karAladaMShTraM karavAlacha~nchalakShurAntajihvaM bhrukuTImukholbaNam |
stabdhordhvakarNaM girikandarAdbhutavyAttAsyanAsaM hanubhedabhIShaNam - bhaje ||
Two purANas are known popularly as bhAgavata: viShNu bhAgavata purANa and devI bhAgavata purANa. Traditional scholars have different opinion regarding which of the two can be considered as a mahApurANa. The goal of this post is to present before the discerning reader, various views that exist in this regard.
To start with, it is interesting to note that:
- Both the purANas consist of 18000 shlokas
- Both the purANas are divided into twelve skandhas or chapters
The lakShaNa for bhAgavata that is regarded as a mahApurANa, is described in mastya purANa as below:
yatAdhikR^itya gAyatrIM varNyate dharmavistaraH |
vR^itrAsuravadhopetaM tadbhAgavatamuchyate ||
sArasvatasya kalpasya madhye ye syurnarAmarAH |
tadvR^ittAntodbhavaM loke tadbhAgavatamuchyate |
aShTAdashasahasrANi purANaM tatprakIrtitam ||
The padma purANa describes bhAgavata mahApurANa as below:
purANeShu cha sarveShu shrImadbhAgavataM param |
yatra pratipado kR^iShNo gIyate bahudarshibhiH ||
shrImadbhAgavataM shAstraM kalau kR^iShNena bhAShitam |
parIkShite kathAM vaktuM sabhAyAM saMsthite shuke ||
It is clear that the reference here is to viShNu bhAgavata purANa.
nArada purANa describes briefly, the content of the bhAgavata purANa:
marIche shr^iNu vakShyAmi vedavyAsena yatkR^itam |
shrImadbhAgavataM nAma purANaM brahmasammitam ||
tadaShTAdasahsAhasraM kIrtitaM pApanAshanam |
surapAdaparUpo.ayaM skandhairdvAdashabhiryutaH ||
tatra tu prathame skandhe sUtarShINAM samAgamaH |
vyAsasya charitaM punyaM pANDavanAM tathaiva cha ||
pArIkShitamupAkhyAnamitIdaM samudAhR^itam |
parIkShicChukasamvAde sUtidvayanirUpaNam ||
purANalakShNaM chaiva sR^iShTikAraNasambhavaH |
dvitIyo.ayaM samuditaH skandho vyAsena dhImatA ||
charitaM vidurasyAtha maitreyeNAsya sa~NgamaH |
sR^iShTiprakaraNaM pashchAdbrahmaNaH paramAtmanaH ||
kApilaM sAmkhyamapyatra tR^itIyo.ayamudAhR^itaH || etc.
viShNu bhAgavata fits the description laid out in all these three purANas. Moreover, the list of chapters detailed by devarShi nArada fits the list of chapters in viShNu bhAgavata.
Padma purANa describes sAtvika purANas and only viShnu-para purANas are listed here:
vaiShNavaM nAradIyaM cha tathA bhAgavataM shubham |
gAruDaM cha tathA pAdmaM vArAhaM shubhadarshane |
sAtvikAni purANAni vij~neyAni shubhAni vai ||
Based on this, it seems that bhAgavata considered as the mahApurANa is viShNu para.
However, matsya purANa, while describing the lakShaNa of bhAgavata, speaks of sArasvata kalpa, which is not discussed in viShNu bhAgavata. The vivR^iti is of pAdma kalpa in bhAgavata as the verse says:
pAdmaM kalpamatho shR^iNu |
The description of the exact kalpa has been considered to be of great importance by vidvAns as the list of aShTAdasha purANas does not remain same in all the kalpas. Now, one should examine the following verse from shiva purANa:
bhagavatyAshcha durgAyAshcharitaM yatra vidyate |
tattu bhAgavataM proktaM na tu devIpurANakam ||
The work which describes the charita of bhagavatI durgA, that indeed is the purANa famous as bhAgavata and that is not devI purANa. The reference here is explicitly to devI bhAgavata.
