Bharat Varsa and Political History

(SB 1-4-7 – 1-4-11)

H.D. Goswami gave this class on Jagannath Misra Mahotsava. He comments on the verses and then goes into a long question and answer session about the situation of Bharat Varsa and the world in Vedic times from a political and historical perspective.

SB 1.4.7

katham va pandaveyasya
rajarser munina saha
samvadah samabhut tata
yatraisa satvati srutih


How did it so happen that King Pariksit met this great sage, making it possible for this great transcendental essence of the Vedas [Bhagavatam] to be sung to him?

from H.D. Goswami’s comments:
Interesting point – The Bhagavatam is here called sruti.

 SB 1.4.8

sa go-dohana-matram hi
grhesu grha-medhinam
aveksate maha-bhagas
tirthi-kurvams tad asramam

grihamedhi literally means someone whose mind and intelligence is fixed on his domestic life. Pariksit could have counteracted the curse but he understood that is was Krsna’s desire.


He [Sukadeva Gosvami] was accustomed to stay at the door of a householder only long enough for a cow to be milked. And he did this just to sanctify the residence.


SB 1.4.9

abhimanyu-sutam suta
prahur bhagavatottamam
tasya janma mahascaryam
karmani ca grnihi nah


It is said that Maharaja Pariksit is a great first-class devotee of the Lord and that his birth and activities are all wonderful. Please tell us about him.

SB 1.4.10

sa samrat kasya va hetoh
pandunam mana-vardhanah
prayopavisto gangayam


He was a great emperor and possessed all the opulences of his acquired kingdom. He was so exalted that he was increasing the prestige of the Pandu dynasty. Why did he give up everything to sit down on the bank of the Ganges and fast until death?

SB 1.4.11

namanti yat-pada-niketam atmanah
sivaya haniya dhanani satravah
katham sa virah sriyam anga dustyajam
yuvaisatotsrastum aho sahasubhih


He was such a great emperor that all his enemies would come and bow down at his feet and surrender all their wealth for their own benefit. He was full of youth and strength, and he possessed insuperable kingly opulences. Why did he want to give up everything, including his life?

namaste literally means “I bow to you”, but not in the sense like some yoga-circles use it today: “I bow down to the God within you – to make sure that I am not bowing to you.

Why did Pariksit Maharaja give up all his opulences and decided to fast until death? He understood that this is what Krsna wants.

From Questions & Answers:

Technically Pariksti ruled in Kali Yuga. As far as the situation in the world. From the point of view of a political historian, the Kurus in Hatinapur had a special status but it was not absolute monarchy like Cesar or Augustus. It was more like a certain situation in Europe at a certain time. In Europe they developed the concept of absolute monarchy in the 16 hundreds.

A typical absolute monarch was Louis XIV who used to say: “L’etat c’est moi – The state – that’s me”. It was the notion that the king couldn’t do anything wrong and was divinely empowered, but that was an exception in history. Often the king was counted as the first among equals. Not so in Vedic times: From Mahabharata we understand that there were times when the Kurus were powerful and other times when their power was challenged and other kings stole Kuru land. Pandu was very powerful and took the land back from those who stole it, but still there were different kingdoms which were autonomous in their internal administration. There was no central administration. Central only in the sense that there was a system of tribute and in exchange the emperor would maintain a strong military force. It was a system of alliances, like a political insurance policy.

Another issue is how far did the Kuru influence expand? If we look at the geographic names, most of the concern is over India. We do not really know about the extended Vedic area  because the jurisdiction of the names can shrink and expand (e.g. America 200 years ago and now or Germany).

Kuru-land or Panchala – how do we know what these words mean? Another interesting thing is that there are many references giving in scriptures to crossing the ocean but you never hear about anyone taking a sea-journey, but still we the language. So it must be something people did even though we have no examples of it. As far as the Western hemisphere, was there anything anyone even cared about? No one bothered what their rules were (polygamy or tribal customs). You could have an area that is formally under someone’s jurisdiction, but no one really cared about it. What did people know about world geography during the Vedic period, what political system was in place, what areas were of real concerns, which relations existed between kings India and places in other part of the world? We don’t have so much information.

Central Asia and the Russian Steppes, during the Vedic times probably had contact with India through invasion. In modern times people came from eastern Asia and other places to India. So it’s not hard to imagine that in more ancient times traffic went the other way or that was originally part of the same civilisation. We know that people who were worshipping Vedic Gods and using Sanskrit terms in what is now Turkey. There are ancient texts which use technical terms from Sanskrit. From an academic point it is not clear. The Persian culture extended far into Central Asia and Russia. The ancient Persian language is just a dialect of Vedic Sanskrit.

We have no modern atlas about Bharat-varsa, it is pre-historical in the sense that there is no documented evidence about that.