The Bhagavata Purana

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

This page describes The Teaching of the Bhagavata Purana which is part 4 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 fourth part of the Introduction of the Bhagavatapurana.

Part 4 - The Teaching of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa

The present text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is so full of various readings, additions, interpolations, abridgements, omissions etc. that it has been possible for all the schools of the Vedānta to claim it as an authoritative text expounding the tennets of their particular school. Although I have incorporated in my translation and notes, the different interpretations of the philosophical verses in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as advocated by these Schools, the present section is based on the text followed by the oldest and the most famous commentator—Śrīdhara Svāmin (Bhāvārtha Dīpikā). But even his text shows a confluence of two thought currents—(1) the Vedic, starting with, sūktas like the cosmogonic enquiry in the Nāsadīya Sūkta, Viṣṇu Sūktas and the Puruṣa Sūkta and culminating in the wealth of philosophic ideas incorporated in the Upaniṣads and (2) the āgamic, consisting of the theories in the Pāñcarātra system, Tantrism and the intensely sublime devotional songs of Āḻvārs. The credit of the superb blending of these and other thoughtcurrents in a homogeneous whole giving it ‘a stamp of a unified composition’[1] goes to the last redactor—be it the Sūta Ugraśravas or somebody else.

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa exhorts us ‘to meditate upon the Supreme Truth or Reality or Supreme Lord (as Bhāvārtha Dīpikā takes it) which is both immanent and transcenḍant. The universe originates from the Reality, is sustained therein and finally dissolves into the same Reality. But despite the continuation of the worldprocess, Reality is eternally established in its native grandeur, the world-process being due to the cosmic illusion’[2]. The Reality is variously designated as Brahman, Paramātman and Bhāgavata[3] and is non-ḍual consciousness[4]. This non-duality shows that the Upaniṣadic and Purāṇic reference to pādas[5] or grades or aspects of Reality should not be interpreted as internal differences in Brahman. The Supreme Truth of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is the transcendental state of existence (turīya pāda) or supratranscendental (turīya-turīya) or the auspicious non-ḍuality in the consciousness of the Supreme ‘I’ (ātma-pratyaya-sāra) of the Upaniṣads. It is Brahman which is “tranquil, eternal, above fear, pure consciousness, absolutely pure, of grand equipoise, transcendental, Supreme, beyond all description, not attainable by any activity, free from all afflictions, infinite bliss”[6].

In fact it is beyond delineation and may be stated as absolute existence (sattā mātra)[7]. At the time of his ‘birth’, when Kṛṣṇa manifested himself as four-armed Viṣṇu to Devakī, she, in her praise, identifies Kṛṣṇa, Viṣṇu, and Brahman and calls him ‘the indescribable Reality, the unmanifest, Primordial cause, the Supreme Brahman, Pure consciousness transcending all guṇas and modifications, absolute existence, attributeless and devoid of activity’. This conception of the metaphysical Kṛṣṇa, identifying him as bhagavān or ‘the third grade or aspect of Reality’ is the contribution of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa to the philosophy of religion. This aspect is ‘pure bliss,’ and rāsa-krīḍā is the purposeless sport, a child-like mirth of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Man, with his own shadows’ or his ‘own powers’ in the form of cowherd women, though he was satisfied in his own blissful state[8].

The universe is the creation of the Māyā which emerged due to his consciousness of being alone, his desire to be many and to be born as many[9]. The Māyā, according to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa includes Prakṛti and Avidyā and tries to explain the physical world and the subjective reaction of an individual to it. The evolution of Prakṛti into categories deserves notice. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa. refers to thirteen views about the number of categories such as nine, eleven, five etc., but it seems to accept twenty-five categories, twenty-four material ones (viz. citta, ahaṃkāra, manas, buddhi, five sense organs, five action-organs, five subtle elements and five gross elements)[10] plus one spiritual. But the Bhāgavata Purāṇa looks at the categories from metaphysical point of view, reducing the cosmic evolution to two categories, viz., puruṣa and Prakṛti resolving ultimately the subject object duality into the non-dual Reality. And this non-dual Reality or consciousness has three features—pure being, pure knowledge and pure bliss.

(1) The Absolute—the 4th aspect or grade of Reality

The ultimate nature of the Supreme truth is immutable pure being, absolutely impersonal, actionless. As there is nothing beyond it[11], it may be called the Absolute. Being the perfect state of Self-sufficiency it is absolute, calm and free from attachment. It is the ultimate cause of the universe. Its eternal existence, during the creation, continuance and dissolution of the universe, and even after it, shows its perfection. In the Absolute, existence and bliss coalesce[12] wherein lies its intrinsic majesty.

(2) Bhagavat—3rd aspect or grade of Reality

Yogamāyā—The principle of plurality charged with divine majesty is the potency of the Absolute with which it plays with itself, and the universe is the Divine sport. When this divine activity assumes definiteness, the Absolute comes to be called Bhagavat—all bliss characterised by all powers[13]. Yogamāyā is innate with Bhagavat—the so-called third degree of Reality. The Bh. P. declares that Kṛṣṇa is Bhagavān Himself[14]. He is the highest metaphysical reality who embodies the highest fulfilment of all spiritual aspirations, the summum bonum attained by observance of the supreme religion. He is the pivot of the Bhāgavata Philosophy.

