The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes The Date and Authorship of the Bhagavata Purana which is part 2 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the second part of the Introduction of the Bhagavatapurana.

Part 2 - The Date and Authorship of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa

The date of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is still an open question. Various divergent views expressed so far may be summarised as below:

(1) Burnouf, Wilson, Colebrooke — 1300 A.D.[1]
(2) R.G. Bhandarkar — 200 years before Ananda Tīrtha circa. 1000 A.D.[2]
(3) S.N. Dasgupta — 1000 A.D.[3]
(4) S. Radhakrishnan — 900 A.D.[4]
(5) J.N. Farquhar — 900 A.D.[5]
(6) Eliot — 800-900 A.D.[6]
(7) D.S. Śāstrī — 825-50 A.D.[7]
(8) B.N.Krishnamurti Śarmā — 800 A.D.[8]
(9) A.N. Ray — 50-650 A.D.[9]
(10) Hazra — 600 A.D.[10]
(11) Dikshitar — 300 A.D.[11]
(12) R.N. Vyas — 900 B.C.[12]
(13) S.D. Gyani — 1200-1000 B.C.[13]

Out of these, the 1st view was based on the slippery argument that as the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is not mentioned by Rāmānuja (1017-1137 A.D.), it must have been composed after Rāmānuja, probably by Bopadeva, the author of Muktāphala and Hari-līlāmṛta. As Bopadeva was a protege of Hemādri, a minister of Rāmacandrarāva Yādava of Devagiri (1271-1309), the Bhāgavata Purāṇa must have been composed in the 13th Cent. A.D. But J.N. Farquhar[14] pointed out the untenability of the view, as Madhva who lived 50 years earlier than Bopadeva, used the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as the basic text of the new sect founded by him. He further added that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa was ‘recognized as an authoritative work some centuries before Madhva wrote’. Madhva alias Ānanda Tīrtha (1197-1276 A.D.) regards the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as the 5th Veda, and has written Bhāgavata-tātparya nirṇaya on the essence of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.[15] The hollowness of the argument of the silence of Rāmānuja was proved when a quotation from Vedastuti, Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.8.7. was found in his Vedānta-tattva-sāra. And irrespective of Rāmānuja’s mention of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, we find the famous Arab Scholar Al Biruni (1030 A.D.), in his list of Purāṇas, clearly mentioning the Bhāgavata Purāṇa of the Vāsudeva cult, assigning it the 5th place as in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa[16]. Due to the authoritative status of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa at the time of Madhva, Bhandarkar proposed 10th Cent. A.D. as the date of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa—a date accepted by S.N. Dasgupta, and Winternitz[17]. Pargiter places the Bhāgavata Purāṇa in the 9th Cent. A.D.[18], on the detailed study of Purāṇas. As mentioned above, J.N. Farquhar and S. Radhakrishnan accept this date.

Attempts have been made to shift the date earlier still by referring to Gauḍapāda’s Bhāṣya on the Uttara Gītā where he mentions the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and quotes Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.14.4. But this Gauḍapāda is supposed to be a later author of the same name as that of Śaṅkara’s spiritual grand-sire. On the contrary, it can be argued that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa borrowed words and ideas from the Māṇḍūkya Kārikās of Gauḍapāda.[19] Plainly speaking, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, as the source of quotations for the works of Śaṅkara and Gauḍapāḍa, has not been conclusively proved, as the Bhāgavata Purāṇa can be said to be the borrower from Gauḍapāda or both might have quoted from a different common source. It is for this reason that the 2 verses common to Māṭhara Vṛtti and Bhāgavata Purāṇa 1.8.52 and 1.6.35 are not taken as a conclusive evidence, for fixing the date of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, even though the textual resemblance between the two is clear.[20] Hence the similarity between the legends in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and the Jātakas, though carefully shown by Gokuldas Dey,[21] cannot be regarded as an irrefutable evidence for determining the date of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, as both, the works might have independently borrowed from old Indian folk-lore and other traditional tales.

