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The Devi Bhagavata Purana (Sanskrit: देवी भागवतपुराण, Devī Bhāgavatapurāṇa), also known as the Shrimad Devi Bhagvatam and the Devi Bhagavatam, is a Sanskrit text that belongs to the Purana-genre of Hindu literature. The text is considered a Mahapurana (major Purana) in parts of India, while others include it as one of the Upapurana (minor Purana), but all traditions consider it as an important Purana.
The text consists of twelve Skandha (sections) with 318 chapters. Along with Devi Mahatmya, it is one of the most important works in Shaktism, a tradition within Hinduism that reveres Devi or Shakti (Goddess) as the primordial creator of the universe and the Brahman (ultimate truth and reality). It celebrates the divine feminine as the origin of all existence, the creator, the preserver and the destroyer of everything, as well as the one who empowers spiritual liberation. While all major Puranas of Hinduism mention and revere the Goddess, this text centers around her as the primary divinity. The underlying philosophy of this text is Advaita Vedanta-style monism combined with devotional worship of Shakti (feminine power).
The Devi Bhagavata Purana has been variously dated. A few scholars suggest an early date, such as Ramachandran who suggested that the text was composed before the 6th-century CE. However, this early date has not found wide support, and most scholars date it between the 9th and the 14th century. Rajendra Hazra suggests 11th or 12th century, while Lalye states that the text began taking form in the late centuries of the 1st millennium, was expanded over time, and its first complete version existed in the 11th century. Tracy Pintchman dates the text to between 1000 and 1200 CE.
The last ten chapters (31 to 40) of the Book 7 consist of 507 verses, a part which has often circulated as an independent handout just like the Bhagavad Gita of the Mahabharata circulates independently. The handout from Book 7 of this Purana is called Devi Gita. This handout may have been composed with the original text, or it might be a later interpolation, states C Mackenzie Brown. He suggests that this portion of the text was probably composed by the 13th century and may be later but before the 16th century.
The Book 9 of the Devi Bhagavata Purana contains many verses that reference Mlecchas (barbarians) and Yavanas (foreigners). These words may just refer to hill tribes, but the details contained in the description of Mlecchas within these verses, state some scholars such as Hazra, that the writer of these parts knew about Islam and its spread in India, leading scholars to date these parts of the ninth book to 12th to 15th century compared to the older core of the ninth book.
The Devi Bhagavata Purana is not the earliest Indian text that celebrates the divine feminine, the 6th-century Devi Mahatmya embedded in Markandeya Purana asserts the goddess to be supreme, and multiple archaeological evidence in different parts of India such as Mathura and Bengal suggests that the concept of divine feminine was in existence by about the 2nd-century CE. Both Devi Mahatmya and Devi Bhagavata Purana have been very influential texts of the Shakta tradition, asserting the supremacy of the female and making goddess a figure of devotional (bhakti) appeal.
This text – along with all Puranas, all Vedas and the Mahabharata – is attributed to sage Veda Vyasa in the Hindu tradition. The title of the text, Devi Bhagavata, is composed of two words, which together mean "devotee of the blessed Devi". The terms Devi and Deva are Sanskrit terms found in Vedic literature of 2nd millennium BCE, wherein Devi is feminine and Deva is masculine. Monier Williams translates it as "heavenly, divine, terrestrial things of high excellence, exalted, shining ones". Etymologically, the cognates of Devi are Latin dea and Greek thea. The term Bhagavata means "devotee of the blessed one".
The Devi-Bhagavata Purana consists of 12 skandhas (sections) with 318 adhyayas (chapters).
The theosophy in the text, state Foulston and Abbott, is an encyclopedic mix of mythology, metaphysics and bhakti. This mythology, states C Mackenzie Brown, is of the same type found in other Puranas, about the perpetual cycle of conflict between the good and the evil, the gods and the demons. These legends build upon and extend the ancient Hindu mythology, such as those found in the Mahabharata. However, this Purana's legends refocus the legends around the divine feminine, integrate a devotional theme to goddesses, and the Devi is asserted in this text to be the eternal truth, the eternal source of all of universe, the eternal end of everything, the nirguna (without form) and the saguna (with form), the supreme unchanging reality (Purusha), the phenomenal changing reality (Prakriti), as well as the soul within each living being.
Mythology: Books 1 to 6
The first book (skandha) like other major Puranas, states Rocher, presents the outline, the structure of contents, and describes how in the mythical Naimisha forest, the Devi-Bhagavata Purana was first recited among the sages. It also asserts that all of Reality was initially nirguna (without form, shape or attributes; in other words, there was nothingness except Truth). However, asserts the text, this nirguna Reality was a Bhagavati (woman), and she manifested herself as three Shaktis - Sattviki (truth, creative action), Rajasi (passion, aimless action) and Tamasi (delusion, destructive action).