The evolution and fusion of the Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa concepts and of their cults, is beyond the scope of this Introduction[15]. But the metaphysical Kṛṣṇa-concept is a happy blending of the Vedic and non-Vedic thought currents, the former developing out of Vedic philosophical hymns like the Puruṣa and Viṣṇu sūktas through Brāhmaṇas like the Śatapatha, and culminating in the Upaniṣadic concept of Brahman and Purānic concept of Mahā-Viṣṇu, and the latter, the Āgamic (e.g. Pāñcarātra) concept of Vāsudeva influenced by Tantrism and other popular beliefs. The historical Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa presented to us is, according to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the eternal metaphysical bhagavān Kṛṣṇa—the so-called‘third degree of Reality.’ The Bh. P. draws upon the Kṛṣṇa concept to preach ‘a new religion—Bhāgavata dharma —most appropriate for the ignorant people of this dark iron age’[16]. Although all the Skandhas of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa are woven in the texture of the Kṛṣṇa-concept, Skandha X characterised as āśraya embodies the complete personality of Kṛṣṇa, and the ultimate object of the nine characteristics (lakṣaṇas) of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is to lead to the 10th characteristic—the āśraya.


This identification of historical Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa with the metaphysical bhagavān Kṛṣṇa raised a moral problem. The first critic was King Parīkṣit himself. He could not understand why Kṛṣṇa, the protector, propounḍer and upholder of morality, acted otherwise by inflicting outrage on the wives of others when, as being the manifestation of Bhagavān, he should be self-contented[17].

In reply, Śuka made out the following points:

1. Extraordinary persons are not to be judged by the ordinary standards of morality, for they are like fire which consumes everything offered to it. One should not eat poison because Rudra drank up the halāhala (poison). The words of the great should be followed, not their deeds. Moreover, Kṛṣṇa being above egotism cannot be charged with having some interest in Rāsa-līlā either ways.

2. Metaphysically, Kṛṣṇa being the Inner Controller of all, abides in the bodies of Gopīs as well as of their husbands. Different persons are different bodies, assumed by the Lord, for the sake of Divine Sport.

3. This behaviour of Kṛṣṇa was an attractive device to induce ordinary people to spirituality[18].

According to Śrīdhara, the five chapters on the Rāsalīlā are intended for extinguishing carnal desires. Kṛṣṇa resorted to Yoga-māyā for the purpose of sport with the Gopīs[19]. He has already triumphed over the sex. As will be shown later, Bhāvārtha Dīpikā’s explanation was correct.

Nimbārka presumes that Rādhā was the daughter of Vṛṣabhānu and a married wife of Kṛṣṇa and Gopīs were her attendants. There is no reference to Rādhā in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, but Ṛādhā being the raison-d’-etre of some Vaiṣṇava sects, they have extorted Rādhā by acrobatic feats of grammar and logic,[20] from the text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.30.28.

anayā'rādhito nūnaṃ bhagavān harir īśvaraḥ /
yanno vihāya govindaḥ prīto yām anayad rahaḥ //

Moreover, the social impropriety of playing rāsa with the maid-servants of one’s wife is not exonerated by making the non-existent Rādhā, Kṛṣṇa’s married wife.

The Śuddhādvaita School of Vallabha regards rāsa as the association with the metaphysical eternal Kṛṣṇa and not with the historical Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa episodes at Vṛndāvana are symbolic. Thus, when the divine form of the Lord manifests himself in the mind of the devotee, it is the birth of Lord Kṛṣṇa. About the sports at Vṛndāvana it is explained:—With the annihilation of sins and God’s grace the devotee, through various forms of devotion, develops in him bīja-bhāva (a spiritual disposition) due to the intensity of which the guṇa-reals are destroyed. By spiritual service (sevā), the bīja-bhāva becomes a vyasana (passion), and leads to the attainment of Brahmabhāva (becoming one with Brahman). Then Puruṣottama or Lord Nārāyaṇa manifests himself. The gross and subtle bodies of the devotees are destroyed and the devotee is endowed with a body suitable for rāsa or the Divine Sport. Then the devotee enters the region of rāsa-līlā that goes on eternally. This is Mokṣa. (Bālakṛṣṇa BhaṭṭaPrameya Ratnākara 39-44). This explanation is based on the text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa It will thus be found that the allegations of sexuality, social impropriety are beside the point with reference to his spiritual rāsa-līlā.

The Bengal School of Vaiṣṇavism has shown great ingenuity in regularising the relations between Kṛṣṇa and Gopīs. Briefly, the position taken by Jīva Gosvāmī is that Gopīs were Kṛṣṇa’s legal wives—Kṛṣṇa-vadhvaḥ as the Bhāgavata Purāṇa puts it, though Jīva adduces other authorities like the Gopāla Tāpanī Upaniṣad. But in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa elsewhere (e.g. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.29.20) Kṛṣṇa refers to their husbands (patayaś ca vaḥ). Viśvanātha Gakravartī states that Gopīs had two kinds of husbands, the Gopas, their human husbands, and Kṛṣṇa, their spiritual husband—a meeting with the spiritual husband transcends conventional moral standards[21]. S. Bhattacarya rightly criticizes:

“The concept of Kṛṣṇa being their spiritual husband does not give him the license to exhibit amorous behaviour which stinks at the nose of ordinary beings.”[22]


This brings us directly to the thorny yet much-discussed problem of Kṛṣṇa’s behaviour during his Rāsa-krīḍā. The author of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa clearly gives us to understand that it is the bhagovān [bhagavān?], the metaphysical Kṛṣṇa, the “third degree of Reality” and not the historical Kṛṣṇa who participated in the Rāsa-līlā.

The rāsa-pañcādhyāyī opens with the following verse.:

bhagavān api tā rātrīḥ śāradotphulla-mallikāḥ /
vīkṣya rantum manaścakre yogamāyām upāśritaḥ //
Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.29.1.

