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Bhagvata Purana

Bhagvata Purana

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The Bhagavata Purana (भागवतपुराण, also known as Srimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata) is one of the "Maha" Puranic texts of Sanskrit literature, with its primary focus on bhakti (religious devotion) to Krishna, who is "Bhagavan, God himself". The Sanskrit text comprises twelve skandas (cantos or books) and some 18,000 verses. The Bhagavata includes many stories well known in Vedic tradition, including the various avatars of Vishnu and the life of Krishna. It was the first Purana to be translated into a European language, with three French translations also between 1840 and 1857.
Like all Puranas, the Bhagavata is a product of oral tradition, its extant version usually dated to the ninth or tenth century CE. The tradition of the Vaisnava scholars of the text puts it contemporary with date of Krishna's birth, known as Janmashtami; 18 July 3228 BCE. The text itself credits Veda Vyasa with its authorship.
The intense and personal bhakti described in the Bhagavata is directed toward Krishna as Vishnu in human form. The tenth book (or canto), which is dedicated to Krishna, takes up about one quarter of the entire Bhagavata. It includes the most comprehensive collection of stories about the life of Krishna, showing him in all the stages and conditions of human life. It also includes instruction in the practice of bhakti, an analysis of bhakti, and descriptions of the different types of bhakti. Many vaishnavas consider Srimad Bhagvatam to be non-different from Krishna and to be literary form of Krishna.
The Bhagavata takes the form of a story recounting Vyasa's work being recited for the first time by his son Suka to the dying King Parikshit, who owes his life to Krishna. Longing to hear of Krishna before he dies, Parikshit hears the Bhagavata recited by Suka, including questions by the king and replies by the sage, over the course of seven days.

 

 

Significance

The Bhagavata is widely recognized as the best known and most influential of the Puranas, and is sometimes referred to as the "Fifth Veda". It is unique in Indian religious literature for its emphasis on the practice of bhakti, compared to the more theoretical bhakti of the Bhagavad Gita; for its redefining of dharma; and for the extent of its description of God in a human-like form. It is also the source for many of the popular stories of Krishna's childhood told for centuries in the Indian subcontinent. Charlotte Vaudeville refers to the Bhagavata as "the real Bible of Krishnaism", while the Bhagavata declares itself as the essence of Vedanta:
The Sri Bhagavata is the very essence of all the Vedanta literature. One who has enjoyed the nectar of its rasa never has any desire for anything else. (12.13.15)
The Bhagavata, along with the Bhagavad Gita, are the main sources of scriptural authority used by Gaudiya Vaishnavas for demonstrating the pre-eminence of Krishna over other forms of God. An oft-quoted verse from the Bhagavata is used as a representational statement by Krishna sects to show that Krishna is "Bhagavan Svayam", or God himself: "These [other incarnations] are amsha, or kala, partial incarnations, but krishnas tu bhagavan svayam, 'Krishna is Bhagavan, God himself.'" (1.3.28).
The 15th–16th century Assamese translation of the Purana (Bhagavat of Sankardeva) by Srimanta Sankardeva and others form the central text of the Ekasarana Dharma, a monotheistic religion in Assam. Sankardeva's rendering of the tenth Book, locally called daxama, is particularly popular.

Origin and date

The Puranas are a type of traditional Hindu texts that took form during the medieval period, often both informed by earlier material and undergoing later interpolations. It is therefore problematic to assign a precise date to any such text, The Bhagavata Purana itself is a typical case, a text transformed by oral tradition which reached its "basic final shape" at some stage during the Indian Middle Ages.
Scholarly consensus holds that the text was completed no later than around 1000 CE, when it is mentioned by al Biruni and quoted by Abhinavagupta; the earliest suggestions of it are the composition of the Vishnu Purana and Harivamsa, and the Vaishnava Bhakti movement in South India, which limit its composition to after 500 CE. Within this range, scholars such as R. C. Hazra date it to the first-half of the sixth century, while most others place it in the post-Alvar period around the ninth century. The final redactor of the text was emphasizing the texts's claim to ancient origns by resorting to an archaizing Vedic flavour of Sanskrit.
The Bhagavata itself claims primordial origins, while accepting that it has since been edited by human and divine hands. The text and Hindu tradition ascribe its authorship to Veda Vyasa, who is also credited as the scribe for the Vedas.
The Bhagavata Purana contains apparent references to the South Indian Alvar saints and it makes a post factum prophecy of the spread of Vishnu worship in Tamil country (BP XI.5.38–40); these facts, along with its emphasis on "emotional Bhakti to Krishna" and the "Advaita philosophy of Sankara", lead many scholars to trace its origins to South India. However, J. A. B. van Buitenen, a late professor of Indology at the University of Chicago points out that 10th–11th CE South Indian Vaishnava theologians Yamuna and Ramanuja do not refer to Bhagavata Purana in their writings, and this anomaly needs to be explained before the geographical origins and dating are regarded as definitive.

