The Glorious Srimad Bhagavatam
“This Bhagavatam is the essence of all Vedanta 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.”- Srimad Bhagavatam (12.13.11-12)
Five ways to describe the Bhagavatam
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 Srimad Bhagavatam. According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarthy Thakura, the Srimad Bhagavatam can be compared to a lamp, the sun, Mohini-murti, a desire tree and a tasty fruit. It is compared to a lamp (adhyatma-dipam) because just as a lamp dissipates darkness in a room, so the lamp of the Bhagavatam 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 (puranarko) analogy is used to further elucidate the capability of the Bhagavatam 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 Purana, another form of the sun, has now risen in Kali-yuga for those who have lost their knowledge” (SB 1.3.43).
Mohini-murti had distributed the nectar to the demigods while baffling the demons by her charms. In the similar way, Bhagavatam baffles those who approach it insincerely, by giving out deviant meanings. As such the Bhagavatam 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 Bhagavatam, whose (mis)interpretation is specifically meant to bewilder the impersonalists who deny the personal aspect of the Lord.
sarva-vedanta-saram yad brahmatmaikatva-laksanam
vastv advitiyam tan-nistham kaivalyaika-prayojanam
“From beginning to end, the Srimad-Bhagavatam is full of the Lord’s pastimes which give bliss to the devotees, endowed with a sense of renunciation. This Bhagavatam is the essence of all Vedanta 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 galitam phalam suka-mukhad amrta-drava-samyutam) are another two analogies used to describe Srimad Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam 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 Purana with a zing – Uniqueness at its best!
Srimad-Bhagavatam is declared to be the essence of all Vedanta philosophy, because it is the natural commentary of the Vedanta sutras. One who has felt satisfaction from its nectarean mellow will never be attracted to any other literature (SB 12.13.15). Although Srimad-Bhagavatam is counted among the Puranas, it is called the spotless Purana because it does not discuss anything material, which it is liked by transcendental Vaisnava devotees. Therefore, subject matter found in Srimad-Bhagavatam is meant for the paramahamsas (paramo nirmatsaranam satam vedyam).
Technically, it is called a maha-purana, nevertheless Srimad Bhagavatam stands out as the most unique due to certain characteristics. For one, just like all maha-puranas, it contains all ten topics of interest (SB 2.10.1) but for the Bhagavatam, all the first nine topics are described specifically to glorify the tenth topic which is asraya, or the Supreme Shelter, Krsna, on the pretext of telling stories, etc. While in other Puranas, all the ten topics are pretty much stand-alone. Another feature is that it contains the pastime of Vrtasura, who was seemingly a demon externally but divine internally. Srimad Bhagavatam revealed and glorified the true devotional nature of Vrtasura, while other Puranas only describe the superficial events.
“Just as the Ganga is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Acyuta the supreme among deities and Lord Sambhu [Siva] the greatest of Vaisnavas, so Srimad Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas.” – SB 12.13.16
The way in which the Bhagavatam teaches it readers it also profound. While generally the Vedas teach in an instructive manner, akin to a parent educating their child; the Puranas teach laterally, like a friend to a friend and the Kavyas (poets) teach their audience just like a lover speaks to a beloved; Srimad Bhagavatam expresses itself to its readers by all the three mentioned ways. Hence, its nature is all inclusive and attractive.
Benedictions offered by the Bhagavatam
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-sruti, and is evident at the end of most great works. Srimad Bhagavatam 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.
Srila Prabhupada has often said that one who has studied Srimad Bhagavatam thoroughly; he has seen the end of knowledge- vidya bhagavatavadhih. Thus, Srimad Bhagavatam is the summit of all knowledge. One’s learning is complete when he reads Srimad Bhagavatam. Otherwise he remains imperfect, in spite of all learning.
Revolution is also preached in the Bhagavatam- 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 Srimad Bhagavatam is able to bestow the highest benediction of loving devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna just by regular recitation.
ittham harer bhagavato ruciravatara-
viryani bala-caritani ca santamani
anyatra ceha ca srutani grnan manusyo
bhaktim param paramahamsa-gatau labheta
“The all-auspicious exploits of the all-attractive incarnations of Lord Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and also the pastimes He performed as a child, are described in this Srimad Bhagavatam and in other scriptures. Anyone who clearly chants these descriptions of His pastimes will attain transcendental loving service unto Lord Krsna, 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, Sanatana Gosvami has declared that by reading Srimad Bhagavatam 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 Bhagavatam is an incarnation of Lord Krsna.
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 Srimad Bhagavatam gives to its readers.
Authorities Claim Its Prevalence
Srila Suta Gosvami introduces to the sages of Naimisaranya the name of the scripture to which he will be narrating from by saying, “idam bhagavatam nama, This Srimad-Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of God, and it is compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, 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 Bhagavatam, Srila Sukadeva Gosvami 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, Srila Sanatana Gosvami has very feeling expressed his attachment for this divine scripture and his desire to constantly be immersed in its narrations in his prayers.
ha na munca kadacin mam premna hrt-kanthayoh sphura
“O Srimad-Bhagavatam, 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 Krsna.”
Interestingly, the Garuda Purana glorifies on the authenticity of the Bhagavatam by saying that “This is the most complete [of the Puranas]. It is the purport of the Vedanta-sutra, establishes the meaning of the Mahabharata, is a commentary on Gayatri, and completes the message of the Vedas. It is the Sama Veda among the Puranas, spoken directly by the Personality of Godhead. This work with twelve cantos, hundreds of chapters and eighteen thousand verses is called Srimad-Bhagavatam.”
In line with this, both the Skanda Purana (Visnu-khanda 6.4.3) and Padma Purana (Uttara-khanda 198.30) respectively, coincides by declaring how Srimad Bhagavatam is Lord Krsna Himself.
srimad-bhagavatakhyo ’yam pratyaksah krsna eva hi:
“Without a doubt Srimad-Bhagavatam is directly Lord Krsna.”
srimad-bhagavatasyatha srimad-bhagavatah sada
svarupam ekam evasti sac-cid-ananda-laksanam
“Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Personality of Godhead are always of the same nature—possessed of eternal existence, full knowledge, and complete bliss.”
Hence, the Srimad Bhagavatam itself, along with other scriptures elucidates the brilliance of this great science. The complete power, potency and purpose of Srimad Bhagavatam has to be, and can be, appreciated by all who take to its study under guidance of a bona-fide spiritual master, coming in the disciple succession. The glories of such a wonderful gift to mankind have no limits or bounds. What has been described thus far is but a drop from the limitless ocean of glories of Srimad Bhagavatam.