Bhagavata Purana manuscripts from 16th- to 19th-century, in Sanskrit (above) and in Bengali

The Bhagavata Purana (Sanskrit: भागवतपुराण; IAST: Bhāgavata Purāṇa), also known as the Srimad Bhagavatam (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam), Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa) or simply Bhagavata (Bhāgavata), is one of Hinduism's eighteen great Puranas (Mahapuranas).[1][2] Composed in Sanskrit and traditionally attributed to Veda Vyasa,[3] it promotes bhakti (devotion) towards Krishna,[4][5][6] an avatar of Vishnu, integrating themes from the Advaita (monism) philosophy of Adi Shankara, the Vishishtadvaita (qualified monism) of Ramanujacharya and the Dvaita (dualism) of Madhvacharya.[5][7][8][9] It is widely available in almost all Indian languages.

The Bhagavata Purana, like other puranas, discusses a wide range of topics including cosmology, astronomy, genealogy, geography, legend, music, dance, yoga and culture.[5][10] As it begins, the forces of evil have won a war between the benevolent devas (deities) and evil asuras (demons) and now rule the universe. Truth re-emerges as Krishna (called "Hari" and "Vāsudeva" in the text) first makes peace with the demons, understands them and then creatively defeats them, bringing back hope, justice, freedom and happiness – a cyclic theme that appears in many legends.[11]

The Bhagavata Purana is a central text in Vaishnavism.[12] The text presents a form of religion (dharma) that competes with that of the Vedas, wherein bhakti ultimately leads to self-knowledge, salvation (moksha) and bliss.[13] However the Bhagavata Purana asserts that the inner nature and outer form of Krishna is identical to the Vedas and that this is what rescues the world from the forces of evil.[14] An oft-quoted verse (1.3.40) is used by some Krishna sects to assert that the text itself is Krishna in literary form.[15][16]

The text consists of twelve books (skandhas or cantos) totalling 335 chapters (adhyayas) and 18,000 verses.[15][17] The tenth book, with about 4,000 verses, has been the most popular and widely studied.[3] It was the first Purana to be translated into a European language, as a French translation of a Tamil version appeared in 1788 and introduced many Europeans to Hinduism and 18th-century Hindu culture during the colonial era.[6][18]



Main article: Origin of the Bhagavata Purana

Modern scholarship

Modern scholarship dates its composition to between 500 CE to 1000 CE, but most likely between 800 and 1000 CE.[28] A version of the text existed no later than 1030 CE, when it is mentioned by al Biruni[28] and quoted by Abhinavagupta. The Bhagavata Purana abounds in references to verses of the Vedas, the primary Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra of Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, and the Bhagavad Gita, suggesting that it was composed after these texts.[29] The text contains more details of Krishna's biography than the 3rd- 4th-century Harivamsha and Vishnu Purana, and is therefore likely to have been composed after these texts, suggesting a chronological range of 500–1000 CE.[28][30] Within this range, scholars such as R. C. Hazra date it to the first half of the 6th century CE, Bryant as well as Gupta and Valpey citing epigraphical and archaeological evidence suggest much of the text could be from the 4th to 7th century,[31][32] while most others place it in the post-Alvar period around the 9th century.[28][33][34] Parts of the text use an archaic Vedic flavour of Sanskrit, which may either suggest that its authors sought to preserve or express reverence for the Vedic tradition, or that some text has an earlier origin.[29] There are two flavors of Krishna stories, one of warrior prince and another of romantic lover, the former composed in more archaic Sanskrit and the later in a different linguistic style, suggesting that the texts may not have been composed by one author or over a short period, but rather grew over time as a compilation of accretions from different hands.[35]

The Bhagavata Purana contains apparent references to the South Indian Alvar saints and it makes a post factum prophecy of the spread of Vishnu worship in Tamil country (BP XI.5.38–40);[36][30] these facts, along with its emphasis on "emotional Bhakti to Krishna" and the "Advaita philosophy of Sankara", lead many scholars to trace its origins to South India.[37] However, J. A. B. van Buitenen points out that 10th–11th CE South Indian Vaishnava theologians Yamuna and Ramanuja do not refer to Bhagavata Purana in their writings, and this anomaly must be explained before the geographical origins and dating are regarded as definitive.[36][30]

Since the 19th-century, most scholars believe that the Bhagavata Purana was written by a group of learned Brahmin ascetics, probably in South India, who were well versed in Vedic and ancient Indian literature and influenced by the Alvars.[38] Postmodern scholars have suggested alternate theories.[39]

Content and structure

The Bhagavata Purana consists of twelve skhandas or cantos consisting of 18,000 verses of several interconnected, interwoven, and non-linear dialogues, teachings, and explanations espousing Bhakti Yoga that go back and forth in time:

We have alluded to the Bhagavata's identity as a Purana, an important feature of which is its multilevel dialogical structure... the layered arrangement of dialogues, in which a speaker (typically Suka, the main reciter, addressing his interlocutor, King Pariksit) quotes an "earlier" speaker (for example, Narada, addressing King Yudhisthira, Pariksit's granduncle, in a dialogue understood to have taken place earlier and elsewhere), who may in turn quote yet another speaker. Two or three such layers are typically operative simultaneously... the compounding of voices serve to strengthen the message delivered; and second, one is left with the sense that one cannot, and indeed need not, trace out the origin of the message.

— Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey, The Bhāgavata Purāna: Selected Readings[40]

Stated authorship and purpose

From the N.P. Jain for Motilal Banarsidass translation:

The divine seer, Vedavyasa, composed this Purana, known by the name of Srimad Bhagavata, which stands on a par with the Vedas and contains the stories of the Lord of excellent renown.

— Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1st Canto, Chapter 3, Verse 40

A unique and especial emphasis is placed on fostering transcendental loving devotion to Krishna as the ultimate good, i.e. for its own sake rather than for fruitive results or rewards such as detachment or worldly or heavenly gains, a practice known as Bhakti Yoga:

What makes the Bhagavata unique in the history of Indian Religion... is its prioritization of Bhakti. The main objective of this text is to promote Bhakti to Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna referred to variously, and to illustrate and explain it... what makes the Bhagavata special is its emphasis on an intense personal and passionate Bhakti...

— Sisir Kumar Das, A History of Indian Literature[41]

Puranic characteristics

As detailed in the Matsya Mahapurana, all Puranas must cover at least five specific subjects or topics - referred to in Sanskrit as Pancha Lakshana (literally meaning 'consisting of five characteristics'[42][43] – in addition to other information including specific deities and the four aims or goals of life. From the K.L. Joshi (editor) translation:

The following are the five characteristics of the Puranas: They describe (1) the creation of the universe, (2) its genealogy and dissolution, (3) the dynasties, (4) the Manvantaras, (5) the dynastic chronicles. The Puranas, with these five characteristics, sing the glory of Brahma, Vishnu, the Sun and Rudra, as well as they describe also the creation and dissolution of the Earth. The four [aims of human life] (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa) have also been described in all the Puranas, along with evil consequences following from sin. In the sattvika Puranas there is largely a mention of Hari's glory.

— Matsya Mahapurana, Chapter 53[44]

The Srimad Bhagavatam adds another five characteristics, expanding this list to ten.[45]

The Bhagavata further elaborates on the differences between lesser and greater Puranas possessing five or ten characteristics, respectively.[46]


A Bhagavata Purana manuscript.

According to Hariprasad Gangashankar Shastri, the oldest surviving manuscript dates to c. 1124-25 and is held in the Sampurnananda Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya in Varanasi.[47]

Contrary to the western cultural tradition of novelty, poetic or artistic license with existing materials is a strong tradition in Indian culture,[48] a 'tradition of several hundred years of linguistic creativity'.[49] There are variations of original manuscripts available for each Purana, including the Srimad Bhagavatam.[48] The common manuscript for translations of the Bhagavata Purana - seemingly used by both Swami Prabhupada and Bibek Debroy- is the Bhāgavatamahāpurāṇam[50] a reprint of Khemraj Shri Krishnadas' manuscript.[51] In regards to variances in Puranic manuscripts, academic Dr. Gregory Bailey states:

[S]ignificant are the widespread variations between manuscripts of the same Purana, especially those originating in different regions of India... one of the principal characteristics of the genre is the status of Purana as what Doniger calls "fluid texts" (Doniger 1991, 31). The mixture of fixed form [the Puranic Characteristics] and seemingly endless variety of content has enabled the Purana to be communicative vehicles for a range of cultural positions... [the] idea of originality is primarily Western and belies the fact that in the kind of oral genres of which the Puranas continue to form a part, such originality is neither promoted nor recognised. Like most forms of cultural creation in India, the function of the Puranas was to reprocess and comment upon old knowledge...

— The Study of Hinduism (Arvind Sharma, Editor), Chapter 6 ('The Puranas: A Study in the Development of Hinduism')[48]


SB 1.1.3 original Sanskrit:

निगमकल्पतरोर्गलितं फलं
शुकमुखादमृतद्रवसंयुतम् ।
पिबत भागवतं रसमालयं
मुहुरहो रसिका भुवि भावुका: ॥ ३ ॥

O ye devotees possessing a taste for divine joy, Srimad Bhagavata is the fruit (essence) of the wish-yielding tree of Veda, dropped on earth from the mouth of the parrot-like sage Suka, and is full of the nectar of supreme bliss. It is unmixed sweetness (devoid of rind, seed or other superfluous matter). Go on drinking this divine nectar again and again till there is consciousness left in you.

First Canto

Consisting of 19 chapters,[52] the first canto opens with an invocation to Krishna and the assertion that the Srimad Bhagatavam, compiled by Vyasadeva, is sufficient alone to realise God. The overarching narration begins at the onset of Kali Yuga as a dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami (the son of Vyasadeva) and a group of sages headed by Saunaka, as they perform a thousand-year sacrifice for Krishna and his devotees in the forest of Naimisaranya. Questioned by the sages, topics covered by Suta Gosvami include the:

SB 1.3.38 original Sanskrit:

स वेद धातु: पदवीं परस्य
दुरन्तवीर्यस्य रथाङ्गपाणे: ।
योऽमायया सन्ततयानुवृत्त्या
भजेत तत्पादसरोजगन्धम् ॥ ३८ ॥

The power of the Lord who wields the discus in His hand is infinite; though the Maker of this world, He remains ever beyond it. He alone can know His ways who inhales the fragrance of His lotus-feet through constant and sincere devotion to them.

Second Canto

Sukadeva Gosvami addressing Pariksit.

Consisting of 10 chapters,[53] the second canto opens with an invocation to Krishna. The second layer of overarching narration begins as a dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river (narrated by Suta Gosvami to a group of sages headed by Saunaka in the forest of Naimisaranya). Questioned by Pariksit, the topics covered by Sukadeva Gosvami include the:

SB 2.5.35 original Sanskrit:

स एव पुरुषस्तस्मादण्डं निर्भिद्य निर्गत: ।
सहस्रोर्वङ्‌घ्रिबाह्वक्ष: सहस्राननशीर्षवान् ॥ ३५ ॥

Bursting open that (Cosmic) egg, issued therefrom the same Supreme Person (the Cosmic Being) with thousands of thighs, feet, arms and eyes and thousands of faces and heads too.

