About the Book
One of the victims of westernization in the 19th century was the Puranic lore of India. Condemned as 'puerile Puranic stuff' by a section of English- educated Indians, the vast literature seemed to be heading for oblivion. Fortunately, the common man remained true to his heritage and did not reject it.
Writing during the First World War years, Sri Aurobindo gave high praise to Puranic literature in his Foundations of Indian Culture: "The Puranas have been much discredited and depreciated in recent times, since the coming in of modem ideas coloured by western rationalism and the turning of the intelligence under new impulses back towards the earlier fundamental ideas of the ancient culture. Much however of this depreciation is due to an entire misunderstanding of the purpose, method and sense of the medieval religious writings. It is only in an understanding of the turn of the Indian religious imagination and of the place of these writings in the evolution of the culture that we can seize their sense."
Srimad Bhagavatam: At Each Step a Luminous World tries 'to connect' the legends with contemporary experiences and their continued relevance. While references are drawn from a wide spectrum of writings on Indian culture, Sri Aurobindo's voice and vision give the book a rare sprightliness and authenticity. It also reveals how much we are indebted to the Mahayogi for 'compelling' us to get back to the Puranic world which enriches us in every way.
Dr. Prema Nandakumar obtained her Ph.D. in 1961 for her study of Sri Aurobindo's epic poem Savitri. Since then, she has been an independent researcher, publishing critical and biographical works. As a translator, her career spans half a century, with the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) publishing her book on Subramania Bharati. She has rendered into English the ancient Tamil epic, Manimekalai. Her latest publication is Adi Sankara: From the Finite to the Infinite (2013). She is the recipient of several awards, including the Sri Aurobindo Puraskar (Calcutta) and Pandita Ratna (Warangal) and was honoured by the Tamil Nadu Government with the Thamizh Thendral Tiru Vi. Ka. Award.
Krishna has always been with our family. My great-grandfather, Bangaruswami, was a devotee of the Bhagavata and had composed sweet Sanskrit lyrics on Krishna. Though most of them are now lost, three of them were written down on 13 February, 1920, by my father when he was twelve years old. He taught me these songs and I heard him humming the songs during his last days.
Palaya mamanisam yadunayaka bala gopala murari
Belonging to a Srivaishnava family, I grew up with the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata. On Diwali 1944 my father gifted me a book on the Tamil hymnologist Andal (Goda Devi) written for children. From that day onwards Andal became my guide and Krishna became my deity. Reading the Bhagavata in Sanskrit, Tamil or English has always been a joyous experience. Living in Andhra Pradesh during my formative years, I was introduced to Pothana's mellifluous classic in Telugu, Sri Andhra Mahabhagavatamu. Then came the day some decades ago when I discovered the wonderful passage in The Synthesis of Yoga:
"Therefore when the heart and life turn towards the Highest and the Infinite, they arrive not at an abstract existence or non-existence, a Sat or else a Nirvana, but at an existent, a Sat Purusha, not merely at a consciousness, but at a conscious Being, a Chaitanya Purusha, not merely at a purely impersonal delight of the Is, but at an infinite I Am of bliss, an Anandamaya Purusha; nor can they immerge and lose his consciousness and bliss in featureless existence, but must insist on all three in one, for delight of existence is their highest power and without consciousness delight cannot be possessed. That is the sense of the supreme figure of the intensest Indian religion of love, Sri Krishna, the All-blissful and All-beautiful."
Towards the end of his life, my father, who was also my spiritual mentor, was engaged in writing Krishna-Geetam. During those precious years, it was all Bhagavata at home. The books read and re-read and discussed ranged from the Sri Vishnu Purana to K.M. Munshi's voluminous reconstruction of the Yadava hero's life and times, Krishnavatara, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Krishna Charitra and Krishna Chaitanya's The Betrayal of Krishna. Krishna-Geetam was the last book to be written by father. What he had written in this epic poem became a talisman for me in my attempt to move towards the Greater Dawn:
The Sanjeevini that alone can end
the terror and the pity,
the epidemic death-wish of our times,
Is the Call of Krishna's Flute.
In December 2002, Sri R.Y. Deshpande had come to Warangal for delivering a lecture at a Sri Aurobindo Convention. When I met him, he invited me to do a series on the Puranas for Mother India. He wanted me to point out the relevance of the Puranas to our own times, and gave me ample time and freedom to plan the series. Purana literature is a vast ocean. There are major Puranas and minor ones; also Sthala Puranas dealing with the religious mythology and spiritual significance of particular temples. Apart from Sanskrit, Purana literature in the regional languages is an incredible spread. I was then writing a research paper on Puranas in Tamil, so I knew that this was not going to be an easy task. I decided to focus upon a single Purana. Naturally it had to be the Bhagavata.
