The Bhagavata Purana

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

This page describes The Samsara—a forest: An allegory which is chapter 13 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 thirteenth chapter of the Fifth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 13 - The Saṃsāra—a forest: An allegory

The Brāhmaṇa said:

1. Like unto a company of merchants intent on acquisition of wealth, this (well-known) multitude of jīvas desirous of and solely devoted to the attainment of pleasure[1], was put by the Prakṛti or Māyā, on the path (of Pravṛtti—active worldly life) which is unending and so difficult to traverse. It (the multitude of jīvas) sets its eye (attention) on[2] the activities actuated and dominated by (the attributes) sattva, Rajas and Tamas. While wandering (in search of pleasure) in the forest of Saṃsāra (worldly existence), it does not find any bliss.

2.[3] In that forest these six bandits (viz. sense-organs) perforce rob the caravan captained by an evil-minded leader, Oh king. Just as wolves carry away the sheep, jackals (in the form of relatives), finding entrance into their camp, carry off a careless member (devoid of spiritual outlook).

3. In the forest, impregnable with the dense growth of a mass of creepers, grass, clumps of trees and bushes the caravan was harassed by sharp stinging gnats and mosquitoes (In the householder’s life full of passions and actions, a man is harassed by wicked people). At some places they find the city of Gandharvas in the sky (the phenomenon is fictitious; so is one’s body), while at other places, they witness fleeting spirits in the form of fire brands.

4. Oh (King Rahūgaṇa!) With their intellect (mind) naturally anxious to find some dwelling-place, water and wealth, the company of merchants ran here and there in the jungle. And at some places, with eyes blinded with dust, it does not distinguish the directions darkened with the dust whipped up by whirl-winds (Here the whirl-wind stands for a woman who raises erotic sentiments which blind man to the existence of the dieties presiding over directions who stand witness to his actions).

5. With their ears acutely pained by the shrill cries of unseen crickets (i.e. back-biting by evil-minded persons) and with their minds agitated by the hooting of the owls (i.e. harsh words, scolding directly addressed by enemies, persons in authority), they resort to unholy trees[4] (i.e. irreligious persons) when tormented with hunger. At some places (when thirsty) they run after the mirage[5] (i.e. fruitless objects of worldly pleasure).

6. At some place they go towards beds of dry rivers (only to get their limbs bruised by falling, instead of getting water); being short of food they beg it from one another. At some places they approach the forest conflagration only to get scorched; at other places, they find to their despair that they are deprived of their life (-like wealth) by Yakṣas.[6]

7. At some other places, it, being deprived of its possession by the powerful government officials (or village chiefs expert in robbery) becomes mentally despondent. Overcomes with grief and bewildered, it faints away. At some places, it enters an imaginary city of Gandharvas (the company of loving near relatives) and feels overjoyed for a while, as it is really happy.

8. At some places, being desirous of scaling a mountain (i.e. attempting a great undertaking) it proceeds with the soles of its feet pierced with thorns and cut with gravel and sits down depressed in spirit. Tormented at every step by the inner (gastric) fire (or hunger), and with the (unbearable) responsibility of maintaining) a large family, it gets angry with its own people.

9. Sometimes being swallowed up by the boa-constrictor (viz. sleep) it lies like a dead body abandoned in a jungle and is not conscious of anything. Sometimes bitten down by fierce venomous snakes, it becomes blind and falling into a well with its mouth hidden with overgrown grass and plants, it lies immersed in darkness (i.e. misery and ignorance).

10. At times (when) it seeks after honey of low quality (i.e. courting another man’s wife) it is harassed and humiliated by bees (i.e. is insulted and beaten up by her husbands). If it (caravan members) is successful in that attempt with great difficulty, others rob it perforce, and while it is engaged in fighting with them, others carry off that booty.

11. And sometimes, (at some places), it (the caravan of merchants) sits down incapable of protecting itself against (lit. warding off) cold, heat, storm and showers of rain; at some other places they sell among themselves whatever they have with them and become enemies of each other by fraudulent money-dealings.

12. Now and then, being destitute of wealth, and devoid of bedding, blanket (to sit on), house and conveyance, they beg it from others. But not getting their desired objects, they cast a coveting glance at another man’s property and get insulted.

13. (Though) they develop hostile relations with each other by mutual (fraudulent) monetary transactions, they enter into marital relations with each other. Thus they proceed along their path, famished through suffering great difficulties, financial losses and other calamities (and feelings of hatred).

14. The caravan of merchants proceeds on its journey leaving behind those that are dead, at various places, and taking with them the new born babes. Nobody has as yet returned to its starting place. Nor does anyone (howsoever powerful) betake to yoga which lies at the terminus (of the road), Oh Warrior.

15. All those resolute and highminḍed warriors who have conquered the great elephants guarding the eight directions and who, claiming the earth as their own, have contracted hostility (with each other), shall lie dead on the battlefield. But they do not attain to the place (the region of Viṣṇu) where the recluse (the Sarhnyāsin) who has been free from enmity, reaches.

16. At some places, it (the caravan) clings to the arms (tender shoots) of creepers (i.e. rests on the tender arms of women); it longs to listen to the indistinct chirping of birds which have resorted to them (i.e. listen to the sweet indistinct warbling of children clinging to their mothers). And it feels strongly attached to them. Occasionally, at other places, it is afraid of a multitude of lions and makes friends with cranes, herons and vultures (Being afraid of death, they enter the fold of vile, cruel heretics).

