The Vayu Purana itself states that the Puranas were originally recited by the great god Brahma and that one has to understand the Puranas if one is to appreciate the Vedas and the Upanishadas. A person who has learnt the Vedas and the Upanishadas, but has not bothered to study the Puranas, can never be wise. The knowledge of the Puranas supplements that of the Vedas and the Upanishadas. As such, the Puranas contain many stories and history. There is no race on earth that does not have its own history. But the immense volume of the Puranas is unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.
Who was this Vedavyasa (alternatively Vyasadeva)? You must first realize that Vedavyasa is not a proper name. It is a title. When evil begins to reign on earth, it is necessary that the wisdom of the Vedas be disseminated amongst people. But the Vedas are abstract and esoteric, they are difficult for ordinary people to comprehend. To ensure that the knowledge that is in them is properly disseminated, the Vedas must be partitioned and divided (vyasa). An individual who does this has the title of Vedavyasa conferred on him.
In the Vedic conception of time, there are four yugas or eras. These are known as satya yuga or krita yuga, treta yuga, dvapara yuga and kali yuga. As one progessively moves down the scale, the power of righteousness diminishes and evil starts to rear it ugly head. Accordingly, in each dvapara yuga, a Vedavyasa is born. In the present cycle, twenty-eight such dvapara yugas have passed and twenty-eight Vedavyasa have been born. The Vedavyasa who is credited with having composed the mahapuranas was twenty-eighth in the list. He was the son of Satyavati and the sage Parashara and his proper name was Krishna Dvaipayana. The word krishna means dark and he was known as Krishna because he was dark in complexion. The word dvipa means island and he was known as Dvaipayana because he was born on an island.
The Puranas themselves indicate that what Vedavyasa composed was an original text of the Puranas, referred to as the Purana samhita. This he taught to his disciple, Lomaharshana or Romaharshana. As the stories were handed down by word of mouth, successive raconteurs added their own compositions to what they had heard. These later additions are known as interpolations and the Puranas thus grew in volume. Today it is impossible to determine what constituted part of the original text and what was a later interpolation. In this sense, ther is no specific date to which the composition of the mahapuranas can be ascribed.
The Vayu Purana states that it was recited during the reign of King Adhisima Krishna. From the Mahabharata , you undoubtely known of the war that was fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. After the Pandavas triumphed on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Yudhishthira ruled as the king. Yudhishthira was succeeded by Parikshit, Arjuna’s grandson. Parikshit’s son was Janmejaya, Janmejaya’s son was Shatanika, Shatanika’s son was Ashvamedhadatta and Ashvamedhadatta’s son was Adhisima Krishna. There are different ways to date the Kurukshetra War.
How long is the Vayu Purana? As Puranas go, it is about average in length. The shortest mahapurana, the Markandeya Purana, has nine thousand shlokas. And the longest mahapurana, the Skanda Purana, has eighty- one thousand shlokas. The Vayu Purana has twenty-four thousand. These are divided into two parts (bhaga) – a first part (purva bhaga) and a subsequent part (uttara bhaga). There are one hundred and twelve chapters (adhyaya).
The long descriptions of the region around the river Narmada iindicate that the text must have been popular in the geographical region of Malava.
Finally, why is the Vayu Purana so named? This is because it is believed to have been recited by the wind-god Vayu.
Lomaharshana and the Other Sages
Before reading the Puranas, we pray to Narayana and to Sarasvati, the goddess of learning. We also pray to the sage Vedavyasa. We worship the great Shiva, the lord of the universe. We also worship Brahma, the creator, and the wind-god Vayu.
King Adhisima Krishna (alternatively, Asima Krishna) ruled the earth well. During his reign, several sages organized a yajna (sacrifice) on the banks of the sacred river Drishadvati. The river flowed through the region that was known as Kurukshetra.
The sacrifice went on for a very long time and the sage Lomaharshana came to visit the sages who were conducting the ceremony. Lomaharshana was so named because his recitals thrilled (harshana) the body-hair (loma) of his listeners. Lomaharshana was the disciple of the great sage Vedavyasa and had learnt the Puranas from his teacher. He was also well-versed in the Vedas and in the stories of the Mahabharata.
