Puranas and Ithihasas

The word Purana comes from the Sanskrit words "Purva" meaning ancient or old and "Nava" meaning new or relevant. Therefore Purana is something ancient that is still relevant in the modern day world. It is a collection of stories or a single story conveying the teachings in the Vedas for lay people to understand. There are many Puranas. The most well known of the Puranas is the Bhagavatha Purana. Sage Vyasa is said to have written 18 Puranas and 18 Upapuranas (Secondary Puranas). 

The word Itihasa comes from the Sanskrit words "Iti", "ha" and "Asti" where "Iti" means thus, "Ha" means certainly and "Aaseet" means that which happened. Therefore Itihasa means that which 'thus certainly happene'. There are two Itihasas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. 

While the Puranas are stories, the Itihasas are considered to be based on true events with an element of hyperbole to illustrate certain aspects. Thus they are considered to be stories based on true events. 

 Mahabharata is full of stories. In fact it contains a story within a story, looping, often, upto 7 or 8 stories.

The "Anushasana Parva" of the Mahabharata is the longest of the 18 chapters in the Mahabharata. It is well known for stories, told by Bheeshma to Yudhishtra, to prepare him for ruling the kingdom and to help him cast aside his guilt for having waged the war and killing his relatives. 

One set of stories that are particularly popular are the animal stories in this chapter. When Yudhishtra tells Bheeshma that he is torn by guilt and therefore wants to go to the forest to lead a life of contemplation and not rule the kingdom, Bheeshma tells him one of the most famous of the animal stories, that of "The Pious Jackal". 

Bheeshma reminds him that just by retiring into the forest he would not be able to escape jealousy and trouble. He uses the example of a ascetic vegatarian jackal which gets into trouble when it tries to live a life different from its nature. We will study the story in the 5th class of the Bhagavad Gita study series.