Third Canto

Consisting of 33 chapters,[54] the third canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Vidura, the sudra incarnation of Yama and devotee of Krishna, is the main protagonist narrated. After being thrown out of his home by King Dhritarashtra (his older half-brother) for admonishing the Kaurava's ignoble behaviour towards the Pandavas, Vidura went on a pilgrimage where he met other devotees of Krishna such as Uddhava and the sage Maitreya; their dialogues form a third layer of narration. Topics covered by Sukadeva Gosvami, Uddhava, and Maitreya include the:

SB 3.25.25 original Sanskrit:

सतां प्रसङ्गान्मम वीर्यसंविदो
भवन्ति हृत्कर्णरसायना: कथा: ।
श्रद्धा रतिर्भक्तिरनुक्रमिष्यति ॥ २५ ॥

Through the fellowship of saints one gets to hear My stories, leading to a correct and full knowledge of My glory and pleasing to the heart as well as to the ear. By hearing such stories one is sure to develop one after another reverence and fondness for and Devotion to the Lord, whose realization is preceded by the cessation of ignorance.

Fourth Canto

Vishnu appears before Dhruva

Consisting of 31 chapters,[55] the fourth canto continues the dialogues of Sukadeva Gosvami, Uddhava, and Maitreya. There are additional layers of dialogue, such as between the sage-avatar Narada and King Pracinabharhisat (as narrated by Maitreya to Vidura). Focusing on the female descendants of Svayambhuva Manu, topics covered include the:

SB 4.16.17 original Sanskrit:

मातृभक्ति: परस्त्रीषु पत्‍न्यामर्ध इवात्मन: । प्रजासु पितृवत्स्‍निग्ध: किङ्करो ब्रह्मवादिनाम् ॥ १७ ॥

He regards and reveres the wives of others as His mother and loves His own wife as a half of His own body. He is loving as a father to those over whom He rules; He looks upon Himself as a servant to those who are well-versed in the Vedic lore.

Fifth Canto


Consisting of 26 chapters,[56] the fifth canto focuses on the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue are between the avatar Rsabha and his sons, and between Bharata and King Rahugana (the former was perceived as a fool and made to carry the latter's palanquin). Topics covered include the:

SB 5.5.1 original Sanskrit:

ऋषभ उवाच
नायं देहो देहभाजां नृलोके
कष्टान् कामानर्हते विड्भुजां ये ।
तपो दिव्यं पुत्रका येन सत्त्वं
शुद्ध्येद्यस्माद् ब्रह्मसौख्यं त्वनन्तम् ॥ १ ॥

This (human) body in the mortal world does not deserve to be given up to (the pursuit of) sensuous pleasures, which are (really) a source of misery and which are enjoyed even by swine, dogs and other animals (that feed on ordure). It is worthy of being devoted, My beloved sons, to sublime austerities whereby the mind is purified; and from purity of mind follows the unending bliss of absorption into the Absolute.

Sixth Canto

Vrtrasura attacks Indra

Consisting of 19 chapters,[57] the sixth canto continues with the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between Yama and his messengers (called the Yamadutas). With the main focus on the battles of the demon-devotee Vrtrasura and his armies against the demigods led by Indra, as well as the life of King Citraketu, topics covered include the:

SB 6.3.13 original Sanskrit:

यो नामभिर्वाचि जनं निजायां
बध्नाति तन्‍त्र्यामिव दामभिर्गा: ।
यस्मै बलिं त इमे नामकर्म-
निबन्धबद्धाश्चकिता वहन्ति ॥ १३ ॥

Just as a farmer ties (his) oxen with tethers to a big cord (to keep them together), He binds men with (different) denominations (Brahmana, Ksatriya and so on) to His own Word (the Veda)-allots them different duties as enjoined by the Vedas; and, bound by (these) strong ties in the shape of class, names and obligations (attaching thereto), the aforesaid men meticulously bear offerings (do homage) to Him (through the scrupulous discharge of their duties).

Seventh Canto

Nrsimha and Prahlada (R).

Consisting of 15 chapters,[58] the seventh canto continues with the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between Narada and Yudhishthira about Prahlada, the devotee-son of the demon-King Hiranyakasipu (brother of Hiranyaksa, destroyed by the Varaha avatar in the third canto; the demonic brothers are incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya). Prahlada, protected by Krishna, survives multiple attempts to kill him until the arrival of the Nrsimha avatar to destroy his father, who could not be killed by any weapon, by any man or beast, or in the water, air, or on land. Topics covered include the:

SB 7.14.9 original Sanskrit:

मृगोष्ट्रखरमर्काखुसरीसृप्खगमक्षिका: ।
आत्मन: पुत्रवत् पश्येत्तैरेषामन्तरं कियत् ॥ ९ ॥

He should look upon deer, camels, donkeys, monkeys, rats, reptiles, birds and flies as though they were their (own) children What is that which distinguishes these from those (children)? (They deserve his fostering care as much as his own children).

Eighth Canto

Vamana with Bali.

