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Bhagavan Krishna with Radharani

Bhagavān, (alternate spellings including Bhagvān, Bhagwan or Bhagawan, from the Sanskrit nt-stem bhaga-vant- nominative भगवान् Bhagavān) is a term for God used in Hinduism particularly in the Vaisnava traditions where God is conceived as a caring, compassionate person concerned for the welfare of his creatures. This word is generally translated into English language as Lord. Bhagavān can also be an honorific title for a God-realized (i.e. fully enlightened) human being or an incarnation of God in human form (avatara) such as Rama and Krishna. In the Pali scriptures Gautama Buddha is referred to as Bhagavān Buddha (translated with the phrase 'Lord Buddha' or 'The Blessed One'[1]).


Bhagavān literally means - 'possessing fortune', 'prosperous' (from the noun bhaga, meaning "fortune, wealth", cognate to Slavic bog "god", Russian богатый (bogatyj) "wealthy"), and hence "illustrious, divine, venerable, holy", etc.[2]

Vishnu Purana (Sloka VI.v.78) defines Bhagavān as he:-

उत्पत्तिं प्रलयं चैव भूतानामागतिं गतिम् |
वेत्तिं विद्यामविद्यां च स वाच्यो भगवानिति ||

who is aware of the creation and dissolution of the universe, of the appearance and disappearance of beings, as well as of Vidyā ('wisdom') and Avidya ('nescience'), should be designated as Bhagavān. The same text defines Bhaga in the following words (Sloka.VI.v.74):-

ऐश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य धर्मस्य यशसः श्रियः |
ज्ञानवैराग्योश्चैव षणणा भग इतिइरणा ||

which mean - 'entire glory', 'entire virtue', 'entire renown', 'entire prosperity', 'entire wisdom' and 'total dispassion' – these six are collectively known as Bhaga.[3] The Sanskrit dictionaries do not give a direct meaning of the word, Bhagavān (भगवान्), they indirectly indicate that it denotes God - यत्र भक्तः तत्र भगवान् meaning – 'where there is the faithful, there is God'.[4] The word, Bhagavat (भगवत्) means – 'glorious', 'illustrious', 'revered', 'venerable', 'holy' – an epithet applied to gods, demi-gods and other holy or respectable personages – Vāsudeva is addressed as Bhagavan Vasudeva (भगवान् वासुदेव). Both words are derived from the root भज् ('to honour', 'to adore') – भज् + घ = भगः which also means – 'omnipotence'.[5]

In Tamil, Bhagavān (Tamil: பகவன்) can find its roots in Pagu (பகு) meaning - 'skim', Pagir (பகிர்) meaning - 'share', and hence one skims and clears ultimate, one who shares his own with creation is Bhagavān. திருக்குறள் तिरुक्कुरल् Oldest available philosophic text roughly dated 2000 years begins with ஆதி பகவன் (आदि भगवान) (ādi bhagavn) as in அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதி பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு (अगर मुधल एज़ुथ्थेल्लम् आदि भगवन मुधत्त्रे उलगु) (Agara mudhala ezhuththellaam ādi bhagavān mudhattre ulagu)


In Hinduism, the word, Bhagavān, indicates the Supreme Being or Absolute Truth conceived as a Personal God.[6][7] This personal feature indicated by the word Bhagavān differentiates its usage from other similar terms[8] such as Brahman, the "Supreme Spirit" or "spirit", and thus, in this usage, Bhagavan is analogous to the Christian conception of God the Father. In Vaisnavism, a devotee of Bhagvān Krishna is called a Bhāgavata.

The Bhagavata Purana (1.2.11) states the definition of Bhagavān to mean the supreme most being:

The Learned Know the Absolute Truth call this non-dual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.[a]

Bhagavān used as a title of veneration is often directly used as "Lord", as in "Bhagavān Rama", "Bhagavān Krishna", "Bhagavān Shiva", etc. In Buddhism and Jainism, Gautama Buddha, Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, Buddhas and bodhisattvas are also venerated with this title. The feminine of Bhagavat is Bhagawatī and is an epithet of Durga and other goddesses. This title is also used by a number of contemporary spiritual teachers in India who claim to be Bhagavan or have realized impersonal Brahman.

Bhagavata or Vaishnava religion[edit]

The Bhāgavat religion of early Hinduism, the seed of which can be found in Narayan Upakheyam of Mahabharata and mentioned in Bhishma-parva, is documented epigraphically from around 100 BCE, such as in the inscriptions of the Heliodorus pillar; in which Heliodorus, an Indo-Greek ambassador from Taxila to the court of a Sunga king, addresses himself as a Bhagavata ("Heliodorena bhagavatena"):

This Garuda-standard of Vasudeva (Vishnu), the God of Gods

was erected here by the Bhagavata Heliodoros, the son of Dion, a man of Taxila, sent by the Great Greek (Yona) King Antialcidas, as ambassador to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior

son of the princess from Benares, in the fourteenth year of his reign."[b]

(Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report (1908-1909))

This religion based on devotion to Lord Vishnu (identified as Vasudeva in Mahabharata) describes the ten incarnations of Vishnu and introduced the Chatur – vyuha concept and laid emphasis on the worship of five Vrisini-warriors, reached the peak of its popularity during the Gupta Period.[9]

In Buddhism[edit]

In place of the word Bhagavata, in Buddhist texts the word "Bhagavā" is used many times in the Pali suttas to refer to the Buddha, as 'the fortunate one'.[10] The term "Bhagavā" has been used in Pali Anussati or recollections as one of the terms that describes the "Tathāgata" as one full of good qualities, as arhat, sammā-sambuddho and sugato (Dīgha Nikāya II.93).[11]

In the Buddha anussati, Bhagavan is defined the following way:

Iti pi so Bhagavā

Thus is Buddha,

  1. Arahaṃ - deserving homage.
  2. Sammā-sambuddho - perfectly awakened.
  3. Vijjā-caraṇa sampanno - perfect in true knowledge and conduct.
  4. Sugato - well gone (to Nibbana)
  5. Lokavidū - knower of the worlds
  6. Anuttaro purisa-damma-sārathi - incomparable leader (lit. charioteer) of persons to be tamed.
  7. Satthā deva-manusānaṃ - teacher of gods and humans.
  8. Buddho - awakened one.
  9. Bhagavāti - Blessed One.

