पुराण purāṇa: old, ancient; old legend, ancient history.

The Puranas are an encyclopedic genre of literature in the broader Hindu tradition. The texts deal with a wide variety of subjects, generally categorized under five main headings:

1. “Sarga,” Cosmogenesis or Cosmogony, the creation of the Universe;
2. “Pratisarga,” secondary cosmogonies;
3. “Vaṃśa,” genealogies of gods and sages;
4. “Manvantara,” Anthropogenesis and the races and cycles of Man;
5. “Vaṃśānucarita,” dynastic histories and lineages of divine kings.

The Puranas are referenced and quoted from very often in H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, drawing heavily on the Vishnu Purana as translated by Wilson, being one of the few Puranas with a complete English translation at the time. Yet, although these were quoted liberally by her, she also made sure to “remind our Orientalists and those Westerns who regard Wilson’s translations as authoritative, that in his English translation of the Vishnu Purana he is guilty of the most ludicrous contradictions and errors” (SD 1:257fn). This is an issue that in part remains to this day, but over the past century several Indian scholars have put in tremendous work to translate the Puranas into English, giving today’s students a much wider access to the texts (see below for links to translations).

The Puranas are grouped into two major categories: the Mahā- (“great”) and the Upa- (“subordinate” or “secondary”) Purāṇas, with several more texts available outside of these two categories. Both main groups are traditionally listed as 18 in number, but the lists themselves vary—in the case of the Mahā-Purāṇas, the lists vary only slightly; in the case of the Upa-Purāṇas, some of the lists vary considerably.

Through analysis of several sources, tables of these lists can be compiled as such:

The Mahā-Purāṇas

(As Listed in 6 Purāṇas)

Viṣṇu Purāṇa1
(3:6:20-23)
Bhāgavata Purāṇa
(12:13:3-8)
Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa
(133:11-21)
Mātsya Purāṇa
(53:13-56)
Kūrma Purāṇa
(1:1:13)
Devī Bhāgavata-purāṇa2
(1:3:2)
1 Brahma Brahma Brahma3 Brahma Brahma Brahma
2 Pādma Pādma Pādma Pādma Pādma Pādma
3 Viṣṇu Viṣṇu Viṣṇu Viṣṇu Vaiṣṇava [Viṣṇu] Viṣṇu
4 Śiva4 Śiva Śiva Vāyu5 Śaiva [Śiva] Vāyu
5 Bhāgavata Bhāgavata Bhāgavata Bhāgavata Bhāgavata Bhāgavata
6 Nārada Nārada Nārada Nārada Nārada Nārada
7 Mārkaṇḍeya Mārkaṇḍeya Mārkaṇḍeya Mārkaṇḍeya Mārkaṇḍeya Mārkaṇḍeya
8 Agni Vāhna [Agni] Agni Agni Agni Agni
9 Bhaviṣya Bhaviṣya Bhaviṣya Bhaviṣya Bhaviṣya6 Bhaviṣya
10 Brahmavaivarta Brahmavaivarta Brahmavaivarta7 Brahmavaivarta Brahmavaivarta Brahmavaivarta
11 Liṅga Laiṅga [Liṅga] Liṅga Liṅga Laiṅga [Liṅga] Liṅga
12 Varāha Varāha Varāha Varāha Varāha Varāha
13 Skanda Skanda Skanda Skanda Skanda Skanda
14 Vāmana Vāmana Vāmana Vāmana Vāmana Vāmana
15 Kūrma Kūrma Kūrma Kūrma Kaurma [Kūrma] Kūrma
16 Mātsya Mātsya Mātsya Matsya Mātsya Matsya
17 Garuḍa Sauparṇa [Garuḍa] Garuḍa Garuḍa Garuḍa Garuḍa
18 Brahmāṇḍa Brahmāṇḍa Brahmāṇḍa Brahmāṇḍa Brahmāṇḍa Brahmāṇḍa


1
. In Viṣṇu Purāṇa’s list, numbers 1-7 are set apart, perhaps to indicate special or higher status (i.e. perhaps akin to the Mukhya Upanishads being set apart in the Muktika Canon); numbers 8-15 are listed numerically (i.e. “the eighth,” “the ninth,” etc.); 16-18 are listed as “others,” perhaps indicating lower status.

