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The Bhagavata Purana

The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition

Ravi M. Gupta
Kenneth R. Valpey
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Bhagavata Purana
    Book Description:

    A vibrant example of living literature,The Bhagavata Puranais a versatile Hindu sacred text containing more than 14,000 Sanskrit verses. Finding its present form around the tenth century C.E., the work inspired several major north Indian devotional (bhakti) traditions as well as schools of dance and drama, and continues to permeate popular Hindu art and ritual in both India and the diaspora. IntroducingThe Bhagavata Purana's key themes while also examining its extensive influence on Hindu thought and practice, this collection conducts the first multidimensional reading of the text's entire twelve volumes.

    The Bhagavata Puranais a hard-to-classify embodiment of classical Indian cultural, religious, and philosophical thought. Its language and poetic expression are on par with the best of Sanskrit poetry (kavya), while its narrative structure holds together tightly as a literary work. Its theological message centers on devotion to Krishna and Vishnu, while its philosophical content is grounded solidly in the classical traditions of Vedanta and Samkhya. Each essay in this volume focuses on a key theme ofThe Bhagavata Puranaand its subsequent presence in Hindu dance, music, ritual recitation, and commentary. The authors consider the relationship between the sacred text and the divine image, the text's metaphysical and cosmological underpinnings, its shaping of Indian culture, and its ongoing relevance to contemporary Indian concerns. A glossary aids in the understanding of the work. Featuring original, expert scholarship, this volume is an essential companion for courses and research on India, Hinduism, and related topics.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53147-4
    Subjects: Religion, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION Churning the Ocean of Līlā: Themes for Bhāgavata Study
    (pp. 1-18)
    Ravi M. Gupta and Kenneth R. Valpey

    The world knows Hinduism as the religion of the Vedas, the ancient hymns used for sacrificial ritual; or as the wisdom of seers recorded in the Upaniṣads some two millennia ago; or indeed as the poetry of the Bhagavad Gītā, Krishna’s teachings on duty and devotion to the disheartened warrior Arjuna. No doubt these texts are widely revered by Hindus as the philosophical foundations of their tradition. And yet what Hindus know intimately, perform repeatedly, and teach their children are texts of a very different sort—the epic story of the Rāmāyaṇa and the ancient lore of the Purāṇas.


  5. PART ONE The World of the Bhāgavata

    • Chapter One READING Purāṇic Trekking Along the Path of the Bhāgavatas
      (pp. 21-35)
      Kenneth R. Valpey

      Religion scholar Huston Smith once noted that spiritual discipline—purposeful practices undertaken in pursuit of a connection with ultimate reality—is needed when one recognizes that “never for long are we exactly where we should be” (1984:67). Such a sense of being mostly in the wrong place surely propels much of what we think and do, and also what we choose to read. India has a long history of responding to this impulse with literature that maps paths of self-improvement to reach one or another ultimate goal. Among the many textual tracks of this history, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa holds a...

    • Chapter Two TIME AND NARRATIVE A Maṇḍala of Remembrance: The Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s Time-Transcending Narrative of Līlā
      (pp. 36-47)
      E. H. “Rick” Jarow

      What characterizes a sense of the past when one is neither moving forward nor envisioning one’s self or one’s culture at the apex of evolution?¹ Does it recede in any particular way from the vista of the present or point to other areas in more specific ways? What happens to the past when it is recalled in rituals of recitation that envision the past, not as an emblem for a nation, or of a people, but as a springboard out of history itself?

      These are phenomena with which a more than cursory reader (and reading) of the Purāṇas, and of...

    • Chapter Three COSMOLOGY Dialogues on Natural Theology: The Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s Cosmology as Religious Practice
      (pp. 48-62)
      Jonathan B. Edelmann

      The Bhāgavata Purāṇa intends to illuminate the characteristics of the Lord (Bhagavān) and of devotion (bhakti) to him and to teach about the intensity of love between devotee and God through philosophy, theology, sacred history, and story. The text begins with an invitation to participate in guided meditations on the Supreme Truth (satyaṃ paraṃ dhīmahi), meditations that often involve Indian cosmogonies and cosmologies, all of which are carefully engaged so as to clarify the nature of divinity. But why would a text that is so explicitly aimed at spiritual love for God give so much attention to analytic descriptions of...

    • Chapter Four ETHICS “May Calamities Befall Us at Every Step”: The Bhāgavata’s Response to the Problem of Evil
      (pp. 63-75)
      Gopal K. Gupta

      The Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s book 1 narrative opens as a continuation of the Mahābhārata’s central narrative’s conclusion, which deals extensively with the problem of suffering. After the battle of Kurukṣetra, Yudhiṣṭhira, who has ascended to the throne, is in a condition of immense agony, overcome by guilt, regret, and loss. Accompanied by sages, his brothers, and Krishna, Yudhiṣṭhira proceeds to the now-quiet battlefield to seek consolation from Bhīṣma, the powerful grandsire of the Kuru dynasty, who is lying on a bed of arrows that had been shot through his body. Indeed, all the survivors of the terrible battle were distraught by...

    • Chapter Five COMMENTARY Vallabha, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and the Path of Grace
      (pp. 76-90)
      James D. Redington

      How do Vallabhācārya (ca. 1479–1531 C.E.; hereafter Vallabha) and his followers use the Bhāgavata Purāṇa? This can be a fascinating and enjoyable inquiry. But first, some general information: Vallabha founded one of the two largest Krishna traditions of north India. His tradition’s followers range plentifully from the Vraja area of north-central India, where Lord Krishna’s childhood and adolescent years were lived out, westward through Rajasthan and Gujarat states to Mumbai city. The Bengal, or Gauḍīya, tradition stretches similarly eastward from Vraja through Bihar and Bengal to the great Jagannātha Temple in Puri, Orissa. These traditions are similar also in...

