While Vedas are the sacred scripts of Hindu Dharma; Puranas are the backbone of Hindu philosophy which contains essence of Hindu religion, civilization and culture. Sage Sri Vedavyaasa the Divine literary incarnation of Lord Vishnu has played a significant role in the field of Vedic and spiritual literature. He compiled 18 great puranas called Ashtadasa Maha Puranas; a great treasure gifted to the mankind. He compiled these puranas to draw the attention of the reader or its listener towards the ultimate goal of Dharma and the Supreme Lord.
Garuda Purana is one of those Ashtaadasa Maha-Puranas. It is called Garuda Purana because it is in the form of a dialogue between Garuda the Divine King of Birds and Lord Vishnu. Later, Garuda recited the same to Sage Kashyapa that percolated down the line. It contains about 19000 slokas and is classified as Saattvika Purana. It is difficult to date Garuda Purana; as several revisions would have taken place and latest revision must have taken place during Sri Krishnaavathara when; Sage Vedavyaasa edited and revised all Puranas.
Garuda Purana deals with the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, geographical description and origin of the Universe; Creation; Procreation; Genealogy of Gods etc but most importantly it narrates the journey of a soul after death. The entire epic is in the form of wonderful conversation between Garuda and Lord Vishnu regarding the meaning of human life. Garuda Purana also talks about the origin and propagation of Garuda. It describes different kinds of austerities, methods of worship, atonement for sin and divine & sacred Manthras.
Uniqueness of Garuda Purana lies in the fact that it is the only sacred text that talks about the life after death, the journey of the soul, death and its aftermath, rebirth or reincarnation. Even the modern science could not break the mystery of death and after; whereas, Garuda Purana has spelled out these realities ages before. Among the 16 Samskaaras prescribed in Hindu Dharma, last one called Anthyeshti samskara is related to funeral rites and other ceremonies. This samskara is exclusively and exhaustively covered in Garuda Purana.
Garuda Purana also covers description about the Nether worlds – Yama-Loka and various kinds of Naraka Lokas (Hell). It explains the experiences of the Soul when it leaves the body and the cycle of countless births the Soul takes. It dwells on the Law of Karma, Fruits of Karma (action); Moksha (Salvation) and various types of punishments for the sins committed during life time. It gives a detailed description of the Funeral rites, its rituals and the ceremonies starting from death till the completion of one year.
As a custom we find in traditional Hindu families, recital of Garuda Purana takes place whenever there is a death in the family till the completion of 13th day ceremony. Great merits (punya) are acquired from reading or listening to Sri Garuda Purana during that time. Those who narrate and those who listen to this sacred Purana within ten days or even after the death of a person will get absolved from sins and is assured of happiness in this world as well as in the next world.
One who listens to Garuda Purana on the occasion of his Parents death, such parents would attain Mukthi and also he will be blessed with good progeny. He or she will get rid of sorrow; suffering and will be blessed with peace and prosperity. It is believed that by listening to Garuda Purana, a Brahmin will be bestowed with Vidya; a Kshatriya with Land and a Vysya with wealth. Listening to or reading of Garuda Purana during Pithr Paksha is sacred and meritorious that pleases our dead.
There is an apprehension among people that, the text of Garuda Purana is inauspicious and hence can not be read or the book be kept at home or should be read only on the occasion of death at home. People hesitate to keep this sacred text at their homes or read it because of its fearful subject matter. It is only a misconception due to the contents of Garuda Purana. Reading Garuda Purana will definitely change the mindset of an evil-doer or a sinner.
The Garuda Purana has nineteen thousand shlokas that are divided into two parts, a purva khanda (first part) and an uttara khanda (subsequent part). I will try to impart the various aspects of knowledge provided in this sacred book in my following blogs. But today, I will tell you about the various deadly punishments the death God ‘Yamraj’ has decided for the sins committed by us human beings in our lifetime…
Courtesy: Speaking Tree