About the Book
"Bhagabata" was composed by Vyasa Deva, son of sage Parasar, on the advice of the great sage Narada.
Vyasa Deva compiled all the eighteen Puranas and the great epic Mahabharata. But even so he did not gain mental satisfaction from them. Sage Narada advised him to writer something for the guidance of the common man, to live a stainless life on earth, to earn mental peace.
That was what brought about the great scripture Bhagabata. We know how popular Bhagaabata became with the common masses in its translations in the regional languages all over India.
From our own experience in Orissa we know how popular the didactic sayings of the scripture on its translation by saint-poet Jagannath Das became in the 16th century and how it has maintained its popularity all these hundreds of years.
A couple of its popular sayings will show its merit at a glance:
(1) He is praiseworthy person on earth, Who does good to others in his life's path.
(2) Whose heart is bereft of ire,
Is friend to the world entire
About the Author
The author, Shri Gananath Das, retired from the Indian Administrative Service in the Year 1972. Since then he has engaged himself in the study of various saint poets starting with the famous saint poet, Kabir Das, of the 15th century A.D.
On Kabir his works include Life and Philosophy of the Saint Poet in Oriya, and translation of five Hundred of his couplets in English Verse, in three volumes: the first of one hundred published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan of Bombay in 1992, the second of three hundred published by Motilal Banarasi Das of Delhi in 1991 and the third of one hundred published by Writers Workshop of Calcutta in 1992, followed by Sayings of published by the same publisher in 1993.
In 1992 he published his translation of one hundred songs of Guru Nanak Dev as 'Nanak Satak' in Oriya and 100 Love songs of Kabir in English Verse, which was published by Abhinav Publications of New Delhi.
In 1994 he published his Oriya Verse translation of the entire Thiru Kural, the immortal work of the Tamil Saint Poet Thiru Valluvar, consisting of 1330 couplets in 133 chapters
In 1994 he published his Essays on Kabir published by the Writers Workship of Calcutta consisting of in-depth studies of the Saint Poet's Sayings on as many as 22 topics
In the meantime he has completed his "Readings from Bhagabata", being English Verse Translation of over 150 Sayings of the famous scripture originally into Oriya Verse by Saint Poet Jagannath Das of 'Pancha Sakh' face.
Until recently before global consumerism consumed our heart and soul, a palmleaf copy of Jagannath Das's Bhagabata constituted the most precious dowry of an Oriya bride. In most Oriya homes, there was then a special corner in which the book was kept and read with devotion. It was read out to the aged and dying to enable them to face death with equanimity. In other words, in rural areas which lacked communication facilities and where mostly farmers and artisans dwelt it served the purpose of sacred Ganga water. Most villages had their "Bhagabata Ghar" where the villagers, old and young, the learned and the illiterate, gathered to read and discuss and find the meaning of their lives from the Bhagabata. It was also the place where physical exercises were done. The "Bhagabata Ghar" was, in fact, the Cultural Centre of the village which looked after the health both of the body and the mind of the people. It is a pity that this revered institution is dying out like similar institutions elsewhere in India which grew up to promote the value systems which refined and ennobled individual lives and sustained the collective ethos of the society.
It is, indeed, very brave of Mr. Gananath Das to seek to restore the old value system through his "Readings from Bhagabata". It is said that even after the thorough study of the Vedas and Upanishads and composition of the world's greatest epic, the Mahabharata, which included the Srimad Bhagabata Gita, and of the Puranas, the redoubtable Vyas had no peace of mind. It was then that he was advised by sage Narada to write "Srimad Bhagabata". And Vyas repaired to the bank of the Alakananda in the snowy depths of the Himalayas to put the idea to writing. There is a legend too - one, more edifying-on how Jagannath Das came to write the Oriya Bhagabata. There were then scholars who used to read out the Puranas written in Sanskrit and interpret them to the people in the local language. They were known as "Purana Pandas" (Priests interpreting the Puranas). Jagannath Das's widowed mother was an intensely religious lady who used to attend such spiritual sessions. But she had to return home often dissatisfied and pained, because quite a few of the Purana Pandas were rude and supercilious and their greed and casual approach to problems of life offended the deeply committed souls. Moreover, listening to interpretation or discourse, how-ever learned and sincere, is no substitute for one's own reading and understanding the Truth, Virtues and the Law through the process of meditation. The venerable lady, therefore, once approached her own son, who had then acquired the reputation of being a great Sanskrit scholar, to write the Sanskrit Bhagabata in Oriya, the local language of the people, so that semi-literate, illiterate and also the literate and the learned could read and interpret for themselves the meaning of the sacred text. And the obedient son, as he was, sat down to write Vyas's Bhagabata in Oriya in the first decade of the sixteenth century. And the Oriya Bhagabata became not a mere translation but a work of art, in other words, a great poetical creation of the great poet Jagannath Das.
