The Vishnu Purana, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com
5. The Bhágavata Puráńa
5. Śrí Bhágavata. "That in which ample details of duty are described, and which opens with (an extract from) the Gáyatri; that in which the death of the Asura Vritra is told, and in which the mortals and immortals of the Sáraswata Kalpa, with the events that then happened
to them in the world, are related; that, is celebrated as the Bhágavata, and consists of eighteen thousand verses 46." The Bhágavata is a work of great celebrity in India, and exercises a more direct and powerful influence upon the opinions and feelings of the people than perhaps any other of the Puráńas. It is placed the fifth in all the lists; but the Padma Puráńa ranks it as the eighteenth, as the extracted substance of all the rest. According to the usual specification, it consists of eighteen thousand ślokas, distributed amongst three hundred and thirty-two chapters, divided into twelve Skandhas or books. It is named Bhágavata from its being dedicated to the glorification of Bhagavat or Vishńu.
The Bhágavata is communicated to the Rishis at Naimishárańya by Súta, as usual; but he only repeats what was narrated by Śuka, the son of Vyása, to Paríkshit, the king of Hastinápura, the grandson of Arjuna. Having incurred the imprecation of a hermit, by which he was sentenced to die of the bite of a venomous snake, at the expiration of seven days; the king, in preparation for . this event, repairs to the banks of the Ganges; whither also come the gods and sages, to witness his death. Amongst the latter is Śuka; and it is in reply to Paríkshit's question, what a man should do who is about to die, that he narrates the Bhágavata, as he had heard it from Vyása; for nothing secures final happiness so certainly, as to die whilst the thoughts are wholly engrossed by Vishńu.
The course of the narration opens with a cosmogony, which, although in most respects similar to that of other Puráńas, is more largely intermixed with allegory and mysticism, and derives its tone more from the Vedanta than the Sánkhya philosophy. The doctrine of active creation by the Supreme, as one with Vásudeva, is more distinctly asserted, with a more decided enunciation of the effects being resolvable into Máyá, or illusion. There are also doctrinal peculiarities, highly characteristic of this Puráńa; amongst which is the assertion that it was originally communicated by Brahmá to Nárada, that all men whatsoever, Hindus of every caste, and even Mlechchhas, outcastes or barbarians, might learn to have faith in Vásudeva.
In the third book the interlocutors are changed to Maitreya and Vidura; the former of whom is the disciple in the Vishńu Puráńa, the latter was the half-brother of the Kuru princes. Maitreya, again, gives an account of the Srisht́i-lílá, or sport of creation, in a strain partly common to the Puráńas, partly peculiar; although he declares he learned it from his teacher Paráśara, at the desire of Pulastya 47; referring thus to the fabulous origin of the Vishńu Puráńa, and furnishing evidence of its priority. Again, however, the authority is changed, and the narrative is said to have been that which was communicated by Śesha to the Nágas. The creation of Brahmá is then described, and the divisions of time are explained. A very long and peculiar account is given of the Varáha incarnation of Vishńu, which is followed by the creation of the Prajápatis and Swáyambhuva, whose daughter Devahutí is married to Karddama Rishi; an incident peculiar to this work, as is that which follows of the Avatára of Vishńu as Kapila the son of Karddama and Devahutí, the author of the Sánkhya philosophy, which he expounds, after a Vaishńava fashion, to his mother, in the last nine chapters of this section.
The Manwantara of Swáyambhuva, and the multiplication of the patriarchal families, are next described with some peculiarities of nomenclature, which are pointed out in the notes to the parallel passages of the Vishńu Puráńa. The traditions of Dhruva, Veńa, Prithu, and other princes of this period, are the other subjects of the fourth Skandha, and are continued in the fifth to that of the Bharata who obtained emancipation. The details generally conform to those of the Vishńu Puráńa, and the same words are often employed, so that it would he difficult to determine which work had the best right to them, had not the Bhágavata itself indicated its obligations to the Vishńu. The remainder of the fifth book is occupied with the description of the universe, and the same conformity with the Vishńu continues.
This is only partially the case with the sixth book, which contains a variety of legends of a miscellaneous description, intended to illustrate the merit of worshipping Vishńu: some of them belong to the early
stock, but some are apparently novel. The seventh book is mostly occupied with the legend of Prahláda. In the eighth we have an account of the remaining Manwantaras; in which, as happening in the course of them, a variety of ancient legends are repeated, as the battle between the king of the elephants and an alligator, the churning of the ocean, and the dwarf and fish Avatáras. The ninth book narrates the dynasties of the Vaivaswata Manwantara, or the princes of the solar and lunar races to the time of Krishńa 48. The particulars conform generally with those recorded in the Vishńu.
