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Home » featured, philosophy

Interpolation of Scripture

Submitted by on November 26, 2018 – 12:33 am28 Comments

vejirBy Swami Tripurari

An objective study of the Bhagavatam reveals that there are, and have been, variant editions in circulation. In his translation of Sanatana Goswami’s Sri Brihad Bhagavatamrita, Gopiparanadhana dasa lists a number of variations found in different manuscripts of both the Bhagavatam and the Bhagavatamrta. Therein he writes, “For some verses of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Sanatana Goswami’s commentary gives a text that varies from the one given in the Bhagavatam edition published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.” He lists thirty-two verses that appear differently, explaining that these differences almost never significantly change the meaning of the text.

Variations may be attributed to language, geography, and the influence of time (ancient India had numerous independent kingdoms and hundreds of different languages). However, more importantly, the very nature of the Puranic texts such as Srimad-Bhagavatam lends itself to variation over time. As opposed to the Vedas (sruti), which are considered to be directly manifest from God without human authorship, the Puranas (smrti) acknowledge human agency.

For example, in the opinion of Jiva Goswami, Vyasa composed the Bhagavatam twice, once in the context of compiling all of the Puranas and a second time after being inspired by Narada to emphasize bhakti, by which Narada rightly concluded Vyasa’s heart would be satisfied. In the present-day edition of the Bhagavata, we find that it was spoken by Sukadeva and at a later date by Suta. The text also reveals that it was spoken at another time by Sankarsana to the Kumaras. Such is the nature of the Puranic literature. While sacred and authoritative, adjustments that are made in consideration of time and circumstance are not viewed as deviant. The Puranas, after all, are literature that seeks to present the essence of the Veda in an easily understandable format. To accomplish this task, the Puranic literature must be fluid. Such fluidity, however, does not amount to interpolation, but rather attests to the ongoing nature of revelation. This also explains why it is particularly difficult to assign a date to the authorship of the Bhagavatam. When was it written? The correct answer is perhaps that it is not finished yet.

An example of this fluidity is Sri Vrndavana dasa Thakura’s hagiography on Sri Caitanya, heralded by the Gaudiya community as the “Caitanya Bhagavata.” By naming Vrndavana dasa’s work such, the Gaudiyas acknowledged that while the Bhagavata was compiled thousands of years earlier, it was nonetheless an ongoing narrative concerning the esoteric life of Sri Krishna. This narrative had in essence been continued by Vrndavana dasa to describe Sri Krishna’s appearance as Sri Caitanya.

As opposed to ongoing revelation, interpolation refers to deliberately and anonymously inserting text into a book to suit one’s purpose. Some Vaishnava sects believe that chapters 12 through 14 of the 10th canto of the Bhagavatam are examples of interpolation because these chapters do not conform to certain aspects of their understanding of the Bhagavata‘s theology. To Gaudiya Vaisnavas these chapters are particularly important as they establish within the context of the narrative of Krishna lila a pivotal point: krsnas tu bhagavan svayam, “Krishna is the origin of the Godhead.” (SB 1.3.28)

Needless to say, we Gaudiyas do not find the arguments of these sects to be convincing. Sri Jiva Goswami refutes them by pointing out that the chapters in question conform to the overall ontology of the Bhagavatam and have already been accepted by ancient renowned Bhagavatam commentator Sridhara Swami, as well as other great acaryas. In his treatise Krishna-sandarbha, Sri Jiva cites over three hundred points, primarily from the Bhagavatam itself, confirming the Gaudiya interpretation of krsnas tu bhagavan svayam.

Near the turn of the previous century, Thakura Bhaktivinoda encountered academic opinions about the Bhagavata that did not conform to the teachings of the tradition. While not dismissing these opinions altogether, he emphasized that regardless of their merit, the essential philosophy and theology of the Bhagavata represented the crown jewel of spiritual insight. Why? Because we see that those who embrace its message wholeheartedly attain the rare jewel of prema, which is the prayojana (goal) of the text.