“Seeing that those nights were most delightful with fullblown jasmines of Śarad (Autumnal season), Bhagavān as he was, he decided to play (with the cowherd women) with the help of Yoga-māyā.”

The author places before us the following points:

(i) It was the (third degree of) Reality—the metaphysical Kṛṣṇa (and not the historical Kṛṣṇa) who participated in the Rāsa-līlā.

(ii) Yogamāyā—the divine power of the Lord—was brought into play in this rāsa. Otherwise multiplication of the historical Kṛṣṇa each per Gopi would have been impossible.

(iii) The word api (even though) shows that though the Lord is Self-sufficient, self-complacent and self-satisfied (ātmārāma) he participated in the rāsa just to fulfill his promise at the time of Kātyāyanī vrata.

(iv) Yoga-māyā is the Principle of the divine sport. The whole affair is spiritual and the canons of morality of ordinary mortals are inapplicable in the spiritual world.

(v) Bhāvārtha Dīpikā explains that rāsa is simply ‘an ardent intensity or ovation’ e.g. in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.7.19.

rati-rāso bhavet tīvro pādayor vyasanārdanaḥ /

‘The ovation of devotion to the feet of Kṛṣṇa becomes intense.’

(vi) The word rantum means simply ‘playing’. It does not connote sexuality. S. Bhattacarya has pointed out parallelisms about the use of the verb √ram—‘to play’—in Kṛṣṇa’s play with boys also[23].

(vii) The historical as well as metaphysical Kṛṣṇas is depicted as being noted for self-control in sexual matters, be it with his wives, cowherd-women or others. In the rāsa-pañcādhyāyī, he is called the ‘veritable annihilator of the god of love’ (sākṣān manmatha-manmathaḥ[24]). He was self-satisfied in his own blissful nature, but he participated in the rāsa to please the Gopīs. (ātmārāmo'pyarīramat[25]/). He was not enamoured of Gopīs. When they felt they had secured him, he disappeared from the rāsa (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.29.28). The Bhāgavata Purāṇa certifies that Kṛṣṇa maintained control over himself in the company of Gopis even though he mixed with them.[26] Even before rāsa, at the time of Kātyāyanī vrata, he passed the most crucial test of remaining above temptation in the presence of naked women[27]. Even his 16000 wives could not tempt him with all their dalliances[28]. Moreover the tender physical age of historical Kṛṣṇa at the time of rāsa is a factor against sexual allegations. The Jaina canon which gives so many details about Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa does not mention l’affaire Rādhā or rāsa- līlā.

All this evidence shows that the author of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa intended to depict a symbolic event about the metaphysical Kṛṣṇa—and not the involvement of the historical Kṛṣṇa (despite his self-control). The Bhāgavata Purāṇa wishes to emphasize that the attachment of Gopīs may be physical but any strong feeling—say sexual love, hatred or affection—directed towards the Lord, leads to Mokṣa[29].

(3) Paramātman (Viṣṇu)

The concept Visṇu is evolved out of the Vedic concepts of the Cosmic Man and the Solar deity. He represents all- pervasive Reality, the original Person (ādi-puruṣa), the vital principle of life (Paramātman) animating physical body. By the time of the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa, Viṣṇu became a four-handed god combining majesty, martial character and grace. Historical Kṛṣṇa is originally regarded as a part of Viṣṇu (Viṣṇu P. 5.1.60), but gradually they fused together, and Kṛṣṇa emerged as Vāsudeva-Viṣṇu giving rise to the doctrine of the four VyūhasSaṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, all close relatives of historical Kṛṣṇa. This evolution shows a blending of Vedic and Tantric ideas enriching the imageries[30]. The Viṣṇu image to be meditated upon by sages is described in details in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.28.21-33. The mass of imageries about his physical features (aṅga), weapons (āyudhas), ornaments (ākalpa) and accessories (upāṅgas) shows the fusion of the Vedic and āgamic concepts was complete before the composition of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa But the Bhāgavata Purāṇa carefully explains these symbols of Viṣṇu in the light of its own conception of the structure of the Reality. Thus the Kaustubha jewel is his self-luminosity (ātma-jyotis)—the state of non-dual consciousness. Vana-mālā is his ātma-māyā. The ear-rings are the Sāṃkhya and the Yoga systems. The mystic significance of his weapons, and gestures (mudrās), and his paraphernalia (including attendants) are similarly explained, Viṣvaksena etc. being the presentation of the Tantras (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 12.11.10-20).

(4) 4th aspect: Brahman—the First grade of Reality.

The Brahman is the basis of the world process—emergence, continuance and dissolution. It has no beginning, middle and the end, no internality or externality[31]. It transcends the manifested and unmanifested forms. Though limitless and non- dual, immutable and eternal (First), it possesses diverse and heterogenous powers[32]. At the beginning of the cosmic process, Brahman, the source of plurality manifests itself as time, nature, destiny and other factors necessary for the cosmic process. It is then the abode of all mobiles and immobiles. When it withdraws the universe, it remains as the only residium capable of the whole game of creation and dissolution, of the universe. This dynamism in Brahman to bring about the creation, destruction of the universe is called Ātma-Māyā.[33]

This Ātma-Māyā which is a principle of heterogeneity, is the expression of Viṣṇu-Māyā (the Divine Will). Impelled by the will of Divine Sport, it differentiates between two mutually contra-co-operative powers, viz., Māyā (Principle of materiality) and cit-śakti (Principle of divinity). Characterised by these contradictory yet co-operative potencies, Brahman, the sub-stratum of Ātma-Māyā becomes immanent in creation. Brahman or God residing in creation, (Pura) is called Puruṣa. According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa ‘neither god nor creation pre-existed the other, but both came simultaneously into existence’.[34]

(5) The Grace Divine (Anugraha)

This brings us to the concept of the Divine grace. According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa was perfect bliss in which all powers consummated. This was the culmination of the Viṣṇu concept of the Vedas. The creation and dissolution of the universe is due to the Divine Will. So it is due to the Divine grace that man becomes attracted to the Lord and his faith in penance deepens;[35] his passion (rati) for the Lord intensifies and his devotion (bhakti) is selfless; Revelations both internal and external are an index of the divine grace. God is self-satisfied but his worship reflects back upon the worshipper[36] and enhances his inner qualities and makes him eligible to receive the divine grace.

