Garuda Purana: An Eternal Wisdom

Garuda Purana: An Eternal Wisdom

The Garuda Purana, one of the 18 Mahapurana texts in Hinduism, is a significant part of Vaishnavism literature focusing on the deity Vishnu. Originally composed in Sanskrit, it has been translated into various languages such as Gujarati and English. While the earliest version likely dates back to the first millennium CE, it underwent expansions and alterations over time. This extensive text comprises over 15,000 verses and covers a wide array of subjects, including cosmology, mythology, ethics, and the relationship between gods. It delves into topics like good versus evil, different schools of Hindu philosophies, the concepts of karma and rebirth, and the theory of “heaven and hell.” Additionally, it discusses ancestral rites, soteriology, geography, mineralogy, astrology, architecture, rites of passage, literature genres, and rules of grammar.

Lord Vishnu on Garuda

Categorized as a Sattva Purana, representing goodness and purity, by the Padma Purana, the Garuda Purana is attributed to the sage Veda Vyasa in Hindu tradition. Alongside the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam) and the Vishnu Purana, it offers insights into personal development, the practice of Yoga, and the benefits of self-knowledge. Its encyclopedic nature ensures it serves as a comprehensive guide covering diverse aspects of Hindu culture, philosophy, and practical life, making it a revered text among followers of the faith.


The Garuda Purana, a significant Hindu scripture, has a complex history of composition and transmission. Scholars like Pintchman and Gietz et al. suggest its composition in the first millennium CE, with additions and changes spanning centuries. Leadbeater narrows it down to around 900 CE, pointing to later developments in Yoga and Tantra techniques mentioned in the text.

Some scholars propose that its core might date back to the early common era, with additional chapters added up to the sixth century or later. Surviving versions of the Garuda Purana, according to Dalal and Pintchman, likely range from 800 to 1000 CE, with later sections added in the 2nd millennium. However, Chaudhuri, Banerjee, and Hazra argue for a later date, around the tenth or eleventh century CE.

The text has numerous versions with varying chapters and content, known by titles like “Sauparna Purana,” “Tarksya Purana,” and “Vainateya Purana.” The confusion around its identity heightened with the appearance of Garudapuranasaroddhara in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which was initially mistaken for the Garuda Purana itself. This misidentification was first recognized by Albrecht Weber, clarifying that Garuda-purana-saroddhara is actually the original commentary by Naunidhirama, referencing a section of the now lost Garuda Purana among other Indian texts.

The earliest translation of one version of the Garuda Purana was by Manmatha Nath Dutt, published in the early twentieth century, contributing to the understanding of this complex and significant Hindu scripture.


The Garuda Purana, a significant text in Vaishnavism, originally boasted 19,000 verses, but only around 8,000 have survived in modern manuscripts. Divided into two main parts, the Purvakhanda (early section) and the Uttarakhanda (later section, also known as Pretakhanda or Pretakalpa), it offers a rich compilation of knowledge. The Purvakhanda, comprising approximately 229 chapters, sometimes varies in chapter count, ranging from 240 to 243 in certain versions. Meanwhile, the Uttarakhanda fluctuates between 34 and 49 chapters. Additionally, the Venkatesvara Edition introduces a supplementary section called Brahmakhanda.

Crafted possibly after the Agni Purana, another notable medieval Indian encyclopedia, the Garuda Purana‘s structure is distinctive, deviating from the conventional puranic genre. Rather than adhering to a specific theoretical framework, it presents itself as a compilation of diverse information. The narrative unfolds as Garuda, the mythical man-bird vehicle of Vishnu, imparts knowledge received from Vishnu to the sage Kashyapa, which then disseminates in the legendary forest of Naimisha, ultimately reaching the sage Vyasa.


The biggest part, about 90% of the text, is called Purvakhanda. It covers lots of different topics about life and how to live it well. The rest, which is the remaining 10%, is called Pretakhanda. This part focuses more on rituals and practices related to death and cremation.


