Purana, (Sanskrit: “Ancient”) in the sacred literature of Hinduism, any of a number of popular encyclopaedic collections of myth, legend, and genealogy, varying greatly as to date and origin.
Puranas were written almost entirely in narrative couplets, in much the same easy-flowing style as the two great Sanskrit epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The early Puranas were probably compiled by authors who appropriated popular beliefs and ideas from various people in the society. Later Puranas reveal evidence of vernacular influences and the infusion of local religious traditions.
Traditionally, a Purana is said to treat five subjects, or “five signs”: the primary creation of the universe, secondary creation after periodic annihilation, the genealogy of gods and patriarchs, the reigns of the Manus (the first humans), and the history of the solar and lunar dynasties.
Creation and dissolution (sarga, “emission,” and samhara, “gathering in”) occur when Prajapati, a creator figure of the Vedic age, emits the universe and opens it, but everything is always in it, just alternately revealed (manifest) or concealed (latent).
There are traditionally 18 Puranas, but there are several different lists of the 18, as well as some lists of more or fewer than 18.
The earliest Puranas, composed perhaps between 350 and 750 CE, are the Brahmanda, Devi, Kurma, Markandeya, Matsya, Vamana, Varaha, Vayu, and Vishnu. The next earliest, composed between 750 and 1000, are the Agni, Bhagavata, Bhavishya, Brahma, Brahmavaivarta, Devibhagavata, Garuda, Linga, Padma, Shiva, and Skanda. Finally, the most recent, composed between 1000 and 1500, are the Kalika, Kalki, Mahabhagavata, Naradiya, and Saura.