The Itihasas : Fifth Veda

The Itihasas, or supplementary Vedic literature, helps explain the rituals of the Vedas and the highly compressed philosophy of the Vedanta-sutras by using historical events of the universe and factual stories of many great sages, demigods, and so forth.

Included in the Itihasas is the Mahabharata, written by Srila Vyasadeva. It is an historical epic about the great kingdom of Bharatavarsa, or the region of India. It contains 110,000 couplets making it the longest poem and greatest epic in world literature. It is divided into 18 sections called parvas, such as the Adi Parva, etc. It is a treasure house of Indian lore and holds within it a code of life for ethical, social and spiritual relations. Throughout this great epic every sort of human situation is described and every kind of emotion is aroused. There is a saying that if it is not in the Mahabharata then it is not to be found.

The Mahabharata deals with the activities of the Pandavas and Krishna’s relations, as well as topics that include the creation of the world, history of the sages, dharma, politics, military strategies, proper behavior of a king, and ways of spirituality and devotion to God. It includes the essence of the Upanishads and Vedic teachings, and the famous Bhagavad-gita.

The Mahabharata also explains a great variety of historical incidents, mainly consisting of the story of how the demoniac Kuru dynasty cheated the family of pious Pandavas time and time again out of their rightful heritage of the kingdom of northern India. Finally, after the Pandavas are exiled to the forest and attempted peaceful means to gain their right to the throne, the epic centers around the eighteen day battle at Kuruksetra, a place which is still found in Madhyadesa, a three hour train ride north of Delhi. There the Pandava army defeated the Kurus and their soldiers. This is also where Sri Krishna speaks the Bhagavad-gita to His friend Arjuna just before the battle takes place.

The Bhagavad-gita is from chapters 25 to 42 of the Bishma-parva section of the Mahabharata. It is a classic of Indian literature and considered the essence of all Vedic knowledge. It is the indispensable Upanishad and the important handbook or guide for traveling the spiritual path to God realization. It is especially good for those who do not have much time for reading or who cannot go very deeply into studying the Vedic literature. It contains knowledge of the soul, law of karma, reincarnation, attaining the Supreme, knowledge of God, and the essential purpose of life. It ultimately reveals the supremacy of the path of devotion, bhakti-yoga, as the best means for regaining our awareness of our relationship with the Supreme Lord. More importantly, the Bhagavad-gita is the direct instruction from God to His devotee. The Mahabharata is especially meant to draw the attention of people to the Bhagavad-gita through the format of an exciting, historical adventure, which is certainly found in the Mahabharata.

The Ramayana is a similar epic, consisting of 24,000 verses, and first written during the time of Lord Ramachandra by the great poet Valmiki, which describes the life of Lord Ramachandra, an incarnation of God, and His wife Sita. This is also a most touching and exciting adventure which explains how Lord Ramachandra lived in the forest and fought against and killed the great demon Ravana and his armies in order to rescue His wife, Sita, who had been kidnapped. Many other stories are included in this storehouse of wisdom that has been an inspiration for thousands of years to all people who have read it. In the incarnation of Lord Ramachandra, God appears as the perfect king and ruler, and inspires all His subjects with the greatest love for Him.

Even though the Itihasas are accepted as supplementary Vedic literature, the acharyas such as Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva have all presented the Itihasas as valid Vedic evidence and wrote commentaries on Bhagavad-gita. Actually Shankara thought the Gita was in fact the epitome of the essentials of all Vedic teaching.

Madhva, commenting on the Vedanta-sutras (2.1.6), quotes the Bhavisya Purana, which states, “The Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, Mahabharata, Pancaratra, and the original Ramayana are all considered Vedic literature. The Vaishnava supplements, the Puranas, are also Vedic literature.”

The Chandogya Upanisad (7.1.4) mentions the Puranas and Itihasas as the fifth Veda.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.4.20) also states, “The four divisions of the original sources of knowledge [the Vedas] were made separately. But the historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puranas are called the fifth Veda.”

Therefore, the Vedas themselves not only accept the four Vedas, the Upanishads, and Vedanta-sutras, but also the Mahabharata, Bhagavad-gita, the Ramayana, and the Puranas as being authentic Vedic literature.

