The Bhagavata Purana

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

This page describes The Ten Characteristics of the Bhagavata Purana which is chapter 10 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 tenth chapter of the Second Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 10 - The Ten Characteristics of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Śrī Śuka said:

1.[1] Here (in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa) the (constituent) topics detailed are: (1) Subtle creation (sarga), (2) gross creation (visarga), (3) law and order (ensured by God) (sthāna), (4) protection—welfare of all (poṣaṇa), (5) material lust from Karmas (ūti), (6) the period of Manu and history thereof (manvantara), (7) accounts of God’s deeds (īśānukathā), (8) physical annihilation (nirodha), (9) liberation (mukti) and (10) the last resort of the universe, the ultimate Reality (āśraya).

2. For arriving at the accurate and real knowledge of the tenth characteristic (viz. the last resort of the universe or ultimate Reality) the great-souled persons describe the first nine topics by direct expression[2] (from the Vedas in eulogies etc.) and by way of purport (by episodes containing it).

3. Due to the disturbance in the equilibrium of attributes, the production of the five elements (bhūtas), the objects of senses, the sense-organs and the intelligence (i.e, mahat, ahaṃkāra) is called the subtle creation. The gross creation produced by the Virāṭ Puruṣa is called Visarga

4. Sthiti is the triumph of the Lord in the maintenance of (the divine) law and order (in everything), while the protection and welfare of all by his grace is Poṣaṇa. Manvantara consists of the account of the righteous path followed by Manu who observes his duty of protecting his subjects, while ūti is the desire for action (directed by) tendencies resulting from Karma.

5. Īśānukathā is the description of the incarnations of Hari, and stories of the lives of his devotees with detailed stories.

6. Nirodha is the withdrawal of the Jīva, along with all his powers and limitation in Hari when he enters his Yogic sleep. Mokṣa or liberation consists of abandoning the unreal form, and to stay in the essential nature of Brahman.

7. That from which creation and destruction are definitely known to emerge, is the resort which is called the Supreme Brahma, Supreme Soul, etc.

8.[3] He who regards organs of senses, such as eyes etc., as referring to himself is the seer or witness, the ādhyātmika Jīva. He is the same in the form of presiding deities of the senseorgans and is the ādhidaivika Jīva. He is the ādhibhautika (presiding over physical body) Jīva who is conditioned to see a distinction between the above two. (After the formation of the physical body, the two, viz. ādhyātmika and ādhidaivika, are separated.)

9. As we do not find (know) one in the absence of the other (i.e. if anyone of the three, viz. ādhyātmika, e.g. the eye and other organs, ādhidaivika (the presiding deity of the organ, e.g. the Sun or light), and the ādhibhautika, the physical sense organ, is absent, we cannot get any knowledge. (These are thus interdependent), he who knows all these three is the Soul who is not dependent on others, but is the support (shelter) of all.

10.[4] When this Virāṭ Puruṣa (Brahmā), bursting open the Cosmic Egg, came out and stood apart from the Brah'māṇḍa, he pondered over a place for himself. He himself being pure, created pure water (called garbhodaka).

11. On those waters created by Him, he lay for a period of a thousand years. Waters were created by the Man (nara) [and hence came to be called nārā] He is called Nārāyaṇa (as nārā or waters were his ayana ‘place of abode’).

12.[5] It is by His grace that Matter, Action, Time, Innate nature and individual Soul (Jīva) function. They cease to do so when he becomes indifferent to them.

13. Getting up from his yogic bed of meditation, he desired to be many. Through his Māyā power, he divided his golden power (lit. gold-semen) in three parts—adhyātma adhidaiva and adhibhūta.

14. Listen how the Lord differentiated one and the same energy (semen) of the (Cosmic) Man in three parts as adhidaiva, adhyātma and adhibhūta.

15. From the ether (ākāśa) within the body of the Puruṣa who was making movements, were produced the powers of the senses, the mind and the body, and from these was produced (the subtle power of Prāṇa called Sūtra the chief Prāṇa (vital Power) of all.[6]

16. All the organs of senses in living beings make movements when the chief Prāṇa is active. They stop their activities when he ceases to do so, like servants of a king following him.

17. By the activities of Prāṇa, hunger and thirst were aroused in the Lord (Virāṭ Puruṣa), When He desired to eat and drink, the mouth (face) first became separate (was formed) as a distinct organ of the body.

18.[7] From the mouth, the palate became a separate member, and the tongue also was produced then. Then different kinds of tastes which are obtained (appreciated) by the tongue were produced.

