A new 60-minute feature documentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam, entitled “India’s Book of Wisdom—The Bhagavata Purana” has been released to watch for free at the Bhagavata Purana Research Project.
Hosted by Dr. Kenneth Valpey (Krishna Kshetra Swami), co-director (with Prof. Ravi M. Gupta) of the Bhagavata Purana Research Project at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, the film introduces the Bhagavata Purana to people completely new to this crown jewel of ancient Sanskrit literature. Absorbing, enlightening, and colorful, it is packed with in-depth interviews with illustrious Bhagavata scholars, while footage throughout of arts, devotional practices, and holy places related to the Bhagavatam bring their points to life.
From L to R: HH Hanumat Presaka Swami, Prof. Ravi M. Gupta, and Dr. Kenneth Valpey (HH Krishna Kshetra Swami)
The idea for the film came about in 2016, when the Bhagavata Purana Research Project was planning a conference in Chennai, India entitled “The Bhagavata Purana: Philosophy, History and Culture.” Organized with the help of the Department of Philosophy at Madras University and the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai, the conference took place in January 2017.
“It occurred to me that this was an ideal opportunity to collect interviews with all the scholars who would be coming together in one place,” says Krishna Kshetra Swami.
The process of making the film took four years, with fundraising starting in late 2016, and director Citra Karuni Devi Dasi shooting footage at the Bhagavata Purana Conference in Chennai in early 2017.
“The initial idea was to make a much shorter film, which could be used in university classrooms for students of Hinduism, religion in general, world literature or South Asian culture,” says Krishna Kshetra Swami. “But the film kept growing by itself!”
After doing interviews with eleven scholars, each special in itself and full of gems, the filmmakers decided to first release all the full interviews as 30 to 40 minute videos before the feature film. These are all still available to watch on the Bhagavata Purana Research Project Youtube page for those who want to go in-depth into the subject matter.
The finished film, released this spring, focuses on the January 2017 International Bhagavata Purana Conference held in Chennai, India, where prominent Bhagavata scholars assembled to discuss this classic bhakti (devotional) scripture, centered on the life and activities of Lord Krishna.
The documentary features interviews with Prof. Graham M. Schweig, Christopher Newport University, Virginia; Prof. Nanditha Krishna, Writer and Historian, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai; Prof. Ravi M. Gupta, Charles Redd Professor of Religious Studies, Utah State University, and Prof. Barbara Holdrege, Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara.
There are also interviews with Prof. John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York; Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies; Hanumatpresaka Swami, Founder and General Secretary of North American Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, Peru; and Dr. Anand Venkatkrishnan, Assistant Professor, History of Religions, The University of Chicago.
Interviewees explore why the Bhagavata Purana, such an ancient text, is so popular even today, resonating not only in India but increasingly around the world too.
They tell the story of Maharaja Pariksit, who was cursed to die and heard the Bhagavata Purana, or Srimad-Bhagavatam from Sukadeva Goswami during the last seven days of his life, and call attention to the urgency we all have in facing death.
They discuss bhakti, the intrinsic feeling of devotion we all have the potential for, and how it is developed through the practice of bhakti yoga.
Barbara Holdridge explains the Gaudiya Vaishnava vision of Lord Krishna, and how He is transcendental to this world, yet appears in this world in Vrindavana Dhama.
Shaunaka Rishi Das discusses the importance of the academic study of the Bhagavata Purana, and Ravi Gupta talks about how the Bhagavatam is attractive to readers because it is realistic and relatable.
“It deals with the shortcomings of being human, and how human frailty is something we all deal with,” says Krishna Kshetra Swami. “The Bhagavatam shows a path to hope; how, despite our failings, we can reach spiritual perfection.”
Meanwhile, Nanditha Krishna speaks about the arts surrounding the Bhagavata culture. This relates back to the film’s description, which reads, “As a major source of the living bhakti tradition in India, it is essential to understand this text [the Bhagavata Purana] to understand India’s culture of bhakti, art, literature and festivals.”
Throughout the film, dances, bhajans (devotional songs), and paintings revolving around the Bhagavata Purana and Lord Krishna are shown. Featured with permission are many Bhaktivedanta Book Trust paintings by ISKCON artists, as well as performances by Boston-based platform Indian Raga, which supports classical and contemporary Indian music and dance.
“I am so grateful to the BBT and Indian Raga, as well as filmmakers Shyam Gopal Das and Gour Govinda Das, who supported me, gave their friendship and shared their material for the movie,” says Citra Karuni.
The film also discusses the history of the Bhagavatam’s migration beyond India, which ISKCON Founder-Acharya Srila Prabhupada played a prominent role in.
Citra Karuni says that “India’s Book of Wisdom—The Bhagavata Purana” is aimed at anyone interested in the philosophy and culture of India and in Lord Krishna. “I think it will also be of interest to university professors, academicians, students and all sorts of preachers,” she says.
Krishna Kshetra Swami adds that he hopes the film will put the Srimad-Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, “on people’s radar,” and that it will encourage those already familiar with the Bhagavad-gita to take the next step in learning about bhakti-yoga by reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
To learn more about the Bhagavata Purana Research project, visit: https://www.bhagavatapurana.org/[ bhagavata-purana ] [ krishna-kshetra-swami ]