The point is, to be accepted as Vedic literature it must present the same purpose as the original texts. But if it deviates from the Vedic conclusion or is a hodgepodge of various concocted philosophies, as are many viewpoints that one will find merged under the name of “Hinduism,” then it cannot be relied upon. Therefore, to be sure something is authorized, we only accept the established Vedic teachings that are supported in the many Vedic texts. So Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which do not refer to or support the conclusions of the Vedic texts, are considered non-Vedic, although outgrowths of Vedic philosophy and accepted as part of Hinduism by some.

 

THE PURANAS

Another important part of the Itihasas are the Puranas. The Puranas are the histories of the universe and contain many stories that took place on earth or even on other planets and dimensions, or in which superhuman powers are commonplace. As we pointed out earlier, Vedic knowledge often consists of information about things from beyond our own sense perception or experience. We can be assured of its authenticity because of the fact that many Vedic scholars such as Sukadeva, Maitreya, Madhva, Ramanuja, and others have reached spiritual perfection with the help of information found in the Puranas.

Each Purana is supposed to contain five basic subjects and in some cases ten. These include the creation of the world, its destruction and re-creation, the genealogy of the patriarchs and the demigods, the reigns of the Manus (who are the avataras in each duration of time known as a manvantara), and the history of the Solar and Lunar dynasties. Many of them also include descriptions of the activities of the incarnations of God, as well as the great sages and devotees of God. One thing that may seem somewhat confusing is that the stories are not in any particular chronological order and may be related at any time according to need. This is primarily due to the fact that the Puranas are generally related in a dialogue of questions and answers between sages and saints, or masters and disciples. Then the histories and stories are related in the answers.

Other subjects included in various Puranas are geography, astrology, use of military weapons, organization of society, duties of different classes of men, characteristics of social leaders, predictions of the future, law of reincarnation and karma, analysis of the material elements, symptoms of consciousness, how the illusory energy works, the practice of yoga, meditation, spiritual experiences, realizations of the Absolute, etc.

The Puranas explain more clearly and completely the spiritual philosophy found in the four original Veda samhitas. Thus, they especially are meant for all classes of people. Since all men are not on the same level of consciousness and are spread over many different types of thinking, feeling and desiring, the Puranas are divided so that any class of people can take advantage of them and utilize them to get out of the material entanglement either gradually or rapidly. So, depending on their position in life, people may use the particular Puranas that are most suited for them.

The Puranas are divided into two main groups consisting of the primary Mahapuranas and the secondary Upa-puranas. The Upa-puranas consist of eighteen, entitled: Sanatkumara, Narasimha, Naradiya, Shiva, Durvasasa, Kapila, Manava, Ausanasa, Varuna, Kalika, Samba, Nandi, Saura, Parasara, Aditya, Mahesvara, Bhagavata or Bhargava, and Vasistha.

The eighteen Mahapuranas are divided into three groups as mentioned in Padma Purana . One group considered to be related to the mode of tamo-guna, or the lower nature, consists of the Linga, Skanda, Agni, Matsya, Kurma, and Shiva (or sometimes the Vayu) Puranas. These are usually related to Lord Shiva. The next group is usually related to Lord Brahma and is considered connected with raja-guna, the mode of action or passion. These consist of the Brahma, Brahmanda, Brahma-vaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavisya, and Vamana Puranas. The third group relates to Lord Vishnu with satya-guna prevailing, which is the mode of purity or goodness. These are the Vishnu, Bhagavata, Narada or Naradiya, Garuda, Padma, and Varaha Puranas.

 

A REVIEW OF THE PURANAS

This review of the Puranas will exhibit some of the many topics found in each one. We offer this so that we can get an understanding of the basic content of each Purana and see the direction in awareness and understanding that can be reached by the study of particular Puranas.

The    Linga Purana  has about 11,000 verses in two sections. It focuses mainly on the glories and activities of Lord Shiva. This Purana includes the manifestation of the Shiva-linga and its worship, the worship and fasting days for Shiva, descriptions of the holy city of Kashi (Varanasi), Shiva’s thousand names, his marriage to Parvati, the appearance of Ganesh, and more. The later section also includes some descriptions of the glories of Lord Vishnu and some of His pastimes, as well as more about the worship of Lord Shiva.

