Bhagavata Purana (Devanagari: भागवतपुराण; Bhāgavata Purāṇa) also known as Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahā Purāṇa, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Bhāgavata, is one of Hinduism's eighteen great Puranas (Mahapuranas, great histories). Composed in Sanskrit and available in almost all Indian languages, it promotes bhakti (devotion) to Krishna integrating themes from the Advaita (monism) philosophy of Adi Shankara.
The Bhagavata Purana, like other puranas, discusses a wide range of topics including cosmology, genealogy, geography, mythology, legend, music, dance, yoga and culture. As it begins, the forces of evil have won a war between the benevolent devas (deities) and evil asuras (demons) and now rule the universe. Truth re-emerges as Krishna, (called "Hari" and "Vasudeva" in the text) – first makes peace with the demons, understands them and then creatively defeats them, bringing back hope, justice, freedom and happiness – a cyclic theme that appears in many legends.
The Bhagavata Purana is a revered text in Vaishnavism, a Hindu tradition that reveres Vishnu. The text presents a form of religion (dharma) that competes with that of the Vedas, wherein bhakti ultimately leads to self-knowledge, liberation (moksha) and bliss. However the Bhagavata Purana asserts that the inner nature and outer form of Krishna is identical to the Vedas and that this is what rescues the world from the forces of evil. An oft-quoted verse is used by some Krishna sects to assert that the text itself is Krishna in literary form.
The date of composition is probably between the eighth and the tenth century CE, but may be as early as the 6th century CE. Manuscripts survive in numerous inconsistent versions revised through the 18th century creating various recensions both in the same languages and across different Indian languages. The text consists of twelve books (skandhas) totalling 332 chapters (adhyayas) and between 16,000 and 18,000 verses depending on the recension. The tenth book, with about 4,000 verses, has been the most popular and widely studied. It was the first Purana to be translated into a European language as a French translation of a Tamil version appeared in 1788 and introduced many Europeans to Hinduism and 18th-century Hindu culture during the colonial era.
The 18,000 verses of the Srimad Bhagavatam consist of several interconnected, interwoven, and non-linear dialogues, teachings, and explanations espousing Bhakti Yoga that go back and forth in time and across its twelve cantos:
We have alluded to the Bhagavata's identity as a Purana, an important feature of which is its multilevel dialogical structure... the layered arrangement of dialogues, in which a speaker (typically Suka, the main reciter, addressing his interlocutor, King Pariksit) quotes an "earlier" speaker (for example, Narada, addressing King Yudhisthira, Pariksit's uncle, in a dialogue understood to have taken place earlier and elsewhere), who may in turn quote yet another speaker. Two or three such layers are typically operative simultaneously... the compounding of voices serve to strengthen the message delivered; and second, one is left with the sense that one cannot, and indeed need not, trace out the origin of the message.
This Srimad-Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of God, and it is compiled by Srila Vyasadeva, the incarnation of God. It is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and it is all-successful, all-blissful and all-perfect.
A unique and especial emphasis is placed on fostering transcendental loving devotion to Krishna as the ultimate good, i.e. for its own sake rather than for fruitive results or rewards such as detachment or worldly or heavenly gains, a practice known as Bhakti Yoga:
What makes the Bhagavata unique in the history of Indian Religion... is its prioritization of Bhakti. The main objective of this text is to promote Bhakti to Vishnu in his incarnation as Krishna referred to variously, and to illustrate and explain it... what makes the Bhagavata special is its emphasis on an intense personal and passionate Bhakti...
As detailed in the Matsya Mahapurana, all Puranas must cover at least five specific subjects or topics - referred to in Sanskrit as Pancha Lakshana (literally meaning 'consisting of five characteristics') - in addition to other information including specific deities and the four aims or goals of life. From the K.L. Joshi (editor) translation:
The following are the five characteristics of the Puranas: They describe (1) the creation of the universe, (2) its genealogy and dissolution, (3) the dynasties, (4) the Manvantaras, (5) the dynastic chronicles. The Puranas, with these five characteristics, sing the glory of Brahma, Vishnu, the Sun and Rudra, as well as they describe also the creation and dissolution of the Earth. The four [aims of human life] (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa) have also been described in all the Puranas, along with evil consequences following from sin. In the sattvika Puranas there is largely a mention of Hari's glory.