Consisting of 24 chapters,[59] the eighth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between the Vamana avatar and King Bali about the demon-King Hiranyakasipu. Topics covered include the:

SB 8.5.30 original Sanskrit:

न यस्य कश्चातितितर्ति मायां
यया जनो मुह्यति वेद नार्थम् ।
तं निर्जितात्मात्मगुणं परेशं
नमाम भूतेषु समं चरन्तम् ॥ ३० ॥

Let us bow to that Ruler of the highest gods, moving qually in all created beings, whose Maya (deluding potency) nobody can overpass-that Māyā due to which men get bewildered and are unable to know the truth (their reality)-but vho has completely subdued that Maya-Sakti of His own and its properties (in the shape of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas).

In 7th chapter of eighth canto mentioned Lord Shiva is also non different from Brahman. He is supreme ruler of the universe and the eternal refugee of all living beings.

Gita Press:

You are the supreme, mysterious Brahma (the Absolute), the Creator of all beings, (the gods, beasts and so on), high and low. It is You, the (supreme) Spirit, that stand manifested as the universe by virtue of (Your) manifold energies (in the form of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) and are its Ruler (too).

— Canto 8, Chapter 7, Verse 24

29. The five sacred (Vedic) texts (known by the names of Tatpuruşa, Aghora, Sadyojäta, Vämadeva and Iśāna), O Lord, from (the thirty- eight parts of) which the thirty-eight fragmentary Mantras came into existence, constitute Your (five) faces (bearing the same names as the sacred texts themselves). Again, that self- effulgent Principle, constituting the supreme Reality, which is known by the name of Śiva, O Deity, is (nothing but) Your absolute state.

— Canto 8, Chapter 7, Verse 29

Ninth Canto


Consisting of 24 chapters,[60] the ninth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. With no notable additional layers of dialogue, the primary focus is upon the male dynasties of various ruling figures (the female sides are covered in the fourth canto). Topics covered include the:

SB original Sanskrit:

अक्षौहिणीनां पतिभिरसुरैर्नृपलाञ्छनै: । भुव आक्रम्यमाणाया अभाराय कृतोद्यम: ॥ ५९ ॥

कर्माण्यपरिमेयाणि मनसापि सुरेश्वरैः ।

सहसङ्कर्षणश्चक्रे भगवान्मधुसूदनः ॥ ६० ॥

Endeavouring to remove the burden of the earth, which was overrun by demons disguised as kings, who led more than one Akşauhinīs, Lord Śri Krsna (the slayer of the demon Madhu). accompanied by (His elder brother) Lord Sarnkarsana (better known as Balarama), performed deeds which cannot be comprehended even in thought by the rulers of gods.

Tenth Canto

Krishna and Balarama Studying with the Brahman Sandipani (Bhagavata Purana, 1525-1550 CE print). Krishna in blue is seated next to Balarama, both wearing peacock-feather headdresses, in front of their teacher Sandipani. Two other students appear on the left.
Kuvalayapida Slain

Consisting of 90 chapters,[61] the tenth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue all involve the lila (divine play) of the supreme and transcendental Krishna avatar. Thus focusing on the appearance and pastimes of Krishna, topics covered include the:

SB 10.90.50 original Sanskrit:

मर्त्यस्तयानुसवमेधितया मुकुन्द-
श्रीमत्कथाश्रवणकीर्तनचिन्तयैति ।
तद्धाम दुस्तरकृतान्तजवापवर्गं
ग्रामाद् वनं क्षितिभुजोऽपि ययुर्यदर्था: ॥ ५० ॥

By listening to, chanting and contemplating on the charming stories of Bhagavān Sri Krsna every moment, man develops the devotion which leads him to the (supreme) sphere of the Lord. (True,) it is (most) difficult to reach beyond the jurisdiction of Time; but in the Lord's realm Time has no sway. Even rulers of the earth have left their kingdom and retired to the forest for (the performance of austerities with the object of) gaining that eternal realm. (Therefore, one should constantly engage oneself in hearing the stories of the Lord.)


The largest canto with 4,000 verses, the tenth canto is also the most popular and widely studied part of the Bhagavata.[62] It has also been translated, commented on, and published separately from the rest of the Srimad Bhagavatam.[63][64]

Eleventh Canto


Consisting of 31 chapters,[65] the eleventh canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue are between Narada and Vasudeva, and between Krishna and Uddhava (and in turn, other dialogues such as that between the Hamsa (swan) avatar and Brahma). Topics covered include the:

SB 11.7.33–35 original Sanskrit:

पृथिवी वायुराकाशमापोऽग्निश्चन्द्रमा रवि: ।
कपोतोऽजगर: सिन्धु: पतङ्गो मधुकृद् गज: ॥ ३३ ॥
मधुहाहरिणो मीन: पिङ्गला कुररोऽर्भक: ।
कुमारी शरकृत् सर्प ऊर्णनाभि: सुपेशकृत् ॥ ३४ ॥
एते मे गुरवो राजन् चतुर्विंशतिराश्रिता: ।
शिक्षा वृत्तिभिरेतेषामन्वशिक्षमिहात्मन: ॥ ३५ ॥

The earth, the air, the sky, water, fire, the moon and the sun, the dove, the boa-constrictor, the sea, the moth, the honey-bee, the elephant, the honey-gatherer, the deer, the fish, Pingala (a courtesan), the osprey, the infant, the maiden, the forger of arrows, the serpent, the spider and the Bhrnga (a kind of wasp) these twenty-four have been accepted, O king, by me as preceptors. From the conduct of these have I learnt all that I had to learn in this life for my good.