S.D. Gyani’s date viz. 1200-1000 B.C. is untenable as the language of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is much more modern than the Vedic which is presumed to be then current in about 1200-1000 B.C.[22] Moreover, if Parīkṣit, to whom the Bh. P. was narrated, ruled in 900 B.C. as shown by Ray Chaudhari,[23] the Bhāgavata Purāṇa cannot precede Parīkṣit.

We do not question the historicity of the discussion between Parīkṣit and Śuka about the glory of the former’s grandsire (grand-mother Subhadrā’s brother Kṛṣṇa) in 900 B.C. but the text before us is written in a language which is much more modern than the OIA of the 9th Cent. B.C. As the History of the text, as given in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa shows, some members of the audience present at the dialogue between Śuka and Parīkṣit seem to have transmitted the ‘proceedings’ of that royal conference elaborately, resulting in the accretions of so many episodes in the generations that followed. But the historicity of the dialogue between Parīkṣit and Śuka (say in 900 B.C.) does not and cannot support 900 B.C. as the date of the present composition.

We have, however, an independent source of a definite date which can be regarded as the lowest limit of the date of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa The Nandī Sūtra, a work of the Śvetambara Jaina canon, was composed by Devardhi Gaṇi, the president of the finalredaction (Vācanā) of the Śvetāmbara Jaina Canon, held at Valabhī (Saurāṣṭra) in 980 or 993 after Vīra i.e. 453-466 A.D. or 512-525 A.D., as the History and Culture of the Indian People Vol. III, p. 415, takes it.

In giving a list of heretical texts (mithyā śruta i.e. non- Jaina literature), the Nandī Sūtra gives the following list of works and authors (standing for their works):

Bhārata (Mahābhārata), Rāmāyaṇa, Kauṭalīya (Artha Śāstra), Kanaka-Sattari (Īśvara Kṛṣṇa’s Sāṅkhya Kārikās), Vaiśeṣika, Buddha-Vācanā, Kāpālika, Lokāyata, Ṣaṣṭi Tantra, Māṭhara, Purāṇa Bhāgavata, Patañjali etc.

The mention of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, when the Mahā-Bhārata was simply known as Bhārata, and its mention after Purāṇa, are significant. This recognition of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa in the list of famous non-Jaina works like the Bhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Kauṭalīya Artha Śāstra in the Ardha Magadhi Jaina canon would have been possible only if the composition of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is presumed at least a century earlier than the last Vācanā of the Jaina canon at Valabhī in the 5th Century A.D. The mention of foreign tribes does not imply the conquest of a part of India by that tribe. In that case, the mention of Turks (Turuṣkas) in the list of foreign tribes in the Śvetāmbara Jaina canon will push the date of the canon 600 years later, to the post-Gazhanavi period, i.e. the earlier part of the 12th Cent. A.D. The fact of the matter is that people in Asia, Europe and North Africa have been visiting India as travellers, merchants, soldiers etc. since ancient times, long before some of them invaded India. Hence the mention of the Hūṇas in the list of the sinful races whom the Lord purifies by his grace[24] does not mean that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa was composed after the Hūṇa invasion in the 5th Cent A.D.

Whoever may be the author of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, it is a unique work. It is ‘not only a magnificent epic singing the great deeds of Kṛṣṇa, but a scripture of the people to which the entire Hindu people from the Himālayas to the Vindhya and from Panjab to Bengal, turn for spiritual sustenance, a code of ethics constantly on the lips of all, from princes to peasants and a truly fine expression of poetic genius’.[25] Not that Vyāsa or Śuka are unhistorical, but objective and reliable evidence to assign the authorship of a particular part of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa to a particular author is so meagre, that it will be sheer personal speculation to do so.

We have so far traced the mention of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa in literary and other sources. But the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is an epic of growth and as such, it is difficult to fix up the date(s) (and even authorship) of each part. An analysis of the text shows that it has amalgamated four traditions represented by the following lines of teachers:

(1) Viṣṇu->Brahmā->Nārada->Vyāsa->Śuka (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.4.25; 2.9.5-7; 3.4.13.

(2) Nārāyaṇa->Nārada->Vyāsa->Śuka (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 10.87.8, 47-48).

(3) Nārāyaṇa->Nārada->Prahlāda (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 7.6.27-28).

