Bhagavata Purana

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The Bhagavata Purana (Devanagari: भागवतपुराण; Bhāgavata Purāṇa) also known as the Bhagavatamahapuranam, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (श्रीमद् भागवतम्), Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, or simply Bhāgavata, is one of Hinduism's 18 great Puranas (or Mahapuranas, meaning 'great histories').[1][2]

Originally composed in Sanskrit, this most studied, popular, revered, and influential Purana[3] is an epic Vaishnava poem consisting of 18,000 shlokas (or verses)[4] over 12 skandhas (or cantos). Its interconnected and interwoven narratives, teachings, and explanations focus on the forms (or avatars) of Vishnu particularly Krishna as the ultimate, primeval, transcendental source of the multiverse (including the demigods and gods such as Vishnu) – as well as the lives of his greatest devotees.

It was the first Purana to be translated into a European language; a French translation of a Tamil version in 1769 by Maridas Poullé, which introduced many Europeans to Hinduism and 18th-century Hindu culture during the colonial era.[5][6]

Nomenclature[edit]

'Bhagavata Purana' can be translated as 'the history of the devotees of Vishnu'. 'Srimad Bhagavatam' can be translated as 'the glorious devotees of Vishnu'.

  • 'Bhagavata' (or 'Bhagavatam' or 'Bhagavat', Sanskrit भागवत) means 'follower or worshipper of Vishnu'.[7]
    • 'Bhagavan' (Sanskrit भगवन्) means 'Blessed One', 'God', or 'Lord'.[8] Krishna - the transcendental, primeval Personality of Godhead, avatar and origin of Vishnu - is directly referred to as 'Bhagavan' throughout this scripture.
  • 'Purana' (Sanskrit पुराण) means 'ancient' or 'old' (or 'old traditional history').[9]
    • 'Maha' (Sanskrit महन्) means 'great', 'large', or 'vast'.[10]
  • 'Srimad' (or 'Srimat', Sanskrit श्रीमत्) means 'radiant', 'holy', 'splendid', or 'glorious',[11] and is a honorific religious title.
    • 'Sri' (or 'Shri' or 'Shree', Sanskrit श्री) means 'wealth'.[12] Lakshmi - Goddess of Wealth and Vishnu/Krishna's wife - is also referred to as 'Sri'.
    • 'Mad' (or 'Mat', Sanskrit मत) means 'religion' or 'believed'.[13]
    • Those with a wealth ('Sri') of religion ('mad') may be honoured with the title of 'radiant', 'holy', 'splendid', or 'glorious' ('Srimad').

Content and structure[edit]

The 18,000 verses of the Srimad Bhagavatm consist of several interconnected, interwoven, and non-linear dialogues, teachings, and explanations espousing Bhakti Yoga that go back and forth in time and across its twelve cantos:

We have alluded to the Bhagavata's identity as a Purana, an important feature of which is its multilevel dialogical structure... the layered arrangement of dialogues, in which a speaker (typically Suka, the main reciter, addressing his interlocutor, King Pariksit) quotes an "earlier" speaker (for example, Narada, addressing King Yudhisthira, Pariksit's uncle, in a dialogue understood to have taken place earlier and elsewhere), who may in turn quote yet another speaker. Two or three such layers are typically operative simultaneously... the compounding of voices serve to strengthen the message delivered; and second, one is left with the sense that one cannot, and indeed need not, trace out the origin of the message.

— Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey, The Bhāgavata Purāna: Selected Readings[14]

Stated authorship and purpose[edit]

Srila Vyasadeva.

From the A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabupada / Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) translation:

This Srimad-Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of God, and it is compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, the incarnation of God. It is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and it is all-successful, all-blissful and all-perfect.

— Srimad Bhavagatam First Canto, Chapter 3, Verse 40[15]

From the Bibek Debroy translation:

This Purana has arisen now, in Kali yuga, when all learning has been destroyed, after Krishna returned to his own abode. It is like the sun and is full of knowledge about dharma.

— The Bhagavata Purana 1, First Skandha, Chapter 1(3) (SB 1.3.43)[16]

A unique and especial emphasis is placed on fostering transcendental loving devotion to Krishna as the ultimate good, i.e. for its own sake rather than for fruitive results or rewards such as detachment or worldly or heavenly gains, a practice known as Bhakti Yoga:

What makes the Bhagavata unique in the history of Indian Religion... is its prioritization of Bhakti. The main objective of this text is to promote Bhatki to Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna referred to variously, and to illustrate and explain it... what makes the Bhagavata special is its emphasis on an intense personal and passionate Bhakti...

— Sisir Kumar Das, A History of Indian Literature[17]

Puranic characteristics[edit]

As detailed in the Matsya Mahapurana, all Puranas must cover at least five specific subjects or topics - referred to in Sanskrit as Pancha Lakshana (literally meaning 'consisting of five characteristics'[18][19]) - in addition to other information including specific deities and the four aims or goals of life. From the K.L. Joshi (editor) translation:

The following are the five characteristics of the Puranas: They describe (1) the creation of the universe, (2) its genealogy and dissolution, (3) the dynasties, (4) the Manvantaras, (5) the dynastic chronicles. The Puranas, with these five characteristics, sing the glory of Brahma, Vishnu, the Sun and Rudra, as well as they describe also the creation and dissolution of the Earth. The four [aims of human life] (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa) have also been described in all the Puranas, along with evil consequences following from sin. In the sattvika Puranas there is largely a mention of Hari's glory.

— Matsya Mahapurana, Chapter 53[20]

A sattvic Vaishnava Mahapurana (‘great purana’), the Srimad Bhagavatam adds another five characteristics, expanding this list to ten.[21] From the J.M. Sanyal translation:

Sukadeva spoke, - "O King! In this Bhagavata Purana there are discourses on ten subject matters, namely: [1] Sarga (creation in general by God), [2] Bisarga (creation in particular by Brahma), [3] Sthana (position), [4] Poshana (preservation), [5] Uti (desire actuating an action), [6] Manwantara (pious modes of living by the Saintly persons), [7] Ishanuktha (discourses relating to God and his devotees), [8] Nirodha (merging in), [9] Mukti (liberation), and [10] Asraya (stay upon or in support of). Of the above ten, with a view to obtain true knowledge of the tenth, viz. Asraya, saintly people would have discourse on the nine others, by way of hearing, meeting, and drawing analogy.

— The Srimad-Bhagvatam of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (vol. 1), Book 2, Chapter X, Verses 1-2 (SB 2.10.1-2)[22]

The Bhagavata further elaborates on the differences between lesser and greater Puranas possessing five or ten characteristics, respectively.[23] From the Disciples of Swami Prabhupada / BBT translation:

O brāhmaṇa, authorities on the matter understand a Purāṇa to contain ten characteristic topics: the creation of this universe, the subsequent creation of worlds and beings, the maintenance of all living beings, their sustenance, the rule of various Manus, the dynasties of great kings, the activities of such kings, annihilation, motivation and the supreme shelter. Other scholars state that the great Purāṇas deal with these ten topics, while lesser Purāṇas may deal with five.

— Canto 12, Chapter 7, Verses 9-10[24]

Shlokas / verses[edit]

Although the number of original Sanskrit shlokas is stated to be 18,000 by the Bhagavata itself[25] - and by other Puranas such as the Matsya mahapurana[26] - the number of equivalent verses when translated into other languages varies, even between translations into the same language and based on the same manuscript[27] The English translation by Biebek Debroy (BD), for example, contains 78 more verses than the English translation by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada / BBT, despite likely being based on the same manuscript:[27]

Srimad Bhagavatam Chapters and Verses
BBT Translation BD Translation
Canto Chapters Verses % Chapters Verses %
1 19 808 5.7 19 811 5.7
2 10 393 2.8 10 391 2.8
3 33 1,416 10 33 1,412 10
4 31 1,449 10.3 31 1,450 10.2
5 26 668 4.8 26 738 5.2
6 19 851 6 19 855 6
7 15 750 5.3 15 752 5.3
8 24 931 6.6 24 929 6.6
9 24 960 6.8 24 962 6.8
10 90 3,936 27.9 90 3,948 27.9
11 31 1,367 9.7 31 1,360 9.6
12 13 565 4 13 564 4
Total 335 14,094 100 335 14,172 100
Difference (BBT/BD) -78 +78
Difference (Sanskrit) -3,906 -3,828

In his discussion on the issue of varying numbers of verses in translations of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Debroy states:

[T]here are unabridged translations [of the Bhagavata] in Indian languages. However, to the best of my knowledge, there are only five unabridged translations in English[note 1]... One should not jump to the conclusion that a large number of shlokas are missing [in Debroy's translation]. A few are indeed missing. But, sometimes, it is also a question of how one counts a shloka. With the content remaining identical, the text may be counted as one shloka in one place and as two shlokas elsewhere... Hence, even though there may be no difference between our version of the text and say, that used by Swami Prabhupada, the numbering will vary a bit. (Sometimes there are minor differences in the Sanskrit text).