Furthermore, careful study of Bhagavatam commentaries reveals that today’s manuscripts do not differ significantly from the manuscript that Gadadhara Pandit showered with his tears of love as he read and commented on the text for the pleasure of Sri Caitanya. Among the Gaudiya commentaries, the seminal commentary of Sri Sanatana Goswami reveals that the Bhagavata itself acknowledges Sri Caitanya to be Krishna reappearing in the present age. Thus if one studies the manuscript Sri Caitanya himself embraced, one need not be concerned with interpolation.

It is also important to note that Gaudiya Vaisnavas acknowledge two Bhagavatas: the book Bhagavata and the devotee Bhagavata. Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja describes them as follows:

“The two brothers (Sri Caitanya and Prabhu Nityananda) dissipate the darkness of one’s heart by arranging for one to meet two Bhagavatas. One Bhagavata is the Bhagavata sastra (Srimad Bhagavatam) and the other is the devotee absorbed in bhakti-rasa. These two Bhagavatas then open the door of one’s heart to bhakti-rasa, and thus the Lord, in the heart of his devotee, comes under the control of the devotee’s love.”

Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Maharaja liked to refer to the person Bhagavata as the active agent of divinity and the book Bhagavata as the passive agent of divinity. While the two are invariably intertwined, the person Bhagavata is arguably more important than the book Bhagavata because he or she exemplifies the ideal of the Bhagavatam. Alone, the book Bhagavata is insufficient for the sadhaka, as guidance from the person Bhagavata is essential to fully understand the deep meaning of the text. Thus, even if there is interpolation in the book Bhagavata, one cannot add to or subtract from the devotee Bhagavata, who is the principal agent of divinity in our lives.

It is important to underscore that, like the Goswamis, we are concerned with the essence of the Bhagavatam. This essence is delineated in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and has little to do with ancient social customs and dated cosmology, but everything to do with the metaphysic of acintya-bhedabheda (inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference), the primacy of Krishna among the Visnu avataras, Radha’s love for Krishna, and so on. The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us how to live by way of telling us how to die. It speaks to us with a sense of urgency and demands our complete attention, nityam bhagavata sevaya. Those who truly understand the essence of the Bhagavata will die an ego death to live forever in love.

28 Comments »

  • KB das

    Tripurari Swami:

    Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and has little to do with ancient social customs and dated cosmology,

    Is the cosmology of the Bhagavat “dated” or timeless? If we look at the Bhagavat as containing cosmology that is “dated”, can that possibly open us up to feeling some doubt and prejudice for the book?
    Is it not a slippery slope once we begin to critically evaluate the customs and cosmology of the Bhagavat lore as being dated or outdated?

    My view is that the cosmology of the Bhagavat is not “dated” rather it is an eternal cosmological blueprint for the Virat-rupa of the Lord that was first explained by Garbhodakasayi Vishnu to Catusana.
    The Bhagavat cosmology is the proper cosmology for Gaudiyas to contemplate. There is no value in contemplating the universe as described by modern science. There is no transcendental authority or potency in the modern scientific cosmology.
    Sukadeva Goswami was guiding Maharaja Pariksit through his journey to transcendence with his instructions on Bhagavat cosmology. There is a spiritual transcendental potency to the Bhagavat cosmology.
    There is simply maya in the modern scientific cosmology.

    We should never encourage prejudice towards the Bhagavat with critical opinions about the Bhagavat cosmology and Manu-Smriti based society.

    Krishna has authorized Vedic varnashrama society governed by Manu-smriti.
    Can we say the same about modern scientific cosmology?

    • I don’t think that Manu-smriti can be followed strictly today and no contemporary Vaisnava acarya in the last 100 years has set an example of doing so. Varnasrama can be followed in essence but not in detail and Gaudiya Vaisnavism understands varnasrama as external, although in essence somewhat useful for its purpose. The Bhagavata cosmology should be embraced in its essence, which is that consciousness and God are primary and matter is secondary. As far as details go, there are different ways of speaking about the same thing.