(4) Saṅkarṣaṇa->Sanatkumāra->Sāṃkhyāyana->Parāśara->Bṛhaspati->Maitreya->Vidura (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 3.8.2-9).

Out of these, the first three lines have Nārada as the common factor, though the 1st line starts from Viṣṇu and the next two from Nārāyaṇa—presumably bearing some relation with the Nārāyaṇīya section of the M. Bh. (Mahā-Bhārata). Assuming for the present that the first three traditions can be comprised under one ‘Nāradīya’ tradition, the 4th appears to be a distinct and different line of teachers.

We do not know when these different strands were amalgamated in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and as such it is hazardous to presume their existence or otherwise in the initial stage of the text and hence, to brand the verses expounding the teaching of the Saṅkarṣaṇa tradition as new or old, is rather uncritical.

The language of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is at places very archaic, showing the absorption of Vedic or Upanisaḍic passages,[26] use of Vedic words[27], and old metres, even though some modernisation at the time of redaction must have ironed out many of the archaisms. The prose passages in Skandha V show close similarity to prose passage in the Brāhmaṇas. Such passages and verses using archaic and older stage of SK. may be regarded as the original or the first stage of the Bhāgavata. The history of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as recorded in the present text shows that the Mahābhārata, (probably the Harivaṃśa) and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa were composed earlier than the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and that Bhāgavata Purāṇa must have freely borrowed materials from these in its early stage. But no attempt to reconstruct this stage has so far been made. Hence it is premature to state whether the Bhāgavata Purāṇa was then a pañca-lakṣaṇa (possessing the five characteristic divisions of a) Purāṇa.

The most important phase is the middle one, in which the early nucleus of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa was expanded into a mahā purāṇa of full-fledged ten characteristics (daśa-lakṣaṇa). Scholars generally assign the Gupta era to this stage. The last redactor of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa—perhaps a Sūta—appears to be a Southerner who is proud of the southern region, its rivers, holy places etc. In Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.5.38-40 he mentions the Kāverī, the Tāmraparṇī, the Payasvinī the Kṛtamālā—all from Tāmil Naḍ—as the most holy rivers and the riparian population thereof (‘those who drink their waters’) become the devotees of Lord Vāsudeva[28]. In the Purañjana story, Purañjana, in the birth as a Vidarbha princess, marries a Pāṇḍya King and gives birth to seven Draviḍa kings[29] (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 4.28.29- 30). The elephant-king in the 8th Skandha was king Indradyumna of the Pāṇḍya country[30]. King Satyavrata of Draviḍa Deśa got the fish—the Fish-incarnation—while he was bathing in the river Kṛtamālā. Jāmbavatī in the Harivaṃśa has no Draviḍa as her son, but in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.61.12 she gets one of that name. The description of hills and rivers in India begins from those in South India (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 5.19). This Dravidian influence is noted in the Padma Purāṇa.[31] wherein bhakti is allegorically regarded as a lady born in the Dravida country and was rejuvenated at Vṛndāvana. The last redactor or the Sūta seems to have incorporated the Pañcarātra system, Smṛti texts, popular beliefs and some folk lore to popularise the Bhāgavata Purāṇa text. Some of these accretions might have crept in the post-Gupta era.

[Antiquity of Bhāgavatism]

Though the Bhāgavata Purāṇa was composed in Circa 400 A.D., Bhāgavatism or the Vāsudeva cult is, however, much older than the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as can be seen from the following:

(1) From the time of Candra-Gupta II (A.D. 376-415) the Imperial Guptas called themselves as ‘ardent devotees of Bhagavat’ (parama bhāgavata). As a sect requires some time to attain to the status and patronage of the royalty, Bhāgavatism must be earlier than the 4th century A.D.

(2) Nanaghat Inscription (100 B.C.)[32] mentions Vāsudeva as a deity. It means that at that period, in Maharashtra, Bhāgavatism was a respectable sect.

(3) Heliodorus, the ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialkidas to the court of Kāśīputra Bhāgabhadra of Vidiśā (near Gwalior M.P.) has recorded in a Prākrit inscription on the shaft of the pillar (of Garuḍa-dhvaja) that Bhāgavata Heliodorus erected that Garuḍa-dhvaja in honour of Devadeva Vāsudeva. The inscription is in Brāhmī characters of 2nd century B.C.[33]

(4) An earlier stone inscription at Ghosundi (Rajasthan) Circa 200 B.C., refers to the erection of a pillar together with the wall round the temple (Pūjā-śilā-prākāra) of Vāsudeva[34].

