Fresh translations of the Mahapuranas, many available in English for the first time

Classical Hindu Mythology

A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas

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edited by Cornelia Dimmit, translated by J. A. B van Buitenen

"[P]rovides an important segment of world literature that has been virtually inaccessible."

The Mahapuranas embody the received tradition of Hindu mythology. This anthology contains fresh translations of these myths, only a few of which have ever been available in English before, thus providing a rich new portion of Hindu mythology.

The book is organized into six chapters. "Origins" contains myths relating to creation, time, and space. "Seers, Kings and Supernaturals" relates tales of rivers, trees, animals, demons, and men, particularly heroes and sages. Myths about the chief gods are dealt with in three separate chapters: "Krsna," "Visnu," and "Siva." The chapter "The Goddess" presents stories of the wives and lovers of the gods, as well as of Kali, the savage battle goddess.

In their introductions, the editors provide a historical setting in which to discuss Hindu mythology as well as a full analysis of its basic sources. The many names given the gods and goddesses in the Sanskrit texts have been retained since their multiplicity is an essential part of the richness of the original. The editors have provided a thorough glossary to make these names accessible.



Agastya and Vasistha

Once long ago Visnu, the primal person, became the son of Dharma and practiced mighty tapas in the Gandhamadana mountains. Sakra grew alarmed at his tapas and sent Madhava and Ananga, Spring and Love, along with a bevy of Apsarases, to stop him. But songs, words, and other inducements offered by Love and Spring failed to attract Hari to the objects of the senses, and so Kama, Madhu and the crowd of women grew discouraged.

To amuse them, the first-born male produced a woman out of his thigh, as a magic trick for the inhabitants of the triple world. And in the presence of the gods, Hari spoke to those two, along with the Apsarases, saying, "this nymph shall be famous in the world as Urvasi!"

Mitra then desired Urvasi and summoned her, saying, "Make love to me!" to which she answered, "Of course." But as that Apsaras with eyes like blue lotuses rose up into the sky, she was grabbed from behind by Varuna. She repulsed him, crying, "Mitra chose me for his wife before you did, my lord," to which Varuna answered, " Then at least think well of me!"

"All right," she said and fled. But Mitra cursed her, saying, "since you have taken up the Dharma of a prostitute, go now to the world of men and make love to Pururavas, grandson of Soma!"

Because of this, Mitra and Varuna threw their ready semen into a jar of water, from which were born the two divine seers Agastya and Vasistha.



The Puranas: An Introduction
The Goddess
Seers, Kings and Supernaturals
Notes on Sources
Bibliography of Sanskrit Puranas


About the Author(s)

Cornelia Dimmitt is Assistant Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a Core Faculty Member of the Washington, D.C. Consortium Program in History of Religions.

J. A. B. van Buitenen is Distinguished Service Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Chicago. He is currently translating the full Mahabharata, projected to run eight volumes.

Subject Categories

Literature and Drama
Asian Studies



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