      For example, in Vedic cosmology the glance of Visnu creates a huge disturbance in pradhana (the modes of nature in a state of equilibrium) and from this explosion the material world expands. Universes are set in motion and these same universes will eventually contract. Similarly science speaks of a Big Bang that sets the universe in motion and some scientists also understand the universe to be expanding and eventually contracting in a way that is roughly analogous to the Vedic understanding. If by modern mathematics one arrives as a cosmology that is roughly analagous with the Vedic understanding of the origin of the universe, it may be useful to speak about Vedic cosmology in modern terminology as opposed to insisting on a more literal understanding of Vedic cosmology that ignores and belittles mathematical truths. Of course we go further and posit the scriptural truth that the Big Bang, if you will, has diving intelligence behind it.

      We see this in the explanations of Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja when for example he speaks about Rahu. He has stated that “In understanding the position of the planet Rahu, what Sukadeva and Vyasadeva have said is geographically impossible.” Thus in acordance with modern science he agreed that Rahu is really the shadow we experience during and eclipse: “The personification of the shadow may be referred to as “Rahu.” However, at the same time he stressed that the literal statements of the Bhagavata in this regard have much value properly understood. He states,

      Whatever is used by Sukadeva Goswami to support his highest theistic principle, that has got some relative value to support that. So, not to belittle, not to laugh at it, not to ridicule it. Whatever is there that is to help the great structure of theistic building in Bhagavatam. Whatever has been drawn in to help that great structure of knowledge, that has got some value and high value.

      His idea here is that the Bhagavatam has a purpose in mind. What is that? It is that consciousness is primary. Thus Rahu is personified and made concrete to help the reader understand that consciousness is fundamental to existence. Even the shadow of the earth has consciousness behind it. This is quite different from insisting, for example, that Rahu is a physical planet and that modern science is so inaccurate that it can’t even find it.

      So the statements in the Bhagavatam concerning cosmology need to be understood in light of the book’s purpose and respected accordingly, but this does not mean that they must be taken literally in all respects or that they must always be embraced literally in place of any modern understanding of the cosmos.

      • Amara dasa

        This is a very nice explanation. Personally, I don’t have any problem with discrepancies in the Bhagavatam over things such as universal structure since they don’t really hurt anyone. On the other hand, some of the statements found in Manu-smriti concern me deeply because they are harmful to others and, in my opinion, warrant more alarm. For instance, injunctions that prescribe cutting out someone’s tongue for insulting a brahmana, pouring molten lead into a sudra’s ear for hearing the Veda, drinking boiling oil as punishment for consuming alcohol, lashing women and infants with canes for disobediance, boiling adulterers alive in a big jar, etc. These types of statements are of much more concern to my faith than whether or not there is life on the moon, Rahu is a personality or shadow, and so on. This is because the former seem so barbaric and morally shocking–not something you would expect to hear from great Vedic personalities and enlightened rishis!

        I’ve heard the harsh injunctions of the Manu-smriti explained in different ways: 1) the scripture itself was adulterated by ill-motivated brahmanas after the Vedic age ended; 2) the harsh injunctions are no longer suitable in this age but were appropriate in previous times; 3) in previous ages people were so pious these harsh injunctions were never necessary anyway, and 4) we are not qualified to understand the actual good behind all these punishments.

        None of these explanations seem very plausible to me–except perhaps the first–so I was wondering what other members of this forum think in this regard.

        • It is widely believed that Manu-smriti suffers from interpolation.

          • KB das

            Let’s hope so, because in fact most all modern devotees would object and do object to some of the social features of Varnashrama of the Manava Dharmashastra.

            Most of the modern world believes in Democracy, free speach, freedom of the press etc. etc., all of which are not allowed in a Vedic Monarchy based on the Manava Dharmashastra. Neither do women enjoy the same kind of political and social freedom in Vedic culture as they enjoy in the modern world.

            The thing is, this theocracy called Vedic culture is the kind of culture that is approved by Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Our modern Democratic societies would be considered heathen and renegade to the Vedic civilization.

            So, yeah, the Manu-smriti and in fact Vedic Monarchy are all frowned upon as religious extremism in our modern world.

