The Bhagavata Purana: Sacred text and Living Tradition



A vibrant example of living literature, The Bhāgavata Purāna is a versatile Hindu sacred text containing more than 14,000 Sanskrit verses. Finding its present form around the tenth century C.E., the work inspired several major north Indian devotional (bhakti) traditions as well as schools of dance and drama, and continues to permeate popular Hindu art and ritual in both India and the diaspora. Introducing The Bhāgavata Purāna’s key themes while also examining its extensive influence on Hindu thought and practice, this collection conducts the first multidimensional reading of the text’s entire twelve volumes.

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The Bhāgavata Purāna is a hard-to-classify embodiment of classical Indian cultural, religious, and philosophical thought. Its language and poetic expression are on par with the best of Sanskrit poetry (kāvya), while its narrative structure holds together tightly as a literary work. Its theological message centers on devotion to Krishna and Vishnu, while its philosophical content is grounded solidly in the classical traditions of Vedānta and Sāmkhya. Each essay in this volume focuses on a key theme of The Bhāgavata Purāna and its subsequent presence in Hindu dance, music, ritual recitation, and commentary. The authors consider the relationship between the sacred text and the divine image, the text’s metaphysical and cosmological underpinnings, its shaping of Indian culture, and its ongoing relevance to contemporary Indian concerns. A glossary aids in the understanding of the work. Featuring original, expert scholarship, this volume is an essential companion for courses and research on India, Hinduism, and related topics.

About the Authors

Ravi M. Gupta is associate professor of religious studies at the The College of William and Mary. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford and is the author of The Caitanya Vaisnava Vedānta of Jīva Gosvāmī: When Knowledge Meets Devotion.

Kenneth R. Valpey completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford. He is now a research fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and a regular visiting scholar at Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has lectured extensively throughout Europe on the Bhāgavata Purāna and regularly leads seminars and retreats on related themes.



Introduction. Churning the Ocean of Lila: Themes for Bhagavata Study

Part One: The World of the Bhagavata

1. Reading: Puranic Trekking Along the Path of the Bhagavatas

2. Time and Narrative: A Mandala of Remembrance: The Bhagavata Purana’s Time-Transcending Narrative of Lila

3. Cosmology: Dialogues on Natural Theology: The Bhagavata Purana’s Cosmology as Religious Practice

4. Ethics: “May Calamities Befall Us at Every Step”: The Bhagavata’s Response to the Problem of Evil

5. Commentary: Vallabha, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Path of Grace

6. Sacred Geography: Vraja-Dhaman: Krishna Embodied in Geographic Place and Transcendent Space

7. Theology: The Rasa Lila of Krishna and the Gopis: On the Bhagavata’s Vision of Boundless Love

Part Two: The Bhagavata in the World

8. Boundaries: Heresies and Heretics in the Bhagavata Purana

9. Dance: Krishna Come Soon: Bharata Natyam and the Bhagavata Purana on Stage

10. Song: Two Braj Bhasa Versions of the Rasa Lila Pañcadhyayi and Their Musical Performance in Vaisnava Worship

11. Recitation:

12. Text History: Modern Reception and Text Migration of the Bhagavata Purana


List of Contributors


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