Friday, June 22, 2012

The Glory of Srimad Bhagavata : A Discussion in the Light of a Few Materials for the Study of Sankaradeva’s System


The Srimad-Bhāgavata, the Word-Image of Lord Krishna, is the canonical text of the Sankaradeva school of Devotion. The Bhakti Ratnākara, which is the product of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s ‘wide-ranging and deep-digging’ philosophical studies, contains as many as 456 Sanskrit slokas (out of a total collection of 573 slokas) from the Bhagavata. Again, a further 19 slokas are from the Bhagavata-Bhavartha-Dipika of Sridhara Svami, the celebrated commentator on the Bhagavata. Thus, a total of 475 (456+19) slokas of the Ratnākara appertain to the Srimad-Bhagavata.

In the 37th Māhātmya of the Ratnākara, the ‘Srimad-Bhāgavata Māhātmya’ (‘The Glory of the Srimad-Bhāgavata’), several significant siddhantas or verdicts are pronounced by Sankaradeva: -

§         “āna sāstrasava rishiloke kare, eteke tāta āsay, āsakti, bhrānti, pramād ei cāri dosa thāke / āru yāto Sri-Nārāyane āpuni samksepe prathame karilā eteke āta si dosa nāi /”[from Katha Bhakti-Ratnakara of Gopalacarana Dvija, 17th century Assamese prose translation of Sankaradeva’s Bhakti-Ratnakara]

“The other sastras (religious texts) are authored by rishis (scholars), therefore, in those texts, the four blemishes (dosas) of āsay, āsakti, bhrānti and pramād are always present. But, since Sri-Narayana (God) Himself had originally created this work [the Srimad-Bhāgavata], in summary, therefore those faults are not present within it.”

§         “sakale veda bhoila kalpataru briksa, tāra phala Bhāgavata / i punu purbata Vaikunthata āchila / teve lokaka kripāye padma-kalpata Sri-Nārāyane Brahmāka dilanta / Brahmāye Nāradata kahilā, Nārade āni moka dilā, mayo Suka mukhata nivedilo / Suka mukhata hante sisya-prasisyādi dvāre akhande prithivita nāmila /”

“The entire Veda has become, as it were, the Wish-Yielding Tree (kalpataru); the fruit (phala) of it is the Bhagavata. Previously, it was in Vaikuntha. Then, out of His extreme compassion for the [people of the] world, Lord Sri-Narayana, in the Padma-Kalpa, gave it to Brahma. Brahma spoke it to Narada and Narada, bringing it, gave it to me (Vyasa); I also imparted it to the mouth of Suka. From Suka’s mouth, falling (down) through the branches and sub-branches of disciples, this fruit [of Vaikuntha], in its original, undivided form, landed on earth.”

§         “āta kevala Nāma mātra pradhāna /”

“In it only the Lord’s Name is the Central Thing.”

The final opinion of this Māhātmya is given: -

  • “eisava bacana pramāne Eka-Sarana huyā Sri-Bhāgavatara sravana icchā mātrake parama sukhe samsāra tare / āka Bhakti Ratnākarata nirnaya karilo /”

“On the proof of these statements, taking Eka-Sarana and merely harboring in mind the wish of listening to the [recitation] of the Srimad-Bhagavata, a person crosses the ocean of samsāra in Supreme Joy, this I (Sankaradeva) have determined in the Bhakti Ratnakara.”

Eka-Sarana the mula tattva of the Bhāgavata

Eka-Sarana is the mula tattva (main essence) of the Mahā-Bhāgavata (Srimad-Bhāgavata) which [in turn] is the essence of the four Vedas.

