Modern Hinduism, though rooted in the Vedas and the Vedānta, is deeply influenced by the purāṇas, at least on the practical side. The Brahma-vaivarta-purāṇa is one such that is often quoted by the writers of the dharmaśāstras while dealing with topics like castes, gifts, vratas (religious vows during festival days), descriptions of narakas or hells for transgression of dharma and so on. The original part of the purāṇa may be ancient. However, the extant edition, as available in print, seems to have evolved over the period A. D. 800-1600.
It is probable that this purāṇa may have acquired this title because it treats this created world as only a vivarta of or an appearance in Brahman, the Absolute.
It is a fairly voluminous work comprising 18,000 verses spread over four khaṇḍas or books, the total number of chapters being 276.
The first book called Brahmakhaṇḍa lauds this purāṇa and also gives a gist of the contents of the entire work. It declares that it is Śrī Kṛṣṇa who is the creator of the entire universe and that his world, the Goloka, is the highest of all the divine abodes, even Vaikuṇṭha and Kailāsa being inferior to it. A detailed account of creation which includes the emanation of other deities like Nārāyaṇa, Śaṅkara or Śiva, Brahmā and Dharma-puruṣa, as also the goddesses like Mūrti, Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī, Durgā and Sāvitrī is also given. Other topics dealt with in this book include Āyurveda, (science of health) worship of Śālagrāma (the stone symbol of Viṣṇu), austerities to be practised by the saṁnyāsins and widows, philosophical teachings concerning the ultimate identity of the jīva (individual soul) with Brahman and a description of the Goloka.
Prakṛtikhaṇḍa, the second book, deals with the mūlaprakṛti or the Mother Nature, who is pictured as the consort of God, forming the left part of his body as it were. She evolves into five goddesses: Rādha and Durgā, Lakṣmī and Sarasvatī as also Sāvitrī. God or Puruṣa splits himself into Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Nārāyaṇa. Later, Brahmā and Śiva also emanate from him.
Mūlaprakṛti gives birth to a golden egg from which emerges Mahāvirāṭ, the Cosmic Being. He creates the worlds.
As in the previous khaṇḍa, here also a number of miscellaneous subjects have been dealt with: stories of various female deities including the river-goddesses, worship and meditation concerning Bhūmi or Mother Earth, merits of a bath in the Gaṅgā River, importance of the tuḷasī leaves and rules concerning its use, details of the various śālagrāma stones, the well-known story of Sāvitrī and Satyavān, karma and its effects, descriptions of narakas or hells, detailed information about the growth of the human foetus in the womb, story of Durgā in brief as also some details about her worship.
Next comes Gaṇapatikhaṇḍa. This book deals mainly with the birth and exploits of Gaṇapati and Ṣaṇmukha, the two sons of Śiva and Pārvatī. The story of Paraśurāma (the Rāma of the battle-axe) is also an important part of this section. There are quite a few beautiful hymns in praise of Gaṇapati.
Śrī-Kṛṣṇa-janma-khaṇḍa, the last book, is also the biggest. Though the story of Kṛṣṇa follows the one given in the Bhāgavata, the amorous deeds of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are portrayed prominently. Stories of Ambarīṣa and Durvāsa, Aṣṭāvakra and Śrī Rāma also find a place. A variety of topics like the evil omens indicated by bad dreams, duties of the people belonging to the four varṇas, special code of conduct for the widows, foods fit and unfit for consuming, description of Kaliyuga or the Iron Age, greatness of the country of Bhārata and the science of architecture are also included at appropriate places.
The last chapter of this book gives a list of eighteen major purāṇas along with the total number of verses in each of them.
A special feature of this purāṇa is that it gives several important mantras (esoteric formulae) as also their usage.
See also PURĀṆAS.