Dr. V. Gouri Suresh is at present working as a Reader in Botany at Jamshedpur Women’s college in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand State, India. She is also Coordinator of the B.Sc. (Environment and Water Management), a three year honours degree course conducted in the college.
She had her schooling and college education in Kerala. A few years after completing M.Sc in Botany from Calicut University in 1971, she joined Jamshedpur Women’s College as a lecturer in 1975. Since then, she has been serving this institution. In 1993, she obtained her doctorate from Ranchi University. A keen environmentalist, she believes in people’s participation at all levels for solving the multifarious problems facing the world today.
She grew up listening to stories from the epics and the puraanaas from her parents and grand parents. These were etched permanently in her mind. This must have been the reason for her love of ancient Indian classics in later years.
Dr. Gouri Suresh has brought out in this book stories from the Bhaagavath Puraana for the benefit of all, especially children. The style is as if she is addressing the readers directly. She has also given her own explanations and opinions at certain points in the narrative. These may provide some insights into the places, characters, customs, incidents etc. described in the book.
I am glad that ‘Stories from Bhaagavatham’ by Dr. Gouri Suresh is one of the forth-coming titles taken up by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for early release. The role of the Bhavan is unparalleled in its exclusive emphasis on the publication of books relating to India’s cultural glory and intellectual grandeur, radiantly reflected in its massive corpus of religious, philosophical, literary and musical output, as well as in its vast bulk of art-collections in the fields of architecture, sculpture paintings strewn all over the country throughout the related centuries. If increased interest in the knowledge of classical writings was one of the central factors in the West Renaissance, I sincerely believe that the effort of cultural retrieval undertaken through its well-chosen publications, which has now assumed the dimensions of a virtual cultural library, is a great event in modern Indian history.
The work before us offers to the reader a collection of the devotional stories presented in the Bhagavatha Purana written in English in an abridged form. Bharatiya vidya Bhavan had blazed the trail along the path of familiarizing the Indian classics to the new generation, by publishing the story of the great epic Mahabharatha in an elegant condensation made by the gifted pen of Rajagopalachari. This edition of Bhagavatham follows this tradition. Rajagopalachari’s redaction of the Bharatha story bewitched the entire reading-word and even now holds its own distinct place in the ‘best-seller corner’ of the Bhavan. My perusal of the work of Dr. Gouri Suresh makes me optimistic in predicting a benevolent reception at the hands of the public.
Bhagavatham is the most celebrated text among the great Puranas which deal with divine legends and the stories of mythical kings and sages. The heart and intellect of the land have been captivated all along by the magnificent exploits of Lord Krishna which constitute the main theme of the Purana. A huge volume written in 12 cantos (called Skandhas), in 335 adhyayas (chapters) and in about 18000 stanzas, it is held in great veneration by Indians as a whole. There is an undimmed element of piety in most of the peoples in India. Bhagavatham holds an enduring sway over the spirit of India in a continuous rhythm unbroken by historical happenings. The recitation of the Purana is deemed to be a sacrifice – Japa Yagna. The reach of the Bhagavatham touches the very remote fringes of Indian society to whom the lofty worlds of the Vedas and the Upanishads were generally inaccessible. Therefore this book will be cherished by a democratic age for its concern for the ordinary people for whose emancipation and uplifting a new era of freedom has been ushered in by our national leaders. The tenth canto has endeared itself to the popular mind of India by the childhood-pranks of Krishna, by the stories of his early years spent among the cowherds and milkmaids of Vrindavan, by his encounters with wicked kings like Kamsa and frightful dragons lika Kaliya.
This purana, like the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha, is a great source of inspiration for the entire spiritual and cultural life of the country even now. It has penetrated deeply in all the languages in India with various versions and translations. The tone and vision of the Purana had added to the adornment of our temple-walls and increased the loveliness of the paintings of various schools in this country.
I compliment Dr. Gouri Suresh for the literary skill with which she has succeeded in retelling the age old Bhagavatha stories so that they appeal to the new generation of India, with renewed force.
Veda, or Eternal truth, according to one school of thought, are only the Samhitas. Each word of each Samhita is a Mantra.
Dilating, examining and probing the Vedic Samhitas are the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads. There is another school that considers that Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads together constitute the Vedic texts. It is worth taking note however that only Samhita texts are used as Mantras and not those of the other three.
It is only by means studying the Upanishads that mankind has been able to get a glimmer of the profound concepts that the Vedic Samhitas encapsulate.