— The Bhagavata Purana 1, Introduction[27]

Manuscript[edit]

A Bhagavata Purana manuscript.

Contrary to the western cultural tradition of novelty, poetic or artistic license with existing materials is a strong tradition in Indian culture,[28] a 'tradition of several hundred years of linguistic creativity'.[29] There are variations of original manuscripts available for each Purana, including the Srimad Bhagavatam.[28] Debroy states that although there is no 'Critical Edition' for any Purana, the common manuscript for translations of the Bhagavata Purana - seemingly used by both Swami Prabhupada and himself - is the Bhāgavatamahāpurāṇam (Nag Publishers, Delhi),[30] a reprint of Khemraj Shri Krishnadas' manuscript (Venkateshvara Press, Bombay).[27] In regards to variances in Puranic manuscripts, academic Dr. Gregory Bailey states:

[S]ignificant are the widespread variations between manuscripts of the same Purana, especially those originating in different regions of India... one of the principal characteristics of the genre is the status of Purana as what Doniger calls "fluid texts" (Doniger 1991, 31). The mixture of fixed form [the Puranic Characteristics] and seemingly endless variety of content has enabled the Purana to be communicative vehicles for a range of cultural positions... [the] idea of originality is primarily Western and belies the fact that in the kind of oral genres of which the Puranas continue to form a part, such originality is neither promoted nor recognised. Like most forms of cultural creation in India, the function of the Puranas was to reprocess and comment upon old knowledge...

— The Study of Hinduism (Arvind Sharma, Editor), Chapter 6 ('The Puranas: A Study in the Development of Hinduism')[28]

Date of origin[edit]

According to the Bhagavata Purana itself (see 'stated authorship and purpose'), it was composed at the onset of Kali Yuga (the last age), calculated to have occurred around 3100 BCE.

Characters[edit]

All tables provided apply to all complete translations of the Bhagavata Purana. All tables can also be sorted by column title.

Avatars of Vishnu[edit]

The table below is primarily based on the avatars listed in Canto 1, Chapter 3 (SB 1.3)[31] and Canto 2, Chapter 7 (SB 2.7)[32] of the Srimad Bhagavatam (SB)[note 2]. The number given in parenthesis "()" after a name indicates the order of incarnation as stated in Canto 1. Note that:

  • Avatars not listed in the above chapters - such as Hamsa, Hayagriva, and Ajita - are listed based on their primary (or only) appearance in the given cantos.
  • Avatars featured or appearing repeatedly throughout the scripture are marked with "--" in the Canto column (except Krishna).
  • Avatars only briefly mentioned (e.g. in the lists above) are marked with a blank space in the Canto column.
  • Various appearances of Vishnu and Krishna (e.g. during sacrifices and visions) are not listed.
  • Duplicates or expansions of the Krishna avatar are not listed (e.g. the 16,000 duplicates to marry 16,000 rescued princesses; and the duplicates of the cowherd boys and calves hidden by Brahma in Canto 10).
Avatar (Incarnation Number) Description Function Canto
Kumaras (1) Sanaka, Sanatkumara, Sanandana, and Sanatana Revive spiritual truth 1, 3, 4
Varaha (2) Boar Lift the Earth out of the cosmic ocean (Garbhodaka) 3
Narada (3) Sage Expound Vedic Knowledge --
Nara-Narayana (4) Twins Demonstrate austerity and penance (Prāyaścitta) 4
Kapila (5) Sage Expound Sankhya Philosophy 3
Dattatreya (6) Trimurti Guru Expound renunciation (Sannyasa) 4
Yajna (7) Personification of sacrifice Expound sacrifice (Yajna)
Rsabha (8) First Tirthankara of Jainism Expound Japa Yoga (materialistic yoga) 5
Prthu (9) First consecrated king Rule over the Earth in abundance 4
Matsya (10) Fish Shelter from the vast water at the end of the millennium 8
Kurma (11) Tortoise Pivot for Mandara Mountain used as a churning rod 8
Dhanvantari (12) God of Ayurvedic medicine Inaugurate medical science 8, 9
Mohini (13) Female; represents seductive illusion Delude demons - and later Shiva - through seduction (maya) 8
Nrsimha (14) Half lion, half man Kill Hiranyakasipu 7
Vamana (15) Dwarf Take away all the lands of Bali in three steps 8
Parashurama / Bhrgupati (16) Warrior Uproot unwanted rulers (21 times) 9
Vyasadeva (17) Compiler of Vedic scriptures Divide Vedic knowledge to make it easier to understand --
Rama / Ramachandra (18) Incarnation in previous Treta Yuga Destroy Ravana 9
Balarama (19) Krishna's brother Diminish the burden of the Earth from asuras 10
Krishna (20) Transcendental source of all Diminish the burden of the Earth from asuras 1, 10, 11
Buddha (21) Founder of Buddhism Expound impersonal philosophy to atheists
Kalki (22) Supreme Chastister Appear at the end of Kali Yuga to destroy evil 12
Hayagriva Half-horse, half-man; personification of Vedas and Sacrifices Revive Vedic knowledge and sacrifice (Yajna) 2, 5
Hamsa Swan Revive Vedic knowledge 11
Aniruddha Grandson of Krishna, son of Pradyumna Diminish the burden of the Earth from asuras 10
Pradyumna Son of Krishna; avatar of Kamadeva (an avatar of Vishnu) Diminish the burden of the Earth from asuras 10
Samba Son of Krishna Diminish the burden of the Earth from asuras 10
Suyajna (Hari) Son of Prajapati Diminish misery; beget Demigods (e.g. Indra) with Daksina 7
Manu Descendant of the ruling Manu dynasty Rule over the miscreant kingly order (Kshatriyas) 3
Ananta / Sankarsana / Shesha / Tamasi Transcendental serpent worshipped by Shiva Support and destroy the universe 5
Ajita Appeared to churn the ocean of milk Churn the ocean of milk 8

Notable devotees[edit]

The table below does not include devotee avatars of Vishnu such as Narada, Kipila, or Prthu. Devotees featured or appearing repeatedly throughout the scripture are marked with "--" in the Canto column.