In the Garuda Purana, the cosmology revolves around the divine union of Vishnu and Lakshmi, symbolizing the essence of creation. Vishnu represents the unchanging reality known as Brahman, while Lakshmi embodies the dynamic aspect known as Maya. Together, they form the foundation of the universe, with Vishnu as the eternal soul and Lakshmi as the creative force driving manifestation. The text also incorporates the Samkhya theory, which delineates the interdependent relationship between Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (matter). Lakshmi is portrayed as the creative power of Prakriti, while Vishnu embodies the essence of Purusha. This portrayal highlights the inseparable nature of the masculine and feminine aspects of divinity, presenting them as complementary forces essential for cosmic creation and sustenance.

Deity Worship

The Garuda Purana provides comprehensive guidance on deity worship, particularly focusing on Vishnu and other major deities such as Shiva, Shakti, and Ganesha. It outlines rituals, festivals, and pilgrimage tours associated with Vishnu worship, offering devotees practical instructions for engaging in religious practices. Additionally, the text demonstrates inclusivity by acknowledging and honoring diverse traditions within Hinduism, including Shaiva, Shakti, and Smarta traditions. This inclusive approach reflects the broader ethos of Hinduism, which embraces diversity and recognizes multiple paths to spiritual realization.

Features of a Temple

Detailed instructions for temple architecture and design are provided in the Garuda Purana, offering insights into the sacred principles underlying temple construction. The text emphasizes the significance of aligning temple design with cosmic principles, reflecting the belief that temples serve as microcosms of the universe. It presents various architectural layouts, dimensional ratios, and thematic forms for constructing temples, underscoring the importance of symmetry, proportion, and harmony in temple design. Moreover, the text elucidates the symbolic significance of different architectural elements, highlighting their spiritual and metaphysical significance within the temple’s sacred space.


The Garuda Purana delves into the fascinating world of gemology, providing detailed descriptions of 14 gems along with their mythical origins, astrological properties, and therapeutic benefits. Each gem is meticulously examined, with the text offering insights into its physical characteristics, symbolic significance, and practical uses. Moreover, the Purana provides practical advice on how to clean, preserve, and utilize gems for various purposes, including jewelry making and talisman crafting. By intertwining scientific knowledge with mythological lore, the Garuda Purana offers a holistic perspective on the significance of gems in Hindu culture and spirituality.

Laws of Virtue

Sage Yajnavalkya’s teachings on the laws of virtue form a cornerstone of ethical guidance in the Garuda Purana. The text expounds on the importance of moral conduct, emphasizing principles such as charity, self-restraint, non-violence, and truthfulness. It delineates different sets of rules based on social hierarchy, underscoring the importance of ethical behavior in all aspects of life. Furthermore, the Purana emphasizes the significance of introspection and self-communion as essential spiritual practices, highlighting the journey towards self-realization as the ultimate goal of virtuous living.

Ethics (Nityaachaara)

In the Garuda Purana, the discourse on ethics (Nityaachaara) encompasses a wide range of moral principles and guidelines for righteous living. The text offers practical wisdom on various aspects of human conduct, including relationships, wealth management, knowledge acquisition, and self-interest. It advises individuals to act prudently, prioritize honesty, and make sacrifices for the greater good of family and society. Moreover, the Purana warns against unethical behavior, such as acquiring wealth through malicious means or associating with deceitful individuals. By elucidating the virtues of integrity, compassion, and nobility, the Garuda Purana provides a moral compass for navigating the complexities of life with wisdom and integrity.

Good Government

The Garuda Purana presents a comprehensive vision of good governance, emphasizing the principles of truth, justice, and prosperity for all. It outlines the qualities of a virtuous king and the responsibilities of a just government, highlighting the importance of dharma (righteousness) in governance. The text advocates for equitable taxation, administrative efficiency, and protection of the realm from external threats. Furthermore, it underscores the importance of promoting social welfare and ensuring the well-being of all citizens. By delineating the ideal characteristics of a good king and government, the Garuda Purana serves as a timeless guide for fostering peace, stability, and prosperity in society.

