Vishnu Purana is the foremost Puranas among the eighteen great Puranas of ancient India. It is claimed that it contains 23,000 verses where as the text as it is available today contains only 7000 verses. For a comparison, Rig Veda contains 10552 verses and Mahabharata contains 84879 verses. It is arranged as a dialogue between Parasara and his disciple Maitreya. Due to this, some consider that this Purana was authored by Parasara, the father of Vyasa and hence older than Mahabharata. Most likely this could be a later attribution. It is however possible that some core portions of this Purana were authored by Parasara during his life time. But most parts of this Purana describe events that are covered by Mahabharata and a few verses cover events that occurred after Mahabharata froze and stopped growing further. These events include mention of Gautama Buddha, Jaina sages, the reign of Chandragupta Maurya and many Magadha kings who ruled before and after Chandragupta Maurya.
The Purana mostly deals with the glories of Vishnu and his incarnation Krishna. It is arranged in 6 volumes or books.
The available text comprises six books (Amsas) and 126 chapters (Adhyayas). The first book has 22 chapters, the second book consists 16 chapters, the third book comprises 18 chapters and the fourth bookt has 24 chapters. The fifth and the sixth books are the longest and the shortest part of the text, comprising 34 and 8 chapters respectively.
Book 1: Creation of Cosmos
Vishnu Purana starts with detailed stories of creation and introduces the concept of four yugas. The tale of Rudra, an elaborate story of the Samudra Manthana (the churning of the ocean), the Story of Dhruva, an ardent devotee of Vishnu, and stories of ancient kings Vena and Prithu are also discussed in the first section. Tales of Prithu's descendants, the Prachetas, the famous story of Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada too are discussed.
Book 2: Geography and Cosmology
Some topological details of the known world with mentions of lands, tribes, mountains and rivers, concepts of the universe are found in the second book. These are taken from Mahabharata. This book also contain the stories of the many births of Jadabharata.
Book 3: Cosmic Chronology
The third section discusses the stories of Manvantara (cycles of creation and destruction), the sages Vyasa and Yajnavalkya, Surya (the sun god), Yama (the god of the dead), devotees Shatadhanu and Shaivya, the four classes (varnas) and the four stages of life (ashramas) and details of many rituals.
Book 4: History of Kings
The fourth section gives a detailed account of all the famous Kings from the solar and lunar dynasties of ancient India, and also lists the names of kings who 'would appear' in the age of Kali. The second list contains the name of historical kings of Magadha, including kings from the Shishunaga, Nanda and Maurya dynasties.
Book 5: Life of Krishna
The fifth section details the different events in the life of Krishna, starting from his birth, through His childhood, until the moment he left the earth and the prominent destruction of the Yadava clan. This is also the largest book of Vishnu Purana containing 38 chapters.
Book 6: Life of Kali
The sixth and last section mainly discusses the impending age of Kali, the concepts of universal destruction that would eventually follow, and the importance of the Puranas in general.
The Vishnudharmottara Purana, a separate text dedicated to the arts, is a supplement or appendix to the Vishnu Purana.
All the Puranas that we have now were created after the Kurukshetra War event mentioned in Mahabharata. All of them draws heavily from Mahabharata for their content and for conceptual foundation. Ramayana too has influenced these Puranas. Due to this all the Puranas contains description of events mentioned in Mahabharata and Ramayana but also contains events that occurred after they froze. The uniqueness of Vishnu Purana is that it seems to be the oldest among all the Puranas. It is also the most authentic as per many researchers.
Comparison with Other Texts
Vishnu Purana is a primary text of Vaishnavaism, a major tradition of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism. In this capacity, it is comparable to other Vaishnava texts like Srimad Bhagavata Purana and Hari Vamsa (considered as a supplement or appendix to Mahabharata). All these three texts deals with Vishnu and the many incarnations of Vishnu, especially Krishna. Among these three text, Vishnu Purana seems to be older, a title challenged by Hari Vamsa where as Bhagavata is obviously the youngest among the trio.
It is possible that Vishnu Purana and Hari Vamsa nourished each other, all the time gaining nourishment from Mahabharata. Hence, some portions of Vishnu Purana could be older than Hari Vamsa while some other portions in Hari Vamsa could be older than Vishnu Purana. Bhagavata on the other hand seems to have drawn many inputs from Vishnu Purana, Hari Vamsa and Mahabharata.
Bhagavata is also more focused on Krishna than Vishnu Purana. Hari Vamsa too contains more information on Krishna than that is found in Vishnu Purana. In Vishnu Purana, the focus is clearly on Vishnu and less so on Krishna, the principal incarnation of Vishnu.
For most of part Vishnu Purana describe a post Rig Vedic society that existed during epic ages. Thus it describe the same society described by Mahabharata (which describes a core event viz. Kurukshetra War that took place around 3100 BCE). Mahabharata contains narration of incidents that predates Kurukshetra War and describes the life of Vedic seers like Vasistha, Viswamitra, Angiras and Bharadwaja. Thus it contains narrations of events that took place at least a millennium before Kurukshetra war (up to 4000 BCE) or beyond (up to 5000 BCE or 7000 BCE). Mahabharata also contains descriptions of events that occurred after the War, like the invasion of Kali and western tribes like the Kambojas into Gangatic plane invading the Kuru-Panchala kingdoms. It thus contains events up to 600 BCE or earlier (1000 BC).
Vishnu Purana, continued to record events that occurred even after Mahabharata froze. Thus it contains mention of the life of Buddha (600 BCE), Chandragupta Maurya (300 BCE) and many kings of Magadha described in conventional history. The total historical span of Vishnu Purana is thus up to around 500 CE.
In this (AncientVoice) site, noun analysis and noun-frequency analysis of Vishnu Purana is done using the same Parse software I developed to subject Mahabharata and the four Vedas to similar analysis. A Wiki for Vishnu Purana, similar to the wikis created for Mahabharata and the four Vedas is created.
- Vishnu Purana Wiki
- Vishnu Purana Nouns
- Vishnu Purana Frequency Analysis
- The Fourteen Worlds As per Vishnu Purana
- Sacred Text, Vishnu Purana - English translation of by Horace Hayman Wilson
- Vishnu Purana PDF - English translation by Horace Hayman Wilson
- Vishnu Purana - Wikipedia