Bhagavat Purana (also known as Srimad Bhagavata, Bhagavatam or Bhagwat) is the most popular and widely circulated of all the Puranas. The word ‘Purana’ means ‘narrative of olden times’. After the four vedas, the Puranas form the most sacred of the texts for devout Hindus. The highest philosophy found in Vedas and Upanishads was difficult for commoners to understand. Hence Puranas, which were recited at the time of sacrifices became popular. With the passage of time, Puranas involving different deities manifested: Brahma, Padma, Vishnu, Siva, Garuda, Narada, Bhagavata, Agni, Skanda, Bhavishya, Brahmavaivarta, Markandeya, Vamana, Varaha, Matsya, Kurma and Brahmanda – a total of eighteen.
Dear to devotees of Lord Vishnu, Bhagavat Purana consists of eighteen thousand slokas, distributed amongst 332 chapters and divided into twelve cantos (skandhas). It is named Bhagavata from its being dedicated to the glorification of Lord Vishnu, a premier Hindu deity. Though originally written in Sanskrit, Bhagavat has been explored and translated in major vernacular languages of India. Bhagavat, an epic philosophical and literary classic, holds a prominent position in India’s voluminous written wisdom. Bhagavat exercises a more direct and powerful influence upon the opinions and feelings of the people than perhaps any other of the Puranas.
Bhagavat is considered essence of Hindu mythology like Geeta being considered as essence of Upanishads. Bhagavat deals mainly with innumerable exploits of Krishna, an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu and stresses on devotion, as way to salvation (mukti). Sage Vyas, author of many great scriptures like Mahabharat and Vedas, compiled it . The 18,000-verse treatise centers on the science of God and devotion to Him, and includes biographies of great devotees who followed the path of Bhakti and attained moksha.
From academic point of view, Bhagavata Purana is a narration of a conversation between King Parikshit and Sage Sukdev (Shukadeva). King Parīkshit was cursed to die in seven days by a Brahmin, so he decided to spent final days of his life in gaining knowledge about the goal of life relegating his stately duties. As he prepares for his impending death, Shukadeva, who has been searching for a suitable disciple to whom he might impart his great knowledge, approaches the king and agrees to teach him. Their conversation goes on uninterrupted for seven days, during which the king does not eat, drink or sleep. During this time the sage explains that the ultimate aim of life lies in knowing the supreme absolute truth.
The most popular and characteristic part of Bhagavat is the tenth canto, which describes the life and works of Sri Krishna. The Bhagavata Purana depicts Krishna not as a Jagad-Guru (a teacher) as in the Bhagavad-Gita, but as a heroic lad brought up by cowherd parent, Nand and Yashoda, in a small village situated on the banks of Yamuna River. Young Krishna’s childhood plays and acts of bravery in protecting villagers from demons steals the hearts of the cowherd girls (Gopis’). In his unique enchanting way, Krishna lifts Gopis to a higher state as a result of intense devotion. However, when Krishna leaves for Mathura on a mission, Gopis’ love turns into grief. Their intense longing is presented as a model of extreme devotion to the Supreme Lord. In a way, Bhagavat paved way to various schools of Bhakti Movement.
Known as ‘the ripe fruit of the tree of Vedic literature’, Srimad-Bhagavatam is the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge. It covers everything from the nature of the self to the origin of the universe, and touches upon all fields of knowledge. It raises and answers fundamental questions like what is life, what is a human being’s role in life, what is meant by cycle of birth and death, what is the relation between God and man, what are ways of propitiating God etc. Bhagavata also adds fifth element of devotion (or divine service) besides well-known four aspects of life i.e. dharma (morality), artha (acquiring wealth), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation or salvation). Narrated in story-form its style is simple, lyrical and picturesque.
The Shrimad Bhagwat is one of the most sacred books of the Hindus.
It gives a tremendous insight, a profound vision, and an entirely new perspective to the person who hears the narrative. On hearing, a person is never the same. There is a complete metamorphosis, a complete transformation, literally a new birth. Atman (soul) by it’s own nature is sovereign – it cannot by nature be bound – whatever bondages felt are sheer illusions of the mind. Shrimad Bhagwat provides that light which enables Jeeva (human being) to experience the wonderful freedom of liberation. One feels, “Yes, I am free!” Shrimad Bhagwat expresses this philosophy through the narration of the life stories of 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Amongst these, the tenth volume of the Shrimad Bhagwat narrates in infinite detail, the story of Lord Krishna. Since all 24 incarnations are of Lord Vishnu, it is a vitally important scripture for the Vaishnavites.