Bhagavān is all bliss, i.e. all love. Divine grace is the radiation of the love of the Bhagavān on man. When our mental outlook is crystalized that Bhagavān is in all and expresses its universal friendliness (maitrī), the divine grace flows to him and beings bow to him automatically like water to the lower level[37]. The grace may assume a frowning appearance but the devotee knows that it is His real grace and prays for it[38].

(6) Avatāra-Vāda (The Doctrine of Divine Incarnation)

According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the whole world-order is a divine līlā. (sport)—‘the free unmotivated self-expression in a spatiotemporal order of his Supra-Spatial, Supra-temporal perfect self-enjoyment’[39]. This līlā-vāda is closely associated with the avatāra-vāda[40]. In an avatāra (descent, incarnation) the Supreme Spirit, by virtue of its unique Māyā-potency, sportively descends from the plane of the absolute unity to the plane of the relative plurality, from the plane of infinity and eternity to the spatio-temporal plane, from the plane of non-dual changeless existence-consciousness-bliss to the plane of the diversities of changing conscious and unconscious imperfect existences, without losing its essential transcendental character. In his Commentary on Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.4.2, Bhāvārtha Dīpikā suggests that the idea of avatāra has Vedic basis, and quotes ṚV. 1.154.1[41]. One of the main objects of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa was to extol fully the deeds of various avatāras.[42] Although God and His incarnations are consubstantiaḥ the Bhāgavata Purāṇa classifies the incarnations as (1) aṃśa, (2) kalā and (3) aṃśa-kalā.

(i) aṃśāvatāra is a form of God possessing God’s omniscience and omni-potence which may or may not be revealed, depending on the exigencies of the situation, e.g. Yajña, Vāmana.

(ii) kalāvatāras are God-filled empirical Souls, e.g. Gods[43] and Vyāsa, Datta, Kumāra among human beings.

(iii) aṃśa-kalāvatāra: Border cases between (i) and (ii) e.g. Ṛṣabha in Skandha V. This is an artificial category.

Avatāras are classified according to the guṇa which they dominantly represent e.g. Brahmā (rajo-guṇa), Viṣṇu (sattva- guṇa) Ṛudra, (tamo-guṇa), their main function is the creation, sustenance and destruction of the universe (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.7.28).

From a temporal point of view, God assumes Manvantarāvatāra to superintendent the working of gods, men etc. in different Manvantaras, and also Yugāvatāras corresponding to different Yuga-epochs and Kalpāvatāra for each Kalpa. But according to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Līlāvatāra is the best[44], for in this avatāra the Lord assumes any form—of man, animal, fish etc.—only to abide by the desire of the devotee[45]. In this he behaves like an ordinary man (e.g. Rāma’s lamentation after Sītā’s abduction) but restores the moral order, showers grace unto his devotees and departs leaving behind supreme glory.

(7) Vyūha Vāda (The Doctrine of Emanations)

As seen above, the Bhāgavata and the Pañcarātra sects were originally different and were treated as such till the time of Bāṇa (7th Cent. A.D.), and followers of the latter were roundly condemned as outcasts by smṛtis, Purāṇas and great Smṛti-annotators like Medhātithi. It is also held that Bhāgavatism in the Gupta period was different from the present Bhāgavatism which has assimilated the Vyūha doctrine, the Tantric method of worship, and other external rites from the Pāñcarātra system. But the Bhāgavata Purāṇa shows that it could not properly digest even the Vyūha Vāda of the Pāñcarātrins. Bhāgavata Purāṇa regards vyūha (emanation) as ‘image of god’ (mūrti)[46] which is thus similar to the concept of aṃśāvatāra and as a Vyūhāvatāra He protects the world in every Kalpa[47]. This doctrine is closely associated with the Kṛṣṇa cult as Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva himself and his closest relatives, brother Balarāma alias Saṅkarṣaṇa, son Pradyumna and grandson Aniruddha, are the four vyūhas acknowledged as such by the Bhāgavata Purāṇa[48] and the Pañcarātra sect.

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa attempts to connect these vyūhas with the four modes of the antaḥkaraṇa of man (a Vedāntic concept) and the states of the empirical ego as follows:

Name of the Vyūha Mode of antaḥkaraṇa State of the empirical ego (Witness of:)
a. Vāsudeva Citta (or buddhi) (ŚR reserves Citta for Vāsudeva only). Transcendental state.
b. Saṅkarṣaṇa —ahaṃkāra Dreamless sleep
c. Pradyumna —Nil in Bh P, but ŚR assigned buddhi (vide ŚR on 3.26.21.) Dream
d. Aniruddha —manas Waking state