Sukadeva spoke, - "O King! In this Bhagavata Purana there are discourses on ten subject matters, namely:  Sarga (creation in general by God),  Bisarga (creation in particular by Brahma),  Sthana (position),  Poshana (preservation),  Uti (desire actuating an action),  Manwantara (pious modes of living by the Saintly persons),  Ishanuktha (discourses relating to God and his devotees),  Nirodha (merging in),  Mukti (liberation), and  Asraya (stay upon or in support of). Of the above ten, with a view to obtain true knowledge of the tenth, viz. Asraya, saintly people would have discourse on the nine others, by way of hearing, meeting, and drawing analogy.
The Bhagavata further elaborates on the differences between lesser and greater Puranas possessing five or ten characteristics, respectively. From the Disciples of Swami Prabhupada / BBT translation:
O brāhmaṇa, authorities on the matter understand a Purāṇa to contain ten characteristic topics: the creation of this universe, the subsequent creation of worlds and beings, the maintenance of all living beings, their sustenance, the rule of various Manus, the dynasties of great kings, the activities of such kings, annihilation, motivation and the supreme shelter. Other scholars state that the great Purāṇas deal with these ten topics, while lesser Purāṇas may deal with five.
Although the number of original Sanskrit shlokas is stated to be 18,000 by the Bhagavata itself - and by other Puranas such as the Matsya mahapurana - the number of equivalent verses when translated into other languages varies, even between translations into the same language and based on the same manuscript The English translation by Bibek Debroy (BD), for example, contains 78 more verses than the English translation by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada / BBT, despite likely being based on the same manuscript:
In his discussion on the issue of varying numbers of verses in translations of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Debroy states:
[T]here are unabridged translations [of the Bhagavata] in Indian languages. However, to the best of my knowledge, there are only five unabridged translations in English[note 1]... One should not jump to the conclusion that a large number of shlokas are missing [in Debroy's translation]. A few are indeed missing. But, sometimes, it is also a question of how one counts a shloka. With the content remaining identical, the text may be counted as one shloka in one place and as two shlokas elsewhere... Hence, even though there may be no difference between our version of the text and say, that used by Swami Prabhupada, the numbering will vary a bit. (Sometimes there are minor differences in the Sanskrit text).
Contrary to the western cultural tradition of novelty, poetic or artistic license with existing materials is a strong tradition in Indian culture, a 'tradition of several hundred years of linguistic creativity'. There are variations of original manuscripts available for each Purana, including the Srimad Bhagavatam. Debroy states that although there is no 'Critical Edition' for any Purana, the common manuscript for translations of the Bhagavata Purana - seemingly used by both Swami Prabhupada and himself - is the Bhāgavatamahāpurāṇam (Nag Publishers, Delhi), a reprint of Khemraj Shri Krishnadas' manuscript (Venkateshvara Press, Bombay). In regards to variances in Puranic manuscripts, academic states:
[S]ignificant are the widespread variations between manuscripts of the same Purana, especially those originating in different regions of India... one of the principal characteristics of the genre is the status of Purana as what Doniger calls "fluid texts" (Doniger 1991, 31). The mixture of fixed form [the Puranic Characteristics] and seemingly endless variety of content has enabled the Purana to be communicative vehicles for a range of cultural positions... [the] idea of originality is primarily Western and belies the fact that in the kind of oral genres of which the Puranas continue to form a part, such originality is neither promoted nor recognised. Like most forms of cultural creation in India, the function of the Puranas was to reprocess and comment upon old knowledge...
Academics estimate the date of origin of the Bhagavata Purana to be between 800–1000 CE, composed to popularize the worship of Vishnu. According to the Bhagavata Purana itself (see 'stated authorship and purpose'), it was composed at the onset of Kali Yuga (the last age), calculated to have occurred around 3100 BCE.
All tables provided apply to all complete translations of the Bhagavata Purana. All tables can also be sorted by column title.
The table below is primarily based on the avatars listed in Canto 1, Chapter 3 (SB 1.3) and Canto 2, Chapter 7 (SB 2.7) of the Srimad Bhagavatam (SB)[note 2]. The number given in parenthesis "()" after a name indicates the order of incarnation as stated in Canto 1. Note that:
The table below does not include devotee avatars of Vishnu such as Narada, Kipila, or Prthu. Devotees featured or appearing repeatedly throughout the scripture are marked with "--" in the Canto column.
