An English Rendering of the Foreword in Sanskrit
to the Fifth Edition of Bhagavata
published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur
In this age of Kali, is there a living being, moving or non-moving, which is not terrified by the Serpent of Time (Kaalabhujamga) slowly but surely devouring the animate and the inanimate entities of this world? Who in this world does not always long to break free, by whatever means, from the bondage born out of one’s attachment to the body, house, wealth, wife and so on? Is there a human being who, scorched as he is by the continuously raging fire of diverse physical and psychological ailments, does not yearn for the company of saintly persons wherein he can immerse himself in the nectar of divine names and praise of the Lord flowing from the very depth their hearts? Yet, man is uncertain about the path that will lead him to liberation. Who will churn this boundless ocean of samsara and help him get the amrit (nectar) which will give him immortality? Unable to decide on the path he has to take, man is ever in a state of misery and sorrow. Not only those who want to cross this ocean of samsara but also those who are indifferent to it and others who are silent spectators are being tossed about by its towering waves.
Seeing this piteous plight of human beings the Lord, ever the friend of the meek and the humble, in his infinite compassion which flows freely without any cause, descends on this earth plane in order to wipe the tears of humans and to dry up the ocean of sorrow enveloping them. The play (Leela) of the Lord is such that it is worthy of being heard and remembered always. The exploits during such incarnations spread the fame of the Lord in all directions like moon light bathing the whole world. This leela is so sweet that the heart of the devotee blossoms like the kumuda flower blooming in moon light. His tongues and ears experience such ecstasy out of singing and hearing the praise of the Lord that he is able to cross the circle of raging fire created by the poison of the Serpent of Time (kaala vyala) as easily as if it is only a depression created in the earth by the hoof of a cow (goshpada). He finally reaches the abode of the Lord where there is always peace and pure joy alone. The Lord, out of his love for his devotees, descended on this earth in the incarnation of Sage Vyasa who divided the ancient Vedic lore into the four Vedas. He also authored the puranas which include, apart from their main theme, a description of the main and subsidiary creation, the lineage of kings of the solar and lunar dynasties (surya vamsa and chandra vamsa) and so on. He also wrote the Mahabharata which is of epic proportions shedding light on every aspect of human life. The puranas and epics expound and expand the essence of the Vedas in a language and idiom intelligible to ordinary human beings. In this way, out of compassion for humanity, Sage Vyasa has created, collected and edited the whole body of literature describing the divine leelas of the Lord and the nectar of wisdom and knowledge imparted by Him to His devotees during such incarnations.
Among the Puranas authored by Sage Vyasa, Srimad Bhagavata outshines the others being the crest-jewel of the entire Puranic literature. This alone is capable of saving humanity from the fear of the Serpent of Time (kala vyala) as described in the Padma Purana:
“ kaala-vyaala-mukha-graasa thraasa-nirnaasha-hethave
sreemad-bhaavatham shaastram kalau keerena bhaashitam”
[Sage Suka has narrated the bhagavata sastra to allay the fears of those who are caught in the jaws of kaalavyala (Serpent of Time)]
Bhagavata alone is described, time and again, as one without a second and incomparable as an instrument for freeing humans from the bonds of samsaara and help them attain liberation (mukti) :
“ Ekam Bhaagavatam shaastram mukti-daanena garjathi”
Srimad Bhagavata alone is enriched by the tejas (splendour, effulgence, power) of sri Vasudeva. Bhagavata is the incarnation of the Lord in the form of vangmaya ( body of literature) and it is here that He always resides, as it has been said in Paadma Purana:
“ swakeeyam yad bhavethejah thachcha bhagavathe adadhaath
thirodhaaya pravishtoyam srimad bhaagavathaarnavam
theneyam vangmayee moorthih pratyakshaa vartate hareh”
[The Lord deposited his power (tejas) in Bhagavata and entering the sea of bhagavata, He disappeared into it. Therefore bhagavata is the word- form ( vangmayee moorthih) of the Lord visible to the naked eye of man ]
The ocean of nectar which is Bhagavatha is easily available even for the
