A Rare but Noble Birth
Although belonging to humble beginnings, Vyāsadeva is one of ancient history’s most prominent and significant personalities. His divine appearance is recorded in the Srimad Bhagavatam (12.6.48-49). He was credited with themonumental task of recording into script-form all the Vedic scriptures for the benefit of future generations – whom he foresaw to be spiritually destitute. Filled with divinity, his birth and life throughout, was simple and modest. He wasborn to the great sage Parāśara Muni and Satyavatī, the daughter of a fisherman, who by the blessings of Parāśara, became fragrant for miles.
Later on, Satyavatī, become the wife of Mahārāja Śāntanu and begot two sons named Citrāṅgada and Vicitravīrya. Unfortunately, due to an early death, both of these sons were without issue, and thus on the request of his mother to continue to royal heritage, Vyāsadeva begot Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Pāṇḍu and Vidura in the womb of the two wives and the maidservant of Vicitravīrya.
He is known by many names such as Bādarāyaṇa, Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana, Dvaipāyana, Satyavatī-suta, Pārāśarya, Parāśarātmaja, Bādarāyaṇa, Vedavyāsa, etc. He is one of the seven cirañjīvas, or deathlesspersons (the others are Aśvathāmā, Bali, Hanumān, Vibhīṣaṇa, Kṛpa, and Paraśurāma). He is known for his severe practice of austerities and generally resides at the place called Śamyāprāsa in Badarikāśrama, in the area of theHimalayas, even till today.
The Best-Selling Author of All Creation
Vyāsadeva is mainly known for his work as the complier of the Vedas. He divided (vyāsa means “divide”) the one Veda into four parts – the Ṛg, Sāma, Yajur, and Atharva and taught each of them to one of his disciples, who in turn continued the disciplic succession in that manner. To Paila Ṛṣi he entrusted the Ṛg Veda, to Jaimini the Sāma Veda, to Vaiśampāyana Yajur Veda and to Aṅgirā Muni the Atharva Veda (SB 1.4.21-22).
He also wrote supplementary scriptures such as the Itihāsas, eighteen Purāṇas, one-hundred-eight Upaniṣads, the Mahābhārata, the Brahma-sūtras (Vedānta-sūtras) and then the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. The itihāsa-purāṇās was entrusted to Romaharṣaṇa Sūta and Śukadeva Gosvāmī (Vyāsa’s son), who later became the first person to publicly recite the Bhāgavatam. Each of these scriptures contains thousands of millions of verses, a feat that is impossible for a common man. One can only imagine what potency it took for Vyāsa to write in that way. For this factual reason, Veda-vyāsa is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
In Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī’s Tattva-sandarbha (16.2), he quotes ViṣṇuPurāṇa 3.4.2–5 to explain that in every divya-yuga (cycle of the four cosmic ages) a different jīva (soul) usually is empowered as a śaktyāveśa-avatāra to take the position of Vyāsa, the divider of the Vedas, but in this present divya-yuga, Lord Nārāyaṇa Himself appeared as Vyāsa. Therefore the present Vyāsa is Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa, for He is Lord Nārāyaṇa Himself and not an ordinary śaktyāveśa-avatāra.
With GreatPower Comes Great Responsibility
The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam relates how Vyāsa felt despondent after compiling the collection of Vedic literatures. He approached his spiritual preceptor Nārada Muni, to diagnose the cause of his distress. He clarified how out ofgreat compassion for the fallen conditioned souls in the age of Kali, he had undertook the task of scribing the Vedic texts and even compiling the Mahābhārata, specifically for those not astute with spiritual knowledge.
Thousands and millions, did he write,
Dissatisfied at heart, was his plight,
Shelter he sought, in Narada’s might,
Born was the Bhagavatam, the giver of light.
Nārada Muni told him that unfortunately, the Vedic descriptions only entangles materialistic persons in karma-kāṇḍa activities and creates illusions in their understanding of the actual purport of the Vedas, which is to know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Those descriptions were full of imports of dharma, artha, kama and moksa and therefore failed to directly and repeatedly glorify the name, fame, form, qualities, and pastimes of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord.
Vyāsa thus immediately began writing the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, which can be accurately perceived as the pinnacle of the Vedic literary tradition. Hetaught the Bhāgavatam, as he had heard from Nārada to his son Śukadeva Gosvāmī, who later spoke it to Mahārāja Parīkṣit in an assembly of sages.
Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to Vyāsadeva as “the original spiritual preceptor for all mankind.” In his honor, the annual festival celebrated by Vaiṣṇavas on the day of their spiritual master’s birth anniversary is known as Vyāsa-pūjā Day because the bona fide guru is the representative of Vyāsa.
Influence in History
Vyāsadeva’s extraordinary qualifications are evident from Vedic scriptutes. He is identified throughout the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas as Bhagavān, or the Supreme Person, and sometimes He is called an incarnation of Nārāyaṇa, as mentioned earlier. He is depicted as (1) aṛṣi, or “seer,” (2) a ṛtvij, or “priest,” (3) a tapasvin, or “ascetic,” (4) a yogin, or “mystic,” and finally as (5) a guru. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.4.16–33) asserts that he foresaw the oncoming Kali-yuga, with its attendant degradation.
In the Mahābhārata, Vyāsa performed major Vedic rituals for the Pāṇḍavas; at both the Rājasūya sacrifice and the Aśvamedha sacrifice, Vyāsa was the priest in charge. When Yudhiṣṭhira becamed aggrieved at being responsible for the massacre at Kurukṣetra, Vyāsa attempted to pacify him along with Kṛṣṇa (SB 1.8.46). Vyāsa had an informal guru relationship with the five Pāṇḍava princes, who knew him as their “well-wishing advisor” (mantrī priya-hitaḥ). He was also present at the passing of Bhīṣmadeva, son of Mahārāja Śāntanu (SB 1.9.6-7) as well as when Śukadeva Gosvāmī, spoke Śrīmad Bhāgavatam to Mahārāja Parīkṣit.
Interestingly, it is said that as a result of his penances and austerities, he is able to appear and disappear at will, and to award boons and dispense curses. One such incident is that of Gāndhārī, the mother of the Kauravas. She had become jealous at the birth of the Pandavas and gave a blow to her own pregnant abdomen. As a result, she gave birth to a lump of fleshonly, but since she was a devotee of Vyāsadeva, by the instruction of Vyāsadeva the lump was divided into one hundred parts, and each part gradually developed to become a male child.
Later, when all her sons died in the Battle of Kurukṣetra, she was very affected and wanted to curse Bhīmasena and Yudhiṣṭhira, but she was checked by Vyāsadeva. Finally, she was pacified by Vyāsadeva when he showed her that her dead sons had been promoted to the heavenly kingdoms.
As it has been described thus far, one can only gain gratitude and appreciation for Śrīla Vyāsadeva and his literary works. Ironically, it seems that God only spoke the Vedic Sciences (Kṛṣṇa), and God only wrote them (Vyāsa). Later, it was God only who propagated them, via Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.