Many demons (villains) are mentioned throughout the Srimad Bhagavatam; cantos listed concern their primary (or only) appearances and/or descriptions. This table is not exhaustive.
For ease of reference, synopses of cantos cite a legal online copy of the complete 18-volume A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada / Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) translation of the Srimad Bhagavatam, available at the . It also provides original Sanskrit verses, transliterations, synonyms, and purports. With the exception of canto 10 (parts 2-4) onwards - translated by the disciples of Swami Prabhupada after his death in 1977 - unless otherwise stated, quoted verses and purports given are identical to the original (incomplete and unaltered) 30-volume translation of cantos 1-10 published by Krishna Books. Other translations of quoted verses have also been provided for comparison. The non-exhaustive overviews given apply to all complete translations.
पिबत भागवतं रसमालयं
मुहुरहो रसिका भुवि भावुका: ॥ ३ ॥
O expert and thoughtful men, relish Srimad-Bhagavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Sri Sukadeva Gosvami. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarian juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.
The sacred texts are like trees that yield all the objects of desire and this represents their ripened fruit. It emerged from Shuka's mouth, with the pulp and juice of amrita. Drink the Bhagavata, the store of juices. O those who possess taste! Savour it repeatedly and become happy on earth.
Consisting of 19 chapters, the first canto opens with an invocation to Krishna and the assertion that the Srimad Bhagatavam, compiled by Vyasadeva, is sufficient alone to realise God. The over-arching narration begins at the onset of Kali Yuga as a dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami (the son of Vyasadeva) and a group of sages headed by Saunaka, as they perform a thousand-year sacrifice for Krishna and his devotees in the forest of Naimisaranya. Questioned by the sages, topics covered by Suta Gosvami include the:
स वेद धातु: पदवीं परस्य
दुरन्तवीर्यस्य रथाङ्गपाणे: ।
भजेत तत्पादसरोजगन्धम् ॥ ३८ ॥
Only those who render unreserved, uninterrupted, favourable service unto the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, who carries the wheel of the chariot in his hand, can know the creator of the universe in His full glory, power, and transcendence.
It is only His devotee, who meditates ever with deep concentration upon the Lord holding the irresistibly destructive wheel (Chakra, more commonly called 'Sudarsan-chakra') in His Hand, that knows a bit about Him.
Consisting of 10 chapters, the second canto opens with an invocation to Krishna. The second layer of over-arching narration begins as a dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river (narrated by Sukadeva Gosvami to a group of sages headed by Saunaka in the forest of Naimisaranya). Questioned by Pariksit, the topics covered by Suta Gosvami include the:
स एव पुरुषस्तस्मादण्डं निर्भिद्य निर्गत: ।
सहस्रोर्वङ्घ्रिबाह्वक्ष: सहस्राननशीर्षवान् ॥ ३५ ॥
The lord Maha-Vishnu, although lying in the Causal Ocean, came out of it, and dividing Himself as Hiranyagarbha, He entered into each universe and assumed the virat-rupa, with thousands of legs, arms, mouths, heads, etc.
Consisting of 33 chapters, the third canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Vidura, the sudra incarnation of Yama and devotee of Krishna, is the main protagonist narrated. After being thrown out of his home by King Dhritarashtra (his older half-brother) for admonishing the Kaurava's ignoble behaviour towards the Pandavas, Vidura went on a pilgrimage where he met other devotees of Krishna such as Uddhava and the sage Maitreya; their dialogues form a third layer of narration. Topics covered by Sukadeva Gosvami, Uddhava, and Maitreya include the:
सतां प्रसङ्गान्मम वीर्यसंविदो
भवन्ति हृत्कर्णरसायना: कथा: ।
श्रद्धा रतिर्भक्तिरनुक्रमिष्यति ॥ २५ ॥
In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.
They are so earnest and eagerly attached to mutual discussion on the holy glories of God that the limbs of their bodies become paralysed on account of their being devoid of sensibility due to their zeal for discourses on the illustrious Lord; and so they are possessed of the crowning virtue of kindness which is desired by all good people.