dull-witted (abudhaah) in this world but is difficult to attain even for the celestial beings (vibudhaah) of the other worlds, as it has been said :
“sreemad bhagavatee vaartaa suraanaamapi durlabhaa”
[The episodes of Bhagavata are not accessible even to the devas ]
We could go on talking about the greatness of this Purana but we shall stop here. Like Vamana who strode the three worlds in two steps, Bhagavata helps us to transcend all our desires (kaamanas). It is like a wild fire which burns up the dense forest of anger (krodha). It puts an end to our greed (lobha). It has the capacity to break the doors of illusion (moha). It destroys conceit (mada) and is like a hurricane for the dry grass of envy (maatsarya). It is a place where all doubts are laid to rest and a hospital for the treatment of such doubts. It is like thunderbolt for hypocrisy (dambha). It is the vajrayudha of Indra for the mountain of impurities and sins. It breaks down all illusions and the sense of duality. It is like the rising sun of knowledge which dispels the darkness of ignorance. It removes all impurities like attachment, hatred and so on. It is something astonishing born out of the strength of the punya (meritorious deeds) of the East.
Herein is expounded the unbounded joy arising from the Mandakini of love and devotion to the Lord (premabhkati). Herein is also explained those meritorious deeds which are akin to Kalindi (Yamuna) and which wash away the impurities arising from the vices of the Kali Yuga. Herein is extolled the true knowledge which is the essence of the Vedic teachings. In this Purana you will find many paths like ships which will take you across the ocean of samsara. Herein are descriptions of different vratas by which men of virtue can have their hearts’ desires blossom and bear fruit. This purana fulfils all the desires of those who take refuge in it, until eternity, like the desire-fulfilling tree (kalpavruksha) of Swargaloka. Therefore it is only proper that all wise men take refuge in this great Purana.
The greatness of the Lord and his devotees is beyond words. Even Adishesha, with his thousand tongues, is incapable of fully describing their greatness, what to speak of week creatures like us with eyes of flesh and blood. However, this attempt to describe the greatness of the Lord and his devotees is justifiable by the saying
“Atha-avaachyas-sarvah swamathi-parinaama-avadhi grunan”
meaning that “anyone who attempts to praise the Lord according to his limited intellect and wisdom does not deserve blame”. Accordingly, whatever little is said, once in a while, by any one is like showing a lamp to the Sun who lights up the entire world by his rays. Such action is only symbolic by which the devotee expresses his deep faith and devotion. The truth is we are incapable of throwing light on the greatness of the Lord, his devotees and the Bhagavata Purana. We would therefore rather retire into silence.
It is seen, and also it is the experience of great souls who have taken refuge in Bhagavata, that the light of infinite compassion of the Lord gradually manifests itself in the heart-space (antar-vyomni) of the devotee. How many such instances shall we speak of? How many shall we compile? How many have not come out of their illusion resulting from ignorance(avidya) by their dependence on Srimad Bhagavata? How many have not attained eternal peace by taking refuge in the sanctuary of Bhagavata? Bhagavata is verily the incarnation of the Lord in the form vangmaya (body of literature) according to the saying
“idam bhagavatam naama puraanam brahmasammitam”
The word ‘brahm’ here denotes the ultimate Brahman not the Vedas because Bhagavata is said to be the fruit of the wish-fulfilling tree of
Veda (nigama-kalptaru). It is also the essence of Vedic knowledge as the saying goes:
Veda (nigama-kalptaru). It is also the essence of Vedic knowledge as the saying goes:
“ yah swaanubhaavam akhila shrutisaaram ekam”
The fruit of the wish-fulfilling tree of Vedas and the essence of Vedic knowledge is Lord Krishna himself. It follows that Bhagavata, which is also spoken of as the fruit of the Vedas and their essence, is not different from the Lord. By mentioning that Bhagavata is the fruit of the Vedic tree, it is indicated that it is as sweet as a fruit. Sweetness is experienced only in the fruit, not in the tree. A tree is considered good or not-so-good depending on the sweetness of its fruit. From the foregoing it is beyond doubt that Bhagavata is greater and sweeter than the Vedas themselves from which it has originated.