    • Chapter Six SACRED GEOGRAPHY Vraja-Dhāman: Krishna Embodied in Geographic Place and Transcendent Space
      (pp. 91-116)
      Barbara A. Holdrege

      The geographic region of Vraja (Hindi Braj) in north India is celebrated as thedhāman,¹ abode, of Krishna, the land where he resided during his sojourn on earth indvāpara-yugain approximately 3000 B.C.E. Vraja has been a major center of pilgrimage since the sixteenth century and is represented as amaṇḍala,or circle, formed by an encompassing pilgrimage circuit, the Vana-Yātrā (Hindi Ban-Yatra), that encircles the entire region. The Vana-Yātrā was established in the sixteenth century and schematized as a circular journey through twelve forests that is traditionally calculated to be 84krośas,or approximately 168 miles (300 kilometers)....

    • Chapter Seven THEOLOGY The Rāsa Līlā of Krishna and the Gopīs: On the Bhāgavata’s Vision of Boundless Love
      (pp. 117-142)
      Graham M. Schweig

      Among the numerous sacred stories of extraordinary persons and divine epiphanies within the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (BhP), there exists a five-chapter divine drama that stands out as the sacred work’s most elevated and exalted expression of all. The passage’s poetic and dramatic presentation is exquisite, and its ethical and theological messages profound. Moreover, bhakti, or the offering of one’s heart fully to the divine in everything one feels, thinks, and does, is modeled in this passage as the highest. This five-chapter story is known as the Rāsa Līlā¹, and it is about the “great circle dance,” orrāsa, a dance of...

  6. PART TWO The Bhāgavata in the World

    • Chapter Eight BOUNDARIES Heresy and Heretics in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa
      (pp. 145-161)
      Måns Broo

      Julius Lipner (1994:5–6) has famously compared Hinduism to a banyan tree, the branches of which send down aerial roots that on contact with the ground become new trunks. Since the new trunks grow new branches with more aerial roots, the one banyan tree can in time become a whole jungle. So Hinduism, Lipner argues, is a maze of different but interconnected centers, all of which can claim being the center of everything.

      The same simile can well be used for the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (henceforth, “the Bhāgavata”).¹ It has three or four beginnings, operates with up to six narrative levels...

    • Chapter Nine DANCE Krishna Come Soon: Bharata Natyam and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa on Stage
      (pp. 162-180)
      Katherine C. Zubko

      In the repertoire of contemporary Bharata Natyam, an Indian classical storytelling dance form, Krishna is a deity with top billing. Dancers relish depicting his boyhood antics and amorous adolescence, as well as the heightened dramatic moments of Krishna’s divine interventions in the lives of his devotees. Even within the time frame of a single performance, skilled dancers present an impressive fluidity of forms. In one moment, the terrifying spectacle of Krishna’s cosmic body appears. Slowly rising off the heels, the dancer assumes an otherworldly stature, aided through an expanding shadow cast by the stark lighting and extra arms provided by...

    • Chapter Ten SONG Two Braj Bhāṣā Versions of the Rāsa-Līlā Pañcādhyāyī and Their Musical Performance in Vaiṣṇava Worship
      (pp. 181-201)
      Guy L. Beck

      Music is integral to most Hindu worship. Believed to be originally created by the gods for their amusement, music was later bestowed upon humans by the sage Nārada, both for enjoyment and as a means of release from mortality. In contrast with some religions, in Hinduism, music is viewed to be innately possessed of sacred qualities, whereby the individual notes (svara) and beats (mātrā) reflect natural and cosmic forces. Prevalent in devotional singing, extended notes and prolonged vowels formed part of the ancientsāma-gāna, the singing of the Sāma Veda. Indicating an early belief in the mystical quality of vocalized...

    • Chapter Eleven RECITATION “Live with the Text and Listen to Its Words”: Bhāgavata Recitation in Changing Times
      (pp. 202-220)
      Ilona Wilczewska

      My first experience several years ago of Bhāgavatakathā,recitation based on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, was a very peculiar one. There I was, a Western woman who had contracted typhoid while studying in Vrindavan, a Krishna pilgrimage center. As I lay motionless in bed, the only entertainment and connection to the (healthy) outside world was a huge loudspeaker mounted on the lamppost outside my window. For seven consecutive days it broadcast akathāthat was taking place in a nearby temple, and I—wanting it or not—became its passive audience. Vrindavan annually attracts many pilgrims who participate in festivals...

    • Chapter Twelve TEXT HISTORY Modern Reception and Text Migration of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa
      (pp. 221-248)
      Ferdinando Sardella and Abhishek Ghosh

      The Bhāgavata Purāṇa has endured for centuries as one of the most important Sanskrit texts of living Hinduism. During the second half of the twentieth century it migrated beyond the shores of India and is today not only translated and read in over twenty different languages, but also highly revered by a worldwide population of both Indic and non-Indic Hindu practitioners. Considering this, it is interesting to note that from the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century—the specific period of British rule—the Bhāgavata was attacked by Western missionaries and intellectuals and consciously...

    (pp. 249-260)
    (pp. 261-264)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 265-279)