The Ontological Position of the Vaiṣṇava over the BrāhmaṇaThe Ontological Position of the Vaiṣṇava over the Brāhmaṇa
We-Are-Suddha-SaktasWe Are Śuddha Śaktas
By Published On: August 5, 2001Tags: 30.8 min read


In ‘The Supremacy of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam’ Swami B.V. Giri asserts that the Bhāgavatam is the supreme scripture in the Vedic canon. Drawing from evidence given by Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī in his Tattva Sandarbha, the author quotes various śāstras to establish this point.


OBJECTION: In your arguments you have mostly quoted purāṇa-vākya (quotes from Purāṇika texts) to substantiate your points. However, this is unacceptable. The Vedas are eternal as they emanate from the Lord Himself (apauruṣaya), whereas the Purāṇas and smṛti-śāstras, although they give knowledge about God, are authored by men. They are auxiliary to the Vedas and hence their statements should be considered as secondary when compared to the statements made in the Vedas. Therefore, in order to validate your claims, you must give quotes from śruti only.

REFUTATION: That the Vedas are eternal and apauruṣeya is a fact that all sampradāyas, including the school of Śaṅkara, unanimously agree with. They constitute the means of receiving knowledge about the Absolute Truth. However, there are certain factors that make it practically impossible to study the Vedas in this age:

After Śrīla Vyāsadeva divided the Vedas into four books (Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva), his disciples further divided them into 1,130 divisions. This is stated in the Kūrma Purāṇa (52.19-20):

eka-viṁśati-bhedena ṛg-vedaṁ kṛtavān purā
śākhānāṁ tu śatenaiva yajur-vedam athākarot
sāma-vedaṁ sahasreṇa śākhānāṁ prabibheda saḥ
atharvāṇam atho vedaṁ bibheda navakena tu

Previously the Ṛg Veda was divided into 21 sections, the Yajur Veda into 100 sections, the Sāma Veda into 1,000 sections and the Atharva Veda into 9 divisions.

Each division has 4 minor divisions, namely the Saṁhitās, Brāhmaṇas, Araṇyakas and Upaniṣads. Thus altogether the 4 Vedas contain 1,130 Saṁhitās, 1,130 Brāhmaṇas, 1,130 Araṇyakas, and 1,130 Upaniṣads. This makes a total of 4,520 divisions.

At present, most of these texts have disappeared due to the influence of time. We can only find 11 Saṁhitās, 18 Brāhmaṇas, 7 Araṇyakas and 220 Upaniṣads which constitutes a mere 6% of the entire Vedic canon!

Even if the Vedas were complete in their entirety, in order to understand them one must first study the Vedāṅgas which includes Śikṣā (the science of phonetics), Vyākaraṇa (grammatical rules), Kalpa (ritualistic rules), Nirukta (obscure word meanings), Chanda (Metres for chanting Vedic hymns), and Jyotiṣa (astrology and astronomy).

Since the language of the Vedas is enshrouded in mysterious meanings, one must also be willing to sacrifice years of study in order to learn Vaidika (classical) Sanskrit. This entails primarily learning the basic grammar (which generally takes 12 years or so) and then memorising extra vocabulary in order to decipher the mystical language of the Vedas. *(1)

Apart from that, it is practically impossible for those born in the age of Kali (who are generally mandāḥ sumanda-matayo) to memorise even the slightest thing. What to speak of the entire Vedas or even the 6% that still survives today! At present, amongst the brāhmaṇa communities in India, it is generally observed that vedādhyayana simply consists of memorising the text of one of the four Vedas ‘parrot-fashion’, but as we can see from above, there is much more to it than that. Therefore, we may conclude that although the Vedas are perfect śabda-pramāṇa, it is impractical to become thoroughly conversant with the Vedas in this day and age in order to understand the Supreme. Hence the solution lies in the Purāṇas and the Itihāsas. This is explained in the following verse:

bhāratavyapadeśena hyāmnāyārthaḥ pradarśitaḥ
vedāḥ pratiṣṭhitā sarve purāṇe nātra saṁśayaḥ

On the pretext of writing the Mahābhārata, Vyāsa explained the meaning of the Vedas. Certainly all the topics of the Vedas have been established in the Purāṇas. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa)

Furthermore, it is explained in the Mahābhārata (Ādi-parva 1.267) and Manu Saṁhitā:

itihāsa-purāṇābhyāṁ vedaṁ samupabṛṁhayet

One must complement one’s study of the Vedas with the Itihāsas and the Purāṇas.

