The Bhāgavata Purāṇa is divided into 12 books, called skandhas, and contains 335 chapters. It is a dialogue between Śrī Sūta Gosvāmī, the teacher, and the sages, headed by Śaunaka Ṛṣi. The dialogue took place in the forest of Naimiṣāraṇya in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, India.
In the first chapter of the Bhāgavata, the sages, headed by Śaunaka Ṛṣi, spoke 18 verses containing six questions to Sūta Gosvāmī. The replies to four of these questions are given in the second chapter, and two in the third chapter. In the course of Sūta Gosvāmī’s reply, Śaunaka raises further questions. In dealing with these questions, Sūta refers to other similar inquiries made by other students. Thus, a number of new dialogues appear within the central dialogue, which eventually results in the elaboration of the complete Bhāgavata purāṇa.
Questions 1 and 2
While the dialogue does not explicitly identify the six questions, Śrī Jīva identifies them in his commentary in the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha. At the end of Anuccheda 73, Śrī Jīva identifies SB 1.1.9 and SB 1.1.11 as being the first two of Śaunaka’s six questions which Śrī Babaji in his commentary on the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha paraphrased as follows:
Question 1. What is the ultimate welfare for humanity? (SB 1.1.9)
Question 2. What is the essential engagement, outlined in scripture, by which the self can attain complete fulfillment? (SB 1.1.11)
At the end of Anuccheda 73, Śrī Jīva explains that these two general questions are answered in SB 1.2.5. The verse is as follows:
Answer to questions 1 and 2:
munayaḥ sādhu pṛṣṭo ’haṁ bhavadbhir loka-maṅgalam
yat kṛtaḥ kṛṣṇa-sampraśno yenātmā suprasīdati
O sages, you have questioned me in a highly significant manner, beneficial for the entire world, because thorough inquiry about Kṛṣṇa, as conducted by you, is itself that by which complete fulfillment of the self comes into being.
Śrī Jīva writes:
atra śreyaḥ-praśnasyāpy uttaraṁ loka-maṅgalam ity anenaiva tāvad uktaṁ bhavati | tathātma-suprasāda-hetoś ca yenātmā suprasīdati ity anena
“Here [in SB 1.2.5], the answer to the sages’ first question about “ultimate welfare” [ekāntaḥ śreyaḥ, SB 1.1.9] is provided by the compound loka-maṅgalam, “beneficial for the entire world.” The answer to the second question about the cause of fulfillment of the self [in SB 1.1.11] is tendered by the phrase yenātmā suprasīdati, “by which complete fulfillment of the self comes into being.”
Question 3. With what intent did Kṛṣṇa appear from Devakī, the wife of Vasudeva? (SB 1.1.12–13)
Śrī Jīva identifies verse 1.2.34 as the reply to this question in his Krama Sandarbha commentary on verse 1.2.1. The verse is:
Answer to question 3: bhāvayaty eṣa sattvena lokān vai loka-bhāvanaḥ | līlāvatārānurato deva-tiryaṅ-narādiṣu ||
I translated this verse according to Śrī Visvanātha’s commentary:
Absorbed in His manifestations among the devas, humans, animals and so on, He endows the worlds, of whom He is the creator, with prema for Himself (sva-prema-yuktān karotīti) through His own svarūpa-śakti.
In other words, Śrī Kṛṣṇa appears to give His bhaktas prema, and He therefore manifests His līlās in the world for them to hear and become attracted to Him even more.
The last three questions and their answers are below:
Question 4. Please describe Kṛṣṇa’s magnanimous acts. (SB 1.1.17)
Śrī Jīva writes in his Krama Sandarbha commentary that this question relates to His līlā of creation, maintenance and destruction of the world. According to him, the answer is provided in the verses beginning with verse 1.2.30, which I translate below:
Answer to question 4:
sa evedaṁ sasarjāgre bhagavān ātma-māyayā
sad-asad-rūpayā cāsau guṇamayāguṇo vibhuḥ
In the beginning, He Himself created this creation with His own māyā which is material nature characterized by cause and effect. He is the Supreme Lord, endowed with the guṇas, but is beyond them.
Question 5. Please describe the various avatāras of Kṛṣṇa. (SB 1.1.18)
Answer to question 5: According to Śrī Jīva, Sūta Gosvāmī answered this question by speaking the third chapter. This chapter details the various avātāras of Kṛṣṇa and includes the all-important kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam verse.
Next, we have the sixth question, whose answer is relatively straight-forward:
Question 6. After Kṛṣṇa’s return to His own abode, where has dharma taken shelter? (SB 1.1.23)”
Answer to question 6: Śrī Sūta replies to this question in verse 1.3.43 that in Kṛṣṇa’s absence, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa will provide the light of dharma to the people of the world.
The entire Bhāgavata is a response to six questions posed in the first chapter by the sages headed by Śaunaka Ṛṣi. The reply to these six questions forms the basis of the entire Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Among them, the last four questions are directly related to Kṛṣṇa. From Śaunaka’s questions, it is clear that the subject of the Bhāgavata is exclusively Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
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