Bhagavata Purana

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The Puranas hold a unique place in the history of Indian literature. They contain a mine of knowledge and information on all philosophical and religious topics. The scriptural texts, srutis and smritis, cannot be easily understood by most people. So the all-merciful Vedavyasa composed the eighteen Puranas for the benefit of mankind and explained in an easy way the subtle truths and deep problems. The task of the Puranas is to popularise the Vedic truths by means of narratives, stories and anecdotes. The Puranas contain fables, fairy tales, philosophy, religion, myth and legend.

The Srimad Bhagavata consists of 18,000 verses, 335 sections and 12 chapters. The book is named Bhagavata because it speaks of the glory of Bhagavan or Vishnu. It is one of the most authoritative Indian scriptures, containing the essence of all the Puranas, and it exercises a direct and powerful influence on the opinions and feelings of all who hear or read it.

The Bhagavata Purana is a chronicle of the ten avataras of Lord Vishnu: Matsya (the fish), Kurma (the tortoise), Varaha (the boar), Narasimha (the man-lion), Vamana (the dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the axe), Ramachandra (the hero of the Ramayana), Sri Krishna, Buddha (the prince ascetic and founder of Buddhism) and Kalki (the hero on a white horse who is to come at the end of the Kali Yuga).

The object of Matsya avatara was to save Vaivasvata Manu from destruction by a deluge. The object of Kurma avatara was to enable the world to recover some precious objects lost in the deluge. The tortoise gave its back as a base for the churning rod when the gods and the asuras churned the ocean of milk. The purpose of Varaha avatara was to rescue from the waters the Earth which had been dragged down by a demon named Hiranyaksha. The purpose of Narasimha avatara, half-lion and half-man, was to free the world from the oppression of Hiranyakshipu, a demon, the father of the bhakta Prahlad. The object of Vamana avatara was to restore the power of the gods, which had been eclipsed by the penance and devotion of King Bali.

The object of Parashurama avatara was to deliver the country from the oppression of the kshatriya rulers. He destroyed the kshatriya race twenty one times. The object of Rama avatara was to destroy the wicked Ravana. The object of Sri Krishna avatara was to destroy Kamsa and other demons, to deliver his wonderful message of the Bhagavad Gita, and to become the centre of the bhakti schools of India. The object of Buddha avatara was to prohibit animal sacrifices. The object of Kalki avatara, who will appear before the end of the Kali Yuga, is the destruction of the wicked and the re-establishment of virtue.

Only in the Bhagavata Purana is the history of the universe systematically dealt with. Lord Krishna is the central figure of this unique book. The Bhagavata teaches that bhakti is associated with jnana. It does not divorce knowledge from bhakti, but teaches that jnana is extremely helpful for the perfect attainment of bhakti. In the Bhagavata the ambrosia of bhakti is mixed with the elixir of jnana.

Bhagavata Saptahams are held throughout India in which the whole Srimad Bhagavata is recited within seven days. This provides a good occasion for listening to and understanding the whole of the Bhagavata. The Bhagavata is the solace of life. It is unique in its beauty and charm, in its diction and philosophy. A study of the book inspires devotion, instils knowledge and creates real vairagya.