Sākamunisa bhagavato is recorded in the kharoshthi dedication of a vase placed in a Buddhist stupa by the Greek meridarch (civil governor of a province) named Theodorus (Tarn, p391):

"Theudorena meridarkhena pratithavida ime sarira sakamunisa bhagavato bahu-jana-stitiye":
"The meridarch Theodorus has enshrined relics of Lord Shakyamuni, for the welfare of the mass of the people"
(Swāt relic vase inscription of the Meridarkh Theodoros [1])


Bhagavan means - the possessor of Bhaga, and is used as an honourific; as is found in these two statements:-

स होवाच जंनको वैदेहोऽभयं त्वा गच्छताद्यायाज्ञवल्क्य, यो नो भगवन्नभयं वेदयसे नमस्तेऽस्त्विमे विदेहा अयमहमस्मि | - (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.i.4)
कस्मिन्नु खलु भगवो विज्ञातं सर्वमिदं भवति | - (Mundaka Upanishad I.i.3) [12]

Bhakti (devotion to God) consists in actions performed dedicated to the Paramatman, the individuated existence which has free-will and who is the final cause of the world; the Vedic Rishis describe the goals originated from God as Bhagavān, the Ananda aspect of God where God has manifested His personality is called Bhagavān when consciousness (pure self-awareness) aligns with those goals to cause the unified existence and commencement of works follow.[13] The available Vedic texts do not throw any light on the origination and development of the concept of Bhagavān; the Vedas do speak about Rudra deva as Shiva, which term actually means benevolent.[14]

In Bhagavata Dharma it denotes Narayana Vasudeva's four vyuha formations. Ishvara or God is called Bhagavan and the person consecrated to Bhagavan is called a Bhagavata. The Bhagavata Purana (I.iii.28) identifies Krishna as Narayana, Vāsudeva, Vishnu and HariBhagavan present in human form.[15] Bhagavan is the complete revelation of the Divine; Brahman, the impersonal Absolute, is unqualified and therefore, never expressed; Paramatman is Bhagavan in relation to Prakṛti and the Jiva;[16] And, the Yoga of Devotion implies that if a Bhagavata, the devotee of Bhagavan, seeks and longs for Bhagavan, then Bhagavan too seeks his devotee in equal measure, for there can be no Yoga of knowledge without a human seeker of the knowledge, the supreme subject of knowledge and the divine use by the individual of the universal faculties of knowledge.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ vadanti tat tattva-vidas/ tattvam yaj jnanam advayam/ brahmeti paramatmeti/ bhagavan iti sabdyate
  2. ^ Devadevasa Va [sude]vasa Garudadhvajo ayam/ karito i[a] Heliodorena bhaga-/ vatena Diyasa putrena Takhasilakena/ Yonadatena agatena maharajasa/ Amtalikitasa upa[m]ta samkasam-rano/ Kasiput[r]asa [Bh]agabhadrasa tratarasa/ vasena [chatu]dasena rajena vadhamanasa


  1. ^ The latter term preferred by Bhikkhu Bodhi in his English translations of the Pali Canon
  2. ^ Macdonell Sanskrit-English dictionary
  3. ^ Jayadayal Goyandka. Srimadbhagavadgita Tattvavivecani. Gita Press. p. 458. 
  4. ^ "Sanskrit-English Dictionary". 
  5. ^ V.S.Apte. The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. p. 118. 
  6. ^ Who is Krishna? "God the person, or Bhagavan"
  7. ^ About Bhagwan? "Know about Bhagwan"
  8. ^ Bhag-P 1.2.11 "Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this the non-dual "Brahman", "Paramatmān " or "Bhagavān"
  9. ^ Optional Indian History – Ancient India. Upkar Prakashan. p. 65. 
  10. ^ David J. Kalupahana. A History of Buddhist Philosophy. University of Hawaii Press. p. 111. 
  11. ^ Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Routledge. p. 94. 
  12. ^ R.D.Ranade. A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic Philosophy. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 45. 
  13. ^ Ashish Dalela. Vedic Creationism. iUniverse. p. 337. 
  14. ^ World’s Religions. Routledge. p. 611. 
  15. ^ Dennis Hudson. The Body of God. Oxford University Press. pp. 578, 33, 34. 
  16. ^ David R.Kinsley. The Sword and the Flute-Kali and Krsna. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 69. 
  17. ^ Sri Aurobindo. The Synthesis of Yoga. Lotus Press. p. 32. 


  • Thomas Mcevilley (2002). The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-1-58115-203-6. 
  • Baij Nath Puri (1987). Buddhism In Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass Pub. ISBN 978-81-208-0372-5. 
  • The Greeks in Bactria and India, W.W. Tarn, Cambridge University Press.