Book review of The Eleventh Canto

We are proud to publish a book review published in Samyukta Saraswat – Quarterly Bulletin by All India Saraswat Cultural Organisation, Mumbai.

Bhagawan Shri Vedavyasa, the very incarnation of Shri Vishnu for awarding sacred knowledge and freedom from fear, is the author of eighteen Puranas (lit. narratives of ancient times) running into four hundred thousand shlokas or verses.   The names and extent of each of the eighteen Puranas is given in detail in Chapter 13 of the twelfth canto of Srimad Bhagavatham, which is one among the eighteen, having 18000 shlokas.  While Srimad Bhagavatham is not the lengthiest of the Purana (Skanda Purana with 81100 being the longest), it is certainly the crown jewel among them.  It has been  said that the other Puranas spread their luster in an assemblage of the righteous only so long  as the Glorious Bhagavatham is not directly visible.  It is considered to be the cream and essence of the Upanishads and a person sated with its nectarine flavour will not find delight anywhere else.  The Bhagavatham is the delight of Vaishnavas – the devotees of Shri Vishnu – is free from faults and impurities and has the sole aim of Kaivalya or liberation, which is the goal of Parmahamsas.

Shri Madhwacharya (1238-1317), the propounder of Tattvavada, was an extraordinary genius having traveled all over India and by his sheer brilliance won over all those who came in contact with him.  Shri Krishna Temple and the eight maths he had established in Udupi continue their vibrant tradition even to this day.

Keeping in view, its special pre-eminence, Shri Madhwacharya had written a commentary on the Bhagavatham, under the name of Bhagavatha Tatparya Nirnaya.  The present work is confined to the Eleventh Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatham, which is often referred to as the Forehead (lalata) of Bhagavat Purana as it specially deals with the foremost among the purusharthas or goals, viz. Moksha or Liberation.

The Eleventh Canto is set in the post Mahabharata war period.  It starts with the episode leading to the curse on the Vrishni clan in the first chapter.  The following four chapters deal with the spiritual instructions imparted by the nine yogis toKing Nimi and is in the form of a narration by Narada to King Vasudeva.  In the sixth chapter, a delegation of gods led by Brahma visits Dwaraka and requests Shri Krishna to return to His Divine Abode.  From Chapter 7 to 29 is a discourse by Shri Krishna to His dear devotee Uddhava that covers a number of different topics.  This part of the eleventh canto is generally referred to as Uddhava Gita  as there are many similarities between these teachings and the Bhagavat Gita imparted also by Shri Krishna to Arjuna in the Mahabharatha battlefield.  In Chapter 30, the curse on the Vrishni race runs its course and the race perishes in an internecine war.  In the 31st Chapter, Shri Krishna’s ascent to the Divine Abode in the presence of Brahma and other Gods is described.  Arjuna arranges the funeral rites of the slain and thence is described the drowning of Dwaraka and the departure of Pandavas to the Himalayas.

The above lines are from the Introduction by the author from the volume which gives us the picture and scope of the book telling us the background of Shrimad Bhagavatam.

There are two anecdotes that attract our mind in this behalf and they are given here below:

The Story of Pingala : Chapter 8 (Shloka 22 to 44: only a summary is given here):  There was a courtesan called Pingala living in the city of Videha(Mithila).  Once having decorated herself at night she sat outside the door of her pleasure house in order to take her paramour.  Viewing the passers by,  the greedy woman thought that some among them beautiful and capable of paying her handsomely would come to seek her.  Seeing the passers by gone, she living upon her solicitations kept on hoping that some other rich person would come and give her plentiful money.  But nobody came even though it was midnight.  Her mouth was parched and she was dejected but ultimately the sense of frustration leading to happiness dawned on her through thinking as follows: “Alas ! How senseless and of uncontrolled mind am I ! Behold the extent of my foolishness, ignorant as I am, I have expected the fulfillment of my desire from a trifling mean paramour ! Forsaking the real Lord (God) who resides in the heart and gives joy and wealth forever, fondly I have sought a poor man who cannot satisfy my desires and who only gives grief, fear, worry, sorrow and infatuation.  Lo, how uselessly have I afflicted my soul by leading the life of a courtesan and living by a highly reproachful profession I expected wealth and satisfaction from a lustful greedy and lamentable person through selling my body to him.  Among the citizens of Mithila I am the only foolish and wicked person in that I expect satisfaction from anyone other than the Supreme Lord Achyuta who bestows His own self to those devoted to Him”. Thinking like this she decided to lead her life only in devotion and dedication to the Lord.

Good Company and Bad Company : Chapter 9 (Shloka 5 to 10 in Author’s words): This story is narrated by a Brahmin : “In a certain place, a maiden herself had to attend to the comforts of those who had come to her house to choose her for a bride, when her relatives had gone away to some other place.  For extending proper hospitality to them, the girl now began to pound paddy in a solidarity place.  While doing so, the conch bangles on her wrists made a loud clanging sound by mutual impact.  The clever girl now felt ashamed that the sound of the conch bangles (a poor girl’s ornament) would betray the poverty of the house.  So she broke the bangles one by one and retained only two each on her wrists.  Even the two bangles produced sound as she pounded (the paddy). She then broke one each so that the remaining one each did not produce any sound.” And the following lesson I learnt from her, as I wandered in this wide world to know what was desirable and what was to be shunned : A person of good character, if lives with bad people will end up in quarrels and disputes.  Even one good person living together with one bad person, will lead to gossip mongering by others.  Therefore, shunning the company of evil people, good people should wander around/live alone like the bangles of the maiden.  Shri Madhwacharya quotes from Shadgunya : Good men should always shun bad company.  Company of good people leads to liberation.

– Shrimad Bhagavatham : The Eleventh Canto by V.M.Pai : Hard bound volume of the size of 21 x 28 cms : Pages 302 priced at Rs.450/- – Published by Shrimad Bhagavatha Prakashana Trust, 33 Ayodhya, 138, 8th Main, Malleshwaram, Bangalore -560 003.
The volume deserves to be patronized by our Readers and Members.

Samyukta Saraswat – Quarterly Bulletin
All India Saraswat Cultural Organisation, Mumbai,
All India Saraswat Foundation, Mumbai,
Ashwamedh, 10- Arex House, Sitaladevi,
Mahim, Mumbai – 400 016.

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