About the Book:
Bhakti Ratnavali is an anthology of four hundred and odd verses from Srimad Bhagavata, selected by a medievel ascetic named Vishnu Puri. In these verses we get a clear outline of the doctrine of Bhakti, both in its theory and practice, as conceived by the great devotional text, the Bhagavata.
An Anthology is certainly no original work, but the four hundred and odd verses comprising the Bhakti Ratnavali is something more than a mere selection based on the Bhagavata. The methodical way adopted in selection and the systematic treatment of the theme make the work as significant as an original writing itself. As the author has pointed out, its object is to give a person who cannot go through the whole of the Bhagavata Text, an ideal of the central theme treated therein in a nutshell. The luxuriant foliage of the Bhagavata narrative is necessarily omitted, but the main principles of the theme of Bhakti are delineated in it in terms of the original Text of the Bhagavata.
According to a prevailing tradition, Vishnu Puri had cultivated the acquintance of Sri Chaitanya during the latter's visit to Banares. Sometime later, a group of Vishnu Puri's devotees went to Jagannath Puri to pay homage to Sri Chaitanya. On the eve of their return, these devotees asked Sri Chaitanya for some message to their teacher, Vishnu Puri. To their utter surprise he asked them to report to Vishnu Puri that he wants from him a necklace of jems. When this message was carried to him, Vishnu Puri understood its real meaning. Subsequently he selected from the Bhagavata this devotional necklace of thirteen strands and sent the same to Sri Chaitanya, who offered it to Jagannath and through Him, to mankind. The verse 7 of the first strand and verse 11 of the 13th strand may be taken as references to this tradition.
In the Introduction and the comments an attempt has been made to present the outlines of the philosophy of Bhakti in a systematic way, besides expounding the significance of the verses selected. The English translation is free, without being unfaithful to the original.
It is hoped that the study of it will interest the readers in the Bhagavata Text as a whole.
Srimad Bhagavata, which forms the source book for this An- thology called Bhakti Ratnavali, belongs to the class of Hindu re- ligious literature known as the Puranas. The word Purana literally means 'narratives of ancient time'. Though the Puranic literature began to take their present shape only from the 5th century B.C., the nucleus from which it developed existed much earlier, and was as old as the Vedic Samhitas themselves. The earliest mention of Purana is in the Atharva Veda (XI. 7.24), where it is said to have originated from the residue (Ucchishta) of sacrifice along with Rks (verses), Samans (songs) and Chandas (metres). Sathapatha Brah- mana, Gopatha Brahmana and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad men- tion this, the last of them stating it to have sprung along with the Vedas and the Itihasas from the breath of the Mahabhuta (Paramatman).
It is, however, to be noted that only the singular noun Purana is used in all these references. We have to infer from this that the Purana was a branch of Vedic learning and not a separate and diversified religious literature that it came to be in later days. The recital of the Purana, consisting of traditional lore about creation, ancient histories and anecdotes, proverbial sayings and genealogies of kings and Rishis, traditions about the origin of Vedic Mantras, and sacrifices etc.,was a regular practice during periods of interval between rites and ceremonies of protracted Vedic sacrifices. Espe- cially at the royal sacrifices like Aswamedha and Rajasuya, the recitals of what are called Pariplava Akhyanas or recurring narra- tions, commemorating the genealogies of great kingly lines and their pious liberality towards the sacrificial cult, formed an important part of the rites. The earliest beginnings of the Purana literature are to be traced to these narrative portions (AkhYana-bhaga) of Vedic rites.
In the earliest stages, the recital of the Purana at the sacri- ficial rites must have been the function of the Brahmana priests themselves; but as time went on, it gradually came to be relegated to a mixed caste called the Suta, probably because its relation with the sacrificial rite was not integral. This bifurcation is indicated by the tradition supported in common by the Vayu, Brahmanda and Vishnu Puranas that the great sage Vyasa, after compiling the original Purana Samhita, entrusted it to his Suta disciple, Loma- harsha, who, in turn, made it into six versions and taught them to his six disciples. Of these disciples, three made separate Samhitas, and these together with the original of Lomaharsha became the source for all the Purana literature.
This tradition helps us to understand many of the important features of the Purana literature. It proves that there was an original Purana prevalent and that it was very closely associated with Vedic rites under the custody of Brahmana priests. Vyasa, to whom the codification of the Veda is attributed, systematised the original Purana Samhita also, separated it from its identification with Vedic rites, entrusted it to Sutas, who were not Brahmanas, and authoris- ed its elaboration for catering to the changing needs of man from age to age. By the time of the Apastambha Dharma Sutras t600-300 B. C.), Puranas had become a specialised literature, as we find Apastambha citing three passages from an unspecified Purana and one passage from a Bhavishya Purana. So the Vedic revelation remained fixed and unalterable, while the Puranas, which embody the philosophy of the Vedas cast in a form and against a back- ground that are their own, multiplied into a huge body of literature during a period extending at least from the 6th century B. C. to the 12th century A.D., embodying the devotional teachings of nume- rous cults and saintly teachers that came up from time to time, as also much available information on a variety of scientific, occult, social and historical themes.
The Puranas recognised as ancient and comprehensive, and distinguished therefore as Maha-puranas, are eighteen in number". The number eighteen was fixed rigidly by the 7th century A.D, probably because this number was considered sacred and because the names of the Puranas included-in the list were cited in most of these older works. But the tendency to multiply the Puranas did not stop with this. Revelation had to be an ever-renewing pro- cess, as the needs and ideas of new cults and of new peoples, con- sisting both of foreign invaders and indigenous aboriginals, pressed for accommodation within the pale of the unalterable Vedic reve- lation, until another eighteen texts classed as Upa-puranas came to be formed between 650 and 800 A.D.
If a Mahapurana can be described as a 'Major Purana', an Upapurana may, in contrast to it, be described as a 'Subsidiary Purana'. Though many of these texts do not recognise any such subordinate status for themselves, the Vayupurana interprets the name Upapurana to mean a 'sub-division' (upa-bheda), and the Saura Purana a 'supplement' (khila), in respect of its relation to the major Puranas. Thus the accepted theory is that all the Puranas other than the recognised eighteen Mahapuranas are to be affiliated with one or another of them as a sub-division or a supplement.
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