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Vishnu Puran – Importance – Bhakti – Philosophy - Contents Of Vishnu Purana

Vishnu Puran is one of the eighteen main puranas containing the mythical and other accounts of gods, creation, genealogy of kings etc. This blog post looks in the importance, bhakti, philosophy and contents of Vishnu Purana, which is on the most important scriptures in Hinduism.

Vishnu Puran is also known as Vaishnava Purana.

Parashara is the author of Vishnu Purana, which says that Vasishta narrated it to Pulastya, who narrated it to Parashara, who in turn narrated it to Maitreya.

Bhakti – Philosophy - Contents Of Vishnu Purana

According to another version, this Purana itself (6.8.42-49) was narrated by Brahma to Purukutsa, who narrated it to Sarasvata, who in turn imparted it to Parashara (1.2.8-9; 1.43.51)

The date of Vishnu Purana is uncertain. The dates proposed by different scholars range from 700 BC to 1045 AD; but it is generally assigned to a period between 300 AD and 500 AD.

It is surmised that the composer of this Purana may have been a native of Andhra on the ground that he knew Kaikila Yavanas, but the text suggests that it was composed in the Vindhya-Narmada region.

The Purana consists of six amshas (books), 126 adhyayas (chapters) and about 6000 shlokas (stanzas).

As in Bhagavata Purana, there is a mixture of prose and verse, e.g., 4.1 is a mixture of prose and verse, whereas 4.2 ff is in prose.

Contents of Book I of Vishnu Purana

Book 1 of Vishnu Purana has sixteen chapters and opens with a philosophical benedictory stanza in honor of Vishnu. Maitreya puts a question about the origin of the universe to Sage Parashara.

The description of Sage Parashara about creation is mingled with Samkhyan Thought.

This is followed by an account of units of time, yuga, manvantara, and so on, and there is also a description of the Varaha incarnation, Daksha’s yajna, legends of Lakshmi, Dhruva, Vainya, Prithu, Prachetas and of Hiranyakashipu and Prahlada with an account o the Narasimha incarnation.

Various types of spiritual contemplation and perceptible attributes of Vishnu are given.

Book II

Book 2 of Vishnu Puran has 16 chapters which deal with the following topics:
  • Accounts of descendants of Priyavrata Nabhi
  • Rishabha and Bharata, after who the land is named as Bharata
  • Description of the Earth with its seven dwipas (Vlaksha, Salmala, Kusha, Krauncha Saka and Pushkara
  • Seven seas
  • Forms of Vishnu in different varshas, amongs which Bharatavarsha is said to be superior
  • Mountains and rivers
  • Other topographical information, extent of seven varshas etc.
  • Patala
  • Various hells
  • Account of the Serpent Shesha
  • Meditation on Vishnu,
  • Description of Sun,
  • Legend of Bharata and his ultimate liberation by the teachings of Ribhu

Book III
Book 3 of Vishnu Purana has 18 chapters and deals with the following:

Account of several manus and manvantaras (aeons of Manus)
  • The meaning of the Vocal Vishnu
  • Vishnu’s appearance in four yugas (which are cyclic in character)
  • Division of the Veda at the end of the Dwapara age by Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa
  • Divisions of Four Vedas
  • Various branches of knowledge
  • 18 puranas
  • Bhishma’s disquisition on the means of getting exemption from Naraka on the authority of Yama for Nakula
  • Legend of Aurva and Sagara
  • Duties of four Ashramas (stage of life)
  • Different modes of marriage
  • Various rituals inclusive of Shraddha
  • Buddhas anti vedic teachings to Daityas and their fall
  • The legend of Satadhanu and his wife, Saibya

Book IV of Vishnu Purana
Book IV of Vishnu Purana has 24 chapters and it deals with the following chapters
  • Account of the solar dynasty from Brahma,
  • Descendants of Vaivasvata Manu and others
  • Legends of Kakutstha
  • Stories of Dhundhumara
  • Saubhari Trishanku
  • Sagara and his progeny
  • Soma and Budha
  • Pururavas and Urvashi
  • Jamadagni and Vishwamitra
  • Sons of Ayus of Raji and his descendants
  • Yayati
  • Kartavirya
  • Jayamagha
  • Syamantaka Gem
  • Kings of lunar dynasty
  • Descendants of Sini
  • Story of Pandu and Pritha and their descendants,
  • Story of Shishupala and his former birth
  • Story of Vasudev, Devaki and their sons
  • Story of Yadu
  • Descendants of Turvasu
  • Druhya
  • Anus
  • Puru
  • Jarasandha and  others
  • Kings of Magadha
  • Descendants of Kuru, of Devapai, Shantanu, Pandavas and Kauravas
  • Descendants of Parikshit, Ikshvaku, etc
  • Future kings of Magadha
  • Shisungas
  • Mauryas etc
  • End of the kali age
  • The return of Krita age
  • Verses chanted by Earth and communicated by Astika to Janaka.
Book V of Vishnu Purana
It is the longest book of Vishnu Purana with 38 chapters. It is dedicated to Lord Krishna. It describes the birth of Krishna, his exploits, killing of Kamsa, and ends with his departure from earth as a result of Jara’s arrow.