As soon as Lomaharshana arrived, the other sages greeted him warmly. Lomaharshana greeted them in return.
The assembled sages told Lomaharshana, “Great Suta, we are gratified that you have decided to grace our ceremony by your august presence. This is an auspicious occasion for telling us the stories of the Puranas. You have learnt them from the great Vedavyasa himself. Please recite the Puranas and slake our thirst for knowledge.”
Lomaharshana belonged to the suta class. A suta was the son of a kshatriya (the second of the four classes) mother. Looking after horses and acting as charioteers were occupations that were prescribed for sutas. In addition, they sung the glories of kings. The accounts of the Puranas state that sutas were first born when the great king Pirthu organized a yajna. They accordingly became raconteurs of the great deeds of Prithu, and thereafter, of all kings. They also recited the stories of the Puranas. (Although it was stated that Lomaharshana was well-versed in the Vedas, a suta had no right to the knowledge of the Vedas.)
“I am a suta,” replied Lomaharshana. “It is therefore my duty to recite the Puranas. You have asked me to do that which is my duty. I shall gladly accede to your request.”
The ancestors (pitri) had a daughter named Vasavi. She was cursed that she would be born as a fish. (In some other accounts, it was an apsara (dancer of heaven) named Adrika who was so cursed.) This fish had a daughter. (The daughter’s name is not given in the Vayu Purana, but this was Satyavati.)
The great Vedavyasa was born as Satyavati’s son. Vedavyasa learnt the Vedas from the great sage Jatukarna. He also composed the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
“I have learnt the Puranas from Vedvyasa,” continued Lomaharshana. “There were several sages who lived in the forest known as naimisharanya. They requested the wind-god Vayu to tell them the answers to many questions. Vayu’s replies constitute the Vayu Purana and this is the text that I shall recite for your benefit. It is the most sacred of all the Puranas and is full of wisdom.”
“What is this business of Vayu reciting the Purana to the sages of Naimisharanya?” asked the assembled sages. “We are not aware of it. Please tell us about it first.”
Naimisharanya forest is on the banks of the river Gomati. (It is now identified as Sitapur district of modern Uttar Pradesh. This is also the place where Souti recited the Mahabharata to assembled sages.)
At a time when King Pururava used to rule the earth, many sages organized a yajna in naimisharanya. The chief priest at this ceremony was Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods, and the ceremony went on for twelve long years. When the ceremony was over,the wind-god Vayu recited the Vayu Purana to the sages.
In reciting the text, Lomaharashana began with the account of the creation.
In the beginning, there was nothing in the universe. The brahman (the divine essence) alone was everywhere. The brahman had neither colour nor scent, it could not be felt or touched. It had no origin, no beginning or no end. The brahman was constant and it was the origin of everything that was destined to be in the universe and the universe was shrouded in darkness.
When it was time for creation to begin, the brahman divided itself into three. The first part became Brahma, the creator of the universe. The second part was Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. And the third part was Shiva, the destroyer.
At the time of creation, water appeared in the universe and the water was everywhere. In the water was created a golden (hiranya) egg (anda) that floated like a gigantic bubble. Brahma was born inside the egg. Since garbha means womb, Brahma came to be known as Hiranyagarbha. Since he effectively created (bhu) himself (svayam), he is also referred to as Svayambhu.
Brahma had four faces.
Also inside the egg were all the worlds (lokas) that would be created, in embryonic form. The earth was there, with its land, mountains, oceans and rivers. The moon, the sun, the stars and the planets were there. Also present were gods, demons, humans and other living beings who would be created.
This was the original creation of the universe (sarga).
But at the end of one of Brahma’s days, a minor destruction takes place. The universe is once again flooded with water during Brahma’s night. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are not however destroyed. Each of Brahma’s days is known as a kalpa (cycle). Thus, a minor destruction takes place at the end of every kalpa. When a new day dawns for Brahma, creation begins afresh. This periodical process of destruction (pralaya) and re-creation is known as pratisarga.
The present kalpa is known as varaha kalpa.
“Why is the present kalpa known as the varaha kalpa?” asked the sages.
Lomaharashana told them the story of Vishnu’s boar (varaha) incarnation.