Srimad Bhagvatam in a nut shell
atra sargo visargaś ca sthānaṁ poṣaṇam ūtayaḥ
manvantareśānukathā nirodho muktir āśrayaḥ [SB 2.10.1]
A purana generally deals with ten subjects, and so does Srimad Bhagavata maha purana – “sarga” (creation of the ingredients of the cosmos by the Supreme Lord), “visarga” (secondary creations of Brahmā), “sthāna” (the maintenance of the creation), “poṣaṇa” (special favor given to the faithful),“Uti” (impetuses for activity),”Manvantara” (reign of Manus and prescribed duties for mankind), “īśānukathā” (description of the associates of Lord), “nirodha” (the winding up of the creation),”Mukti” (liberation from gross and subtle material existence), “Aśraya” (the ultimate shelter, the Supreme Personality of Godhead). All the cantos of Srimad Bhagvatam deal with all the ten topics but primarily a prominence of a topic can be observed in every canto.
Padma Purana describes the twelve cantos of Srimad Bhagavatam as different limbs of the transcendental body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna.
padau yadiyau prathama dvitiyau
tritiya turyau kathitau yad uru
nabhis tatha pancama eva sasto
bhujantaram dor yugalam tathanyau
kanthas tu rajan navamo yadiyo
mukharavindam dasamam praphullam
ekadasau yasya lalatha pattam
siro pi tu dvadasa eva bati
tam adi devam karuna nidhanam
tamala varnam suhitavataram
apara samsara samudra setum
bhajamehe bhagavata svarupam
The first two cantos of the Srimad Bhagvatam form the prelude to the Bhagvatam and the context in which the background of the entire narrative is presented. The First Canto has description of the questions by the sages of Naimisaranya to SutaGoswami, birth and activities of Parikshit Mahraja, and meeting of Shukadeva Goswami and Maharaja Parikshit.
In the Second Canto Shukadeva Goswami responds to Maharaja Parikshit’s questions and explains the superiority of Bhakti yoga, shares a conversation of Narada Muni and Brahma regarding the supremacy of Lord Krishna and the status of Brahma; the conversations contain some description of Sarga and Visarga. Further, enthusiastic Parikshit maharaja asks twenty-one more questions and Shukadeva Goswami responds by quoting the conversation of Brahma and the Supreme Lord, which contains thefamous Catuh-shloki Bhagavatam. Realizing that similar questions have been asked by Vidura and Maitreya he shares Vidura-Maitreya conversation that spans over the third and the fourth cantos. Cantos, one and two are referred as the lotus feet of lord, thus it is important that we start studying Bhagvatam from beginning and gradually move up, as often emphasized by Srila Prabhupada.
Sarga, the creation, is described further in the first eleven chapters of third canto. Understanding the Supreme Lord means knowing Him along with His potencies, just as understanding the sun means knowing it along with its potency, the sunshine. To understand Lord’s different energies working to create the elements of universe is also important. This phase of creation is called sarga, or the primary creation. Vidura, on the recommendation of Uddhava, approaches Maitreya Muni to understand how the Supreme Lord creates material elements, sense devatas, Virata Rupa, Purusa avataras, different planets, jivas, vibhutis etc. Brahma’s prayers for secondary creation, Lord’s reply to Brahmaji and characteristics of time are also described in this section.
Visarga or secondary creation is the subsequent creation that is conducted by Lord Brahmā. It is described in Canto three, chapter twelve onwards until the fifteenth chapter of Canto five. Brahmā is also called Puruṣa or Vairāja. This section contains details of creation by SvayambhuvaManu and the lineages of his five children vis-a-vis Devhuti, Akuti, Prasuti, Uttanpada and Priyavrata. This lineage includes some great devotees like Prthu Maharaja, Dhruva Maharaja, Bharata Maharaja, King Risabhadeva and the Pracetas. The description has important detours that contain Teaching of Lord Kapiladeva, description of Lord Varahadeva, and the Daksa yajna episode. Cantos, three and four are referred as Lord’s lotus thighs.
Sthanam or sthiti, is the overseeing of the maintenance of the rules and regulations governing the universal affairs by Lord Viṣṇu. The maintenance function shows Viṣṇu’s prominence over Lord Brahmā and Lord Śiva, who are in charge of the secondary creation and of destruction, respectively. It is described in Canto five of Srimad Bhagvatam and it contains geography of the Universe; descriptions of the seven islands of bhumandala,structure of the universe and movements of the sun and different planets, and finally the description of hellish planets. Canto five is the lotus navel of Krishna.
Poṣaṇa, is the act of sustenance followed by the act of maintenance in sthanam. It is the grace of Lord Krishna which he showers on the saintly and religious people by protecting them. After hearing descriptions of hellish planets Parikshit Maharaja was worried and thus he inquired how such people can be delivered and answer was stories of sixth canto. This canto reveals glories of Bhakti through the story of Ajamila, which is very alarming yet encouraging for the sadhakas. Character of magnanimousking Chitraketu and the angelic demon Vrtrasura is glorified in this canto followed by transformation story of Diti and Indra which includes appearance of Maruts. Then Shukadeva Goswami shares the details about subsequent creationfrom Pracetas and their son Daksa. Canto six is considered the chest of theSupreme Lord.