Name Description Canto
Prahlada Son of the demon-king Hiranyakashipu 7
Unnamed Saint Encountered by Prahlada lying on the ground and covered in dirt; explained the nature of a perfect person 7
Vidura Sudra incarnation of Yama; Aryamā officiated the post of Yamarāja in his absence (SB 1.13.15) 3
Uddhava Friend and counsellor of Krishna 3 ,10, 11
Parikshit King, succeeded his granduncle Yudhishthira; much of the Srimad Bhagavatam consists of narrations to him by Suka Gosvami 1, 2, --
Suka Gosvami Sage, son of Vyasadeva, main narrator --
Maitreya Sage 3
Vrtrasura Demon King (also a villain) who defeated the demigods led by Indra 6
Dhruva Boy sage, son of Uttanapada, grandson of Svayambhuva Manu 4
Pracetas / Varuna Meditated in the ocean to achieve liberation; instructed by Narada 4
Bharata King that lost liberation due to affection for a deer; reincarnated as a deer and later a human saved by the Goddess Kali from being sacrificed 5
Priyavrata King that was attached to his kingdom, but became detached and achieved liberation; his chariot wheels created the seven oceans and islands 5
Ajamila Brahmin that lost liberation due to sex-attraction; liberated due to calling his son's name - Narayana (one of Vishnu's names) - upon death 6
Citraketu King whose only son was murdered; in his sorrow, learned from Narada the illusion of familial relationships; later cursed by Parvati 6
Gajendra Elephant rescued from Makara, the crocodile, by Vishnu riding his mount, Garuda 8
Yayati King cursed to suffer old age; passed the curse to his son but learned the futility of sense-pleasure, took back the curse, and achieved liberation 9
Akrura Sent by Kamsa in a plot to trick and kill Krishna, but informed him of it 10
Vasudeva and Devaki Parents of Krishna and Balarama; imprisoned and had their other children murdered by Kamsa 10
Sandipani Muni Guru of Krishna and Balarama; Krishna later brought his dead son back from Yama's abode 10
Nanda and Yashoda Foster parents of Krishna and Balarama; Nanda was head of the Gopas, a tribe of cowherds 10
Mucukunda King granted a boon by Indra to sleep after battling demons; anyone who interrupts his sleep will be burned to ashes 10
Jambavan Bear that battled Krishna over the Syamantaka Jewel; surrendered and was blessed by Krishna who married his daughter, Jambavati 10
Nrga King turned into a lizard; rescued by Krishna from a well; he had accidentally given away a cow to a Brahmin that was not his 10
Sudama Impoverished sage and childhood friend of Krishna; so poor, he could only offer flat rice as a gift to Krishna at Dvaraka 10
Bhrgu Sage that deliberately insulted Brahma, offended Shiva, and kicked Vishnu to determine which of them was the greatest 10
Nimi King instructed by the '9 Yogendras' about Bhakti for Krishna (narrated by Narada to Vasudeva, father of Krishna) 11

Notable villains[edit]

Many villains are mentioned throughout the Srimad Bhagavatam; cantos listed concern their primary (or only) appearances and/or descriptions. This table is not exhaustive.

Name Description Canto
Asvatthama Killed the sleeping children of Draupadi and attempted to kill the unborn Pariksit, son of Uttara 1
Hiranyaksa and Hiranyakasipu Demonic twin-sons of Diti; first incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya cursed by the Four Sanas / Kumaras 1, 3, 7
Vena Corrupt and evil king that caused famines; killed by Brahmins before the appearance of Prthu 4
Vrtrasura Demon King (also a devotee) that defeated the Demigods, led by Indra 6
Bali / Mahabali Demon King that conquered the three worlds; Vamana took them back in three footsteps 8
Ravana and Kumbhakarna Demonic enemies of Rama (see Ramayana); second incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya 7, 9
Kamsa Tyrant King that imprisoned Krishna's parents, murdered Krishna's siblings, and attempted to kill Krishna 10
Putana Demon sent by Kamsa to poison baby Krishna 10
Trnavarta Whirlwind demon sent by Kamsa to kill baby Krishna 10
Aghasura Gigantic serpent demon sent by Kamsa to kill boy Krishna 10
Bakasura Gigantic duck demon that swallowed boy Krishna 10
Dhenuka Donkey demon, ruler of the Talavana forest near the Yamuna river 10
Kaliya Naga (serpent) that poisoned Kaliya Lake and Krishna's cowherd friends 10
Pralamba Demon sent by Kamsa, disguised as a cowherd boy 10
Aristasura Bull demon, attacked Krishna's cowherd community 10
Kesi Horse demon sent by Kamsa to kill young Krishna 10
Vyomasura Demon sent by Kamsa, disguised as a cowherd boy abducted Krishna's cowherd friends 10
Kuvalayapida Elephant goaded to kill Krishna on behalf of Kamsa at a wrestling arena 10
Jarasandha Kamsa's father-in-law; laid siege to Mathura with 23 armies before Krishna established Dvaraka 10
Kalayavana Barbarian King and ally of Jarasandha; tricked by Krishna into kicking Mucukunda and waking him 10
Shishupala and Dantavakra Maternal cousins and kings; cousins and enemies of Krishna; third incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya 7, 10
Rukmi King and brother of Rukmini; wanted her to marry Shishupala, not Krishna; cheated Balarama at dice 10
Narakasura Demon that kidnapped 16,000 princesses; Krishna rescued and married them all 10
Banasura Demonic son of Bali who captured Aniruddha; saved by his naked mother from being killed by Krishna 10
Paundraka King that imitated Krishna and challenged his position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead 10
Dvivida Gorilla friend of Narakasura; for revenge, raped and terrorised people in Krishna's province 10
Salva Demonic King, friend of Shishupala and Dantavakra, and an illusionist; attacked Krishna's city, Dvaraka 10
Viduratha Brother of Dantavakra; attempted to avenge his brother by attacking Krishna with a sword 10
Balvala Demon that had been polluting a sacrificial arena at the holy Naimisaraya forest 10
Vrkasura Demon given a boon by Shiva to kill anyone whose head he touched; tried to kill Shiva with that boon 10

Cantos[edit]

For ease of reference, synopses of cantos cite a legal online copy of the complete 18-volume A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada / Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) translation of the Srimad Bhagavatam, available at the Bhaktivedanta Vedabase. It also provides original Sanskrit verses, transliterations, synonyms, and purports. With the exception of canto 10 (parts 2-4) onwards - translated by the disciples of Swami Prabhupada after his death in 1977 - unless otherwise stated, quoted verses and purports given are identical to the original (incomplete and unaltered) 30-volume translation of cantos 1-10 published by Krishna Books. Other translations of quoted verses have also been provided for comparison. The non-exhaustive overviews given apply to all complete translations.

SB 1.1.3 original Sanskrit:

निगमकल्पतरोर्गलितं फलं
शुकमुखादमृतद्रवसंयुतम् ।
पिबत भागवतं रसमालयं
मुहुरहो रसिका भुवि भावुका: ॥ ३ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

O expert and thoughtful men, relish Srimad-Bhagavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Sri Sukadeva Gosvami. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarian juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.

— Canto 1, Chapter 1, Verse 3[33]

Bibek Debroy translation:

The sacred texts are like trees that yield all the objects of desire and this represents their ripened fruit. It emerged from Shuka's mouth, with the pulp and juice of amrita. Drink the Bhagavata, the store of juices. O those who posses taste! Savour it repeatedly and become happy on earth.

— First Skandha, Chapter 1(3)[34]

First, Second, and Third Cantos[edit]

First Canto[edit]
The transcendental Krishna

Consisting of 19 chapters,[35] the first canto opens with an invocation to Krishna and the assertion that the Srimad Bhagatavam, compiled by Vyasadeva, is sufficient alone to realise God. The over-arching narration begins at the onset of Kali Yuga as a dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami (the son of Vyasadeva) and a group of sages headed by Saunaka, as they perform a thousand-year sacrifice for Krishna and his devotees in the forest of Naimisaranya. Questioned by the sages, topics covered by Suta Gosvami include the:

  • Birth of Pariksit - protected in the womb by Krishna - in the aftermath of the devastating Kurukshetra War
  • Appearance and instruction of Narada to Vyasadeva on the composition of the Srimad Bhagavatam
  • Meditation and inspiration of Vyasadeva on the western bank of the river Saravati to compile and revise the Bhagavata
  • Teaching of the Bhagavata by Vyasadeva to his already-liberated son, Suta Gosvami
  • Departure and disappearance of Krishna, followed by the signs and onset of Kali Yuga
  • Retirement of the Pandavas (including King Yudhisthira) and consequent enthronement of Pariksit
  • Attempts of Pariksit to stem the influence of Kali before being cursed by a Brahmana boy to die within seven days
  • Renunciation of Pariksit, who decided to fast until death (Prayopavesa) on the banks of the Ganges in devotion to Krishna
  • Arrival of sages (including Narada and Bhrgu) and their disciples to Pariksit's fast, followed by Suta Gosvami


SB 1.3.38 original Sanskrit:

स वेद धातु: पदवीं परस्य
दुरन्तवीर्यस्य रथाङ्गपाणे: ।
योऽमायया सन्ततयानुवृत्त्या
भजेत तत्पादसरोजगन्धम् ॥ ३८ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

Only those who render unreserved, uninterrupted, favourable service unto the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, who carries the wheel of the chariot in his hand, can know the creator of the universe in His full glory, power, and transcendence.