Essence of the Vedas => Mahā-Bhāgavata

Essence of the Mahā-Bhāgavata => Eka-Sarana Bhakti

Regarding this Eka-Sarana, innumerable instances may be cited from the Bhagavata. That, apart from Isvara Krishna, there can be no other saranya deva (Deity of Refuge) is exemplified through hundreds of instances in the Bhagavata, for example: -

tapatrayena ‘bhihatasya ghore samtapyamanasya bhavadhvanisa /
pasyami nahanyaccharanam tavanghridvandvatapatradamrtabhivarsat //
[Bhagavata, 11/19/9]

The rendering of the above by Sri Madhavadeva: -

kevale saranya-deva Isvara Mādhava /
suniyo Krishnaka yena bulilā Uddhava //
he Krishna ito ghora samsāra panthata /
tini tāpe atisaya huyā āche hata //
tayu pāda-padma cāyā chatra bine tāra /
nāhike Sarana āra tāpa erāibāra //
tomāra Carana-yuga chatra biparita /
chāyā kari sarbbadise barise amrita //
hovaya kritārtha loile tāhānte Sarana /
ehimāne samharilo Uddhava bacana //
[Madhavadeva, Ratnavali]

Lord Madhava is the One and Only Saranya-Deva (Deity of Refuge). Listen to what Uddhava said to Krishna, “Oh Krishna! I am (almost) killed in this dreadful path of the world being victimized by the three sorrows. I have no other shelter to escape from their attack save and except the shade of the umbrella of Thy Lotus Feet. Thy Feet are an umbrella so wonderful that they shower nectar while spreading shade on all sides. The one who takes shelter (Sarana) in Them achieves [Supreme] Accomplishment”.

Now, this Eka-Sarana may be taken either in the Nirguna (Attributeless) Brahman or in Saguna (With Attributes) Paramesvara. In this connection, it is found in the Gita: -

kleso ‘dhikatarastesamavyaktasaktacetasam /
avyakta hi gatirduhkham dehavadbhiravapyate //
[Gita, 12/5]

Meaning, for those whose hearts are attached [the asaktacittas], the [worship of] Avyakta (The Unmanifested) or the Nirguna is more difficult, because it is only through [the suffering of] pain that the people having abhimana (pride) in body may obtain deliverance in Avyakta.

For the reason that the upasana (worship) of this Nirguna Brahma is more tortuous, there is the emergence of the Saguna form of God. The Srimad-Bhagavata only is the Supreme Instance of the elaboration of this Saguna [form of] God. Therefore, although a faint hint (abhasa) regarding this Sarana Dharma is given in the Vedas and the Upanishads, its Supreme Importance has been underscored only in the Gita and the fullest and most complete development of Saguna Paramesvara has been attained in the Bhagavata.

Supreme Scripture of Assam Vaishnavism

In Assam Vaishnavism of Sankaradeva, the Bhagavata-purana has been acknowledged as the supreme scripture under various contexts:-

cari veda astadasha purana yateka sastra parama vedanta Bhagavata Sanaka Sananda muni yoga jnana vicariya uddharila tara sara-tattva
(Sankaradeva, Veda-stuti)

The Bhagavata is the supreme Vedanta among the four Vedas, eighteen Puranas and other sastras. Sages Sanaka and Sananda in quest of yoga and knowledge discovered in it the essential truth.

The Bhagavata-sastra is the essence of all Vedanta: -

samasta vedanta sara mahabhagavata sastra
(Madhavadeva, Nama-ghosa)

It is also called the crown jewel of all scriptures of revelation (sarva sruti siro-ratna).

It is said that when the union of Supreme Vaisnava Srimanta Sankaradeva and hard-core Sakta Madhava occurred, there was intense debate between the two for several hours [see The Great Debate], and Srimanta Sankaradeva, at the end, had uttered one sloka from the Bhagavata as the clincher: -

yatha taror_mula-nisecanena trpyanti tat-skandha-bhujopasakhah
pranopaharac_ca yathendriyanam tathaiva sarvarhanam_acyutejya
(4.31.14)

“On worshiping Krishna, all devatas derive
satisfaction in mind,
just as, on watering the root of a tree,
all its branches and sub-branches are nourished.
Just as a tree does not obtain any nourishment when water is poured on its branches or flowers or leaves,
so also, know that, worshiping separately, the devas are not satisfied.
Take the case of a hungry man whose heart is craving for food.
If now that person wears rich garments and decorates his exterior with ornaments and flowers and cosmetics;
even after such decoration with clothes and ornaments, there is no happiness for his indriyas (senses).
As long as he does not take his meal,
there is no satisfying his prana (vital air).
On eating food, all are satisfied (nourished) -
vital air, mind, the senses.
In that very manner, know that on worshiping Hari,
all devas are satisfied, always.”