Consisting of 31 chapters, the fourth canto continues the dialogues of Sukadeva Gosvami, Uddhava, and Maitreya. There are additional layers of dialogue, such as between the sage-avatar Narada and King Pracinabharhisat (as narrated by Maitreya to Vidura). Focusing on the female descendants of Svayambhuva Manu, topics covered include the:
मातृभक्ति: परस्त्रीषु पत्न्यामर्ध इवात्मन: । प्रजासु पितृवत्स्निग्ध: किङ्करो ब्रह्मवादिनाम् ॥ १७ ॥
The king [Prthu] will respect all women as if they were his own mother, and he will treat his own wife as the other half of his body. He will be just like an affectionate father to his citizens, and he will treat himself as the most obedient servant of the devotees, who always preach the glories of the Lord.
He will revere other men's wives like his own mother. He will treat his own wife like one half of his own self. Towards his subjects, he will be as gentle as a father. He will be a servant to those who know about the Brahman.
Consisting of 26 chapters, the fifth canto focuses on the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue are between the avatar Rsabha and his sons, and between Bharata and King Rahugana (the former was perceived as a fool and made to carry the latter's palanquin). Topics covered include the:
नायं देहो देहभाजां नृलोके
कष्टान् कामानर्हते विड्भुजां ये ।
तपो दिव्यं पुत्रका येन सत्त्वं
शुद्ध्येद्यस्माद् ब्रह्मसौख्यं त्वनन्तम् ॥ १ ॥
Lord Rsabhadeva told His sons: My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one’s heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever.
THE AUSPICIOUS RISHABHADEVA said, - "O my sons! Those who have obtained the human body in this land of mortals, should not give themselves up to the enjoyments of ultimately painful worldly pleasures that are partaken of by pigs and other animals living on excreta. O my children! Austerity only is the most excellent thing by which one's being is purified and which again leads to the eternal felicity of Brahma".
Consisting of 19 chapters, the sixth canto continues with the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between Yama and his messengers (called the Yamadatas). With the main focus on the battles of the demon-devotee Vrtrasura and his armies against the demigods led by Indra, as well as the life of King Citraketu, topics covered include the:
यो नामभिर्वाचि जनं निजायां
बध्नाति तन्त्र्यामिव दामभिर्गा: ।
यस्मै बलिं त इमे नामकर्म-
निबन्धबद्धाश्चकिता वहन्ति ॥ १३ ॥
Just as the driver of a bullock cart ties ropes through the nostrils of his bulls to control them, the Supreme Personality of Godhead binds all men through the ropes of His words in the Vedas, which set forth the names and activities of the distinct orders of human society [brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra]. In fear, the members of these orders all worship the Supreme Lord by offering Him presentations according to their respective activities.
They are bound to him with cords, like bulls with ropes. They are bound and scared. With different names and deeds, they bear the burden and offer sacrifices to him.
Consisting of 15 chapters, the seventh canto continues with the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between Narada and Yudhishthira about Prahlada, the devotee-son of the demon-King Hiranyakasipu (brother of Hiranyaksa, destroyed by the Varaha avatar in the third canto; the demonic brothers are incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya). Prahlada, protected by Krishna, survives multiple attempts to kill him until the arrival of the Nrsimha avatar to destroy his father, who could not be killed by any weapon, by any man or beast, or in the water, air, or on land. Topics covered include the:
आत्मन: पुत्रवत् पश्येत्तैरेषामन्तरं कियत् ॥ ९ ॥
One should treat animals such as deer, camels, asses, monkeys, mice, snakes, birds and flies exactly like one’s own son. How little difference there actually is between children and these innocent animals.
A householder should look upon deer, camels, donkeys, monkeys, mice, serpents, birds, and bees and all that enter his house or cornfield for eating the eatables stocked there, as his own sons, because between sons and those there is but very little difference.
Consisting of 24 chapters, the eighth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. A notable additional layer of dialogue is between the Vamana avatar and King Bali about the demon-King Hiranyakasipu. Topics covered include the:
न यस्य कश्चातितितर्ति मायां
यया जनो मुह्यति वेद नार्थम् ।
तं निर्जितात्मात्मगुणं परेशं
नमाम भूतेषु समं चरन्तम् ॥ ३० ॥
No one can overcome the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s illusory energy [māyā], which is so strong that it bewilders everyone, making one lose the sense to understand the aim of life. That same māyā, however, is subdued by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who rules everyone and who is equally disposed toward all living entities. Let us offer our obeisances unto Him.