Ūti, refers to inclinations, in the form of impressions within the mind. Provoked by their karma, living beingsperform various material activities during the maintenance, of the creation, and these activities give rise to various inclinations for further materialactivities. Pariskhit Maharaja was intrigued if Lord is biased towards demigods seeing Lord’s favors to Indra even though he attempted to kill the child in the womb of Diti. Referring to a similar question asked by Yudhistira Maharaja to Narada regarding the deliverance of Shishupala, Shukadeva Goswami shared the conversation between Narada and Yudhistira to prove the equal behaviour of Krishna for all living entities. This conversation has descriptions of auspicious inclinations of Prahlada Maharaja and demoniac inclinations like that of Hiranyakasipu. The canto also contains descriptions of Sanatana-dharma and Varnasrama dharma as part of discussions between Prahlada and an avadhuta.
Manvantara includes, the activities of each Manu, along with the activities performed by the saintly people during the Manus’ reigns. Each day of Lord Brahmā contains fourteen periods, each of which is ruled over by a Manu (father of mankind). The Manus are saintly kings empowered to look after the welfare of all human beings. A Manvantara has six elements vis-a-vis Manu, sons of Manu, seven sages, Indra, demigods and Lord’s incarnations; canto eight describes these six elements during one such day of Brahma. Thecanto narrates famous pastimes of Gajendra, Samudra Manthan and Vamana deva – Bali Maharaja. Cantos, seven and eight are referred as the arms of Lord Sri Krishna.
Īśānukathā is the description of the Lord’s pastimes and the activities of His associates. The pastimes of descendants of the ten sons and one daughter of Vaivasvata Manu – Sun and moon dynasty respectively are explained. This canto is full of different famous pastimes like Maharaja Ambarisha and Durvasa Muni, Saubhari Muni, Bhagiratha, and Lord Ramachandra who appeared in the Sun Dynasty. In the moon dynasty, from the daughter Ila of Vaivasvata Manu, the famous pastimes are of Pururva-Urvashi, Vishwamitra, Lord Parasurama, and Yayati. Canto nine is the beautiful neck of Lord Krishna.
Asraya-tattva appears after īśānukathā in Bhagavatam though Nirodha comes in the logical flow; Asraya it is the foundation of the other nine topics. Since, this section is lotus face of Krishna it appears before Nirodha. It is said that the purpose of the other nine topics is to explain the tenth topic, the āśraya, who is the source of creation and annihilation. The events that occur under the headings of these above mentioned topics all take place by His potency; indeed, the very reason why the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes these topics is to help us come to know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for a person is known by His works and attributes. Asraya-tattava as explained in tenth canto, which is considered the lotus face of Lord Krishna, has details of Lord Krishna’s appearance, his pastimes in Vrindavana, his pastimes in Mathura followed by pastimes in Hastinapura and Dvaraka. Followed in the eleventh canto, is description of Mausala-lila, the disappearance pastime of Yadus.
Mukti is the condition, when a living entity escapes both his subtle and gross bodies to achieve his constitutional position. A living entity can practice devotional service of Krishna to attain perfection and thus jiva is not compelled to take birth again in the material world rather enters the spiritual planets, where he eternally resides in his original, spiritual form. One can attain this state of eternal liberation by hearing topics as detailed in conversation of Navayogendras and Nimi, Uddhava Gita and Disappearance of Krishna and Yadus. The eleventh canto is considered the forehead of the Lord.
Nirodha is the phase of existence when Jivas go in an inactive state corresponding to the Lord’s sleep. Lord goes to sleep when it is time for annihilation, He turns His eyes away from the creation, and this turning away is called His sleep; then the cosmic destruction happens. Thisaspect is detailed in canto twelve and includes four types of destructions,deterioration of Dharma in Kali-yuga, passing away of Mahraja Parikshit, Division of Bhagavatam, Activities of Markandeya Rsi and the Conclusion of Bhagavatam. The twelfth canto is considered the head of Lord Krishna.
Bhagavata-mahatmyam mentions that whenever and wherever the devotee Bhāgavata hears and recites the book Bhāgavata, at that time and at that place Lord Kṛṣṇa personally appears. Wherever a verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, or even a half-verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, is recited, Lord Kṛṣṇa and His beloved gopīs manifest there. A person who regularly hears or recites Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam delivers the forefathers of his wife, mother, and father.
By studying and hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, brāhmaṇas are enlightened with knowledge, kṣatriyas achieve victory over their enemies, vaiśyas acquire wealth, and śūdras are freed from disease. After many lifetimes of performing pious activities, when a person achieves full perfection, then he obtains the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. By reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam one’s devotional sentiments are awakened and Lord Kṛṣṇa manifests within the heart.
The students at the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha, relish the study of Srimad Bhagavatam translated and commented by Srila Prabhupada. The daily classes by experienced teachers, group discussions amongst the students, daily exams and occasional presentations by the students make this study enlivening and systematic.