In the Prabhāsa-khaṇḍa of the Skanda Purāṇa (5.3.121-124) it is said:

vedavan niścalaṁ manye purāṇārthaṁ dvijottamāḥ
vedāḥ pratiṣṭhitā sarve purāṇe nātra saṁśayaḥ

bibhety alpa-śrutād vedī mām ayaṁ cālayiṣyati
itihāsa-purāṇais tu niścalo’yaṁ kutaḥ purā
yan na dṛṣṭaṁ hi vedeṣu tad dṛṣṭaṁ smṛtiṣu dvijāḥ
ubhayor yan na dṛṣṭaṁ hi tat purāṇaiḥ pragīyate
yo veda caturo vedān sāṅgopaniṣado dvijāḥ
purāṇaṁ naiva jānāti na ca sa syād vicakṣaṇaḥ

O best of the brāhmaṇas, the meaning of the Purāṇas is unchanging just like that of the Vedas. The Vedas are all sheltered within the Purāṇas without a doubt. The Veda has a fear that unqualified people will read her and then distort her meaning. Thus, the significance of the Veda was fixed in the Purāṇas and Itihāsas. That which is not found in the Vedas is found in the Smṛti. That which is not found in the Smṛti is to be found in the Purāṇas. Those who know even the Vedas and Upaniṣads are not learned if they do not know the Purāṇas.

The reason they are called ‘Purāṇas’ is because they make the Vedas complete (pūrāṇat purāṇam iti cānyatra). This is not to suggest that the Vedas are incomplete. It simply means that the Purāṇas are explanatory supplements which aid one to understand the concise and ambiguous passages in the Vedas. If the Purāṇas complete the Vedas, it is only logical that they must be Vedic in nature.

Our Tattvavādī friends have stated that Puranic evidence is secondary to those statements of the śruti because they are composed by mortals. Generally it is correct to state that the Śruti is primary and the smṛti secondary in that it (śruti) seeks to elaborate on the meaning of the smṛti. However, under the circumstances, the Purāṇas and itihāsas are now to be considered primary evidence. As regards the mortal composition of the purāṇas and Itihāsas, *(2) we beg to differ with this view, on the basis of the following references in the śruti-śāstras

ṛcaḥ sāmāni chandāṁsi purāṇaṁ yajuṣā saha
ucchiṣṭāj jajñire sarve divi devā divi-śritāḥ

The Ṛg, Sāma, Yajur and Atharva became manifest from the Lord, along with the Purāṇas and all the Devas residing in the heavens. (Atharva Veda 11.7.24)

sa bṛhatīṁ diśam anu vyacalat tam itihāsaś ca purāṇaṁ ca gāthāś ca itihāsasya ca sa vai purāṇasya ca gāthānāṁ ca nārāśaṁsīnāṁ ca priyaṁ dhāma bhavati ya evaṁ veda

He approached the bṛhati meter, and thus the Itihāsas, Purāṇas, Gāthās and Nārāśaṁsīs became favourable to him. One who knows this verily becomes the beloved abode of the Itihāsas, Purāṇas, Gāthās and Nārāśaṁsīs. (Atharva Veda 15.6.10–12)

vam ime sarve vedā nirmitāḥ sa-kalpāḥ sa-rahasyāḥ sa-brāhmaṇāḥ sopaniṣatkāḥ setihāsāḥ sānvākhyātāḥ sa-purāṇāḥ.

In this way, all the Vedas were manifested along with the Kalpas, Rahasyas, Brāhmaṇas, Upaniṣads, Itihāsas, Anvākhyātas and the Purāṇas. (Gopatha Brāhmaṇa, pūrva 2.10)

nāma vā ṛg-vedo yajur-vedaḥ sāma-veda ātharvaṇaś caturtha itihāsa-purāṇaḥ pañcamo vedānāṁ vedaḥ.

Indeed, Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva are the names of the four Vedas. The Itihāsas and Purāṇas are the fifth Veda. (Chandogya Upaniṣad 7.1.4)

sya mahato bhūtasya niśvasitam etad yad ṛg-vedo yajur-vedaḥ sāma-vedo’tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇam.

O Maitreya, the Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva Vedas as well as the Itihāsas and the Purāṇas all manifest from the breathing of the Lord. (Mādhyandina-Śruti, Bṛhad-Āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 2.4.10)

From these above Śruti statements it is clear that the Purāṇas are part of the Vedas and originate from the same source as the Vedas, namely the Supreme Lord Himself. One may argue that since the Purāṇas have names such as Skanda, Agni, Mārkaṇḍeya etc. they must have been composed by those personalities, therefore they are not eternal and thus cannot be apauruṣeya. However, if that is the case, then certain sections of the Vedas must also be considered to be pauruṣeya-vākya since they have names like Kaṭhā Upaniṣad, Aitareya Upaniṣad (Kaṭhā and Aitareya being names of sages). It is understood that certain parts of the Vedas are named after certain rsis, not because they composed them, but because they were the main exponents of those portions. Since persons with the names Kaṭhā and Aitareya appear in every millennium, one should not misunderstand that before the appearance of those persons described in the Vedas, these names were simply meaningless words.

