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Swami Vivekananda - Truth of Puranas

As a person might draw on a 2-dimensional paper an image of a sphere, but may never truthfully say "this is a sphere," nor would be incorrect in saying "this is a sphere," nor could this person in reality form a perfect sphere even in 3-dimensions to truly call it "a sphere," or even draw a perfect circle in 2 dimensions to truly call it "a circle," the Puranas are illustrative of theoretical concepts which cannot be otherwise demonstrated.  Understanding this is the ultimate purpose of the Puranas: understanding that truth is itself a theoretical abstraction is essential to understanding the conditional relevance and necessity of falsehoods: sometimes a lie is necessary, or irrelevant.  

A wheel sometimes need not be entirely perfectly round to provide a smooth ride: some roads are rougher, and it won’t matter whether the wheel is well balanced. The measure of good conscience may be made only after discovering the extent to which the demands of morality are flexible.


Some historical truth is the nucleus of every Purana. The object of the Puranas is to teach mankind the sublime truth in various forms; and even if they do not contain any historical truth, they form a great authority for us in respect of the highest truth which they inculcate.

Take the Râmâyana, for illustration, and for viewing it as an authority on building character, it is not even necessary that one like Rama should have ever lived. The sublimity of the law propounded by Ramayana or Bharata does not depend upon the truth of any personality like Rama or Krishna, and one can even hold that such personages never lived, and at the same time take those writings as high authorities in respect of the grand ideas which they place before mankind.

Our philosophy does not depend upon any personality for its truth. Thus Krishna did not teach anything new or original to the world, nor does Ramayana profess anything which is not contained in the Scriptures.

It is to be noted that Christianity cannot stand without Christ, Mohammedanism without Mohammed, and Buddhism without Buddha, but Hinduism stands independent of any man, and for the purpose of estimating the philosophical truth contained in any Purana, we need not consider the question whether the personages treated of therein were really material men or were fictitious characters.

The object of the Puranas was the education of mankind, and the sages who constructed them contrived to find some historical personages and to superimpose upon them all the best or worst qualities just as they wanted to, and laid down the rules of morals for the conduct of mankind. Is it necessary that a demon with ten heads (Dashamukha) should have actually lived as stated in the Ramayana? It is the representation of some truth which deserves to be studied, apart from the question whether Dashamukha was a real or fictitious character. You can now depict Krishna in a still more attractive manner, and the description depends upon the sublimity of your ideal, but there stands the grand philosophy contained in the Puranas.