This obviously conflicts with the Sāṅkhya theory of evolution, and the lacuna about Pradyumna is amended by Bhāvārtha Dīpikā at a later date. The attempt of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa to connect each vyūha with the particular category of creation proved inadequate, though it could do so in the case of the four states of empirical ego. One suspects the Vyūha concept to be a later grafting on the Kṛṣṇa cult. But once it was accepted, the tāntrikas described in rich details his limbs (aṅgas), accessories, e.g. vehicle, attendants (upāṅga), weapons (āyudha) and articles of dress and ornaments (ākalpa)[49]. The detailed descriptions of Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna and Aniruddha are really picturesque. Bhāgavata Purāṇa, however, carefully explains the metaphysical symbolism of each e.g. the Kaustubha gem represents (pure) consciousness of the Jīva, Vanamālā (garland of sylvan flowers), his Māyā, his sacred thread, the mystical syllable OM (A+U+M), ear-rings, the Sāṅkhya and Yoga systems. As S. Bhattacarya notes, ‘In fact the doctrine of four seems to have developed itself in different directions, giving rise to the [50]four aspects of the great Personality, his four manifestations, the fourfold witnessing of the four states of empirical self and what not[51].

Later, the number of these vyūhas increased to nine and later to twelve manifestations but the doctrine of four Vyūhas has permanently influenced our religious imagination.

(8) Path-ways to God-realization

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa does not merely advise us ‘to meditate on the Supreme Reality’ but delineates the different paths leading to the realization of that Reality, emphasizing at the same time its preference for the path of devotion. In explaining the three paths, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa has synthesized the best of the Vedic tradition with the teaching of Kṛṣṇa-Vāsudeva. Some Vaiṣṇava authors regard the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as ‘a commentary’ on the Bhagavad- Gītā. Though there is a great deal of similarity in the teachings of Vāsudeva-Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna and to Uddhava as recorded in these two works, both are independent, even though the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is chronologically later. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa clearly states that a person should continue to perform the duties prescribed in the Vedas till he develops a feeling of dissociation or a liking for or faith in listening to the deeds of the Lord[52]. At the outset the Bhāgavata Purāṇa declares its Vedic tradition by claiming to be ṇhe ripe fruit of the wish-yielding tree called the Veda[53] and that ‘a self-less and uninterrupted devotion to the Lord is the sublime religion[54]. He further defines religion as that which conduces to the devotion of the Lord.[55] Devotion is a spiritual discipline which immediately generates reṇunciation and motiveless spiritual knowledge[56]. And these arise Simultaneously just as after the intake of a morsel of food satisfaction, nourishment and quenching of hunger take place simultaneously[57]. Commenting on this verse Bhāvārtha Dīpikā points out that this triad of effects of the first morsel leads to a higher degree of satisfaction with the next morsel forming as it were a chain of causation. This is the significance of the statement of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa that bhakti (devotion) leads to (higher plane of) devotion[58]. According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa the three puruṣārthas (objectives in human life), the ritualistic and spiritual teaching of the Vedas and their ancillaries like logic, all converge upon the need of self-dedication to the Supreme Person[59] and this ‘self’ in self-dedication includes whatever one does and regards as his own such as wife, children and one’s own body[60]. This dedication purifies all our acts[61].

Different people are attracted to God with variegated motives. They may concentrate their mind on him through sexual urge, hatred, fear, affection or kinship as well as through devotion or friendship but they ultimately become one with him[62], only that they should incessantly do so.[63] The cowherdwomen attained God through sexual urge, Śiśupāla (Kṛṣṇa’s cousin) through dire hatred, Kaṃsa through fear, Yudhiṣṭhira (the eldest Pāṇḍava) through friendship or affection, Vṛṣṇis through bloodrelationship, persons like Nāraḍa through devotion[64]. But the highest type of devotion is the self-less meditation marked by the dominance of pure Sattva and it leads to the experience of divine ecstasy. Other types of devotion influenced by rajas, tamas or sattva mixed with other mental modes, are inferior types of devotion. Although the Bhāgavata Purāṇa like the Bhagavad Gītā classifies devotion in three types according to the dominance of a particular guṇa like sattva, rajas and tamas (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.29.7-10), Bhāvārtha Dīpikā in his commentary on the above derives eighty-one types of devotion. Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, Jīva Gosvāmi and Bopadeva have classified devotion in their own ways, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this Introduction.

(9) The Path of devotion—Classification

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa has delineated in details the ninefold path of devotion. It consists of (1) Śravana (Listening), (2) Kīrtana (Chanting), (3) Smaraṇa (Remembrance, meditation), (4) Pāda-sevana (Serving the feet of the Lord), (5) Arcana (Worship), (6) Vandana (Prostration before God), (7) Dāsya (Service), (8) Sakhya (Friendship), (9) Ātma-nivedana (Selfdedication). This is treated as a continuous series in which one form merges into the next culminating in union with God, but as Jīva Gosvāmī asserts, even one form of devotion is efficacious enough to attain to Godhood[65]. A glance at the list of these forms shows its eclectic character. Most of them are found in the Ṛgveda[66], but the trinity beginning with Pādasevana[67] is the Pāñcarātra contribution, as they pertain to idolworship. And the last three forms comprise the progressive journey of the spirit of submissiveness to God to the indissoluble tie of unity between the votary and his object of reverence[68], and as such are both means as well as ends[69],—svayam phalarūpatā as Nārada puts it.

With faith (Śraddhā) in the Lord, one should receive the Lord in his mind by listening to the name of the Lord and his sportive exploits. This annihilates all sins where traditional methods of expiation such as Vedic studies, donations etc. fail (Bh. P. 11.6.9). This Śravaṇa leads to Kīrtana, i.e. chanting of the Lord’s name, forms and exploits. In this Kali age, Kīrtana leads to the highest stage (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 11.5.36, 12.3.51). It yields the same spiritual fruit as was obtained by meditation in the Kṛta age, performance of sacrifices in the Tretā age and worship of the Lord in the Dvāpara age (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 12.3.52). Kīrtana is the river of nectar of God’s episodes which satiates the spiritual thirst of the listeners who thereby transcend human torments and passions[70].

