Author: A Composition
Publisher: Gita Press
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8129302934
The word purana means old or ancient. Thus the puranas are old and ancient texts that have come down to us through the ages. They have stories about famous people and descriptions of religion and society of those times. Amongst the Mahapuranas, the Agni Purana usually figures eight in the list of eighteen. There are about fifteen and a half thousand shlokas in the Agni Purana.
The Agni Purana is a Tamasika Purana. The others in this group are the Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Shiva and Skanda Puranas. The narrator of the Agni Purana is the fire-god Agni. Agni related the subject matter of the Purana to the sage Vashishtha, who in turn, passed on the knowledge to Vyasadeva.
The Agni Purana has no separate sections as such. It is simply split into three hundred and eighty-three chapters. One of these chapters, chapter No. 380 is rather interesting. It gives in capsule form the essence of Advaita Brahmajnana. The sections in the Agni Purana are a summary of the teachings of the Vedas and the Upanishadas
The definition of a Purana is, in fact, quite precise. To be considered a proper Puranas, a text to has to cover five subjects. These are known as the five characteristics of a Purana. Traditionally, a purana must firstly describe the primary creation of the universe; this is known as sarga. But once the universe is created, it is periodically destroyed and created again. A purana must secondly describe this process of periodic destruction and creation; this is known as pratisarga. A purana must thirdly list out the genealogies of gods and saints, this is known as vamsha. Fourthly, a Purana must catalog the various manvantaras, this is, the many different eras that the earth or the universe has passed through. And finally, a Purana must have a history of the royal dynasties, vamshanucharita.
Around this core skeleton of the five subjects, any Purana normally contains matters of religious concern, customs, ceremonies, sacrifices, festivals, duties of the various castes, different types of donations, details of constructions of temples and images and descriptions of places of pilgrimage.
Eighteen mahapuranas are divided into three groups and each group has six texts. The Hindu Trinity consists of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is regarded as the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Since all three are important gods, all these are given due emphasis in any Purana. But the relative emphasis often varies from Purana to Purana.
Texts which talk a lot about the incarnations of Vishnu are regarded as Vishnu Puranas, and are called Sattvika Puranas. Texts which emphasize creation more are regarded as Brahma Puranas and are called Rajasika Puranas. Texts which give a lot of importance to norms and rituals are regarded as Shiva Puranas, and are called tamasika Puranas.