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Bhakti – The Central Theme In Srimad Bhagavata Purana

The main theme of Srimad Bhagavata Purana is bhakti, devotion to Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Through innumerable examples, anecdotes, and thoughtful utterances, the Purana gives a detailed account of bhakti in all its aspects. From preliminary ritualistic devotion, called the vaidhi bhakti, to prema bhakti, the culmination of love, every stage is illustrated with ample anecdotes and examples.

Bhakti, according to the Bhagavata, is that desireless love and boundless devotion to the Supreme Being which ignores even such ultimate goals as mukti. The Bhagavata does not insist upon any particular pattern of devotion to God. There are endless ways in which a devotee can delight in God. Of them, a few have been expressed in terms of secular relations. Sometimes we look upon him as our father, sometimes as our brother, and sometimes as the beloved. All these and various other attitudes towards God are possible, and we cannot say that any one is superior to the other; it all depends upon how we look upon him. One can love him in whichever form one likes.

The culmination of bhakti need not be linked to any particular attitude; it can be associated with every form that a bhakta enjoys. But whenever one speaks of the highest type of love — the most maddening love — it is in terms of the love of the gopis of Vrindavan. The Bhagavata says that a devotee does not even seek liberation, not to speak of the other pleasures of the world. In the Bhagavata, Bhagavan Kapila says that though devotees be offered the five forms of liberation, they will not accept it; rather, they wish to serve the lotus feet of Bhagavan eternally. The various forms of mukti are salokya, living in the same sphere as God; sarshti, having the same powers as God; samipya, being close to God; sarupya, having the same form or appearance as God; and ekatva, being attached to God.

Now, curiously, this ekatva does not mean unity as in monistic thought. It means being part of God.
Being one with him means being such things as the different weapons he holds, they being inseparably associated with him [and also having a being of their own]. Such a relationship would be like that of the part to the whole. The bhakta never desires anything but his beloved God. The devotees love God not for any selfish end but for his own sake. Bhakti is not only a means (sadhana) but also an end (sadhya) in itself. The gopis of Vrindavan loved Krishna not for any gain. They offered everything to him and never sought any return.

The gopis’ devotion to Krishna is without parallel and has been beautifully illustrated in the Bhagavata. In the ‘Gopi Gita’, the gopis sing: ‘O Friend [Krishna], you are not merely the son of
the gopi Yashoda; you are also the witness of the soul [antaratma-drk] of all embodied beings. The
gopis did not think of Krishna as the ‘inner controller’, antaryamin, or meditate on him thus; they
called him antaratma-drk only to remind him that he knew what was going on in their hearts, what
anguish they were suffering on account of his absence. They said, ‘Be gracious and show us your
divine face; without seeing you, seconds seem to be aeons.’ The gopis always wanted to be one with
Krishna, and that is the ideal of devotion expressed in the Bhagavata. Though at times the unity is expressed in terms of physical union, the analogy must always be understood in terms of the spirit
it stands for.

Who is the greatest among devotees according to the Bhagavata? ‘He is the greatest among devotees whose mind never swerves even for a moment from the feet of God, though he be offered
the wealth of the three worlds.’
Such is the devotion one has to have for God. Such a devotee is
loved by the Lord immensely. He has repeatedly said that he remains subservient to such devotees.
‘I am subservient to my devotees and have no freedom [as it were] so far as they are concerned. My
heart is attracted by them as I am their beloved.’ The Bhagavata abounds with many such beautiful
expressions of devotion.

Sourceexcerpts from ‘Bhagavata Darshana by Swami Bhuteshanand’ in Prabhuddha Bharata magazine August 2008 issue.