Cultivating devotion through the Puranas

The most revered and pertinent texts in the Bhakti Yoga tradition are the Puranas, the ancient stories of the Indian gods and goddesses. In Bhakti Yoga the devotional aspect of yoga is emphasized, in which the practitioner develops faith and unconditional love to become united with the Divine. This faith and love is cultivated through the Puranas personalization of the Devas (gods and goddesses) with vivid and entertaining myths, stories and legends. The Puranas also serve to detail the spiritual practices and modes of worshiping and invoking the universal energies encapsulated in the Devas.

The essential teachings of the ancient Vedic texts were popularized through the entertaining stories of the Puranas, giving the common people access and understanding to these potent spiritual teachings and complex yogic philosophies. These myths, stories, legends and allegories provided concrete examples of living one’s life according to both dharma (duty, righteousness) and bhakti. The Puranas instructed one on having a personal relationship with the Devas through the explanation and encouragement of the practices of yoga, vows, puja, prayers, and spiritual sacrifices. The Puranas also served to provide a common mythological history to the Indian people through its stories of the lives of saints, kings and great men, and the chronicles of great historical events.

The Puranas are written in Sanskrit verse, and were composed between the 4th century BCE and the 1st century CE. There are eighteen major puranas, as well as a similar number of minor puranas and their length varies considerably: the Skanda Purana has 81,000 verses, while the Markandeya Purana has only 9,000 verses. The ancient Sanskrit scholar Amarasinha defined a purana as having five characteristic topics: "(1) The creation of the universe; (2) Its destruction and renovation; (3) The genealogy of gods and patriarchs; (4) The reigns of the Manus, forming the periods called Manwantaras; (5) the history of the Solar and Lunar races of kings."

Overall, the Puranas primarily tell of the numerous battles between the devas and the asuras (demons), which are viewed as allegorical accounts of the struggle within each person between the forces of good and evil. And through the heroic deeds and noble qualities of the Devas we become inspired to lead a better life, become a better person and overcome our limitations.

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