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Religion Library: Hinduism

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

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

Shiva, Parvati, and the baby GaneshaThe Puranic version of the birth of the very popular god Ganesha is one of the most well known of all myths in Hinduism, one version of which is recounted in the Shiva Purana. Shiva's wife, Parvati, was alone while Shiva was away meditating. Parvati intended to take a bath, but was afraid of intruders, so she created Ganesh out of the turmeric, which was used something like soap, she was going to use to bathe. She instructed the boy to stand guard outside of her door. Shiva returned and encountered the strange boy, and demanded that he step aside so that he could enter his home. Ganesh, not knowing his father, refused, and Shiva, enraged, lopped off his son's head. GaneshParvati was furious and distraught, and she demanded that her husband restore their son to life. Shiva, after searching in vain for the head, was forced to replace it with that of an elephant. This is an etiological myth, namely a sacred narrative that explains the origins of a god or sacred place; it is also a myth that considers Shiva's sometimes unpredictable nature, as well as his power to restore.

Study Questions:
1.     How do Hindu scriptures present a creation story?
2.     What is the role of violence within many sacred narratives?
3.     What are the Puranas, and what do they offer?


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