The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Bharata-varsa


BY: SUN STAFF - 23.7 2019

Yantra of Jambudvipa, c. 1725


A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 29.

There are many references to the name, origin and general description of Bharata-varsha found in sastra. Some are mentioned in lengthy narrations like those already presented, while others are very brief mentions. The word "varsha" refers to countries, such as Bharata-varsha (Sri Brhad-Bhagavatamrta 2.2.8). This Earth planet was formerly known as Ajanabha, in reference to the reign of King Nabhi, but after Bharata Maharaja ruled the planet, it became celebrated as Bharata-varsa. (Srimad Bhagavatam 5.7.3) Rsabhadeva was the son of King Nabhi and the grandson of King Agnidhra, and he was the father of King Bharata, after whose name this planet earth was called Bharata-varsa. (SB 2.7.10 p)

In his article, "Who Is Crazy?", originally published in 'Back to Godhead' #66, Srila Prabhupada explains how places are named over time:

"These are all designations that are constantly changing. From the Vedic literatures we can understand that this whole planet was known as Ilavrita-varsha, and one king, Maharaja Bharata, who ruled the entire planet, changed the name of the planet to Bharata-varsha. Gradually, however, the planet became divided again, and different continents and sectors became known by different names. Even recently India has been divided into a number of countries, whereas earlier in the century India had included Burma, Ceylon and East and West Pakistan. In actuality the land is neither Bharata-varsha, India, Europe, Asia or whatever-we simply give it these designations in accordance with time and influence."

Of course, over long periods of time varying accounts of the history and names of places tend to change, and Srila Prabhupada addresses this, with respect to Bharata-varsha, in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 1.12.20:

"Dausyanti Bharata: There are many Bharatas in history, of which Bharata the brother of Lord Rama, Bharata the son of King Rsabha, and Bharata the son of Maharaja Dusyanta are very famous. And all these Bharatas are historically known to the universe. This earth planet is known as Bharata, or Bharata-varsa, due to King Bharata the son of Rsabha, but according to some this land is known as Bharata due to the reign of the son of Dusyanta. So far as we are convinced, this land's name Bharata-varsa was established from the reign of Bharata the son of King Rsabha. Before him the land was known as Ilavati-varsa, but just after the coronation of Bharata, the son of Rsabha, this land became famous as Bharata-varsa."

Here is another passage that helps us to understand the history of Bharata-varsha, and particularly the king for whom it is named, from the Bhaktivedanta Purport to Bhagavad-gita6.43:

"King Bharata, who took his third birth in the family of a good brahmana, is an example of good birth for the revival of previous transcendental consciousness. King Bharata was the emperor of the world, and since his time this planet is known among the demigods as Bharata-varsa. Formerly it was known as Ilavrta-varsa. The emperor, at an early age, retired for spiritual perfection but failed to achieve success. In his next life he took birth in the family of a good brahmana and was known as Jada Bharata because he always remained secluded and did not talk to anyone. And later on, he was discovered as the greatest transcendentalist by King Rahugana. From his life it is understood that transcendental endeavors, or the practice of yoga, never go in vain. By the grace of the Lord the transcendentalist gets repeated opportunities for complete perfection in Krsna consciousness."

We find additional information about Bharata-varsha in various descriptions of the nine divisions of land in ancient Jambudvipa, of which Bharata-varsha is one. Bharata (or Ilavrta) varsa is located in the center of Jambudvipa, and south of it is Hari-varsa. (SB 1.16.12 P) And within Bharata-varsa there are nine khandas: (1) Aindra, (2) Kaseru, (3) Tamraparna, (4) Gabhastimat, (5) Kumarika, (6) Naga (7) Saumya, (8) Varuna and (9) Gandharva (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya 2.10).

The region of Bharata-varsha is further described in the Summary of Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17:

"The tract of land known as Bharata-varsa is the field of activities, and the other eight varsas are for persons who are meant to enjoy heavenly comfort. In each of these eight beautiful provinces, the celestial denizens enjoy various standards of material comfort and pleasure. A different incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead distributes His mercy in each of the nine varsas of Jambudvipa."