            However, when the so-called “devotees” of the KC movement forget what Vedic civilization actually is and how much different it is than our modern Democracy, they start to think and talk as if this mundane modern civilization is actually a better model for a God conscious society than is the Vedic Monarchy.

            Then, they criticize and demean the Vedic culture in favor of modern science and Democracy.

            What is wrong with this picture?

      • Vikram Ramsoondur

        Even the shadow of the earth has consciousness behind it. This is quite different from insisting, for example, that Rahu is a physical planet and that modern science is so inaccurate that it can’t even find it.

        Hindu Jyotishas, as far as I am aware, never insist on Rahu and Ketu as being physical lokas. Rather, these two entities, which are central to the theme of traditional Vedic astrology, are understood to correspond to the ascending and descending nodes of the moon, which are the two points of intersection of the lunar orbit and the ecliptic plane. They are thus more astronomical quantities than anything else, but are said to play a crucial role in astrology.

  • madan gopal das

    The Bhagavat cosmology is the proper cosmology for Gaudiyas to contemplate. There is no value in contemplating the universe as described by modern science…
    Sukadeva Goswami was guiding Maharaja Pariksit through his journey to transcendence with his instructions on Bhagavat cosmology. There is a spiritual transcendental potency to the Bhagavat cosmology.

    The transcendental potency of the cosmology described by Sukadeva is it’s connection to the overall message he is gracing Pariksit Maharaj with. Divorced from the bhagavata message of bhakti to bhagavan, how much value does the cosmology have in and of itself? There are lots of “creation stories” out there from many ancient civilizations. Furthermore, it could be argued that Sukadeva Goswami was describing cosmology according to the “scientists” of his time.

    From Swami B.V. Tripurari’s Sanga May 4, 2003, Vol. V, No. 10

    The Srimad-Bhagavatam’s description of cosmology is according to the vision of Sukadeva. It may be taken either that the world was shown to Sukadeva to be as it is described in the Bhagavatam—a particular angle of vision, a subjective reality—or that he is merely recounting what the prominent understanding of the time was.

    With regard to the latter opinion, the text of the Bhagavatam itself lends credence to this outlook. When asked by Pariksit about the nature of the material world—the glory of Visnu maya—Sukadeva replied that essentially this world is a transformation of the three gunas, nothing more—bhagavato maya-guna-vibhuteh. He goes on to say that no one can describe this world perfectly, vacasa vadhigantum alam vibhudhayusapi purusas. As the sage continues his explanation, he describes it as being based on the estimations of learned persons of that period, pramana-laksanato vyakhyatah.

  • Brahma das

    Is interpolation (always) a bad word?

    We know that there are, variant editions of the Bhagavatam..and we teach that the Puranas (smrti) acknowledge human agency that lends itself to variation over time. But…(we say that) such fluidity does not amount to interpolation, but rather attests to the ongoing nature of revelation because…as opposed to ongoing revelation, interpolation refers to deliberately and anonymously inserting text into a book to suit one’s purpose.

    If the definition of interpolation is to anonymously insert text into a book to suit one’s purpose…. how then can we honestly say that the Bhagavatam has not been interpolated? Don’t variants make it obvious that in one way or another text has been anonymously inserted into the Bhagavatam? Isn’t using the word “fluidity” just another way to get around the fact that there are interpolations in the Bhagavatam? Are interpolations always bad? Can’t there be–good interpolations—or interpolations that support the prayojana of the text?

    • Citta Hari dasa

      From Dictionary.com:

      Interpolate:

      1. to introduce (something additional or extraneous) between other things or parts; interject; interpose; intercalate.
      2. Mathematics. to insert, estimate, or find an intermediate term in (a sequence).
      3. to alter (a text) by the insertion of new matter, esp. deceptively or without authorization.
      4. to insert (new or spurious matter) in this manner.

      Swami used the word in the sense of definitions 1 & 3 –to insert extraneous material with deceptive intent–which I think we can agree is not a good thing.

      To answer your final question I would say that there can be, are, and should be interpretations that support the spirit of a text, but that is clearly very different from interpolation.

