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Śrīmad Bhāgavatam Purāṇa

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam Purāṇa

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa (Devanagari: भागवतपुराण, also known as Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Bhāgavata, literally meaning Divine-Eternal Tales of The Supreme Lord) is one of the Maha (Sanskrit: 'great') Purāṇic texts of Hinduism, with its focus on bhakti (religious devotion) to Supreme God Vishnu (Nārāyaṇa), primarily focusing on Krishna.

The Bhagavata Purāṇa includes many stories well known in Hinduism, including the various avatars of Vishnu and the life and pastimes of his incarnation, Krishna or Svayam Bhagavan.

The Padma Purāṇa categorizes Bhagavata Purāṇa as a Sattva Purāṇa (Purāṇa which represents goodness and purity). Veda Vyāsa is accredited for being the author of Bhagavata Purāṇa and Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as it's translator from Sanskrit.

The Bhagavata Purāṇa is considered to be the purest and greatest of all the Purāṇas since it invokes devotion towards Lord Vishnu and his various incarnations, primarily focusing on Krishna since he was the complete incarnation of Lord Vishnu:

Canto 1: Creation

Canto 2: The Cosmic Manifestation

Canto 3: The Status Quo

Canto 4: The Creation of the Fourth Order

Canto 5: The Creative Impetus

Canto 6: Prescribed Duties for Mankind

Canto 7: The Science of God

Canto 8: Withdrawal of the Cosmic Creations

Canto 9: Liberation

Canto 10: The Summum Bonum

Canto 11: General History

Canto 12: The Age of Deterioration

About Śrīmad Bhāgavatam

The Bhagavata Purāṇa reveals the means for becoming free from all material existence, together with the processes of pure transcendental knowledge, renunciation and devotion to Lord Vishnu and anyone who seriously tries to understand, hears and chants the verses of the Bhagavata Purāṇa with devotion to Lord Vishnu, becomes completely liberated from material bondage and attains moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths in the material world.

The Bhagavata Purāṇa declares Lord Vishnu (Nārāyaṇa) as Para Brahman Supreme Lord who creates unlimited universes and enters each one of them as Lord of Universe. Lord Vishnu engages in creation of 14 worlds within the universe as Brahma when he deliberately accepts rajas guṇa.

Lord Vishnu himself sustains, maintains and preserves the universe as Vishnu when he accepts sattva guṇa and annihilates the universe at the end of Mahā-kalpa as Rudra when he accepts tamas guṇa.

The Bhagavata is a product of oral tradition, its extant version usually dated between 4th or 10th century CE.

The intense and personal bhakti described in the Bhagavata is directed toward Krishna as Vishnu in human form:

The tenth book (or canto), which is dedicated to Krishna, takes up about one quarter of the entire Bhagavata. It includes the most comprehensive collection of stories about the life of Krishna, showing him in all the stages and conditions of human life.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam also includes instruction in the practice of bhakti, an analysis of bhakti, and descriptions of the different types of bhakti.

Many Vaishnavas see Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as a holy scripture – right next to the Bhagavad Gītā and Vaiṣṇavite Upaniṣads. Many traditions praise also Vishnu Purāṇa, which is considered an older but more concise work.   

The Bhagavata takes the form of a story recounting Vyāsa's work being recited for the first time by his son Śūka to the dying King Parīkṣit, who owes his life to Krishna.

Longing to hear of Krishna before he dies, Parīkṣit hears the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam recited by Śūka, including questions by the king and replies by the sage, over the course of seven days.

Origins of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam

The Bhagavata itself claims primordial origins, while accepting that it has since been edited by human and divine hands. The text and Hindu tradition ascribe its authorship to Veda Vyāsa.

As a composer, Veda Vyāsa organized the Vedas which was a single unit into four units Rig, Sāma, Yajur and Atharva, so that the four kinds of officiating priests may perform and the Vedas do not disappear.

Vyāsa also wrote Mahabharata for the people who were debarred from studying Vedas to understand Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha principles.

Still he was very dissatisfied with himself and was contemplating on the source of his distress in the banks of river Saraswati.

During that time Sage Nārada arrived and Vyāsa Mahāṛṣi confesses that he was unhappy and that he does not feel any joy or satisfaction within himself:

He asks Sage Nārada for advice. Nārada asks Veda Vyāsa to create an epic (divine sacred text) which would describe the unsullied glory of Lord Vasudeva (Vishnu) and sing the glory of the Omnipresent Hari since it is only devotion which would please the Lord and nothing else.

Agreeing to which, thereupon, Vyāsa wrote Bhagavata Purāṇa and attained perfect peace of mind.

Bhakti

The Bhagavata is among the most important texts on bhakti yoga, presenting a fully developed teaching on bhakti that originated with the Bhagavad Gita. Bhakti is presented as a path of yoga, or "union with the divine".

Many of the bhakti teachings in the Bhagavata are presented as yogic activities—meditating on the līlā of Krishna; hearing and singing about Vishnu as Krishna; remembering, serving, and worshiping him; dedicating all of one's actions to him—all are among nine activities of Bhakti Yoga taught in the Bhagavata.

While classical yoga attempts to shut down the mind and senses, the Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavata teaches that the focus of the mind is transformed by filling the mind with thoughts of Krishna.

There are many didactic philosophical passages, but the lengthy narrative stories are also a teaching; the book describes one of the activities that lead to liberation (moksha) as listening to and reflecting on the stories of Bhagavan.

Even Kapila, the Samkhya philosopher, teaches his mother that in order to reach liberation, she must have bhakti, jñāna (wisdom), and vairāgya (dispassion), with bhakti being the most important. (3.25.18)

The Bhagavata also teaches that bhakti is more important than caste, stating that even a Chaṇḍāla who has deep faith and devotion is dearer to God than a Brahmin without faith. (III.33.7)

While not completely dismissing the caste system, it does reject the superiority of the Brahmin based solely on birth:

In the Bhagavata, devotees of Krishna include those from lower castes: Prahlad, considered the greatest of devotees, is the son of a demon king and of 'low birth'; the gopis are uneducated wives of herdsman, yet are very close to Krishna.

The Bhagavata held out the possibility of salvation through devotion (bhakti) regardless of caste or social status:

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is also critical of the acquisition, protection, and enjoyment of wealth, going as far as implying that only the poor can be true followers of bhakti. In one passage, Krishna says to Rukmini, "We are poor and we are always the favourites of poor persons." (X.60.14)