Another interesting pramANa to refer to would be that of devIyAmaLa, quoted by bhAskararAya:
shrImadbhAgavataM nAma purANaM vedasammitam |
pArIkshitAyopadiShTaM satyavatya~NgajanmanA ||
yatra devyavatArAshcha bahavaH pratipAditAH |
idaM rahasyaM charitaM rAdhopAsanamuttamam ||
vyAsAya mama bhaktAya proktaM pUrvaM mayAdrije |
matto rahasyaM j~nAtvaiva rAdhopAsanamuttamam ||
etasya vistaraM chakre shrImadbhAgavate tathA |
nArade brahmavaivarte lokAnAM hitakAmyayA ||
The various rUpaviSheshas of ambA as well as the mAhAtmya of rAseshvarI rAdhikA, esoterically referred to as parAshrIH in UrdhvAmnAya, are discussed only in devI bhAgavata.
chitsukhAchArya, in his bhAgavata kathA saMgraha, quotes the following verse from brahmavaivarta:
grantho.aShTAdasha sAhasro dvAdashaskandhasammitaH |
hayagrIvabrahmavidyA yatra vR^itravadhastathA ||
gAyatryA cha samArambhastadvai bhAgavataM viduH ||
devI bhAgavata starts with the verse:
sarvachaitanyarUpAM tAmAdyAM vidyAM cha dhImahi || buddhiM yA naH prachodayAt ||
viShNu bhAgavata contains the following verse in the very first chapter:
dhAmnA svena sadA nirastakuhakaM satyaM paraM dhImahi ||
Of the two, the verse from devI bhAgavata fits the lakShaNa, gAyatryA cha samArambhaH, better. Both purANas detail the episode of the killing of vR^itrAsura. Also, while viShNu bhAgavata mentions hayagrIva, the episode of brahmavidyAlAbha by hayagrIva is discussed only in devI bhAgavata. Some trace hayagrIva mantra in the fifth skandha of viShNu bhAgavata and interpret this verse as referring to that mantra. But that does not seem applicable here as the reference is to vidyA, which is strImantrapara and not mantra:
mantrA puMdevatA proktAH vidyAH strIdevatAH smR^itAH ||
Based on these, the above lakShaNa seems to fit devI bhAgavata alone.
We spoke earlier of sArasvata kalpa, which is described as below in the nAgarakhaNDa of skanda purANa:
sArasvatastu dvAdashyAM shuklAyAM phAlgunasya cha ||
This means that the avirbhAva of sArasvata kalpa was in the month of phAlguna, on shukla dvAdashI.
The following verse describes AvirbhAva of parameshvarI on this very same tithi for the sake of slaying madhu and kaiTabha:
brahmaNA samstutA seyaM madhukaiTabhanAshane |
mahAvidyA jagaddhAtrI sarvavidyAdhidevatA |
dvAdashyAM phalgunasyaiva shuklAyAM samabhUnnR^ipa ||
As both brahmastuti and vadha of madhu kaitabha are described in devI bhAgavata, it is easier to associate this purANa with sArasvata kalpa than viShNu bhAgavata. Moreover, sArasvata kalpa is associated with mahimAdarshana of sarasvatI as indicated by the following verse:
sAtvikeShu cha kalpeShu mAhAtmyamadhikaM hareH |
rAjaseShu cha kalpeShu mAhAtmyaM brahmaNo viduH ||
tadvadagneshcha mAhAtmyaM tAmaseShu shivasya cha |
sa~NkIrNe cha sarasvatyAH pitR^INAM cha nigadyate || [mAtsye]
Moreover, the material in viShNu bhAgavata, which is referred to as pAramahamsya samhitA, is aimed at paramahamsAdayaH, as described by shrIdhara svAmin. Whereas the bhAgavata we talk of as mahApurANa is associated with sArasvata kalpa, which is described as sa~NkIrNeShu sarasvatyA, which certainly does not go with the description of pAramahamsya samhitA.
The reason why confusion prevails as to which among these is mahApurANa is the following verse, which lists upapurANas, and it lists an upapurANa named bhAgavata:
AdyaM sanatkumAroktaM nArasimhamataH param |
parAsharoktaM pravaraM tathA bhAgavatAhvayam ||
In various works such as sarvashAstrArtha sa~Ngraha of madhusUdana sarasvatI, durjanamukhachapeTikA of rAmAshrama, nibandha of nAgojI bhaTTa, durjanamukhapadmapAdukA, bhAvatasvarUpa viShayasha~NkA nirAsha of puruShottama and other works, based on padma purANa, vishNu bhAgavata has been declared as mahApurANa and devI bhAgavata as the upapurANa. However, the confusion regarding the status of mahApurANa is not new as shrIdhara svAmin, in his commentary on viShNu bhAgavata clarifies:
bhAgavatanAmAnyadityapi nAsha~NkanIyam ||
He also indicates the number of adhyAyas as 332: dvAtrimshattrishataM cha yasya vilasat |
kAshinAtha, in his work durjanamukhamhAchapeTikA, quotes the following verse:
skandhA dvAdasha evAtra kR^ishNena vihitAH shubhAH |
dvAtrimshattrishataM pUrNamadhyAyAH parikIrtitAH ||
In this grantha of kR^iShNa dvaipAyana, there are 12 skandhas and 332 adhyAyas. Based on this adhyAya saMkhyA, viShNu bhAgavata has been declared as mahApurANa by some authorities. devI bhAgavata consists of 318 adhyAyas:
trishataM pUrNamadhyAyA aShTAdashayutAH smR^itAH ||
The following is described regarding the origin of bhAgavata purANa, in the purANa itself: bhagavAn vyAsa classified the Veda, compiled the fifth veda which was the group of all itihAsas and purANas, and for the sake of women and patita brAhmaNAdikas, composed the mahAbhArata. But these did not grant him satisfaction. Based on an advice from sage nArada, vyAsa authored viShNu bhAgavata, which details harikathAmr^ita, and attained parama tR^ipti. Based on this story, this purANa was composed after other purANas and itihAshas. However, other purANas, while listing the mahApurANas, list bhAgavata as the fifth purANa. This has encouraged the view that the mahApurANa is indeed devI bhAgavata.