Similarly, many of the Purāṇas are named after the first person who expounded them. Many times however, due to the influence of time, a scripture may become forgotten on this planet and thus a deva or sage speaks it again, and it becomes known by that name. Such an example is found in the Bhāgavatam wherein the sun-god imparts the Vājasaneyī Saṁhitā of the Yajur Veda to Yājñavalkya Muni:

atha ha bhagavaṁs tava caraṇa-nalina-yugalaṁ tri-bhuvana-gurubhir
abhivanditam aham ayāta-yāma-yajuṣ-kāma upasarāmīti.

evaṁ stutaḥ sa bhagavān vāji-rūpa-dharo raviḥ
yajūṁṣy ayāta-yāmāni munaye ‘dāt prasāditaḥ

Therefore, O Lord, with prayers I approach your two lotus feet, which are adored by the preceptors of the three worlds, because I wish to receive from you mantras of the Yajur Veda that are unknown to anyone else. Being pleased by such exaltation, the sun-god took the form of a horse and presented to the muni mantras of the Yajur Veda which were previously unknown to any mortal. (Bhagavata 12.6.72-73)

In his treatise Viṣṇu-tattva Vinirṇaya, Śrī Madhva, quoting Brahmaṇḍa Purāṇa explains thus:

purāṇani tadarthāni sarge sarge’nythaiva tu
kriyante’tastvanityāni tadarthāḥ pūrva-sargavat

vedānṁ sṛṣṭhi-vākyāni bhaveyurvyaktyapekṣayā
avāntarābhimānānāṁ devānāṁ va vyapekṣayā
nānityatvāt kutasteśam anityatvaṁ sthirātmanām

In other words, the Purāṇas are supposed to explain the meaning of the Vedas and are only different by the changes in words, chanda (metre), ṛṣi, sequence etc. at the beginning of each creation. In this way they are considered to be non-eternal, but their meaning will be the same as in the previous creation.

Therefore Madhva categorises the Purāṇas as nitya-anitya because they originally emanate from the Supreme Lord, but they are sometimes unmanifest.

As a side note, it may be asked that if the Purāṇas are indeed subsidiary to the Śruti-śāstras, why does Śrī Madhvācārya himself quote them so often in his works? Not only that, he even uses puranic evidence in order to establish the nityatva of the Vedas! If the Purāṇas are not eternal and apauruṣeya, why would he use their ‘secondary statements’ as a pramāṇa to validify something which is superior?

Another point is that in the chanting of the Brahma-yajna (formal study of the Vedas), the Purāṇas are included. If they were not Vedic in nature they would not be included. Therefore the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka (2.9) states yad brāhmaṇānītihāsa-purāṇāni (‘The Itihāsas and Purāṇas are Vedas.’)

It has already been stated above in the quote from Chandogya Upaniṣad  *(3) that the Purāṇas are known as the fifth Veda. *(4) The reason behind this is because the Purāṇas and Itihāsas are derived originally from the Yajur Veda. This is explained by Śrī Sūta in the Vāyu Purāṇa:

itihāsa-purāṇasya vaktāraṁ samyag eva hi
māṁ caiva pratijagrāha bhagavān īśvaraḥ prabhuḥ
eka āsīd yajur vedas taṁ caturdhā vyakalpayat
cāturhotram abhūt tasmiṁs tena yajñam akalpayat
ādhvaryavaṁ yajurbhis tu ṛgbhir hotraṁ tathā muniḥ
audgātraṁ sāmabhiś cakre brahmatvaṁ cāpy atharvabhiḥ
ākhyānaiś cāpy upākhyānair gāthābhir dvija-sattamāḥ
purāṇa-saṁhitāś cakre purāṇārtha-viśāradaḥ
yac chiṣṭaṁ tu yajur-veda iti śāstrārtha-nirṇayaḥ

That almighty Lord (Śrī Vyāsa) chose me as the qualified speaker of the Itihāsas and the Purāṇas. In the beginning there was only one Veda – the Yajur Veda. This was divided into four portions. From these stemmed the four performances known as the catur-homa by which he (Vyāsa) arranged for the performance of sacrifice. The ādhvaryu priest uses the Yajur mantras, the Hotra priest uses the Ṛg mantras, the Udgata priest uses the Sāma mantras, and the Brahma priest uses the Atharva mantras.

O best of all the brāhmaṇas, after this he (Vyāsa) who understands the meaning of the Purāṇas, compiled them and the Itihāsas by combining various akhyānas, upākhyānas and gāthās. (5) Whatever remained after Vyāsa had divided the Vedas into four divisions was considered to also be the Yajur Veda. Thus is the conclusion of the śāstras. (Vāyu Purāṇa 60.16-18, 21-22)

The statement of Śrī Sūta Gosvāmī in the above verse from Vayu Purāṇa in which he says that, ‘Whatever remained after Vyāsa had divided the Vedas into four divisions was considered to also be the Yajur Veda’ indicates that the essence of the original Purāṇa (which was the remaining part of the Yajur Veda) became the condensed version of the Purāṇa consisting of four-hundred-thousand ślokas, available on the earth-planet.