— Canto 1, Chapter 3, Verse 38[36]

J.M. Sanyal Translation:

It is only His devotee, who meditates ever with deep concentration upon the Lord holding the irresistibly destructive wheel (Chakra, more commonly called 'Sudarsan-chakra') in His Hand, that knows a bit about Him.

— Book 1, Chapter III, Verse 38[37]
Second Canto[edit]

Consisting of 10 chapters,[38] the second canto opens with an invocation to Krishna. The second layer of over-arching narration begins as a dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river (narrated by Sukadeva Gosvami to a group of sages headed by Saunaka in the forest of Naimisaranya). Questioned by Pariksit, the topics covered by Suta Gosvami include the:

  • Transcendental, supreme, eternal, and pure nature of Krishna
  • Universal Virat-Rupa and Maha-Vishnu forms of Krishna, as well as His scheduled avatars with their purposes
  • Process and laws of creation and annihilation of the universe
  • God realisation, Bhakti Yoga, devotional duties, and the need for a spiritual master (Guru)
  • Vedic knowledge, modes of material nature (gunas), karma, false (i.e. materialistic) ego, and illusion and suffering due to ignorance
  • Divisions (caste or varna) of society, common religious affiliations, and faith versus atheism


SB 2.5.35 original Sanskrit:

स एव पुरुषस्तस्मादण्डं निर्भिद्य निर्गत: ।
सहस्रोर्वङ्‌घ्रिबाह्वक्ष: सहस्राननशीर्षवान् ॥ ३५ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

The lord Maha-Vishnu, although lying in the Causal Ocean, came out of it, and dividing Himself as Hiranyagarbha, He entered into each universe and assumed the virat-rupa, with thousands of legs, arms, mouths, heads, etc.

— Canto 2, Chapter 5, Verse 35[39]

Bibek Debroy translation:

Purusha split the egg and emerged, with thousands of thighs, legs, arms and eyes and thousands of mouths and heads.

— Second Skandha, Chapter 2(5)[40]
Third Canto[edit]
Vidura admonishes Dhritarashtra.

Consisting of 33 chapters,[41] the third canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Vidura, the sudra incarnation of Yama and devotee of Krishna, is the main protagonist narrated. After being thrown out of his home by King Dhritarashtra (his older half-brother) for admonishing the Kaurava's ignoble behaviour towards the Pandavas, Vidura went on a pilgrimage where he met other devotees of Krishna such as Uddhava and the sage Maitreya; their dialogues form a third layer of narration. Topics covered by Sukadeva Gosvami, Uddhava, and Maitreya include the:

SB 3.25.25 original Sanskrit:

सतां प्रसङ्गान्मम वीर्यसंविदो
भवन्ति हृत्कर्णरसायना: कथा: ।
तज्जोषणादाश्वपवर्गवर्त्मनि
श्रद्धा रतिर्भक्तिरनुक्रमिष्यति ॥ २५ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.

— Canto 3, Chapter 25, Verse 25[42]

J.M. Sanyal translation:

They are so earnest and eagerly attached to mutual discussion on the holy glories of God that the limbs of their bodies become paralysed on account of their being devoid of sensibility due to their zeal for discourses on the illustrious Lord; and so they are possessed of the crowning virtue of kindness which is desired by all good people.

— Book 3, Chapter XV, Verse 25[43]

Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Cantos[edit]

Fourth Canto[edit]
Visnhu appears to Dhruva

Consisting of 31 chapters,[44] the fourth canto continues the dialogues of Sukadeva Gosvami, Uddhava, and Maitreya. There are additional layers of dialogue, such as between the sage-avatar Narada and King Pracinabharhisat (as narrated by Maitreya to Vidura). Focusing on the female descendants of Svayambhuva Manu, topics covered include the:

  • Genealogies of the daughters of Svayambhuva Manu and of Dhruva (grandson of Svayambhuva Manu)
  • Enmity between Daksa and Shiva, self-immolation of Sati (wife of Shiva and daughter of Daksa), and attack by Shiva on Daksa's ritual
  • Liberation of the boy-sage Dhruva, including advice from Narada, his vision of Vishnu, and battles with the Yaksas
  • Killing of the tyrant-king Vena by Brahmins before the appearance of the Prthu avatar to restore abundance of the Earth
  • Allegorical story, descriptions, and characteristics of King Puranjana, who was reborn as a woman due to thinking of his wife when he died
  • Activities of the Pracetas, including meeting with Shiva, instruction from Narada, and ultimate liberation
  • Qualities of Krishna, Vaishnava devotion (Bhakti Yoga), the soul (atman), the super-soul (paramatan), and materialistic life


SB 4.16.17 original Sanskrit:

मातृभक्ति: परस्त्रीषु पत्‍न्यामर्ध इवात्मन: । प्रजासु पितृवत्स्‍निग्ध: किङ्करो ब्रह्मवादिनाम् ॥ १७ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

The king [Prthu] will respect all women as if they were his own mother, and he will treat his own wife as the other half of his body. He will be just like an affectionate father to his citizens, and he will treat himself as the most obedient servant of the devotees, who always preach the glories of the Lord.

— Canto 4, Chapter 16, Verse 17[45]

Bibek Debroy translation:

He will revere other men's wives like his own mother. He will treat his own wife like one half of his own self. Towards his subjects, he will be as gentle as a father. He will be a servant to those who know about the Brahman.

— Fourth Skandha, Chapter 4(16)[46]
Fifth Canto[edit]

Consisting of 26 chapters,[47] the fifth canto focuses on the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue are between the avatar Rsabha and his sons, and between Bharata and King Rahugana (the former was perceived as a fool and made to carry the latter's palanquin). Topics covered include the:

  • Appearance, life, and teachings of the publicly-abused avatar Rsabha, the first Tirthankara (spiritual teacher) of Jainism
  • Appearance of Hayagriva to return vedic knowledge to Brahma
  • Activities, character, teachings, and liberation of King Bharata (incarnated as a deer and then a supposed idiot-Brahmin)
  • Activities and descendants of King Priyavrata, whose chariot wheels created the seven oceans and islands (i.e. continents)
  • Descriptions of the universe, sun, orbits of the planets, and the heavenly and hellish planets
  • Flow of the Ganges and expansion of Narayana as Vasudeva (Krishna), Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha
  • Glories of Ananta / Sankarsana / Shesha / Tamasi


SB 5.5.1 original Sanskrit:

ऋषभ उवाच
नायं देहो देहभाजां नृलोके
कष्टान् कामानर्हते विड्भुजां ये ।
तपो दिव्यं पुत्रका येन सत्त्वं
शुद्ध्येद्यस्माद् ब्रह्मसौख्यं त्वनन्तम् ॥ १ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

Lord Rsabhadeva told His sons: My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one’s heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever.

— Canto 5, Chapter 5, Verse 1[48]

J.M. Sanyal translation:

THE AUSPICIOUS RISHABHADEVA said, - "O my sons! Those who have obtained the human body in this land of mortals, should not give themselves up to the enjoyments of ultimately painful worldly pleasures that are partaken of by pigs and other animals living on excreta. O my children! Austerity only is the most excellent thing by which one's being is purified and which again leads to the eternal felicity of Brahma".

