The Srimad Bhagavatam, also known as the Bhagavata Purana, is one of the most important Vedic texts of ancient India. In this article we explore the Srimad Bhagavatam in greater depth and share reasons why it’s a must-read for any serious spiritual seeker.
The Origin of Srimad Bhagavatam
A Disquieted Heart
One day, after sunrise, Vyasadev sat alone in the peaceful atmosphere of his hermitage, Badarikashrama. Small droplets of water from the River Sarasvati fell from his matted hair onto the earthen floor of his thatched hut. His dark skin glistened in the morning sunlight.
The sage’s mind was clear as a crystal. In the faint light of dawn, he had stood half-submerged in the flowing water of the Sarasvati and silently chanted the gayatri mantra, the sacred hymn of the twice-born. He now sat on a grass mat immersed in deep contemplation. Despite the serenity of his surroundings, Vyasa felt dissatisfied.
“What is the cause of this?” he wondered. “I have entrusted the Veda to my four disciples, including the Puranas and the Mahabharata. Still, I do not feel that we have actually secured an auspicious future for the living entities of the coming age. Is it possible that the paramahamsas, the saintly devotees, are displeased with me? Did I fail to sufficiently glorify the process of bhakti-yoga, unalloyed devotional service to the Lord? Did I not adequately narrate the nectarine pastimes of Sri Hari?”
The Guru Appears
Vexed by such worries, the noble sage struggled to identify the underlying cause of his disconent. Suddenly Sage Narada, Vyasadev’s spiritual master, manifested before his eyes. Vyasa immediately rose and fell flat like a rod before Narada. Again rising, he blinked away tears of delight as he gazed upon the effulgent form of his spiritual master.
Without wasting a moment, Vyasadev offered a seat to Narada and inquired from him.
“Gurudev,” he said, “why is my heart not satisfied, even though I have compiled the four Vedas for the welfare of all living beings?
Smiling, Narada replied, “You have indeed broadcast the glories of fruitive work and mental speculation, but you have neglected the very essence of scripture: the sublime qualities of Lord Vasudeva. This is the root cause of your malaise.”
Saying this, for the edification of his disciple, Narada proceeded to recount the history of his previous life:
“In my previous birth, I was born from the womb of a washerwoman. Once, when I was still a small boy, some sages who were expert in the Veda resided with us and allowed us to serve them during Chaturmasya. Per the direction of scripture, throughout those four months I honored the remnants of their food and eagerly listened to their glorification of Lord Hari.
“After only a short time, as a result of that saintly association, I felt my consciousness become purified. From these great saints, I received attachment unto Lord Narayaṇa, and by their grace I became fixed into devotion to Him.
“When the rainy season ended, before leaving, the rishis gave me the most confidential Vaishṇava initiation, and sowed in my heart full knowledge of the truth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“In course of time, I was separated from my mother. Departing alone, I wandered foreign lands, passing through cities, towns, and villages; mountains, forests, and caves.
“Finally, after a long time had passed, I felt exhausted. Taking bath in a nearby river, I sat beneath a tree. With my mind fixed in one-pointed attention, I began to meditate upon Lord Narayaṇa.
“As soon as I began to meditate upon the lotus feet of the Lord, my mind overflowed with transcendental love. As tears rolled down my eyes, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, suddenly appeared on the lotus of my heart. I was absorbed in an ocean of ecstasy.
“Then, as quickly as He had manifested, the Lord disappeared. Upon losing that form, I leapt to me feet and looked around me, very much aggrieved. Then, desiring to again perceive that transcendental form, I sat down in desperate concentration.
“Seeing my attempts in that lonely place, the Lord invisibly and mercifully spoke to me: ‘In this life you will not see Me again. I have appeared for a moment just to increase your desire for Me. Continue to serve my devotees, and in your next life you will become My associate.”
Concluding his narration, Sage Narada instructed his disciple, “Henceforth, you must especially describe Lord Hari and His supremely sweet pastimes. Only in this way will your heart feel complete and abiding happiness, for true self-satisfaction cannot be attained by any other means. Let this narration of Krishna be known as the Srimad Bhagavatam. It will be the crown jewel of the Vedas and the chief amongst the Puranas.”
Saying this, Narada departed. After again paying respect to his beloved gurudev, the sage Vyasa offered a prayer to the Supreme Lord and entered into trance. From this meditative trance came what we know today as the Srimad Bhagavatam.
What is a Purana?
The Vedas of India are renowned for their timeless wisdom and accurate scientific insights. Philosophers and scientists of the Western world, from Carl Sagan to Henry David Thoreau, have appreciated and acknowledged the superior discoveries of the Vedas over any other religious text known to mankind.
The Puranas are one important set of texts within the larger Vedic canon. A Purana is an historical and philosophical account of the lives of ancient kings and sages from many years before. Topics covered in a Purana include:
- The origin of the universe and our solar system
- Lineages of great kings
- Natural laws which govern the universe
- Conversations of saints and sages of the past
- Incarnations (avataras) of the Superconsciousness on our Earthly plane
Although many modern scholars mistake the Puranas for mere mythology, they have overlooked many scientifically accurate data points that could not possibly be found in a mythological text. For instance, the Puranas accurately date the origin of the universe, the formation of our solar system, the most recent mass extinction, as well as many other natural phenomena. This demonstrates that the Puranas were not composed by ordinary human beings, but were revealed from a higher dimension.
Why is the Srimad Bhagavatam Special?
Although there are many Puranas, there are 18 primary ones, and among these, the Srimad Bhagavatam, or the Bhagavata Purana, is the most important. This is because, where other texts discuss the topics of Truth and God in indirect, abstract language, the Bhagavata Purana alone contains detailed accounts of the identity and activities of the Superconsciousness, Sri Krishna.
In addition, the Bhagavata Purana provides a comprehensive philosophy by which even a person of below-average intelligence can attain the highest state of spiritual enlightenment in bhakti-yoga. The teachings of the Bhagavata Purana are simultaneously accessible, stimulating, satisfying, and beautifully composed in Sanskrit poetic verse. There is truly no other work like the Bhagavata Purana in all of world literature.
The Srimad Bhagavatam is itself accepted as a literary avatara of the Supreme Person, Sri Krishna. Just by encountering the text in the right spirit, anyone can catch a glimpse of eternity and transcendental bliss. It simply requires an unbiased reading, under the guidance and tutelage of a qualified teacher.
Tips for Reading the Bhagavata Purana
The Srimad Bhagavatam contains 335 chapters and more than 14,000 verses. While this may seem intimidating at first, Vedic experts have developed a simple method for approaching the Srimad Bhagavatam that enables anyone to benefit from reading it. By simply reading a fixed number of verses per day, it is possible to read the entire Srimad Bhagavatam without sacrificing more than 20-30 minutes per day. To help calculate a reasonable reading schedule, download the Be a Sage Page by Page app on your mobile phone.
The Bhagavata Purana picks up where the Bhagavad-gita leaves off. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna discusses:
- The difference between the body and the atma (consciousness)
- The law of karma
- Transmigration of the atma at the time of death
- The various types of yoga, or syncing up one’s individual consciousness with the Superconsciousness, Sri Krishna.
- The duties of different people in different life circumstances
The Bhagavata Purana explores these same topics in greater depth, and also discloses many other areas of knowledge, such as the origins of our universe and the identity of the Supreme Person. It is helpful to study the Bhagavad-gita either alongside or in advance of reading the Srimad Bhagavatam. In addition it is important to find the right person who can teach you the science of atman, bhagavan, and bhakti contained in the text, As with any advanced field of knowledge, it is difficult to learn without the guidance of a qualified teacher.