The Uddhava or Hamsa Gita

Containing the final teachings of Krishna to His devotee Uddhava, the eleventh canto is also referred to as the 'Uddhava Gita' or 'Hamsa Gita'. Like the tenth canto, it has also been translated and published separately, usually as a companion or 'sequel' to the Bhagavad Gita.[66][67] 'Hamsa' means 'swan' or 'spirit',[68] and:

Twelfth Canto


Consisting of 13 chapters,[71] the twelfth and final canto completes the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river, and ends with the overarching dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and the group of sages led by Saunaka, at the forest of Naimisaranya. Focusing on prophecies and signs of Kali Yuga, topics covered in this canto include the:

SB 12.13.11–12 original Sanskrit:

आदिमध्यावसानेषु वैराग्याख्यानसंयुतम् ।
हरिलीलाकथाव्रातामृतानन्दितसत्सुरम् ॥ ११ ॥
सर्ववेदान्तसारं यद ब्रह्मात्मैकत्वलक्षणम् ।
वस्त्वद्वितीयं तन्निष्ठं कैवल्यैकप्रयोजनम् ॥ १२ ॥

It has been enriched at the beginning, in the middle and at the end with legends illustrating the glory of Dispassion and has been delighting the righteous as well as the gods with its nectar-like stories describing the pastimes of Lord Śri Hari. (11) It has for its theme that one reality without a second—which is the sum and substance of all the Upaniṣads (which are the culmination of the Vedas) and has been characterized as the oneness of Brahma (the Absolute) and the (individual) soul—and has detachment of the Spirit from Matter as its only object.


While Bhakti Yoga and Dvaita Vedanta are the prominent teachings, states T. S. Rukmani, various passages show a synthesis that also includes Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, and Advaita Vedanta.[72]


Main articles: Bhakti and Bhakti yoga

Cutler states the Bhagavata Purana is among the most important texts on bhakti, presenting a fully developed teaching that originated with the Bhagavad Gita.[73] Bryant states that while classical yoga attempts to shut down the mind and senses, Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavata teaches that the mind is transformed by filling it with thoughts of Krishna.[74]

Matchett states that in addition to various didactic philosophical passages the Bhagavata also describes one of the activities that can lead to liberation (moksha) as listening to, reflecting on the stories of, and sharing devotion for Krishna with others.[75] Bhakti is depicted in the Purana, adds Matchett, as both an overpowering emotion as well as a way of life that is rational and deliberately cultivated.[76]


Kapila Muni.

Main article: Samkhya

Surendranath Dasgupta describes the theistic Samkhya philosophy taught by Kapila in the Bhagavata as the dominant philosophy in the text.[77]

Sheridan points out that in the Third Canto, Kapila is described as an avatar of Vishnu, born as the son of the Prajapati Kardama, in order to share the knowledge of self-realization and liberation with his mother, Devahuti; in the Eleventh Canto, Krishna also teaches Samkhya to Uddhava, describing the world as an illusion, and the individual as dreaming, even while in the waking state. Krishna expounds Samhkhya and Yoga as the way of overcoming the dream, with the goal being Krishna Himself.[78]

Sheridan also states that the treatment of Samkhya in the Bhagavata is also changed by its emphasis on devotion, as does Dasgupta, adding it is somewhat different from other classical Samkhya texts.[79][78]


Sringeri Sharada Peetham is one of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta matha or monastery established by Adi Shankara.

Main article: Advaita Vedanta

Kumar Das and Sheridan state that the Bhagavata frequently discusses a distinctly advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy of Shankara.[5][80] Rukmani adds that the concept of moksha is explained as Ekatva (Oneness) and Sayujya (Absorption, intimate union), wherein one is completely lost in Brahman (Self, Supreme Being, one's true nature).[72] This, states Rukmani, is proclamation of a 'return of the individual soul to the Absolute and its merging into the Absolute', which is unmistakably advaitic.[72] The Bhagavata Purana is also stated to parallel the non-duality of Adi Shankara by Sheridan.[80] As an example:

The aim of life is inquiry into the Truth, and not the desire for enjoyment in heaven by performing religious rites,
Those who possess the knowledge of the Truth, call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth,
It is called Brahman, the Highest Self, and Bhagavan.

— Sūta, Bhagavata Purana 1.2.10–11, Translated by Daniel Sheridan[81]

Scholars describe this philosophy as built on the foundation of non-dualism in the Upanishads, and term it as "Advaitic Theism".[80][82] This term combines the seemingly contradictory beliefs of a personal God that can be worshiped with a God that is immanent in creation and in one's own self. God in this philosophy is within and is not different from the individual self, states Sheridan, and transcends the limitations of specificity and temporality. Sheridan also describes Advaitic Theism as a "both/and" solution for the questions of whether God is transcendent or immanent, and credits the Bhāgavata with a 'truly creative religious moment' for introducing this philosophy.[80] The text suggests that God Vishnu and the soul (atman) in all beings is one in quality (nirguna).

Bryant states that the monism in Bhagavata Purana is certainly built on Vedanta foundations, but not exactly the same as the monism of Adi Shankara.[83] The Bhagavata asserts, according to Bryant, that the empirical and the spiritual universe are both metaphysical realities, and manifestations of the same Oneness, just like heat and light are "real but different" manifestations of sunlight.[83] Bryant notes that the tenth book of the Bhagavata does not, as is conventional for non-dualist schools, understand Krishna's form to be a "secondary derivation," which can be subsumed within the impersonal absolute. Rather than describe Brahman to be ultimately formless, the tenth book ascribes an "eternal personal element" to Brahman.[84]


The Dharma wheel.

