Bhagavat Purana (also known as Shrimad Bhagavata, Bhagavatam or Bhagwat) is the most popular and widely circulated of all the Puranas. The word 'Purana' means 'narrative of olden times'. After the four vedas, the Puranas form the most sacred of the texts for devout of Sanatan Dharma. The highest philosophy found in Vedas and Upanishads was difficult for commoners to understand. Hence Puranas, which were recited at the time of sacrifices became popular. With the passage of time, Puranas involving different deities manifested: Brahma, Padma, Vishnu, Siva, Garuda, Narada, Bhagavata, Agni, Skanda, Bhavishya, Brahmavaivarta, Markandeya, Vamana, Varaha, Matsya, Kurma and Brahmanda - a total of eighteen.
Bhagavat Purana consists of Eighteen thousand slokas, distributed amongst 332 Chapters and divided into Twelve cantos (skandhas). It is named Bhagavat from its being dedicated to the glorification of Lord Vishnu. Though originally written in Sanskrit, Bhagavat has been explored and translated in major vernacular languages of India. Bhagavat, an epic philosophical and literary classic, holds a prominent position in India’s voluminous written wisdom. Bhagavat exercises a more direct and powerful influence upon the opinions and feelings of the people than perhaps any other of the Puranas.
Bhagavat is considered essence of Geeta. Bhagavat deals mainly with innumerable exploits of Lord Krishna, an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu and stresses on devotion, as way to salvation (mukti). Sage Vyas, author of many great scriptures like Mahabharat and Vedas, compiled it . The 18,000-verse treatise centers on the science of God and devotion to Him, and includes biographies of great devotees who followed the path of Bhakti and attained moksha.
From academic point of view, Bhagavata Purana is a narration of a conversation between King Parikshit and Sage Sukdev (Shukadeva). King Parīkshit was cursed to die in seven days by a Brahmin, so he decided to spent final days of his life in gaining knowledge about the goal of life relegating his stately duties. As he prepares for his impending death, Shukadeva, who has been searching for a suitable disciple to whom he might impart his great knowledge, approaches the king and agrees to teach him. Their conversation goes on uninterrupted for seven days, during which the king does not eat, drink or sleep. During this time the sage explains that the ultimate aim of life lies in knowing the supreme absolute truth.
The most popular and characteristic part of Bhagavat is the tenth canto, which describes the life and works of Sri Krishna. The Bhagavata Purana depicts Krishna not as a Jagad-Guru (a teacher) as in the Bhagavad-Gita, but as a heroic lad brought up by cowherd parent, Nand and Yashoda, in a small village situated on the banks of Yamuna River. Young Krishna's childhood plays and acts of bravery in protecting villagers from demons steals the hearts of the cowherd girls (Gopis'). In his unique enchanting way, Krishna lifts Gopis to a higher state as a result of intense devotion. However, when Krishna leaves for Mathura on a mission, Gopis' love turns into grief. Their intense longing is presented as a model of extreme devotion to the Supreme Lord. In a way, Bhagavat paved way to various schools of Bhakti Movement.
Known as 'the ripe fruit of the tree of Vedic literature', Srimad-Bhagavatam is the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge. It covers everything from the nature of the self to the origin of the universe, and touches upon all fields of knowledge. It raises and answers fundamental questions like what is life, what is a human being's role in life, what is meant by cycle of birth and death, what is the relation between God and man, what are ways of propitiating God etc. Bhagavata also adds fifth element of devotion (or divine service) besides well-known four aspects of life i.e. Dharma (morality), Artha (acquiring wealth), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation or salvation). Narrated in story-form its style is simple, lyrical and picturesque.
The impact of Bhagavata on Indian life over ages cannot be measured easily. It has served as the inspiration for countless works of literature, song, drama, painting, sculpture, folk-theatres and crafts. Dealing with exploits of Lord Krishna from childhood to Mahabharata battle, anecdotes and stories figure in one form or other in Vaishnava temple sculptures. Kaliya mardana, Gopika Vastra-harana, Gajendra-moksha, Govardhan-dharan are only few events which have kindled imagination of artistes and craftsmen through ages. All the important dance schools, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakkali, Odissi and Manipuri have themes from Bhagavata.