that both are equally valuable and instructive. The Devi Bhagavata is specially fitted for those who are inclined to metaphysics and science, while the Vishnu Bhagavata is most acceptable to the devotional temperament.

The Puranas contain the history of remote times, when the conditions of existence were quite different from those which prevail in our days; they also describe regions of the universe not visible to the ordinary physical eye. Hence it is unfair to regard the conceptions of the Puranas as being of the same nature as those of modern Science. When Yoga-siddhis are developed, the Pauranika (पौराणिक) pictures of the universe and its past history are seen to be infinitely more correct than those arrived at by the modern scientific use of our physical organs of perception, however much these may be aided by delicate scientific apparatus.

Certain definite characteristics of a Purana are given in the Vishnu Purana and in others: Creation, Secondary Creation Genealogy, Manvantaras (मन्वंतर) and History, such are the five marks of a Purana. Vyasa is the compiler of the Puranas from age to age, as we have seen, and for this age he is Krishna Dvaipayana (द्वैपायन), the son of Parashara (पराशर).

The other part of the Fifth Veda is the Itihasah, the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These are so well known that little need be said of them here.