The tenth book is the characteristic part of this Puráńa, and the portion upon which its popularity is founded. It is appropriated entirely to the history of Krishńa, which it narrates much in the same manner as the Vishńu, but in more detail; holding a middle place, however, between it and the extravagant prolixity with which the Hari Vanśa repeats the story. It is not necessary to particularize it farther. It has been translated into perhaps all the languages of India, and is a favourite work with all descriptions of people.
The eleventh book describes the destruction of the Yádavas, and death of Krishńa. Previous to the latter event, Krishńa instructs Uddhava in the performance of the Yoga; a subject consigned by the Vishńu to the concluding passages. The narrative is much the same, but something more summary than that of the Vishńu. The twelfth book continues the lines of the kings of the Kálí age prophetically to a similar period as the Vishńu, and gives a like account of the deterioration of all things, and their final dissolution. Consistently with the subject of the Puráńa, the serpent Takshaka bites Paríkshit, and he expires, and the work should terminate; or the close might be extended to the subsequent sacrifice of Janamejaya for the destruction of the whole serpent race. There is a rather awkwardly introduced description, however, of the arrangement of the Vedas and Puráńas by Vyása,
and the legend of Márkańd́eya's interview with the infant Krishńa, during a period of worldly dissolution. We then come to the end of the Bhágavata, in a series of encomiastic commendations of its own sanctity, and efficacy to salvation.
Mr. Colebrooke observes of the Bhágavata Puráńa, "I am inclined to adopt an opinion supported by many learned Hindus, who consider the celebrated Śrí Bhágavata as the work of a grammarian (Vopadeva), supposed to have lived six hundred years ago 49." Col. Vans Kennedy considers this an incautious admission, because "it is unquestionable that the number of the Puráńas has been always held to be eighteen; but in most of the Puráńas the names of the eighteen are enumerated, amongst which the Bhágavata is invariably included; and consequently if it were composed only six hundred years ago, the others must be of an equally modern date 50." Some of them are no doubt more recent; but, as already remarked, no weight can be attached to the specification of the eighteen names, for they are always complete; each Puráńa enumerates all. Which is the last? which had the opportunity of naming its seventeen predecessors, and adding itself? The argument proves too much. There can be little doubt that the list has been inserted upon the authority of tradition, either by some improving transcriber, or by the compiler of a work more recent than the eighteen genuine Puráńas. The objection is also rebutted by the assertion, that there was another Puráńa to which the name applies, and which is still to be met with, the Deví Bhágavata.
For, the authenticity of the Bhágavata is one of the few questions affecting their sacred literature which Hindu writers have ventured to discuss. The occasion is furnished by the text itself. In the fourth chapter of the first book it is said that Vyása arranged the Vedas, and divided them into four; and that he then compiled the Itihása and Puráńas, as a fifth Veda. The Vedas he gave to Paila and the rest; the Itihása and Puráńas to Lomaharshańa, the father of Súta 51. Then reflecting that these works may not be accessible to women, Śúdras, and
mixed castes, he composed the Bhárata, for the purpose of placing religious knowledge within their reach. Still he felt dissatisfied, and wandered in much perplexity along the banks of the Saraswatí, where his hermitage was situated, when Nárada paid him a visit. Having confided to him his secret and seemingly causeless dissatisfaction, Nárada suggested that it arose from his not having sufficiently dwelt, in the works he had finished, upon the merit of worshipping Vásudeva. Vyása at once admitted its truth, and found a remedy for his uneasiness in the composition of the Bhágavata, which he taught to Śuka his son 52. Here therefore is the most positive assertion that the Bhágavata was composed subsequently to the Puráńas, and given to a different pupil, and was not therefore one of the eighteen of which Romaharshańa the Seta was, according to all concurrent testimonies, the depositary. Still the Bhágavata is named amongst the eighteen Puráńas by the inspired authorities; and how can these incongruities be reconciled?
The principal point in dispute seems to have been started by an expression of Śrídhara Swámin, a commentator on the Bhágavata, who somewhat incautiously made the remark that there was no reason to suspect that by the term Bhágavata any other work than the subject of his labours was intended. This was therefore an admission that some suspicions had been entertained of the correctness of the nomenclature, and that an opinion had been expressed that the term belonged, not to the Śrí Bhágavata, but to the Deví Bhágavata; to a Śaiva, not a Vaishńava, composition. With whom doubts prevailed prior to Śrídhara Swámin, or by whom they were urged, does not appear; for, as far as we are aware, no works, anterior to his date, in which they are advanced have been met with. Subsequently, various tracts have been written on the subject. There are three in the library of the East India Company; the Durjana Mukha Chapet́iká, 'A slap of the face for the vile,' by Rámáśrama; the Durjana Mukha Mahá Chapet́iká, 'A great slap of the face for the wicked,' by Káśináth Bhat́t́a; and the Durjana Mukha Padma Pad́uká, 'A slipper' for the same part of the same persons, by a
nameless disputant. The first maintains the authenticity of the Bhágavata; the second asserts that the Deví Bhágavata is the genuine Puráńa; and the third replies to the arguments of the first. There is also a work by Purushottama, entitled 'Thirteen arguments for dispelling all doubts of the character of the Bhágavata' (Bhágavata swarúpa vihsaya śanká nirása trayodasa); whilst Bálambhat́t́a, a commentator on the Mitákshara, indulging in a dissertation on the meaning of the word Puráńa, adduces reasons for questioning the inspired origin of this Puráńa.
