The Tenth Skanda of Bhagavatam

This article is part 12 of 20 in the series Puranas

The Padmapurana continues this story of Parikshit in the following manner: “After Parikshit listened to the Bhagavatam, he passed two hundred years in the Kali Yuga. Then, in the Kali Yuga, a man named Gokarna narrated the Bhagavatam to his brother dhundhakāri and freed him from his birth as a ghost. After thirty more years had elapsed, Brahma’s thought-children Sanatkumara and others narrated the Bhagavatam to Maharshi Narada.” (Padmapurana, uttarakhaṇḍa).

Indeed, the story narrated in the Padmapurana in this connection is noteworthy. “A woman named Bhakti was born in the Dravida country, grew up in Karnataka, stayed in some places in Maharashtra, and grew old in the Gurjara country (Gujarat)! She had two children named Jnana and Vairagya. When she took them along to Vrindavan, her youth returned. However, both Jnana and Vairagya continued to be stricken with old age and weakness and for this reason, Bhakti was lamenting on the banks of the Yamuna. Maharshi Narada sensed her grief and approached Sanatkumara and sought a solution for Bhakti’s plight. Then, Sanatkumara organized a Bhagavatam discourse on the banks of the Ganga. Bhakti was immediately transformed into an epitome of love. Her children, Jnana and Vairagya regained their youth.”

Although this story is fantastic, it is profoundly meaningful. The germination of Jnana and Vairagya is through the path of Bhakti. Bhakti nurtures and strengthens both. The suggestion in this story is as follows: Bhakti is the main Rasa of the Bhagavatam and it takes the seeker towards Jnana and Vairagya.

It is relevant to recall some verses from the Padmapurana in this regard.

vedopaniśadām sārājjātā bhāgavatī kathā |
atyuttamā katho bhāti pṛthagbhūtā phalākṛtiḥ||         

“The story of the Bhagavatam was born from the essence of the Vedas and Upanishads. Although it appears to be different from them, it is enchanting like an excellent fruit that emerged from them.”

nigamakalpatarorgalitam phalaṃ śukamukhādamrutadravasaṃyutaṃ |
pibata bhāgavataṃ rasamālayam
muhuraho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ||

“From the Kalpavruksha of the Veda, the fruit called Bhagavatam has fallen down. This Bhagavatam emanated from the tongue of Maharshi śuka. It has fallen down because a parrot pecked it. It is filled with sweet ambrosia (i.e., the Moksha-giving nectar). O sentimental Bhaktas who are also Rasikas! Drink this ambrosia right on this earth till you are contented!”

svarge satye ca kailāse vaikuṇṭhe nāstyayaṃ rasaḥ |
ataḥ pibantu sadbhāgyā mā mā muñcata karhicit ||

“This ambrosia is unavailable in svarga, satya-loka, kailāsa or vaikuṇṭha. Therefore, O fortunate people, drink it. Never forsake it!”

The Tenth Skanda

The Tenth Skanda is the heart of the Bhagavatam. This Skanda is wholly dedicated to the life of Srikrishna. It is divided into two parts, namely the pūrvārdha (literally, former half) and uttarārdha  (latter half). The first comprises the following episodes:

·      The circumstances of Sri Krishna’s avatara

·      His exploits as an infant and child

·      Rearing cows, i.e., his relationship with cows

·      Story of the Gopikas

·      Killing of Kamsa

·      The sacred thread ceremonly of Balarama and Srikrishna

·      Description of their education

·      Srikrishna sends Akrura to Hastinapura and enquires after the welfare of the Pandavas.

The latter half contains a detailed narration of episodes including his encounter with kālayavana and so on. The description of Srikrishna’s character as seen in the Mahabharata is quite limited in the Bhagavatam.

As noted earlier, the Bhagavatam is a work in which Bhakti Rasa is predominant. Therefore, we notice a profusion of devotional hymns to the Bhagavan under some pretext or the other. Thus, we have abundant devotional hymns on various occasions. Some examples include the following: Brahma singing his praise when Srikrishna is still in Devaki’s womb; Vasudeva and Devaki extolling him as soon as his avatara manifests on this earth; Brahma once again praising him during the episode of cow-protection; the hymns by the wives of the Nagas, by kāḻi, the serpent, by Indra and by the Gopikas. Maharshi śuka seizessome circumstance and immerses himself in glorifying Srikrishna. He becomes thrilled when he recalls the Bhagavan’s greatness and forgets himself. It must be said that these hymns are not mere paeans but embody high Vedantic philosophy in them.

The Bhagavatam is a mahākāvya

We cannot place the Bhagavatam into watertight compartments as a collection of devotional hymns or as a philosophical treatise. It is also a mahākāvya (literally, “great poetry”). In the Bhagavatam, the Rasikas who love poetry will find an abundance of the elements that help Rasa to blossom and intensify Bhava (feeling, emotion, sentiment). The Tenth Skanda, especially the first part, is suffused with the śṛṃgāra (love, beauty) Rasa. Other Rasas like valour and compassion, and a range of Bhavas have been embellished. Those who are curious to know more may survey the following portions:

·      The childhood pranks and sports of Srikrishna and Balarama (Chapter 8)

·      Yashodha Devi who curdles curd (Chapter 9.3)

·      Description of monsoon and autumn (Chapter 20)

·      Rāsa sport (Chapter 29)

·      The song of the Gopis (Chapter 31)

·      The duet of the Gopikas (Chapter 35)

·      The episode of Mathura (Chapter 41-42)

·      The song of the Bee (Chapter 47)

All these episodes are extraordinary chunks of Rasa which can easily surpass the best of mahākāvya-s.

Antiquity of the Word “Krishna”

The hero of the Tenth Khanda is Srikrishna. The name “Krishna” is of untold antiquity. Verses 85, 86, 87 of the eighth Mandala, verses 42, 43, 44 of the tenth Mandala of the Rg Veda Samhita aver that a Rishi named Krishna is the seer of these verses. However, it is unlikely that this Rishi Krishna is the same Krishna of the Bhagavatam. The Chandogya Upanishad has the following: “taddhaitadghorāṅgirasaḥ kṛṣṇāya devakīputrāyoktvovācāpipāsa eva sa babhūva.” (3.17.6). From this, we learn that a preceptor named Ghora belonging to the āṅgirasa gotra taught the secrets (i.e., philosophy) of the Yajna to Krishna. However, nowhere else is it mentioned that this Ghora was the Guru of Krishna. According to the Vishnupurana and Bhagavatam, sāndīpani is mentioned as Krishna’s Guru. And then, Upanishads like gopālatāpanī also mention Krishna’s name and contain descriptions of the Gopis. Researchers opine that these Upanishads are not ancient.

The tradition of Krishna-Bhakti was already pervasive even before the time of the renowned grammarian, Panini (700 BCE). The Bhaktas of Srikrishna and Vāsudeva were known as Vāsudevakā-s. This is unambiguously confirmed by the Panini aphorism, vāsudevārjunābhyām vun (aṣṭādhyāyī 4.3.98).  

Dr. D.V. Gundappa, who has now attained Heaven but who lives in our hearts forever, carried out in-depth contemplation over Srikrishna. In his classic work, Srikrishna parīkaaṃ, his contemplative churning has come out in a crystal clear fashion. We have quoted some lines from that work here.

We can classify Srikrishna’s story into four categories: (1) Childhood (2) Sport with the Gopis (3) Statecraft (4) Philosophical discourse.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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