— Book 5, Chapter V, Verse 1[49]
Sixth Canto[edit]

Consisting of 19 chapters,[50] the sixth canto continues with the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between Yama and his messengers (called the Yamadatas). With the main focus on the battles of the demon-devotee Vrtrasura and his armies against the demigods led by Indra, as well as the life of King Citraketu, topics covered include the:

  • Life of Ajamila, a Brahmin that lost liberation due to sex-attraction but was liberated due to calling his son - Narayana - upon death
  • Instructions of Yamaraja to his messengers about justice, punishment, chanting, Vishnu's messengers, and surrender (Bhakti) to Krishna
  • Curse of Daksa on Narada, and a genealogy of the daughters of Daksa
  • Offence of Indra to Brhaspati, the appearance of Vrtrasura to battle the demigods, their prayers to Narayana, and Vrtrasura's death
  • Story of King Citraketua, the murder of his son, instruction from Narada and Angiras, meeting with Krishna, and curse by Parvati
  • Vow of Diti to kill Indra, her embryo being cut into 49 pieces by Indra but saved by Vishnu, and her purification through devotion
  • Performance of the Pumsavana ceremony for pregnancy with prayers to VIshnu and Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Fortune)


SB 6.3.13 original Sanskrit:

यो नामभिर्वाचि जनं निजायां
बध्नाति तन्‍त्र्यामिव दामभिर्गा: ।
यस्मै बलिं त इमे नामकर्म-
निबन्धबद्धाश्चकिता वहन्ति ॥ १३ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

Just as the driver of a bullock cart ties ropes through the nostrils of his bulls to control them, the Supreme Personality of Godhead binds all men through the ropes of His words in the Vedas, which set forth the names and activities of the distinct orders of human society [brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra]. In fear, the members of these orders all worship the Supreme Lord by offering Him presentations according to their respective activities.

— Canto 6, Chapter 3, Verse 13[51]

Bibek Debroy translation:

They are bound to him with cords, like bulls with ropes. They are bound and scared. With different names and deeds, they bear the burden and offer sacrifices to him.

— Sixth Skandha, Chapter 6(3)[52]

Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Cantos[edit]

Seventh Canto[edit]
Nrsimha and Prahlada (R).

Consisting of 15 chapters,[53] the seventh canto continues with the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between Narada and Yudhishthira about Prahlada, the devotee-son of the demon-King Hiranyakasipu (brother of Hiranyaksa, destroyed by the Varaha avatar in the third canto; the demonic brothers are incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya). Prahlada, protected by Krishna, survives multiple attempts to kill him until the arrival of the Nrsimha avatar to destroy his father, who could not be killed by any weapon, by any man or beast, or in the water, air, or on land. Topics covered include the:

  • Vow of demon-King Hiranyakasipu to destroy Vishnu, his austerities to become invincible, and conquering of the entire universe
  • Birth, abuse, and teachings of the devotee Prahlada, son of Hiranyakasipu, protected from death by Krishna
  • Arrival of the Nrsimha avatar to destroy Hiranyakasipu, later pacified by the prayers of Prahlada
  • Perfect society in the form of the four social and four spiritual classes or orders
  • Behaviour of a good person, ideal family life, and instructions to be civilised
  • Exposition that the absolute truth is a person - Krishna - who is the master and controller of all
  • Previous incarnations of Narada, and that Krishna lived with the Pandavas like an ordinary human being


SB 7.14.9 original Sanskrit:

मृगोष्ट्रखरमर्काखुसरीसृप्खगमक्षिका: ।
आत्मन: पुत्रवत् पश्येत्तैरेषामन्तरं कियत् ॥ ९ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

One should treat animals such as deer, camels, asses, monkeys, mice, snakes, birds and flies exactly like one’s own son. How little difference there actually is between children and these innocent animals.

— Canto 7, Chapter 14, Verse 9[54]

J.M. Sanyal translation:

A householder should look upon deer, camels, donkeys, monkeys, mice, serpents, birds, and bees and all that enter his house or cornfield for eating the eatables stocked there, as his own sons, because between sons and those there is but very little difference.

— Book Seven, Chapter XIV, Verse 9[55]
Eighth Canto[edit]
Vamana with Bali.

Consisting of 24 chapters,[56] the eighth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between the Vamana avatar and King Bali about the demon-King Hiranyakasipu. Topics covered include the:

  • Details and ages of the four Manus (Svayambhuva, Svarocisa, Uttama, and Tamasa), and of the future Manus
  • Elephant Gajendra, rescued from Makara the crocodile by Vishnu riding his mount Garuda, after prayers of surrender
  • Battles between the demigods and the demons, the truce brokered by Vishnu, and churning of the ocean of milk by both factions
  • Appearance of the Kurma, Dhanvantarti, Mohini, and Ajita avatars (and Lakshmi) during the churning of the ocean of milk
  • Second appearance of Mohini to beguile Shiva
  • Annihilation of the demons by Indra
  • Appearance of the Vamana avatar to take back the three worlds from King Bali in three footsteps, and the surrender of Bali to Him
  • Appearance of the Matsya avatar to save devotee-King Satavrata from the flood (during the time of Hiranyaksa in the third canto)


SB 8.5.30 original Sanskrit:

न यस्य कश्चातितितर्ति मायां
यया जनो मुह्यति वेद नार्थम् ।
तं निर्जितात्मात्मगुणं परेशं
नमाम भूतेषु समं चरन्तम् ॥ ३० ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

No one can overcome the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s illusory energy [māyā], which is so strong that it bewilders everyone, making one lose the sense to understand the aim of life. That same māyā, however, is subdued by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who rules everyone and who is equally disposed toward all living entities. Let us offer our obeisances unto Him.

— Canto 8, Chapter 5, Verse 30[57]

Bibek Debroy translation:

No one is able to overcome his maya. Because of this, people are confounded and do not know the truth. He is the supreme lord who alone conquers his own gunas. He controls beings, without any partiality.

— Eighth Skandha, Chapter 8(5)[58]
Ninth Canto[edit]

Consisting of 24 chapters,[59] the ninth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. With no notable additional layers of dialogue, the primary focus is upon the male dynasties of various ruling figures (the female sides are covered in the fourth canto). Topics covered include the:


SB 9.24.59 original Sanskrit:

अक्षौहिणीनां पतिभिरसुरैर्नृपलाञ्छनै: । भुव आक्रम्यमाणाया अभाराय कृतोद्यम: ॥ ५९ ॥

Swami Prabhupada translation:

Although the demons who take possession of the government are dressed like men of government, they do not know the duty of the government. Consequently, by the arrangement of God, such demons, who possess great military strength, fight with one another, and thus the great burden of demons on the surface of the earth is reduced. The demons increase their military power by the will of the Supreme, so that their numbers will be diminished and the devotees will have a chance to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

— Canto 9, Chapter 24, Verse 59[60]

Bibek Debroy translation (the J.M. Sanyal translation is missing verse 58 onwards of this chapter):

The lords of the akshouhinis were asuras who were unfit to be kings. They attacked themselves and he sought to reduce the burden of the earth.

— Ninth Skandha, Chapter 9(24)[61]

Tenth Canto[edit]

Baby Krishna.

Consisting of 90 chapters,[62] the tenth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue all involve the lila (divine play) of the supreme and transcendental Krishna avatar. Thus focusing on the appearance and pastimes of Krishna, topics covered include the:

  • Imprisonment of Krishna's parents (Vasudeva and Devaki), the murder of His siblings, and attempted murder of baby Krishna by King Kamsa
  • Fostering of Krishna and Balarama by Nanda and Yashoda (Gopas, a tribe of cowherds); Yashoda saw the universal form in boy-Krishna's mouth
  • Attempts on baby and boy-Krishna's life by various demons, mostly sent by Kamsa (e.g. Putana,Trnavarta, Aghasura, Pralamba, Kesi, etc.)
  • Chastisement of Kaliya, swallowing of a forest fire, lifting of Govardhana Hill, stealing of Gopis' clothes, and the Rasa dance
  • Defeat of numerous demonic foes (e.g. Kamsa, Jarasandha, Kalayavana, Narakasura, Paundraka, etc.) to diminish the burden of the Earth
  • Marriages to over 16,000 wives (and children with each), establishment of Dvaraka, return of the Syamantaka Jewel, and washing of Narada's feet
  • Defeat of Banasura and Shiva, daily activities, blessing of Sudama, blessing of His devotees, saving of Shiva from Vrkasura, and summary of glories


SB 10.90.50 original Sanskrit:

मर्त्यस्तयानुसवमेधितया मुकुन्द-
श्रीमत्कथाश्रवणकीर्तनचिन्तयैति ।
तद्धाम दुस्तरकृतान्तजवापवर्गं
ग्रामाद् वनं क्षितिभुजोऽपि ययुर्यदर्था: ॥ ५० ॥

Disciples of Swami Prabhupada translation:

By regularly hearing, chanting and meditating on the beautiful topics of Lord Mukunda with ever-increasing sincerity, a mortal being will attain the divine kingdom of the Lord, where the inviolable power of death holds no sway. For this purpose, many persons, including great kings, abandoned their mundane homes and took to the forest.

