The purāṇas or the mythological scriptures have played, over the centuries, a very constructive and effective role in educating the Hindu masses. These masses had been denied direct access to the study and knowledge of the Vedas and allied scriptures. However, the need for enlightening them not only in moral and spiritual values but also in certain aspects of secular education, including vocational training, had been keenly felt by the sages and the pragmatic sections of the society. And, the purāṇas fulfilled that need admirably.
The Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa is the last of the eighteen major purāṇas (mahā-purāṇas). It is called so, probably because, it deals with the brahmāṇḍa, the world and its creation, as a major subject. Hindu tradition attributes its authorship to the sage Vyāsa. It was perhaps composed near the place where the river Godāvarī rises (near Nasik of Maharashtra). Generally considered as one of the oldest of the eighteen purāṇas, it might be assigned to the period A. D. 300-400.
Since a major part of this purāṇa agrees with the Vāyupurāṇa, some scholars are inclined to think that the two were originally a single work and later split into two due to cult rivalries.
The work as available in print now, comprises four pādas as follows: Prakriyā (5 chapters), Anuṣaṅga (33 chapters), Upodghāta (74 chapters) and Upasaṁhāra (4 chapters). Thus, the 12,000 verses of this purāṇa are spread over 116 chapters in 4 pādas. This is followed by Lalitopā-khyāna (in 40 chapters) which contains the famous Lalitāsahasranāma, a hymn known for its mystical power and is extremely popular in South India.
The subjects dealt with in this purāṇa may be summarised briefly as follows: creation, geography of the earth and of Bhāratavarṣa, manvantaras, pupils of Vyāsa and the distribution of the Vedaśākhas or branches of the Vedas; creation of gods, demons, gandharvas, sages and their progeny; all aspects of śrāddha or obsequial ceremonies in detail; exploits of the warrior-sage Paraśurāma; story of the descent of the river Gaṅgā to this earth; Dhanvantari and the Āyurveda, the science of health and longevity.
The writers of the dharmaśāstras have quoted verses from this purāṇa fairly extensively in support of their views.
See also PURĀṆAS.