Main article: Dharma

Kurmas Das states the Bhagavata Purana conceptualizes a form of Dharma that competes with that of the Vedas, suggesting that Bhakti ultimately leads to Self-knowledge, Moksha (salvation) and bliss.[85] The earliest mention of bhakti is found in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad verse 6.23,[86][87] but scholars such as Max Muller state that the word Bhakti appears only once in this Upanishad; and that being in one last verse of the epilogue it could be a later addition, and that the context suggests that it is a panentheistic idea and not theistic.[88][89]

Scholarly consensus sees bhakti as a post-Vedic movement that developed primarily during the Puranas era of Indian history.[90] The Bhagavata Purana develops the Bhakti concept more elaborately, states Cutler,[91] proposing "worship without ulterior motive and with kind disposition towards all" as Dharma.[92][93] T.R. Sharma states the text includes in its scope intellectual and emotional devotion as well as Advaita Vedanta ideas.[94]

The text does not subscribe, states Gupta and Valpey, to context-less "categorical notions of justice or morality", but suggests that "Dharma depends on context".[95] They add that in a positive or neutral context, ethics and moral behavior must be adhered to; and when persistently persecuted by evil, anything that reduces the strength of the "evil and poisonous circumstances" is good.[95] That which is motivated by, furthers, and enables bhakti is the golden standard of Dharma.[95]


Main article: Yoga

Sarma states that the Bhagavata Purana describes all steps of yoga practice, and characterizes yoga as bhakti, asserting that the most important aspect is the spiritual goal.[96] According to Sarma and Rukmani, the text dedicates numerous chapters to yoga, such as Canto 10 (chapter 11), which begins with a declaration that Siddhi results from concentrating one's mind on Krishna, adding this substitutes the concept of a "personal god" in the Yogasutras of Patanjali, and contrasts with Patanjali's view that Siddhi is considered powerful but an obstacle to Samadhi.[96][97]

In other chapters of the text, Rukmani states, Śuka describes different meditations on aspects of Krishna, in a way that is similar to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[72] However, adds Bryant, the Bhagavata Purana recommends the object of concentration as Krishna, thus folding in yoga as a form of bhakti and the "union with the divine".[72][98] Bryant describes the synthesis of ideas in Bhagavata Purana as:

The philosophy of the Bhagavata is a mixture of Vedanta terminology, Samkhyan metaphysics and devotionalized Yoga praxis. (...) The tenth book promotes Krishna as the highest absolute personal aspect of godhead – the personality behind the term Ishvara and the ultimate aspect of Brahman.

— Edwin Bryant, Krishna: A Sourcebook[99]

Sheridan as well as Pintchman affirm Bryant's view, adding that the Vedantic view emphasized in the Bhagavata is non-dualist, as described within a reality of plural forms.[100][101]


In Vedanta, Maya is frequently depicted as a deceptive or deluding energy. Conversely, the Bhagavata Purana presents Maya as divine energy through which Krishna manifests the material universe, including its elements, universes, bodies, senses, and minds, contributing to the richness and diversity of the phenomenal world. This process is not just entrapment but also a path to liberation for beings caught in the cycle of birth and death. Maya's illusionary powers, though binding individuals to temporal existence, ultimately facilitate their spiritual growth and release.[102]


In explaining suffering, the Bhagavata Purana acknowledges karma as a central principle, where actions in past lives influence current and future existences, shaping one's destiny and experiences in subsequent lifetimes. However, it also critiques the adequacy of karma in fully explaining suffering and explores time (kala) as a significant factor in suffering. Time, personified by Sudarshana Chakra, is shown as an unstoppable force that brings both end and renewal, acting indiscriminately upon all beings. Despite time's overwhelming power, the text suggests that sincere devotion (bhakti) to God and surrender to the divine can enable devout souls to overcome the influence of time and karma, ultimately leading to spiritual liberation (moksha).[103]


The source of many popular stories of Krishna's pastimes for centuries in the Indian subcontinent,[6] the Bhagavata Purana is widely recognized as the best-known and most influential of the Puranas, and as a part of Vedic literature (the Puranas, Itihasa epics, and Upanishads) is referred to as the "Fifth Veda".[104][105][106] It is important in Indian religious literature for its emphasis on the practice of devotion compared to the more theoretical approach of the Bhagavad Gita, for challenging the ritualism of the Vedas, and for its extended description of a God in human form.[5]

The Srimad Bhagavatam is the very essence of all the Vedanta literature. One who has enjoyed the nectar of its rasa never has any desire for anything else.

— Bhagavata Purana 12.13.15, Translated by David Haberman[107]

Relation to other texts

The Bhagavata Purana aligns itself with canonical texts like Brahma Sutras and Rigveda by echoing their verses at various points throughout its narrative. It claims equality with the Vedas and reinterprets their themes to emphasize the supremacy of Krishna. It transforms the descriptions of Vishnu's deeds found in the Vishnu Sukta into narratives centered around Krishna's actions (verse 10.51.38). The Bhagavata Purana does not directly reference the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata. Instead, it includes the teachings similar to those found in the Bhagavad Gita in the form of dialogues between Krishna and Uddhava in Canto 11.[108]

Hindu Festivals

The stories in the Bhagavata Purana are also the legends quoted by one generation to the next in Vaishnavism, during annual festivals such as Holi and Diwali.[109][110]

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) celebrates the promise of Canto 12, Chapter 13, Verse 13 by distributing sets of Srimad Bhagavatam leading up to the full-moon day of the month of Bhādra (Bhādra Purnima) in India and around the world.[111]


Chaitanya (1486–1534 CE)

Gaudiya Vaishnavism

Main articles: Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Gauranga, and Gaudiya Vaishnavism

The Bhagavata has played a significant role in the emergence of the Krishna-bhakti (Gaudiya Vaishnavism) movement of Chaitanya (1486–1534 CE), in Bengal.[112] The scriptural basis for the belief that Chaitanya is an avatar of Krishna is found in verses such as the following (Disciples of Swami Prabhupada translation):

In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛṣṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.