— Canto 10, Chapter 90, Verse 50[63]

J.M. Sanyal translation:

Thus attentively listening to and reciting, and meditating on the theme of the glorious achievements of Mukunda, mortals attain to the regions where the destroying influence of death cannot reach, and in order to be transported to which kingdom, even the rulers of the earth betake themselves to the wilderness having deserted their respective kingdoms, to perform rigid austerities.

— Book Ten, Chapter XC, Verse 50[64]

Study[edit]

The largest canto with 4,000 verses, the tenth canto is also the most popular and widely studied part of the Bhagavata.[65] It has also been translated, commented on, and published separately from the rest of the Srimad Bhagavatam.[66][67] A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada stated this canto is distinct from the others, albeit while warning against studying it before reading the previous nine:

The Tenth Canto is distinct from the first nine cantos because it deals directly with the transcendetal activities of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. One will be unable to capture the effects of the Tenth Canto without going through the first nine cantos. The book is complete in twelve cantos, each independent, but it is good for all to read them... one after another.

— Canto 1, Preface[68]

Eleventh and Twelfth Cantos[edit]

Eleventh Canto[edit]
Hamsa

Consisting of 31 chapters,[69] the eleventh canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue are between Narada and Vasudeva, and between Krishna and Uddhava (and in turn, other dialogues such as that between the Hamsa (swan) avatar and Brahma). Topics covered include the:

  • Curse and destruction of the Yadu Dynasty (through intoxicated in-fighting) at Prabhasa to relieve the burden of the Earth
  • Appearance of the Hamsa (swan) avatar to answer the questions of the sons of Brahma
  • Discourse of Narada to Vasudeva about the instruction of the '9 Yogendras' to King Nimi about Bhakti for Krishna
  • Final teachings of Krishna to Uddhava at Dvaraka (e.g. the story of a young Brahmin avadhuta narrating his 24 gurus to King Yadu)
  • Disappearance of Krishna after being shot in the foot by the hunter, Jara
  • Flood and destruction of Dvarka


SB 11.7.33-35 original Sanskrit:

पृथिवी वायुराकाशमापोऽग्निश्चन्द्रमा रवि: ।
कपोतोऽजगर: सिन्धु: पतङ्गो मधुकृद् गज: ॥ ३३ ॥
मधुहाहरिणो मीन: पिङ्गला कुररोऽर्भक: ।
कुमारी शरकृत् सर्प ऊर्णनाभि: सुपेशकृत् ॥ ३४ ॥
एते मे गुरवो राजन् चतुर्विंशतिराश्रिता: ।
शिक्षा वृत्तिभिरेतेषामन्वशिक्षमिहात्मन: ॥ ३५ ॥

Disciples of Swami Prabhupada translation:

O King, I have taken shelter of twenty-four gurus, who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the prostitute Piṅgalā, the kurara bird and the child; and the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp. My dear King, by studying their activities I have learned the science of the self.

— Canto 11, Chapter 7, Verses 33-35[70]

Swami Ambikananda Saraswati translation:

I have many teachers, O king,
Through my own awareness I have learned from them all,
And now I wander about this earth free from its turmoil.
Let me tell you of my teachers.

The earth, air, and space,
Water and fire,
The sun and moon,
The dove and the python,
The sea,
The moth and the bee,
And the elephant.

The honey gatherer,
The deer and the fish.
The prostitute Pingala
And the osprey,
The infant and the maiden.
The man who makes arrows
And a certain serpent,
The spider, and the insect
Captured by the wasp.

Those, great king, have been my teachers,
They number twenty-four in all.
From them and their ways
I have learned all that I know,
And all of it has been to my benefit.

— Dialogue 2, Verses 33-35[71]
The Uddhava or Hamsa Gita[edit]

Containing the final teachings of Krishna to His devotee Uddhava, the eleventh canto is also referred to as the 'Uddhava Gita' or 'Hamsa Gita'. Like the tenth canto, it has also been translated and published separately, usually as a companion or 'sequel' to the Bhagavad Gita.[72][73] 'Hamsa' (Sankrit हांस) means 'swan' or 'spirit',[74] and:

  • Is the name of the single class or order of society in Satya Yuga (as compared to four in Kali Yuga), the first and purest of the four cyclical yugas[75]
  • Symbolises Brahman (Ultimate Truth, Self, or Atman) in Hinduism[76]
  • Is the mount ridden by Brahma
  • Is the name of the tenth (i.e. swan) avatar of Krishna that taught the Vedas to Brahma (hence the symbolism of the swan being ridden by Brahma as a mount).
Twelfth Canto[edit]
Kalki

Consisting of 13 chapters,[77] the twelfth and final canto completes the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river, and ends with the over-arching dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and the group of sages led by Saunaka, at the forest of Naimisaranya. Focusing on prophesies and signs of Kali Yuga, topics covered include the:

  • Degradation of rulers as liars and plunderers, and the symptoms of the age of Kali (e.g. atheism, political intrigue, low character of royals, etc.)
  • Final instructions to and death of Pariksit due to his curse (bitten by a poisonous snake-bird)
  • Prayers of sage Markandeya to Nara-Narayana, resistance to Cupid sent by Indra to break his vows, and glorification by Shiva and Uma
  • Four categories of universal annihilation
  • Appearance of the Kalki avatar to destroy evil at the end of Kali Yuga
  • Description of the lesser and greater Puranas, and the eighteen major Puranas
  • Description of the Mahapurusa
  • Summary and glories of the Srimad Bhagavatam


SB 12.13.11-12 original Sanskrit:

आदिमध्यावसानेषु वैराग्याख्यानसंयुतम् ।
हरिलीलाकथाव्रातामृतानन्दितसत्सुरम् ॥ ११ ॥
सर्ववेदान्तसारं यद ब्रह्मात्मैकत्वलक्षणम् ।
वस्त्वद्वितीयं तन्निष्ठं कैवल्यैकप्रयोजनम् ॥ १२ ॥

Disciples of Swami Prabhupada translation:

From beginning to end, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of narrations that encourage renunciation of material life, as well as nectarean accounts of Lord Hari’s transcendental pastimes, which give ecstasy to the saintly devotees and demigods. This Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta philosophy because its subject matter is the Absolute Truth, which, while nondifferent from the spirit soul, is the ultimate reality, one without a second. The goal of this literature is exclusive devotional service unto that Supreme Truth.

— Canto 12, Chapter 13, Verses 11-12[78]

A Wikipedia editor's translation:

From the beginning to the end, with its [Bhagavata] stories of detachment,
it delights the saintly and the virtuous with the nectar of its many Lila of Hari.
The essence of all the Upanishads this is, the sign that the Brahman [God] is one's Atman [Soul within],
it illuminates the One Reality without a second, it is the means of attaining Kaivalya [liberation].

— Bhagavata Purana, 12.13.11 - 12.13.12[79]

Philosophy[edit]

While Bhakti Yoga and Dvaita Vedanta are the prominent teachings, states Rukmani, various passages show a synthesis that also includes Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, and Advaita Vedanta.[80]

Bhakti[edit]

Cutler states the Bhagavata is among the most important texts on bhakti, presenting a fully developed teaching that originated with the Bhagavad Gita.[81] Bryant states that while classical yoga attempts to shut down the mind and senses, Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavata teaches that the mind is transformed by filling it with thoughts of Krishna.[82]

Matchett states that in addition to various didactic philosophical passages the Bhagavata also describes one of the activities that can lead to liberation (moksha) as listening to, reflecting on the stories of, and sharing devotion for Krishna with others.[83] Bhakti is depicted in the Purana, adds Matchett, as both an overpowering emotion as well as a way of life that is rational and deliberately cultivated.[84]

Samkhya[edit]

Kapila Muni.