'The Bhagavata? Do I dare to take up the task', I wondered. But has not Sri Aurobindo given the assurance, 'For the grace of the Divine Mother is the sanction of the Supreme and now or tomorrow its effect is sure, a thing decreed, inevitable and irresistible.' As the days progressed, a certain clarity began to dawn upon me. The Mother's Grace was in action. My salutations to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for making At Each Step a Luminous World possible. I owe everything to them. Even the title comes from Savitri!
I have maintained the Bhagavata as the firm base. Although mine is no simple retelling, I was more interested in looking at the many ways the Purana has inspired our philosophy of life, literature and culture. It was obvious that no verse in the work could be ignored since they were all meant to sculpt the ideal man. I was repeatedly joyfully surprised with the variations in regional languages that refrained from harming the central idea of the Purana, which was to lead us from the fear of death to the contemplation of the Supreme. These and allied thoughts took shape in the first seven sections of the series.
The Bhagavata is, of course, rich in legends but has also long passages on philosophy. I have preferred to project the legends and the lively manner in which they instil in the listener faith, strength and ethical ideals. Since the series was meant for the common reader, keeping up the reader's interest was of high priority, which meant crystallising ideas and connecting experiences. Judging by the response of the discriminating readers of Mother India, I may say that I have been able to fulfil the task I had set for myself, to the best of my ability.
At Each Step a Luminous World is how I have visualised my study. Whether it is a legend or a lecture or a description, the Bhagavata definitely leads us from darkness to light. Bhakti, 'the angel of the way' guides us through the twelve books. The present work begins with 'Draupadi's Compassion', a lesson that we shall not forget easily. For what use is the constant call to avenge a wrong? It is time we learnt to forget the evil past and turned to the promising rays of the future. Then to 'Parikshit', since we wish to overcome the terror of death. Unperturbed, he makes every moment of the seven days given to him meaningful and attains brahma nirvanam abhayam, a Brahmic state of Bliss beyond all fear.
In the course of the telling, four incarnations are studied in separate sections: Varaha, Vamana-Trivikrama, Rishabha and Rama. Krishna calls for five sections. In the Bhagavata also, the whole of the tenth and eleventh books be- long to Krishna. And yet we do not have enough! For he is, indeed, ' ... the supreme figure of the intensest Indian religion of love, Sri Krishna, the all- blissful and all-beautiful.'
Like the five incarnations highlighted in the book, I have chosen five devotees to illustrate how each one of us can attain the Divine, and none is barred entry into the Bhagavata world. The child Dhruva, the sinner Ajamila, Prahlad the rakshasa, the elephant Gajendra and a great king like Ambarisha are all admitted into this divine democracy. When, after reading this book, if at least some of the readers turn to the original Sanskrit Bhagavata or any of its retelling in their mother tongue, my work would be amply rewarded.
Many eminent Aurobindonians have guided me in my writing career. I remember with affection and gratitude Shri K.D. Sethna who edited Mother India for more than half a century with great distinction and for the abundance of loving encouragement he had given me in my Savitri studies, ever since he read the typescript of my doctoral thesis in 1961 and helped in its publication. I am grateful to Shri R.Y. Deshpande for inviting me to do this series and to Shri Hemant Kapoor for his painless ways of drawing my attention to the needed changes in my manuscript. Dr Sampadananda Mishra's Sanskrit scholarship has been a boon to me. So too Vilasni's work in proof reading and Krishna's in formatting the book. All English translations of the Sanskrit Bhagavata used in the text are by Swami Tapasyananda. I am deeply indebted to Sri Ramakrishna Math for their excellent edition of this great version.
My mother, who was always my first reader and critic, used to tell me that I should publish the serial as a book. I am deeply grateful to Shri Vijay for making this desire of my mother a reality. It is a pleasure to record my thanks to Auro publications for publishing the book. I would also like to record my thanks to Nandita Jaishankar and Nandini Gupta for helping me in many ways to finalise the manuscript in its new format. For me, the publication of At Each Step a Luminous World is only the beginning of another adventure with 'the angel of the way', for the flute call continues to be heard. May it be so for my readers as well.
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