19. From the mouth of this great Being who desired to speak, were created the Fire (God agni, the presiding deity), the organ of speech and the speech which is under the control of the two (viz. the organ of speech and the presiding deity). Certainly, his breath was controlled in water for a long time (which led to the creation of nose for breathing).

20. The two nostrils were formed, when the vital air began to move forcibly. When he (the Virāṭ Puruṣa) wished to have smell, the sense of smell was produced with Vāyu, the bearer of smell, as the presiding deity.

21. Being desirous of seeing himself in the darkness within the body of the Virāṭ Puruṣa a pair of eyes was created along with light (tejas) and the organ of seeing, and the power of seeing (the light, forms, colours).

22. When the Soul wished to hear the eulogies of the sages, two ears as well as the cardinal points (as presiding deities) and the auditory sense-organ were created. Hence the power of audition.

23. When he wished to feel softness, hardness, lightness, heaviness, warmth and coldness (of things), the sense of touch (tvac) was created On it grow the hairs (the sense-organ) and trees (the presiding deities). The vital air having obtained the quality of touch by means of the skin, covers it internally and externally.

24. Through his desire to do various activities, hands grew to him, (i.e. he developed hands). In them, the power (to work) as sense, and Indra (as the presiding deity) were produced. The action of receiving depends on them both.

25. When he wished to go to a desired destination, two legs (feet) grew out (from his body). Along with them, Viṣṇu the sacrifice incarnate became the presiding deity. The collection of materials for sacrifice was made by men by the action of going [The organ of motion whereby men can go for collection of sacrificial material was produced].

26. When he wanted progeny, pleasure and heaven (or immortality by one’s continuation of race through offspring), the place of generative organ[8], the organ of generation(along- with Prajāpati as the presiding deity) appeared. Sexual pleasure depends on them both (the deity and the sense-organ).

27. When he wanted to discharge the impurities of the food etc. (eaten by him), the anus appeared along with the organ discharging excrement, and with Mitra as the presiding deity. On these two depends the function of discharging the the excrement.

28. When he desired to move out (completely) from one body to another, the outlet—the navel—was formed with apāna (as the sense organ) and mṛtyu (the goddess of death as the presiding deity) was formed. On these two depends the separation (departing) from the body.

29. To him who became desirous for the intake of food and drink, stomach, intestines and veins (blood vessels) appeared with rivers and seas (as presiding deities). The satisfaction and the nourishment (of body) depend on them both (the organs and the deities).

30. When he wished to meditate on the Māyā of the Soul (ātman), the heart was produced. Then the mind (as the inner sense organ), the Moon (as the deity) and the functions of thinking and desiring (were produced).[9]

31. The seven essential ingredients of the body[10] are the inner skin and the outer skin, flesh, blood, fat, marrow anḍ bones which were created respectively from the earth, water, fire, prāṇa, ether, water and the air.

32. The organs of the senses have for their soul (i.e. are essentially related to) their objects (such as sound, touch etc.). Guṇas proceed from ahaṃkāra (ego). The mind consists of all vikāras (emotions, perturbations etc.). And Intelligence is characterised by the knowledge of the things as they are[11].

33. I have expounded to you the gross form of the Lord. It is covered from outside, with eight sheaths, of which the earth is the first.[12]

34.[13] Beyond this (gross—Virāṭ form of the Lord) is the subtlest, unmanifest, attributeless, (form) which has no beginning, middle or end (i.e. not subject to creation, subsistence and destruction). It is eternal and beyond the reach of words and mind.

35. I have described to you these two forms of the Lord. But sages[14] (learned men) do not take (accept) either of them as they are created by Māyā.

36. The Lord assumes the form of Brahmā and takes names, forms and actions, himself being both the things designated and the word denoting it. He is both the doer of actions, (through Māyā, but really) non-doer[15]. He is different and beyond the both.

37-39. He assumes (the names, forms and actions of) Prajāpatis, Manus, gods, sages, manes (Pitṛs), siddhas, semi-divine beings like Cāraṇas, Gandharvas, Vidyādharas; Asuras, Yakṣas, Kinnaras, celestial damsels, Nāgas, serpents, Kimpuruṣas (the same as Kinnaras), men, Mātṛs (such as Brāhmī, Māheśvarī etc.), evil beings like demons, Pretas,[16] Piśācas, Bhūtas (goblins), Vināyakas, imps like Kūṣmāṇḍa, Unmāda (like Kālakarṇa), Vetāla, Yātudhāna (a kind of demon), planets, birds, deer, beasts, trees, mountains and reptiles.