2. The count in this Purāṇa is given by first syllable, thus: “[Those beginning with] “ma” are two; [with] “bha” are two; [with] “bra” are three; [with] “va” are four; [with] “a,” “na,” “pa,” “ling,” “ga,” “kū,” [and] “ska” are one each.” We’ve arranged these according to the consistent order given in the other sources.

3. Referred to in this Purāṇa as “the highest” or “best of all.”

4. The Śiva Purāṇa claims to have originally consisted of 12 Saṃhitās (“Collections”) and 100,000 verses. 5 of those 12 Saṃhitās are not extant, leaving only 7 remaining. The 5 missing Saṃhitās are said to consist of 52,000 verses. Thus the remaining 7 would consist of 48,000. However, in the manuscripts available today these 7 Saṃhitās consist of only about 24,000 verses. Tradition holds that Vyasa abridged the text.

5. The Vāyu Purāṇa is supposed to consist of 24,000 verses, but extant manuscripts consist of only about 12,000 and vary considerably between themselves.

6. In this Purāṇa the Bhaviṣya is listed 6th, thus bumping down Nārada, Mārkaṇḍeya and Agni to 7th-9th. Padma Purāṇa (5:115:93-97) has the same list and order. We’ve moved Bhaviṣya to 9th simply for the sake of easier comparison with the other lists.

7. Referred to in this Purāṇa as “the essence of all the Purāṇas.”

The above lists show significant uniformity. The 4th spot is the only one with a notable divergence between lists, being given as either the Śiva or Vāyu Purāṇa. It may be that the authors of those lists had the same overall text or collection of texts in mind, but used one or the other of these titles to indicate it. The originals of both the Śiva and Vāyu Purāṇas are not extant, and what is extant are significantly abridged. While debate and further investigations continue among scholars and students, we favor including both of these texts in the list of Mahāpurāṇas, while keeping the count at 18, i.e. we prefer to list the text as “4. Śiva and/or Vāyu.”

The Mahā-Purāṇas

(Compiled list drawn from the following sources:
Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3:6:20-23;
Bhāgavata Purāṇa 12:13:3-8;
Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa 133:11-21;
Mātsya Purāṇa 53:13-56;
Kūrma Purāṇa 1:1:13;
Devī Bhāgavata-purāṇa 1:3:2)

1. Brahma
2. Pādma
3. Viṣṇu
4. Śiva and/or Vāyu
5. Bhāgavata
6. Nārada
7. Mārkaṇḍeya
8. Agni
9. Bhaviṣya
10. Brahmavaivarta
11. Liṅga
12. Varāha
13. Skanda
14. Vāmana
15. Kūrma
16. Mātsya
17. Garuḍa
18. Brahmāṇḍa


The Upa- (“subordinate”) Puranas can be analyzed similarly:

The Upa-Purāṇas

(As Listed in 3 Purāṇas)

Devi-Bhagavata Purāṇa
(1:3:12-16)
Kūrma Purāṇa
(1:1:16-20)
Padma Purāṇa
(5:115:93-97)
1 Sanatakumāra [Ādi] 1 Ādi 1 Sanatakumāra [Ādi]
2 Nārasiṃha 2 Nārasiṃha 2 Nārasiṃha
3 Nāradīya 6 Nāradīya 5 Nāradīya
4 Śiva [Śivadharma?] 4 Śivadharma 18 Kaumāra
5 Āścarya 5 Durvāsā [Āścarya] 4 Daurvāsasa [Āścarya]
6 Kāpila 7 Kāpila 6 Kāpila
7 Mānava 8 Mānava8 7 Mānava
8 Auśanasa 9 Auśanasa 8 Auśanasa
9 Varuṇa 11 Varuṇa 10 Vāruṇa
10 Kālikā 12 Kālikā 11 Kālikā
11 Sāmba 14 Sāmba 13 Sāmba
12 Nāndikeśvara9 3 Skānda9 [Nānda?] 3 Māṇḍa9 [Nānda?]
16 Māheśvara 13 Māheśvara 12 Māheśa [Māheśvara]
13 Saura 15 Saura 14 Saura
14 Pārāśara 16 Pārāśara 15 Pārāśara
15 Āditya 17 Mārīca 16 Mārīca
17 Bhāgavata [Bhārgava?] 18 Bhārgava 17 Bhārgava
18 Vāsiṣṭha 10 Brahmāṇḍa 9 Brahmāṇḍa