Further evidence for this is found in the Matsya Purāṇa (53.8-9) wherein the Lord says:

kālenāgrahaṇaṁ matvā purāṇasya dvijottamāḥ
vyāsa-rūpam ahaṁ kṛtvā saṁharāmi yuge yuge

O best of the brāhmaṇas, understanding that the Purāṇa would gradually become forgotten, in every yuga I appear in the form of Vyāsa and condense it.

In the next śloka of that Purāṇa, the Lord continues:

caturlakṣa-pramāṇena dvāpare dvāpare sadā
tad-aṣṭādaśadhā kṛtvā kṛtvā bhūr-loke’smin prabhāṣyate
adyāpy amartya-loke tu śata-koṭi-pravistaram
tad-artho’tra catur-lakṣaḥ saṅkṣepeṇa niveśitaḥ

The Purāṇa contains four-hundred-thousand verses which is divided into eighteen parts. These are passed on via oral tradition every Dvāpara-yuga on the earth-planet. Even today the original Purāṇa which consists of one-billion verses exists in the heavenly planets. The essential meaning of that Purāṇa is contained in the smaller version of four-hundred-thousand verses.

The same point is raised in the Vāyavīya Saṁhitā (7.1.1. 37-38):

saṅkṣipya caturo vedāṁś caturdhā vyabhajat prabhuḥ
vyasta-vedatayā khyāto veda-vyāsa iti smṛtaḥ
purāṇam api saṅkṣiptaṁ caturlakṣa-pramāṇataḥ
adyapyamartya-loke tu sata-koti-pravistaram

That Lord who is most intelligent then divided the Vedas into four. He therefore became known as Veda Vyāsa. He also summarized the Purāṇas into four-hundred-thousand verses which are still available in the heavenly domain in the form if one billion verses.

However, it should be explained that although the Purāṇas and Itihāsas are known as the fifth Veda — that does not mean that they are literally identical in all ways with the Vedas. If that were so, Purāṇa and Itihāsa would just be names of certain sections of the Vedas. The difference between them is in annotation and the order of words. The Vedas are chanted in a particular style involving three tone accents (svaras) called udātta, anudātta and svarita. If a word is chanted in the wrong accent, the whole meaning of the sentence can change.

As regards the order of words, the Vedas maintain a particular sequence which has not changed since the dawn of creation. There is no scope for even the slightest change in the Vedic texts, whereas the texts of the Purāṇas change according to kalpa-bheda. It is for this reason that we find occasional differences in certain editions of the Purāṇas.

Another distinction between the Vedas and the Purāṇas is that although the Purāṇas are considered part of the brahma-yajña, they are not used in the performance of Vedic sacrifices.

Unfortunately, major problems also arise when trying to study the Purāṇas. Firstly, although the Purāṇas are much more accessible than the Vedas and more readily available, they too are not available in their entirety. The eighteen Purāṇas and eighteen Upa-Purāṇas are a vast body of literature and there are so many different versions that it is difficult to know which editions are complete and which texts have been interpolated. This is due to the fact that there are no current disciplic schools nor bona-fide commentaries for most of these works.

Secondly, we can understand that independent study of the Purāṇas yields no fruit since each seems to establish a different deity as Supreme. By studying the Purāṇas without proper guidance, the result is only confusion. Matsya Purāṇa (53.65, 68-69) states:

pañcāṅgaṁ ca purāṇaṁ syād ākhyānam itarat smṛtam
sāttvikeṣu ca kalpeṣu māhātmyam adhikaṁ hareḥ
rājaseṣu ca māhātmyam adhikaṁ brahmaṇo viduḥ
tadvad agneś ca māhātmyaṁ tāmaseṣu śivasya ca
saṅkīrṇeṣu sarasvatyāḥ pitṝṇāṁ ca nigadyate

A Purāṇa consists of five elements, as opposed to an ākhyāna. *(6) The sāttvika Purāṇas glorify Hari; the rājasika Purāṇas glorify Brahmā, and the tāmasika Purāṇas glorify Śiva and Agni. Purāṇas dealing with mixed modes of nature glorify Sarasvatī and the fore-fathers. *(7)

The divisions of the eighteen Purāṇas is defined by Lord Śiva to Umā in the Padma Purāṇa (Uttara Khanda 236.18-21):

mātsyaṁ kaurmaṁ tathā laiṅgaṁ śaivaṁ skāndantathaiva ca
āgneyaṁ ca ṣaḍ etāni tāmasāni nibodha me
vaiṣṇavaṁ nāradīyaṁ ca tathā bhāgavataṁ śubham
gāruḍaṁ ca tathā pādmaṁ vārāhaṁ śubha-darśane
sāttvikāni purāṇāni vijñeyāni śubhāni vai
brahmāṇḍa-brahma-vaivartaṁ mārkaṇḍeyaṁ tathaiva ca
bhaviṣyaṁ vāmanaṁ brāhmaṁ rājasāni nibodha me

