About the Book:.
Agni Purana occupies an important place among the most popular works in the Mahapuranas exceptionally for its scientific tracts. It is also called Agneya-Purana and is narrated by Suta (Lomaharsana), a disciple of Vyasa, who received it from Vasistha to whom it was communicated by Agni. It consists of sixteen thousand stanzas distributed in three hundred and eighty-three chapters. The contents of this Purana clearly show that it has no sectarial leaning. It impartially treats of Vaisnava, Saiva and Sakta form of worship. It is more a compendium of Sanskrit learning than the advocacy of any particular form of religion. The early chapters of this Purana describe the Avataras and in those of Rama and Krsna, avowedly follow the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The chapters on medicine, materia medica and pharmacy as well as those on the treatment of elephants and horse diseases are highly interesting. Besides an exhaustive account of paravidya and the science of Brahman occurs in this Purana. It is a very interesting account and will prove highly useful to the readers. It can virtually be regarded as an encyclopaedia of Hinduism, teaching as it does among others many subjects such as cosmogony, religion, law and much legendary matter etc. which, to a Hindu, assumes the value of history and geographical matter such as description of various places of pilgrimage. This Purana also teaches archery, medicine, rhetoric, prosody and grammar.
It is first time that an authentic English translation of M. N. Dutt includes the Sanskrit text. The old usage of English version has been replaced by the corresponding modern usage in order that the contents of the translation may be easily made out even by a layman. The terminology of Indian medicine is given correctly, as well as in the end of the Purana, the index of Slokas is given for ready reference of the readers.
The Purana which describes the occurrences of the Isana Kalpa and was related by Agni to Vasistha, is called Agneya. It consists of sixteen thousand stanzas distributed in three hundred and eighty-three chapters. The Puranas have obtained the name of Pancalaksana because their contents generally embrace five topics namely (1) Primary creation or cosmogony, (2) secondary creation, (3) genealogy of gods and patriarchs, (4) reigns of the Manus, (5) history of the solar and lunar dynasties.
The definition does not however necessarily signify that the Puranas exclusively deal with these topics only. On the contrary, every Purana dwells at length on one or more particular subjects and in some, these five primary topics occupy a very subordinate position. Our remark is particularly applicable to Agni Purana more than three-fourths of which have no connection however with the five principal topics. In the introduction Suta describes the subjects of knowledge and therefore, the subject matter of this Purana, is two-fold-namely Paravidya, sacred knowledge or theology and Apara Vidya, profane knowledge or the arts and sciences known to the people. The subject matter of the Agni Purana is thus described in the Introduction :-
Agni said - Visnu is the fire of universal dissolution and I am Rudra. I will communicate unto you the essence of learnings, the Purana, that is that is the cream of all sciences and the cause of all; (13) [Containing an account of] creation and dissolution, of various families, periods of Manu and genealogies. The Lord Visnu assumes the forms of fish, tortoise etc. There are two sciences, superior and inferior. a twice born one, the Vedas, Rk, Yajuh, Sarna and Atharvan, the six auxiliaries of the Vedas, namely (Siksa), the science of proper articulation and pronunciation, (Kalpa) ritual or ceremonial, (Vyakarana) grammar, (Nirukta) etymological explanation of difficult Vedic words (Jyotisa) astronomy, (Chandas) science of prosody, (Abhidhana) lexicon, Mimamsa, Dharma Sastras, Puranakas, Nyaya, medical science, musical science, the science of archery and political economy - these all are the inferior sciences. The superior science is that by which Brahma is comprehended (14-17). I will describe unto you the great Purana, Agni, containing the great and eternal science of Brahma, that which is invisible, incomprehensible, stable and eternal; and is the cause of fish and other forms, recounted unto me by Visnu and unto the celestials in the days of yore by Brahma (18- 19).
The general character: In the general treatment of the subjects the author, however, docs not stick to the five principal topics which should constitute a Purana. He even loses sight of the two-fold knowledge, divine and secular set forth by him originally in the introduction. He has introduced a number of topics, useful to men, without any system or method. His work is more like an Encyclopaedia, containing a variety of useful topics bearing on later Sanskrit learning for Vedic rituals are seen no where in the book.
The contents of this Purana clearly show that it has no sectarian leaning. It impartially treats of Vaisnava, Saiva and Sakta forms of worship. It is more a compendium of Sanskrit learning than the advocacy of any particular form of religion. It is classed among the Tames or the delusive division of the Puranas, Professor Wilson thus remarks on the general character of this Purana,
"From this general sketch of the Agni Purana it is evident that it is a compilation from various works; that consequently it has no claim in itself to any great antiquity, although from the absence any exotic materials, it might be pronounced earlier, with perhaps a few exceptions, than the Mahomedan invasion. From the absence also of a controversial or sectarian spirit, it is probably anterior to the struggles that took place in 8th and 9th centuries of our era between the followers of Siva and Visnu. As a mere compilation however, its date is of little importance, except as furnishing a testimony to that of the materials of which it is composed. Many of these may pretend no doubt to considerable antiquity, particularly the legendary accounts of the A vataras, the section on regal policy and judicature and genealogical chapters, how far the rest may be ancient is perhaps questionable, for there can be little doubt that the Purana and comprehending such incongruous admixtures, is not the entire work as it at first stood. It is not unlikely that many chapters were arbitrarily supplied about 8 or 9 centuries ago and a few perhaps even later, to fill up the chasms which time and accident had made in the original Agneya Purana."
He again remarks in his introduction to the Visnu Purana :-
The cyclopaedical character of the Agni Purana, as it is now described, excludes it from any legitimate claims to be regarded as a Purana and proves that its origin cannot be very remote. It is subsequent to the ltihasas, to the chief work on grammar, rhetoric and medicine and to the introduction of the Tantrik worship of Devi. When this latter took place, is yet far from determined; but there is every probability that it dates long after the beginning of our era.
The materials of the Agni Purana are, however, no doubt, of some antiquity. The medicine of Susruta is considerably older than the ninth century an the grammar of Panini probably precedes Christianity. The chapters on archery and arms and on regal administration, are also distinguished by an entirely Hindu character and must have been written long anterior to the Mahomedan invasion. So far the A