No one is able to overcome his maya. Because of this, people are confounded and do not know the truth. He is the supreme lord who alone conquers his own gunas. He controls beings, without any partiality.
Consisting of 24 chapters, the ninth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. With no notable additional layers of dialogue, the primary focus is upon the male dynasties of various ruling figures (the female sides are covered in the fourth canto). Topics covered include the:
अक्षौहिणीनां पतिभिरसुरैर्नृपलाञ्छनै: । भुव आक्रम्यमाणाया अभाराय कृतोद्यम: ॥ ५९ ॥
Although the demons who take possession of the government are dressed like men of government, they do not know the duty of the government. Consequently, by the arrangement of God, such demons, who possess great military strength, fight with one another, and thus the great burden of demons on the surface of the earth is reduced. The demons increase their military power by the will of the Supreme, so that their numbers will be diminished and the devotees will have a chance to advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Bibek Debroy translation (the J.M. Sanyal translation is missing verse 58 onwards of this chapter):
Consisting of 90 chapters, the tenth canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue all involve the lila (divine play) of the supreme and transcendental Krishna avatar. Thus focusing on the appearance and pastimes of Krishna, topics covered include the:
ग्रामाद् वनं क्षितिभुजोऽपि ययुर्यदर्था: ॥ ५० ॥
By regularly hearing, chanting and meditating on the beautiful topics of Lord Mukunda with ever-increasing sincerity, a mortal being will attain the divine kingdom of the Lord, where the inviolable power of death holds no sway. For this purpose, many persons, including great kings, abandoned their mundane homes and took to the forest.
Thus attentively listening to and reciting, and meditating on the theme of the glorious achievements of Mukunda, mortals attain to the regions where the destroying influence of death cannot reach, and in order to be transported to which kingdom, even the rulers of the earth betake themselves to the wilderness having deserted their respective kingdoms, to perform rigid austerities.
The largest canto with 4,000 verses, the tenth canto is also the most popular and widely studied part of the Bhagavata. It has also been translated, commented on, and published separately from the rest of the Srimad Bhagavatam. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada stated this canto is distinct from the others, albeit while warning against studying it before reading the previous nine:
The Tenth Canto is distinct from the first nine cantos because it deals directly with the transcendetal activities of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. One will be unable to capture the effects of the Tenth Canto without going through the first nine cantos. The book is complete in twelve cantos, each independent, but it is good for all to read them... one after another.
Consisting of 31 chapters, the eleventh canto continues the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river. Notable additional layers of dialogue are between Narada and Vasudeva, and between Krishna and Uddhava (and in turn, other dialogues such as that between the Hamsa (swan) avatar and Brahma). Topics covered include the:
पृथिवी वायुराकाशमापोऽग्निश्चन्द्रमा रवि: ।
कपोतोऽजगर: सिन्धु: पतङ्गो मधुकृद् गज: ॥ ३३ ॥
मधुहाहरिणो मीन: पिङ्गला कुररोऽर्भक: ।
कुमारी शरकृत् सर्प ऊर्णनाभि: सुपेशकृत् ॥ ३४ ॥
एते मे गुरवो राजन् चतुर्विंशतिराश्रिता: ।
शिक्षा वृत्तिभिरेतेषामन्वशिक्षमिहात्मन: ॥ ३५ ॥
O King, I have taken shelter of twenty-four gurus, who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the prostitute Piṅgalā, the kurara bird and the child; and the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp. My dear King, by studying their activities I have learned the science of the self.
I have many teachers, O king,
Through my own awareness I have learned from them all,
And now I wander about this earth free from its turmoil.
Let me tell you of my teachers.
The earth, air, and space,
Water and fire,
The sun and moon,
The dove and the python,
The moth and the bee,
And the elephant.
The honey gatherer,
The deer and the fish.
The prostitute Pingala
And the osprey,
The infant and the maiden.
The man who makes arrows
And a certain serpent,
The spider, and the insect
Captured by the wasp.
Those, great king, have been my teachers,
They number twenty-four in all.
From them and their ways
I have learned all that I know,
And all of it has been to my benefit.
