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Encyclopaedia of Puranic Beliefs and Practices, vol. 5.

This is the final installment of a five-volume enterprise undertaken with the support of the University Grants Commission from 1975 till 1980. The first volume (A-C, pp. 1-370) appeared in 1986; it was followed, in remarkably rapid succession, by vol. 2 (1987; D-G, pp. 371-746), vol. 3 (1987; H-N, pp. 747-1069), vol. 4 (1989; O-S, pp. 1071-1426), and now vol. 5 (1990; T-Z, pp. 1427-1729). As far as I know, none of the earlier volumes was reviewed in the Journal. I will, therefore, extend my comments to them as well.

The author was aware of the existence of two earlier "encyclopedias" dealing with puranic materials: V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar's three-volume The Purana Index, published by the University of Madras between 1951 and 1955, and the more recent (1975) Puranic Encyclopaedia of Vettam Mani, published in Delhi by Motilal Banarsidass. As the original title of the project, A Motif Index of the Puranas, suggested, the new encyclopedia was to be different from its two predecessors. First, whereas the entries in both earlier works primarily consist of proper names, "|t~he present work has tried to present information from the socio-mythological angle. Here individual names do occur, but only when they have some belief attached to them, or when there is some custom, or practice associated with them. Mere dynastic or personal details are discarded". Second, Ramachandra Dikshitar carefully excerpted Mahapuranas, but he did so for no more than five; Vettam Mani's book, subtitled A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Epic and Puranic Literature, on the other hand, went far beyond the Puranas and, as a result, amounts to "a collection of all sorts of information". The present encyclopedia restricts itself to the Mahapuranas, but it covers all of them, nineteen in fact, since it includes both the Sivapurana and the Vayupurana.

The 1729 pages of the Encyclopaedia of Puranic Beliefs and Practices is not the kind of book which even a reviewer can read from cover to cover; its merits and shortcomings can only be proven when it is consulted repeatedly and for specific purposes. The remarks that follow are, therefore, based on sample readings and first impressions only.

Some articles are long, such as Holy Places, Vow (Vrata), Rivers, or Woman. Others are unexpectedly short: King and Kingship, Penance, Tantra, Vedas. Surprisingly, there is no article (nor an entry in the index) on bhakti, whereas there are articles on Avyanga, Aeroplane, and even "Advance: It was a custom to perform religious rituals at the advance".

Titles of articles are mostly in English, less often in Sanskrit, occasionally in both. In most cases the index is helpful by providing cross-references to the other language. One might not immediately look for Platform when searching for details on pithika, but pithika appears in the index: "see 'Platform.'" The same is true for the entry pinda in the index, which refers the reader to the article Ball--although in cases like this, one might wonder whether the order should not have been reversed. Only on rare occasions I found these useful cross-references missing: both the text and the index have Penance, but there is no mention of tapas.

One characteristic feature of the Encyclopaedia is that it not only provides references to the Puranas in the text, but that in many cases these references are added in full, in devanagari, at the end of the article. A detailed article like Woman, for example, ends with nine pages of such quotations. It should be noted that all references are to editions of the Purana texts, not to translations, which may make the book less useful for readers who are not familiar with Sanskrit. On very rare occasions the end-notes to the articles also include references to secondary literature.

The Puranas are and remain, in V. Raghavan's words, "a most voluminous and bewildering mass" (in Kenneth W. Morgan, The Religion of the Hindus |1953~, 270). The time when scholars will be able to rely on the kind of definitive and exhaustive indices which Renate Sohnen and Peter Schreiner gave us for the Brahmapurana (see my review, JAOS 111 |1991~: 850-51) is still far away. Meanwhile, Dange's Encyclopaedia is a welcome addition to, and a tool to be used in conjunction with, the earlier works by Ramachandra Dikshitar and Vettam Mani.
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Author:Rocher, Ludo
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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