The Skanda Purana is the largest with around 81,000 verses. It is divided into seven sections, mostly about Lord Vishnu and Shiva. It covers many different topics, some of which include the holiness of places like Kedar, Badarikashrama, Mathura, Kashi, Dwarka, and many other places and sacred rivers. It also covers worship of Shiva, the austerities of Parvati, worship of Vishnu and stories of prominent devotees, as well as activities and worship of Lord Rama,

The Agni Purana has about 15,000 verses. Herein Agni, the fire-god, explains to the sage Vashishtha many spiritual instructions. These include descriptions of the Lord’s incarnations, the universal creation, the greatness of the Ganges River, the science of astrology, religious disciplines, yoga practice, Ayurveda, knowledge of Brahman, and the art of bhakti, or devotional service.

The Matsya Purana has about 14,000 verses, which begins with the conversation between Lord Matsya and Manu. Again, it includes many topics, among which you can find descriptions of the universal creation, the family and descendants of King Iksvaku, Surya and Chandra, along with the ten avataras of God. It also relates the principles of worship and fasting on holy days, the pastimes of Parvati and Shiva, their marriage, and other stories.

The Kurma Purana has around 17,000 verses about the occurrences of the day of Brahma called Lakshmi-kalpa. Herein, the Lord’s incarnation as Kurma presents His teachings to the great sages. These include the manifestation and maintenance of the universe, the pastimes of Lord Krishna, the greatness of Kashi and other holy places, the effects of devotion (bhakti) to God that everyone should strive to attain, and the duties or dharma for liberation.

The Vayu Purana, or sometimes the Shiva Purana, has about 24,000 verses. In this book Vayu, the wind god, describes events of the present kalpa, or day of Brahma. It contains the usual information that a Purana explains, such as the process of creation, the incarnations of God, the manvantaras, the glories of the Narmada River, and detailed accounts of Lord Shiva.

The Brahma Purana has around 10,000 verses. This includes the stories of Lord Ramachandra, many stories of Lord Krishna, along with those of Surya the sun god, and the birth of Parvati and her marriage to Shiva, and other aspects of the Vedic sciences.

The Brahmananda Purana has around 12,000 verses in four parts. This provides descriptions of future kalpas (days of Brahma). Included are descriptions of the holy place of Naimisharanya, Bharatvarsha (the area of India) and other places in the world. It also describes other planetary systems, Svayambhuva Manu and other manvantaras, the activities of Lord Krishna, and the dynasties of King Iksvaku, Yadu and Vrishni, along with the dynasties and characteristics of people in the age of Kali-yuga. There are also descriptions of the creation and annihilation of the universe.

The Brahma-vaivarta Purana has about 18,000 verses in four sections. This Purana is known for the information it provides about Lord Vishnu and Shiva, and shows their unity. It also includes the basic topics of most Puranas, such as the account of the universal creation. It also provides 129 chapters of many stories of the pastimes of Radha and Krishna and how to worship Him. It also discusses Goloka, the divinity of Krishna and appearance of Radha, and numerous descriptions of Her, the birth and marriage of Tulasi, the story of Vrinda, and more. There are also accounts of Narada going to Shiva’s abode and receiving instructions, along with activities of Ganesh, Kartikeya, Parashurama, and others.

The Markandeya Purana has about 9,000 verses. Here we find the conversation between the sages Markandeya and Jaimini. A wide range of topics are discussed, a few of which include Lord Balarama’s pilgrimage when He refused to take part in the war of Kurukshetra, stories of Draupadi’s five sons, Dattatreya, the lineage of Vaivasvata Manu, stories of Lord Rama, Krishna, His incarnations, and various spiritual instructions.

The Bhavishya Purana has about 14,000 verses in five sections, or parvas. This deals with the characteristics of Brahma, dharma, worship of Vishnu and Shiva for worldly prosperity as well as liberation, and information about Surya. There are also instructions for religious discipline, charity, etc. The fifth section is what this Purana is most known for, which contains the descriptions of the kings and characteristics of the future of this age of Kali-yuga. However, there are now parts of this Purana, namely of the fifth section, that are completely lost. Furthermore, some scholars feel that certain portions of it, such as the Uttara Parva, were later additions that were separate from the original. So, though many people look to the Bhavishya Purana for its predictions of the future, it is not considered fully dependable because of the additions and deletions. However, numerous predictions of the future are also found in other Puranas, many of which can help substantiate those in the Bhavishya by comparisons.