Written by Sage Ved Vyasa the Bhagwat leaves no topic untouched – social, political, and economic systems – all these have been covered and commented upon by him. Not just issues relating to self-liberation but even our day-to-day problems have been effectively resolved in Shrimad Bhagwat. Hence it can be emphatically stated that Shrimad Bhagwat is an exposition, which explains human life very clearly, it is a direction leading to the ultimate liberation of the soul. It is therefore an important guide for the conduct of human beings in all their affairs.
Ordinarily, reading and listening to Shrimad Bhagwat is a week long Anushthan (a religious commitment), but even an entire lifetime may not be enough to understand it in depth and explain it to others. It is such a wonderful, sublime scripture but King Parikshit had only seven days to live and it is said that by listening to such a seven-day narration of Bhagwat Katha King Parikshit attained liberation! Not by death but by emancipation from ignorance and fear. Thus Shrimad Bhagwat liberates us from fear, problems, and ignorance. In essence, this is the crux of Shrimad Bhagwat. Content wise, it comprises three main dialogues or principal conversations – one that of Shukadevji and King Parikshit, second between Sutji and Shaunak and other Rishis at Naimisharanya and the third between Vidurji and Maitreya on the banks of the river Ganga. These three principal conversations convey the voluminous Bhagwat beginning and ending with the dialogue between Sutji and Shaunak and other Rishis.
This four quatrain (8 verses) of Bhagwat was voiced by Shri Narayan Bhagwan and heard by Brahmaji as narrated in the second volume. Brahmaji then narrated the same four verses (shlokas) to Narada who in turn conveyed to Sage Ved Vyasa but told him that this was only formularized, now expand it’s (Vyasa) purview. The seat from where such knowledge is expounded and explained in detail is called ‘Vyas Peetham’. For this very reason we call the narrator of Shrimad Bhagwat ‘Vyas’. It is more a qualitative noun than a personal noun. Thus Vyasa elaborated the four shlokas (verses) in 9000 verses spread over 335 chapters and 12 volumes. Then Bhagwan Ved Vyasa taught it to Shukhdeva, who then narrated it to King Parikshit. Sutjii in Namisharanya to Shaunaka and other Rishis conveys the same conversation. All the different periods of these separate conversations are mentioned in Shrimad Bhagwat.
The narration of Shrimad Bhagwat Katha is arranged for many reasons; raising funds to help medical institutions or provide medical relief to people affected by natural calamities, to fund and raise school/colleges and help rural development. But it is mainly arranged for the upliftment and welfare of the people and society, who, by listening to the katha would understand God and learn the way to reach him, helping inducing spiritual growth within themselves and most importantly becoming righteous and virtuous human beings. In the olden days it was primarily arranged when there was a death in the family. Amidst the encircling gloom of sadness and acute depression, the katha narration created a major transformation, bringing to a grief ridden family solace, comfort, equanimity and a philosophic vision. The Bhagwat Katha drew them out of their sorrow and removed them from their mourning. Therefore the Bhagwat Katha is described as “Shoka Moha Bhayapaha”, that which destroys attachment and consequently removes sorrow and fear. By listening to ‘Shrimad Bhagwat Katha’, devotion (Bhakti) pervades our heart and minds. This devotion destroys attachment, sorrow and fear from our minds. What is this devotion or ‘Bhakti’? It is nothing but love!
Love is a sublime experience. It moves and spreads in all directions and becomes universal. When love becomes unending, human beings attain sainthood. The body becomes a temple – and the heart a priest! Slowly, but surely Shrimad Bhagwat enables one to reach that stage. When universal love and devotion is attained, the sorrow, attachments and fear vanish. Sorrow or mourning is connected with the past; attachment is connected with the present and fear with the future. These are the three factors that disturb everyone. Mourning the past, attachment for the present, and fear or worry for the future. And who does not long for peace? Whether a person is a theist or an atheist, everyone longs for peace. Everyone wants joy. When these three dominant influences vanish, one becomes quiet and lucid.
It is not that Bhagwat Katha liberates the departed soul alone. It even frees surviving members from sorrow, attachment and fear. Thus liberation is in a wider concept. It is not as if one is liberated only after one dies. It can be experienced even during a person’s lifetime, now and here also. That is the teaching of Shrimad Bhagwat Katha.