Also, while bhAgavata describes its own lakShaNas, which are more than five, devIbhAgavata lists the following five lakShaNas, which have been accepted as the required lakShaNas by amarasimha and others. The following is the verse from devI bhAgavata:
sargashcha pratisargashcha vaMsho manvantarANi cha |
vamshAnucharitaM chaiva purANaM pa~nchalakShaNam ||
Now there is yet another pakSha which does not even consider viShNu bhAgavata as an upapurANa and claim it to be the work of bopadeva.
One should also note that the list of eighteen mahApurANas is not always same. According to nAradIya purANa:
madvayaM bhadvayaM chaiva bratrayaM vachatuShTayam |
AlimpAgnipurANAni kUskaM gAruDameva cha ||
madvayam: mArkaNDeya, matsya
bhadvayam: bhAgavata, bhaviShya
bratrayam: brahma, brahmavaivarta, brahmANDa
vachatuShTayam: vAmana, varAha, vishNu, vAyu
This list is not always the same. For example, this list does not include shiva purANa, considered as a purANa by other lists and authorities. Some explain the word shiva occurring in other such lists as referring to vAyavya purANa due to its pratipAdana of shiva tattva. However, mudgala purANa clearly distinguishes between the two purANas:
brAhmaM cha vaiShNavaM pAdmaM shaivaM bhAgavataM tathA |
bhaviShyaM brahmavaivartaM mArkaNDeyaM cha vAmanam ||
AgneyaM vAyavaM mAstyaM iti |
Shiva purANa presents the following list in uttarakhaNDa, madhyameshvara mAhAtmya:
yatra vaktA svayaM taNDe brahmA sAkShAt chaturmukhaH |
tasmAdbrahmasamAkhyAtaM purANaM prathamaM mune ||
The first among the purANas is brahma purANa.
padmakalpasya mAhAtmyaM tatra yasmAdudAhR^itam |
tasmAt pAdmaM samAkhyAtaM purANaM cha dvitIyakam ||
The second is the padma purANa.
parAsharakR^itaM yattu purANaM viShNubodhakam |
tadeva vyAsakathitaM putrapitrorabhedataH ||
The third is the viShNu purANa.
yatra pUrvottare khaNDe shivasya charitaM bahu |
shaivametatpurANaM hi purANaj~nA vadanti cha ||
The fourth is shiva purANa.
bhagavatyAshcha durgAyAshcharitaM yatra vidyate |
tattu bhAgavataM proktaM na tu devI purANakam ||
The fifth is devI bhAgavata purANa.
nAradoktaM purANaM tu nAradIyaM prachakShate |
The sixth is nArada purANa.
yatra vaktA bhavattaNDe mArkaNDeyo mahAmuniH |
mArkaNDeya purANaM hi tadAkhyAtaM cha saptamam ||
The seventh is mArkaNDeya purANa.
agniyogAttadAgneyaM bhaviShyokterbhaviShyakam |
Agneya and bhaviShyottara are the eight and the ninth in the list.
vivartanAdbrahmaNastu brahmavaivartamuchyate ||
The tenth is brahmavaivarta purANa.
Li~Ngasya charitoktatvAtpurANaM li~Ngamuchyate ||
The eleventh is linga purANa.
varAhasya cha vArAhaM purANaM dvAdashaM mune ||
The twelfth is varAha purANa.
yatra skandaH svayaM shrotA vaktA sAkShAnmaheshvaraH |
tattu skAndaM samAkhyAtaM vAmanasya tu vAmanam ||
The thirteenth and fourteenth are varAha and skAnda purANas.
kaurmaM kUrmasya charitaM mAtsyaM matsyasya kIrtitam ||
kUrma and matsya are the fifteenth and sixteenth in this list.
garuDastu svayaM vaktA yattadgAruDasaMj~nakam ||
garuDa purANa is the seventeenth purANa.
brahmANDacharitoktatvAdbrahmANDaM parikIrtitam ||
The eighteenth in the list of mahApurANas is brahmANDa.