Mr. Gananath Das has combined Vyas's mission and the motivation behind Jagannath Das's translation in his "Readings from Bhagabata". I have no doubt that his reading of the Bhagabata and his interpretation as we find in this book has given him mental peace. I also hope that this book would motivate the younger generations to go back to their roots, mental as well as spiritual traditions and value systems to find a new meaning and purpose for living.
I am, however, keenly conscious that not all would accept whatever has been stated in this book. Many would particularly question the validity of the ideas behind Gruhasthashrama, 5/14/28 of Bhagabata which reads as follows:
In the illusions of the world
If one comes under the spell of woman
Craves her body and her love
Her words as nectar to hear anon.
Her look is so very winsome
He falls a prey in no time.
The words of her son and daughter
Are like sweet nectar flowing in rhythm.
All that gives him immense pleasure
He longs to immerse in that for ever
But all that is harmful for his Soul
Clears the way to hell be sure.
This extreme form of detachment or non-attachment as advocated by Vyas and later by Jagannath Das sends a wrong signal to the modern rational mind. According to many, love is what sustains not only individual life, but also the society at large. Without love and understanding there will be no discipline and binding force in households which would wither away and the society would ultimately disappear. Love and understanding are also necessary for the proper upbringing and training of the children. However, there are many things in the Bhagabata as in other Indian Scriptures which have a bearing on life and definite message for the modern age. For example, the Srimad Bhagabata unmistakably preaches oneness of God though there may be many manifestations. "Even though apparently awake, one is still asleep, if one sees multiplicity. Wake up from this dream of ignorance and see the one Self. The Self alone is real. This world today is, tomorrow is not - empty as a dream, shifting like a circle of fire. Here is but one consciousness - pure, transcendental though it appears as multiple in form" (Srimad Bhagabata -XI, VII).
The Bhagabata also says, "As when the Sun rises, the dew drops vanish away, when love grows all sins and ignorance disappear." This love, of course, means Love of God, but we may as well interpret it to mean unselfish love towards each and all. After all, the creation cannot be viewed separately from its creator for together they make the whole. According to the Bhagabata itself the creation is manifestation of God and we may serve God through the service of man and service towards the creation. When asked by the people of his village to tell them what Dharma was or what their duty was Adi Sankaracharya said, "Paropakaraya Punyaya" i.e. to serve others is Dharma. It is the most virtuous act which will take man to his God. Sri mad Bhagabata preaches, moreover, a transcendental concept of love. It says, "He who has neither beginning, nor middle, nor end, who is all-pervading, infinite and omnipotent, allowed himself to be bound by Yashoda only because of her great love. He is the Lord Omnipotent, the Lord of all things, the controller of all; yet he permits himself to be controlled by those who love him."
On attaining the age of superannuation and after retiring from a long spell of Government Service and gaining some relief from mundane responsibilities, many of the elderly persons have no comprehension of the proper way to lead a meaningful life in the family and the society in which they live and lead a harmonious and relevant social life with the neighbours and other members of the community.
Although they have reached by then the age when people should lead a life of meager involvement in mundane matters and turn their attention in the other-worldly direction, trying to probe into one's inner self and in the way of Almighty God, those who get the opportunity to live upto that age do not in all cases know how to engage themselves in this direction and therefore, are not able to utilise the mature years properly.
In this matter, Sj. Gananath Das appears to be bright exception to have been able to engage himself in activities of head and heart which one would readily agree to be appropriate. After spending a long period in Government service, and holding high positions of trust and responsibility under the Orissa Govt. and discharging his onerous duties to the full satisfaction of the Govt. and the people, he laid down office on retirement in 1972. Since then, he has engaged himself singularly in spiritual matters and public welfare remaining far from mundane affairs, engaging him- self on self-realisation, seeking truth and God Almighty and His grace. For that, he has delved through quite a few religious epics and Puranic scriptures not only of own viz. Sanatan Dharma, but also of some other religious literature too. At the same time, he has engaged himself in the study of inner realisation and outer expression of many wise leaders of various faiths. As a result, gaining a rich fund of self consciousness which he has not kept to himself alone but made an effort to bring to the notice of others in general. And, for that he has written in simple Oriya an account of his life experiences in a comparative study of affairs in the present as well as in the bygone days bearing chiefly on social matters. These writings in magazines and newspapers have been well received by the intelligentsia as well as the common masses of Orissa.