17. Being deceived by them, it (the company of merchants tries to enter the flock of swans (i.e. knowing the futility of the false faiths, it tries to enter Brāhmanic fold). But not liking their pious way of life (i.e. not finding the Brāhmanic way of life to their liking), it approaches the monkeys (i.e. takes to the monkey-like behaviour of depraved people). By the (amorous) sports natural to that species, it (the caravan) gets its senses gratified (with sensual pleasures) and forgets the (approaching) end of life, while looking at the faces of each other.

18. Amusing himself in the trees (i.e. worldly objects observed in life), he fondly loves his children and wife. Being powerless in their own bondage, he becomes void of judgment due to the lust for sexual enjoyment. Some times falling into a valley due to inadvertence, he catches hold of a creeper and remains in a hanging position, afraid of elephant (below) (i.e. due to the meritorious acts done in previous life, he continues to live in fear of impending death).

19. If, by a lucky chance, he anyhow overcomes this calamity, he again enters the company of merchants (i.e. takes to the path of pravṛtti or active worldly life), Oh vanquisher of enemies. A person who is set on this path (of Pravṛtti) by Māyā (the unborn) continues to wander in saṃsāra. No such person has as yet perceived the highest Puruṣārtha (viz. Mokṣa or liberation).

20. Oh Rahūgaṇa! Even you are also set on this track (by Māyā). You lay down your sceptre (or desist from violence to living beings) and make friends with all beings. With your mind unattached to worldly pleasure and arming yourself with the sword of knowledge sharpened by (dedicated) service to Hari,[7] get to the other end of this road (of saṃsāra).

The King said:

21. Oh! The birth as a man is the most glorious of all births in other species. Of what use are other births even in the heaven, where the association with high-souled people like you whose minds are purified by (singing and listening to) the glories of Lord Hṛṣīkeśa (the Ruler of sense-organs—Viṣṇu), is not available to the full?

22. It is no wonder (at all) that pure devotion to Lord Hari is generated in the hearts of those whose sins have been destroyed by the dust of your lotus-like feet (when constantly- served for a long time). For my thoughtlessness and ignorance, rooted as it was in fallacious reasoning, has been completely removed by association with you for a short time (a muhūrta).

23. (As it is not known in what form the knowers of Brahman move about in the world, the King pays his respects to them all). Salutations to Brāhmaṇas (knowers of Brahman), who are advanced in age, to those (who are) infants, to the youthful ones, to all down to young boys! May (blundering) kings like me receive blessings from Brāhmaṇas who wander over the earth as avadhūtas (ascetics who have renounced all worldly attachment), giving no indication of their greatness.

Śrī Śuka said:

24. Oh Parīkṣit (son of Uttarā)! In this way, verily, (Bharata) the son of a Brāhmaṇa sage, who was endowed with the highest glory, explained, out of very great compassion, the real nature of the Self to (Rahūgaṇa) the King of Sindhu, even though he had insulted him. His feet were respectfully bowed by Rahūgaṇa with great remorse. Bharata, whose mind like that of an overful ocean, was unperturbed by waves in the form of senses, wandered over this earth.

25. Even the king of Sauvīra (Rahūgaṇa) who realized the real nature of the Supreme Self as taught by a saintly person (like Bharata), repudiated the false notion of identifying the Soul with the body—a notion superimposed on the mind by Nescience (avidyā), Oh King I Such is, therefore, the greatness of those who resort to the devotees of the glorious Lord.

The King Parīkṣit said:

26. Oh great devotee of the Lord! The path in the form of Saṃsāra of the individual souls has been described in indirect and allegorical language by you who possess very wide and varied knowledge. It will not be easily comprehensible to people who are not of trained mind. Hence, the same (allegory) which is difficult to understand, be pointed out (explained) by using the proper explanation.

Footnotes and references:


Bhaktamanorañjanī artha:—dharma, artha and kāma—the three puruṣārathas (highest ideals in life).


Padaratnāvalī: It (the multitude of jīvas) regards them as its own and identifies them with the Soul.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā, Bhāgavata Candrikā, VC., Siddhāntapradīpa, Bālaprabodhini, Bhaktamanorañjanī, state that although the allegory is explained in the next chapter, they are briefly explaining it for reader’s understanding the text of these verses.


This refers to the superstition that the shade of the vibhītaka tree (Terminalia belerica) is inauspicious by day and that of Pippala tree by night and that of the wood apple tree, day and night—Bhāvārtha-dīpikā-prakāśa


i.e. are attracted to the centres of the no-n-believers in Vedaspākhaṇḍa śramaṇasPadaratnāvalī

(ii) beg at the doors of notorious misers—VC.


Bhāvāratha Dīpikā explains: The dry riverbeds are the schools of the nonbelievers which lead to misery in the other world. The forest-fire is the household where the jīva is tormented with miseries. The Yakṣas and Rākṣasas are the government servants who squeeze out life-like wealth of men.


Bhāgavata Candrikā interprets Sevā as ‘the propitiation of the Lord by observing duties prescribed for one’s caste (varṇa) and stage of life (āśrama) and jñāna as constituting the worship of the Lord.

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