The Vamana Purana has about 10,000 verses and describes the occurrences that take place in the day of Brahma called the Kurma-kalpa. It relates the fighting between the demons and demigods, Daksha’s unfortunate sacrificial ritual, the activities of Goddess Durga and Parvati, the greatness of Vishnu, and the conversation between Prahlada and King Bali, as well as the activities of Lord Krishna and His devotees.

The Varaha Purana has about 24,000 verses. Herein there is a conversation between Lord Varaha and Bhumidevi (the Earth Goddess) about the manifestation of Gauri (Parvati) and her sons Ganesh and Kartikeya. Gauri’s battle with the demon Mahishasura, and the greatness of holy sites like Mathura and other places are also described. It also has more about general Vedic philosophy.

The Narada Purana has around 25,000 verses. This Purana includes the teachings of the four Kumaras who offer their advice regarding such things as duties in family life and religious practice. There are also descriptions of the appearance and activities of Shukadeva Gosvami who learned the knowledge of the Bhagavatam and recited it for King Pariksit, along with the pastimes and characteristics of Lord Vishnu, Surya, Ganesh, Shiva, Durga, and others. It also offers descriptions of the other Puranas, as well as the greatness of such holy places as Haridwar, Kashi, Kuruksetra, Mathura, Vrindavana, and other places.

The Garuda Purana has around 19,000 verses in which Lord Vishnu answers questions of his carrier, Garuda, on Vedic topics and activities of the day of Brahma called the Tarkshya-kalpa. This Purana primarily relates the glories of Lord Vishnu. It contains the thousand names of Vishnu (the Vishnu Sahasranama), ways of meditating on Lord Vishnu and worship of Lord Krishna. It also includes the pastimes of Lord Rama, the process of yoga, types of charity, Sankhya philosophy, descriptions of the spiritual domain, the celestial regions, and the process for attaining liberation from material existence.

The Padma Purana is a large book of 55,000 verses in five sections. It includes the important stories of Lord Krishna and Vrindavana, Lord Rama, and other stories on the importance of various holy places, such as Pushkar, Jagannatha Puri, Kashi (Varanasi), Prayag (Allahabad), Gaya, and the Narmada and Ganga rivers. It also includes a section called the Bhagavata Mahatmya on the glories and greatness of the Bhagavata Purana.

The Devi Bhagavat is another prominent Purana not mentioned in the main groups that is said to be written by Srila Vyasadeva. It has 18,000 verses in 12 cantos. It offers descriptions of the other 18 Puranas and the 18 Upa Puranas. It also describes the 28 Vyasadevas who appeared at the end of each of the 28 Dvapara-yugas during the present time period known as the manvantara of Svayambhuva Manu. It also contains the typical information found in most Puranas, but the 10th canto specializes in information about the goddesses Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Sarasvati. The 9th canto explains that Vishnu and Shiva ultimately appeared from Lord Krishna, and both Lakshmi and Sarasvati manifested from the Supreme Goddess Srimati Radharani, while Durga appeared in front of both Radha and Krishna. This shows that Radha and Krishna are the source of all other forms of the Divine.

The Devi Bhagavat Purana says, as do other Puranas, that Vyasadeva appears at the end of every Dvapara-yuga to compile and write the four Vedas, and to reorganize the Puranas for the good of the people of Kali-yuga. This means that this information is eternal and is the same as that produced in its written form in the earliest Kali-yuga many thousands of years ago.

Out of all the Puranas, many scholars seem to agree that the Vishnu Purana seems to conform most closely to what a Purana is expected to be. It has around 23,000 verses. It contains the five essential subjects that a Purana is supposed to relate and also describes many other topics that are dealt with in detail. The central theme is praise of Vishnu, so it describes many aspects of Him and prominent stories of the Lord’s famous devotees, such as Prahlada, Dhruva, Prithu, and others. It also contains many stories of Lord Krishna in Vrindavana and Mathura, and His incarnations, along with the evils and predictions of the age of Kali-yuga, and many other facets of Vedic knowledge. This Purana is quite similar to the contents of the Bhagavata Purana, otherwise called Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is also centered around the theme of praise of Lord Krishna, the source of all other incarnations of God, and relates many stories of Lord Krishna’s pastimes.