This is not the occasion, and there is no scope also in this short foreword, for describing in detail the subjects expounded in Bhagavata. What is the ultimate conclusion of this Purana, Knowledge or Devotion? What is the nature of Knowledge and Devotion? Though a discussion on these topics is necessary for an understanding of this Purana it is avoided here for want of space. However, without a knowledge of the four anubandhas namely, subject (vishayah), relationship(sambandhah), eligible person (adhikaree) and purpose (prayojanam) relating to a work, it is impossible to critically appraise it. The following stanza brings out the above aspects so far as they relate to Srimad Bhagavata:
vedyam vastavam atra vastu shivadam taapatrayonmoolanam”
Here in Bhagavata, the highest dharma ( paramo dharmah) is expounded. Kaitava means phalabhisandhih, attachment to the fruits. Therefore projjhita-kaitava means devoid of attachment to fruit (nishkama). The dharma delineated in Bhagavata is self-less dharma. This dharma can be practised only by men of virtue who are devoid of envy, jealousy or hatred (nirmatsaraanaam sataam). Maatsarya is found only in those whose mind is contaminated by desire (kaama). Those without desire (nishkaamaah) alone can be without jealousy or hatred (nirmatsaraah). Therefore it follows that the dharma practised by such men of virtue is without desire for fruits and without malice or hatred to anyone. Therefore this dharma is called bhagavata dharma because only such bhagavatas are devoid of hate or envy and it is for the exposition of the bhagavata dharma that sage Vyasa has written Srimad Bhagavata as the he himself says:
“kim vaa bhaagavataa dharmaah na praayena niroopitaah
priyaah paramahamsaanaam ta eva-hyachyuta-priyaah”
Also, Bhagavata throws light on the Ultimate Reality which is vaastavam (Sat, Existence), vedyam (Chit, Awareness) and shivadam (Anandam, Bliss). It follows that the subject matter of this great Purana is the Sachchidananda Brahman. In the concluding part of Bhagavata it is said
“atraabhivarnyate abheekshnam vishwaatmaa bhagavaan harih”
“ shraavito yachcha me sakshaat anaadi nidhano harih”
The subject matter (vishayah) is well brought out in the foregoing discussion. Sambandhah (relationship) is between the one who is imparting the knowledge (bhodhru) and the knowledge that is to be imparted (bodhdhavya). Eligible persons are those who long for this knowledge (jijnasavah), those who aspire for liberation (mumukshavah), those who have become fed up with the pleasures of this world and have understood their evanescence (viraktaah) and those who are afraid of this ocean of samsara. The purpose is the complete destruction of the three kinds of sorrows viz. adhyatmika, adhibhoutika and adhidaivika. Here liberation (mokshah) does not mean merely the absence of the three kinds of sorrows (taapatraya) as propounded by the sankhya philosophy. Here moksha is a positive experience of bliss as is evident by the adjective shivadam and also because this state of absolute bliss is a desirable thing. Therefore the purpose is Knowledge ( bodhah), Liberation(muktih) or attaining the Lord (bhagavatpraptih). Thus all the four aspects viz subject, relationship, eligible person and purpose are brought out in the above sloka.
From ‘atra sargo visargascha’ ( herein is described the main and subsidiary creation), a question may arise about the relevance of describing creation etc in the context of the main subject as indicated above. The answer is that the description of creation etc. is to comply with the general characteristics laid down for all puranas, they are to be considered only as subsidiary to the main subject. Also narrative descriptions of geography and cosmology is to indicate the gross physical form of the Lord, not to provide a knowledge of comtemporary geography to the reader. Any geographical description of this ever-changing world of ours written ages ago can hardly be considered useful for all times.