(5) Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador who lived at the court of Candragupta Maurya (324-300 B.C.) found that the people of Śūrasena (Sourasenoi) region round Mathura, worshipped Heracles (Hari or Vāsudeva)[35].

(6) Quintas Curtius, a Greek historian of the 1st cent. B.C. records on the authority of Alexander’s contemporary historians that the soldiers of Porus carried the effigy of Herakles (Hari-Vāsudeva) while fighting the Greeks[36]. The above two references show that Vāsudeva-worship was well- established from the North-West Frontier Province upto Magadha before 400 B.C.

(7) The earliest reference to the devotion to and worship of Vāsudeva is found in the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini (500 B.C.). The special formation of Vāsudevaka., ‘a person whose object of bhakti is Vāsudeva’[37] shows that Vāsudeva was regarded as an adorable deity before Pāṇini. Patañjali clearly explains that this designation refers to Lord Vāsudeva and not merely to a Kṣatriya Prince[38].

This worship was prevalent among the people of the Sātvata tribe who are mentioned as neighbours of the Bharatas in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa ( and as a southern tribe in the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa (8.3.14). But the probable date of the emergence of the Vāsudeva-worship or rather Kṛṣṇa-cult among them cannot, at the present state of our knowledge, be precisely defined. This is not to deny the historicity of Deva- kīputra Kṛṣṇa for which sufficient data has been presented by A.D. Pusalkar[39].

In passing, it may be noted that, due to the outstanding role as a Philosopher-King, of Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa, Vāsudeva came to be looked upon as a type or a title, and Jainas presume that there were nine Vāsudevas out of whom Kṛṣṇa was one. There must have been some ground for this Jaina supposition, as Brahmanical Purāṇas record another Vāsudeva in East India—Pauṇḍraka Vāsudeva—a contemporary of Vāsudeo Kṛṣṇa, who was finally discomfited by Kṛṣṇa. The metaphysical Vāsudeva is derived from vas—to dwell—and means ‘one who is immanent in the universe’. The Brahmanical tradition is unanimous in regarding Vāsudeva and Devakī as the father and mother of Kṛṣṇa.

Footnotes and references:


Quoted by Winternitz—History of Indian Literature. Vol. I. 555-6.


Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, Minor Religious Systems, p. 49.


A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. IV. p. 1.


Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 667.


An Outline of the Religious Literature of India, p. 233.


Hinduism and Buddhism—Intro.


Concise History of Vaiṣṇava Religion (Marathi) p. 119.


ABORI. XIV. i-ii, 1932-33, pp. 190-207.


JRAS, II. p. 79.


NIA Vol. I. 523-4.


Purāṇa Index, Vol. I. p. xxix.


Synthetic Philosophy of the Bhāgavata p. 35.


NIA Sept. 1942, p. 132.


An Outline of the Religious Literature of India, p. 231.


History and Culture of Indian People, Vol. V, p. 442.


Sachau—Alberuni’s India, Vol. I, p. 131.


History of Indian Literature. Vol. I.,p. 556; also vide Vaidya JBRAS, 1925, pp. 144-48.


AIHT. (Ancient Indian Historical Tradition), p. 80.


A. N. Ray—BSOS. VIL 107-111.


Infact Māṭhara Vṛtti on Kārikā 2 is the same as Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 1.8.52; Yathā paṅkena paṅkāmbhaḥ surayā vā surākṛtam / bhūta-hatyā tathaivemāṃ nayajñair nārṣṭum arhati //


G.D. Dey—Significance and Importance of Jātakas. Quoted by R.N. Vyas—Synthetic Philosophy of Bhāgavata, p. 30.


T. Burrow—The Sanskrit Language, p. 31.


Political History of Ancient India from the Accession of Parīkṣit to the Extinction of the Gupta Dynasty, p. 9, 1923.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.4.18 mentions the following tribes: Kirāta, Hūṇa, Āndhra, Ābhīra, Kaṅka, Yavana, Khaśa and others.


