The Vishnu Purana is eminently a Vaishnava treatise and considers Vishnu as the Supreme Being, i.e. Parama Brahma and Paramatma. It is a sectarian work, but of a much more sober character than other such works, and appropriates to legend and panegyric a comparatively insignificant portion of its contents. It is completely based on the Vaishnava darshana and philosophy. Hence it is Satvika by nature. As a result it has various stotras, praises, devotional stories of Vishnu. Vishnu Purana is third in the order of Puranas.
Origin of Vishnu Purana
What are the origins of Vishnu Purana? The answer comes in the very beginning of the Vishnu Purana in the form of an anecdote. Once Sage Parashara came to know that a demon killed and consumed his father Shakti. Hence Sage Parashara got very angry and started a sacrifice to destroy all the demons. In that sacrifice many demons were destroyed. Seeing this, his grandfather Sage Vasishtha became very sad and advised his grandson, Parashara about righteousness. Additionally he also told Parashara to stop the sacrifice. Sage Parashara did as he was told. The ancestor of all the demons namely Pulastya came to know that Parashara stopped the sacrifice and he became very happy. He met Parashara and granted him a boon that he will compose a Purana. Parashara narrated a Purana which became famous by the name of Vishnu Purana. Sage Parashara narrated Vishnu Purana as it was asked by Maitreya.
Another legend about the origin of Vishnu Purana – Veda Vyasa taught his Puranic literature to his famous disciple Romaharshana. Later Romaharshana taught this knowledge to his six disciples. Among the six disciples of Raomaharshana; Akrutavrana, Savarnya, Shamshapayana complied their own Purana Samhita which became famous by the name of Vishnu Purana.
Structure of Vishnu Purana
The Vishnu Purana is small in size but great in importance. It contains six Amshas which can be called as the six major divisions of Vishnu Purana. All the one hundred and twenty six adhyayas (chapters) are divided into six Amshas.
According to the Naradiya Purana Vishnu Purana consists of 24000 verses but Ballalsena speaks of 23000 verses. The present Vishnu Purana contains only 6000 or 7000 verses.
Reason for less number of verses in Vishnu Purana
The present Vishnu Purana is a miniature compilation of the original Samhita which is larger in size. This is the general reason given for the existence of a less number of verses in Vishnu Purana. But such a reason can be given for any Puranic literature.
Another reason is – the available Vishnu Purana may be the 1st part of the original Vishnu Purana. There is a Purana namely Vishudharmottar Purana which also describes Dharma of Vaishnavas, worship pattern of Vishnu and Vaishnava philosophy. It is claimed that Vishnudharmottar Purana was the part or the second part of Vishnu Purana. But much study has not yet been done. May be Vishnu Purana is the 1st Part of the main Vishnu Purana and Vishnudharmottar is the second part.
Samhita wise subject matter of VishnuPurana
The first Amsha opens with the dialogue between Maitreya and Parashara. He states himself to be the son of Sakti, the son of Vasistha. The first Amsha mainly contains the account of creation, description of twenty four tatvas, form of Kalatatva, various Sarga, fourfold caste system, origin of food, Raudrasrushti nirmiti, story of Samudramanthana, Dhruva, Vena, Pruthu, 60 daughters of Daksha, story of prahalada, etc.
The second Amsha consists of an account of the division of the earth into Dvipas and the formation of the seven Patalas and Narka, with the position and course of the planets and the description of their several satellites; the Sun is fully described.
The third Amsha deals with the systematic classification of the contents of a Purana; fourth, treats of reigns of the different Manus and their descendents. The remainder of the section is occupied with the detail of the duties of different tribes and orders and ends with Yama-Gita. It also describes seven manvantaras, manu, Indra, gods, Saptarshi, various Vyasas, importance of Brahmadnyana, Vedas, Puranas, Vidyas, Yamageeta, worship of lord Vishnu, righteousness of four castes, samskaras, etc.
The fourth Amsha deals with the genealogies of the royal families, commencing with the lineage of the Sun and Moon, and culminating with the kings of the Kali age until the modern period.
The fifth Amsha is appropriated by the history of Krsna, although the story is told in the usual strain, yet there is the peculiarity, that Krsna is never considered as one and the same with Hari. He is only an incarnation of Vishnu.
The last Amsha of the Vishnu Purana, after describing the division of time into Kalpas, enumerates the various temptations of the flesh and directs man to seek remedy for them with faith in Vishnu as the supreme.
Date of Vishnu Purana
Generally 3rd to 5th century AD is the period of Vishnu Purana. Prof. Wilson assigns 10th century AD as the probable date of this work while Prof. Upadhyaya places it in the 2nd century BC.
Vishnu and his Worship in Vishnu Purana
Among Vaishnava Puranas Vishnu Purana comes second after the Bhagavat Purana. Vishnu Purana is the base for Vaishnava philosophy. Vishnu Purana describes the devotion to Lord Vishnu and various ways of worship of Vishnu. But Vishnu is not considered here as the Dvaita (deity), but he is worshiped in Advaita form. Some more description about Vishnu is – Vishnu has four anshas (parts). Among four parts one is Brahma, Prajapati, Kal, Pranimatra. This in general states that entire world originated from Vishnu. Vishnu is nitya (stable) in the universe in all these forms.
From the philosophical point of view, it stands next to the Bhagavata Purana which is generally accorded the first place in philosophical works. Being the main source of Vaisnava philosophy, it has been profusely quoted as an authority and examples have been cited from it, by Acharya Ramanuja in his ‘Sribhasya’.
Importance of Vishnu Purana
Three important commentaries of Sridhara’s Sridharabhasya, Vishucitti’s ‘Vishnu’ cittiya and Ratnagarbha Bhattachary’s ‘Vishnavakuta-Chandrika’ have come down to us, all the other Puranas being compilations, the Vishnu Purana can boast of its original character. It is the only Purana which conforms to the five characteristics of the Puranas. Vishnu Purana is important from a historical and cultural point of view as it has genealogies of various dynasties.
Mahadeva Shastri Joshi. 1974. Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosha, Vol. VIII. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.