Therefore we should not seek for parallels in our current knowledge of geography. Modern-day geologists describe what they see, with their external eyes, of the gross physical world. The sages saw even the subtle worlds with their mind’s eye on the strength of their yogic powers and this is what is described in the puranas. It is clear that we cannot compare these with our modern day knowledge of geography and cosmology. Therefore there is no doubt that the description of the gross physical worlds is only to enable the devotees of the Lord to meditate on the gross form of the Lord which is manifest everywhere in nature. Sage Suka also says:
“ Sthoole bhagavato roope manah samdhaarayet dhiyaa”
One should not, from the above discussion, conclude that the puranas are not authentic. Just as all waters finally flow into the see, all descriptions in the puranas ultimately point to the Lord only and in this sense all such descriptions are, without doubt, authentic. Also, puranas are considered one of the fourteen vidyas (branches of learning). All puranas describe sarga (main creation), pratisarga (secondary creation), vamsa (the main lineage of kings), manwanthara (description of the manus who ruled over the world) and vamsanucharita ( the history of descendants of the main lineage of kings ). Though the Vedas briefly touch on the root of the creation, it is only in the puranas that we find a clear and detailed description of it. The description of the lineage of kings and the manus finds a place only in the puranas, not elsewhere. Without the puranas and the Mahabharata, we cannot even hear about the life and doings of the brahmarshis like Vasishta and Vamadeva, rajarshis like Manu, incarnations of the Lord as Rama , Krishna and so on. We cannot determine the period during which the puranas were written because they are anaadi (without beginning) like the Vedas. Because there is a description of the lineage of kings it should not be concluded that puranas must have a beginning. It is accepted that the puranas describe the lineage of kings pertaining to all the past and future kalpas. Here a doubt may arise whether creation is identical in all the kalpas. The answer is in the affirmative as explained in ‘dhaataa yathaa poorvam akalpyat’ meaning, the Brahma created everything as in the previous kalpas. The objection may be raised that even if the above explanation of identical creation in all the kalpas is accepted, it does not prove that the puranas are without beginning. Here we can say that the puranas are without beginning in the sense the cycle of samsara is without beginning (samsaara-chakram-anaadi). Otherwise we cannot establish that even the Vedas are without beginning where we find such historical descriptions as:
“urvashi hapsaraah saa purooravamaidam chakame”.
Therefore it is irrefutable that the puranas are without beginning. Chandogya also says:
‘itihaasa puraanam panchmam vedaanaam vedamithi”
The names given to the puranas like “matsyam”, “kaurmam” etc do not indicate the sequence of their coming into being; they only indicate the nature of the subject matter expounded in them.
It is therefore proved that purana vidya is without beginning (sanaatani). It is said that the Creator Brahma recalled the puranas to his mind ( ‘puraanam manasaasmarat’). Just like the Vedas, though consisting of three kandas, finally end in the Upanishads which expound the Brahman and the Atman, in the same way Bhagavata and other puranas also seek in the end only the Ultimate Reality in its twin aspects of Brahman and Bhagavan, nirguna and saguna. Bhagavata lays equal stress on Jnana, Bhakti and Nishkama dharma. Where something about the followers of karma is mentioned, it should be understood that karma is used in the sense of sakaama karma involving adharma like himsa etc. This is because the main purpose is to propound bhagavata dharma as mentioned before. Those who argue that Bhagavata opposes Karma are defeated by this explanation. It is said that he who neglects to perform the karma prescribed in the Vedas (vihita karma) out of ignorance or being a slave to his senses, attains the worlds of mrityu (death) because of his adharma and vikarma:
“ Naacharet yasthu vedoktam swayamajno ajitendriyah
vikarmanaa hyadharmena mruthyor-mruthyum-upaiti sah”
Wherever in Bhagavata and other puranas we find exaggerations in the descriptions of armies or population and other details, it must be understood that these expressions indicate large numbers. Wherever transgressions of the rules of grammar are seen, it should be accepted as similar to such expressions found in the Vedas where they are allowed. Bhagavata can be considered equal to the vedas as indicated in the following sayings:
‘itihasa puranam panchamam’ (the epics and puranas constitute the fifth Veda) and ‘nigama-kalpataror-galitam phalam’ (Bhagavata is the fruit obtained from the wish-fulfilling tree of the Vedas)
The words used in the puranas should be accepted as grammatically correct in the form they are used since the puranas stand on the same footing as the vedas. Also, sage Vyasa is not bound by the rules of grammar propounded by Panini and others. It shoud not be forgotten that sage Vyasa only compiled and edited the puranas which were already in existence. Therefore it is only proper when commentators like Sridhara justify a particular usage saying it is approved by the rishis of the vedic times (arshatwat). The descriptions of the manwantharas (periods of the manus) and the lineage of kings are only to show the ephemeral nature of this world and thus engender vairagya (aversion) in wordly things and also deepen the faith in and devotion to the Lord. Otherwise the descriptions of those things will be irrelevant for achieving the ultimate purpose of attaining mukti (liberation) from this samsara. It is said in the concluding part of Bhagavata
“ kathaa imaaste kathitaa mahiyasaam
vitaaya lokeshu yashah pareyushaam
vijnaana vairaagya vivakshaya vibho”
“ yastooththamasloka gunaanuvaadah
tameva nityam shrunuyaad-abheekshnam
It can therefore be said without the shadow of a doubt that the ultimate interest of Bhagavata is in the Paramatma who is the refuge (aashraya) of all beings.
It is also said
“dashamasya vishudhdhyartham navaanaamiha lakshanam
varnayanti mahaatmaanah sruthenaarthena chanjasaa”
aashraya is defined as
“ aabhaasascha nirodhascha yataschadhyavaseeyathe
sah aashrayah param brahma paramaatmeti shabdyathe”
It is well-known that Bhagavata is a test for the learned. This indicates the depth of the subject matter treated in this purana. Many commentaries on Bhagavata are available in different languages. Many commentaries and tikas are available in Sanskrit also. These point to the greatness of this purana and the respect it receives from one and all. If the bhagavata dharma spreads all over the world and is followed by everyone, then no one in this world need suffer in the fire of misery and sorrow. Therefore those of us who are treading the path of nishreyas should endeavour to spread this dharma to the maximum extent possible. Bhagavata , the crest-jewel of puranas, has already attained fame and respect far and wide on account of its greatness and incomparable quilities. It has surpassed all the other puranas in this respect. However, all should endeavour to spread the message of this purana so that it reaches every country in this world.
It was with this idea that we started publishing the first edition of Bhagavata purana which is considered the sum total of the wealth (sarvasva) of the bhagavatas. Ten years ago an edition containing the original text of this purana was published in a handy size for the benefit of those who were desirous of using the book for swaadhyaaya(daily scriptural study). This was very well-received by our esteemed readers and we brought out four more editions in a similar manner. The fifth edition is now available. This edition has been brought out after many Bhagavata books, both in manuscript and in print, were examined by Sri Chamanlal Goswami MA, Sastri, Pandit Shanthanu Dwivedi (now well-known and famous as Akhandananda Saraswati), Pandit Ramanarayan Dutt Sastry and others who, after discussing among themselves, have endeavoured to identify the purest and earliest versions of the text. In this task we were greatly helped by Panditapravara Sri Jawaharlal Chaturvedi of Mathura. He deserves out heart-felt gratitude for this. The edition brought out at that time is now published in a new format which is before our readers. The text published earlier was in small type and was therefore the book was handy in size. This edition is published with letters in comparatively bigger type and consequently the size of the book is also bigger. These are the points of difference from the earlier edition. Though utmost care has been bestowed on creating an error-free text, we cannot rule out the possibility of a few errors having remained undetected. We entreat our learned readers to forgive us this lapse and inform us about such errors so that in the next edition we can attempt to rectify them.