But, not confining his sole attention and effort to that alone he directed that to spiritual and religious matters in original and translation of well-known spiritual literature and sayings of great spiritual leaders. To start with, he took up the vast treasure of the great ancient saint-poet of North India, Sant Kabir, who is acknowledged as the greatest of the saint-poets of the 14th-15th centuries A.D. He has in the process written a treatise on the life and philosophy of Kabir in Oriya, which was published in the year 1986. He also made verse translation of one hundred of Kabir's songs and couplets as "Kabir Sataka" in Oriya in 1987. Besides, he translated into English verse one hundred of Kabir's Love Songs, portraying the love game between "Paramatma" and "Jivatma" and five hundred of Kabir's Dohas in three separate books-one of three hundred couplets published by Motilal Banarasidas of Delhi, one of a hundred by the Writers Workshop of Calcutta, and one of hundred more by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan of Bombay between 1991 and 1992.
In 1987, he also wrote and published a book entitled "Shri Rama Charita Manas-Niti Sara Sangraha" concerning the moral principles and values enshrined in the Epic Shri Rama Charita Manas-a popular version of Ramayana by Goswami Tulasi Das which has been well spoken of by the late lamented great saint Swami Chinmayananda.
Besides Kabir and Tulasi Das, he translated one hundred of Bhajans and fifty-five of Siokas (Dohas) of the great saint-poet Guru Nanak, the founder of the sacred Sikh religion, in 1992.
The 15th and 16th centuries witnessed dark, disturbed and distressful days in whole of our country. But by God's dispensation, those were also the days which saw the rise of many eminent saints and Sadhus, poets and writers and religious luminaries. From Shri Chaitanya Dev, Goswami Tulasi Das, Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta and a host of others, all saint-poets of high order who directed their attention to curing India of her stupor dinning into the ears of downcast heads message of hope and regeneration that did bring about a regeneration in the character and zeal of the people showing them the path of reform and renaissance.
As a result of all that the people of India gained their self- confidence on the faith they had lost during the period of darkness. And, the regeneration of faith in them led to the growth of confidence and cooperation among the castes and communities in which India abounds. And, the period of bright resurgence grew brighter and brighter. During the subsequent period of two hundred years this flame kept burning at a low ebb. But, at the advent of the 19th century this flame quite astonishingly burst into flares in hundreds of centres in the country. The torch bearers included eminent social reformers, poets and spiritual leaders such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Poet Ravindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo and many others.
During that period of regeneration (15th to 17th centuries) the same atmosphere of spiritual spurt was noticed in Orissa in the appearance of the five eminent saint-poets who later came to be known as the "Panch Sakha" poets. They were Shri Balaram Dash, the mystic. Achutyananda Das, Sri Jagannath Das (who was given the appellation of "Atibadi", greatest among the great by Shri Chaitanya Dev), Yasobanta Dash and Sishu Ananta Dash. For their proficiency in spiritual field their names have been carved in golden letters in the history of Orissa.
Shri Chaitanya Dev of Bhakti Cult visited Puri during the period when the "Panch Sakha" saint-poets were engaged in their spiritual exercises offering their devotion to Lord Jagannath in the Shri Mandir Temple. Shri Chaitanya met the "Panch Sakha" poets and was highly impressed by their performance and poetic works. He was so impressed by the performance of Shri Jagannath Das that he conferred the title of "Ati Badi" on him which appellation is taken as a mark of high achievement and respect. Shri Chaitanya was overwhelmed by love for the "Panchasakha" poets for their poetic excellence and the flood of Bhakti wave generated by them throughout Orissa from their respective centres of activities or Ashramas.
According to legendary account Vyasa Deva, son of Parasara the great sage, composed innumerable scriptures. He is accredited with the division of the ancient vedic literature into four units of Ruk, Sama, Yajur and Atharva, followed by the composition of the vedanta philosophies and all the eighteen "Puranas" and the great epic Mahabharata, to mention only the scriptures popular among the masses.