It is said that on hearing this sloka, Madhavadeva was overwhelmed. The very next moment, he prostrated before Srimanta Sankaradeva, accepting Him as Guru, and taking Sarana (initiation) the very next day, Madhava transformed into Sri Sri Madhavadeva, the prana-bandhava’ (Soul-Friend) [of Sankaradeva].

The Word-Image of Lord Krishna

The Srimad-Bhāgavata Purāna is accepted as the Vānimay Murti (Word-Image) of Lord Krishna.

Proof: In the Uttara Khanda of the Padma Purāna, there are 6 chapters containing 504 slokas bearing the title ‘Srimad-Bhāgavata Māhātmya’. From just 4 slokas there, it is proved that there is no difference between Bhagavanta (God) and Bhāgavata. They are one and the same (abhinna).

When the incarnate Lord Krishna was about to depart from the world-home (dharā-dhām) to His own home (nij-dhām), Uddhava Deva, the son of Upagaurava of the Vrishni clan, who was deeply devoted to Krishna, came to know about this. He went and met Krishna alone and questioned Him thus: -

tvad viyogena te bhaktāh katham sthāsyanti bhutale /
nirgunopāsane kashtamatah kinchidvicāraya //3/51

Meaning: In Thy absence, how will Thy devotees spend their time in this world? Nirguna Upāsana (Worship of the Attributeless) is extremely difficult. Kindly ponder over this (question) and provide a solution.

ityuddhavah vachah shrutvā prabhāse’chintayaddharih /
bhaktāvalambanārthāya kim vidheyam mayeti cha // 3/60

Meaning: Hearing these words of Uddhava, the Lord, at the holy Prabhāsa, thought – “What kind of an arrangement (vyavasthā) must I provide, for the purpose of adoption by My bhaktas, that will be the most suitable?” Thinking thus, Bhagavanta decided: -

svakiyam yadbhavettejastaccha Bhāgavate’dadhāt /
tirodhāya pravishto’yam Srimad- Bhāgavatārnavam //- 3/61

Meaning: The Lord reposited all His energy into the Bhāgavata and disappeared. Into the Bhāgavata scripture He merged completely. The final declaration:  -

teneyam vāngmayi murttih pratyakshāvartate Hareh /
sevanāt sravanāt pāthāt darshanāt pāpanāshini //- 3/62

Meaning: And that is why the Bhāgavata scripture is the very Word-Image of God, his vāni-rupa or sabdamay-murtti. The worship (sevana) of the Bhāgavata or its listening (sravana), recitation (pāth) and even a glimpse of it (darshana) destroys all the sin and vices of man.

Srimad-Bhāgavata Saturated with Form and Qualities and Glory of Param-Brahma Bhagavān Krishna

Out of the 18 Mahā-Purānas (Great Purānas), in 9 Purānas, the sacred-tale (carit-kathā) of Krishna is found. These 9 Purānas are: -

(1) Brahma Purāna (2) Padma Purāna (3) Vishnu Purāna (4) Vāyu Purāna (5) Srimad-Bhāgavata Purāna (6) Brahma-Vaivartta Purāna (7) Skanda Purāna (8) Vāmana Purāna, and (9) Kurma Purāna

The nirguna (attributeless) Brahma of Vedānta is Srimad–Bhāgavata’s saguna (with attributes) Krishna. Why the nirguna Brahma became saguna has been answered by Vyāsa Deva in the Mahābhārata: -

anugrahārthalokānām Vishnurloka namaskritah /
Vasudevāt tu Daivakyāt prādurbhuto mahāyasah //
- Mahābhārata, Adi-Parva 63 /1

Meaning: Bestowing His great favour upon the people of the world, Lord Vishnu of great glory, God worshipped by all, appeared in Vāsudeva-Devaki.

Mahāpurusa Madhavadeva himself has said: -

parama durbodha ātma-tattva      tāra jnāna arthe Hari yata
lilā-avatāra dhari āchā kripāmaya //
- Nāma Ghosā

The philosophy of Self is highly unintelligible. In order to appraise of it Thou, O all-merciful Lord, assume so many incarnations and exhibit Thy lilā.

