I will take this opportunity to talk about the Bhakti genre of literature as well as the sutra form of Indic texts. Bhakti literature flourished in the middle ages. The poet saints of that era wrote odes to particular form of deities. Those who were devotees of Lord Krishna wrote songs in praise of lord Krishna or expressing their emotions considering him a child, or the master or the ultimate lover. Same way devi devotees wrote songs in praise of the goddess and so on.
But the texts that analyzed various aspects of bhakti were not many. Bhakti topic was discussed here and there in various texts like Rama Charita Manasa, Bhagavad Gita, Udhava Gita, Devi Gita etc. But there are two works that exclusively probe various aspects of Bhakti. One is Narada Bhakti Sutras and the other is Shandilya Bhakti Sutras.
A sutra is a statement. A cryptic statement and these are made as short as possible. Like a telegraphic message. No unnecessary words. Sutra literally means thread. A number of threads can be joined together, held together and carried together with ease. So can be a series of sutras. The logical flow and the interconnectedness further makes it easy to remember all the sutras.
Some scholars say that in ancient times, vedas and many other works were transmitted in oral tradition from masters to disciples for generations and these were not recorded for a long time. The the vedas along with their embedded texts like the Upanishads etc. are known as shrutis (the heard). This goes in favour of this group of scholars. If that was the case, the verse form with rules for strict meter format like those of the vedas and the sutra form must have been useful in remembering. More so in the case of the sutra form of texts.
But some scholars feel that there must have been some form of writing even though we have not been able to discover it. According to them shrutis are divine revelations. They were originally heard by the Rishis during deep mediation. By the way, vedas are called apurusheya, which means – not of human origin.
In the latter case also even if writing existed, it was not easy those days. Narada Bhakti Sutras has 84 sutras. All the sutras can be written in normal text size on both sides of an A4 paper. However, if one writes on palm leaves these may run to 20 pages. And there was no system of duplicating. If another person wanted the text it had to be written again following the same tedious process. In this context the sutra form must have come as a great relief.
I have already mentioned a Sutra text in this series. But Kamasutra is not a pure sutra text. It is a combination of sutras and verses. Vedas also contain sutra type expositions along with verses. Apart from the two Bhakti sutras, Shiva Sutras, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Brahma Sutras, Nyaya Sutras, Vaiseshika Sutras, and Mimamsa Sutras are some prominent texts in this format.
But the demerit of sutra format is that because of their cryptic nature it is not easy to understand without the help of an expert. Luckily I had the opportunity of hearing the entire series of discourse on Narada Bhakti Sutras from Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. When it comes to connecting with the audience with his simple explanations of difficult concepts Gurudev is unrivalled.
Since Narada makes references to Shandilya, it is possible that Narada Bhakti Sutras was a later composition. Narada Bhakti sutras is attributed to Narada Muni who has the status of a Brahmarshi – one who has realized the Brahman or for whom Brahmavidya has been an experiential reality. The knower of Brahman is the ultimate jnani. Coincidentally, Shandilya Muni too is a knower of Brahman. Two prominent masters of jnana yoga not only propound the principles of Bhakti but also emphasize that Bhakti is essential for everyone.
Narada defines bhakti as parama premarupa – it is the ultimate love. Amrita swarupa cha – also the love that is eternal. ‘After getting into the state of such a love, nothing remains to be attained’, he further says.
Narada is attributed to be the author of these sutras. But he himself says that these principles come from lord Shiva and he is just the speaker (narada prokta sivanusasanam). We can find such humble admissions in many ancient texts. The authors never claimed it was their work. They said it came from God. It was a way of saying it came from a higher consciousness.
Same is true of any creative work. After it has happened we cannot exactly say how it happened or where it came from. We cannot predict or program a creative work. If we can program it, it is no more a creative work. In ancient Greece, the artists and poets credited their inspiration to the Muse group of Gods.
This is the alphabet N post of Blogchatter AtoZ Challenge 2021. My theme this year is ‘The beauty of Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts’, where in I explore selected compositions in Sanskrit and also some unique aspects of Sanskrit language and texts. Join with me in my journey to understand India’s spiritual and intellectual heritage. All the posts of AtoZ Challenge 2021 can be accessed here.