Philosophy

The Bhagavata is primarily a bhakti text, with an emphasis on achieving moksha through cultivating a personal relationship with Vishnu in the form of Krishna. The philosophy and teachings of the Bhagavata include several traditions, and an absence of a "narrow, sectarian spirit". While Bhakti Yoga is the prominent teaching, various passages show a synthesis that also include Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, and Advaita Vedanta.

Bhakti

The Bhagavata is among the most important texts on bhakti, presenting a fully developed teaching on bhakti that originated with the Bhagavad Gita. Bhakti is presented as a path of yoga, or "union with the divine". Many of the bhakti teachings in the Bhagavata are presented as yogic activities—meditating on the lila of Krishna; hearing and singing about Vishnu/Krishna; remembering, serving, and worshiping him; dedicating all of one's actions to him—all are among nine activities of Bhakti Yoga taught in the Bhagavata. While classical yoga attempts to shut down the mind and senses, the Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavata teaches that the focus of the mind is transformed by filling the mind with thoughts of Krishna.
There are many didactic philosophical passages, but the lengthy narrative stories are also a teaching; the book describes one of the activities that lead to liberation (moksha) as listening to and reflecting on the stories of Bhagavan. Even Kapila, the Samkhya philosopher, teaches his mother that in order to reach liberation, she must have bhakti, jñana (wisdom), and vairagya (dispassion), with bhakti being the most important. (3.25.18)
The Bhagavata also teaches that bhakti is more important than caste, stating that even a Chandala who has deep faith and devotion is dearer to God than a brahmin without faith. (III.33.7) While not completely dismissing the caste system, it does reject the superiority of the brahmin based solely on birth. In the Bhagavata, devotees of Krishna include those from lower castes: Prahlad, considered the greatest of devotees, is the son of a demon king and of 'low birth'; the gopis are uneducated wives of herdsman, yet are very close to Krishna. The Bhagavata held out the possibility of salvation through devotion (bhakti) regardless of caste or social status. The Bhagavata is also critical of the acquisition, protection, and enjoyment of wealth, going as far as implying that only the poor can be true followers of bhakti. In one passage, Krishna says to Rukmini, "We are poor and we are always the favourites of poor persons." (X.60.14)

Samkhya

Surendranath Dasgupta describes the theistic Samhkhya taught by Kapila in the Bhagavata as the dominant philosophy in the text. In the Bhagavata, Kapila is described as an avatar of Vishnu, born into the house of Kardama in order to share the knowledge of self-realization and liberation. Kapila's Samkhya is taught by him to his mother Devahuti in Book Three, and by Krishna to Uddhava in Book Eleven. Samkhya in the Bhagavata is presented somewhat differently than in other classical Samkhya texts. It describes Brahman, or Bhagavan, as creating all beings within his Self in latent form—then, on its own initiative, bringing itself into Maya and falling " under the influence of its own power". This is in contrast to classical Samkhya, where the impulse for creation is "inherent in primal nature", or prakriti.
The treatment of Samkhya in the Bhagavata is changed by the text's emphasis on devotion. In Chapter Eleven, Krishna describes the world as an illusion, and the individual as dreaming, even while in the waking state. He gives Samhkhya and Yoga as the way of overcoming the dream, with the goal of Samhkhya as Bhagavan himself in the aspect of Krishna.

Advaita

The Bhagavata frequently discusses the merging of the individual soul with the Absolute Brahman, or "the return of Brahman into His own true nature", a distinctly advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy. In the same passages, the Bhagavata still recommends Bhagavan as the object of concentration for reaching that goal. Scholars describe this philosophy as "Advaitic Theism", which combines the seemingly contradictory beliefs of a personal God that can be worshiped with a God that is immanent in creation and in one's own self. Daniel P. Sheridan describes Advaitic Theism as a "both/and" solution for the question of whether God is transcendent or immanent in relation to creation, and credits the Bhagavata with a "truly creative religious moment" for introducing this philosophy.

