History Optional Paper- 1 Solution – 2013: Q.4 (a)

History Optional Paper- 1 Solution – 2013: Q.4 (a)

Q.4 (a) Evaluate the contribution of the Puranas in disseminating secular knowledge among the masses in ancient India. 


There are 18 Mahapuranas (great puranas) and many more Upapuranas (secondary puranas).The origins of the puranas may be overlapped to some extent with the vedas, but their composition stretched forward into the 4th-5th centuries CE  and in some case even later.

The Puranas are supposed to have five characteristics (panch-lakshanas) i.e. they are supposed to discuss five topics:
(a) the creation of the world (sarga);
(b) re-creation (pratisarga);
(c) the periods of the various manus (manvantaras);
(d) the genealogies of gods and rishis (vamsha); and
(d) an account of royal dynasties (vamshanucharita) including the suryavamshi and chandravamshi kings.

The secular knowledge contained in the puranas:

(1) The conception of time– The conception of time in the puranas is mind-boggling. There are four ages or yugas – krita, treta, dvapara and kali. One yuga follows the other and the periodic destruction of the world is followed by its re-creation.

(2) Political History– The puranas especially the Vayu, Brahmanda, Brahma, Harivamsha, Matsya and Vishnu provide useful information on ancient political history. They refer to historical dynasties such as the Haryankas, Shaishunagas, Nandas, Mauryas, Shungas, Kanvas and Andhras (Satavahanas). The dynastic lists end with the Guptas.

(3) Historical geography– The puranas have accounts of mountains, rivers, and places, which are useful for the study of historical geography.

(4) Intermingling of culture– The puranas also reflect the interactions between the people belonging to different cultural traditions. For ex- the interaction between Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical cultural traditions.

(5) The secular knowledge in some specific puranas:

(a) Agni Purana – It has an encyclopaedic character – it deals with subjects like astronomy, geography, grammar, law, medicine, politics etc.

(b) Garuda Purana– It has also assumed an encyclopaedic form. There are sections on cosmography, astronomy and astrology, omens and portents, medicine, metrics, grammar, knowledge of precious stones (ratnapariksha) and politics (niti).

(c) Vishnudharmottara Purana  It is a supplement to the vishnu purana is also enclyclopaedic in nature. It also talks about the art of painting. It also gives an account of the various branches, methods and ideals of Indian painting.

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