Surendranath Dasgupta describes the theistic Samkhya philosophy taught by Kapila in the Bhagavata as the dominant philosophy in the text.[85]

Sheridan points out that in the Third Canto, Kapila is described as an avatar of Vishnu, born as the son of the sage Kardama Muni, in order to share the knowledge of self-realization and liberation with his mother, Devahuti; in the Eleventh Canto, Krishna also teaches Samkhya to Uddhava,[86] describing the world as an illusion, and the individual as dreaming, even while in the waking state. Krishna expounds Samhkhya and Yoga as the way of overcoming the dream, with the goal being Krishna Himself.[86]

Sheridan also states that the treatment of Samkhya in the Bhagavata is also changed by its emphasis on devotion,[86] as does Dasgupta, adding it is somewhat different from other other classical Samkhya texts.[87][86]

Advaita[edit]

Sringeri Sharada Peetham is one of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta matha or monastery established by Adi Shankara.

Kumar Das and Sheridan state that the Bhagavata frequently discusses a distinctly advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy of Shankara.[88][89] Rukmani adds that the concept of moksha is explained as Ekatva (Oneness) and Sayujya (Absorption, intimate union), wherein one is completely lost in Brahman (Self, Supreme Being, one's true nature).[80] This, states Rukmani, is proclamation of a 'return of the individual soul to the Absolute and its merging into the Absolute', which is unmistakably advaitic.[80] The Bhagavata Purana is also stated to parallel the non-duality of Adi Shankara by Sheridan.[89] As an example:

The aim of life is inquiry into the Truth, and not the desire for enjoyment in heaven by performing religious rites,
Those who possess the knowledge of the Truth, call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth,
It is called Brahman, the Highest Self, and Bhagavan.

— Sūta, Bhagavata Purana 1.2.10-11, Translated by Daniel Sheridan[90]

Scholars describe this philosophy as built on the foundation of non-dualism in the Upanishads, and term it as "Advaitic Theism".[89][91] This term 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. God in this philosophy is within and is not different from the individual self, states Sheridan, and transcends the limitations of specificity and temporality. Sheridan also describes Advaitic Theism as a "both/and" solution for the questions of whether God is transcendent or immanent, and credits the Bhāgavata with a 'truly creative religious moment' for introducing this philosophy.[89] The text suggests that God Vishnu and the soul (atman) in all beings is one in quality (nirguna).

Bryant states that the monism in Bhagavata Purana is certainly built on Vedanta foundations, but not exactly the same as the monism of Adi Shankara.[92] The Bhagavata asserts, according to Bryant, that the empirical and the spiritual universe are both metaphysical realities, and manifestations of the same Oneness, just like heat and light are "real but different" manifestations of sunlight.[92]

Dharma[edit]

The Dharma wheel.

Kurmas Das states the Bhagavata Purana conceptualizes a form of Dharma that competes with that of the Vedas, suggesting that Bhakti ultimately leads to Self-knowledge, Moksha (salvation) and bliss.[93] The earliest mention of bhakti is found in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad verse 6.23,[94][95] but scholars such as Max Muller state that the word Bhakti appears only once in this Upanishad; and that being in one last verse of the epilogue it could be a later addition, and that the context suggests that it is a panentheistic idea and not theistic.[96][97]

Scholarly consensus sees bhakti as a post-Vedic movement that developed primarily during the Puranas era of Indian history.[98] The Bhagavata Purana develops the Bhakti concept more elaborately, states Cutler,[99] proposing "worship without ulterior motive and with kind disposition towards all" as Dharma.[100][101] T.R. Sharma states the text includes in its scope intellectual and emotional devotion as well as Advaita Vedanta ideas.[102]

The text does not subscribe, states Gupta and Valpey, to context-less "categorical notions of justice or morality", but suggests that "Dharma depends on context".[103] They add that in a positive or neutral context, ethics and moral behavior must be adhered to; and when persistently persecuted by evil, anything that reduces the strength of the "evil and poisonous circumstances" is good.[103] That which is motivated by, furthers, and enables bhakt is the golden standard of Dharma.[103]

Yoga[edit]

Sarma states that the Bhagavata Purana describes all steps of yoga practice, and characterizes yoga as bhakti, asserting that the most important aspect is the spiritual goal.[104] According to Sarma and Rukmani, the text dedicates numerous chapters to yoga, such as Canto 10 (chapter 11), which begins with a declaration that Siddhi results from concentrating one's mind on Krishna, adding this substitutes the concept of a "personal god" in the Yogasutras of Patanjali, and contrasts with Patanjali's view that Siddhi is considered powerful but an obstacle to Samadhi.[104][105]

In other chapters of the text, Rukmani states, Śuka describes different meditations on aspects of Krishna, in a way that is similar to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[80] However, adds Bryant, the Bhagavata Purana recommends the object of concentration as Krishna, thus folding in yoga as a form of bhakti and the "union with the divine".[80][106] Bryant describes the synthesis of ideas in Bhagavata Purana as:

The philosophy of the Bhagavata is a mixture of Vedanta terminology, Samkhyan metaphysics and devotionalized Yoga praxis. (...) The tenth book promotes Krishna as the highest absolute personal aspect of godhead – the personality behind the term Ishvara and the ultimate aspect of Brahman.

— Edwin Bryant, Krishna: A Sourcebook[107]

Sheridan as well as Pintchman affirm Bryant's view, adding that the Vedantic view emphasized in the Bhagavata is non-dualist, as described within a reality of plural forms.[108][109]

Significance[edit]

The source of many popular stories of Krishna's pastimes for centuries in the Indian subcontinent,[5] the Bhagavata Purana is widely recognized as the best-known and most influential of the Puranas, and as a part of Vedic literature (the Puranas, Itihasa epics, and Upanishads) is referred to as the "Fifth Veda".[110][111][112] It is important in Indian religious literature for its emphasis on the practice of devotion compared to the more theoretical approach of the Bhagavad Gita, for challenging the ritualism of the Vedas, and for its extended description of a God in human form.[88]

The Srimad Bhagavatam 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.

— Bhagavata Purana 12.13.15, Translated by David Haberman[113]

Hindu Festivals[edit]

The stories in the Bhagavata Purana are also the legends quoted by one generation to the next in Vaishnavism, during annual festivals such as Holi and Diwali.[114][115]

Vaishnavism[edit]

Chaitanya (1486–1534 CE)

Gaudiya Vaishnavism[edit]

The Bhagavata has played a significant role in the emergence of the Krishna-bhakti (Gaudiya Vaishnavism) movement of Lord Chaitanya (1486–1534 CE), in Bengal.[116] The scriptural basis for the belief that Lord Chaitanya is an avatar of Krishna is found in verses such as the following (Disciples of Swami Prabhupada translation):

In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛṣṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.

— Canto 11, Chapter 5, Verse 32[117]

Chaitanya is commonly referred to as 'Gauranga' in regards to His golden complexion (as detailed in the Gauranga article, the Sanskrit word 'ākṛṣṇaṁ' means 'not blackish' and 'golden'), and is most notable for popularising the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. In regards to not being explicitly named as an avatar (unlike others such as Kalki) in the Bhagavata, this is also explained (Swami Prabhupada translation):

In this way, my Lord, You appear in various incarnations as a human being, an animal, a great saint, a demigod, a fish or a tortoise, thus maintaining the entire creation in different planetary systems and killing the demoniac principles. According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the Age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.

— Canto 7, Chapter 9, Verse 38[118]

The key word in this verse in regards to Krishna incarnating in the age of Kali Yuga is 'channaḥ' (Sanskrit छन्न), which means ' hidden', 'secret', or 'disguised'.[119] In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Chaitanya is accepted as a hidden avatar of Krishna that appeared in the age of Kali (also known as 'the iron age' and 'the age of quarrel') as His own devotee to show the easiest way to achieve Krishna Consciousness.[120] Modern Gaudiya movements such as the Gaudiya Math (established by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in 1920) and others established by disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada in 1966) and the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math (by Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar in 1941), trace their disciplic lineages back directly to Lord Chaitanya.