The second book is short, and mythological. It weaves in the characters well known in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, states Rocher, and introduces in the key characters that appear in remaining books of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana. The third book begins the discussion of Devi and her bhakti (devotional worship), how the Devi created from herself the three Tridevi: Maha-saraswati to be the Shakti of Brahma (creator), Maha-lakshmi to be the Shakti of Vishnu (preserver), and Maha-kali to be the Shakti of Shiva (destroyer). The third book also weaves in legends from the well known epic the Ramayana.
The fourth book presents more legends, including those of interaction between Krishna and Shiva, but also introduces tantric themes and presents yoga meditation. The fifth and sixth books continue these legends, states Rocher, with half of the chapters focussed on the greatness of Goddess, how male gods are befuddled by problems, how they run to her for help, and how she solves them because she is enlightened knowledge. The text presents the feminine to whom all masculine deities are subordinate and dependent on.
Philosophy: Books 7 to 9
The seventh book of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana shifts towards more philosophy, asserting its version of the essence of the Vedas. This book contains the philosophical text called Devi Gita, or the "Song of the Goddess". The Goddess explains she is the Brahman that created the world, asserting the Advaita premise that spiritual liberation occurs when one fully comprehends the identity of one's soul and the Brahman. This knowledge, asserts the Goddess, comes from detaching self from the world and meditating on one's own soul.
The Devi Gita, like the Bhagavad Gita, is a condensed philosophical treatise. It presents the divine female as a powerful and compassionate creator, pervader and protector of the universe. She is, states Brown, presented in the opening chapter of the Devi Gita as the benign and beautiful world-mother, called Bhuvaneshvari (literally, ruler of the universe, and the word is feminine). Thereafter, theological and philosophical teachings become the focus of the text, covering chapters 2 to 10 of the Devi Gita (or, chapters 32 to 40 of this Purana's Book 7). Some of the verses of Devi Gita are almost identical to the Devi Upanishad.
The Devi Gita frequently explains Shakta ideas by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita. The Devi is described by the text as "universal, cosmic energy" resident within each individual, weaving in the terminology of Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy. It is suffused with Advaita Vedanta ideas, wherein nonduality is emphasized, all dualities are declared as incorrect, and interconnected oneness of all living being's soul with Brahman is held as the liberating knowledge. However, adds Tracy Pintchman, Devi Gita incorporates Tantric ideas giving the Devi a form and motherly character rather than the gender-neutral concept of Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta.
The Bhakti theology of the Devi Gita part of this Purana may have been influenced by the Bhagavad Gita, and with Vaishnava concepts of loving devotion to Krishna found in the Bhagavata Purana. All these texts highlight different types of devotion in a Samkhya philosophy framework. Tamasic Bhakti is one, asserts the text, where the devotee prays because he is full of anger, seeks to harm others, induce pain or jealousy to others. Rajasic Bhakti is one where the devotee prays not to harm others, but to gain personal advantage, fame or wealth. Sattvic Bhakti is the type where the devotee seeks neither advantage nor harm to others but prays to purify himself, renounce any sins and surrender to the ideas embodied as Goddess to liberate himself.
The Devi Bhagavata Purana adds Para Bhakti as the highest level of devotion, states McDaniel, where the devotee seeks neither boon nor liberation, but weeps when he remembers her because he loves the Goddess, when he feels her presence everywhere and sees the Goddess in all living beings, he is intoxicated by her ideas and presence.
Festivals and culture
This seventh book, states Rocher, also includes sections on festivals related to Devi, pilgrimage information and ways to remember her. Her relationship with Shiva and the birth of Skanda is also briefly mentioned in the 7th book. The last ten chapters (31 to 40) of the Book 7 is the famous and philosophical Devi Gita, which often circulates in the Hindu tradition as a separate text. The eighth book of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana incorporates one of the five requirements of Puranic-genre of Hindu texts, that is a theory of the geography of the earth, planets and stars, the motion of sun and moon, as well as explanation of time and the Hindu calendar.
The largest book is the 9th skandha, which is very similar in structure and content of the Prakriti-kanda of the Brahmavaivarta Purana. Both are goddesses-focused, and discuss her theology, but have one difference. The Prakriti-kanda of the Brahmavaivarta Purana also includes many verses which praise Vishnu using various names (incarnations), which re-appear in the 9th book of the Devi-bhagavata Purana with Vishnu names substituted with Devi names (incarnations).