Dharma

Bhagavata extends the concept of dharma that had previously been regarded either as the duty to follow Vedic injunctions, as a moral code that emphasizes ahimsa (non-injury), satya (truthfullness) etc., or as the idea of self-realization through yoga. Breaking with these senses of the term, Bhagavata considers dharma to consist of sincere worship and devotion towards God without any ulterior motive. Such worship is said to cleanse the spirit of all impurities—motives, jealousies, pretensions, etc.—and reveal man's nature as part of the absolute, leading to supreme bliss. Conversely, Bhagavata teaches that simply following Vedic injunctions that do not produce devotion towards God are of transitory benefit and are fruitless labour.

Yoga

A classical approach to yoga is taught in the beginning of the second chapter, when Suka tells Parikshit to prepare for death by making an asana (place to sit) in a solitary place and meditating on Om, without regard for the distractions caused by the lower qualities of raja and tama guna. Suka also describes different meditations on the gross and subtle aspects of Bhagavan, or God, in a way that is similar to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Several passages describe the merging of the individual soul with the Absolute Brahman. The Bhagavata, in explaining the method of reaching that goal, recommends the object of concentration as Bhagavan, with an emphasis on yoga as a form of bhakti.
Siddhis, or spiritual powers developed through yoga practice, are described in many passages in ways that echo the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The tenth chapter of the eleventh skanda teaches that the yogi who has controlled his senses and concentrated his mind on Bhagavan develops these siddhis. Patanjali describes siddhis as obstacles to reaching the ultimate goal of yoga (union)—the Bhagavata describes them as blessings that are present in Bhagavan in infinite form, and given to the yogi in varying degrees depending on the yogi's devotion.

Narrators and setting

The Bhagavata is a recounting of events by the storyteller Ugrasrava Sauti (Suta) to Saunaka and other sages assembled in the Naimisha Forest. As Suta explains, Veda Vyasa was feeling unsatisfied, even after he made divine knowledge available to humans by writing the Vedas and the Mahabharata. The sage Narada, in his role as intermediary between gods and men, visited Vyasa to inform him that his unease was because he had not yet described the highest goal of knowledge—bhakti, or devotion to God.
Suta recounts the first recital of Vyasa's work, given by Vyasa's son Suka to King Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna. Parikshit, who owed his life to Krishna, had angered a rishi's son for being disrespectful to the rishi's father. He was cursed to be bitten by a poisonous snake and had only seven days to live. Fasting by the banks of the Ganges River, and with Krishna no longer alive, Parikshit longed to hear of him. The Bhagavata introduces the life of Parikshit as background, thus bringing Krishna into the story, and is presented as part of Suka's recital over the course of seven days. It concludes with Suka asking Parikshit the standard, "What more do you want?" (12.5.13) Completely satisfied with what he has heard and his purpose in life fulfilled, Parikshit dies. (12.6.12–15)

Books

Book 1

The first book introduces the Bhagavata, with Saunaka gathering the sages in Naimisha Forest to hear Suta praise bhakti to Krishna and describe the ten avatars of Vishnu. Suta tells the story of the life of Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu, beginning while still in his mother's womb, where Krishna protected him from the Brahmastra weapon of Ashwatthama. The conclusion of Parikshit's life introduces the main storyline of the Bhagavata—a curse is placed on Parikshit that will cause him to die within seven days. Parikshit retires to the bank of the Ganges to fast until his death, with several sages gathered around him, including Suka, son of Vyasa. Parikshit asks Suka what he should do to prepare for death. Suka's response constitutes the main part of the Bhagavata.

Book 2

Suka tells Parikishit that when one is about to die, they should become free of the fear of death and let go of all attachments to pleasure, home, and family. They should control the breath and mind and concentrate on the sacred Aum. The development of yoga and bhakti, different types of dharana, the nature of Bhagavan, and the liberation of a yogi upon his death are also explained by Suka. In response to Parikshit's questions, Suka describes creation and the avatars of Vishnu, concluding with a description of the ten characteristics of a Purana.

