Srimad Bhagavatham and Bhagavataha Dharma, a little Introduction.
Srimad Bhagavataham, some light on it :
At the outset, before going into Bhagavatha Dharma, by this part of the Srimad Bhagavatham discourse , I intend to say a few words with a view to little acquaint ourselves with this great Purana, Srimad Bhagavatham, written by Krishna Dvaipayana Veda Vyasa, which is essentially the natural commentary of Vedanta Sutras, transcended from Lord Maha Vishnu. It includes the life and teachings of Lord Krishna, amidst His innumerable avataras and Leelas, wherein the Lord takes a particular form for a given purpose, at a given time and place. Indeed Srimad Bhagavatham is the path way to Reality, which can be defined as that which does not undergo any change whatsoever in all the three periods of time namely , the past, the present and the future. It takes us to Absolute Truth or Brahman. The most wanted prerequisite to spiritual advancement is Faith; we must be faithful to our word, deed and God.
Bhagavat Gita extols:
‘Dhanyathmani pasyanthi, kechidalmana,malmanad’,
We must meditate up on God, for only meditation refines our intellect and expands it to realize the Supreme Spirit, that dwells in every human being. It is meditation which can lift us from the mundane existence or Prakriti to attain one’s true self or Purush or the inner consciousness, which is nothing but the manifestation of Divine –Self. The Vedanta Sutras as enshrined in Srimad Bhagavatham, is based on 5 Principles. The first one is Iswara, Bhagavan or God or the Supreme personality of God-head. The second Principle is Jeeva, the individual living entity or Spirit-Soul. The third is Prakriti or matter. The 4th is Kala; or Time, and the fifth and last Principle is Karma or Action.
The word ‘Purana’ literally means ‘narratives of ancient times’. Puranas are books of mythology. They reflect the social, political, religious, and artistic culture ofIndia. The universal truth of devotion, justice and generosity portrayed by the role models in the ancient Indian context hold the same significance today. The narratives , therefore , create deep impressions in our minds. The puranic stories reveal that before every incarnation , there is a collective appeal to the Lord in the form of prayers from the good people aswell as Devas. They seek the Lord’s help to re-establish Dharma, after killing the wicked people. These prayers become the punya, because of which the lord assumes a particular form for a particular purpose. Ithihasas are epics or history. Really speaking both Puranas, like the 18 main ones including Srimad Bhagavatha, which is really mythohistorical, and ithihasas, like Ramayana and Mahabharatha, are the practical parts of Vedas. Vedas are truly theoretical. They both combine to make our Scriptures rich and great.
Puranas are expected to have ‘Pancha Lakshanas’ or 5 lakshanas or definite Parmeters, such as :
“Sargascha ,prathisargascha, vamso, manvantharanicha,
Vamsanucharitham, chaiva lakshananamthu panchakam”.
But Srimad Bhagavatham is ‘Dasa lakshana’. It has 5 more lakshanas.
Thus the total 10 lakshanas are :
1. Sargas consisting of creations, ie the uthppathi of Jagath, the origin of Jgath.
- Prathisargas, (Cosmogony)containing extension of subsequent creations and the Pralayas.
- Vamsas describing the details of lineage or family tree, so to say
- Sthanam or description of the sustenance or existence of the Jagath.
- Poshanam, describibg the Grace and Compassion of God in respect of prospects of Jagath or Abhivrudhi of Jagath. (Jagadabhivrudhi)
- Uthayas or Uthis, depicting the latent impressions leading to Karma, Karma Vasana, and its strength and sagacity.
- Manvanthara(Cosmology) or the origin of Manu and its description consisting of history of dynasties called Vamsanucharitham(Chronology)
- Ishanukatha are stories extolling the glories various Raja Vamsas and different Avataras of God
- Nirodh describing the various paths for getting Atma Jnana, by destroying the Ahamkaras that stand on its way, and finally,
- Mukthi or Liberation, the returning to God to become one with the Asraya or the Lord Himself. …‘Bhakthya Bhagavatham Jneyam
Bhagavatham is the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Bhakthi Mahatmya. It is also said to be the ‘Vedasarasarvaswam’. It is written in the form of poetry. Also, as we explore we can see great heroes and heroines of the Indian culture and tradition , like, to mention a few, Dhruva, Prahlada, Harischandra, Viswamitra, Bhagiratha,Krishna, Kunti, Bhishma etc. They are still the role models for the Indian people. The subjects treated are those of Devatas, dharma, cosmology, art etc.