Other Vaishnava Traditions[edit]

In the 15th–16th century Ekasarana Dharma in Assam, a panentheistic tradition whose proponents, Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, acknowledge that their theological positions are rooted in the Bhagavata Purana,[121] purged of doctrines that find no place in Assamese Vaishnavism[122] and adding a monist commentary instead.[123]

In northern and western India the Bhagavata Purana has influenced the Hari Bhakti Vilasa and Haveli-style Krishna temples found in Braj region near Mathura-Vrindavan.[124] The text complements the Pancharatra Agama texts of Vaishnavism.[124] While the text focuses on Krishna "Lord Narayana (Vishnu) himself appears and explains how Brahma and Shiva should never be seen as independent and different from him".[125] The sixth book includes the feminine principle as Shakti, or goddess Devi, conceptualizing her as the "energy and creative power" of the masculine yet a manifestation of a sexless Brahman, presented in a language suffused with Hindu monism.[108]

Jainism and Buddhism[edit]

The fifth canto of the Bhagavata Purana is significant for its inclusion of legends about the first Tirthankara of Jainism, Rishabha, as an avatar of Vishnu.[126] While homage to Buddha is included in by declaring him as an avatar of Vishnu.[127] However, the interpretation of Buddhism-related stories in the Purana range from honor to ambivalence to polemics wherein prophecies predict some will distort and misrepresent the teachings of the Vedas, and attempt to sow confusion.[128][129][130] According to TS Rukmani, the Bhagavata Purana is also significant in asserting that Yoga practice is a form of Bhakti.[131]

The Arts[edit]

The Bhagavata Purana was a significant text in the bhakti movement and the culture of India.[132] Dance and theatre arts such as Kathakali (left), Kuchipudi (middle) and Odissi (right) portray legends from the Purana.[133][134]

The Bhagavata Purana played a key role in the history of Indian theatre, music, and dance, particularly through the tradition of Ras and Leela. These are dramatic enactments about Krishna's pastimes. Some of the text's legends have inspired secondary theatre literature such as the eroticism in Gita Govinda.[135] While Indian dance and music theatre traces its origins to the ancient Sama Veda and Natyasastra texts,[136][137] the Bhagavata Purana and other Krishna-related texts such as Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana have inspired numerous choreographic themes.[138]

Many 'Ras' plays dramatise episodes related in the Rasa Panchadhyayi ("Five chapters of the Celestial Dance"; Canto 10, Chapters 29–33) of the Bhagavatam.[139] The Bhagavatam also encourages theatrical performance as a means to propagate the faith (BP 11.11.23 and 36, 11.27.35 and 44, etc.), and this has led to the emergence of several theatrical forms centred on Krishna all across India.[140] Canto 10 of Bhagavatam is regarded as the inspiration for many classical dance styles such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri and Bharatnatyam.[141] Bryant summarizes the influence as follows,

The Bhagavata ranks as an outstanding product of Sanskrit literature. Perhaps more significantly, the Bhagavata has inspired more derivative literature, poetry, drama, dance, theatre and art than any other text in the history of Sanskrit literature, with the possible exception of the Ramayana.

— Edwin Bryant, Krishna: A Sourcebook[142]

Manuscripts, commentaries, and translations[edit]

Commentaries[edit]

The Bhagavata Purana is one of the most commented texts in Indian literature. Over eighty medieval era Bhasya (scholarly reviews and commentaries) in Sanskrit alone are known, and many more commentaries exist in various Indian languages.[143] The oldest exegetical commentary presently known is Tantra-Bhagavata from the Pancaratra school. Other commentaries include:

Dvaita Vedanta commentaries[edit]

Gaudiya Vaishnava commentaries[edit]

Others[edit]

  • Sridhariyam by Sridhara Swami (15th century CE)[147]
  • Hanumad-Bhasya
  • Vasana-bhasya
  • Sambandhoki
  • Vidvat-kamadhenu
  • Paramahamsa-priya
  • Suka-hridaya
  • Mukta-phala and Hari-lilamrita by Vopadeva
  • Bhāgavata-Candrika (from Ramanuja's school, edited by Viraraghava).
  • Subodhini by Vallabha
  • Bhakti-ratnavali by Visnupuri
  • Ekanathi Bhagavata by Saint Eknath of Paithan (16th century CE, on the 11th Canto in the vernacular language of the Indian state of Maharashtra)
  • A study of the Bhagavata Purana or Esoteric Hinduism by P.N. Sinha (1901)[148]

Translations[edit]

The Bhagavata has been rendered into various Indian and non-Indian languages. A version of it is available in almost every Indian language, with forty translations alone in the Bengali language.[143] From the eighteenth century onwards, the text became the subject of scholarly interest and Victorian disapproval,[142] with the publication of a French translation followed by an English one. The following is a partial list of translations:

Assamese[edit]

Hindi[edit]

  • Bhagavata Mahapurana published by Gita Press (2017)

Kannada[edit]

  • Bhagavata Mahapurana by Vidwan Motaganahalli Ramashesha Sastri (forward by historian S. Srikanta Sastri)[152]

Telegu[edit]

  • Andhra Maha Bhagavatam by the poet Pothana (15th century CE). It is considered as "the crown jewel of Telugu literature".

English[edit]

  • A prose English translation of Shrimadbhagabatam by M.N. Dutt (1895, unabridged)[153]
  • Bhagavata Purana by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (1950, unabridged)[154]
  • The Srimad Bhagavatam by J.M. Sanyal (1970, abridged)
  • The Bhagavata Purana by Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare (1976, unabridged)
  • The Srimad Bhagavatam by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1970–77, includes transliterations, synonyms, and purports). Unabridged and translated into 40 languages, there are two versions:
    • Pre-1978: Original and incomplete 30-volume translation of cantos 1-10 (Swami Prabhupada died before completing the translation)
    • Post-1978: Revised and expanded 18-volume translation, completed by the Bhaktivedenta Book Trust (BBT) after the death of Swami Prabhupada[155]
  • Srimad Bhagavata by Swami Tapasyananda (1980, unabridged)
  • Bhagavata Mahapurana by C.L. Goswami and M.A. Shastri (2006, unabridged, Gita Press)[156]
  • Srimad Bhagavata Purana by Anand Aadhar (2012)[157]
  • The Bhagavata Purana by Bibek Debroy (2019, unabridged)

English (partial translations and paraphrases)[edit]

  • The Bhagavata Purana; Book X by Nandini Nopani and P. Lal (1997)
  • Krishna: The Beautiful Legend of God: Srimad Bhagavata Purana Book X by Edwin F. Bryant (2004)[158]
  • The Wisdom of God: Srimat Bhagavatam by Swami Prabhavananda (part translation, part summary and paraphrase)
  • Krnsa: The Supreme Personality of Godhead by Swami Prabhupada (part translation, part summary and paraphrase of Canto 10)
  • The Uddhava Gita by Swami Ambikananda Saraswati (2000, prose translation of Canto 11)
  • Bhagavata Purana by Ramesh Menon (2007, a 'retelling' based on other translations)
  • Bhakti Yoga: Tales and Teachings from the Bhagavata Purana by Edwin F. Bryant (2017, selections of verses and commentary)

French[edit]

  • Bagavadam ou Bhagavata Purana by Maridas Poullé (1769)
  • Le Bhagavata Purana by Eugene Burnouf (1840)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Debroy states unabridged translations are by Manmatha Nath Dutt (1896); Swami Prabhupada (1977); Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare (1976); Swami Tapasyananda (1980); and C.L. Goswami and M.A. Shastri (2006)
  2. ^ Chapters cited from vedabase.io are used with permission of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

References[edit]

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    हरिलीलाकथाव्राता मृतानन्दितसत्सुरम्
    सर्ववेदान्तसारं यद्ब्रह्मात्मैकत्वलक्षणम्
    वस्त्वद्वितीयं तन्निष्ठं कैवल्यैकप्रयोजनम्; Archive;
    KS Sastri (1975), Archive of Bhagavata Purana, Book 12 with 11 Sanskrit Commentaries, pages 337-341
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