— Canto 11, Chapter 5, Verse 32[113]

Chaitanya is commonly referred to as 'Gauranga' in regards to His golden complexion (as detailed in the Gauranga article, the Sanskrit word 'ākṛṣṇaṁ' means 'not blackish' and 'golden'), and is most notable for popularising the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. In regards to not being explicitly named as an avatar (unlike others such as Kalki) in the Bhagavata, this is also explained (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translation):

In this way, my Lord, You appear in various incarnations as a human being, an animal, a great saint, a demigod, a fish or a tortoise, thus maintaining the entire creation in different planetary systems and killing the demoniac principles. According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the Age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.

— Canto 7, Chapter 9, Verse 38[114]

The key word in this verse in regards to Krishna incarnating in the age of Kali Yuga is 'channaḥ' (Sanskrit छन्न), which means ' hidden', 'secret', or 'disguised'.[115] In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Chaitanya is accepted as a hidden avatar of Krishna who appeared in the age of Kali (also known as 'the Iron Age' and 'the age of quarrel') as His own devotee to show the easiest way to achieve Krishna Consciousness.[116] Modern Gaudiya movements such as the Gaudiya Math (established by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in 1920) and others established by disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1966) and the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math (by Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar in 1941), trace their disciplic lineages back directly to Lord Chaitanya.

Other Vaishnava Traditions

In the 15th–16th century Ekasarana Dharma in Assam, a panentheistic tradition whose proponents, Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, acknowledge that their theological positions are rooted in the Bhagavata Purana,[117] purged of doctrines that find no place in Assamese Vaishnavism[118] and adding a monist commentary instead.[119]

In northern and western India the Bhagavata Purana has influenced the Hari Bhakti Vilasa and Haveli-style Krishna temples found in Braj region near Mathura-Vrindavan.[120] The text complements the Pancharatra Agama texts of Vaishnavism.[120] While the text focuses on Krishna "Lord Narayana (Vishnu) himself appears and explains how Brahma and Shiva should never be seen as independent and different from him".[121] The sixth book includes the feminine principle as Shakti, or goddess Devi, conceptualizing her as the "energy and creative power" of the masculine yet a manifestation of a sexless Brahman, presented in a language suffused with Hindu monism.[100]

Jainism and Buddhism

The fifth canto of the Bhagavata Purana is significant for its inclusion of legends about the first Tirthankara of Jainism, Rishabha, as an avatar of Vishnu.[122] Further, his father Nabhi is mentioned as one of the Manus and his mother Marudevi also finds a mention. It further mentions the 100 sons of Rishabha including Bharata.[123] While homage to Shakyamuni Buddha is included in by declaring him as an avatar of Vishnu,[124] the interpretation of Buddhism-related stories in the Purana range from honor to ambivalence to polemics wherein prophecies predict some will distort and misrepresent the teachings of the Vedas, and attempt to sow confusion.[125][126][127] According to T. S. Rukmani, the Bhagavata Purana is also significant in asserting that Yoga practice is a form of Bhakti.[128]

The Arts

The Bhagavata Purana was a significant text in the bhakti movement and the culture of India.[129] Dance and theatre arts such as Kathakali (left), Kuchipudi (middle) and Odissi (right) portray legends from the Purana.[130][131]

The Bhagavata Purana played a key role in the history of Indian theatre, music, and dance, particularly through the tradition of Ras Leela. These are dramatic enactments about Krishna's pastimes. Some of the text's legends have inspired secondary theatre literature such as the eroticism in Gita Govinda.[132] While Indian dance and music theatre traces its origins to the ancient Sama Veda and Natyasastra texts,[133][134] the Bhagavata Purana and other Krishna-related texts such as Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana have inspired numerous choreographic themes.[135]

Many 'Ras' plays dramatise episodes related in the Rasa Panchadhyayi ("Five chapters of the Celestial Dance"; Canto 10, Chapters 29–33) of the Bhagavatam.[136] The Bhagavatam also encourages theatrical performance as a means to propagate the faith (BP 11.11.23 and 36, 11.27.35 and 44, etc.), and this has led to the emergence of several theatrical forms centred on Krishna all across India.[137] Canto 10 of Bhagavatam is regarded as the inspiration for many classical dance styles such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri and Bharatnatyam.[138] Bryant summarizes the influence as follows,

The Bhagavata ranks as an outstanding product of Sanskrit literature. Perhaps more significantly, the Bhagavata has inspired more derivative literature, poetry, drama, dance, theatre and art than any other text in the history of Sanskrit literature, with the possible exception of the Ramayana.

