(Last Updated on : 22/10/2010)
Bhagavata Purana, also known as Srimad Bhagavatam or simply Bhagavatam, is indisputably that work of Purana literature which is most famous in India. It comprises an important part of Hindu literature. Bhagavata Purana is popular because it focuses on the Bhakti Yoga
(devotion to the supreme Lord expressed through love). Lord Vishnu or Krishna is understood as the Supreme lord in this Purana. In fact the name Bhagvata comes from the fact that it has been dedicated to the glorification of Lord Vishnu. Though originally written in Sanskrit language
, Bhagavat has been explored and translated in many vernacular languages of India. Bhagavat Purana consists of eighteen thousand slokas, distributed amongst 332 chapters and divided into twelve cantos (Skandhas). Narrated in story-form it is simple in style at the same time lyrical and picturesque.
Origin of Bhagavata Purana
History suggests that the text was written in the 9th or 10th century. However, Hindu religious tradition holds it to be one of the works of Vyasa written at the beginning of Kali Yuga (about 3100 BC).
Content of Bhagavata Purana
The Bhagavata Purana is actually the conversation between King Parikshit
(grandson of Arjuna
) and Saint Sukadeva Goswami. King Parikshit was cursed by a Brahmin
that he would die within seven days. So he decided to give up his kingly duties and search for the purpose of life. As he was mentally preparing for his approaching death he met the great saint Sukadeva Goswami, who was searching for a suitable disciple to whom he might impart his great knowledge. He decided to teach King Parikshit. The conversation between the two goes on uninterrupted for seven days. During this period the king does not eat, drink or sleep. The saint explains to him that one's goal in life is to understand the absolute truth that is personified as Lord Krishna
, the supreme God.
The Srimad Bhagavatam speaks about several topics, which in modern times have been subjected to scientific speculation and research. The Third canto (chapter 11) deals with the calculations of time. At the same time it goes into detail about the human life starting from the development of the embryo in the womb. The first section of the literature also contains stories of devotees and objects of their devotion: the various avataras of Krishna or Vishnu. The most famous section is the 10th Canto, which deals in detail with the story of Krishna's appearance and pastimes in Vrindavan
Lord Krishna in Bhagavat Purana
The Bhagavata Purana depicts Krishna not as a Jagat-guru (teacher) as stated in the Bhagavad Gita
, but as a heroic young boy brought up by cowherd parents, Nand and Yashoda
, in a small village situated on the banks of the Yamuna River
. Young Krishna's childhood plays and acts of bravery in protecting villagers from demons and his pastimes with the cowherd girls (Gopis
) is narrated in a simple style. The intense devotion of the Gopis towards Lord Krishna expressed through love is later described as Bhakti Yoga. When Krishna leaves for Mathura
on a mission, the Gopis' become grief- stricken. Their intense longing is presented as a model of extreme devotion to the Supreme Lord. In a way, Bhagavata Purana paved the way for the various schools of Bhakti Movement.
Philosophy in Bhagavata Purana
Srimad Bhagavatam bears the essence of Vedic literature
and Vedanta philosophy
, and it can be said to be the source of the theology of Vaishnavism
and Gaudiya Vaishnava theology. It is the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge and covers everything from the nature of the self to the origin of the universe, and touches upon all fields of knowledge. It raises and answers fundamental questions like what is life, what is a human being's role in life, what is meant by cycle of birth and death, what is the relation between God and man. It is the Bhagavata Purana which adds the fifth element of devotion (or divine service) besides well-known four aspects of life i.e. Dharma
(morality), Artha (acquiring wealth), Kama
(pleasure) and Moksha
(liberation or salvation).
The impact of Bhagavata on Indian life over the ages has been immense. Other than being an important Hindu literature, it has served as the inspiration for countless works of literature, song, drama, painting, sculpture, folk-theatres and crafts. Stories of Lord Krishna from childhood to the Kurukshetra
battle in Mahabharata
figure in one form or other in Vaishnava temple sculptures. All the important dance types, Bharatnatyam
and Manipuri dance
have themes taken from the Bhagavata Purana. Even today it exerts a powerful influence on the life and thought of the innumerable adherents of the sect of the Bhagavatas (worshippers of Vishnu under the name of 'Bhagavat'). The extremely numerous manuscripts and prints of the text itself, as well as of many commentaries on the whole work and of separate explanatory writings on parts of it, in addition to the many translations into Indian vernaculars, bear witness to the enormous popularity of the work in India. It is in accordance with this its significance, that it is the first Purana that has been edited and translated in Europe. Moreover it is the one Purana which, more than any of the others, bears the stamp of a unified composition, and deserves to be appreciated as a literary production on account of its language, style and metre.