O beautiful lady, one should know that the Viṣṇu, Nāradīya, Bhāgavata, Garuḍa, Padma and Varāha are all in the mode of goodness. The Brahmaṇḍa, Brahma-vaivarta, Mārkaṇḍeya, Bhaviṣya, Vāmana and Brahma are in the mode of passion. The Matsya, Kūrma, Liṅga, Śiva, Skanda and Agni are in the mode of ignorance.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa has clearly expressed in Bhagavad-gītā that goodness is superior to passion and ignorance. *(8) Similarly, Śrī Sūta Gosvāmī explains in the Bhāgavata (1.2.24) that “Passion is better than ignorance because it can lead to realization of the Absolute Truth.” *(9) In this verse Sūta speaks about which type of worship produces the ultimate benefit, and his conclusion is that one can only achieve the best result by worshipping Lord Viṣṇu. The sāttvika Purāṇas recommend the worship of Viṣṇu / Kṛṣṇa, whereas the rājasika and tāmasika Purāṇas advocate the worship of minor deities and therefore do not lead the aspirant towards the Absolute Truth.

It is noteworthy that the sāttvika Purāṇas commence with a questioner inquiring from a learned speaker about the nature of the Absolute. The speaker’s answers are clear, direct and unambiguous, leaving no room for misinterpretation. However, in the tāmasika and rājasika Purāṇas questions are put to the speaker which do not pertain to the Absolute Truth. For example, in the Liṅga Purāṇa the sages request Suūta to speak about the glories of the liṅgam form of Lord Śiva. We may conclude from this that although Śrī Sūta Gosvāmī is learned in transcendental subject matters and expert in explaining them, the questions by the sages here restrict him from speaking on it. All rājasika and tāmasika Purāṇas contain this characteristic defect and therefore are not reliable sources of transcendental knowledge.

One may ask at this point why Śrīla Vyāsadeva wrote these Purāṇas. According to the various desires of the materially conditioned jīvas, he arranged the Purāṇas. Nevertheless, all Purāṇas contain glorification of Lord Viṣṇu. This was included by Vyāsa in order that those in the lower modes of passion and ignorance will slowly develop interest in the Supreme Lord Hari while studying the rājasika and tāmasika Purāṇas. *(10)Therefore in the Hari-vaṁśa (3.323.34) it is said:

vede rāmāyaṇe caiva purāṇe bhārate tathā
ādāv ante ca madhye ca hariḥ sarvatra gīyate

In the Vedas, the Rāmāyaṇa, Purāṇas and Mahābhārata, from the very beginning to the end, as well as within the middle, only Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is explained.

Yet it must be understood that although rājasika and tāmasika Purāṇas do not speak extensively on the Absolute Truth, this does not mean that they give no valid knowledge at all. If this was the case why would ācāryas such as Madhva cite from Purāṇas such as Skanda, Brahma, Brahmaṇḍa, Brahma-vaivarta etc which are not sāttvika by nature? The Purāṇas in the lower modes may also give some insight into the Absolute Truth, although not to the same extent as the sāttvika Purāṇas.

By this we may conclude that the sāttvika Purāṇas are the ultimate pramāṇa. This is also declared by the Padma Purāṇa – sāttvikā mokṣa-dāḥ proktāḥ (‘The sāttvika Purāṇas give salvation.’) Unfortunately, as stated before, there are no current disciplic schools nor bona fide commentaries for most of these works. Some of the sāttvika Purāṇas recommend the path of bhakti, while others glorify the path of jñāna or yoga.

One possibility to resolve this dilemma is to study the Vedānta-sutra. This work of Vyāsadeva contains the essence of the Vedas and the Purāṇas. Still, the language of the Vedānta-sūtras is ambiguous to say the least, and has therefore been interpreted in a number of ways by numerous scholars (Madhva, Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, Bhāskara, Bodhayana, Dramiḍa, Guhadeva to name but a few). The foundations of many of the sūtras lie in upaniṣadika passages, yet Vyāsa does not mention in his work as to which passages the particular sutra is commenting on. Thus both the student and the commentator must determine this for themselves. It is no wonder then that Vedavyāsa felt discontent even after compiling the Vedas, Purāṇas, Mahābhārata and Vedānta-sutra –

tathāpi bata me daihyo hy ātmā caivātmanā vibhuḥ
asampanna ivābhāti brahma-varcasya sattamaḥ

I am feeling incomplete, although I am fully equipped with everything required by the Vedas. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.4.30)