 

The Srimad Bhagavatam

The Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, is held to be the most significant of all the Puranas. It has about 18,000 verses in 12 cantos and is the most widely read and one of the greatest works of devotion ever written. It is a book that goes to the core of understanding God and reveals the bliss of devotion to the Supreme Being, the depths of which make the other Vedic gods, such as Shiva, also hanker for it. This Purana describes how Vyasadeva came to write it and details the pastimes of the various avataras of God and His prominent devotees, but especially the pastimes of Lord Krishna. Other descriptions include the process of the universal creation and annihilation, the characteristics of the four ages or yugas, and much in the way of the teachings of Lord Krishna and Vedic knowledge.

Five hundred years ago Sri Chaitanya Mahaprahu, along with other scholars of the Vedas, relied on and researched the Bhagavatam extensively for information on the Absolute Truth and became immersed in many stories about Sri Krishna in their spiritual ecstasies.

The Bhagavatam is Sri Vyasadeva’s own commentary on all the Vedanta philosophy. It brings to light all the different aspects of the Absolute Truth, but especially the personal characteristics of Bhagavan Sri Krishna as the final conclusion of all Vedic understanding. This is why those who are impersonalists or monists, believing God ultimately has no form and, therefore, performs no activities, never reach the Bhagavatam in their Vedic studies. But if they do read the Bhagavatam, they are sure to interpret it in an impersonalistic way and, thus, deprive themselves of the truth and purity that they could derive from it.

Srimad-Bhagavatam is considered the postgraduate study of the Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavatam does not elaborate on worship of the other demigods or on rituals that award various temporary material benedictions as do some of the other Vedas and Puranas. Therefore, the Bhagavatam completely transcends all other philosophical viewpoints of the Vedic literature. This is confirmed in the Garuda Purana (Brahma Kanda, 1.45) where it states: “The wise declare knowledge to be manifold, consisting of various grades–high, low, and middling. All that knowledge is found in the Bhagavata Purana. Hence, Bhagavata is the highest of all Puranas.” Furthermore, in the “artho ‘yam brahma-sutranam” verse, it fully states: “The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the authorized explanation of Brahma-sutra, and it is a further explanation of Mahabharata. It is the expansion of the gayatri mantra and the essence of all Vedic knowledge. This Srimad-Bhagavatam, containing 18,000 verses, is known as the explanation of all Vedic literature.”

It is explained in the first verse of the Bhagavatam that it aims only at selfless devotional service to Lord Krishna. This is what separates it from all other Puranas. It ultimately delivers one to the Divine bliss found in the loving pastimes that Lord Krishna displays in His spiritual abode of Goloka Vrindavana. This topic is beyond the Vedas and Upanishads, which do not go near to that depth or level of spiritual understanding.

The Shruti scripture (Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishads), besides giving information on the process of rituals, primarily consists of knowledge of the futility of material existence, the temporary nature of the material creation, the bondage of the jiva souls in this existence, and the spiritual nature of the individual souls and the Supreme Being. They explain that the goal of life is liberation from the material worlds by returning back to the spiritual domain through the process of understanding karma, spiritual knowledge, renunciation, and devotion (bhakti). They do not explain much beyond this, or at least the finer details of what is beyond. They do not take you to the bliss of spiritual activities, nor the pastimes of Goloka Vrindavana, the most intimate and confidential spiritual abode of the Lord.

That is why it is especially the Bhagavatam that begins to explain the supreme bliss of devotional love in the eternal pastimes that go on in the Vaikuntha planets, and in the Vrindavana atmosphere. It is this Bhagavata Purana that first reveals the supremacy of Lord Krishna’s love and the reciprocation that He provides above all other forms of God. The Bhagavatam is the highest manifestation of the bliss that comes from purely concentrating on the Supreme without any material inebriates. It is from this platform that one can go deeper and deeper into such love and bliss, which then manifests even profounder realizations and experiences.

The second verse of the Srimad-Bhagavatam explains this point and what this Purana consists of and who can understand it:

Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, the Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyasadeva, is sufficient in itself for God realization. What is the need for any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhagavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within the heart.

As it is stated, this knowledge can be understood by those who are pure in heart. This means that those who are envious, atheists, or who read it with some ulterior motive will never be able to fully comprehend it. But for those who listen submissively and sincerely with an open mind, all the mysteries of the highest truth will gradually be revealed. That highest truth is “reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all.” Not that we can make up our own reality, but we must understand what is actually reality.