Book VI of Vishnu Purana
This is the shortest book of Vishnu Purana with eight chapters. Important chapters discussed in the book are:
  • Dissolution of the world
  • Four ages
  • Decline of all things inclusive of mankind in the Kali Yuga
  • Distinguishing features of the Kali Yuga,
  • Various kinds of dissolutions
  • Evils of worldly life
  • Nature of god
  • Meaning of bhagavat and Vasudeva
  • Means of attaining liberation
  • Devotion to Vishnu as a means of salvation for all castes irrespective of gender
  • Legends of Khandikya and Keshidhvaja
  • Benefits of final liberation
  • Recapitulation of the contents of Vishnu Purana
  • Merits of hearing Vishnu Purana
  • Praises of Vishnu with a concluding prayer.

Importance of Vishnu Purana
Vishnu Purana glorifies Vishnu as the highest being. He is the ultimate reality. He is the Brahman, unknowable and pure. He is also Ishwara, Puman, Purusha, Bhagavan, etc. He is omnipresent. He is Vasudeva (1.2.12).

Ramanuja, the expounder of the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta Philosophy, draws freely from the Purana in support of his views.

In the account of the cosmological evolution, the Purana follows the Samkhyan cosmology. God enters by his will into Prakrti (also known as Pratisanchara, because in the involutionary process everything returns to it) and the creation proceeds with the evolution of mahat, ahamkara, tanmatras etc.

As Brahma, He creates it, as Vishnu he preserves it, and as Rudra he dissolves it. Vishnu Purana refers to four pralayas or dissolutions.

The ultimate is said to grant liberation (1.1.2). Meditation, jnana, bhakti, upasana and aradhana are the means to attain the Ultimate, Vishnu. Bhakti finds its description in the episodes of Prahlada and Akrura and the Yama Gita.

Bhakti As Per Vishnu Purana
  • Bhakti is an attitude towards God and fellow beings.
  • Bhakti should be sthira (steady and firm), avyabhicharini (constant) and achyuta (unshakable).
  • Bhakti brings about a constant visualization of God’s appearance, and His presence is felt in the devotee’s heart and this fills the mind with the thought of God, leading to an identity with him or nirvana (salvation), as the case may be. Bhagavan is gracious to such a devotee (e.g., Prahlada), and being pleased He grants everlasting bhakti. In a sense, Bhakti is related to yogic spirituality.
Varaha, one of the incarnation of Vishnu, is an important deity in the Purana.

The Purana teaches the central doctrine o the Bhagavad Gita, namely, action done without concern for any reward leads to freedom from bondage.

There are references to the doctrines of karma (action) and rebirth.

The Purana depicts the social structure under the well known Chaturvarnya model.

Mythological stories supply the cases of the eight types of marriage, as well as cases of polygamy.

The case of Saibya, the wife of the king Satadhanu, reflects the suttee (custom).

The legend of Vainya Prithu tells the story of the introduction of agriculture and the institution of monarchy in ancient India.

From a literary point of view, Vishnu Purana is beautiful and charming. The prose here is simple and bear similarities with the prose of the ancient Vedic texts. It contains some beautiful descriptions of seasons like autumn. Sometimes some words indicate a semantic change, e.g., manayamasa (honored) is used in the sense of enjoyed, as in Gujarati manavu, to enjoy. Popular figures of speech like the simile are met with. There are numerous commentaries on and translations of Vishnu Purana.

Source - 
notes taken from 
  • A History of Indian Philosophy (1975) written by S N Dasgupta and published by Motilal Banarsidass
  • The Vishnu Purana, A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition (Cambridge; Read Country Books) published in 2006 and written by H.H. Wilson.
  • The Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume XI - (IHRF) (page 393 to 395)