Ramyaji from California gave a summary of the beginning of Srimad Bhagavatam
Speaking of the birth of Bhagavatam, in the twilight zone between the Dwapara and Kali Yugas, when the world was suffering and teetering on the brink of the dark Age of Kali, Lord Sri Krishna had left behind His Grace in the form of the Bhagavatam.
When Mahatmas’ hearts were troubled, it always benefits mankind. We can cite the examples of the worries of Valmiki and Arjuna which led to the birth of the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita respectively. Similarly, the Bhagavatam was gifted to mankind as a result of Veda Vyasa’s worry about the future of the world. To calm Vyasa’s anxiety, Sage Narada told him to extol the greatness of Bhagavan in a way that was practical and in tune with the times. And hence was born the great Bhagavata Mahapurana, which praises the value of remembering the Names of the Lord.
If we repeat a particular action, it binds us, making us addicted to the result. However, there is no binding if we offer the act to the Lord. But this is not practical because we do not know how to offer it to the Lord. But the Bhagavatam tells us to remember the Names of the Lord while performing the act, which is sound practical advice, as we are now aware of the method by which to offer our acts to the Lord.
Srimad Bhagavatam was the fruit of the wish-fulfilling tree that is the Vedas. But it is such a sweet fruit that it has no seed or peel but is completely rasomaya (full of only the essence). Bhagavatam is a Purana that it needs no commentary, but just reading it is enough.
Just like the fruit that has been pecked on by a parrot (suka) tastes best and falls to the ground as it is ripe, the Bhagavatam fruit has fallen as it has been pecked on by Sri Suka, the enlightened son of Vyasa who discoursed on the Bhagavatam to Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna. Bhagavatam is Bhagavan Himself. The mere presence of the Bhagavatam in a house is sanctifying, and anyone who worships the Bhagavatam with a few flowers every day, even if it be done unknowingly, is a Bhagavata.
When Bhagavan Sri Krishna was about to leave the world, and told his dear friend and bhakta Uddhava about it, Uddhava was extremely dejected. He asked what would happen to the people and the world, and how dharma would be protected if the Lord left the world. In answer, the Lord merged with the Bhagavatam and became one with it, thus ensuring His continued presence in the world. Mahans like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa have directly experienced the fact that the Bhagavatam is none other than Lord Sri Krishna Himself.
As Sage Narada sat wondering how to revive Jnana and Vairagya, the sons of Bhakti Devi, who had degenerated to the form of old men in the Kali Yuga, the Sanatkumaras appeared before him and told him that a Bhagavata Saptaha was the solution. Narada had previously tried to revive Jnana and Vairagya with the help of the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, but they were not able to heal them permanently. The Sanatkumaras pointed out to Narada that the Vedas and other shastras were akin to a sugarcane field that would only yield its sweet juice to someone who can harvest the cane and crush it to obtain the juice, while the Bhagavatam was the sugarcane juice itself, which was the easiest source for the incapable people in the Kali Yuga. They also gave two other analogies. They said that if we needed to perform a sacrifice, Bhagavatam was the ghee while the other shastras were milk. Ghee is derived from milk, but to perform the sacrifice, milk cannot be used directly. It is ghee that is needed. The Sanatkumaras also compared the Vedas to a tree and the Bhagavatam to be its rasa, i.e. its fruit.
The first three verses of the Bhagavatam speak of showing gratitude to the Lord, performing selfless service without any motives and these result it the blossoming of love from within.
In the Naimisharanya forest, Suta Pauranika came to the Rishis who were performing a yagna for countless years. The Rishis asked Suta six questions, the answers to which forms the Bhagavatam. The final question was that after Lord Sri Krishna left the earth, where did Dharma go for refuge? And Suta answered that Dharma found refuge in the Names of Bhagavan.
The first and the last words of any work generally sum up the work itself. The Bhagavatam starts with ‘Let us contemplate on the Supreme Truth…’ and ends with ‘Chanting the Name of Hari will cure all afflictions and take us to the very feet of the Lord’. And in the middle of the Purana is the Ajamila charitra which speaks of the greatness of uttering the Lord’s Name at the time of death, even without meaning to call out to the Lord. Hence the essence of Bhagavatam is chanting the Names of the Lord.
