Pancha Lakshana – the 5 Characteristics of a Purana

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

“Sargascha pratisargascha

Vamso Manvantarani cha

vamsaanucharitam chiva

puranam panchalakshanam

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.

Until then…

Srimad Bhagavatham – What is a Purana

Till now, we have seen about Rama from different perspectives – that of his family to friends and enemies, as told in the Ramayana. The next progressive Avatar of Vishnu is Krishna.

Many of us have this understanding that if the Itihaasa Ramayana was for Rama, then obviously the other Itihaasa which is the Mahabaratha is for Krishna. While Mahabaratha features Krishna, contrary to what many think it is not the life story of Krishna. Krishna is just a part of Mahabaratha. if an avatar of Vishnu is just a part of the story, then can you imagine the magnitude of that story called Mahabaratha?

Anyway, if Mahabaratha does not chronicle Krishna, then what does?

Bhagavatha Purana or Srimad Bhagavatham does.

Before we get into the Bhagavatham, let us understand what does the term Purana means. The Puranas, along with the Vedas and Itihaasas form the massive religious bedrock of the ancient Indian tradition. They go back in time to perhaps more than five millennia. The bulk of them is said to have been compiled from an existing ancient tradition by Vyasa whose birth is dated by one perceptive scholar at 3374 BC. The Puranas present the activities of gods, super-men, and humans in a human setting, to illustrate vividly, how the purpose of life is to help the human to rise to the level of the super-human and the divine, and prevent them from descending to the level of the sub-human. The setting is human, and the question is whether it is realistic or real, though of course, there is a larger philosophical question whether this really matters, or what reality is. Yet there is, in the narratives of the Itihasas and Puranas a vast measure of internal, consistent detail, in respect of human dynasties that simply clamors to be recognized as real.

As readers, we can ascertain the genealogies of Rishis and Kings including Krishna and Yudhishtira, since Yudhishtira was a peer who lived at the same time as Krishna. Let us look at these genealogies in more detail when we progressively elaborate on the Puranas in general and Srimad Bhagavatham in particular in the coming posts.

Naimittika or Occasional Dissolution

In the last post, we saw about the 2 types of dissolutions- Nitya and Atyantika Pralayams- that are closest to us (relatively at least). In this post, let us gain some knowledge about the first 2 types.

Naimittika Pralay.

A thousand cycles of the Chathur Yuga (4.32 million solar years) or the 4 Yugas is called a Kalpa. 14 Manus preside over this time period (approximately 71 chathur yugas each).  At the end of this, a Brahma’s day ends and He goes into sleep. The Brahma’s night is of the same duration as that of his day during which time, the Naimittika Pralayam happens.

At the end of thousand years, total dearth ensues and there is a severe shortage of food at first. Then the water dries up leaving all beings to perish. There is absolutely no water on Bhu Loka, Bhur Loka, Suvar Loka and on Patala loka as well. The Supreme Being takes the form of Rudra and comes down to bring together all creatures with himself. The seven rays of the Sun are split to form seven individual Suns.  The 3 lokas and the Patala are set on fire by these Suns.  First Patala is burnt, followed by Bhu Loka. The remnants of the upper 2 lokas move to the Mahar loka, the residents of which move to the next loka – Janaloka. After the fire that engulfed the entire Earth and its higher spheres is followed by heavy and incessant rain for 100 years during which the whole world is enveloped in darkness. The water reaches the world of the seven rishis and stops raising beyond that point. Then the clouds are dispersed away by the breadth of Vishnu. This wind blows for another 100 years. After all this, Brahma wakes from his nightly slumber and is ready to create the world again.

This is the intermediate dissolution that occurs at the end of each Kalpa. If we do our math, we can easily realize that we are not anywhere near the occurrence of the next Naimittika Pralaya. So, people who really thought the world would end in the near future can take solace from the fact that the next dissolution is slated after 500 Chathur Yugas (We are presided by the 7th Manu of Svetha Varaha Kalpa. There are 7 more Manus remaining with the combined life term of 500 Chathur Yugas-7 * 70 Chathur Yugas).  We should be focusing more on the Nitya and Avyantika Dissolutions instead and lead a life that will take us closer to our ultimate goal of liberation from the cycles of birth and death.