Panikkar—A Survey of Indian History, p. 174.


Absorption of Vedic passages:

e.g. the Puruṣa Sūkta (Ṛg Veda Saṃhitā. 10.90) in Bh. P. 2.6.15-30, 10.1.20; the description of Virāṭ Puruṣa in the Aitareya Upaniṣad 1.4 and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.10.10ff.

The Mantropaniṣad in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 8.1.9-16 and Īśa Upaniṣad.

(i) Viṣṇor nu kaṃ vīryāṇi pravocam—Ṛg Veda Saṃhitā. 1.154.5.
and Viṣṇor nu vīrya-gaṇanaṃ katamo'rhatīha—Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.7.40).

(ii) dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā (Ṛg Veda Saṃhitā. 1.164.20, AV. 9.9.20.) and Suparṇāvetau sadṛśau sakhāyau,
yadṛcchayaitau kṛtanīḍau ca vṛkṣe /
ekastayoḥ kḥādati pippalānnam
anyo niranno’pi balena bhūyān //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. II.11.6.

(iii) bhidyate hṛdayagranthiś chidyante sarva-saṃśayāḥ /
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi tasmin dṛṣṭe parāvare
  —Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad

Bhāgavata Purāṇa I.2.21 and XI. 20.30 repeat this verbatim.

(iv) avīdyāyām antare vartamānāḥ svayaṃ dhīrāḥ paṇḍitaṃ manyamānāḥ / dandramyamānāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ //
  —Kaṭha Upaniṣad. 1.2.5; Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad. 1.2.8.

Cf. Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 7.5.31.

(v) hantā cen manyate hantuṃ hatas'cen manyate hatam /
  —Kaṭha Upaniṣad
. 2.3.14.

Cf. Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 10.4.72.

(vi) Vedic description of the fire-god:

catvāri śṛṅgā trayo'sya pādā dve śīrṣe sapta hastāso asya.
tridhā baddho ṛṣabho roravīti /—Ṛg Veda Saṃhitā. 4.58.3.

namo dvi-śīrṣṇe tripade caluḥ-śṛṅgāya tantave /
saptahastāya yajñāya trayīvidyātmane namaḥ //—Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 8.16.31.


A number of Vedic words (sometimes with semantic change) are used. These references are to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. e.g.

adabhra (1.3.4), uktha ‘vital breath’ Bhāvārtha Dīpikā (1.15.6),
urukrama ‘god with long strides’ (2.3.20; 2.7.18; 3.9.8 etc.)
śuṣma ‘intoxication’ (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on 7.12.32).
gopīthāya ‘for protection’ (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on 1.10.32).
apīcyo ‘beautiful’ (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on 1.19.28; 10.47.2).
rādhas ‘prosperity’ aiśvarya (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on 2.4.14).
nṛmṇa ‘conferring happiness’ (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on 4.8.46).
carṣoṇī ‘subjects’, prajā (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on 10.21.2).

But even the old portion in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is, from language point of view, not as old as 900 B.C. when Parīkṣit is believed to have lived. This is not to deny the historicity to Parīkṣit or the Śuka’s narration of Bhāga­vata to him. The ‘kernel’ of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa may be old but the extent text is much more modern than 900 B.C.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 11.5.38-40.


Ibid. 4.2 30.


Ibid. 8. 7.


Padma P.—Bhāgavata Māhātmya 1.48,50. It appears that when these lines were written Bhāgavatism was not popular in Maharastra and Gujarat.


Luder’s Ins. No. 6—Epigraphica Indica.


D.C. Sircar—Select Inscriptions, pp. 90-gi; also Epigraphica Indica—Luder’s Ins. No. 66g.


Epigraphica Indica—Luder’s Ins. No. 6.


M.C. Crindle, pp. 140, 201.


A.K. Mujumḍar—Caitanya—His Life and Doctrine, p. 23.


l. Vāsudevārjunābhyāṃ vuñ / 4.3.98.


Mahābhāṣya on Pāṇ. 4.3.98.


Studies in Epics and Purāṇas; pp. 84-111.

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