Book 3

Vidura's pilgrimage to various holy places provides the backdrop for the stories and spiritual teachings in Book 3. Near the Yamuna River Vidura meets Uddhava, who gives him the news of the Kurukshetra War and about Krishna leaving this world. Next he meets the sage Maitreya, who gives instruction on the creation of the world, the divisions of time, and other subjects. The story of the birth of Hiranyakasipu and Hiranyaksa is told, including the latter's death at the hands of Varaha, the boar avatar of Vishnu. An important story is the tale of Devahuti and her son Kapila—Kapila's Samkhya teachings help lead her to final liberation.

Book 4

The story of Daksha and his sacrifice is told, in which he mocks Shiva in front of Dakshayani -his own daughter and Shiva's consort-resulting in Dakshayani's self-immolation, which later came to be known by one of her names, Sati . The legend of Dhruva 's penance and devotion to Vishnu is also recounted, along with the related story of king Prithu . The book ends with the recounting of the renunciation and liberation of the Pracetas brothers.

Book 5

The story of Manu 's sons and their children leads eventually to Bharat and a description of the world, the sun and its course, the moon and the planets, the regions below the earth, and the twenty-eight hells ( naraka ).

Book 6

Book 6 includes the story of Ajamila , who reached heaven as a reward for uttering the syllables "Na-ra-ya-na" on his deathbed, even though he was only intending to call his son. The story of the son of the Praceta brothers is also recounted, along with the victory of Indra over Visvarupa . Book 6 ends with the birth of the Maruts .

Book 7

The main portion of the seventh book is dedicated to the well known story of Hiranyakasipu, his son Prahlada, and the death of Hiranyakasipu at the hands of Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu. This version expands on the story of Prahlada as told in the Vishnu Purana, and is the form that is most commonly told in Hinduism. Prahlada is considered a great devotee of Vishnu, and describes the process of bhakti toward Bhagavan. Book seven also includes a discussion of the dharma involved with the different varnas and with the four ashramas (stages) of life.

Book 8

The description of the six past Manvantaras (ages or time periods of Manu) and the seven future ages of Manu includes several stories, many involving the avatars of Vishnu. Nine chapters are dedicated to the oft told story of Vishnu's Vamana (dwarf) avatar and his defeat of Bali. The story of the churning of the ocean of milk is also recounted, which is done with the help of the Kurma avatar of Vishnu.

Book 9

The current age of Manu is described at length, including the traditional history of the Solar Dynasty founded by Ikshvaku and the Lunar Dynasty of Pururavas. A long history of dynasties is described—Panchala, Magadha, Kuru, Anu, Druhyus, Turvasu, and others—leading up to the Yadu dynasty and the birth of Krishna to his parents Vasudeva and Devaki.

Book 10

The tenth book, dedicated to Krishna, is responsible for the widespread popularity of the Bhagavata Purana. Book Ten includes the most enduring images and stories of Krishna: the mischievous child who steals butter; the godlike child who holds the entire universe within himself; the boy who can slay demons and move an entire mountain with one finger; the cowherd who is the love of all the gopis, making them leave all their duties to follow him.
The tenth book is by far the lengthiest, taking up almost one quarter of the entire Bhagavata. While the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita show Krishna in various roles as teacher and diplomat, book 10 shows Krishna simply engaging in lila, or divine and intimate play with his devotees. It presents this intimate relationship with God as the highest goal of human existence.

Book 11

The destruction of the Yadava dynasty, including Krishna and all his kinsmen, is caused by the curse of a brahmin—instigated by Krishna himself. The Yadavas kill each other in a drunken fight and Krishna dies as a result of the same curse, the result of a metal-tipped arrow striking his foot. The last chapter describes Krishna's ascent to Vaikuntha. Book eleven also includes the so-called Uddhava Gita, the last discourse of Krishna which he addresses to his dear friend Uddhava. Canto or Book 11 section 7-9 discusses the pastimes and realizations of an Avadhuta.

Book 12

The future rulers of Magadha are predicted, along with the evils of Kali Yuga and the future destruction of the world (pralaya). The main story ends with the death of King Parikshit—cursed to die from snakebite—and the thwarted snake sacrifice of his son Janamejaya. The text finally concludes with a second description of the ten characteristics of a purana, the life of Markandeya, a summary of the Bhagavata, and the assurance that it is the greatest among puranas.



 
 


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