40. He creates all beings which fall into two categories (moving and stationary), and those divided into four classes according to their process of birth (viz. born out of the egg, the womb, sweat and seeds): and those classified in three as per their habitat (viz. those which live on the land, in the water and in the air). These are the fruits of the actions—merit, demerit and a mixture of the two.[17]

41. The consequences of the actions are three according to the three attributes, sattva, rajas and tamas, and (according to the predominance of the attribute) beings become residents in the heaven, this world and the hell. Oh king, when one out of these attributes is dominated by the other two, each of these courses are then subdivided in three varieties.

42.[18] This very glorious Lord who created the universe, takes the form of Dharma (upholder of the order) and protects and nourishes the universe, by taking incarnations in beasts, men, gods.

43. Then in due course, he, assuming the form of the Time of the world-destruction, the world-consuming Fire and Rudra[19], like a wind dispersing a host of clouds, destroys the world that is created by him.

44.[20] The divine lord of unimaginable power, glory etc. has been thus described (in his capacity of creator, protector and destroyer). But wise men should not think him to be of this much description.

45. Para Brahman is not a doer in the activity pertaining to creation (protection or destruction of the universe). It is for the sake of refuting his relation as agent that the description is given. It is imposed on him by Māyā.

46.[21] Oh king! this kalpa-period of god Brahmā along with its subdivisions (vikalpas) has been described to you. In this kalpa, (subtle) creations from prakṛti or mahat called Prākṛtikas and (gross) creations known as Vaikṛtika take place. Such types of creations are common to all kalpas[22].

47. I shall fully explain to you later the measure of time (both gross and subtle), the definition of kalpa and its division. Listen now to Pādma Kalpa.

Śaunaka said:

48. Oh Sūta! you told us that Vidura, the best of the devotees of the Lord, travelled to the holy places on the earth after leaving his relatives who are abandoned with great difficulty.

49. At what place did his discussion with Maitreya (Kauṣārava) on topics pertaining to the Soul take place? What did the revered Vidura ask him? What was his (Maitreya’s) discourse (in reply)?

50. Oh gentle Sūta! Please tell us all about it, and about Vidura’s activities, the cause of his leaving his brother and his return as well.

Sūta said:

Please listen.

51. I shall narrate to you in the order of questions put to the great sage by Parīkṣit and what discourses he gave on these questions.

Footnotes and references:


The Sūta literature which, in the sacrificial milieu of the Brāhmaṇa period, became encyclopaedic, was classified under five topics which were later regarded as the characteristics of the compilations called the Purāṇas. Every Purāṇa thus consists of the following topics:

(1) Creation (sarga),
(2) recreation after dissolution (pratisarga),
(3) Genealogy of Gods and sages (vaṃśa),
(4) History of dynasties (vaṃśānucarita),
(5) Manu-periods of time (manvantara).

Purāṇas themselves, acknowledged these topics as forming their essential characteristics. Vide Agni-purāṇa 1.14, Garuḍa-purāṇa 1.2.27, Kūrma-purāṇa I, 1,12, Matsya-purāṇa 5.3.64, Śiva-purāṇaVāyavīya Saṃhitā 1.41, Vāyu-purāṇaPrakrīyā Pāda 4.10.11; Viṣṇu-purāṇa 3.6.25. Under the influence of Vaiṣṇava theologies, these five topics were elaborated into ten topics enumerated in the above verses and later Bhāgavata-purāṇa 12.7.9-22 with a slight change in the nomenclature. As Balaḍeva Upādhyāya (Purāṇa-Vimarśa IV, pp. 125-139) shows there is not much difference between the contents of the five characteristics of Purāṇas in general and ten characteristics of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa


śrutenārthenaBhāgavata Candrikā combines these words and explains ‘as actually described in authoritative books or Vedas’.


Padaratnāvalī: Viṣṇu is the man who directs the organs of senses pertaining to the body (ādhyātmika). He is present also in the presiding deities of the sense organ (such as the Sun, the deity of perception or seeing). He is present in physical objects of perception, e.g. the jar etc. and the determiner between the ādhyātmika and ādhidaivika (e.g. the eye and the light seen by it). [This Viṣṇu is the āśraya (shelter) and controller of Jivas.]