The Kīrtana-form of devotion reaches deep into the heart which is then drowned in meditation. This is Remembrance (Smaraṇa) which is really God’s presence in the depth of our hearts. It thoroughly washes out all inner impurities due to our past deeds, more effectively than could be achieved by any other means[71].

Through continued remembrance, the devotee is led to the primary stage of God-realization and he clings to the feet of the Lord. Once the devotee tastes the honey in the lotus in the form of the Lord’s feet, he never finds pleasure in worldly objects[72]. At the touch of this divine grace new spiritual horizons are widened and he feels real fervour of devotion, nonattachment to worldly affairs and attains genuine serenity and peace of mind[73].

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa has given three types of worship—the Vedic, the Tāntric and mixed; the Bhāgavata Purāṇa favours the last. The external type of worship is described in details in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.3. 48-54, 11.27. 19-49 etc. but it prefers the internal type of worship as follows:

“In his own body cleansed by Vāyu and Agni, he (the votary) should contemplate the subtle Paramātman as the summit of Nāda i.e. the Supreme being in the lotus ofhis heart. Having worshipped the Lord in his body, his body is filled with the presence of the Supreme Soul.”[74]

Vandana is unqualified submission to him in recognition of his supremacy; its external expression being physical prostration before the image of the Lord.

Dāsya is the sense of belongingness to God. It is the result of the unqualified submission mentioned above—an achievement as well as the means to higher forms of devotion.

Sakhya is a still higher achievement. The sense of servitude to God leads the devotee to win over God as his friend as good wives do in the case of good husbands[75].

Ātmanivedana is the last stage. Out of the highest love and devotion, the devotee surrenders totally to God. As the Bhāgavata Purāṇa puts it, “When he dedicates to Me all his works and activities, I choose to make him the best of men; then he attains immortality and becomes fit to be one with Me”[76].

This is the outline of the hierarchy of the forms of devotion. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa emphasizes the special efficacy of God’s name. Like fire consuming the fuel, God’s name shows its efficacy irrespective of the person taking it. Even if it is uttered to call a member of one’s family or in joke or unknowingly the name of Viṣṇu annihilates all sins, whether it is taken in a conscious or semi-conscious stage[77]. The story of Ajāmila is given as an illustration. The story underscores the original good behaviour of Ajāmila, his fall and at the time of his death when his fund of previous deeds (prārabdha karma) of this span of life was exhausted, he uttered the name of God and was helped by the angels of Viṣṇu. God’s name is not a license for misbehaviour.

(10) Other Paths

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa many times uses the term bhakti-yoga. It is true that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa has approved of and adopted the technique i.e. the eightfold path of Yoga, but not its philosophy. The nirbīja samādhi in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is on a higher plane than the samprajñāta and asamprajñāta samādhi in Pātañjala Yoga. In breath control (prāṇāyāma) the Bhāgavata Purāṇa prefers sa-bīja prāṇāyāma to the nirbīja[78] fixing one’s gaze at the tip of one’s nose. According to Pātañjali, the yamas and niyamas are five each, but the Bhāgavata Purāṇa elaborates them in twelve each. The connotations of some terms are different. Thus aparigraha is ‘acceptance of just what is needed’ (Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.28.4), Śauca is ‘disinterestedness in action.’[79] As to the place of Jñāna-yoga vis-a-vis Bhaktiyoga, ‘the Jñāna-yūga of the Bhāgavata forges a remarkable compromise between Patañjali and Upaniṣads on the one hand and Tantric thoughts on the other. With due representation of willing, knowing and feelings within its structure, the Jñānayoga of the Bhāgavata takes its rightful place beside the bhāgavata dharma or bhaktiyoga[80].

(11) Bhāgavata Dharma

This Bhāgavata Dharma comprises of those moral qualities and.spiritual practices which purify the mind for receiving the divine grace. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa includes under these the ten Yoga virtues of Yama and Niyama, the ‘decorations’ of the mind such as universal friendliness (maitrī), kindness (karuṇā), joyfulness (muditā), and indifference (upekṣā), the six Vedāntic virtues of serenity (śama), self-control (dama), tolerance (titikṣa), renunciation (uparati), concentration and faith, the nine-fold path of devotion and Tantric methods of spiritual worship. They are thirty in all[81], but the singular bhāgavata dharma is chanting of the name of Hari[82].

The best follower of the Bhāgavata dharma is called Bhāgavatottama. ‘Tranquil and possessed of unitary vision’ he launches crusade against the sorrows of the world’[83]. Said Prahlāda, ‘I would not seek Liberation (Mokṣa) till a single being remains in bondage’[84]. Such a devotee lives in God and God lives in him[85].

Thus the Bh. P. has blended the Upaniṣadic path of knowledge with Yoga technique of Patañjali and the Tantric method of worship and opening of the mystic plexuses (kamalas) located in the body, along with the nine-fold path of devotion. The result is the unique doctrine of Divine Love or Bhāgavata dharma.

The brief survey of the teaching of the Bh. P. shows how the best elements in Vedic and non-Vedic traditions were blended in a religion that was meant for the masses—Indian and foreign, open to all men and women irrespective of class, or community. Full of divine Love and Grace, God waits—nay, invites all with the enchanting music of his divine flute. He expects nothing in return. As Bhāgavata Purāṇa expresses in the concluding verse:[86] ‘Surrender yourself completely to him. Remember his name. The Supreme Lord annihilates your sins and removes all your suffering; To that Supreme Hari I bow’.

