Why do the Bhagavatam and the Mahabharata describe the same stories differently?
Transcription by– VandanaGoel and Keshav Gopal Das
Question-Is the Mahabharat and Bhagwatam different because the Vyasdev is preaching to different audience and customizing the message accordingly?
Answer– Yes, actually there are three levels of answer to this. First is that Jiva Goswami explains and VishvanathChakravarthyThakura also explains that whenever there are different narratives given in the Puranas that is frequently due to kalpabheda. That means the pastimes of the Lord happened differently at different times. Pastime of say ParikshitMaharaj on one time arranging to stay in a fort and protect himself from Shringi’s curse and at another time renouncing the world to focus on hearing are two different narratives that happened at two different times. So the two narratives in this sense are two different historical accounts.
Secondly each book has a particular focus. The stories that are narrated in these books are meant to serve that purpose of that book. The Bhagwatam’s purpose is to demonstrate paradharma, that is to focus exclusively on Krishna and put aside everything else. For this the same Vyasdevcomplies the story which is told by ShukdevGoswami to ParikshitMaharaj basically he narrates how ParikshitMaharaj left the world. To serve the purpose of the Bhagwatam, he takes a particular story. The purpose of Mahabharata is to illustrate the Dharma, Artha, Kama and ultimately Moksha. If we look at the Mahabharata itself as an independent text then Krishna does come out as God but Krishna bhakti is not the direct center of the Mahabharata; primary center is Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
While illustrating that; for a kshatriya, to want to protect himself so that he can continue ruling virtuously is not wrong. In the Mahabharata it is clear that Parikshit was a virtuous king. Even in the Bhagwatam_____ mention that his body was meant for the service of humanity so why did he give up his body? The point is for virtuous king to want to protect his body that he may continue his service is not wrong. That is also an acceptable course of action depending on one’s consciensness and motivation.
With respect to the Pandavas the Bhagwatam explains how they went back to the spiritual world. That is what happened in one kalpa and that is what is narrated because Bhagwatam’s focus is on pure devotional service. Did they go to heaven or even to hell, that’s what is told in Mahabharata. That basically demonstrates the point that the performanceof material religion can never be perfect. Dharam, Artha, Kama and Moksha, there can always be some deficiencies and those deficiencies will lead to some consequences. That is why the Pandavas had to briefly go to helland also because of some deficiencies that they had,they fell and only Yudhishtara was able to go the top of the Himalayas. That is the narrative that illustrates how one has to perform punya very carefully and avoid paapa and even small paapa can be blemishes. So this is the second level of understanding.
Third level is also there that Madhavacharya says very clearly that the Mahabharata is a corrupted text. In the MahabharataTatparyaNirnaya, he says the original Mahabharat is basically lost. There is much that has been added, there is also a Sanskrit verse for this, it says how verses have been changed, verses have been removed and verses have been added. Therefore it is very difficult to determine the import of the Mahabharata from the existing text of the Mahabharata. That’s why he gave the MahabharataTatparyaNirnaya to give the conclusion of the Mahabharata based on his understanding and based on the support of other scriptures.
For example, Madhavacharya describes in the Mahabharata in Draupadi’sswayamvara, Karna went and he also competed but Karna missed the target. There is no mention that Draupadi stopped him by saying that he is a sutaputra. Madhavacharya says that this incident did not happen so when that incident is present in many Mahabharatas that is an addition which was not there in the original Mahabharata.
BhadarkarOriental Research Institute has also worked very hard to prepare what they call as critical editionof the Mahabharata. That means based on the existing manuscripts they tried to find out what was the original Mahabharata by inference. They also said that Draupadi did not say like this. So basically Karna missed the target.
So when there is a contradiction between the Mahabharata and the Bhagwatam we understand that the Bhagwatam is the amalapurana. It is the higher pramaana. We refer to the higher pramaana and then how do we explain the Mahabharata, that can be based on these three parameters, another Kalpa, another message to be given and possible interpolation. And that’s how we can explain the difference between the Mahabharata and the Bhagwatam.