The reason for his discontentment was then explained by Nārada Muni:

jijñāsitaṁ susampannam api te mahad-adbhutam
kṛtavān bhārataṁ yas tvaṁ sarvārtha-paribṛṁhitam

You have completed your inquiries and your studies in the proper fashion, and you have written a great and wonderful work, the Mahābhārata, which elaborately explains the different goals of life. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.5.3)

bhavatānudita-prāyaṁ yaśo bhagavato’malam
yenaivāsau na tuṣyeta manye tad darśanaṁ khilam
yathā dharmādayaś cārthā muni-varyānukīrtitāḥ
na tathā vāsudevasya mahimā hy anuvarṇitaḥ

You have not actually broadcast the sublime and spotless glories of the Personality of Godhead. That philosophy which does not satisfy the transcendental senses of the Lord is considered worthless. O best of sages, since you have broadly described the four goals of human life beginning with religious performances, you have not described the glories of the Supreme Personality, Vāsudeva. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.5.8-9)

On the advice of Nārada, Vyāsa meditated and the Bhāgavata was manifest to him. This is the natural commentary of Vyāsa’s own sūtras (artho’yaṁ brahma-sūtrānām) and thus includes the purport of the entire Vedic literature (vedārtha-paribṛṁhita) It is free from the problems that we find with the Vedas and the other Purāṇas – it is available in its entirety, it has commentated upon by various Vaiṣṇava ācāryas, it is divinely composed and Puranic in nature. In its opening śloka it gives the essence of the Vedas since it begins with the holy gāyatrī mantra· (gāyatrī-bhāṣya-rūpo’saḥ) which is itself the essence of the Vedas. This is also confirmed in the Matsya Purāṇa (53.20-22) and Agni Purāṇa (272.6.7):

yatrādhikṛtya gāyatrīṁ varṇyate dharma-vistaraḥ
vṛtrāsura-vadhopetaṁ tad-bhāgavatam iṣyate
sārasvatasya kalpasya madhye ye syur narāmarāḥ
tad-vṛttāntodbhavaṁ loke tad bhāgavatam ucyate
aṣṭādaśa-sahasrāṇi purāṇaṁ tat prakīrtitam

That Purāṇa is known as the Bhāgavata which gives the highest religious principles, refers to the sacred gāyatrī-mantra, and tells the story of the slaying of Vṛtāsura. This Purāṇa has 18,000 verses and whoever writes down the entire text and places it on a golden throne and gives it in charity to a qualified person on the day of the full-moon of the month of Bhādra will attain the Supreme abode.

Most importantly, the Bhāgavata is the crowning glory of the divine author’s literary efforts, soothing his heart when he felt that his work remained incomplete.

There are many verses that praise the Bhagavata above all the other Purāṇas. In the Skanda Purāṇa (Viṣṇu-khaṇḍa 6.4.3) it says:

śrīmad-bhāgavatasyātha śrīmad-bhagavataḥ sadā
svarūpam ekam evāsti sac-cid-ānanda-lakṣaṇam

The Bhāgavata and the Supreme Lord are always of the same nature – possessed of eternal existence, knowledge and bliss.

In the Viṣṇu Khaṇḍa of the Skanda Purāṇa (5.16.40-42,44,33):

śataśo’tha sahasraiś ca kim anyaiḥ śāstra-saṅgrahaiḥ
na yasya tiṣṭhate gehe śāstraṁ bhāgavataṁ kalau

kathaṁ sa vaiṣṇavo jñeyaḥ śāstraṁ bhāgavataṁ kalua
gṛhe na tiṣṭhate yasya sa vipraḥ śvapacādhamaḥ

yatra yatra bhaved vipra śāstraṁ bhāgavataṁ kalua
tatra tatra harir yāti tridaśaiḥ saha nārada

yaḥ paṭhet prayato nityaṁ ślokaṁ bhāgavataṁ mune
aṣṭādaśa-purāṇānāṁ phalaṁ prāpnoti mānavaḥ

If the Bhāgavata is not kept in one’s house in the Kali-yuga, of what avail are collections of other scriptures by the hundreds and thousands? How can he be considered a Vaiṣṇava who, in the Kali-yuga, does not keep the Bhāgavata in his house? Even if he is a brāhmaṇa, he is lower than an outcaste. O Nārada, O sage, wherever the Bhāgavata is found in the Kali-yuga, there Hari goes together with all the demigods. O Muni, that pious soul who daily recites a verse from the Bhāgavata reaps the fruits of the eighteen Purāṇas.

In the Padma Purāṇa (Uttara-khaṇḍa 193.3):

purāṇeṣu tu sarveṣu śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ param
yatra prati-padaṁ kṛṣṇo gīyate bahudharṣibhiḥ

Of all the Purāṇas, the Bhagavata is the greatest. In every line the sages glorify Śrī Kṛṣṇa in various ways.