  • KB das

    If Bhaktivinode Thakur or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta did not have issues with interpolation but accepted Srimad Bhagavatam face value without objection over interpolation, then why should modern Saraswata Gaudiyas be nit-picking for so-called interpolations that the predecessor acharyas never found?

    Slight wording changes do not indicate interpolation.
    Interpolation is more sinister than simple variation in translation.
    Interpolation aims at completely changing the conclusion, the names or some intrinsic elements of the text that completely distort the meaning of the book.

    • Kula-pavana

      If Gaudiya Vaishnavism wants to obtain a respectable standing in the western world it is natural that it’s scriptures and doctrine be evaluated using standard scholarship methods. Some GV scriptures would probably lose it’s ‘infallible’ status in the process but IMO that would help us on the doctrine side as well. Some writings (like the Caitanya Upanishad) would likely be classified as recent ‘total interpolations’ or given even less charitable names. Solid scholarship has it’s price.

      The inspirational methods of interpolation from the past (like adding new passages to the existing ancient texts or re-writing them to reflect changes in ideology) would probably be considered unacceptable even by the current Gaudiya Vaishnavas, let alone religious scholars. Let the new revelation be written in the new texts, not appended to the old ones. That is the honest way.

      • gopala dasa

        Some of this nit-picking KB cites stems from an unnecessarily narrow notion of what constitutes a “text” (typically as something fixed and rigid), and from a mistaken idea of what it means for a text to be “spotless.”

        We know that the version(s) of the bhagavata that have come down are uncorrupted, precisely because the essence is intact. Minor variations of a syllable here (or verse there) should not be disturbing, what to speak prompt modern GV’s to question the infallibility of the text. I agree though: many are upset by even the suggestion that the text could have “changed” over time in any way. This is almost like mistaking body for spirit, such is the preoccupation with specifics of form rather than specifics of scriptural essence.

        If, however, we are convinced of the infallibility of the paribhasa sloka, and the Gaudiya purport therefore, even more extreme interpolation identified by scholars or other Vaisnavas is of little bother.

        The notion that the bhagavatam is a text that unlike others does (and must) “spill off the page” is an important one, and helps us get closer to understanding of what “spotless” most means with respect to Srimad-Bhagavatam(12.13.18, for example).

        • Vikram Ramsoondur

          A few of the portions of the text of the Bhagavatam dealing with observational astronomy have evidently been altered in the last couple of millennia, to keep the quantitative data therein up-to-date with the movements in the apparent planetary and stellar positions in the firmament.

          Does that mean that the book is rendered any less holy and sacred, then? Hardly. I myself literally subscribe to the received wisdom that the scripture is the literary incarnation of Bhagavan. Enough said.

        • Citta Hari dasa

          Well said Gopala. As is so often the case it’s a form-or-substance issue. If we remain focused on the substance then variations in the form that are aligned with the substance will not be a problem. The problems start when we harbor a static idea of how things should be–our faith gets shaken when confronted with the dynamic nature of reality.

  • KB das

    The specter of “interpolation” is a phantom whose presence is of little to no consequence in the Gaudiya world. The debate over interpolation of scripture is an overblown issue that is the least of issues and controversies that are dogging the international Gaudiya community.
    The Gaudiya shastra of today has been approved by the predecessor Saraswata Gaudiya acharyas.
    The issue of interpolation mainly comes up between the modern Saraswata Gaudiyas and the so-called “traditional” Gaudiya parivars of India who have some issues with the Saraswata Gaudiyas.
    That is a whole other can of worms.

    • Vikram Ramsoondur

      Wrong. It is between a couple of Western converts to traditional Gaudiya Vaisnavism and the Sarasvata straw man they have manufactured in their puny brains. If merely acquiring a doctorate gave one the right and ability to speak with authority on issues, it would’ve been possible to open a higher educational institution manned by my relatives and personal acquaintances only, if one goes by the number of PhDs among them. The fact is, no degree or academic credential per se, no matter how advanced, makes one a scholar.

