THE GITAS OF THE BHAGAVATAM
By Gauranga Darshan Das
Srimad Bhagavad-gita is the greatly enlightening philosophical song sung by Lord Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to instruct the bewildered Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. Bhagavad-gita systematically presents the knowledge of the soul, karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, astanga-yoga, bhakti-yoga, the modes of material nature, the virat-rupa and so on. The five truths that embody the teachings of Bhagavad-gita are isvara (the Supreme Lord), jiva (the living entities), prakrti (material nature), kala (time), and karma (activities). Studying and understanding the Gita is considered foundational to one’s spiritual life.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam also contains many beautiful gitas or songs sung by various illustrious personalities. These songs inspire and enlighten us with spiritual knowledge of various levels. The following is a brief summary of the popular gitas found in the Bhagavatam, along with the contexts in which they appear. The titles of these gitas as presented below are found either in the Bhagavatam directly or in the commentary of the great acarya Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura.
The Song of Lord Siva (4.24.33-68)
The Pracetas were the ten sons of Pracinabarhi, a king in the dynasty of Dhruva. They went to perform devotional austerities to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Vasudeva (Krsna), before taking up the charge of their father’s kingdom. Knowing this, the foremost demigod Lord Siva, who is a great devotee of Lord Vasudeva, voluntarily came before them to guide them in devotional service to Vasudeva. Thus He taught them this song called the Rudra-gita. In the Rudra-gita, Lord Siva first offers prayers to the Supreme Lord in the form of His quadruple expansions (catur-vyuha), who are the presiding deities of consciousness, ego, intelligence and mind. He also offers prayers to the deities of the senses and physical elements for self-purification. He then describes the beautiful form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead that is very dear to the devotees and he describes the glory of seeing and rendering devotional service unto Him. Siva praises the unalloyed devotees of the Lord and prays for their association. He concludes his prayer by describing the relationship between the Supreme Lord and the material creation. Chanting this Rudra-gita for ten thousand years under water, the Pracetas attained the darsana of the Supreme Lord, Visnu, who blessed them in various ways.
The Song of Krsna’s Flute (10.21.7-19)
In the autumn season, Lord Krsna enters the forest with the cows and the cowherd boys, while playing His flute. At that time, the cowherd damsels of Vrndavana, the gopis, gather together in groups, and glorify the transcendental song of Krsna’s flute, which enchants various beings in Vrndavana. This loving discussion of the gopis is called the Venu-gita, and in it they say, “The flute is more fortunate than us. When Krsna plays on His flute, moving beings become stunned and non-moving entities tremble, the peacocks dance ecstatically, doe and bucks worship Him, the demigoddesses get attracted, the cows drink that vibration with their upraised ears as vessels, the calves stand still and embrace Him within their hearts, the birds get absorbed like sages with closed eyes, and the currents of the rivers break and the arms of their waves embrace His feet presenting lotus offerings. Even the summer clouds construct an umbrella for Krsna and shower cooling drizzles.” The gopis also glorify the fortune of Vrndavana for attaining the opulence of Krsna’s direct footprints and they glorify Govardhana Hill for being the best of Krsna’s servants, offering many services to Krsna, His cows and His friends.
The Song of Separation (10.31.1-19)
During the full moon night of the autumn season (sarat-purnima), Lord Krsna played His flute, attracting the minds of the gopis. Leaving aside their household chores, relatives and so on, the gopis immediately rushed into the forest to meet Krsna. However, upon reaching Krsna, Krsna gave them numerous accounts of why they should return home, although deep within His heart He wanted them to stay. Due to their attachment for Him, the gopis only heard His external words and became heartbroken and thus fervently requested Him to accept them as His maidservants. Hearing their plea, the self-satisfied Krsna reciprocated with them by initiating the rasa dance. Induced by the lila-sakti (pastime potency) of the Lord, the gopis felt proud for having received such special attention from Krsna. Noticing this, Krsna disappeared immediately. In separation from Krsna the gopis searched for Him all over the forest and enacted His various pastimes and sang their song of separation, called the Gopi-gita. In the Gopi-gita the gopis accuse and praise Krsna in nineteen verses. Each verse is spoken by a different gopi expressing her individual mood, but all of them are united in their single purpose of meeting Krsna. The gopis glorify the land of Vrndavana where Krsna appeared, accuse Krsna for leaving them (yet acknowledge His protection earlier), express their individual desire for Krsna’s blessings, glorify krsna-katha, and remember Krsna entering the forest in the morning and returning to the village in the evening. They also express their intense separation that makes a moment like a millennium and they finally pray for His favor again. Thus as all the gopis wept loudly and Krsna returned to enliven them and reciprocate with their love.