Medicine (Dhanvantari Samhita)

The Garuda Purana offers a comprehensive treatise on medicine, known as the Dhanvantari Samhita, which covers various aspects of healthcare and healing practices. The text provides detailed insights into the pathology, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases, drawing upon the wisdom of ancient sages. It also includes extensive lists of herbs, plants, and formulations with purported medicinal properties, offering practical solutions for maintaining health and wellness. Additionally, the Purana addresses veterinary science, providing guidance on the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in animals, particularly horses. By integrating medical knowledge with spiritual wisdom, the Garuda Purana offers a holistic approach to healthcare that emphasizes the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit.

Yoga (Brahma Gita)

The final chapters of the Garuda Purana are dedicated to Yoga, a spiritual practice aimed at achieving union with the divine. Known as the Brahma Gita, these chapters explore the principles and practices of Yoga, emphasizing the importance of meditation, self-awareness, and self-realization. The text elucidates various yogic techniques, including asanas (postures), pranayama (breath control), and dhyana (meditation), as means to attain spiritual enlightenment. Moreover, it emphasizes the role of a guru (teacher) in guiding aspirants on the path of Yoga, highlighting the significance of humility, devotion, and discipline in the pursuit of spiritual growth. By integrating yogic philosophy with practical guidance, the Garuda Purana inspires seekers to embark on a transformative journey towards self-discovery and liberation.


The Pretakhanda, also known as the Uttarakhanda or Pretakalpa, forms the second part of the Garuda Purana and is dedicated to exploring themes related to death and the afterlife. Unlike the structured narrative found in the earlier sections of the Purana, the Pretakhanda is characterized by its unsystematic nature, presenting a diverse array of teachings and beliefs surrounding death.

Introduction to Ancient Rites

In ancient Hindu tradition, rituals surrounding death were deeply ingrained in the culture and were considered essential for ensuring the peaceful transition of the soul to the afterlife. The Rigveda 10.14, known as the Yama Suktam, serves as a guide for these rituals, providing instructions and prayers to be recited during funeral ceremonies. These rituals were not only about bidding farewell to the departed but also about honoring the ancestors and seeking their blessings for the journey ahead.

Connecting with Ancestors

The passage from the Rigveda emphasizes the importance of following the paths laid down by one’s forefathers. By traversing these ancient pathways, individuals could unite with their ancestors and gods like Varuna and Yama, who presided over the realm of the dead. Funeral offerings, including prayers and offerings, were seen as a way to establish a connection between the living and the departed, ensuring their continued presence and support in the afterlife.

Funeral Rites Protocol

The Rigveda also outlines specific protocols to be followed based on the age of the deceased. For infants who passed away before completing two years of life, burial was prescribed instead of cremation. In such cases, no elaborate rituals were deemed necessary. However, for children who lived beyond two years, cremation was the prescribed method, accompanied by the recitation of the Yama Suktam. This hymn served as a guide for the mental and spiritual preparation of both the departed soul and the mourners.

Unsystematic Nature

Scholars note the lack of organization and coherence within the Pretakhanda, with its content often appearing disjointed and repetitive. Despite these challenges, the text offers valuable insights into various aspects of death, including funeral rites, the journey of the soul, and the concept of hell.

Variations and Versions

Throughout history, different versions of the Pretakhanda have emerged, each with its own variations and interpretations. These differences highlight the diverse perspectives within Hindu tradition regarding death and the afterlife. Despite these variations, the core teachings of the Pretakhanda remain consistent, emphasizing the importance of leading a righteous life and honoring one’s duties and obligations.

Journey Beyond Death

One of the central themes of the Pretakhanda is the journey of the soul after death. The text describes in detail the various hells and realms that the soul may encounter based on its actions and karma during life. It outlines the role of Yama, the god of death, and his messengers in determining the fate of the departed soul and guiding it through the afterlife.


In a special version of the Garuda Purana called the Venkateswara Edition, there’s a part known as the Brahmakhanda. It’s like a chat between Krishna and Garuda, where they talk about Vishnu being super powerful, the different gods, and the cool stuff about the Venkateshvara shrine in Tirupati and other holy spots nearby. This part also talks about some tricky ideas from Advaitic teachings, but it’s all about supporting what Madhvacharya said, which isn’t found much in other Puranas. They say this bit was probably written later, especially since it’s not mentioned in other books like the Narada Purana.

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