“This Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta philosophy because its subject matter is the Absolute Truth, which, while non-different from the spirit soul, is the ultimate reality, one without a second. The goal of this literature is exclusive devotional service unto that Supreme Truth.”- Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (12.13.11-12)
Five ways to describe the Bhāgavatam
The significance of any item or person can only be fully comprehended if one understands its glories. The same is true for such a transcendental literature as Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarthy Thakura, the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam can be compared to a lamp, the sun, Mohinī-mūrti, a desire tree and a tasty fruit. It is compared to a lamp (adhyātma-dīpam) because just as a lamp dissipates darkness in a room, so the lamp of the Bhāgavatam eradicates the darkness of ignorance and reveals the general descriptions of the Lord such as His creation pastimes and dealings with the material world.
The sun (purāṇārko) analogy is used to further elucidate the capability of the Bhāgavatam in totally nullifying the effects of ignorance, just as the rising sun disperses the dense darkness of night and along with it all mischievous and envious beings. Specifically though, it describes how this Purāṇa, another form of the sun, has now risen in Kali-yuga for those who have lost their knowledge” (SB 1.3.43).
Mohinī-mūrti had distributed the nectar to the demigods while baffling the demons by her charms. In the similar way, Bhāgavatam baffles those who approach it insincerely, by giving out deviant meanings. As such the Bhāgavatam reciprocates with the kind of person that approaches it, giving the true meaning only to the devotees who are sincere and engaged in devotional service of the Lord. An example is from a verse in the Bhāgavatam, whose (mis)interpretation is specifically meant to bewilder the impersonalists who deny the personal aspect of the Lord.
sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ yad brahmātmaikatva-lakṣaṇam
vastv advitīyaṁ tan-niṣṭhaṁ kaivalyaika-prayojanam
“From beginning to end, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of the Lord’s pastimes which give bliss to the devotees, endowed with a sense of renunciation. This Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta philosophy because its subject matter is one Brahman, a substance with no duality. The main goal of the work is merging.” (SB 12.13.11-12)
The desire tree and tasty fruit (nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalaṁ śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava-saṁyutam) are another two analogies used to describe Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. The Bhāgavatam is able to fulfill the desires of all who approach it and it gives the highest transcendental taste of rasa to the devotees who are eager to relish the pastimes of the Lord.
The Purāṇa with a zing – Uniqueness at its best!
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is declared to be the essence of all Vedānta philosophy, because it is the natural commentary of the Vedānta sūtras. One who has felt satisfaction from its nectarean mellow will never be attracted to any other literature (SB 12.13.15). Although Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is counted among the Purāṇas, it is called the spotless Purāṇa because it does not discuss anything material, which it is liked by transcendental Vaiṣṇava devotees. Therefore, subject matter found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is meant for the paramahaṁsas (paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ vedyam).
Technically, it is called a maha-purāṇa, nevertheless Śrīmad Bhāgavatam stands out as the most unique due to certain characteristics. For one, just like all maha-purāṇas, it contains all ten topics of interest (SB 2.10.1) but for the Bhāgavatam, all the first nine topics are described specifically to glorify the tenth topic which is āśraya, or the Supreme Shelter, Krsna, on the pretext of telling stories, etc. While in other Purāṇas, all the ten topics are pretty much stand-alone. Another feature is that it contains the pastime of Vṛtāsura, who was seemingly a demon externally but divine internally. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam revealed and glorified the true devotional nature of Vṛtāsura, while other Purāṇas only describe the superficial events.
“Just as the Gaṅgā is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Acyuta the supreme among deities and Lord Śambhu [Śiva] the greatest of Vaiṣṇavas, so Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the greatest of all Purāṇas.” – SB 12.13.16
The way in which the Bhāgavatam teaches it readers it also profound. While generally the Vedas teach in an instructive manner, akin to a parent educating their child; the Purāṇas teach laterally, like a friend to a friend and the Kāvyas (poets) teach their audience just like a lover speaks to a beloved; Śrīmad Bhāgavatam expresses itself to its readers by all the three mentioned ways. Hence, its nature is all inclusive and attractive.