      Sure, there are doctrinal differences between Sarasvatas and Indian non-Sarasvatas, but they are far fewer and more minor than some would have us believe. In any event, it would be grossly incorrect to lump one of the protagonists in all of this interpolation claptrap (at least, what I’m thinking KB Das has in mind) with the ‘so-called “traditional” Gaudiya parivars of India’ because the individual in question now openly associates himself with what all of us here, I reckon, would term an apasampradaya.

      Coming back to the ‘traditionalists,’ well they don’t make that much of an issue out of several points which, I would agree, perhaps hold more importance for sadhakas in the line of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura than for practitioners not in the latter’s disciplic succession. To cite one example, Pandita Ananta dasa Babaji himself has been known to say that, at the Kumbha Mela, Caitanya Vaisnavism is represented by the Madhva Sampradaya. Hence, even the Radha-kunda mahanta acknowledges that there is a connection between our parampara and that of the Tattvavadis, unlike the self-styled neo-traditional Gaudiya spokespersons.

      • Gaura Vijaya

        The fact of the matter is that there are lot of differences between Madhva’s doctrine and Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

        • Vikram Ramsoondur

          And to my knowledge, nobody has ever denied this. There are not-inconsiderable differences even between various individual Gaudiya lines, but that does not nullify the parampara connection that exists between them.

          • Gaura Vijaya

            According to me it is just a formal connection that was required for the times bygone. Gopal Bhatta Goswami who is instrumental in the compilation of the Sandarbhas draws more from Sri Vaisnavism.

  • Vikram Ramsoondur

    Probably. According to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Lord Caitanya’s teachings contain the condensed essence of all four theistic sampradayas, plus more which is only to be had in Bengali Vaisnavism. Gopala Bhatta Gosvami hailed from an intensely Ramanuja-Vaisnava milieu in Sri Rangam – drawing from the Sris would have been natural for him, just as Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana made use of Madhvaite material in his Govinda-bhasya.

    • Gaura Vijaya

      But Sandharbas are the foundations of the GV, not Govinda Bhasya.

      • Vikram Ramsoondur

        Well, Srila Jiva Gosvamipada also employs themes and concepts from Sankaracarya and Madhvacarya in his Bhagavata-sandarbha, in addition to the Ramanujaite input, which is fully concordant with what was said earlier about Caitanya Vaisnavism containing the best of all philosophies. That the Madhvaite connection is formal, no one denies. But Mahaprabhu deemed it necessary to relate what He came to gift the world with an existing, established Vaisnava school, possibly not to go against the famous, oft-quoted verse from the Padma Purana stressing the importance of belonging to an authorised tradition.

        • Gaura Vijaya

          That verse from Padma Purana is not accepted by other Sampradayas. It is not even found in most versions of Padma Purana. Madhavas don’t consider Ramanujas a bonafide sampradaya and vice versa. I don’t think that verse is of any relevance in today’s time especially when the 4 sampradayas themselves don’t accept that verse.

          • Vikram Ramsoondur

            Obviously, there are a number of Gaudiya acaryas (whose opinions I’d take over yours any day) who have for their part accepted the authenticity of the particular sloka and stressed the historical link of Dvaita and Caitanya Vaisnavism (formal or not formal), notwithstanding the many philosophical differences that exist between the two schools of thought, and the fact that Jiva Gosvami also made references to Visistadvaita and Advaita when formulating his theology. For that matter, Rupa Gosvami as well did borrow some practices from the Nimbarka Sampradaya.

            None of this really matters in the end. And I do believe that we have digressed enough from the main topic of this post. My earlier mention of Ananta dasa Babaji’s words on our line’s connection with that of the Dvaitis was just to put KB Das’s comments on the ’so-called “traditional” Gaudiya parivars of India’ in proper perspective and show that they were unfair, and maybe dangerous due to the potential vaisnava-aparadha involved in generically labelling all devotees not in one’s own lineage. The intention was certainly not to torpedo the main discussion that was underway and mutate it into one on the sampradaya founded by Sriman Madhvacarya.