Also in the Padma Purāṇa:

pādau yadīyau prathama-dvitīyau tṛtīya-turyau kathitau yad-ūrū
nābhis tathā pañcama eva ṣaṣṭhobhujāntaraṁ dor-yugalaṁ tathānyau
kaṇṭhas tu rājan navamo yadīyo mukhāravindaṁ daśamaṁ praphullam
ekādaśo yaś ca lalāṭa-paṭṭaṁ śiro ’pi yad dvādaśa eva bhāti
namāmi devaṁ karuṇā-nidhānaṁ tamāla-varṇaṁ suhitāvatāram
apāra-saṁsāra-samudra-setuṁ bhajāmahe bhāgavata-svarūpam

The First and Second Cantos of the Bhāgavata are Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s feet. The Third and Fourth Cantos are His thighs. The Fifth Canto is His navel. The Sixth Canto is His chest. The Seventh and Eighth Cantos are His arms. The Ninth Canto is His throat. The Tenth Canto is His beautiful lotus-face. The Eleventh Canto is His forehead. The Twelfth Canto is His head. I bow down to that Lord , the ocean of mercy whose colour is like that of a tamāla tree and who appears in this world for the welfare of all. I worship Him as the bridge for crossing the unfathomable ocean of material existence. The Bhāgavata has appeared as His very Self.

In the Garuda Purāṇa:

artho’yaṁ brahma-sūtrāṇāṁ bhāratārtha-vinirṇayaḥ
gāyatrī-bhāṣya-rūpo’sau vedārtha-paribṛṁhitaḥ
purāṇānāṁ sāma-rūpaḥ sākṣād-bhagavatoditaḥ

The Bhagavata is the authorised explanation of Brahma-sūtras, and it is a further explanation of Mahābhārata. It is the expansion of the gāyatrī-mantra and the essence of all Vedic knowledge. This Bhagavata, containing eighteen thousand verses, is known as the explanation of all Vedic literature. *(11)


OBJECTION: In the Bhāgavata (1.4.25) it is stated thus:

strī-śūdra-dvijabandhūnāṁ trayī na śruti-gocarā
karma-śreyasi mūḍhānāṁ śreya evaṁ bhaved iha
iti bhāratam ākhyānaṁ kṛpayā muninā kṛtam

Due to his compassion, the sage (Vyāsa) thought it wise to do something which would aid those who were ignorant of how to achieve the ultimate goal of life. Therefore he compiled the Mahābhārata for the benefit of women, śūdras and brāhmaṇa-bandhus (so-called brāhmaṇas) who were not eligible to study the Śruti.

This is evidence that the Vedas are the sole property of the brāhmaṇa class.

We should understand from the above statement (strī-śūdra brahma-bandhūnāṁ) that the Mahābhārata is indeed meant for those classes, since they are generally considered less-intelligent as regards their philosophical perception. Therefore Vyāsadeva provided such people with the Mahābhārata — a philosophical text presented in a palatable story-form.

It should be pointed out however that the challenging party again uses the ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya (half-hen philosophy) for they seem to place stress on the word śūdra yet neglect the fact that the verse also refers to brāhmaṇa-bandhus. As stated by us in our previous essay, since everyone in Kali-yuga is born as a śūdra (kalau śūdra sambhava) practically no one is eligible to study the Vedas in this age (the problems of this have been explained at the beginning of this work). In other words, most of the brāhmaṇa class today are brāhmaṇa-bandhus and must therefore also be considered as ‘ignorant of how to achieve the ultimate goal of life.’ With this in mind, Mahāmuni Vyāsa mercifully composed the illustrious Bhāgavata for the sake of all people, of every varna, asrama and race. The Bhāgavata says:

śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ purāṇam amalaṁ yad vaiṣṇavānāṁ priyaṁ
yasmin pāramahaṁsyam ekam amalaṁ jñānaṁ paraṁ gīyate
tatra jñāna-virāga-bhakti-sahitaṁ naiṣkarmyam āviskṛtaṁ
tac chṛṇvan su-paṭhan vicāraṇa-paro bhaktyā vimucyen naraḥ

The Bhāgavata is the spotless Purāṇa. It is especially dear to the Vaiṣṇavas; it has knowledge that is especially appreciated by the paramahaṁsas. When carefully studied, heard, and understood again and again, it opens the door to pure devotion through which one never returns to the bondage of illusion. (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.13.18)

We have no argument that one must be a brāhmaṇa to study the Vedas – in fact only a brāhmaṇa can study the Vedas! Who else is qualified, or indeed, interested? Our question is, who is a brāhmaṇa and what are his qualifications? Again, this query has been answered by us already in a previous article.