According to Siddhāntapradīpa ādhyātmika is the set of cognitive and conative sense organs. Ādhidaivika is the group of presiding deities of the above organs. Physical body which is different from the above two is the ādhibhautika Puruṣa.


Padaratnāvalī: Having created principles (tattvas), the Puruṣa entered the Cosmic Egg along with them. Having broken it open, he manifested himself as the same Puruṣa. He wished to have place for sleeping on the bed of Śeṣa (another transformation of his Self). Being himself eternally pure, he created pure water suitable to be a material worthy of use in his worship.


cf. supra II. 5.14 and 22.


Bhāgavata Candrikā thinks that from the Prāṇa (vital energy) of god Brahmā, the Prāṇas of all beings were produced while Padaratnāvalī states that it is from Hari who was active within the interior cavity of the Virāṭ Puruṣa (or Brahmā) that the powers of Hari were produced, and these were the real source of the chief vital energy (Prāṇa), the possessor of the Powers called—sahas, ojas and bala.


In this description of the members of the body of the Cosmic Man (Virāṭ Puruṣa), the group of four, viz. the place, (adhiṣṭhāna), the sense-organ, the object of the sense and the presiding deity, though not stated, are to be understood in these verses. For example, this verse indicates that the palate is the position or place, the tongue is the sense organ, different tastes are the objects of the sense, and Varuṇa is the presiding deity of this organ.


śiṣṇa here stands for both male and female organs.


This is obviously based on the Aitareya Upaniṣad: Khaṇḍas 1 and 2. The mutual relations of the physical member of the sense organ, the organ of the sense, and the presiding deity as given in the Ait. Up. are tabulated below, which may be compared with the above description in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa

No. The member of the body;
the Physical Part.


Presiding Deity
1. Mouth—face Speech Agni (Fire)
2. Nose—nostrils Prāṇa Vāyu
3. Eyes Sight The Sun
4. Ears Audition or hearing Cardinal Points
5. Skin Hair The Lord of herbs (Oṣadhis)
6. Heart Mind The Moon
7. Navel Apāna Mṛtyu (Goddess of death)
8. Organ of generation Semen Water


dhātu—The usual list is rasāsṛṅ-māṃsa-medo'sthimajjā-śukrāṇi dhātavaḥ /—ASD. 524.

But here in Bhāgavata Purāṇa rasa and śukra are omitted and the cognitive organ īvac (and carman) are substituted for them.


Intelligence is a form of mahat-tattvaBhāgavata Candrikā


The remaining are of water, fire, air, ether, Mahat, ahaṃkāra and Prakṛti.

According to Bhāvāratha Dīpikā, here ends the description of the gross body (Virāṭ Śarīra) of the Lord.


According to Bhāvāratha Dīpikā, Siddhāntapradīpa and Subodhinī this is description of the subtle body (samaṣṭi-liṅga śarīra) of God, but Bhāgavata Candrikā interprets this as referring to mukta-jīvas, i.e. the individual souls in liberated condition, while Padaratnāvalī takes it as applying to the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord Hari.


Padaratnāvalī reads avipaścita [a-vipaścitaḥ], i.e. people who are weak in knowledge. Such persons cannot understand the above described two forms which are created by God’s will and Prakṛti.


akarmakaḥ [akarmaka]—As God’s will works (not he), he is not bound by the actions—Bhāgavata Candrikā


Bhāvārtha-dīpikā-prakāśa applies the term preta to those who met an accidental death.


This is a reply to Parīkṣit’s query yāvatyaḥ karmag atoyo jādṛśīr dvija-sattāma (Bhāgavata Purāṇa II.8.156).


Having described creation of the universe in the capacity of Brahman, the author describes the protection aspect in the capacity of Viṣṇu in this verse, and destructive aspect of Rudra in the next verse.


Bālaprabodhini Dīpanī—Radharaman Gosvami.


The venerable lord (Viṣṇu) is superior to other great gods (like Brahmā and Rudra). He has been described as quite different from others, and free from all defects (despite his actions of creation, destruction etc.). Wise men should look upon him as distinct from others (and not identical with others)—Padaratnāvalī


This is the reply to the question ‘yāvān kalpo vikalpo vā’ etc. in Bhāgavata Purāṇa 2.8.12.


Kalpa.—a day of Brahmā or 1000 yugas or 432 million years of mortal beings. Kramasandarbha. quotes from the Skanda Purāṇa (Prabhāsa Khaṇḍa) the list of 30 Kalpas. The present is the Śvetavarāha Kalpa.

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