Characteristics of Puranas | Bhagavata Purana Summary | Srimad Bhagavatham-01

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Sukadeva Goswami gives the Bhagavatha Purana to Parikshit

Epics elucidate on the Vedas and they form the Itihasa, Ancient historical anecdotes that delineate value systems through the characters of the epic. Mahabharata and Ramayana are the two epics. There are 18 Primary Puranas, Vedic stories that talk about Dharma and the value system, through their many anecdotes. Out of the 18 Puranas, 6 represent Puranas in the mode of goodness, also known as Sattvik Puranas.  The Bhagavatha Purana is the topmost amongst the 6 Sattvik Puranas. The Purana was composed by Sri Veda Vyasa. The Scripture was first rendered by Sri Veda Vyasa’s son Sri Sukadeva Goswami to the monarch Parikshit, who was the grandson of the Pandava prince Arjun. King Parikshit was to be dead in 7 days, following a curse. King Parikshit heard the entire Bhagavatha Purana from Sri Sukadeva Goswami, day-in and day-out and finished listening to the scripture in 7 days. He was rid of all the doubts about the material world and was also rid of the falsely assumed responsibilities, within his heart.

Ways of garnering knowledge of the Shastra

What is the highest Dharma? What is Truth? The Truth about Atma and Paramatma. Parikshit understood the great truths behind all these pressing questions, in a matter of 7 days. It is not a matter of great effort to attain goodness or to understand and imbibe the highest ideals of life. But there is a great need for an exalted Acharya or a devotee to speak these Truths, for one to be able to absorb the highest imports of the Vedic Scriptures. Jnana can be imbibed in two possible ways. One is to read the scriptures all by ourselves and try to understand it. This method however, is very difficult because one does not have the required intelligence to grasp the potent meanings, latent within the Scripture. The second way is to attain the Knowledge from the mouth of a qualified Acharya. The Acharya has studied the Shastra, as a life-long endeavor and has the capability to elucidate and transmit the values hidden in the scriptures. This makes the Shastra easily attainable to the ardent listener. The other way known as the middle path is to imbibe the Shastra by reading it and getting doubts clarified from the Acharya. This is the authentic way, to understand and execute the teachings of the Shastra.

Mood to be retained while hearing the Bhagavatha Purana

If one hears and contemplates on the Bhagavatha Purana for 7 days, it shall put an end to the sins and accrue immense virtues, so say the Scriptures. One can never say, that one has known all about the Lord. Till one’s last breath, one can only be in the learning mood. Even if one is closing in towards one’s last breath, one can only claim that one is only beginning one’s journey towards the Lord. This is the mood of humility required, if one is to grasp anything related to the Lord. Even if one listens to something related to the Lord, one should only pray and thank the Lord, because He has been kind in communicating something about Him to us, through the Bhagavatha (the book as well as the pure devotee). We should be looking forward to using this knowledge to constantly rectify our thoughts, words and actions.

Highlights of the Purana Scripture

The Bhagavatha Purana has a total of 18,000 verses. It has a total of 12 Cantos. It delineates the many incarnations of the Lord as well as discusses the life-sketch of a lot of devotees. A Purana is supposed to have 5 characteristics. The first Characteristic is that the Purana has to describe the cycle of creation, of how the universe was created. The second characteristic is that the Purana has to talk about the dissolution of the universe. It should talk about the various dynasties that ruled over the various lands, which is the third characteristic of a Purana. It should talk about the day of one Brahma, which covers 1000 cycles (चतुर्युग) of the 4 Yugas namely Satyuga, Tretayuga, Dwaparayuga and Kaliyuga. These 1000 cycle Yugas are presided by 14 Manus (मनु), each Manu presiding over 1 Manvantara (मन्वंतर). The rule of 1 Manu is called a Manvantara. The life of each Manu is equivalent to 71 cycles of the 4 Yugas. Talking about the main rulers within the Manvantara is the 4th characteristic of the Purana. Talking about specific rulers, special events of significance becomes the 5th main characteristic of the Purana.

Meaning of the word Purana

Purana (पुराण) is split as “Pur” + “ana” (पुर+ अण). “Pur” stands for being extremely ancient, whose dates can never be estimated as to how old it is while “Ana” means, extremely new, fresh, setting anew. This means that the Purana shall never be a thing of the old, it shall always remain contemporary even if the current year is 5050 or 55250. Thus the truths discussed in the Puranas shall remain ever recent and even futuristic. There is no question of ageing of the Purana. Depending on the growing intelligence of the seeker who is grasping the Purana, the Purana is capable of transmitting newer dimensions of understandability and realization. That is the power of the Puranas.

Greatness of the Bhagavatha Purana as discussed in the Padma Purana

Sri Vyasadeva is born in the lineage of the Sage Vashishtha. Sage Vashishtha’s son is the sage Shakti, Sage Shakti’s son is sage Parashara. Sri Veda Vyasa is the son of Sage Parashara. Sri Sukadeva Goswami is the son of Sri Veda Vyasa. Sri Sukadeva Goswami is a Parama Bhakta. Sri Veda Vyasa admired this quality of his son. One may enquire, do the sages show the same emotions as the father and son in case of material relationships. The answer is yes, the emotions displayed are similar, but the reason for emotions is not born out of attachment or self-centeredness as in the case of a father-son bound to each other by material energy. Sri Sukadeva Goswami prepared to leave his house, because he had no bonds of attachment. Sri Vyasa became worried because he could not bear the separation from a devotee like Sukadeva Goswami. The relationship between Sri Vyasadeva and Sukadeva Goswami was that between two pure devotees of the Lord and not of that between a father and a son. As Sri Sukadeva started walking away from his home,  Sri Vyasa, because of deep loving emotions, born out of the separation from a devotee, cried “Oh son, do not leave, come back. “ Sri Sukadeva never looked back and walked without stopping for a moment. But there was an echo, all over, which cried back “Father, did you call me?” Sukadeva Goswami had not replied, but it was, as if the entire atmosphere in that scene that was responding back to Vyasadeva. There is a great secret in such a response from the entire creation, back to Sri Vyasadeva. Sri Sukadeva Goswami had attained oneness with all the animals, birds, trees, why, even the entire creation. He was in unison with the Truth just as he is the very organ of the Supreme Being’s body, the entire creation is the same organ. This unison was also reflected in the creation around him. Because of this oneness, even the lion, trees, dogs, cats, insects, chameleons and stones responded to the call of Sri Vyasadeva. Sri Vyasa did not know whether to cry or feel elated, having got a response to his question, from the rest of the universe. That a son of this stature is born to me, but now such an exalted devotee is leaving me and going, all this evoked a flurry of emotions in the heart of Sri Vyasadeva.

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