There are eighteen or nineteen major Puranas also referred to as Mahapuranas in the hindu texts (see Rodrigues 207). There are also other Puranas which are referred to as upapurana, there are many more of these puranas compared to the major puranas. The Markandeya Purana is known to be one the Mahapuranas. All of the Puranas are claimed to deal with five distinctive subjects which includes the creation, renewal, genealogies, and manvantara or the periods of Manu(see Rodrigues 208). These five subjects apply to all of the Puranas including Markandeya Purana. The Markandeya Purana is one of major hindu texts, it is named after the rsi (sage) Markandeya who is said to be credited for this Purana. This Purana is also translated by many religious scholars including scholars like Manmatha Nath Dutt, and Frederick Eden Pragiter. This text is also highly studied for the section about the Devi-Mahatmaya in the text.
The Markandeya Purana like any other Puranas is written in a form of dialogue where one is the one questioning while the other answering. All the Mahapuranas are classed into three different groups: Satwika, Tamasa, and the Rajasa. All three referring to three different gods, but the section that the Markandeya Purana belongs to is the Rajasa which refers to the stories of the Brahma. The Rajasa Puranas also said to be oriented towards the Shaktas, worshippers of the female principle Sakti (see Dutt 3). This Purana has approximately six thousand and nine hundred verses, also not many prayers are seen in this text for the dities compared to the other Puranas (Dutt 3-4). This shows that the text is more oriented towards the narrative aspect compared to the bhakti aspect with less prayers and more myths. The author of the Purana is said to be Brahma himself because it is said to have come from Brahma’s mouth.
The text has been said to be specifically divided into five different parts, each part referring to something different than the other. For example, Chapters 1-9 are indicating the talk between Markandeya and Jaimini in which sage Markandeya refers to the wise birds to answer four questions asked by Jaimini. The other parts refer to 14 manvantaras, the Devi-Mahatmaya and many other conversations and tales (see Pargiter iv). This text also brings along the fact that unlike most Puranas this text is not credited to rsi Vyasa but to the sage Markandeya. Jaimini is said to be a disciple of Vyasa and but is seeking answers for his questions from rsi Markandeya (Wilson xxxiv). So coming back to the four questions asked by Jaimini, these questions are “Why was Vásudeva born as a mortal? How was it that Draupadí was the wife of the five Páńd́us? Why did Baladeva do penance for Brahmanicide? and why were the children of Draupadí destroyed, when they had Krishńa and Arjuna to defend them?” quoted from The Visnu Purana translated by Wilson. To answer these questions Markandeya tells Jaimini about some sapient birds from the Vindhya mountain (see Wilson xxxv) This is all in the first part of the Purana. The other parts of this text includes stories about the Devi-Mahatmaya, and the 14 Periods of Manu. The last part of the text is a conversation between Markandeya and Kraustuki. Kraustuki is a disciple of Markandeya, the conversation between them carries on in chapters 93-136 (Pargiter iv). The Purana also describes the Vedas and also gives information on the origins of the patriarchal families (Dutt 4).
The Markandeya Purana is important in a way for the fact that it criticizes the Mahabharata and also for the inclusion of the Devi-Mahatmaya. The Mahabharata is an important text for the production of the Puranas, one of the reasons for this can be the fact that it is credited to sage Vyasa who is also given credit for the epic Mahabharata (Rocher 83). As mentioned in the four questions by Jaimini most of the characters indicated are from this epic. This leads to the inclusion of the epic in the text frequently. The Purana doesn’t just criticize but also tries to explain some unanswered questions in the epic. The questions are answered through the reference of the wise birds in the text. The Purana (Pargiter iii-xxii). Another important aspect of the text is the Part indicating the Devi-Mahatmaya (Pargiter iii-xxii). The Chandipatha in this part is said to be the most important section. This contains about seven hundred verses which describes the actions and avatars of the goddess Chandi while it combats demons and the ‘evil’ (Dutt 4). The Devi-Mahatmaya is studied a lot compared to the purana itself, it shows the importance of the Sakti the female principle (Dutt 3-4). This is different from the male centered texts in Hindusim.
The Markadeya Purana is hard to date according to the many scholars because most of the Sanskrit text are undated and uncertain (Dutt 3, Pragiter xiii). The Purana includes the Mahabharata therefore it is dated after that but also prior to the Brahma, Padma, Naradiya, and Bhagvata Puranas (Pragiter xiii-xiv). This is later modified and the Puranas are said to have been composed much earlier. This is provided through Jain writings because it has literature that has been composed after the Puranas. This makes the scholars date the text closer to the 5th or 6th century A.D (Pargiter xiii-xxii). As the Puranas are composed with a similar intent therefore they have probably been dated close to each other. These Puranas are dated using the “religious and philosophical ideas embodied in it” (Pargiter xiii-xxii).
According to Pargiter this literature is known to have originated from the Western India. To get to these results different aspects have been considered from the text itself. One of the aspects that were considered were the fact about what regions some of the characters were from from the text. For example using the fact that Markandeya was a Bhargava, which gives information about the region Markandeya came from (Pargiter viii-xiii). This then gives the insight on what region is to be considered while giving a place of origin for the Purana. This is not the only aspect that has been considered, another aspect that is considered is the types of plants, birds and animals that are found in the text (Pargiter viii-xiii). This then gives further information on the area where the text originates because they can be specified by certain areas as well. This helps the scholars find an area that is described by the text.
The Markandeya Purana as described before is also said to be different than other texts because of the fact that it is not a bhakti oriented text with less prayers. Another conclusion that can be came upon is the fact that it lies parallel with the Vedas and the Epics because the Markandeya Purana is trying to explain many things from the Epics and the Vedas. An example of this was given while describing the four questions asked by Jaimini. This Purana also puts Vyasa and Markandeya as equals because of the fact that Jaimini, Vyasa’s disciple is seeking answers from the sage Markandeya.
REFRENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Dutt, Manmathanath (1896) A Prose English Tanslation of Markandeya Purana. Kolkata: Elysium Press.
Pargiter, Frederick (1904) The Markandeya Purana. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Rocher, Ludo (1986) The Purana. Virginia: Otto Harrasowitz Verlag.
Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism-The Ebook. Toronto: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.
Wilson, Horace (1840) The Vishnu Purana. Santa Cruz: Evinity Publishing Inc.
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Article written by: Neer Patel (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content