The Solar-System of Bhagavata Writers

1st Skandha (Canto 1)

In the Sanskrit Bhāgavata, there are 19 chapters (Adhyāyas) with 810 slokas. It contains the opening benedictory (mangalācaran) of the scripture, the dialogue (samvāda) between Suta and Saunaka, the description of the incarnations (avatāras), the story of the birth of the Bhāgavat, Vyās-Nārada samvāda, the punishment of Asvatthāmā, the birth of Parikshita, the ascension to heaven of the Pāndavas, the curse inflicted on Parikshita, the arrival of Suka Deva and other episodes.

The renderer of this Skandha is Mahāpurusa Srimanta Sankaradeva. He has performed the rendering in only 422 padas (verses). He has not translated 3 slokas of the mangalācaran thinking perhaps that the abstruse philosophy (tattva) embedded in these 3 slokas will not be easily comprehensible to the common man, and has incorporated his own mangalācaran in place of these. The description of the avatāras of Visnu contained in the 3rd chapter has been left out, probably due to it being already incorporated in the Caturvimsati Avatāra section of the Kirttana. The 4th, 5th, 13th, 14th and 15th chapters of the source text has been rendered in extremely condensed form by Sankaradeva.

In the course of the rendering, Sankaradeva has mentioned the chapter numbers of the source. He has added admonitions or instructions (upadesa) bearing his own signature in number of places. Instead of adhering strictly to the source-text, Sankaradeva has utilised material from other sources as well as applied his own imagination to make his topics vivid and attractive. To take an example, in the 8th chapter of the original Bhāgavata, there is the episode of Krishna using a māyā-kavaca (armor of illusion) to shield the womb of Uttarā. But in the translation, we find Krishna entering the womb of Uttarā and destroying the brahmāstra with his mace. Moreover, the Saint has also expanded the description of the divine form of Krishna, witnessed by Parikshita inside the womb, (verse nos. 107-114).

2nd Skandha (Canto 2)

In the Sanskrit Bhāgavata, there are 10 chapters (Adhyāyas) with 391 slokas. It chiefly contains the discussion on the Virāt Purusha, the lilā-avatāras (incarnations) of the Lord, the truths about creation (sristi-tattva), the Chatuhsloki Bhāgavata (the Bhāgavata of the 4 slokas), the description of the 10 lakshanas of the Bhāgavata, among other topics.

(A) Sankaradeva

The first to translate this Canto was Mahāpurusa Srimanta Sankaradeva. The Saint has done the job by abridging the canto into only 262 verses. He has not touched the topics of the Virāt Rupa of Hari and the Caturbhuja Rupa of the Lord residing within the heart, contained in the 1st and 2nd chapters of the original respectively. Omitting the description of the sakāma worship of various gods and goddesses contained at the beginning of the 3rd chapter, the Saint has focussed instead on the fruitful worship of Parama Purusa Lord Krishna. The discussion on the 24 tattvas of creation given in the 5th chapter has generally been left out. But the mention of the lilā-s of Rāma-Krishna contained in the 7th chapter and the description of Vaikuntha and its Lord (9th chapter) has been done so in great detail.

While translating a particular sloka of this canto (2/4/18), Sankaradeva has incorporated the names of many ethnic communities of Assam and the north-eastern part of India such as the Kachāris, the Khāsis, the Gāros, the Miris, the Govālas, the Asamas (Āhoms), the Malukas, the Rajakas, the Kuvāchas (Koches) even though these names are not present in the original work. Through this single stroke of his pen, the visionary Saint has provided inspiration for spiritual and social progress to the different castes and communities of Assam (verses 53b, 54a).

In a certain admonitory section of this canto, the Saint calls upon all humanity (naraloka), irrespective of caste and creed, time and space:

obā naraloka		Hari bhajiyoka
	dharā ito upadesa /
erā ālajāla		jibā katakāla
	jarā bhoila parbesa //
				[verse 124 a]

Immediately after this, he has laid down the strict prohibitory injunction of eka-sarana:

anya devi deva 	nakaribā seva
	nakhāibā prasādo tāra /
murttiko nachāibā	griho napasibā
	bhakti hoiba byabhicāra //
eke Krishna-deva	kariyoka seva
	dhariyo tāhana nāma /
Krishna dāsa huyā	prasāda bhunjiyā
	haste karā tāna kāma // 	
					[verses 124 b-125 a]

The source of this is the Padma Purāna (Uttara Khanda, 282/58,63) and the Hārit Smriti (5/80-81, 8/261, 262).

Sankaradeva, in the course of translation, has mentioned the chapter numbers of the original, in places.

(B) Aniruddha Kāyastha

After Sankaradeva, in the 17th century, Aniruddha Kāyastha did one rendering of the 2nd chapter of the Bhāgavata. Aniruddha Deva was the grand-son of Dāmodara, the elder step-brother of Madhavadeva. Due to the popularity of the (already existing) lucid rendering of Sankaradeva, Aniruddha Deva's work did not enjoy a wide circulation. According to Harinārāyan Dattabaruāh and Satyendra Nāth Sarmā, the translation of Aniruddha Deva is in line with the original.

3rd Skandha (Canto 3)

In the Sanskrit Bhāgavata, there are 33 chapters (Adhyāyas) with 1411 slokas. It chiefly contains the discussion on the truths relating to creation (sristi-tattva), the conversation (samvād) between Maitreya and Vidura, the Varāha incarnation of Visnu, the exposition of the philosophy of Sankhyā by Kapila before mother Devahuti, among other topics.