When those stories and tales of the Avatāra become very enjoyable (full of rasa) and easily understandable, then the common folk are more attracted. Brahmā, in his prayer to child Krishna, has said: -

kino dhanya dhenu gopi ito Gokular /
yār stana pāne tripta bhoila Dāmodar //
asvamedh ādi kari mahā-yagna yata /
tomāka tusibe keho nuhike sakata //
- Kirttana, Sankaradeva

How blessed are the cows and cowherdesses of this Gokula
Feeding on whose breasts, O Lord Dāmodara, You became satisfied.
[When] by performing even Asvamedha and other great sacrifices,
It is impossible for anybody to satisfy You.

It is this Param-Brahma Bhagavān Krishna with Whose form and qualities and glory (rupa-guna-yasa) the Srimad-Bhāgavata sāstra is saturated. The great rishis (sages) of yore have also given their opinion: -

menire bhagavad-rupam sāstram Bhāgavatam kalau /
pathanācchravanāt sadyo vaikunthaphaladāyakam //
- Bhāgavata Māhātmya, 1/20

Meaning: In the Iron Age (Kali-Yuga), the Bhāgavata sāstra is verily the svarupa (form) of God Himself. The recitation of this scripture and listening to it gives salvation immediately.

In this Bhāgavata Māhātmya (section on the Greatness of the Bhāgavata), Vyāsa Deva declares: -

alam vratairalam tirthairalam yogairalam makhaih /
alam jnānakathālāpairbhaktirekaiva muktidā //- 2/21

Meaning: There is absolutely no need for vrata (fasting), tirtha (going on pilgrimage), yoga (doing yogic exercises), and jnān-carcā (scholarly discussions etc) and such other means; only bhakti (devotion) alone can grant salvation.

And for that reason: -

sadā sevyā sadā sevyā Srimad-Bhāgavati kathā /
yashyāh sravanamātrena Harischittam samāsrayet //
- Bhāgavata Māhātmya 3 / 25

Meaning: The Bhāgavata Kathā should always be worshipped by performing sravana-kirttana with devotion. Bhagavanta presents Himself in one’s heart the very moment sravana is done.

The most important āvishkār of the Bhāgavata

The most important āvishkār (discovery, manifestation) of this scripture called Bhāgavata is: -

jnānavirāgabhaktisahitam naishkarmyam āvishkritam /
-         Bhāgavata 12 / 13 / 18

[‘naishkarmyam’ is called ‘karmoparamah’ by Sridhara]

Meaning: In the Bhāgavata, along with jnāna, vairāgya and bhakti, there is the āvishkār of the rejection or giving up of karmakānda (naishkarmyam). For that reason, the view of the Bhāgavata is altogether new. It was propagated in this world (for the first time) only by Suka Deva: -

purbate najāne keve prithivita Suka Deve
kali yuge karilā pracāra /
bicāri niscaya kari piyā āka karna bhari
mahā mahā bhāgya āche yāra //
-         Bhāgavata, Sankaradeva, 1/4 /19

Previously nobody knew it on this planet, Suka Deva,
In the Iron Age, propagated it;
Determining it to be true drink earfuls of it,
Whoever has the great fortune of doing so.

The Srimad-Bhāgavata’s declaration: -

idam Bhāgavatam nāma purānam brahmasammitam /
uttamaslokacharitam chakāra bhagavānrishih //
nihsreyashāya lokasya dhanyam svastyayanam mahat ||
- Bhāgavata 1/3/40

Meaning: The Srimad-Bhāgavata Purāna is the vāngmay form of God Almighty. This scripture has been compiled by Vyāsa Deva himself. The aim of Vyāsa Deva is to secure the highest welfare of entire mankind. This Bhāgavata is sārthak (meaningful) in every way, filled with complete joy and paripurna (perfect) in every way.

Srimad-Bhāgavata Worshipped in Sankaradeva’s School

The Srimad-Bhāgavata is worshipped on this account in Sankaradeva’s School with the burning of incense and the lighting of lamp, for it is no other than Lord Krishna Himself (Sri-Bhagavatakhyo yam pratyaksah Krishna eva hi). Sankaradeva initiated his disciples into his faith with the Bhāgavata to represent the Lord, in Whom the initiate’s soul was to find refuge (sarana).

