As a devotional scripture, Srimad Bhagavatam is held sacred by Bhagavata cults throughout the country. Its unique strength lies in the mysticism attached to the portrayal of Lord Krishna as the charming divine person bringing delight and joy to the devotees. After authoring several works dealing with such lofty subjects like Dharma and the goals of human life, Vyasa was left with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction. When he approached Narada for advice and guidance, the latter advised him to compose a work on the Supreme One, his attributes and incarnations. And thus was born Srimad Bhagavatam.

Principal message

The language and style adopted in this Purana is terse, difficult, and even challenging in some places. Commentators and translators seem to have been guided by the particular line of thought that appealed to them. The principal message sought to be conveyed is faith in the redeeming power of God's name, which when chanted repeatedly induces intense devotion in the individual and makes the Atman a meritworthy receptacle of Divine Grace.

Rajagopalacharya has given the word-for-word translation of the verses in Book 1 along with brief notes. Pressed by the sages assembled at Naimisa, Suta extols the glory of devotion and narrates the story of the principal incarnations of Vishnu and the genesis of the scripture. He also describes events such as the killing of Draupati's children by Aswatthama; Krishna saving the child Parikshit in the mother's womb; Kunti's unique prayer for more adversity so that she would have more occasions to seek the Lord's intervention and thus have His darshan; and Bhishma extolling Krishna in a moving hymn.

Then follow the events sequentially: the death of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari in the forest; Arjuna reporting to Yudhishtira the exit of Krishna from the Earth; and the Pandavas retiring to the forest after crowning Parikshit. The advent of the Kali Yuga is gloomily heralded with Dharma declining fast and the Kali Purusha being allowed to manifest himself in vices to which men are prone. Parikshit, facing imminent death for the sin of showing disrespect to a sage, proceeds to the banks of the Ganga awaiting his end. And Suka, son of Sage Vyasa, arrives on the scene and, by way of addressing Parikshit, transmits to the world the great saga of devotion, as taught to him by his father. The path of Bhakti alone is the recommended panacea for the ills of the Kali Yuga.

The translation and commentary follow the school that upholds the reality of the world and the unique distinction of the individual soul aspiring, through devotion and surrender, to attain the bliss of eternal service to God. The opening verses have been explained in the light of the aphorisms of Vyasa‘s Brahma Sutras, as commented upon by Ramanuja. Needless and inadmissible dissection of words and compounds strike a jarring note in this otherwise welcome addition to the Bhagavata literature.

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