Srimad Bhagavatham, as already said, is originated from Lord Sree Maha Vishnu. He gave it to Lord Brahma in the form of 4 Slokas or ‘Chathusloki’. We can still see these 4 Slokas from 33 to 36 in Chapter 9 of the 2nd Canto (Skanda) in our Bhagavatham. This Chathusloki is said to contain the quintessence of Vedas. Lord Brahma passed it on to Brahmarshi Narada. He handed over it to Brahmarshi Veda Vyasa, who made 18,000 slokas out of the original 4 slokas of Lord Sree Maha Vishnu. He divided these 18,000 Slokas into 12 cantos (Skandas), consisting altogether 335 Chapters. Brhmarshi Veda vyasa taught it to his son Shuka deva, who handed it over to King Pareekshit. Some more transfer stories are there regarding the origin of Srimad Bhagavatham, as said by Shuka deva in some other contexts, like, Sanmkarshana Moorthy, passed it on to Sanatkumaras, they in turn gave it to Maharshi Samkhyana, and Brihaspathy, who gave it to Sage Parasara , then Prasara transferred it to his disciple Mythreya, who gave it to his disciple Vidura etc. When the whole Bhagavatha is narrated to the listeners in the course of 7 days , it is called ‘Bhagavatha Sapthaha. Shuka deva conducted the first Bhagavatha Sapthaha, 30 years after Sri Krishna’s Swargarohana. After 200 years, Gokarna , a true Brhmin Devotee, conducted the 2nd Sapthaha. 30 years after that, the 3rd Sapthaha was conducted by
the Sanaka brothers. Hundreds of thousands of Sapthahas are conducted ever since and they are being still conducted in through out the world. ‘Sapthaha Vidhi’ lays down how it should be conducted and it narrates its Mahatmyam (merits) aswell.
It is also said that Adisesha spread Bhagavata in Patala (Present UP?); Brihaspathy in Swarga (Heaven); Sage Parasara on the Earth; and the 4 Sanatkumaras (Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana, and Sanatkumara ), beyond the worlds of Swarga.
In Vysa Maha Bhagavatham there are 18, 000 Slokas in 335 Chapters, contained in 12 Cantos or Skandas. The first 6 Chapters are earmarked to extol Bhagavata Mahatmyam, or the merits of Srimad Bhagavatham and the Sapthaha Vidhi etc. In the 12 Cantos (Skandas), various stories including the glories of Sri Hari are vividly described. Canto wise breakup with some important topics, can be summarized as follows:
The first Canto , known as Adhikari Skanda , consists, mainly among other things, of the details of Puranas, who made them and who are eligible to listen to them, Kunthi Sthuthi , Bhishma Sthuthi etc. This Canto has 19 Chapters.
The second Canto, known as Sadhana Skanda, describes Lord’s Leelas, the towards Bhakthi, the Cosmic manifestation etc. It has 10 chapters.
The third Canto describes the various principles and the immense diversity in the creations. It consists of 33 chapters.
The 4th Canto, known as ‘Purusharthas’ deals with Dharma, Artha,Kama and
Moksha, supported by the stories of Dksha Yajna, Dhruva Charitha, Pruthu
Charitha, Upasana of Nirguna Brahma and the story of ‘Pracheena Barhi’ etc.
It has 31chapters.
The 5th Canto, is the Rishabha Avathara, consisting of the story of Jadabharatha,
a very Sreshta Devotee of the Lord, the creative impetus etc. There are immense references of Astronomy and Geography in this Canto. This has 26 chapters.
The 6th Canto, which is the Central One of the 12 Cantos, and so treated as
most important one, deals with the prescribed duties of mankind, mercy of the Lord, also proving that HE is mercy incarnated through the story of Ajamilan; Narayana Kavacham, Vruthrasura Charitha etc. It has 19 chapters.
The 7th Canto contains the story of Bhaktha Prahlada, the Science of God etc. It has 15 chapters.
The 8th Canto conveys to us the stories of Gajendra moksham, Amrutha Mathanam, Vamanavatharam, Malsyavatharam, withdrawal of the Cosmic Creations etc, with 24 chapters.
The 9th Canto, consisting of 24 chapters, deals with the story of Ambareesha, Harischandra, Rama Charitha, Yaduvamsanuvarnana , Liberation etc.