Even though we can find information about Lord Krishna’s pastimes in all the Puranas, particularly the Skanda Purana, Padma Purana, Vishnu Purana, and the 129 chapters of the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, as well as details about Radharani in the Devi Bhagavat, there is a difference in the Bhagavatam. The difference is that the other texts relate the pastimes like a reporter giving a description of the events. But in the Bhagavatam, especially in the 10th canto, the bliss of these pastimes is presented from a participant’s point of view, one who is involved, and not from a spectator who is merely watching and describing the proceedings. This is the way Vyasadeva was inspired by Narada, and how the Bhagavatam had been spoken by Shukadeva Gosvami to King Pariksit. King Pariksit had seven days left to live and asked for the most essential spiritual truth, so Shukadeva Gosvami spoke the Bhagavatam to him. This is also how the reader can dive deep into the rasa, or the taste of the loving relationship that is displayed between Lord Krishna and His devotees in Goloka Vrindavana. This loving bliss is not experienced or seen in the relationships with Shiva, Durga, Brahma, or Vishnu, or in their abodes. It is only available with Sri Krishna in Vrindavana. It is this bliss, this ever-increasing happiness, for which we are always searching, intentionally or not, knowingly or unknowingly. This is what the Bhagavatam delivers for one who can dive deep enough.

 

THE PREEMINENT NATURE OF THE SRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM

Many quotations regarding the extraordinary importance of the Bhagavatam can be found in several other Puranas, such as the Bhagavata-Mahatmya section of the Padma Purana, wherein we find such verses as the following:

The holy scripture known as Srimad-Bhagavatam was expounded in this age of Kali by the sage Sukadeva Gosvami [Vyasadeva’s son] with the object of completely destroying the fear of being caught in the jaws of the serpent of time. There is no means other than this conducive to the purification of the mind. One gets to hear Srimad-Bhagavatam only when there is virtue earned in one’s past lives. (1.11-12)… All the evils of Kali-yuga [this present age of quarrel and confusion] will surely disappear at the very chanting of Srimad-Bhagavatam, even as wolves take flight at the very roar of a lion. (1.62)… If you seek the highest destiny, read even yourself daily one half of a quarter of a verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam. (3.33)… Indeed, this is the righteous course prescribed in the Kali age for washing away all agony, poverty, misfortune and sin as well as for the conquest of passion and anger. Otherwise the illusory energy of the Lord is most difficult to get rid of even for the gods. How then can it be set aside by men? Hence, the course of hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam has been recommended. (3.64-65)… Like bubbles appearing in water or mosquitoes among living beings, those who remain deprived of hearing an exposition of Srimad-Bhagavatam are born only to die. (5.63)

There are many other verses in the Padma Purana that point out the potency and importance of the Bhagavatam. The importance of the book is also described in the Bhagavatam itself:

This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krishna to his own abode accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana. (Bhag.1.3.43.)

Another example (Bhag.12.13.14-16) is where Suta Gosvami emphasizes its significance, stating that the glorious Bhagavatam is considered to be the cream of all the Upanishads, and a man who is satisfied with tasting the nectar from it will not find such pleasure anywhere else. “All other Puranic scriptures shine forth in the assembly of saintly devotees only as long as that great ocean of nectar, Srimad-Bhagavatam, is not heard. Srimad-Bhagavatam is declared to be the essence of all Vedanta philosophy. One who has felt satisfaction from its nectarean mellow will never be attracted to any other literature. Just as the Ganga is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Achyuta, the supreme among deities and Lord Shambhu [Shiva], the greatest of Vaishnavas, so Srimad-Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas.” Suta Gosvami also says (Bhag.1.2.3):

Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto him [Sukadeva], the spiritual master of all sages, the son of Vyasadeva, who, out of his great compassion for those gross materialists who struggle to cross over the darkest regions of material existence, spoke this most confidential supplement to the cream of Vedic knowledge, after having personally assimilated it by experience.

