Critical Editions of the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on August 31, 2014 at 11:57 pm

In the post dated May 5, 2012, attention was called to the critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, edited by M. M. Pathak, and published in two volumes, 1997 and 1999 (Vadodara: Oriental Institute). A comment on that post called attention to three previously published critical editions of purāṇas: The Vāmana Purāṇa (1967), The Kūrma Purāṇa (1971), and The Varāha Purāṇa (2 vols., 1981), all edited by Anand Swarup Gupta, and published by the All-India Kashiraj Trust, Varanasi. Two more critical editions of purāṇas have been published, the Bhāgavata-purāṇa and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa. Their bibliographic data is:

The Bhāgavata [Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa]: Critical Edition, edited by H. G. Shastri, et al., 4 vols. in 6 parts, Ahmedabad: B. J. Institute of Learning and Research, 1996-2002 (vol. 1, skandhas 1-3, ed. by H. G. Shastri, 1996; vol. 2, skandhas 4-6, ed. by Bharati K. Shelat, 1999; vol. 3, skandhas 7-9, ed. respectively by H. G. Shastri, B. K. Shelat, and K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 1, skandha 10, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1997; vol. 4, part 2, skandhas 11-12, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 3, Epilogue, by K. K. Shastree, 2002).

The Critical Edition of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇam, edited by M. L. Wadekar, 2 vols., Vadodara: Oriental Institute, 2011 (vol. 2, adhyāyas 76-88, is the Devīmāhātmyam).

Besides these critical editions of six of the eighteen major purāṇas, three volumes (in four parts) of a critical edition of an earlier and more original version of the massive Skanda-purāṇa have been published (to be completed in about ten volumes):

The Skandapurāṇa, vol. I, adhyāyas 1-25, edited by Rob Adriaensen, Hans T. Bakker, and Harunaga Isaacson, 1998; vol. IIa, adhyāyas 26-31.14, ed. by Hans T. Bakker and Harunaga Isaacson, 2005; vol. IIb, adhyāyas 31-52, ed. by Hans T. Bakker, Peter C. Bisschop, and Yuko Yokochi, 2014; vol. III, adhyāyas 34.1-61, 53-69, ed. by Yuko Yokochi, 2013. Supplement to the Groningen Oriental Studies, Groningen: Egbert Forsten, and Leiden: Brill.

An earlier and more original version of the Agni-purāṇa has also been published, although not in a critical edition. Its discovery was announced by R. C. Hazra in his 1956 article, “Discovery of the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa” (attached). It was published as:

Vahni-Purāṇam, also referred to as Āgneya-Purāṇam, edited by Anasuya Bhowmik. Bibliotheca Indica Series, no. 336. Kolkata: The Asiatic Society, 2012 (includes as an Introduction the extensive 2-part article by Rajendra Chandra Hazra titled, “Studies in the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa alias Vahni-Purāṇa,” originally published in 1953 and 1954).

Additionally, we have a critical edition of the Harivaṃśa, a purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata. It was edited by Parashuram Lakshman Vaidya, and published in 1969, with an additional large volume of Appendices in 1971 (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute).

We anxiously await the publication of the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa, which is underway at the Oriental Institute, Vadodara. The Vāyu-purāṇa is, by general consensus, considered to be the oldest of the extant purāṇas. It, too, like all the others, has undergone revision and alteration, additions and subtractions. But it retains more of the core, presumably the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, than the other extant purāṇas do (see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 1. On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā,” dated Aug. 14, 2012).

For purposes of research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, the Vāyu-purāṇa is of most importance. Of similar importance is its twin, somewhat more expanded version, the extant Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa. Of the thousands of verses shared in common between these two purāṇas, hundreds have been found in the extant Matsya-purāṇa, and in the Harivaṃśa. The contents of these verses are often found in the extant Viṣṇu-purāṇa and Bhāgavata-purāṇa, but condensed and re-written. Thus, the traces of Prakrit found in the Sanskrit of these ancient verses have disappeared in these re-written condensations, even though the basic information remains. Besides these purāṇas containing ancient material, the archaic character of the extant Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa has been noted since the beginning of purāṇa studies by Western investigators, and has been fully confirmed by the investigations of purāṇa specialist, Rajendra Chandra Hazra.

In his still standard 1940 book, Studies in the Purānic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, R. C. Hazra took a different approach than the historical approach taken by F. E. Pargiter and S. P. L. Narasimhaswami. Hazra carefully evaluated the authenticity of the major purāṇas on the basis of quotations from them found in the smṛti-nibandhas, works on Hindu rites and customs, and on the basis of descriptions of their contents found in the other purāṇas. He found that only seven of the now extant purāṇas can legitimately claim to be the major purāṇas known to the smṛti-nibandha writers and described in the other purāṇas, while the remaining eleven of the eighteen major purāṇas are either extensive alterations or complete substitutions. The seven more or less authentic extant major purāṇas are the Mārkaṇḍeya, Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Viṣṇu, Matsya, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma, while the eleven erstwhile major purāṇas that must now be regarded as minor purāṇas are the extant Vāmana, Liṅga, Varāha, Padma, Nāradīya, Agni, Garuḍa, Brahma, Skanda, Brahma-vaivarta, and Bhaviṣya. He also regards the extant Śiva-purāṇa, usually classed as one of the eighteen (or nineteen) major purāṇas, as a minor purāṇa, based on its content. Hazra’s findings agree with the findings of previous investigators as to which are the oldest purāṇas now extant, adding to these only the Kūrma-purāṇa, and that with considerable qualifications (see his book, pp. 57-75).

There are, then, seven extant purāṇas that are of much importance for research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. These are the Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Matsya, Mārkaṇḍeya, Viṣṇu, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma. Similarly important is the purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata, the Harivaṃśa. Of these eight texts, we now have critical editions of five: the Harivaṃśa (1969-1971), the Kūrma-purāṇa (1971), the Bhāgavata-purāṇa (1996-2002), the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, (1997-1999), and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa (2011). Once the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa is published, we will be in a position to undertake research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā with the hope of reasonably reliable results.

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