We will see about the Prakrita or Elemental dissolution in the next post.

Dissolution and Us

I ended the last post with some lingering questions about the first half of Brahma’s life and about the previous Manus. If you wonder what happened to them, Pralayam or Layam or dissolution – is what happened.

There are 4 types of Pralaya that is mentioned in our scriptures like Vishnu Puranam and Srimdad Bhagavatham. They are

  1. Prakritika or Elemental dissolution
  2. Naimittika or Occasional dissolution
  3. Atyantika or Absolute or Ultimate
  4. Nithya or Perpetual

In this post, let us see about the last 2. I will take a bottom up approach and start with Nithya Pralayam.

Nitya Pralayam – is the constant and perpetual destruction of all that is born(everything that is born has to die). This happens on a daily basis to all living things. This is the opposite of Nitya Sarga or constant creation. We all undergo this dissolution. This is the Pralayam that is closest to us and the one that we experience the most.

Next is the Atyantika or Absolute Dissolution – This happens when the atman is finally dissolved and cut-off from the cycle of birth and death. An atman that attains Moksha undergoes the ultimate annihilation of the bondage of the soul and develops a firm realization of the unfailing supreme soul.

Nitya and Atyantika Pralays are directly related to us-the Atmans. It is clear that while Nitya takes place automatically depending on our Karmas and deeds, Atyantika is something that we should work towards attaining and can only be achieved by the direct knowledge of the Supreme Being.

But, either of these 2 dissolution happened when Brahma’s first 50 years (Padma Kalpa) ended. What happened then is what we will see in the next post.

Time travel in Srimad Bhagavatham

People who saw the movie Looper went all agog with the concept of time-travel used in the movie( When the mob wants to eliminate someone, it sends the target into the past, where a hit man known as a looper lies in wait to finish the job)

Something of the same sort happened to Markandeya once- which is described in Srimad Bhagavatham. As we all know, He is the immortal sage who gets his immortality from Lord Siva. He is the only survivor at the end of Brahma’s day when Pralayam happens due to this immortality. Pleased with his austerity and discipline in his immortal life, Lord Narayan appears before him. Markandeya is actually pleased, just to see Lord Narayan, but then wants to see a glimpse of His illusionary Potency (or Maya). Lord Narayan grants his wish and sends him off to his ashram.

One day Markandeya is doing his Sandhya Vandan in the evening, when suddenly there is a big deluge all around him. Water engulfs all that is existent around him. He realizes that it is the Pralayam. He is wandering in this Pralayam Ocean for millions of years. Suddenly he sees a small baby floating towards him in a big banyan leaf, with his toe in his mouth. The baby takes out his toe and inhales, drawing Markandeya into Him.

Inside the baby’s stomach, Markandeya sees the entire universe: the sky, heavens and earth, the stars, mountains, oceans, great islands and continents, the expanses in every direction, the saintly and demoniac living beings, the forests, countries, rivers, cities and mines, the agricultural villages and cow pastures, and the occupational and spiritual activities of the various social divisions. He also sees the basic elements of creation along with all their by-products, as well as time itself, which regulates the progression of countless ages within the days of Brahma. In addition, he sees everything else created for use in material life. All this he sees manifested before him as if it were real.

In this entire melee, he also sees himself in his ashram and performing his daily rituals! This is a completely different and a very advanced time travel concept, where HIS PAST is sent to ITS FUTURE for him to see IT from HIS PRESENT state.


Let us see what happens to our beloved Markandeya.

The baby exhales and throws him out and at that moment, everything around him vanishes and he realizes that he is still in his ashram doing his daily evening rituals. He realizes that Lord Narayan just displayed his illusionary powers, showing Markandeya what actually happens during the Pralayam, at the same time.

The simple truth that Time travel was not thought of as an advanced concept back then, but something that was normal, shows how advanced our ancestors were.(Srimad Bhagavatham which tells this story-is of primordial origins).

PS – If You want to see this baby in the banyan leaf, search for Gokul Santol powder Logo. He is Vada Badra Sayee.