In this way we have shown through the pramāṇa of the Śrutis, Smṛtis, Itihāsas and Purāṇas that the Mahābhārata and the Purāṇas are indeed considered to be the fifth Veda, and that they are of higher importance and significance in the age of Kali than the four Vedas. Of them, the highest is the Bhāgavata, the crest-jewel of all the Vedic literatures. For this reason the Bhāgavata (1.3.43) says:

kṛṣṇe sva-dhāmopagate dharma-jñānādibhiḥ saha
kalau naṣṭa-dṛśām eṣa purāṇārko ‘dhunoditaḥ

The Bhagavata is as brilliant as the sun. After Śrī Kṛṣṇa has left for His abode, accompanied by dharma and knowledge, it has arisen to save us from the darkness of the age of Kali.


(1)This is affirmed by Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Bhāgavata (11.3.44) – parokṣa-vāda vedo’yam (‘The Vedas speak indirectly’).

(2) In the case of the Bhāgavata, this itself is a contradiction from the point of view of the Madhva sampradāya. If the Vedas are considered a primary authority merely because they issued from the mouth of God Himself, the Bhāgavata and Mahābhārata should also fall into such a category since the author of these works was Veda Vyāsa, whom the Tattvavādīs consider to be a direct avatāra of Nārāyaṇa.

(3) This verse from Chandogya Upaniṣad is also quoted by Madhvācārya in Viṣṇu-tattva Vinirṇaya, verse 5. It is also worth noting that in Prof. K.T. Pandurangi’s work The Principal Upanishads (Dvaita Vedānta Studies and Research Foundation, Bangalore 1999) wherein he explains Madhvācārya’s Upaniṣad commentaries, the author gives the same meaning of this verse.

(4) This is also confirmed in the Bhāgavata (1.4.20):

ṛg-yajuḥ-sāmātharvākhyā vedāś catvāra uddhṛtāḥ
itihāsa-purāṇaṁ ca pañcamo veda ucyate

The Vedas were divided into four, namely Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva. The Itihāsas and the Purāṇas are said to be the fifth Veda.

(5) In his ṭika on the Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.6.16, Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī explains these terms thus:

svayaṁ-dṛṣṭārtha-kathanaṁ prāhur ākhyānakaṁ budhāḥ śrutasyārthasya
kathanam upākhyānaṁ pracakṣate gāthās tu pitṛ-pṛthivy-ādi-gītayaḥ

An ākhyāna is a description of that which is witnessed by the speaker. An upākhyāna is a description of something the speaker has not seen, but merely heard about. A gāthā is a song dedicated to the forefathers and beings present upon the earth.

(6) The word saṅkṣpitam in this verse is important. This means ‘condensed’ and not ‘composed’. In other words, Śrī Vyāsa condensed the already existing Vedas, then taking unused verses from that condensed portion, he compiled the Purāṇas. Thus, the Purāṇas must be understood to be equal to the Vedas.

(7) The five elements of a Purāṇa are described in Matsya Purāṇa (53.65):

sargaś ca pratisargaś ca vaṁśo manvantarāṇi ca
vaṁśānucaritaṁ ceti purāṇaṁ pañca-lakṣaṇam

The five subjects which make up a Purāṇa are creation (sarga), secondary creation (pratisarga), genealogy of kings (vaṁśa), the description of the Manus (manvantara) and the activities of those kings (vaṁśānucarita).

(8) In this verse the word agni (fire) refers to the Vedic sacrifices wherein one offers oblations into various sacred fires. Kalpeṣu means ‘scripture (in this case Purāṇa) according to the definition given in the Medini Sanskrit dictionary 1.21.2 (kalpa śāstre vidhau nyāye samvarte brahmaṇe dine – the word kalpa means ‘scripture’, ‘rule’, ‘logic’, and ‘day of Brahmā.’) The word ca in the phrase, śivasya ca implies the consort of Lord Śiva, namely Goddess Umā. Saṅkīrneṣu means ‘in the various Purāṇas which are in mixed modes of goodness, passion and ignorance.’ The word sarasvatyaḥ refers to the presiding deity of speech and, by implication, the various Devas referred to in various scriptures which she embodies. Pitṛnām refers to the karma-khaṇḍa rituals meant for attaining the heavenly planets of the manes (karmaṇa pitṛ-lokaḥ).


sattvāt sañjāyate jñānaṁ rajaso lobha eva ca
pramāda-mohau tamaso bhavato’jñānam eva ca

Goodness gives birth to knowledge, passion gives rise to greed and ignorance breeds illusion, confusion and a lack of knowledge. (Bhagavad-gītā 14.17)

(10) Tamasas tu rajas tasmāt sattvaṁ yad brahma-darśanam

(11) Quoted by Śrī Madhva in his Bhagavata-tatparya.

The Ontological Position of the Vaiṣṇava over the BrāhmaṇaThe Ontological Position of the Vaiṣṇava over the Brāhmaṇa
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