Srila Suta Goswami explains the benefit of studying the Bhagavatam in this way, “Simply by giving aural reception to this Vedic literature, the feeling for loving devotional service to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sprouts up at once to extinguish the fire of lamentation, illusion and fearfulness.” (Bhag.1.7.7)

When Maharaja Pariksit learned that he had merely seven more days to live, only a week to bring his life to any kind of spiritual perfection, he asked the great sage Sukadeva Gosvami what he should do. Shukadeva was the son of Srila Vyasadva, the compiler of the Vedic literature. At the time, no one was more qualified than Sukadeva Gosvami to give such advice to the great king. In reply, Sukadeva Gosvami told Maharaja Pariksit: “The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life. O King Pariksit, mainly the topmost transcendentalists, who are above the regulative principles and restrictions, take pleasure in describing the glories of the Lord. At the end of Dvapara-yuga, I studied this great supplement of Vedic literature named Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is equal to all the Vedas, from my father, Srila Dvaipayana Vyasadeva. O saintly King, I was certainly situated perfectly in transcendence [realized in the impersonal Brahman], yet I was still attracted by the delineation of the pastimes of the Lord [Krishna], who is described by enlightened verses. That very Srimad-Bagavatam I shall recite before you because you are the most sincere devotee of Lord Krishna. One who gives full attention and respect to hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam achieves unflinching faith in the Supreme Lord, the giver of salvation.” (Bhag.2.1.6-10)

“My dear Maharaja Pariksit, that great personality Srila Vyasadeva taught me this scripture, Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is equal in stature to the four Vedas.” (Bhag.12.4.42)

Sukadeva Gosvami explained elsewhere that, “This Srimad-Bhagavatam has elaborately described in various narrations the Supreme Soul of all that be–the Personality of Godhead, Hari [Krishna]–from whose satisfaction Brahma is born and from whose anger Rudra takes birth.” (Bhag.12.5.1)

Regarding the power of the contents of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Sukadeva Gosvami relates that there are ten divisions of statements regarding the creation of the universe, the secondary level of creation, planetary systems, protection by the Lord, the creative impetus, the change of Manus, the science of God, returning home back to Godhead, liberation, and the summum bonum. (Bhag.2.10.1)

After a full description of the contents of the Bhagavatam, Suta Gosvami explains that for the person who glorifies this Bhagavata Purana by chanting or hearing it, the demigods, sages, Siddhas, Pitas, Manus, and kings of the earth bestow all desirable things. By studying this Bhagavatam, a brahmana can enjoy the same rivers of honey, ghee and milk he enjoys by studying the hymns of the Rig, Yajur and Sama Vedas. A brahmana who diligently reads this essential compilation of all the Puranas will go to the supreme destination, which the Supreme Lord Himself has herein described. However, not only can a brahmana who studies the Srimad-Bhagavatam achieve firm intelligence in devotional service, but also a king [kshatriya] who studies it gains sovereignty over the earth, a vaishya who studies it acquires great treasure, and a shudra is freed from sinful reactions. Lord Hari, the supreme controller of all beings, annihilates the accumulated sins of the Kali age, yet other literature does not constantly glorify Him. But that Supreme Personality of Godhead, appearing in His innumerable personal expansions, is abundantly and constantly described throughout the various narrations of this Srimad-Bhagavatam. (Bhag.12.12.62-66)

“From beginning to end, the Srimad-Bhagavatam is full of narrations that encourage renunciation of material life, as well as nectarean accounts of Lord Hari’s transcendental pastimes, which give ecstasy to the saintly devotees and demigods. 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.” (Bhag.12.13.11-12)

“Srimad-Bhagavatam is the spotless Purana. It is most dear to the Vaishnavas because it describes the pure and supreme knowledge of the paramahamsas [the swan-like saints]. This Bhagavatam reveals the means for becoming free from all material work, together with the processes of transcendental knowledge, renunciation and devotion. Anyone who seriously tries to understand Srimad-Bhagavatam, who properly hears and chants it with devotion, becomes completely liberated.” (Bhag.12.13.18)

Furthermore, the Srimad-Bhagavatam has not always been a book but is an ancient work and has been a spoken tradition from time immemorial. This is illustrated by the following narration. Once Maitreya Muni began to describe to Vidura, saying, “Let me now begin speaking on the Bhagavata Purana, which was directly spoken to the great sages by the Personality of Godhead for the benefit of those who are entangled in extreme miseries for the sake of very little pleasure. Some time ago, being inquisitive to know, Sanat-kumara, the chief of the boy saints, accompanied by other great sages, inquired exactly like you about the truths regarding Vasudeva, the Supreme Lord Krishna, from Lord Sankarshana, who is seated at the bottom of the universe. At that time, Lord Sankarshana was meditating upon His Supreme Lord, whom the learned esteem as Lord Vasudeva [Krishna]. For the sake of the advancement of the great learned sages who were there, He slightly opened His lotus-like eyes and began to speak. The sages came from the highest planets down to the lower region through the water of the Ganges, and therefore the hair on their heads was wet. They touched the lotus feet of the Lord, which are worshiped with various items by the daughters of the serpent-king when they desire good husbands.

