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Religion Library: Hinduism

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

Krishna and RadhaThe great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are often seen as Vaishnava texts, although they contain many myths and rituals oriented to Shiva and the goddesses as well. For many Hindus, the stories and myths in these texts represent the most sacred of all narratives, because they describe the activities of the gods in the human realm. On one level, these are simply great stories. They are told and retold, enacted, sung, and, in the modern realm, filmed. They are also great myths, however, sacred narratives that unveil profound truths, present moral and ethical guidance, and articulate the formation and order of the cosmos.

Three principal sects of Hinduism
    SectSupreme BeingName of the followersWhere sect is most widespreadTexts
Sri Lanka
Vishnu (or his avatars: Rama and Krishna)VaishnavasIndiaUpanishads
Bhagavad Gita
    SaktismShakti (or Devi), the Divine MotherShaktasIndiaPuranas

For many Hindus, the most sacred narratives are those having a much more local scope. Some of these narratives are contained within the Puranas, a huge collection of diverse religious texts. Many of the Puranas contain stories and myths that are linked to particular places, such as mountains or temples, as well as narratives that have pan-Indian resonance. The Puranas also contain variations of myths found elsewhere. Virtually all of the pan-Indian gods and goddesses appear in the Puranas.

Division of Purana texts (various divisions and numbers of texts are possible)
The Mahapuranas (most important puranas)
  1. Brahma Puranas: Brahma Purana, Brahmānda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Mārkandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana
  2. Vishnu Puranas: Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Nāradeya Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana,Vāmana Purana,Kūrma Purana, Matsya Purana, Kalki Purana
  3. Shiva Puranas: Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana, Agni Purana, Vāyu Purana
The Upapuranas: secondary texts (no official list, but include the following)

Sanat-kumara, Narasimha, Brihan-naradiya, Siva-rahasya, Durvasa, Kapila, Vamana, Bhargava, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Surya, Parasara, Vasishtha, Devi-Bhagavata, Ganesha, Mudgala, and Hamsa
The Sthala Puranas: deal with traditions about temples and shrines
The Kula Puranas: deal with the origins of various castes
Jain and Buddhist Puranas

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