Vamana Purana is the only Purana which gives a detailed and comprehensive account of the Avatars (incarnations) along with a number of other topics including characteristics of the Puranas.
Order of Vamana Purana
According to Vishnu Purana, Vamana Purana stands in the 14th rank in the order of Puranas. Devi Bhagavata put it on 8th rank but according to Linga Purana and Vamana Purana it is 13th rank in the order. But all these Puranas claim it as Mahapurana.
Origin of Vamana Purana
Vamana Purana was narrated by Sage Pulastya to Narada when asked by him. Then in Naimisharanya other sages asked Narada and so he narrated it to them. Another edition says that Romaharshana Suta narrated to sages from Naimisharanya.
First verse of Vamana Purana
Following is the first verse of Vamana Purana which salutes lord Vishnu in the Vamana form.
त्रैलोक्यराज्यमाच्छिद्य बलेरिन्द्राय यो ददौ ।
नमस्तस्मै सुरेशाय सदा वामनरूपिणे ॥
Trailokyarajyamacchidya balerindraya yo dadau |
Namastasyai sureshaya sada vamanarupin
Structure of Vamana Purana
Traditionally 10000 is the number believed to be the number of verses in it. The Vamana Purana consists only of 5813 stanzas and five prose pieces which are stotras. Seeing the suggested number of verses and actual number of verses it is believed that later half part of this Purana is missing. It is said that it contained two bhagas (parts) but we are left with extant Purva bhaga consisting of 6000 verses only.
Available edition of Vamana Purana has 95 adhyayas, no other types of division such as Khanda, Samhita is available. According to Narada Suchi there should be four Samhitas of Vamana Purana. These are Maheshwari, Bhagavati, Sauri, and Ganeshwari. Each of them was of 1000 verses. Subjects of these Samhitas are also given by Narada Suchi. Maheshwari Samhita discusses about lord Krishna and his devotees. Bhagavati is about incarnations of goddess; Sauri tells us about the importance of sun and lastly Ganeshwari gives the ganesha mahatmiya (importance).
Date of Vamana Purana
General statement about Vamana Purana is, ‘it may be composed between 100 AD to 200 AD’. But Dr Vasudevasharana Agrawal suggests 7th AD as the period of Vamana Purana.
Subject matter of Vamana Purana
The subject matter of this work is described at its very beginning, where Narada asks Pulastya about the assumption of the form of Vaman by Vishnu, waging of a war by Prahalada, though a Bhagwata, against Gods acceptance of wifehood of Siva by Sati, the daughter of Daksha, the glory of the place of pilgrimage, account of Dana, vrata, Upasana, etc. This shows that though the Vamana Purana is originally a Vaisnava Purana, it gives an equal reverence to Saivism and other religious sects. The legends and episodes in the Vaman Purana are interesting and didactic in character, its glorification of land, rivers, forests and tirthas of Kurukshetra, suggests that it was composed in that region. In a connection with glorification, legends of Gods and demons have been narrated.
The extant Vamana deals with Karma-vipaka the duty of castes and asramas, general customs, eatables and noneatables, purification and impurity and Vishnu- worship. It lacks, however, all the five themes- characteristics of the older Mahapuranas. The contents of the Purana do not agree with the information regarding the Vaman Purana contained in the Matsya and Skanda. According to this Purana, that in which the four-faced god (Brahma) taught the three objects of existence in connection with the greatness of Trivikarma, which treats, also Vamana-kalpa and which consists of ten thousand verses is called the vamana Purana. There is no mention of the Vamana kalpa, nor is the Purana said to have been narrated by Brahma. On the other hand it is narrated by Pulatsya to Narada and not even by lomaharsana to sages of the Naimisa forest, as is generally the case with the other Puranas. The Saiva materials in the present Vamana as contrasted with the title and contents given in the Matsya and the SKanda, show that the Purana in its earlier form was a Vaisnava treatise, and that it was later recast by Siva worshippers who changed the work with additions and alterations in such a way that very little of its earlier contents was retained.
The Vamana Puran contains much material on Geography, sociology, history, culture and philosophy of ancient India. In this Purana at many places Pauranic narratives are lifted to the refinement of greater art. The purana exhibits a variety of meters and poetic embellishments.
Four sects of Shaivism
Vamana Purana has given four sects of Shaivism namely Shaiva, Pashupata, Kaladamana, Kapalika.
§ Shaiva – Vasishtha’s son Shakti is the founder of Shaiva cult. In 6.88 of Vamana Purana he is believed as the incarnation of Shiva. Gopayana was the pupil of Shakti and he was the main sage of Shaiva cult.
§ Pashupata – Pashupata cult was started by the students of Lakulisha namely Kushika. Cult of Pashupata was mainly started among Kshatriyas
§ Kaladamana –the cult namely Kalamukha is explained here by the name of Kaladamana. People of this cult mainly worship Shiva in the form of Mrutyunjaya or Bhavantaka. Kalamukha cult mainly flourished in south India and there are many inscriptions in South India about this cult. Lakulisha is considered as the founder of Kalamukha cult.
§ Kapalika – Kapalika cult is associated with Kapali Shiva or Bhairava form of Shiva. It originated from the sage Dhanada.
Union of Hari and Hara
Vaishnnavism and Shaivism have equal importance in Vamana Purana. There are no quarrels between Vishnu and Shiva for superiority as we find in other Purana. On the other hand both of them point out towards the other one for superiority.
यत्नात् क्रकचमादाय छिन्दध्वं मम विग्रहम् ।
तथापि दृश्यते विष्णुर्मम देहे सनातनः ॥
Yatnan krakacamadaya chindadhvam mama vigraham |
Tathapi drushyate vishnurmama dehe sanatanah || (67.37)
In the above verse Shiva is narrating to his devotees that if you bring a cutter and break my body into two parts, you can only see Lord Vishnu in my body. On the other hand Vishnu is showing a Shivalingam placed in his heart to gods. The citation is as follows,
ततोऽव्ययात्मा स हरिः स्वहृत्पङ्कजशायिनम् ।
दर्शयामास देवानां मुरारिर्लिङ्गमैश्वरम् ॥ ६२.६
Tatovyayatma sa harih swahrutpankajashayinam |
Darshayamasa devanam murarirlingamaishwaram ||
This suggests the union of Vishnu and Shiva which was made famous by the name of Harihara.
Descriptions of Demons
Another important aspect of this purana is – it has stories of demons. May be it is because the ‘Purana is narrated by Pulastya who is ancestor of demons’. Asuras are described as the followers of Dharma. Buddhist priest of Magadha are also called as Asuras in Vamana Purana.
Historical evidence of unity of Religions
During the time of the composition of Vamana Purana various religions existed. Hence during that time disputes between many religions were solved and society flourished. Historically it happened during the period of Harshavardhana (606 – 648 AD). His brother Rajyavardhana was Buddhist and father Prabhakaravardhana was a devotee of Aditya. Harshawardhana himself was a follower of Buddha, Aditya and Vishnu.
Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1974. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. VIII. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.