The Puranas are part of Hindu Smriti; these religious scriptures discuss devotion and mythology. They were written c.400-1000; the eighteen Puranas with six each are rendered to members of the Hindu Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and Shakti, God's Power personified. Perhaps, the best known Purana is the Bhagavata-Purana.
In all these puränas the goddess Lakshmi is given a laudable place without any sectarian dispute. In the Vaishnavite puranas, Shiva starts telling the efficacy of Vishnu to the Goddess Parvati. While Shaiva mythology places goddess Parvati, the consort of Shiva, as one half of His body (ardha naareeshvara tattva) Vaishnavites place the Goddess Lakshmi in the heart of Vishnu itself, as if it were a Lotus (hridaya kamala). This is to depict the inseparable union of Universal purusha and prakriti, seed and field, or male and female.
The puränas are classified under itihasa.
List of Puranas
- Vishnu Puränäs
- Brahma Puränäs
- Brahma Vaivarta
- Märkandèya (This sacred purana has the Devi Mahatmyam, an important religious text for Shaktas.)
- Shiva Puränäs
Heaven, Hell and other worlds in the Puranas
Puranic cosmology provided for belief in existence of numerous worlds, planets and planes of existence. Of the multitude of worlds, heaven (Svarga) and hell (Naraka) stand out as nearest and most relevant to our own planet, the Earth. Svarga or Heaven is the planet of the Demigods or devas ruled by King Indra. On Svarga, the ability to enjoy physical senses is enhanced while Life in Narka, the netherworld ruled by the King of Justice, Dharamraj Yama is subjected to pain and misery. It should be noted that both Heaven and Hell are temporary abodes for life and once the Karma that is responsible for birth in Heaven and Hell is exhausted, the soul transmigrates to other forms and worlds of existence.
Two of the other most important worlds in Puranic Cosmology are the 'Realm of Brahma', the highest possible plane of existence where Souls of extraordinary Karma reside before attaining Moksha, and The Vaikuntha, or the Realm of Vishnu. However, it is notable that this spheres of existence are seen as temporal in that those who find themselves in those spheres of existence eventually live out their karmas and return to earth in another 'bid' to attain moksha, which transcends such ultimately limited worlds.
There are many variations and different levels of the temporal planets as seen by different Puranas, eighteen of which are considered primary and often have wildly conflicting views on the nature of the phenomenal universe.
- Bhagavata Purana (Srimad-Bhagavatam) (http://www.krishna.com/newsite/main.php?id=33/) online in Sanskrit and English (with other books) at Krishna.com.
- Urday site features synopses of puranas. (http://www.urday.com/)