— Edwin Bryant, Krishna: A Sourcebook[139]

Modern Reception

In the 20th century, the Bhagavata Purana became widely popular as it spread beyond India, translated into over twenty languages and respected by people worldwide.[140]

Bhaktivedanta Swami

Bhaktivedanta Swami significantly impacted the global recognition of the Bhagavata Purana. Bhaktivedanta Swami, raised in a devout Vaishnava family, embraced the Caitanya tradition in 1932. Between 1962 and 1965, he devoted himself to translating the Bhagavata Purana into English, a departure from earlier works focusing on Caitanya's life and teachings.[141] While lacking formal traditional education, he was deeply familiar with the teachings of Caitanya and the insights of ancient commentators through self-study. He made the Bhagavata Purana meaningful to modern readers, and his way of explaining the text made it easier to understand and relevant to modern world. He appealed to young people who were looking for something different from mainstream religion.[142]

Commentaries and translations


The Bhagavata Purana is one of the most commented texts in Indian literature. There is a saying in Sanskrit – vidyā bhāgavatāvadhi – Bhāgavatam is the limit of one's learning. Hence throughout the centuries it attracted a host of commentators from all schools of Krishna worshippers. Over eighty medieval era Bhāṣya (scholarly reviews and commentaries) in Sanskrit alone are known, and many more commentaries exist in various Indian languages.[3] The oldest exegetical commentary presently known is Tantra-Bhagavata from the Pancaratra school. Other commentaries include:

Advaita Vedanta commentaries

Acintya-bhedābheda Commentaries

Dvaita commentaries

Dvaitādvaita Commentaries

Suddhādvaita Commentaries

Viśiṣṭādvaita Commentaries



The Bhagavata has been rendered into various Indian and non-Indian languages. A version of it is available in almost every Indian language, with forty translations alone in the Bengali language.[3] From the eighteenth century onwards, the text became the subject of scholarly interest and Victorian disapproval,[139] with the publication of a French translation followed by an English one. The following is a partial list of translations:








English (partial translations and paraphrases)


See also



  1. ^ Thompson, Richard L. (2007). The Cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana 'Mysteries of the Sacred Universe. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 10. ISBN 978-81-208-1919-1.
  2. ^ Dominic Goodall (1996), Hindu Scriptures, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520207783, page xli
  3. ^ a b c d Bryant (2007), pp. 112
  4. ^ Sheridan (1986), p. 53.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kumar Das (2006), pp. 172–173
  6. ^ a b c Bryant (2007), p. 111–113.
  7. ^ Brown (1983), pp. 553–557
  8. ^ Sheridan (1986), pp. 1–2, 17–25.
  9. ^ Katz 2000, pp. 184–185: "The five classical Vaiṣṇava schools (sampradāyas) recognize the authority of this devotional text, and each school has accordingly produced commentaries to demonstrate the Bhāgavata's support of its particular views–the Viśiṣṭādvaita school of Rāmānuja (eleventh century), the Dvaita school of Madhva (thirteenth century), the Dvaitādvaita school of Nimbārka (twelfth-thirteenth century), the Śuddhādvaita school of Vallabha (sixteenth century), and the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava school of the Gosvāmins (sixteenth century)."
  10. ^ Rocher (1986), pp. 138–151
  11. ^ Gupta & Valpey 2013, pp. 3–19.
  12. ^ Constance Jones and James Ryan (2007), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Infobase, ISBN 978-0816054589, page 474
  13. ^ Kumar Das (2006), p. 174
  14. ^ Barbara Holdrege (2015), Bhakti and Embodiment, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415670708, page 114
  15. ^ a b Barbara Holdrege (2015), Bhakti and Embodiment, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415670708, pages 109–110
  16. ^ "ŚB 1.3.40". Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  17. ^ Richard Thompson (2007), The Cosmology of the Bhagavata Purana 'Mysteries of the Sacred Universe', Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120819191
  18. ^ Jean Filliozat (1968), Tamil Studies in French Indology, in Tamil Studies Abroad, Xavier S Thani Nayagam, pages 1–14
  19. ^ "Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  20. ^ "Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  21. ^ "ŚB 1.3.28". Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  22. ^ a b "Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Retrieved 27 February 2022.
  23. ^ Parmeshwaranand, Swami (2001). Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas. Sarup & Sons. pp. 222. ISBN 978-81-7625-226-3. purana word completes.
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  31. ^ Gupta & Valpey 2013, pp. 13.
  32. ^ Bryant (2007), pp. 5–9, 113–114
  33. ^ Matchett 2003, p. 129-144.
  34. ^ Estimated dates given by some notable scholars include: R. C. Hazra – 6th century, Radhakamal Mukherjee – 9th–10th century, Farquhar – 10th century, Nilakanta Sastri – 10th century, S. N. Dasgupta – 10th century Kumar Das (2006), pp. 172–173
  35. ^ Rocher 1986, pp. 141–144; Sheridan 1986, pp. 5–11.
  36. ^ a b Sheridan (1986), p. 1-16.
  37. ^ Kumar Das (2006), p. 172-173.
  38. ^ Sheridan (1986), p. 11-14.
  39. ^ Edwin Bryant (2002), The Date and Provenance of the Bhagavata Purana, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Vol 2, Issue 1, pages 51-80
  40. ^ Gupta, Ravi M.; Valpey, Kenneth R. (29 November 2016). The Bhāgavata Purāna: Selected Readings. Columbia University Press. p. 7. ISBN 9780231542340.
  41. ^ Das, Sisir Kumar (2005). A History of Indian Literature, 500–1399: From Courtly to the Popular. Sahitya Akademi. p. 173. ISBN 9788126021710.
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  55. ^ "Canto 4: The Creation of the Fourth Order". Retrieved 24 October 2019.
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  57. ^ "Canto 6: Prescribed Duties for Mankind". Retrieved 24 October 2019.
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Further reading


Sanskrit original