Shrimad Bhagavatam is one of the eighteen purANas composed by the great Vyasa, the author of the magnum opus of Hinduism, the Mahabharata. Before we venture more into the Bhagavatam a short informative note about Vyasa is legitimate, particularly for the newcomer into the Bhakti world.
Valmiki (the author of the Ramayana) and Vyasa are the two persons who have influenced the largest number of people for the longest period of time in the whole history of mankind. If any single person in the entire long history of the Hindu religion has to be credited (or blamed!) for its multifarious facets that extend over a wide spectrum from extreme superstition on the one side to a ruthless intellectual dialectics on the other, it is the
‘faultless sage Vyasa, son of Sage Parasara,
grandson of Sage Shakti,
great grandson of Sage Vasishta
and father of the boy-sage Shuka’.
Vyasa has six achievements to his credit, each one of which alone could have conferred on him the stature of a Vyasa to such an extent that on one day in the year, called Vyasa Purnima day (this year 2005, on July 21), all religious and vedantic organisations and individuals in India, irrespective of the school of thought to which they belong, pay reverential tribute to him in all possible ways. The six achievements of Vyasa are:
· At the beginning of the Kali-yuga Vyasa codified the Vedas and Upanishads into 1180 branches (shAkhas) and thus preserved for the weak and satanic Kali age the age-old tradition.
· He codified the philosophical excursions of the Upanishads into a single treatise called Brahma-sutra of 555 terse statements or aphorisms – for the comprehension of which several high-level commentaries have been written till today.
· He produced the greatest book on Earth, the Mahabharata, an epic one hundred thousand verses long, the dimensions of which for the cultural panorama of the country are still being explored.
· He wrote the seventeen purANas (together equivalent to more than a Mahabharata) which constitute an encyclopaedia of all the mythological stories, legends and history of Hinduism.
· The eighteenth purANa, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, is his fifth achievement – because it is the monumental work of Bhakti without which, inspite of the other Puranas, it is doubtful, whether the Bhakti tradition would have attained to such a supreme status in Hinduism.
· Last but not least, he must be given special credit for the 700-verse-long discourse of Bhagavadgita, – even assuming he just heard it straight from the Lord’s mouth -- a single compendium covering the entire spectrum of Hindu religion and philosophy, almost replacing the Vedas; even though it is a part of the Mahabharata, it has a separate status for itself and Vyasa has to be given extra credit for recognising its strategical place and context in the great epic; the two fit each other so perfectly that it is not clear whether the Mahabharata was made for the Bhagavad-Gita or the Bhagavad-Gita for the Mahabharata.
Shrimad Bhagavatam is, out and out, a work of the Devotion of the Enlightened as well as of the Enlightenment of the Devotee. The glories of the Lord are sung all through, exquisitely and symbiotically blended with expositions of great metaphysical and philosophical significance. It covers everything from the nature of the Self to the origin of the universe. There are several stotras strewn over all of Bhagavatam, each of which is a Vedantic treatise by itself. And almost every conversation or event there is pregnant with vedantic import of not only conceptual value but of practical value for every day life.
Bhagavatam has 12 Cantos. Each canto (called ‘skanda’ in Sanskrit) has several chapters (‘adhyaya’) contributing to 335 chapters in all . The largest canto is the tenth (having 90 chapters). It deals with Krishna Avatar. Each chapter has several shlokas. The shlokas are sometimes short (like most of the shlokas in the Ramayana or the Bhagavad Gita), but more often long. The total number of shlokas in the Bhagavatam according to tradition is 18000, though the actual number is much less. (Ramayana has 24000; Mahabharata has 100,000).
Some Contents of each skanda in brief
1. (19 chapters). Prologue. End of the Mahabharata War. Kunti-stuti and Bhishma-stuti. The Departure of the Pandavas. Birth of King Parikshit. Curse on him. His PrAyopavesha on the Banks of the Ganges in anticipation of the best to be known in the remaining seven days of his life. Coming of Shuka.
2. (10 Chapters). Parikshit’s eagerness to listen to stories of the Lord. Shukacharya’s assurance. Brief account of Creation. Bhagavatam in four shlokas, as given by the Absolute to Brahma the first-born.
3. (33 Chapters). Details of Brahma’s Creation. Maitreya explains to Vidura. Cosmic Time. The first Rishis. Varaha Avatar. The first Manu. The first ritualised marriage. Kardama and Devahuti. Avatar of Kapila. Kapila-Gita. Devahuti Stuti of Kapila.
4. (31 Chapters). Dynasty of Uttanapada. Daksha yajnam. Shiva and Sati. Dhruva charitram. Dhruva Stuti. Story of Prithu. Rudra-gItaM. Puranjana UpAkhyAnam.
5. (26 Chapters). Dynasty of Priyavrata. Jada-bharata UpAkhyAnam. Geography of the Universe.
6. (19 Chapters). Story of Ajamila. Dynasty of Daksha. Indra-VRRitrasura War.
7. (15 Chapters). Story of Prahlad. Narasimha avatar. Narasimha stuti. Tripura-samharam. Account by Narada of various dharmas.
8. (24 Chapters).Gajendra moksham. Amrita-mathanam.
9. (24 Chapters). Vamana Avatar. Ambarisha story. Ramachandra. Yayati.
10. (90 Chapters). Story of Krishna. Krishna Leela. Killing of various asuras. Brahma stuti. Kaliya mardhanam. Lifting of Govardhana Hill. Rasa Leela. Gopika Gitam. Akrura’s vision. Rukmini Kalyanam. Story of Syamantaka Gem. Killing of Narakasura. Banasura. Jarasandha. Sishupala. Dantavaktra. Shruti Gita.
11. (31 Chapters). Uddhava Gita
12. (13 Chapters). Kaliyuga. Markandeya stuti. Epilogue.
There is much more in each skanda than what the above contents appear to show. A himalyan work of translating (into English) the entire Bhagavatam, word by word, has been done by Shrila Prabhupada who created a whole new international community of devotees, young and old, male and female, scholars and laymen, all of them fully versed in the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavatam and all of them fully convinced that no man-made system can cure the ills of the world, it is only the eternal reality of Krishna that will do it. The logical conclusion is the unceasing chanting by this ocean of devotees, singly and collectively, of the classic ‘hare krishna’ mantra. It is now one of the most popular mantras known the world over. The complete translation and commentary by Prabhupada can be accessed through
But it should be noted that Shri Prabhupada’s commentary not only does not agree with advaita but strongly criticizes it. The monumental work of his is, however, a remarkable achievement from a towering giant of spirituality and is an eloquent tribute to the great Vyasa himself!
An alternative, would be:
Srimad Bhagavata, Translated by Swami Tapasyananda, in 4 Volumes, published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore Chennai (ISBN 81-7823-043-7, ISBN 81-7823-046-1). This is what I use mostly.