          • Gaura Vijaya

            It is not my opinion, it is opinion of the people in other sampradayas who are supposed to be bonafide. I don’t think that goswamis have quoted that verse from Padma Purana. BV has for sure, but he had to write the Govinda bhasya because GV was not considered legitimate. In that climate, the links to existing sampradayas of that time were very crucial.
            Anyway, both of us people with strong opinions on this subject and the discussion will not turn out to be fruitful.

          • Vikram Ramsoondur

            Bhaktivinoda Thakura has also quoted it in his Jaiva Dharma, but I would agree with you that the authenticity of that verse is not pivotal to the legitimacy of Mahaprabhu’s siksa and conception of the Supreme. One may accept or question the usefulness of it, and still progress in spiritual life regardless.

            I am also aware of the stance of other sampradayas on this matter, and the reason why I chose acintya-bhedabheda-tattva over the competing alternatives is because I find it broader, wider, fairer, more tolerant as well as all-encompassing.

  • Vikram Ramsoondur

    In the end, I think we can safely advance that the text/s of the Bhagavatam as we have it/them today, and those of the vast majority of Sanskrit writings, I would imagine, do differ somewhat from the urtexts penned by Bhagavan Vedavyasa or by the latter’s collaborators. The fact that some Puranic literatures, predominantly those that the Padma Purana classifies as being meant for persons mainly influenced by the lower modes of passion and ignorance, are so disorderly and poorly structured would bear testimony to this. Fortunately for Vaisnavas, the sattvika-Puranas tend to fare rather better in that sense. In fact, the two most unified and methodically-composed Puranas are, by almost universal consensus, the Bhagavata and Visnu Puranas. Incidentally, most Vaisnavas, and not just Gaudiyas, would concur on the supremacy of these two specific books over the remainder of the Puranic canon.

    Curiously, some of the archaisms that have been found in the Sanskrit of the Bhagavatam have elicited varying conclusions that are in striking contrast with each other. Whilst devotees and Hindus generally have construed this linguistic feature as confirming the great age of the scripture, some modern scholars have opined that the well-structured body of the Bhagavatam and its sometimes old and difficult language are proof that there has been a concerted, ‘fraudulent’ attempt to deliberately fashion the text in order to give the impression of it being ancient. Nevertheless, the scholar deemed as the world’s premier academic authority on Puranic studies, Ludo Rocher, attributes no definitive date to either the Bhagavata or to any other Purana for that matter. Instead, he outlines the mainstream scholastic view (which he probably endorses as an individual) but summarises his work by stating that assigning actual dates to most of these texts is a difficult, if not impossible task. Moritz Winternitz reached similar conclusions, for the record.

    It has been said that, in the Indian climate, manuscripts last for a maximum of 600 odd years, at the end of which they have to be transcribed on to new material, or face the risk of being lost forever. In fact, it is estimated that countless Vedic treatises on spiritual and more mundane subjects alike have disappeared in this manner, practically without a trace. Concerning the Bhagavatam, what this signifies is that, since Kali-yuga kicked in on February 18, 3102 BCE (going by traditional dating) it must have been wholly recopied at the very least 8 times. In the transcription process, revisions (e.g. to align scriptural astronomical data with the observed movements in astral bodies, which is something natural caused by the passage of time) or less intentional alterations (such as paraphrasing a particular sloka as a result of part of it not being entirely readable on the old manuscript, etc) inevitably occur. What we have at our disposal today is not Maharsi Vyasa’s writing verbatim, at least to some extent. Still, this state of affairs did not stop the astute minds of the great acaryas of the yore to accept the authority and value of the Vedas and Puranas. Closer to home, Sriman Mahaprabhu revered nothing as He did the Srimad Bhagavatam. This ought to be good enough for people aspiring to take to the sublime mysticism that the Lord advented Himself to give to the world.

  • Bhaktikanda

    I am also aware of the stance of other sampradayas on this matter, and the reason why I chose acintya-bhedabheda-tattva over the competing alternatives is because I find it broader, wider, fairer, more tolerant as well as all-encompassing.

    Is truth a matter of choice? We don’t think so. More like it chose you. Lucky fellow…

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