Footnotes and references:


Winternitz—History of Indian Literature. 1.556.


Bh. p. 1.1.1.—According to Chāndogya Upaniṣad (8.3.5), the term Satya signifies the existence of the individual Soul in Brahman (Sati ayam iti). Bhāvārtha Dīpikā interprets it as ‘the Supreme Person.’


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 1.2.11.


Ibid. 1.2.11.


S. Bhattacarya has used the term ‘grade’ and based his classi­fication on the basis of the Tripād vibhūti-Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad I prefer the term ‘aspect’, as there can be no real gradation in the Absolute.


. Bh. p. 2.7.47-48.


Ibid. 10.3.24.


(a) tābhir vidhūta-śokābhir bhagavān Acyuto vṛtaḥ/
vyarocatā'dhikaṃ tāta puruṣaḥ śaktibhir yathā //
. 10.32.10.

(b) reme rameśo vraja-sundarībhir-/
yathārbhakaḥ sva-pratibimbhavibramaḥ //
, 10.33.17.

(c) reme sa bhagavān tābhir ātmārāmo'pi līlayā /
. 10.33.20.


Ibid. 3.2.23-25, 3.5.22.
Cf. Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.1.3.
tad aikṣata bahu syāṃ prajāyeya /


Pañcabhiḥ pañcabhir brahma caturbhir daśabhistathā /
etac caturviṃśatikaṃ gaṇam prādhānikaṃ viduḥ //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 3.26.11.


vinācyutād vastu-taraṃ na vācyam /
sa eva sarvaṃ paramārthabhūtaḥ //
. 10.46,43.


satya-jñānā'nantānanda-matraika-rasa-mūrtayaḥ /
aspṛṣṭa-bhūri-māhātmyā api hyupaniṣad-dṛśām //
. 10.13.54.

In fact the whole description is important.


tvaṃ pratyagātmani tadā bhagavatyananta
ānanda-mātra upapanna-samasta-śaktau /
. 4.11.30.


kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam /—Ibid. 1.3.28.


A number of books and articles have been published on this topic. To mention a few: R.G. Bhandarker—Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and other minor religious systems, Strassburg 1913; A. Barth,—Religions de l’Inde, Paris 1914; J. E. Carpentier—Theism in Mediaeval India, London 1926; Bhagvan Das—Kṛṣṇa, Madras-Adyar 1929; H. Ray Chaudhari—Materials for the Study of early history of the Vaishṇava sect, Calcutta 1936; The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. II Bharatiya Viḍya Bhavan, Bombay, 1953; J. Gonda—Aspects of early Viṣṇuism, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1969, S. Bhattacarya—The Philosophy of Śrīmad Bhāgavata, Śantiniketana, 1960; S. Radhakrishnan—Indian Philosophy, Vol. I 1966 London.


S. Bhattacarya—The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata (Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata). I. 73.


BH. P. 10.33. 27-29.


Ibid. 10.33.30-37.


Bhāvārtha Dīpikā on Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 10.29.33.


For example, Śuka Deva’s Siddhānta-pradīpa., on this verse, remarks: rādhā saha jātā asya tathā—tārakādibhya itac /

The difficulty is that the sūtra quoted, tadasya sañjātaṃ tārakādibhya itac (Pāṇini 5.2.36) is inapplicable. According to this, the derivation should have been rādhā sañjātā asya which is absurd. Moreover, the ākṛti-gaṇa mentioned here as tārakādi does not include rādhā (vide Siddhānta Kaumudī Venkateshvar Press Bombay, 1909, pp. 352, 767). The analogy of tārakita, puṣpita, phalita is not applicable to rādhita.


Vide comms. of Kramasandarbha. and VC. on the rāsa-pañcādhyāyī (Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 10.29 to 33) and to Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Ujjvala-nīla-maṇi. Also S. Bhattacarya—The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. I. 103-108.


S. Bhattacarya—The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. p. 108.


e.g. The use of ram—‘to play,’ in the context of boy friends:

(1) tan mañju-ghoṣāli-mṛga-dvijākulam
mahan-manaḥ-prakhya-poyaḥ sarasvatā /
vātena juṣṭaṃ śata-patra-gandhinā
nirīkṣya rantum bhagavān memo dadhe //
Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.15.3.

The last line is comparable to the last line of Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 10.29.1.

vīkṣya rantum manaścakre /

(2) reme ramā-lālita-pāda-pallavo
grāmyaiḥ samaṃ grāmyavad īśa-ceṣṭitaḥ //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 10.15.19.

The Lord played with the rural boys like an ordinary man from the country.

reme rameśo vraja-sundarībhiḥ /
yathā'rbhakaḥ sva-prati-bimba-vibhramaḥ //
. 10.33.16.

The Lord played with the beauties of Vraja like a child playing with his reflection or shadow.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 10.32.2.


Ibid. 10.29.42.


sa satyakāmo'nuratā'balā-gaṇaḥ /
siṣeva ātmanyavaruddha-saurataḥ
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 10.33.26.


Is it the influence of Tantrism on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa here?


patnyas tu ṣoḍaśa-sahasram anaṅga-bāṇair /
yasyendriyaṃ vimathituṃ karaṇair na śekuḥ //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 10.61.4.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 7.1.28-29.


The Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 11.5. 20-30 traces the evolution of the Viṣṇu-concept and its fusion with that of Vāsudeva-Kṛṣṇa. The confluence of Vedic and Tantric forms of worship and the amalgamation of Pāñcarātra system with Vedic Viṣṇu is mentioned as follows:

taṃ tadā puruṣam martyā mahārājopalakṣaṇam /
yajanti veda-tantrābhyaṃ paraṃ jijñāsavo nṛpa //
namaste vāsudevāya, namaḥ saṅkarṣaṇāya ca /
pradyumnāyā'niruddhāya tubhyaṃ bhagavate namaḥ //
nārāyaṇāya ṛṣaye puruṣāya mahātmane /
viśveśvarāya viśvāya sarva-bhūtātmane namaḥ //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 11.5. 28-30.


na yasyādyantau madhyañ ca svaḥ paro nā’ntaraṃ bahiḥ /
viśvasyāmūni yad yasmād viśvañ ca tad ṛtam mahat //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 8.1.12.


yasmin viruddhagatayo hyaniśam patanti
vidyādayo vividha-śaktaya ānupūrvyāt /
tad brahma viśva-bhavam ekam anantam ādyam
ānanda-mātram avikāram aham prapadye /
. 4.9.16.


yathātma-māyā-yogena nānā-śaktyupabṛṃhitam /
vilumpan visṛjan gṛhṇan bibhrad ātmānam ātmanā //
krīḍasyamogha-saṅkalpa ūrṇa-nābhir yathorṇute /

  —etc., Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.9.26-72


S. Bhattacarya—The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. I. 213.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 3.9.38.


Ibid. 7.9.11.


Ibid. 4.9.47.


Ibid. 1.8.25; The wives of the serpent Kaliya echo this sentiment—vide Bh. P. 10.16.34.


History of Philosophy—Extern and Western I. 125.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 1.1.18


In fact Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.7.40-41 and 11.4.2 usethc same wording as in ṚV. I.154.1.

But it is worth noting that/with the exception of Vāmana, the other descents, e.g. the fish, the tortoise, the boar are attributed to Prajāpati in Śatapatha and other Brāhmaṇas. For details vide History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. Ill, 419-423.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 12.12.45.


Ibid. 4.14.22.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.6.45.


Ibid. 10.59.25.


aṅgopāṅgā'yudhā'kalpair bhagavāṃs tac catuṣṭayam /
bibharti sma catur-mūrtir bhagavān harir īśvaraḥ //
  —Bhāgavata Purāṇa
. 1,2.11.23.


evaṃ hyanādi-nidhano bhagavān harir īśvaraḥ /
kalpe kalpe svam ātmānaṃ vyūhya lokān avatyajaḥ //
. 12.11.50.


vāsudevaḥ saṅkarṣaṇaḥ pradyumnaḥ puruṣaḥ svayam /
aniruddha iti brahman, mūrti-vyūho'bhidhīyate //
. 12.11.21.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 12.11.2.


Vide Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 12.11.10-20.


The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. I. 199.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 11.20.9.


Ibid. 1.1.2.


Ibid. 1.2.6.


Ibid. 11.19.27.


Ibid. 1.2.7.


Ibid. 11.2.42.


Ibid. 11.3.31.


Ibid. 7.6.26.


Ibid. 11.3.28.


Ibid. 11.21.15.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 7.1.29.


Ibid. 10.29.15.


Ibid. 7.1.30.

Bhāgavata Purāṇa gives a positive verdict in favour of antagonistic type of devo­tion as being more efficacious than the devotion of softer feelings: Ibid. 7.1.26


Jiva Gosvāmī quotes in Saṭ Sandarbha (p. 545) what form of devotion led what devotee to the summum bonum—oneness with God—

(1) Śrī-Viṣṇoḥ Śravaṇe Parīkṣid abhavad
(2) Vaiyāsakiḥ kīrtane / (3) Prahlādaḥ smaraṇe,
(4) tadaṅghri-bhajane Lakṣmīḥ, (5) Pṛthu pūjane /
(6) Akrūras tvabhivandane, (7) Kapi-patir dāsye'tha
(8) sakhye' (Ā) rjunaḥ /
(9) sarvasvātma-nivedane Balir abhūt Kṛṣṇā'ptir eṣāṃ param //


H.D. Velankara—Bhakti in the Ṛgveda (Marathi—Kauśik Lectures) Poona.


S. Bhattacarya traces this to the Puruṣa-sūkta in the Ṛgveda—The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. II.127-28.


Ibid, II.176.


Bhakti Sūtra, 30.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 4.29.40, 10.83.3.


vidyā-tapaḥ-prāṇa-nirodha-maitrī-tīrthābhiṣeka-vratadāna-japyaiḥ / nā't yanta-śuddhiṃ labhate'ntarātmā yathā hṛdisthe bhagavatyanante //—Ibid. 12.3.48.


kṛṣṇāṅghri-padma-madhu-liḍ na punar visṛṣṭa-māyā-guṇeṣu ramate vṛjināvaheṣu //—Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 6.3.33.


Ibid. 10.14.29 and 11.2.43.


Ibid. 11.27.23-24.


mayi nirbaddha-hṛdayāḥ sādhavaḥ sama-darśanāḥ vaśī-kurvanti māṃ bhaktyā sat-striyaḥ sat-patiṃ yathā. Ibid. 9.4.66.


Ibid. 11.29.34.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 6.2.14-19.


mano yacchej jita-śvāso brahma-bījam avismaran / Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 2.1.17.


Ibid. 11.19.38. Karmasvasaṅgamaḥ Śaucam /


The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. II. 106.


The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. 1.170.


Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 12.3.52.


The Philosophy of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata. I. 210.


naitān vihāya kṛpaṇān vimumukṣa ekaḥ /—Bhāgavata Purāṇa. 7.9.44.


Ibid. 9.4.68.


Ibid. 12.13.23.

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