Based on this data from shiva purANa, one can conclude that the names of these purANas are based on one of the following three:
1. vaktA: The one who narrated the purANa
2. shrotA: The one who heard the purANa
3. pratipAdya: The subject or central focus of the purANa.
Based on this, the name bhAgavata, indicated by the shloka bhagavtyAshcha durgAyA etc., seems to fit into the third category. And hence, the vyutpatti of the word would be: bhavatyA idaM bhAgavatamiti.
Some interpret this verse to indicate viShNu bhAgavata again based on an argument that the charita of vindhyavAsinI in the dashama skandha is related to durgA. But, as explained earlier, the name here is based on the central focus of the purANa and not a lay episode and hence viShNu bhAgavata, where the pratipAdya is narAyaNa, cannot be interpreted as the indicated purANa. Some again object to this pramANa as the reference is to durgA here but the devI bhAgavata purANa deals with bhuvaneshvarI. A verse from yamaLa, which is of special interest to our lineage due to its presence in our pUjA kalpa, can be quoted here to illustrate the separateness of devI bhAgavata from durgA saptashatI, to refute the claims of rAmAshrama and others:
navarAtre tu deveshi daurgaM bhAgavataM paThet |
japetsaptashatIM chaNDIM niyamena samAhitaH ||
Also, the following verse seems to occur in kAlikA purANa:
yadidaM kAlikAkhyaM tanmUlaM bhAgavataM smR^itam ||
The upapurANa named kAlikA purANa has its origin in bhAgavata. Considering the subject matter of kAlikA purANa, the logical conclusion here would be that the bhAgavata mentioned here is devI bhAgavata. It should be noted that every upapurANa has its origin in one of the eighteen mahApurANas:
aShTAdashabhyastu pR^ithakpurANaM yatpradR^ishyate |
vijanIdhvaM dvijashreShThAstathA tebhyo vinirgatam || [mAtsye]
The slaying of vR^itrAsura is described as an important lakShaNa of bhAghavata. Aditya purANa says the following in this regard:
yAjaghne mahiShaM daityaM krUraM vR^itrAsuraM tathA |
sAdya raktAsuraM hatvA svArAjyaM te pradAsyati ||
When one chooses something as a lakShaNa, it is generally a unique mark. The slaying of vR^itrAsura by devI is described only in devI bhAgavata and hence is unique. The slaying of vR^itra by Indra is described in various purANas including vishNu bhAgavata, which this is not a unique lakShaNa. And by quoting the slaying of vR^itra by devI here, shAstrakaras see the sammati of Aditya purANa for the mahApurANatva of bhAgavata purANa. Aditya purANa also says:
dadAti sUryabhaktAya yastu bhAgavataM dvijaH |
sarvapApavinirmuktaH sarvavyAdhivivarjitaH ||
jIvedvatShashataM sAgraM ante vaivasvataM padam ||
One should examine the relation between sUrya and the bhAgavata. There is no specific association of sUrya with viShNu bhAgavata. However, devI bhAgavata deals extensively with gAyatryupAsanA which is aimed at savitA. Even if one ignores this, if the verse were referring to viShNu bhAgavata, the promised result here would be viShNu pada prApti and not vaivasvata pada prApti. Also, we examined one of the lakShaNas earlier that said: yatradhikR^itya gAyatrIm etc., which can be interpreted to refer to the chapters in devI bhAgavata dealing with gAyatrI. The lakShaNa for gAyatrI is stated as: vede tripAdA gAyatrIti, and this tripAshChanda does not occur in viShNu bhAgavata unlike devI bhAgavata. Some claim that gAyatryartha refers to nArAyaNa alone and the form of meditation for this mantra is only viShNu. This is not acceptable based on pramANa such as bhargo vai rudra iti and also works like prapa~nchasAra where dhyAna of shiva, shakti, sUrya etc. through gAyatrI has been variously described.
One should consider both sides of the argument, weigh the pramANas and decide after a careful analysis, which of the two can be considered as a mahApurANa. Based on the pramANas above, sampradAya, personal inclination and guideline of AchAryas like bhAskara and pR^ithvIdhara, our verdict would go with devI bhAgavata.
ataH samsAranAshAya sAkShiNImAtmarUpiNIm |
ArAdhayetparAshaktiM prapa~nchollAsaarjitAm ||