The Gopis’ Song as Krsna Wanders in the Forest (10.35.2-25)
The gopis felt separation from Krsna during the day when He went to tend His cows in the forest. As Krsna played His flute to announce His coming to the trees, creepers, birds and beasts suffering in separation, the gopis’ love increased on hearing that sound. In separation, they sang about Krsna’s transcendental pastimes, in the form of the Yugala-gita, consisting of twelve pairs of verses sung at various times as they stood in small groups here and there in Vrndavana. Among the groups some are present in front of Mother Yasoda also. As their mood of separation became ever more intense, Krsna’s names, forms, qualities and pastimes began spontaneously manifesting in their hearts. Thus they sang as follows: “The beauty of Krsna attracts the minds of all. When He stands in His threefold-bending form and plays upon His flute, the Siddhas become attracted to Him. The bulls, cows and other animals become stunned in ecstasy like figures in a painting. Rivers stop flowing. When Krsna calls the cows’ names by blowing on His flute, even the trees and creepers display eruptions and their sap pours down like a torrent of tears. Krsna’s flute causes the birds to close their eyes in meditation and the clouds in the sky to gently rumble. Even great authorities like Indra, Siva and Brahma become astonished to hear such music. We gopis are anxious to offer everything we have to Krsna. When Krsna returns to Vraja, He plays His flute while His young companions chant His glories.”
The Gopis’ Song as Krsna Leaves Vrndavana (10.39.19-31)
Kamsa is the cruel uncle of Lord Krsna. Knowing that Krsna would be the cause of his death, he sent Akrura to Vrndavana to bring Krsna and Balarama to Mathura so that he could kill Them. The elders of Vrndavana headed by Nanda Maharaja, although reluctant, prepared to send Them. However, the gopis, who can’t bear even a moment’s separation from Krsna, were devastated thinking about this impending lengthy separation from Him. Meeting in different groups, they began conversing with tears in their eyes and that conversation is called the Viraha-gita. In their Viraha-gita, the gopis condemn the creator for separating them from Krsna who had shown them His beautiful face. They say that Akrura did not deserve his name, since he was so cruel (krura) in taking their dearmost Krsna away, without even consoling them. Then they lament their own fate and even blame Krsna. They say that the dawn is going to be auspicious for the residents of Mathura, for they will be seeing Krsna, the reservoir of all transcendental qualities. Because the elders of Vraja did not forbid Krsna, the gopis decided to stop Him themselves, keeping aside their shyness. With these words the gopis loudly cried out, “O Govinda! O Damodara! O Madhava!” But even as they wept, Akrura began taking Krsna and Balarama to Mathura in his chariot. The gopis also walked behind for some distance, but were finally pacified by Krsna’s glances, gestures and His message that said “I will return.” With their minds completely absorbed in Krsna, they stood as still as figures in a painting until they could no longer see the chariot’s flag or its dust cloud. Then, chanting Krsna’s glories, they despondently returned to their homes.
The Song of the Bee (10.47.12-21)
Once, after going to Mathura, Lord Krsna sent Uddhava to Vrndavana with a message for the gopis. When the vraja-gopis saw lotus-eyed Uddhava, who resembled Krsna and even wore clothes and ornaments like Him, they curiously approached and encircled him. Realizing that Krsna had sent him, they brought him to a secluded place and spoke confidentially. The gopis remembered Krsna’s pastimes, and putting aside their shyness, they loudly wept in separation. One gopi, deeply meditating on Krsna, noticed a bumblebee (bhramara) and imagining it to be a messenger of Krsna, spoke to it blaming Krsna. The acaryas explain that this gopi is Srimati Radharani who expressed Her Supreme love for Sri Krsna through ten kinds of impulsive speech namely parijalpa, vijalpa, ujjalpa, and so on. Her song is called the Bhramara-gita. In it She says, “Just as bees wander from flower to flower, Sri Krsna has abandoned the vraja-gopis and developed affection for others.” She spoke contrasting Her own supposed ill fortune to the good fortune of others who got the association of Krsna. All the while She glorified the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of Lord Krsna. She then declared that although Krsna may have abandoned the gopis, they could not possibly stop remembering Him even for a moment. Uddhava was astonished to see this highest degree of pure devotion of the gopis and tried to console them, who were so anxious to see Krsna again. Uddhava then related to them Lord Krsna’s message.
The Song of the Queens (10.90.15-24)
Lord Sri Krsna resides in His opulent capital of Dvaraka with His queens. He would enjoy sporting with His wives in the ponds. With His graceful gestures, loving words and sidelong glances, He would enchant their hearts and the queens would become totally absorbed in thoughts of Krsna. The transcendental madness (unmada) of the queens filled them with such ecstasy that they saw their own mood reflected in everyone and everything else. Ten verses that express their ecstatic mood are together called the Mahisi-gita, in which the queens would address various creatures – the kurari and cakravaka birds, the ocean, the moon, a cloud, a cuckoo, a mountain, a river, and so on – declaring their own great attachment to Sri Krsna, in the pretext of empathizing with them.