“The four Kumaras, headed by Sanat-kumara, who all knew the transcendental pastimes of the Lord, glorified the Lord in rythmic accents with selected words full of affection and love. At that time Lord Sankarshana, with His thousands of raised hoods, began to radiate an effulgence from the glowing stones on His head. Lord Sankarshana thus spoke the purport of Srimad-Bhagavatam to the great sage Sanat-kumara, who had already taken the vow of renunciation.

“Thereafter, Sanat-kumara in turn, when inquired of by Sankhyayana Muni, explained Srimad-Bhagavatam as he had heard it from Sankarshana. The great sage Sankhyayana was the chief amongst the transcendentalists, and when he was describing the glories of the Lord in terms of Srimad-Bhagavatam, it so happened that my (Maitreya Muni’s) spiritual master, Parashara, and Brihaspati both heard him. The great sage Parashara, as aforementioned, being so advised by the great sage Pulastya, spoke unto me this foremost of the Puranas [Bhagavatam]. I shall also describe this before you, my dear son, in terms of my hearing, because you are always my faithful follower.” (Bhag. 3.8.2-9) In this way, for thousands of years before the Bhagavatam was ever compiled by Srila Vyasadeva in a written form, it had been handed down and spread through an oral tradition.

The Matsya Purana also says that which contains many narrations of spiritual instructions, begins with the gayatri mantra, and also contains the history of Vritrasura, is known as the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Whoever makes a gift of this great work on a full moon day attains to the highest perfection of life and goes back to the spiritual world.

All these references conclude that Srimad-Bhagavatam is the most ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic knowledge consisting of the most clearly defined and highest realizations and understanding of ultimate reality–the Absolute Truth. Over and above that it is also considered the incarnation of God in the form of sound vibration, as confirmed in the following verse: “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.” (Bhag.1.3.40)

From this verse it is made clear that Srimad-Bhagavatam is meant for the benefit of everyone who is sincerely interested in the highest truth, regardless of their background. Furthermore, it is compiled by Srila Vyasadeva who was an incarnation of God. He appeared in this world in order to give people this knowledge for the highest good. After all, who can explain the characteristics of the Supreme better than the Supreme Himself? This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (15.5) in which Krishna explains that He is seated in everyone’s heart and from Him comes remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness. He is the knower and compiler of the Vedas, by which He is to be known.

This is further elaborated in the Vishnu Purana, Book Three, Chapter Three:

In every Dvapara [or third] age, Vishnu, in the person of Vyasa, in order to promote the good of mankind, divides the Vedas, which is properly but one, into many portions: observing the limited perseverance, energy and application of mortals, he makes the Veda four-fold to adopt it to their capacities; and the bodily form which he assumes, in order to effect that classification, is known by the name of Vedavyasa.

Know, Maitreya, the Vyasa called Krishna Dvaipayana (Vedavyasa) to be the Deity Narayana; for who else on this earth could have composed the Mahabharata. . . That form of Vasudeva. . . composed of the Rig, Sama, and Yajur Vedas, is at the same time their essence, as He is the soul of all embodied spirits. He, distinguished as consisting of the Vedas, creates the Vedas, and divides them by many subdivisions into branches: He is the author of those branches: He is those aggregated branches; for He, the eternal Lord, is the essence of true knowledge. (Vishnu Purana, Book 3, Chapter 4)

These verses clearly explain that it is none other than the incarnation of the Supreme Being who has appeared in this world to compile and divide the Vedas so that people of all levels of intelligence can understand them. It is explained that no ordinary person can do such a thing. How can people who are limited and finite understand the Unlimited and Infinite unless that Supreme Being descends to explain this knowledge Himself? Therefore, as stated in the above-mentioned verses, the essence of the Absolute Reality is found in the Vedic literature, especially within the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

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