Bhagavata Pura?a

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BHĀGAVATA PURĀṆA The Bhāgavata Purāṇa, or "The Ancient Tales of the Blessed One," stands in a long tradition of such "ancient tales" (Purāṇas) that dealt with the genealogy of gods, seers, and kings, the repeated creation of the world, and the aeons of human existence, along with a multitude of myths. Much of Hinduism's sectarian movements have found their expression and ideology in these texts, dating from the last centuries b.c. down to premodern times. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa summarizes the world view of Vishnu/Krishna devotees as it developed in the Bhagavad Gītā and the late Vedic Vaikhānasa school, and may, as a result, be regarded as the most prominent of all the Purāṇas. It incorporates material from the Vishnu Purāṇa regarding the creation of the world and shows in its philosophy a strong affinity with Vedānta, blended with Sāmkhya concepts and perhaps a hint of Buddhist compassion. Its form is metric, with the exception of a few prose chapters, mostly shlokas (poetic stanzas), and its language occasionally imitates archaic Vedic usage, giving it the patina of venerable age. Its presentation of myths is more restrained than that of other Purāṇas, putting more emphasis on the miraculous rather than the gruesome features. It was most likely composed in the ninth or tenth century a.d. in South India's Tamil Nadu.

Ten "descents" (avatāras) of Vishnu into this world are mentioned or described in this work in detail, including his appearance as a fish, a turtle, a boar, the Man-Lion (Narasimha), Rāma, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalkin, who is yet to come. Especially popular has been the tenth book, in which the amorous plays of the young Krishna with the wives of the cowherds (gopis) are described—an inspiration to countless Indian painters. Its most pervasive feature is its emphasis on the intense devotion (bhakti) to Vishnu as Krishna, which seems to reflect the powerful influence of the Tamil poets known as the Ālvārs (diving deep), whose devotion to Vishnu is expressed in strong emotional and erotic images. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa has frequently been commented on by authors from all regions of India, and numerous translations and adaptations in various regional languages were produced. The appeal of this text was not limited to one school. On the contrary, authors of various schools have tried to prove themselves as the true heirs to the Hindu doctrines propounded there. These include the clear formulation of Vishnu's presence in everything (as when he emerged out of a pillar to kill the blasphemous counter-god Hiranyakashipu) and a "theology" of devotion (bhakti) that is based on worship of Krishna, selfless deeds, praise, and devout thoughts, rewarded by Vishnu with his divine grace.

Hartmut E. Scharfe

See alsoBhagavad Gītā ; Vishnu and Avatāras


Rocher, Ludo. The Purānas. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1986.

The Srimad-Bhagvatam of Krisna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. Translated by J. M. Sanyal. 2nd ed. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1973.