Why does the Bhagavatam, a Vaishnava book, state that Kashi is the greatest of all holy places?
Transcribed by: Shalini Ahluwalia
Question: In Srimad Bhagavatam 12.13.17 it is said that Kashi is the greatest among all holy places, similarly the Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas. So why in Vaishnav literature is Kashi considered to be greatest?
Answer: Every reference that is there in the Bhagavatam or the scriptures is based on a particular context. So here in order to demonstrate the glory of Bhagavatam an example based on common understanding is given. Later on in the same chapter towards the end it is said that among devotees the greatest is Lord Shiva – vaiṣṇavānāṁ yathā śambhuḥ– and then it is said that – nimna-gānāṁ yathā gaṅgā – Ganga is the greatest and then devānām acyuto yathā that means Achyuta is the greatest and then in puranas Bhagavatam is the greatest. That is a well-known verse. Now there also you could compare and say that Jamuna is more pure than Ganga. Isn’t it? Why is Ganga mentioned in the verse? Or you could say we have the Brihad Bhagavatam hierarchy where the gopis are much, much higher than Shiva. So why the gopis are not mentioned over there? So basically the Bhagavatam talks about the glory of Krishna and talks about the glory of Vrindavan very clearly in the tenth canto. But when it is concluding it is describing the glory in terms that can be understood by people in general. So even Vishwanath Thakur does not give any purport to this particular verse. But few verses later where he is saying that just as – the verse 12.13.21 – that Parikshit’s illusion was removed by Sukhdev Maharaj.
yogīndrāya namas tasmai
So Parikshit Maharaj was bitten by the snake of material existence and he removed it. Now it is interesting he says that he is using the word Vishnuratam. If somebody is attached to Vishnu how can that person be samsara sarpa dastam and his attachment to Vishnu is talked about right from the beginning of his life, how he was so devoted the Lord came and protected him in his mother’s womb. So he says that this is a statement made for common people. And the essence of this statement is not that Parikshit Maharaj was samsara sarpa dastam but that the Bhagavatam has the potency to deliver people who are samsara sarpa dastam. That is the essence. Not the question that he is samsara sarpa dastam. That is just the context, Parikshit was the object to whom this sentence was spoken and Parikshit was delivered. So same way over here, sometimes a devotee may defer to common standards in order to glorify something. So defer means agree with. So for example we will see Prabhupada also sometimes would say to his western disciples that what is the use of your being Americans and Europeans unless you do something wonderful for Krishna. Now we could say that Prabhupada has taught you are not the body, you are the soul so why is he saying you are Americans or you could also say that he tells Indians that Americans are practising bhakti why don’t you practise bhakti. So now we could say he has elsewhere said that birth in India is far, far greater than birth in America then why is Prabhupada giving Americans as examples for Indians to follow. Indians are already so elevated and Americans are mlechchas mostly. So a devotee refers to a common understanding at certain times. So in common understanding Americans and Europeans were considered to be leaders of the world and Prabhupada was appealing to their national pride to inspire them to serve Krishna and in the same way Prabhupada was appealing to the Indian infatuation with the west to inspire the Indians to take up Krishna consciousness. We see this even in the Bhagavad Gita, even when Krishna is telling Arjuna you are not the body, you are the soul, Krishna at that very time uses so many names connected with the body of Arjuna. He says dehino asmina yatha dehe then immediately next verse he says matrasparshastu kaunteya. If you are not the body, you are the soul, then why should he say Kaunteya? Not only that in the same verse he uses
matra-sparsas tu kaunteya sitosna-sukha-duhkha-dah agamapayino ‘nityas tams titiksasva bharata
– another connection with the body. Why is that? Actually it is said that we don’t pinch the false ego nor do we massage the false ego but we pat the false ego in the direction of service to Krishna. Yes, if you are an Indian then prove to be true Indian by practising bhakti. You – Arjuna- belong to such a glorious dynasty, you have such a glorious mother Kunti, you belong to the glorious Bharata dynasty – now act gloriously by living according to dharma. Same way here the point of the verse is not that Kashi is the highest among all holy places, that is the common understanding that people have and if that is the common understanding that people have then just as you think that Kashi is the greatest similarly the greatest among all puranas is the Bhagavatam. Here basically the thrust is that Bhagavatam is the greatest and inorder to illustrate that a statement that is agreeable to people in common understanding that statement is given as a basis for establishing this point.
Thank you, Hare Krishna!