Containing the final teachings of Krishna to His devotee Uddhava, the eleventh canto is also referred to as the 'Uddhava Gita' or 'Hamsa Gita'. Like the tenth canto, it has also been translated and published separately, usually as a companion or 'sequel' to the Bhagavad Gita. 'Hamsa' (Sankrit हांस) means 'swan' or 'spirit', and:
Consisting of 13 chapters, the twelfth and final canto completes the dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and Pariksit on the banks of the Ganges river, and ends with the over-arching dialogue between Sukadeva Gosvami and the group of sages led by Saunaka, at the forest of Naimisaranya. Focusing on prophesies and signs of Kali Yuga, topics covered include the:
आदिमध्यावसानेषु वैराग्याख्यानसंयुतम् ।
हरिलीलाकथाव्रातामृतानन्दितसत्सुरम् ॥ ११ ॥
सर्ववेदान्तसारं यद ब्रह्मात्मैकत्वलक्षणम् ।
वस्त्वद्वितीयं तन्निष्ठं कैवल्यैकप्रयोजनम् ॥ १२ ॥
From beginning to end, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is full of narrations that encourage renunciation of material life, as well as nectarean accounts of Lord Hari’s transcendental pastimes, which give ecstasy to the saintly devotees and demigods. This Bhāgavatam is the essence of all Vedānta philosophy because its subject matter is the Absolute Truth, which, while nondifferent from the spirit soul, is the ultimate reality, one without a second. The goal of this literature is exclusive devotional service unto that Supreme Truth.
From the beginning to the end, with its [Bhagavata] stories of detachment,
it delights the saintly and the virtuous with the nectar of its many Lila of Hari.
The essence of all the Upanishads this is, the sign that the Brahman [God] is one's Atman [Soul within],
it illuminates the One Reality without a second, it is the means of attaining Kaivalya [liberation].
Cutler states the Bhagavata is among the most important texts on bhakti, presenting a fully developed teaching that originated with the Bhagavad Gita. Bryant states that while classical yoga attempts to shut down the mind and senses, Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavata teaches that the mind is transformed by filling it with thoughts of Krishna.
Matchett states that in addition to various didactic philosophical passages the Bhagavata also describes one of the activities that can lead to liberation (moksha) as listening to, reflecting on the stories of, and sharing devotion for Krishna with others. Bhakti is depicted in the Purana, adds Matchett, as both an overpowering emotion as well as a way of life that is rational and deliberately cultivated.
Sheridan points out that in the Third Canto, Kapila is described as an avatar of Vishnu, born as the son of the sage Kardama Muni, in order to share the knowledge of self-realization and liberation with his mother, Devahuti; in the Eleventh Canto, Krishna also teaches Samkhya to Uddhava, describing the world as an illusion, and the individual as dreaming, even while in the waking state. Krishna expounds Samhkhya and Yoga as the way of overcoming the dream, with the goal being Krishna Himself.
Sheridan also states that the treatment of Samkhya in the Bhagavata is also changed by its emphasis on devotion, as does Dasgupta, adding it is somewhat different from other classical Samkhya texts.
Kumar Das and Sheridan state that the Bhagavata frequently discusses a distinctly advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy of Shankara. Rukmani adds that the concept of moksha is explained as Ekatva (Oneness) and Sayujya (Absorption, intimate union), wherein one is completely lost in Brahman (Self, Supreme Being, one's true nature). This, states Rukmani, is proclamation of a 'return of the individual soul to the Absolute and its merging into the Absolute', which is unmistakably advaitic. The Bhagavata Purana is also stated to parallel the non-duality of Adi Shankara by Sheridan. As an example:
The aim of life is inquiry into the Truth, and not the desire for enjoyment in heaven by performing religious rites,
Those who possess the knowledge of the Truth, call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth,
It is called Brahman, the Highest Self, and Bhagavan.
Scholars describe this philosophy as built on the foundation of non-dualism in the Upanishads, and term it as "Advaitic Theism". This term combines the seemingly contradictory beliefs of a personal God that can be worshiped with a God that is immanent in creation and in one's own self. God in this philosophy is within and is not different from the individual self, states Sheridan, and transcends the limitations of specificity and temporality. Sheridan also describes Advaitic Theism as a "both/and" solution for the questions of whether God is transcendent or immanent, and credits the Bhāgavata with a 'truly creative religious moment' for introducing this philosophy. The text suggests that God Vishnu and the soul (atman) in all beings is one in quality (nirguna).