It is said that even then Vyasa Deva did not feel contented. He mentioned that to Maharshi Narada, and on the latter's advice composed the great scripture "Bhagabatam" which gave him the conviction that he would be able to help with that masses of people with ample religious guidance and righteousness. Bhagabata earned great popularity for its simple language and homely advice for the masses. The words of Bhagabata reached the people through regional translations from Sanskrit into Prakrit. In Orissa, Bhagabata translated into Oriya verse by the great Pancha Sakha Poet, Jagannath Das of Bhakti Cult, who did the rendering into simple local dialect sitting in the premises of Shri Mandira, the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri, became immensely popular among the people.
Legend has it that Jagannath Das came of a poor family. His mother used to visit the Shri Mandira daily in the evening to listen to the readings from the scriptures by the priests called "Purana Pandas" or priests who read the "Puranas" for the benefit of the pilgrims to the Shri Mandira. At the end of the reading the priest asks for the usual "dakshina" or payment in cash which the mother of Jagannath Das was unable to offer one day and for that she was upbraided by the priest. She wept her sorrow before her son Jagannath and said that she would have to discontinue listening to the reading from Puranas by the priests due to that and also because it was not clear to her on many points. This hurt her sensitive son's heart who resolved to render the great scripture Bhagabatam into simple Oriya verse for her sake. And, he did start the work in right earnest as he himself was well versed in both Sanskrit and Oriya. This is how "Bhagabata" in Oriya verse came to be composed by the celebrated saint-poet Jagannath Das in twelve cantos. It is said that the thirteenth and fourteenth cantos were added to his composition later by one of his able disciples. This Bhagabata earned widespread popularity among the masses in all parts of Orissa and beyond. Before it appeared in print, it was hand-written on palmleaf sheets cut to size and seasoned to stand the pointed pen "Lekhana" in the Pothi style which was well known to both literate and illiterate masses in every village in Orissa of those days. Its popularity spread beyond the state borders and in Midnapur area of West Bengal Oriya Bhagabata was written in Bengali script for the benefit of Bengali residents of the area. This was equally popular among the local masses.
Both inside and outside the State the popularity of Bhagabata was immense due to its poetic beauty and didactic advice and guidelines for leading a simple and stainless life on earth and to attain the feet of God Almighty on death and on gaining salvation, escape the birth-death cycle for all time.
On personal experience of over six decades from now, I can testify that in the village where I was born in the Dist. of Cuttack in Orissa, about ten out of its one hundred householders had preserved the Pothi of Bhagabata on palm leaf. In at least five of these houses the Bhagabata "Pothi" was worshipped by them. The deity worshipped along with the "Pot hi" was either Lord Jagannath or His elder brother, Balavadra, in replica of their images in the Shri Mandir temple at Puri and the deity and Pothi together were called "Gadigosain" or the Lord of the "Bhagabata Gadi".
In each of these cases on an earmarked festive day synchronising with the festivals mentioned in Bhagabata for the worship of Lord Krishna, a special reading of a chapter of Bhagabata followed by special Puja and offer of "Prasad" or "Bhog" to all devotees who attended the recital was performed and attended with love-devotion by the elder members, men and women.
Our village has an old temple dedicated to Lord Shri Krishna by the name of "Madan Mohan" where monthly festivals used to be held with recitals from Bhagabata and a feast attended by all believers in the Lord as a regular feature.
The villagers, young and old alike, were habituated to listening to the recital of Bhagabata and the elderly persons used to guide the youngsters citing the relevant advice contained in the sayings. These used to mould our conduct in social, communal and individual lives on the strength of the respect and affection with which we held the advice of Bhagabata.
For instance, although caste was observed by the people they believed in the equality of all beings in whom God Almighty dwelt in equal measure as "Jivatma" and although each caste remained a self-contained unit for economic functions, members of each caste maintained love and affection for the others and called them uncle, aunt, brother, sister and so forth on the basis of respective age of each. The common bond that held all together was the belief that the Lord as "Jivatma" in subtle form dwelt in all beings equally from man to worms and also in trees and creepers and grass (vide verse 11.3.39 (SI. 7) in series entitled "Soul, Supreme Soul and Universe"). Thus, the community though divided into castes on the basis of profession was held together by the belief that God dwelt in all beings in equal measure. The message of Bhagabata on the oneness of all beings of the world helped maintenance of this conviction.
The regular reading of Bhagabata from the palmleaf copies thereof maintained and worshipped along with the image of Lord Jagannath or His brother, Balavadra, had helped the masses of rural folk to live in social cohesion and fellowfeeling.
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