Agni Purana – The ancient encyclopedia

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There are eighteen puranas in Hinduism. Agni Purana is one of them. There are various opinions whether Agni Purana is a Shaiva purana, Vishnu purana, Shakti purana or Smarta purana. So this purana is in many versions. This purana is divided into 382 or 383 chapters containing 12000 and 15000 verses. The earliest version of the purana was written in the 7th Century. But afterwards, over the centuries, many materials were added to the purana.

          Agni purana is more an encyclopedia than a purana. It is said – The chapters of Agni purana deal with anything and everything. It may here be mentioned that in ancient times, knowledge was not explicitly systematized. You can find anything in any book. Agni purana is no exception to that. The range of topics covered by this text include cosmology, mythology, genealogy, politics, education system, iconography, taxation theories, organization of army, theories on proper causes for war, martial arts, diplomacy, local laws, building public projects, water distribution methods, trees and plants, medicine, design and architecture, gemology, grammar, metrics, poetry, food and agriculture, rituals, geography, and travel guide to Mithila, cultural history and other numerous topics.

          This purana is named Agni purana because it was originally recited by Agni to the sage Vasistha, when the latter wanted to learn Brahman. An Indologist has said that all puranas are encyclopaedic. So it is difficult to say the date of writing. C. Dimmitt and Van Buitenon said –

          As they exist today, the Puranas are a stratified literature. Each titled work consists of material that has grown by numerous accretions in successive historical eras. Thus, no purana has a single date of composition. It is as if, they were libraries to which new volumes have been continuously added, not necessarily at the end of the shelf, but randomly.

          The first printed edition was edited by Rajendralal Mitra in the 1870s (Calcutta Asiatic Society of Bengal). An English translation was published in two volumes by Manmatha Nath Dutt in 1903-04. There are several versions published by different companies.

          Agni Purana is a storehouse of knowledge. The subjects of the text are as below –

          Subject                           Chapters                        Illustrative content

  1. Book Summary              21-70          Pancharatra texts, Mahabharata,

Ramayana, Pingala sutras, Amarkosa etc.

2.Regional Geography       114-116      Mithila, rivers, forests, town,

Culture

3. Medicine                        279-286      Ayurveda, herbs, nutrition

                                                370

     4.  Buddhist                       123-149      Summary of the Buddhist text,

Incantations        yuddhajayarnava mantras of

Trailokya Vijaya

5. Politics                             218-231      Structure of a state, education and duties of a king and key ministers,

organization of army, theory of just war,

ambassadors to other kingdoms, system of administration

civil and criminal law, taxation, local administration, court system.

    6. Agriculture planning       239-247      Fortification trees and parks,

                                                282, 292     water reservoirs.

7. Martial arts, weapons      249-252   32 types of martial arts, making  

and maintain weapons

    8. Cow                                 310             Holiness of cow, breeding and

taking care of cows

    9. Hindu Temple,                 25,39,45,    Design, layout, construction,

        monastery                        55,67,99     architecture.

                                                101

  10. Metrics, Poetics,               328-347      Summary of different schools on

        Art of writing                 poetics, music, art of poetry,

                                                          Alankara, chandas rasa, riti,

                                                          Language rhetoric.

 11. Yoga, Moksha                   372-381      Eight limbs of yoga, ethics,

Meditation, samadhi, soul, non dualism (Advaita), summary of Bhagwad Geeta.

          Thus, Agni purana is a treasure house of knowledge of ancient India. Those knowledge are still relevant in our time. Our ancient forefathers have left enough legacy for us to maintain an accomplished life.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

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Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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