Bryant states that the monism in Bhagavata Purana is certainly built on Vedanta foundations, but not exactly the same as the monism of Adi Shankara. The Bhagavata asserts, according to Bryant, that the empirical and the spiritual universe are both metaphysical realities, and manifestations of the same Oneness, just like heat and light are "real but different" manifestations of sunlight.
Kurmas Das states the Bhagavata Purana conceptualizes a form of Dharma that competes with that of the Vedas, suggesting that Bhakti ultimately leads to Self-knowledge, Moksha (salvation) and bliss. The earliest mention of bhakti is found in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad verse 6.23, but scholars such as Max Muller state that the word Bhakti appears only once in this Upanishad; and that being in one last verse of the epilogue it could be a later addition, and that the context suggests that it is a panentheistic idea and not theistic.
Scholarly consensus sees bhakti as a post-Vedic movement that developed primarily during the Puranas era of Indian history. The Bhagavata Purana develops the Bhakti concept more elaborately, states Cutler, proposing "worship without ulterior motive and with kind disposition towards all" as Dharma. T.R. Sharma states the text includes in its scope intellectual and emotional devotion as well as Advaita Vedanta ideas.
The text does not subscribe, states Gupta and Valpey, to context-less "categorical notions of justice or morality", but suggests that "Dharma depends on context". They add that in a positive or neutral context, ethics and moral behavior must be adhered to; and when persistently persecuted by evil, anything that reduces the strength of the "evil and poisonous circumstances" is good. That which is motivated by, furthers, and enables bhakt is the golden standard of Dharma.
Sarma states that the Bhagavata Purana describes all steps of yoga practice, and characterizes yoga as bhakti, asserting that the most important aspect is the spiritual goal. According to Sarma and Rukmani, the text dedicates numerous chapters to yoga, such as Canto 10 (chapter 11), which begins with a declaration that Siddhi results from concentrating one's mind on Krishna, adding this substitutes the concept of a "personal god" in the Yogasutras of Patanjali, and contrasts with Patanjali's view that Siddhi is considered powerful but an obstacle to Samadhi.
In other chapters of the text, Rukmani states, Śuka describes different meditations on aspects of Krishna, in a way that is similar to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. However, adds Bryant, the Bhagavata Purana recommends the object of concentration as Krishna, thus folding in yoga as a form of bhakti and the "union with the divine". Bryant describes the synthesis of ideas in Bhagavata Purana as:
The philosophy of the Bhagavata is a mixture of Vedanta terminology, Samkhyan metaphysics and devotionalized Yoga praxis. (...) The tenth book promotes Krishna as the highest absolute personal aspect of godhead – the personality behind the term Ishvara and the ultimate aspect of Brahman.
The source of many popular stories of Krishna's pastimes for centuries in the Indian subcontinent, the Bhagavata Purana is widely recognized as the best-known and most influential of the Puranas, and as a part of Vedic literature (the Puranas, Itihasa epics, and Upanishads) is referred to as the "Fifth Veda". It is important in Indian religious literature for its emphasis on the practice of devotion compared to the more theoretical approach of the Bhagavad Gita, for challenging the ritualism of the Vedas, and for its extended description of a God in human form.
The Bhagavata has played a significant role in the emergence of the Krishna-bhakti (Gaudiya Vaishnavism) movement of Lord Chaitanya (1486–1534 CE), in Bengal. The scriptural basis for the belief that Lord Chaitanya is an avatar of Krishna is found in verses such as the following (Disciples of Swami Prabhupada translation):
In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Kṛṣṇa. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Kṛṣṇa Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.
Chaitanya is commonly referred to as 'Gauranga' in regards to His golden complexion (as detailed in the Gauranga article, the Sanskrit word 'ākṛṣṇaṁ' means 'not blackish' and 'golden'), and is most notable for popularising the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. In regards to not being explicitly named as an avatar (unlike others such as Kalki) in the Bhagavata, this is also explained (Swami Prabhupada translation):
In this way, my Lord, You appear in various incarnations as a human being, an animal, a great saint, a demigod, a fish or a tortoise, thus maintaining the entire creation in different planetary systems and killing the demoniac principles. According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the Age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.