The chief arguments in favour of the authenticity of this Puráńa are the absence of any reason why Vopadeva, to whom it is attributed, should not have put his own name to it; its being included in all lists of the Puráńas, sometimes with circumstances that belong to no other Puráńa; and its being admitted to be a Puráńa, and cited as authority, or made the subject of comment, by writers of established reputation, of whom Śankara Áchárya is one, and he lived long before Vopadeva. The reply to the first argument is rather feeble, the controversialists being unwilling perhaps to admit the real object, the promotion of new doctrines. It is therefore said that Vyása was an incarnation of Náráyańa, and the purpose was to propitiate his favour. The insertion of a Bhágavata amongst the eighteen Puráńas is acknowledged; but this, it is said, can be the Deví Bhágavata alone, for the circumstances apply more correctly to it than to the Vaishńava Bhágavata. Thus a text is quoted by Káśináth from a Puráńa--he does not state which--that says of the Bhágavata that it contains eighteen thousand verses, twelve books, and three hundred and thirty-two chapters. Káśináth asserts that the chapters of the Śrí Bhágavata are three hundred and thirty-five, and that the numbers apply throughout only to the Deví Bhágavata. It is also said that the Bhágavata contains an account of the acquirement of holy knowledge by Hayagríva; the particulars of the Sáraswata Kalpa; a dialogue between Ambarísha and Śuka; and that it commences with the Gayatrí, or at least a citation of it. These all apply to the Deví Bhágavata alone, except the last; but it also is more true of the Śaiva than of the Vaishńava work, for the latter has only one word of the Gayatrí, dhímahi, 'we meditate;' whilst the former to dhímahi adds, Yá nah prachodayát,
[paragraph continues] 'who may enlighten us.' To the third argument it is in the first place objected, that the citation of the Bhágavata by modern writers is no test of its authenticity; and with regard to the more ancient commentary of Śankara Áchárya, it is asked, "Where is it?" Those who advocate the sanctity of the Bhágavata reply, "It was written in a difficult style, and became obsolete, and is lost." "A very unsatisfactory plea," retort their opponents, "for we still have the works of Śankara, several of which are quite as difficult as any in the Sanscrit language." The existence of this comment, too, rests upon the authority of Mádhwa or Mádhava, who in a commentary of his own asserts that he has consulted eight others. Now amongst these is one by the monkey Hanumán; and although a Hindu disputant may believe in the reality of such a composition, yet we may receive its citation as a proof that Mádhwa was not very scrupulous in the verification of his authorities.
There are other topics urged in this controversy on both sides, some of which are simple enough, some are ingenious: but the statement of the text is of itself sufficient to shew that according to the received opinion of all the authorities of the priority of the eighteen Puráńas to the Bhárata, it is impossible that the Śrí Bhágavata, which is subsequent to the Bhárata, should be of the number; and the evidence of style, the superiority of which to that of the Puráńas in general is admitted by the disputants, is also proof that it is the work of a different hand. Whether the Deví Bhágavata have a better title to be considered as an original composition of Vyása, is equally questionable; but it cannot be doubted that the Śrí Bhágavata is the product of uninspired erudition. There does not seem to be any other ground than tradition for ascribing it to Vopadeva the grammarian; but there is no reason to call the tradition in question. Vopadeva flourished at the court of Hemádri, Rájá of Devagiri, Deogur or Dowlutabad, and must consequently have lived prior to the conquest of that principality by the Mohammedans in the fourteenth century. The date of the twelfth century, commonly assigned to him, is probably correct, and is that of the Bhágavata Puráńa.
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xxvi:47 See p. 5.
xxvii:48 A translation of the ninth, by Capt. Fell, was published in Calcutta in different numbers of the Monthly and Quarterly Magazine, in 1823 and 1824. The second volume of Maurice's Ancient History of Hindustan contains a translation, by Mr. Halhed, of the tenth book, made through the medium of a Persian version.
xxviii:49 As. Res. vol. VII. p.467.
xxviii:50 Ancient and Hindu Mythology, p.155, note.
xxviii:51 Book I. chap. iv. 20-22.
xxix:52 Book I. 7,8.