Sūta said, “When the Second Age was beginning within the Third, the expansion of Hari was born to the mystic Parāśara and Vāsavyā.
This describes the birth of Vyāsa. Thus Sūta begins to answer Śaunaka’s first question – when, why and how did Vyāsa conceive of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam?
The ages are counted “backwards” from the smallest, due to the math regarding how they are calculated as multiples of the smallest unit. Thus the Fourth Age is chronologically first, then comes the Third, followed by the Second, followed by the final age: “Quarrel.” Vyāsa was born a very long time ago, at the beginning of the Second Age (dvāpara yuga) about 870 thousand years ago, or, if we count ages according to Manu Samhita’s method, about three or four thousand years ago.
“Once, after finishing his morning bath in the pure water of Sarasvati River, he took a seat alone in concentration as the Sun rose over the riverbank.
“That sage could perceive the past and future. He saw that soon the unstoppable forces of the next age would cause an upheaval in morality, as occurred in the past as well, whenever this age comes.
“That age would ruin humanity’s powers, character, and creations. People would be reduced to stone-hearted, confused, dull-witted, short-lived and luckless creatures. Seeing this by divine vision, the Sage whose vision is always clear contemplated how to help all varieties of people.
“He saw that the four types of rituals purified the deeds of the general population. So he expanded their definition from one concise summary into four discrete sections.
Vyāsa thought, “Rituals are useful to purify the deeds of ordinary people. So perhaps if I make it easier and clearer how and why to perform ritual, the people of the coming age will be rescued from the brunt of the calamity I foresee?”
“Those four are called Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva. He then made what is called the fifth division, consisting of histories and ancient tales. Then he carefully put Paila in charge of the Ṛg Veda, Jaimini in charge of the Sāma, and Vaiśampāyana in charge of the Yajur. He gave charge of the Atharva to Angirā, the fierce sage also named Sumantu. The histories and tales he entrusted to my father, Romaharṣaṇa. Each of these sages passed the Veda in their charge down through their limitless students, students’ students, the students of those students. Thus arose the different Vedic schools.
So, Vyāsa did not create the five divisions of Vedic knowledge in a few months. It took many generations before the five different schools were clearly and firmly established. During the Second Age the people, especially the sages, were very long-lived, so this would amount to quite a lot of time – thousands if not tens of thousands of years or more.
“That is how blessed Vyāsa, out of compassion for the miserable, compiled the Veda in a manner that a dull-minded man might better grasp.
“Then he considered that certain people do not have much natural attraction to reading and academics – housewives, laborers, and those who are not truly cultured. ‘How can I help the less intellectually inclined?’ So thinking, he compassionately created the Tale of India.
The ritualistic Vedas, histories, and Purāṇas that Vyāsa created so far, though greatly simplified and clarified from their original format, were still quite “high-brow.” Vyāsa foresaw that most of the men and women in the coming age would be non-intellectual and have no interest in studying high-brow complexities. Therefore he compiled the extremely dramatic and colorful tales of Mahābharata (“The Great Tale of King Bhārata, King of India”) in such a way that would communicate essential knowledge through an entertaining medium.
“O cultured sages, having done all this work tirelessly and wholeheartedly for the benefit of so many people, his heart still could not find satisfaction.”
The next post will reveal why Vyāsa was still unsatisfied, and what he finally did about it.