Purana means Ancient. One can find Puranas mentioned even by some of the Upanishads.
It is through the Puranas that the simple minds of the mass of people get a chance to comprehend and assimilate the Vedic wisdom into their lives.
There are eighteen major Puranas and their authorship is usually attributed to Veda Vyasa himself. They elaborate the spiritual truths of the Vedas by means of illustrations from lives of divine incarnations, saints, kings and devotees. It is generally believed that the last Purana written was Shreemed Bhagavatham, though opinions differ.
Shreemad Bhagavatham is one of the most important classics of India, describing mainly the life and works of Krishna. At the same time, it includes other stories also. Moreover, it is a virtual encyclopedia of yoga and meditation. As per Vyasa himself, Bhagavatham is the ripe fruit of all Vedic Knowledge. By listening to its recitation with devotion and understanding it in its entirety, one can break off from the cycle of birth and death and attain liberation.
Shreemad bhagavatham is the essence of the Vedas, and as such, is spiritually elevating in nature. At the same time, the numerous stories in this great classic make interesting reading and can be enjoyed by all. This was why Dr. Gouri Suresh decided to retell these stories in simple English, and to call it ‘Stories from Bhaagavatham’. The basic idea is to popularize this noble Purana through the evergreen practice of story telling. As each story has a moral, explicit or hidden, the final result will be an enhancement of values in the readers, young and old. It is a well-known fact that deterioration of values is leading to a general decline in the moral and spiritual standards of societies all over the world.
The Bhagavatham is divided into twelve cantos. In the first canto, we see how king Pareekshith, son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Arjuna, gets embroiled in a curse due to his arrogance. Sage Shameeka in meditation does not realize the insult heaped on him by the king, but the sage’s enraged son puts a terrible curse on him. Accordingly, king Pareekshith is to die of Serpent Thakshaka’s bite on the seventh day henceforth.
The repentant king decides to fast unto death and sits facing east on the banks of the holy river Ganga. Getting news of this, many of his subjects, including sages and their disciples, come to see him. The king puts a question before the assemblage. ‘How can I escape death?’ None is able to provide a correct answer. They start looking at each other helplessly. Exactly at that moment, there enters the great sage Shuka, young in age but old in wisdom. A sigh of relief arises from the august gathering. All are sure that the king will now get a satisfactory answer to his question.
The second canto starts with Maharshi Shuka appreciating the king’s query. ‘This is a question the answer to which everyone is eager to know; by asking me this question, you are doing service to the whole mankind,’ says he.
Shree Shuka then describes to King Pareekshith how during old age, enlightened people practice detachment from everything materialistic and concentrate on the Supreme Being. In that state of bliss, they do not know when their souls leave their bodies and are unified with God. This is how one conquers death.
The king is satisfied. He asks the sage more questions. The latter answers each question patiently. The king is all attention. While answering the questions, Maharshi Shuka illustrated the answers with appropriate stories. In this way, seven days pass.
Everything is crystal clear to the king now. His face glows with happiness. He thanks the maharshi profusely. The pleased sage blesses the king and takes his leave. Thereafter king Pareekshith concentrates on the Supreme Lord. His soul becomes one with God. In the meantime, Serpent Thakshaka in the form of a tiny worm crawls unnoticed to the king and bites his mortal body. King Pareekshith attaints moksha. Gods shower flowers on him while people on earth praise him, beat drums and blow bugles and conches.
This is the gist of Bhaagavatham. It is actually a question answer session between King Pareekshith and Maharshi Shuka, with a generous sprinkling of beautiful anecdotes from the beginning to the end.
This book is a humble endeavour on our part towards creating a general awareness on the importance of individuals cultivating qualities like honesty, charity, humility and the like for the overall progress of society.
Mythology is deeply intertwined with religion. The latter sans the former is bereft of all beauty. Moreover, to grasp the essence of religion and to make it simpler and more attractive to young minds, mythology is very useful. It binds our diverse peoples together.
The stories of Raama and Krishna cannot be separated from the conscious of our people. For thousands of years, these stories have passed on from generation to generation. The high and the low, the rich and the poor, the young and the old – all are equally attracted to the stories contained in our ancient epics and puraanaas.