The Bhagavatam begins after the end of the Mahabharata war. After the victory of the Pandavas, Aswatthama, in a bid to take revenge, kills the sleeping young sons of Draupadi in an act of cowardice. When the murder is discovered, as Draupadi wails, Arjuna vows to kill the man who committed the heinous act. He and Krishna then go in search of Aswatthama and find him. Cornered, Aswatthama fires the Brahmastra towards Arjuna. It is said in the shastras that it is adharma to counter the Brahmastra. But Krishna commands Arjuna to counter the astra with his own Brahmastra. Arjuna, without a second thought about the shastras, follows Krishna’s instructions. He then binds Aswatthama and brings him to Draupadi. But Draupadi, on seeing that it is Aswatthama, prostrates herself before him and requests Arjuna to free him. She says that the Guruputra is equal to the Guru himself and hence should not be harmed. She further says that Aswatthama’s mother should not go through the same grief of losing a son that she, Draupadi, was currently facing! Draupadi here is the definition of a Vaishnava. She is one who is capable of pure empathy, and a lady who knows what compassion is. Suta here extols Draupadi’s greatness by saying that her decision was just, noble and had no hidden agenda.
Arjuna finally shaves Aswatthama’s head, removes his crown jewel and banishes him from the kingdom, which is equivalent to killing a person. A further insulted Aswatthama then fires the Brahmastra once again, this time directed at Arjuna’s unborn grandson in Uttara’s womb. Uttara surrenders to Lord Krishna, and, addressing Him as Maha Yogin, beseeches Him to save her unborn child. Krishna then takes a small four-armed form and enters her womb, saving her son who will be born as Parikshit.
Kunti then comes up to Krishna and performs a stuti. Kunti stuti is the definition of how we should pray to the Lord. Kunti says that the Lord was more compassionate to her than to His mother as He came to her rescue every time she and her sons were in trouble. She says that for her life was always a challenge but that His Grace always saved her. Finally she makes a request that shows the strength of her bhakti. She requests the Lord to give her more problems because He appears everytime she faces a problem. She asks for bhakti that is never ending like the flow of the Ganga.
Kunti stuti shows us what we should really ask Bhagavan for – love, prema, bhakti
After Kunti’s stuti to Lord Krishna, Yudhisthira went to meet Him as he was hesitant to ascend the throne that was smeared with the blood of his relatives. When he visited Krishna, the Lord was meditating. Immediately Yudhisthira was curious about who the Supreme Lord Himself was meditating upon. When asked, Krishna replied that He meditates on Bhagavatas, and this time it was none other than the revered Bhishmacharya who lay on a bed of arrows in the battlefield, awaiting an auspicious time to drop his body. But in reality Bhishma was only waiting to have darshan of the Lord before dying.
Krishna, the Pandavas, Draupadi and Kunti then went to see Bhishma. Bhishma then performed a stuti to the Lord Krishna with eleven slokas. The number eleven represents the five sense organs, five active organs and the mind. Hence Bhishma by praising Krishna in eleven slokas offered his entire body to Him. Bhishma compared the mind to be his daughter and said that he had taken care of her over the years with tapas and nama sankirtan and that now she wanted to marry none but the Lord Himself.
Bhishma then, with gratitude, remembered the Lord’s Grace in fulfilling his (Bhishma’s) vow to make Him lift a weapon in the war even though He had vowed not to do so.
Incited by Duryodhana on the 10th day of the war, Bhishma took a vow that he would kill the Pandavas the next day, provided the war was uninterrupted. Draupadi, learning of this vow, turned to Krishna for refuge. Krishna took her to Bhishma and asked her to prostrate to him, and he blessed her with the words ‘dheerga sumangali bhava’. Only after he gave his blessing did he realize that it was Draupadi and knew immediately that it was Krishna who had brought her to him. Bhishma then vowed to make Krishna lift a weapon against him the next day, and make Him break His own vow that He will not lift a weapon in the war.
Can anyone ‘make’ the Lord do anything against His will? But Lord Krishna, in His infinite compassion and love for a Bhagavata, broke his own vow in order to fulfill His devotee’s vow. When Bhishma went on a rampage against the Pandava army the next day, Lord Krishna assumed the bhava of Narasimha and in a rage, as his upper garment fell down on His seat, He jumped from the chariot and grabbed a wheel of a chariot lying nearby and rushed towards Bhishma. He was restrained from using the weapon by Arjuna who fell at His feet. The entire earth trembled with fear at the Lord’s (apparent) rage, but Bhishma was overwhelmed by the Lord’s grace and dropped all his weapons and surrendered to the Lord, welcoming death at His hands.
Bhishma recollected this incident on his deathbed and thanked the Lord for His Grace. After Bhishma completed his stuti, Lord Krishna annulled his physical pain with His look and Bhishma attained the feet of the Lord.
Parikshit was later born to Uttara and astrologers proclaimed that he would be a just and noble king, like Lord Rama Himself. The astrologers also predicted the entire course of his life saying that he would, as a result of his apachara to a sage, be cursed by the sage’s son that he would die by a snake bite in seven days, and that Sri Suka would come to him and extol the Lord’s Lilas after which Parikshit would attain the feet of the Lord.
The satsang ended with prayers and Namasankirtan.