Goddess, cosmos and Dharma: Books 10 to 12
The 10th book of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana is one of the shortest, and integrates manavantaras, another structural requirement for this text to be a major Purana, but wherein the Devi is worshiped in every cosmic time cycle, because she is the greatest, she kills the evil and she nurtures the good.
The 11th book of the text discusses Sadachara (virtues) and Dharma to self as an individual, as belonging to a Grama (village, community) and to a Desha (country). The text praises Sruti and asserts it to be the authoritative source, adding that Smriti and Puranas are also sources for guidance. This section is notable for adding that Tantra is also a source of guidance, but only if it does not conflict with the Vedas. Verses in the 11th books also describe sources for Rudraksha as rosary beads, the value of Tripundra mark on the forehead, fives styles of Sandhyas (reflection, meditation) and five types of Yajnas.
The last and 12th book of the Devi-Bhagavata Purana describes the Goddess as the mother of the Vedas, she as the Adya Shakti (primal, primordial power), and the essence of the Gayatri mantra. The verses map every syllable of the Gayatri mantra to 1008 names of reverence in the Hindu tradition. These names span a spectrum of historic sages, deities, musical meters, mudras and the glories of the goddesses.
The verses and ideas in the Devi-Bhagavata Purana, state Foulston and Abbott, are built on the foundation of the Upanishads wherein the nonduality and oneness of Brahman and Atman (soul) are synthesized. The text makes references to the philosophy and metaphors used in the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Adi Shankara. However, those ideas are reformulated and centered around the Goddess in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, states C Mackenzie Brown, as well as other scholars. In Devi Bhagavata text, states Tracy Pintchman, the Devi is not only Brahman-Atman (soul, interconnected oneness), she is also the always-changing empirical reality (Maya).
The Goddess, in Devi Bhagavata Purana, is both the source of self-bondage through Avidya (ignorance) and the source of self-liberation through Vidya (knowledge), state Foulston and Abbott. She is identical to the Vedic metaphysical reality concept of Brahman, the supreme power, the ruler of the universe, the hero, the hidden energy, the power, the bliss innate in everything, according to the text. The Devi, states Kinsley, is identified by this Purana to be all matter, mother earth, the cosmos, all of nature including the primordial. The Goddess is presented, states Brown, as "the womb of the universe", who observes the actions of her children, nurtures them to discover and realize their true nature, forgive when they make mistakes, be fearsomely terrible to the wicked that threaten her children, and be friend of all souls.
Cynthia Humes compares the depiction of Goddess in the 6th-century Hindu text Devi Mahatmya, with that in this later Devi-Bhagavata Purana text. Both revere the feminine, states Humes, but there are some important differences. Nowhere does the Devi Mahatmya state anything negative about women, and it is explicit in asserting that "all women are portions of the Goddess". By contrast, states Hume, the portrayal of women in Devi-Bhagavata Purana is more complex. It includes verses critical of the feminine, with the text stating that women behavior can be "reckless, foolish, cruel, deceitful" and the like. The Devi Bhagavata also praises women and describes their behavior can be "heroic, gentle, tenacious, strong" and the like.
The Devi-Bhagavata Purana is an important and historic Shakta Bhakti text, states June McDaniel.
- Dalal 2014, p. 117.
- Rocher 1986, p. 168.
- C Mackenzie Brown 1990, pp. 44-45, 129, 247-248 with notes 57-60.
- John Stratton Hawley & Donna Marie Wulff 1998, pp. 6-14.
- Tracy Pintchman 2015, pp. 183-188.
- David Kinsley 1988, pp. 133-139.
- Alf Hiltebeitel & Kathleen M. Erndl 2000, pp. 24-36, 48 (RS Sherma).
- K P Gietz 1992, p. 330 with note 1809, 497 with note 2764.
- Tracy Pintchman 2015, pp. 128-132.
- June McDaniel 2004, pp. 89-91, 159-161.
- C Mackenzie Brown 1990, pp. 142-144.
- C Mackenzie Brown 1990, pp. 49, 130, 134, 139.
- Rocher 1986, p. 172.
- Alf Hiltebeitel & Kathleen M. Erndl 2000, p. 139, Quote: (...) portrayals of the Goddess in the later Devi Bhagavata (c. ninth century CE) bear crucial differences from those of the Goddess in the Devi Mahatmya..
- P. G. Lalye (1973). Studies in Devī Bhāgavata. Popular Prakashan. pp. 101–105.
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