Sage Vedavyaasa has elaborated in great detail many stories in the Bhaagavath Puraana. As a child, I heard most of them from my parents. In later years, I read them myself with renewed interest. The world has been incessantly pushing forward all these years, with regard to material development. The fact that this type of progress alone is not providing true happiness to mankind is undisputed. One can experience real happiness only by living a life of truth, humility and righteousness. The importance of cultivating these and other such values is emphasized repeatedly in the stories included in the Bhaagavath Puraana. Bhaagavatham thus shows us how to be truly happy, by leading a righteous life.
I started writing this book more than two years ago. I have experienced supreme joy, throughout these long months, writing each line of this book. Shree K.B. Nair, who did the typing most religiously and with utmost devotion tells me he has had the same feeling while at work. I am indebted to him for the sincerity and dedication he has shown during the entire period.
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan has greatly contributed towards promoting the values of Bharatiya Vidya in India and abroad. That they are publishing this book is indeed an honour conferred on me, for which I am grateful to them. My heartfelt thanks are due to late Padmabhushan S. Ramakrishnan, Executive Secretary and Director General of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Worldwide, for accepting my book for publication. It was the manuscript of this book that was approved by him last, marking a finale to his 56 year long association with the Bhavan.
It is an honour for me that Dr. Sukumar Azhikode, the renowned litterateur and literary critic, agreed to write the foreword to this work. I am indebted to him for taking time off his busy schedule to pen his thoughts and views on the book. I would like to wish Sri Dhiru S. Mehta, the General Editor of Bhavan’s Book University, great success in his new capacity. He has been kind enough to write the general Editor’s Preface of my book, for which I thank him profusely.
I believe that readers of all age groups will welcome ‘Stories from Bhaagavatham’. As the old timers say, reading the Bhaagavath Puraana or mere listening to it is beneficial to all as it shows the way to self-realisation and true happiness.
BHAAGAVATHAM or the Bhaagavath Puraana is the most celebrated of all the puraanaas. It is undoubtedly the noblest of them all, as it explains with the aid of beautiful stories how a person can achieve salvation, the ultimate goal in life.
Sage Vedavyaasa, the original author of Bhaagavatham, had adopted a unique style of narration here. The whole work is in the form of a dialogue between king Pareekshith (son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Arjuna) and Maharshi Shuka. This dialogue is presented as narrated by Sage Sootha to some other sages. In such a narration, naturally, incidents cannot be told in chronological order. As and when the king put questions, the maharshi went on answering them. For example, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, famous as ‘Dashaavathaar’, are dealt with at different junctures, as the context demanded, and not in order.
Many interesting stories are presented beautifully by Sage Vedavyaasa in this great puraana. The stories of many illustrious kings of both the Solar and Lunar Dynasties find a place in Bhaagavatham. Above all, each and every incident in the life of Lord Krishna has been described. The development of the naughty but charming child into a clever, compassionate adult is portrayed vividly by the sage. The Lord is also the universal teacher as His teachings surpass the boundaries of time and place.
The Bhaagavath Puraana includes the ancient Indian epics, the Raamaayana and the Mahaabhaaratha in brief. Raamaayana forms a separate chapter in it, while all the important incidents in Mahaabhaaratha find a mention here. Approximately half of Bhaagavatham is about the life of Lord Krishna. From birth to swargaarohan, his life and the divine and miraculous deeds done by Him are described in detail. Bhagavadgeetha depicting how Krishna cleared Arjuna ‘s doubts in the battlefield is mentioned in passing only, as it is given in detail in the Mahaabhaaratha. On the other hand, udhavageetha, consisting of the invaluable spiritual advice given to Udhava, one of the greatest devotees of Lord Krishna, by the Lord Himself, just before swargaarohan, is given elaborately in the Bhaagavatham. It forms almost the whole of the eleventh canto.
Though Bhaagavatham was composed thousands of years ago, the teachings therein are applicable to mankind as a whole, irrespective of class, caste or religion, even today. This is the main reason for my making an attempt to narrate the stories contained in this great puraana to readers of all ages all over the world. Another reason for my choice of subject has been that though I have seen Raamaayana and Mahaabhaaratha retold by different authors in different languages, Bhaagavatham is not that common.
Some relevant incidents in the life of Lord Krishna as depicted in the Mahaabhaaratha have been included in this book. This is in addition to his life story as given in the Bhaagavath Puraana.
I hereby seek the forgiveness of all my readers for any error that might have crept into this work, in the story line or its explanation. If they find this book useful in providing them with helpful guidance in good times as well as bad, I shall consider myself successful in this humble effort.
Salutations to the Lord of the Universe!
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