The 10th Canto is voluminous and the longest Canto with two parts of 49 and 41 chapters each, carrying the stories of Krishnavathara, Kaliya marddana, Gopika geetham ,Kesi vadham, Rugminee vivaham, Bana yudham, Sruti geetha etc.
The 11th Canto has 31 chapters covering general history, the description of the multitude of more than 28 Avatharas of the Lord, the multi faceted forms of various types of worship to God, Devasthuthi, the relation between Atma and Samsara, the lakshnas of Bandtha and Muktha, the greatness of Satsang, Bhikshu geetha, Kriya Toga etc. A person singing singing this Canto is supposed to attain the transcendental devotional service of the perfect sages [the paramahamsas] for the destination.
The 12th and the last Canto, carrying 13 chapters deals with the age of deterioration, Kali Dharma Niroopana, Bhoomi geetha, description of the 4 types of Pralaya, Brahmopadesa, the famous Boon given to Makkandeya by Lord Siva, the greatness of Bhagavatha etc.
The above 12 Cantos are supposed to be the various parts of the Body of the Lord Himself.
“Srimad Bhagavatha-khyoyam Prathyksha Krishna Evahi”
Srimad Bhagavatham is the Bhagavan itself.
It is for protecting His beloved devotees from the clutches of Kali. It establishes the fact that there is only one scientific truth and that is Brahman, the only one Reality. Maya conceals Brahman and projects the universe. Just as everything seen in a dream ceases to exist as soon as the dreamer wakes up, the universe ceases to be real when Brahman is realized.
After the Dhyana Slokas in Srimad Bhagavatha, Brahmarshi Veda Vysa takes us to Naimisharanya, supposed to be the Brhmanda Kendra, the centre of this Universe, where Shaunaka and a number of great Sages were conducting a sacrifice on the banks of Holy Ganges, to be completed in the course of a thousand years , with a view to realizing the Lord, for the total welfare of the humanity, as a whole. The great Sage Shukadeva, who got Srimad Bhgavatha from his father, Brahmarshi Veda vyasa, happened to lead the team of sages doing the Yanjna. Shukadeva was a Pramahamsa, a self-realized soul, with tremendous spiritual power and devotion to Lord. On the humble request of King Pareekshith, to enlighten him about the highest Truth about God, Shukadeva narrates the story of Srimad Bhagavatham as Sapthaha. Shukadeva assures the King that he will soon be freed from all worldly anxieties and troubles. It so happened in the end, aswell. Tens of hundreds of stories like this are there in Srimad Bhagavatham, and each story conveys important messages aswell.
Bhagavatha Dharma is contained in these stories. All the devotees of the Lord are Bhagavathas. Bhagavatha Dharma is Bhagavan or Deva; Bhaktha or devotee and Bhakthi or devotion. It shows the interrelation among these three. It explains the Devotional duties through which mortal beings could be rid of all fears. The observance of this Bhagavatha Dharma is the very essence of Srimad Bhagavatham and it will take one to the ultimate goal of God Realization. The 1060 axioms on ‘Bhagavatha Dharmam’ is written originally in Malayalam, by Sadguru Srimad Abhedanandaji Maharaj, of the well renowned Ahbedasramam, atTrivandrum,KeralaStateinIndia. Sampoojya Swamiji underwent Samadhi and the present English translation is done by one of his chief disciples and a great friend of mine, Shri P. N.Balakrishnan Nair , retired Accountant General , an orator and writer of many spiritual books, including ‘Satsanga Peeyoosham’, a collection of Upanysas in Vedanta. The Bhagavatha Dharma contains 1060 Suthras (Axioms)which bring out the essence of Srimad Bhagavatham. They are not a verbatim interpretation of Srimad Bhagavatham, but they are precious gems from theoceanofSrimad Bhagavatham. As far as we are concerned, the thing is that the meaning of these axioms can be fully understood only when contextually applied as and when we study the hundreds of stories in Srimad Bhagavatham, one by one, and apply them then and there. We have only started the Dhyana Slokas, Kunthi Sthuthi, Bhishma Sthuthi etc. from the introductory chapters. There are six chapters in the introduction itself. The axioms can be meaningfully understood, only when studied simultaneously with the advance of our lessons. With out learning the stories, relevant contexts, environments , time periods and events, it seems not befitting to explain those axioms now. So, we may do it, according as our study of Srimad Bhagavatham, progresses, in due course.