Recitation/glorification of the Lord’s Name is only to be followed for the Lord has no image other than the Word (mantramurttim amurttikam, Bhāgavata 1.5.38).  In performing all religious functions, however, the Bhāgavata or any section of it rendered by Sankaradeva, particularly the Uddhava Samvāda or the Gunamālā - the quintessence of the Bhāgavata - is installed on a pedestaled tray on a raised or elevated spot on the ground, thus forming what in Sankaradevite vocabulary is called, the thāpanā (Guru Āsana (literally, Seat of the Guru) and homage is paid to it by recitation of the Name of God from the holy texts (officially called prasanga). The devotees bow down only before
this vāngmayi image of the Lord, and not before any other representation.

The Great Bhagavata Movement of Assam

As a theologian, Sankaradeva (1449-1568 AD) made the Bhagavata-Purana the main canon of his Vaisnavism and his works include a creative translation of a large part of that Text.

“It was the age of one ideal, that of bhakti; of one God, Visnu-Krsna; of one leadership, that of Sankaradeva; of one book, the Bhagavata-purana. All other types of matter, almost invariably taken from some Visnuite text, were brought under the dictates of the Bhagavata-purana”.

Sankaradeva Himself rendered eight out of the twelve books of the Bhagavata, namely Books I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI and XII. Besides the rendering, he composed a large number of works with materials from the Bhagavata such as the Kirttana Ghosha which is an anthology (kavya-kosh) of more than two dozen epics of various magnitudes. Most of the poems of the Kirttana are renderings or adaptations from the Bhagavata. His Nimi Nava Siddha Samvada is a doctrinal treatise based on Book XI of the Bhagavata. His Anadi Patana is mainly an adaptation from Book III of the Bhagavata. The Gunamala, the ‘Garland of Praises (for Lord Krishna)’, written by Sankaradeva is a little handbook capturing in racy, rhyming and sonorous verses, the essence of the Bhagavata Purana. Within the compass of a single laudatory verse, the poet recounts many incidents from Krishna’s Life making them easy to remember. This ‘pocket-Bhagavata’ is a sacred text for all Assamese Vaisnavas and is often placed in the pedestal or the Guru-Asana (sacred throne) in the congregational prayer-house called Namghar as the object of veneration [see English translation of Sankaradeva’s Gunamala].

“Sankaradeva drew inspiration chiefly from the Bhāgavata, which distilled the quintessence of the Vedanta philosophy into a receptacle of popular and unforgettable legends. An early attempt was therefore made to translate the book into Assamese. It was really a very courageous and extraordinary undertaking to render into a provincial language a venerable text written in the grand style of a classical tongue”.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Sankaradeva was accused before the Koch king Naranārāyana, by the Brahmanas, as an ardent reader, teacher and transcreator of the Bhāgavata.

Besides Sankaradeva, other scholars also undertook the rendering of the different sections of the Venerable Text into Assamese in different periods of time. The rendering of the Bhāgavata marks an era of renaissance in Assamese literature. Its influence on Vaisnavite literature was manifold. It remolded the faith and the conscience of the Assamese.

References: -

  1. ‘Sankaradeva’s Bhakti Ratnākara’

  1. Katha Bhakti-Ratnakara of Gopalacarana Dvija, 17th century Assamese prose translation of Sankaradeva’s Bhakti-Ratnakara;

  1. Eka-Sarana  : Origin and Development, The Contribution of Sankaradeva, Sonaram Chutiya;

  1. An Approach to Assam Vaishnavism in the Light of the Upanishads, Kali Charan Das;

  1. Madhavadeva’s Great Debate with Sankaradeva, Ramananda Dvija;

  1. Srimad-Bhāgavata : The Image of God, Sonaram Chutiya; Verbatim reproduction of a large chunk of the text;

  1. ‘Fundamental Aspects of Sankaradeva’s Religion - Guru Āsana’

  1. ‘The Bhāgavata of Sankaradeva’

  1. Sankaradeva and the Great Age in Literature and Fine Arts, Maheswar Neog;

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