The Garuda Purana is mentioned in all the Puranas on account of its importance and popularity. Garuda Purana is related to the eagle, the vehicle of Vishnu. This shows the connection of this Purana with Vishnu as well as Vaishnava cult.
Significance of the Title
The Purana narrated by Garuda is called the Garuda Purana. It is also known by the name Tarksya or Vainateya in the digests as these are synonymous with Garuda. The extant Garuda Purana is narrated by Suta to the assembled sages.
There is a story in the 2nd Adhyaya of Acharkhanda of Garuda Purana about the name of Purana – once Vishnu ordered Garuda to write a Purana in his own name after observing penance. Garuda composed the Purana after practicing penance. It is said that Kashyapa converted old fruitless and flowerless trees into crop bearing trees with the merits obtained by listening to this Purana.
Cult of Garuda Purana
As the Purana is narrated or composed by Garuda, a vehicle of Vishnu, it is closely related to Vaishnava cult. Garuda has described about Vaishnava tatva (principle of Vaishnavism) as ordered by Vishnu. It also holds a unique place in this category.
Structure of Garuda Purana
According to Matsya Purana, Garuda Purana has 18000 verses; on the other hand according to Narada Purana it has 19000 verses. But the present edition of this work does not agree with the above statement of the Puranas. The current available edition of Garuda Purana has less than 7000 verses. The edition of Garuda Purana which is printed in Calcutta has 8800 verses.
Garuda Purana is divided into two parts Acharakanda and Dharmakanda. Acharakanda has total 240 Adhyayas. Dharma kanda is again subdivided into two parts namely Pretakhanda and Brahmakhanda. Preta khanda has 49 Adhyayas and Brahmakhanda has 29 Adhyayas. The Venkateshvar edition of the Purana has named Acharakhanda as Purvakhanda and Dharmakhanda as Uttarakhanda.
Date of Garuda Purana
There are not many variations in opinion regarding the date of Garuda Purana. According to Dr. Hajara 800 to 1000 AD is the period of Garuda Purana. There is no mention of the Andhras and Guptas in Garuda Purana hence this Purana stands in the pre period of these dynasties.
Content of Garuda Purana
The Garuda Purana does not conform to the Panchalakshana (famous aims of Purana). It describes the origin of universe, devotion to Vishnu in the form of Aditya, Nirguna worship of Vishnu, worship of Shiva and other deities, festivals, genealogies of dynasties originated from solar and lunar clans, some stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and Harivamsha. Additionally Vyakarana, Sahityashastra, Vaidyaka; Gayamahatmya and Pretakalpa (rituals which will uplift dead bodies) are also discussed in Garuda Purana.
The greater part of this document is devoted to the description of creation of vows of self restraint of Sun, to Siva, to Vishnu, astronomy, palmistry, astrology, precious stones and medicines. It also throws light on life after death, birth, Shraadhhas.
The Garuda Purana is more concise than the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Puranas. It gives an account of Puraravas, Ikshvaku, Brhadratha dynasties. Sudraka and Andhra and Gupta kings are mentioned among future rulers of the earth. It mentions Lord Buddha as the 21st incarnation of God. Moreover the episodes occurring in the PretaKalpa of the Purana corresponds with the Petavatthu of the Buddhist literature. The vast nature of the subjects treated in this work makes it an encyclopedia of knowledge. This is evident from the fact that it summarizes the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa. It frequently deals with the topics of Dharmasastras. The account of the duties of the Varnas (chs 93 – 106) as given in the Garuda Purana is actually based on a similar description found in the Yajnavalkyasmrti. A gist of the Parasara-smrti is given in the 107th chapter in the work.
The first section of Uttara Khanda called the Pretakalpa or Dharma Kanda is meant for the performance of obsequies. It is generally recited during the mourning period in North India so its importance is self evident. The Brahma kanda consisting of 29 chapters is found in other editions of the Garuda Purana. The first chapter opens with 3 questions “how can firm devotion be cultivated towards Hari?” Suta answers the question thus posed by Shaunaka by describing the procedure of saluting Hari, difference between Sattva, Rajas, etc. and classification of Gods. The following chapters give an account of unity of Visnu, Brahma and Shiva, activities of the gods, birth of Brahma, creation, important incarnations of Vishnu and Lakshmi etc. The last chapter deals with Dharm, its origin from Brahma and real nature of God. Thus it throws welcome light on different aspects of Indian life and culture. The mention of Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Surya and Ganesha and their worship renders the Garuda Purana more secular in approach than others of the class.
Importance of Garuda Purana
In the Phalashruti (gains) of Garuda Purana it is mentioned that one who reads this auspicious purana gets salvation from this world.
यदुक्तं गारुडं पुण्यं पुराणं यः पठेन्नरः ।
सर्वकाममवाप्याथ प्राप्नोति परमां गतिम् ॥
Yaduktam garudam punyam puranam yah pathennarah |
Sarvakamamavapyatha prapnoti paramam gatim ||
The authors of digest and philosophical treatises quote extensively from the Garuda Purana
Pretakalpa is a part of Garuda Purana. It is in Dharmakanda. It describes the cremation of dead body, after death rituals, types of Naraka, Narakas, authority person of cremation, etc. Due to Pretakhanda even today Garuda Purana is recited after and during death rituals by some classes of society.
Famous moral verses
अपवित्रः पवित्रो वा सर्वावस्थां गतोऽपि वा ।
यः स्मरेत् पुण्डरीकाक्षं स बाह्याभ्यन्तरः शुचिः ॥ ध का ४७
Apavitrah pavitro va sarvavastham gatopi va |
Yah smaret pundarikaksham sa bahyabhyantarah shucih ||
Pure or impure or the one who has gone through all the conditions; whoever he is, if he remembers the lotus like eyes of Vishnu becomes pure internally as well as externally.
सर्वः सर्वं न जानाति सर्वज्ञो नास्ति कश्चन । आ का ११०.२९
Sarvah sarvam na janati sarvadnyo nasti kashcana |
Everyone does not know everything in this world and there is not a single one in this world who knows everything.
महाजनो येन गतः स पन्थाः ।
Mahajano yena gatah sa panthah |
One should follow the path in life which is observed by great people.
Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1964. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. II. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.