Benedictions offered by the Bhāgavatam
Vedic descriptions are so auspicious that by reciting, hearing or reading about them, one can amass multitudes of spiritual and material benefit. This is called the phala-śruti, and is evident at the end of most great works. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam however, is entirely beneficial that any section read, heard or discussed – even once – can free one from material existence and place a dutiful practitioner on the path of bhakti.
Śrīla Prabhupāda has often said that one who has studied Śrīmad Bhāgavatam thoroughly; he has seen the end of knowledge- vidyā bhāgavatāvadhiḥ. Thus, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is the summit of all knowledge. One’s learning is complete when he reads Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Otherwise he remains imperfect, in spite of all learning.
Revolution is also preached in the Bhāgavatam- but unlike the modern political ones – it calls on for a revolution of the heart, cleaning it of all impurities. It glorifies the literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord, as a unique creation- one full of transcendental words – that is directed towards bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. It further states that such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.
Above all, this Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is able to bestow the highest benediction of loving devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa just by regular recitation.
itthaṁ harer bhagavato rucirāvatāra-
vīryāṇi bāla-caritāni ca śantamāni
anyatra ceha ca śrutāni gṛṇan manuṣyo
bhaktiṁ parāṁ paramahaṁsa-gatau labheta
“The all-auspicious exploits of the all-attractive incarnations of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and also the pastimes He performed as a child, are described in this Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and in other scriptures. Anyone who clearly chants these descriptions of His pastimes will attain transcendental loving service unto Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is the goal of all perfect sages.” (SB 11.31.28)
It even goes a step further by citing how just by regularly hearing, chanting and meditating on the beautiful topics of Lord Mukunda with ever-increasing sincerity, a mortal being will attain the divine kingdom of the Lord, where the inviolable power of death holds no sway (SB 10.90.50). Moreover, Sanātana Gosvāmī has declared that by reading Śrīmad Bhāgavatam one attains transcendental bliss, for its syllables rain pure love of God upon the reader. It is always to be served by everyone, for the Bhāgavatam is an incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Consequently, purification, education, bliss, devotional service, attainment of the Kingdom of God and pure love of Godhead, are but some of the great blessings that Śrīmad Bhāgavatam gives to its readers.
Authorities Claim Its Prevalence
Śrīla Sūta Gosvāmī introduces to the sages of Naimiṣāraṇya the name of the scripture to which he will be narrating from by saying, “idaṁ bhāgavataṁ nāma, This Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the literary incarnation of God, and it is compiled by Śrīla Vyāsadeva, the incarnation of God. It is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and it is all-successful, all-blissful and all-perfect.”
Even the main speaker of the Bhāgavatam, Śrīla Śukadeva Gosvāmī has personally testified how although perfectly situated in transcendence, he was still attracted by the delineation of the pastimes of the Lord, who is described by enlightened verses.
In addition, Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī has very feeling expressed his attachment for this divine scripture and his desire to constantly be immersed in its narrations in his prayers.
hā na muṇca kadācin māṁ preṁṇā hṛt-kaṇṭhayoḥ sphura
“O Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, O giver of saintliness to the unsaintly, O up lifter of the very fallen, please do not ever leave me. Please become manifested upon my heart and my throat, accompanied by pure love of Kṛṣṇa.”
Interestingly, the Garuḍa Purāṇa glorifies on the authenticity of the Bhāgavatam by saying that “This is the most complete [of the Purāṇas]. It is the purport of the Vedānta-sūtra, establishes the meaning of the Mahābhārata, is a commentary on Gāyatrī, and completes the message of the Vedas. It is the Sāma Veda among the Purāṇas, spoken directly by the Personality of Godhead. This work with twelve cantos, hundreds of chapters and eighteen thousand verses is called Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.”
In line with this, both the Skanda Purāṇa (Viṣṇu-khaṇḍa 6.4.3) and Padma Purāṇa (Uttara-khaṇḍa 198.30) respectively, coincides by declaring how Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is Lord Krsna Himself.