Note: in the above table, bold text represents Purāṇas that are normally classified as Mahā-Purāṇas. Red text represents a Purāṇa that is given in only one of the lists we’ve utilized.

8. In translations of this list (see, for instance, in Monier-Williams’ Dictionary), Vāmana is given, but in the Sanskrit text we have seen the name given is Mānava.

9. The Nāndikeśvara Purāṇa is given in other lists, for instance the Bṛhaddharma Purāṇa (Chapter 21). The inclusion of the Skānda (itself a Mahā-Purāṇa) and “Māṇḍa,” in the Kūrma and Padma respectively, is an oddity. It would seem that the Purāṇa that ought to be included in the list is the Nāndikeśvara or Nānda.

From analysis of the above, along with other lists (i.e. Bṛhaddharma Purāṇa, Chapter 21, etc.) we may perhaps suggest the following summary list: 1. Ādi, 2. Nārasiṃha, 3. Nāradīya, 4. Śivadharma, 5. Āścarya/Durvāsā, 6. Kāpila, 7. Mānava, 8. Auśanasa, 9. Varuṇa, 10. Kālikā, 11. Sāmba, 12. Nāndikeśvara, 13. Māheśvara, 14. Saura, 15. Pārāśara, 16. Mārīca, 17. Āditya, 18. Bhārgava.

Such a summary list is, of course, only preliminary and subject to change as more investigation is done, but at the very least we can get a sense of which Purāṇas were commonly viewed in the second place of importance next to the Mahā-Purāṇas. After the Upa-Purāṇas there are numerous other texts categorized under the name Purāṇa.

The Upa-Purāṇas

(Summary list drawn from analysis of the following sources:
Devi-Bhagavata Purāṇa 1:3:12-16;
Kūrma Purāṇa 1:1:16-20;
Padma Purāṇa 5:115:93-97;
Bṛhaddharma Purāṇa, Chapter 21)

1. Ādi
2. Nārasiṃha
3. Nāradīya
4. Śivadharma
5. Āścarya/Durvāsā
6. Kāpila
7. Mānava
8. Auśanasa
9. Varuṇa
10. Kālikā
11. Sāmba
12. Nāndikeśvara
13. Māheśvara
14. Saura
15. Pārāśara
16. Mārīca
17. Āditya
18. Bhārgava


While we have lists and manuscripts of these and numerous other Purāṇas, “there is a tradition given in the purāṇas themselves that they come from a single now lost source. This source is described as the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. It consisted of 4,000 verses, less than in any of the eighteen purāṇas now extant, but not a small book” (David Reigle, “On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā”). For more on the Purāṇa-Saṃhitā see:

Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, “Part 1. On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā,” by David Reigle
Purana Samhita by S. P. L. Narasimhaswami, 1945
Original Purana Samhita by V. S. Agrawala, 1966


Translations

See: Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology series, Volumes 1-79

The Mahā-Purāṇas
1. Brahma Purāṇa

G. P. Bhatt, The Brahma Purana, 1955 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3, 4) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Brahma Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 33-36 (Previews: Vol. 33, 34, 35, 36)


2. Pādma Purāṇa

N. A. Deshpande, The Padma Purana, 1951 (reproduced in the AITM series)
Padma Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 39-48 (Scans: Vol. 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48)


3. Viṣṇu Purāṇa

Shanti Lal Nagar, Vishnu Purana, [year unknown] (Scan: single volume)

H. H. Wilson, The Vishnu Purana, 1840 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)


4a. Śiva Purāṇa

J. L. Shastri, The Shiva Purana, 1970 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3, 4) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Siva Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 1-4 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4)

