The Puranas are of the same class as the Itihasas. All the Puranas belong to the class of ‘Suhrit-Samhitas,’ or friendly treatises, markedly differing in authority from the Vedas which are called the ‘Prabhu-Samhitas’ or the commanding treatises.
Sage Vyasa composed and compiled the Puranas to popularize the thoughts contained in the Vedas. He never meant them to be consumed by scholars, but only by ordinary people like you and me who could hardly fathom the high philosophies of the Vedas. The aim of the Puranas is to impress the teachings of the Vedas upon our minds through concrete examples, myths, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories, and chronicles of great historical events.
It is clear from this definition that the core of any Purana is the stories making up the scriptures in one form or the other. All of us know there is no shortage of stories in our Dharma. Does that mean that all stories can directly be categorized as Puranas? The answer to that question is a strict NO. While the Puranas may be flexible enough to accommodate all our inferior intellect, the rules that they lay down for categorizing a scripture as a Purana is straightforward and unambiguous.
A text should have 5 characteristics or Pancha-Lakshana to be classified as a Puran. They are
Vamso Manvantarani cha
The text should be talking about
Sarga: Some scholars say this should be the proper breakdown into chapters, while some others are of the opinion that sarga means creation. So the Purana should have proper distinction about chapters and it should speak about the creation of the universe.
Pratisarga: again some say this relates to sub-chapters. Others opine that it should be about secondary creations, mostly re-creations after dissolution.
Vamsa: It should speak about the great Vamshas or the Genealogy of the great Rishis and the Devatas.
Manvataranicha: It should speak about the Manavantaras or reigns of Manus. Each Manu rules over an eon, each of which is shorter than the preceding ones. Currently, we are in the vyavastha manvantaram.
Vamasanucharitam: It should give a detailed description of the dynasties of Kings who lived and ruled this world – mostly, the great SuryaVamsh and the Chandra Vamsh or the Solar and Lunar Dynasties.
I hope that this post serves as a short introduction about what Puranas are. We will get to know more about them in the coming posts.