Among various sources used in the reconstruction of early Indian history, Puranas enjoy a place of great significance. Puranas consists of 18 major work and these are were composed over a long period of time, beginning from the 2nd century BC to the 10th century AD.
The Puranas provide information about both the secular and religious life of the ancient age. Their significance was immense as a source of spreading secular knowledge among the people.
Subject matter of Puranas
The Puranas divide subject matter into 5 parts (Panch-Lakshanas) which are:
- Sarga – The creation of the world
- Pratisarga – Fall of dynasty
- Manvantaras – Periods of the various Manus
- Vamsa – genealogies of gods and rishis
- Vamshanucharita – Account of royal dynasties dynasty, including the Suryavamshi and Chandravamshi kings
Puranas as a source of History
Puranas has elements of historical work because the information is provided chronologically. The names of various kings and successors are given in a chronological manner.
Puranas deal with social life, morality, religion, and philosophy. They also provide information about the distance between various places, Indian geography known to early Indians, various methods used for measurement of distance and time, etc.
Some of the Puranas deal with specific dynasty, for example:
- Vishnu Puran – deals with Mauryan dynasty
- Matsya Puran – deals with the Satavahana dynasty
- Vayu Puran – deals with Gupta dynasty
In the ancient age, the Puranas were the only significant literary work accessible to women and Shudra. The Vedas were not accessible to them, because of this, the Purana propagated knowledge among majority of the Indian population.
According to Banabhatta, the Puranas were read in public in and the entire village used to listen to them. That is why Puranas was considered the most important text for spreading secular knowledge among people during the ancient age.