Shanti Lal Nagar, Siva Maha Purana, 2007


4b. Vāyu Purāṇa

G. V. Tagare, Vayu Purana, 1960 (Scans: Part 1, 2) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Vayu Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 37-38 (Scans: Vol. 37, 38)


5. Bhāgavata Purāṇa

G. V. Tagare, Bhagavata Purana, 1950 (Scan: Parts 1-5) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Bhagavata Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 7-11 (Previews: Vol. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

M. N. Dutt, A prose English translation of Shrimadbhagabatam, 1895-96, 12 Books

J. M. Sanyal, The Srimad Bhagavatam, 1970 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

C.L. Goswami and M.A. Shastri, Bhagavata Mahapurana, 2006 (Scan: Vol. 1-2)

Bibek Debroy, The Bhagavata Purana, 2019

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, The Srimad Bhagavatam, 1970–77

Anand Aadhar, Srimad Bhagavata Purana, 2012


6. Nārada Purāṇa

G. V. Tagare, Narada Purana, 1950 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Narada Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 15-19 (Scans: 15, 16, 17, 18, 19)


7. Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa

Frederick Eden Pargiter, The Markandeya Purana, 1904 (Scan: single volume)


8. Agni Purāṇa

M. N. Dutt, Agni Purana, 1904 (Scans, 1987 ed.: Vol. 1, 2, 3, 4)

N. Gangadharan, The Agni Purana, 1955 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3, 4) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Agni Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 27-30 (Scans: Vol. 27, 28, 29, 30)


9. Bhaviṣya Purāṇa

No complete English translation available.


10. Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa

Shanti Lal Nagar, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, 2003 (Scan: Vol. 1-2)

Rajendra Nath Sen, Brahma-vaivarta Puranam, 1922 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2)

G. P. Bhatt, Brahmavaivarta Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 77-79 (Scans: Vol. 77, 78, 79 [not available])


11. Liṅga Purāṇa

J. L. Shastri, Linga Purana, 1951 (Scans: Part 1, 2) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Linga Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 5-6 (Scans: Vol. 5, 6)

Shanti Lal Nagar, Linga Maha Purana, 2011


12. Varāha Purāṇa

S. Venkitasubramonia Iyer, Varaha Purana, 1960 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Varaha Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 31-32 (Previews: Vol. 31, 32)


13. Skanda Purāṇa

G. V. Tagare, Skanda Purana, 1950-1960 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20) (reproduced in the AITM series)
G. V. Tagare (49-68), A. S. Balooni & Pratosh Panda (69-71), Skanda Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 49-71 (Scans: 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, [71 unavailable])

See also: The Skandapurāṇa Project


14. Vāmana Purāṇa

O. N. Bimali & K. L. Joshi, Vamana Purana: Sanskrit Text and English Translation, 2005 (Scan: single volume)

R. S. Shiva Ganesha Murthy, Vamana Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 72-73 (Snippet view: 72, 73)


15. Kūrma Purāṇa

G. V. Tagare, Kurma Purana, 1951 (Scans: Part 1, 2) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Kurma Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 20-21 (Scans: Vol. 20, 21)

Bhattacharya, Mukherju, Varma & Rai, Kurmapurana, 1972 (Kashiraj Trust ed.) (Scan: single volume)

[Translator unknown], Kurma Purana, [year unknown] (Scan: single volume)


16. Mātsya Purāṇa

K. L. Joshi, Matsya Purana, 2007 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2)

B. D. Basu, The Matsyam Purana, 1916-17 (Sacred Books of the Hindus series) (Scans: Vol. 1, 2)


17. Garuḍa Purāṇa

J. L. Shastri, Garuda Purana, 1957 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Garuda Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 12-14 (Scans: Vol. 12, 13, 14)

M. N. Dutt, The Garuda Purana, 1908 (Scans: Vol. 1, 2, 3)


18. Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa

G. V. Tagare, Brahmanda Purana, 1960 (Scans: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) (reproduced in the AITM series)
Brahmanda Purana, Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 22-26 (Scans: Vol. 22, 23, 24, 25, 26)


Resources

Puranas Portal
Puranic Encyclopedia
Puranas in Sanskrit


Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.