The following article is a further part of the introduction to our forthcoming translation of the first canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavata.
All the Vedānta schools accept prasthāna-trayī i.e., the ten principal Upaniṣads, Vedānta Sutra and Bhagavad Gītā as pramāna and base their specific vāda on them. Śri Vallabhācārya adds Śrīmad Bhāgavata to the list of the three pramānas. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī goes a step further and calls Śrīmad Bhāgavata as the supreme pramāṇa, pramāna-śiromaṇi.
Although Śrīmad Bhagāvata belongs to the class of the Purāṇas, it is equated to the Vedas in authority. In Bhagavad Gītā, Kṛṣṇa declares, “By all the Vedas, I alone am to be known” (Gītā 15.15). Śrīmad Bhāgavata is unquestionably the Purāṇa that directly discloses the ontological truth pertaining to Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Śukadeva Gosvāmī affirmed this very point in the conclusion of his teachings to King Parīkṣit: “Bhagavān Hari [Kṛṣṇa], the Immanent Self of the cosmos, is repeatedly described in this book [Śrīmad Bhāgavata]” (SB 12.5.1).
Accordingly, in the penultimate chapter of the Bhāgavata, Sūta Gosvāmī sums up the entire discussion in the following words: “Here [in Śrīmad Bhāgavata], Hari, the dispeller of all sins, who is Nārāyaṇa, Hṛṣīkeśa, and Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa, the Guardian and Master of the Sātvatas, has been directly described” (SB 12.12.3).
Śrīmad Bhāgavata’s status as equivalent to the Vedas is also directly affirmed in the book itself in statements such as the following: “This Purāṇa, called the Bhāgavata, is equal (sammitam) to the Vedas” (SB 1.3.40). The word sammitam can mean “equal,” “similar,” “resembling,” “like,” “comparable,” or “of identical value.” Thus, here it signifies that the Bhāgavata is equal to the Vedas or is esteemed on a par with the Vedas. The intended sense is that Śrīmad Bhāgavata’s authority is equivalent to that of the Vedas, and it conveys the essential import of the Vedas in the form of transcendental knowledge regarding Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
While questioning Sūta Gosvāmī, sage Śaunaka directly refers to Śrīmad Bhāgavata as a Śruti, a word that is synonymous with the Vedas:
“My dear [Sūta], how, moreover, did the conversation occur between the sage-like king [Parīkṣit], who appeared in the Pāṇḍu dynasty, and the introverted sage [Śuka], in the course of which this Vaiṣṇava Śruti was disclosed?” (SB 1.4.7)
Śrī Śukadeva also refers to the Bhāgavata as equal to the Vedas while informing King Parīkṣit about his own study: “This Purāṇā, called the Bhāgavata, is equal to the Vedas. I studied it from my father Dvaipāyana Vyāsa at the end of Dvāparayuga” (SB 2.1.8). Here also, the word sammitam is used to point out the Bhāgavata’s equivalence to the Vedas. The compound dvāpara-adau, which would normally be interpreted to mean, “at the beginning of Dvāpara,” is of the bahuvrihi, or “exocentric,” classification, meaning that its referent is external to, yet qualified by, its component members. The compound thus comes to mean “at that period of time the beginning of which corresponded to Dvāpara’s end.” Here, “at that period of time” is the external referent, while the remainder of the phrase, drawn from the words adau and dvāpara, is its qualifier.
Sūta Gosvāmī also refers to the Bhāgavata as equal to the Vedas while describing the dialogue between King Parīkṣit and Śukadeva: “He recited the Purāṇa called the Bhāgavata, which is equal to the Vedas and was spoken by Bhagavān to Brahmā at the beginning of the Brahma-kalpa” (SB 2.8.28).
From the above citations, it is clear that Śrīmad Bhāgavata has a distinct place among the Purāṇas because of being equated to or esteemed on a par with the Vedas. Indeed, its importance exceeds even that of the Vedas because it is determined as the ripened fruit of the tree of all the Vedas. The fruit is indeed the most highly valued product of a tree and more delectable than any other part. The author himself praises it as follows:
“O you devotees, who are connoisseurs of the aesthetic experience (rasa) [of divine love for Bhagavān] and who are highly skilled in the art of contemplation on particular aesthetic modes of being (bhāvukas), drink again and again up to liberation and beyond the divine rasa known as Śrīmad Bhāgavata, the ripened fruit of the wish-fulfilling tree of all the Vedas. Abounding with the fluid essence of immortal nectar, it has descended upon the earth [unbroken, out of the utter fullness of its taste] from the mouth of Śrī Śuka.” (SB 1.1.3)
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