Krsna’s Teachings to Uddhava (11.7-29)
Uddhava is the dear devotee of Lord Krsna, who considers Uddhava as good as Himself. When Krsna was about to disappear from the vision of this world, Uddhava was overwhelmed with intense feelings of separation and desired to accompany Krsna. However, Krsna wanted Uddhava to go to Badarikasrama and enlighten the sages there on His behalf. At that time, Krsna gave Uddhava His final teachings in the form of the Uddhava-gita, the longest philosophical section of the Bhagavatam. The Uddhava-gita is more elaborate than the Bhagavad-gita which Krsna spoke to Arjuna. The Uddhava-gita constitutes a wide range of topics namely detachment from this world, the twenty-four gurus episode, the symptoms of conditioned and liberated souls, the Supreme Lord’s opulences, the varnasrama system, pure devotional service, Sankhya philosophy, jnana-yoga, deity worship, the three modes of material nature, Vedic paths, and so on, along with fitting examples and references to historic incidents. After hearing Krsna’s final instructions, Uddhava departed for Badarikasrama.
The Song of Avanti Brahmana (11.23.42-57)
The story of Avanti brahmana appears as a part of the Uddhava-gita. Krsna narrates this story to teach how one should tolerate the disturbances of evil persons. Harsh words pierce the heart more severely than arrows. Yet, Avanti brahmana, considered them to be simply the consequences of his own past deeds and tolerated them soberly. Previously he had been a greedy, angry and miserly agriculturalist and merchant. However, in due course of time, he lost his wealth and was abandoned by everyone. Thus he developed a deep sense of renunciation and began to see Krsna’s hand in his life. Remaining fixed in his spiritual practice, he sang a song known as the Bhiksu-gita: “Neither the mortals, the demigods, the soul, the planets, the reactions of work, nor time are the causes of one’s happiness and distress. Rather, the cause is the mind alone that makes the soul wander in the cycle of material life. The real purpose of all charity, religiosity and so forth is to bring the mind under control. The false ego binds the transcendental soul to material sense objects. I shall cross over the insurmountable ocean of material existence by rendering service to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Mukunda, with perfect faith as exhibited by the great devotees of the past.” Thus, Avanti brahmana became determined in his renunciation and bhakti and his example was adored even by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who sang his verse after accepting the renounced order of life.
The Song of Pururava (11.26.7-28)
The Aila-gita is also part of the Uddhava-gita. To explain how unfavorable association is a threat to one’s position in devotional service, Lord Krsna gave the example of the emperor Pururava (also called Aila). Aila was bewildered by the association of the heavenly lady Urvasi, and later became renounced after being separated from her. Expressing his contempt for undue attachment to the opposite sex, he sang a song called the Aila-gita: “Persons who are attached to the body of a woman or a man – which is simply a mass of skin, meat, blood, bones, and so on – are not much different from worms. When one’s mind is stolen away by the opposite sex, what is the value of education, austerity, renunciation, Vedic knowledge, and so forth? Learned men should distrust their six mental enemies, headed by lust, and thus avoid degrading association.” Thus Pururava was freed from illusion and eventually attained peace by realizing the Lord.
The Song of Mother Earth (12.3.1-13)
The Bhumi-gita is the song sung by Mother Earth who lamented for the foolishness of the kings who are bent upon conquering her. She says, “Great kings, who are actually just playthings of death, desire to subdue their six internal enemies – the five senses and the mind – and then they imagine that they will go on to conquer the earth and all its oceans.” Seeing their false hopes, Mother Earth simply laughs, for eventually they all must leave this planet, just like all the great kings of the past. She continues, “After usurping some part of the earth – which is actually unconquerable and must be given up – fathers, sons, brothers, friends and relatives quarrel over it, attack one another and die. The passage of time reduces them all to mere historical accounts and none could rule permanently.” The study of history of so many kings naturally leads one to the conclusion that all worldly achievements are temporary, and this conclusion should give rise to a sense of renunciation. Ultimately, the highest goal of life for any living entity is pure devotion to Lord Krsna.
Thus the Srimad-Bhagavatam presents various gitas, some with profound philosophy, some with heartfelt spiritual emotions and yet others with deep realizations of various personalities, all for our enlightenment and inspiration. It is not possible to present the expanse and depth of these great gitas in this short article, yet a humble attempt has been made to give just a glimpse.
Gauranga Darshan Das, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (www.vidyapitha.in) at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including Bhagavata Subodhini and Caitanya Subodhini, and teaches Bhagavatam courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.