The key word in this verse in regards to Krishna incarnating in the age of Kali Yuga is 'channaḥ' (Sanskrit छन्न), which means ' hidden', 'secret', or 'disguised'. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Chaitanya is accepted as a hidden avatar of Krishna that appeared in the age of Kali (also known as 'the iron age' and 'the age of quarrel') as His own devotee to show the easiest way to achieve Krishna Consciousness. Modern Gaudiya movements such as the Gaudiya Math (established by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in 1920) and others established by disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada in 1966) and the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math (by Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar in 1941), trace their disciplic lineages back directly to Lord Chaitanya.
In the 15th–16th century Ekasarana Dharma in Assam, a panentheistic tradition whose proponents, Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, acknowledge that their theological positions are rooted in the Bhagavata Purana, purged of doctrines that find no place in Assamese Vaishnavism and adding a monist commentary instead.
In northern and western India the Bhagavata Purana has influenced the Hari Bhakti Vilasa and Haveli-style Krishna temples found in Braj region near Mathura-Vrindavan. The text complements the Pancharatra Agama texts of Vaishnavism. While the text focuses on Krishna "Lord Narayana (Vishnu) himself appears and explains how Brahma and Shiva should never be seen as independent and different from him". The sixth book includes the feminine principle as Shakti, or goddess Devi, conceptualizing her as the "energy and creative power" of the masculine yet a manifestation of a sexless Brahman, presented in a language suffused with Hindu monism.
The fifth canto of the Bhagavata Purana is significant for its inclusion of legends about the first Tirthankara of Jainism, Rishabha, as an avatar of Vishnu. Further, his father Nabhi is mentioned as one of the Manus and his mother Marudevi also finds a mention. It further mentions the 100 sons of Rishabha including Bharata. While homage to Buddha is included in by declaring him as an avatar of Vishnu. However, the interpretation of Buddhism-related stories in the Purana range from honor to ambivalence to polemics wherein prophecies predict some will distort and misrepresent the teachings of the Vedas, and attempt to sow confusion. According to T. S. Rukmani, the Bhagavata Purana is also significant in asserting that Yoga practice is a form of Bhakti.
The Bhagavata Purana played a key role in the history of Indian theatre, music, and dance, particularly through the tradition of Ras and Leela. These are dramatic enactments about Krishna's pastimes. Some of the text's legends have inspired secondary theatre literature such as the eroticism in Gita Govinda. While Indian dance and music theatre traces its origins to the ancient Sama Veda and Natyasastra texts, the Bhagavata Purana and other Krishna-related texts such as Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana have inspired numerous choreographic themes.
Many 'Ras' plays dramatise episodes related in the Rasa Panchadhyayi ("Five chapters of the Celestial Dance"; Canto 10, Chapters 29–33) of the Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam also encourages theatrical performance as a means to propagate the faith (BP 11.11.23 and 36, 11.27.35 and 44, etc.), and this has led to the emergence of several theatrical forms centred on Krishna all across India. Canto 10 of Bhagavatam is regarded as the inspiration for many classical dance styles such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri and Bharatnatyam. Bryant summarizes the influence as follows,
The Bhagavata ranks as an outstanding product of Sanskrit literature. Perhaps more significantly, the Bhagavata has inspired more derivative literature, poetry, drama, dance, theatre and art than any other text in the history of Sanskrit literature, with the possible exception of the Ramayana.
The Bhagavata Purana is one of the most commented texts in Indian literature. There is a saying in Sanskrit - vidyā bhāgavatāvadhi - Bhāgavatam is the limit of one's learning. Hence through out the centuries it attracted a host of commentators from all schools of Krishna worshippers. Over eighty medieval era Bhāṣya (scholarly reviews and commentaries) in Sanskrit alone are known, and many more commentaries exist in various Indian languages. The oldest exegetical commentary presently known is Tantra-Bhagavata from the Pancaratra school. Other commentaries include:
The Bhagavata has been rendered into various Indian and non-Indian languages. A version of it is available in almost every Indian language, with forty translations alone in the Bengali language. From the eighteenth century onwards, the text became the subject of scholarly interest and Victorian disapproval, with the publication of a French translation followed by an English one. The following is a partial list of translations: