In reading the Puranas one must never forget two basic truths, Ruchibheda and Adhikaribheda. In their conception of the Deity, men are influenced by many factors - personal predilection, family tradition, environment, and so on. Likewise in regard to spiritual development all men are not equal.
The aim of the Puranas is to mediate the profound and recondite truths of the Vedas and the Upanishads to the understanding of the common man, keeping in view these inherent differences of taste and aptitude. But they all endeavour to impress on the devotee, (whoever his Ishta-devata might be) the might and glory of the Lord, His auspicious attributes and gracious benevolence, His unwearied labours in the cause of the upholding of righteousness and the destruction of evil, and His readiness to shed His grace on the humble devotee who sticks faithfully to his Dharma.
And they never allow the receptive student to forget the fundamental teaching of the Veda that “Reality is One, though the wise speak of it by many names”. The Puranas are thus potent influences in the development of the moral and religious life.
They are, too, the principal sources of information on fasts and other disciplines on pilgrimages, and on modes of worship of the Lord and service to His devotees.
As the arts and traditional sciences have always been pressed into the service of religion and spirituality, it is not surprising that a number of Puranas like the Agni, the Vishnu Dharmottara and the Varaha should deal authoritatively with such topics as rhetoric, music, architecture and the plastic arts.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the Puranas have largely fashioned the living culture of the Hindu and his conception of the Dharmic society as a co-operative enterprise for promoting the all-round welfare of men.
Western scholars make a misleading distinction between Brahmanism, by which they mean the teachings of the Vedas and the Upanishads, and modern Hinduism, based largely on the Puranas which they regard as departing in important respects from that teaching.
This is true in regard to neither of the three paths along which spiritual progress lies-the path of works (Karma), the path of devotion (Bhakti) and the path of knowledge (Jnana)-nor the prayers, austerities and observances that figure so largely in the daily life of the orthodox Hindu.
The latter are obviously modelled on the injunctions of the Karmakanda of the Veda.
In their ethical teaching, the Puranas emphasise as the highest ideal, “Friendliness towards all that lives” (Sarva-bhootasuhritva): as in the famous verses in the Vishnu Purana, which define the true Vaishnava.
The Puranas are a vast storehouse of tales, many of them of remarkable charm.
They explicate abstruse theological doctrine or throw revealing light on subtle moral problems, as for example, the tales of Satyavrata in the “Devi Bhagavata” and of King Vipaschit in the “Markandeya Purana.”
And not infrequently they convey the highest metaphysical truths with such simplicity, directness and force that they constitute the most authoritative commentary on the Upanishadic teaching.