There is another important description of Bharata-varsha, along with instructions for how to understand the complexities of locating and measuring such places, in Srimad Bhagavatam5.16.9-10:

S.B. 5.16.9: "Similarly, south of Ilavrta-varsa and extending from east to west are three great mountains named (from north to south) Nisadha, Hemakuta and Himalaya. Each of them is 10,000 yojanas [80,000 miles] high. They mark the boundaries of the three varsas named Hari-varsa, Kimpurusa-varsa and Bharata-varsa [India].

S.B. 5.16.10: In the same way, west and east of Ilavrta-varsa are two great mountains named Malyavan and Gandhamadana respectively. These two mountains, which are 2,000 yojanas [16,000 miles] high, extend as far as Nila Mountain in the north and Nisadha in the south. They indicate the borders of Ilavrta-varsa and also the varsas known as Ketumala and Bhadrasva.

PURPORT: There are so many mountains, even on this planet earth. We do not think that the measurements of all of them have actually been calculated. While passing over the mountainous region from Mexico to Caracas, we actually saw so many mountains that we doubt whether their height, length and breadth have been properly measured. Therefore, as indicated in Srimad-Bhagavatam by Sukadeva Gosvami, we should not try to comprehend the greater mountainous areas of the universe merely by our calculations. Sukadeva Gosvami has already stated that such calculations would be very difficult even if one had a duration of life like that of Brahma. We should simply be satisfied with the statements of authorities like Sukadeva Gosvami and appreciate how the entire cosmic manifestation has been made possible by the external energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The measurements given herein, such as 10,000 yojanas or 100,000 yojanas, should be considered correct because they have been given by Sukadeva Gosvami. Our experimental knowledge can neither verify nor disprove the statements of Srimad-Bhagavatam. We should simply hear these statements from the authorities. If we can appreciate the extensive energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that will benefit us."

Of course, the history of Bharata-varsha is inconceivably long. The Kuru-Panchala was once considered foremost among the provinces of the region, and the Kurus and Panchalas adhered closely to the Vedic religion of sanatana-dharma. Maharaja Pariksit also ruled the world as King of Bharata-varsa (SB 1.7.8P).

In Science of Self Realization 6, Srila Prabhupada states that from the historical point of view, this whole planet of Bharata-varsa was controlled by one flag up to the time of Maharaja Pariksit. Then it gradually separated. Today Bharata-varsa is crippled, having been divided up into a small piece of land.

Mention of the more recent history of Bharata-varsha is also found in Srimad Bhagavatam 5.4.9:

"Of Rsabhadeva's one hundred sons, the eldest, named Bharata, was a great, exalted devotee qualified with the best attributes. In his honor, this planet has become known as Bharata-varsa.

PURPORT: This planet known as Bharata-varsa is also called punya-bhumi, the pious land. At the present moment Bharata-bhumi, or Bharata-varsa, is a small piece of land extending from the Himalaya Mountains to Cape Comorin. Sometimes this peninsula is called punya-bhumi. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has given special importance to the people of this land.

"One who has taken his birth as a human being in the land of India (Bharata-varsa) should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people." (Cc. Adi 9.41) The inhabitants of this piece of land are very fortunate. They can purify their existence by accepting this Krsna consciousness movement and go outside Bharata-bhumi (India) and preach this cult to benefit the whole world."

bharata-bhumite haila manusya-janma yara
janma sarthaka kari' kara para-upakara

Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 9.41 is also referenced in Srila Prabhupada's purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.25.13, which gives another detailed narration of the importance of Bharat-varsha:

"The tract of land south of the Himalaya Mountains is the land of India, which was known as Bharata-varsa. When a living entity takes birth in Bharata-varsa he is considered to be most fortunate. Indeed, Caitanya Mahaprabhu has stated:

Thus whoever takes birth in the land of Bharata-varsa attains all the facilities of life. He may take advantage of all these facilities for both material and spiritual advancement and thus make his life successful. After attaining the goal of life, one may distribute his knowledge and experience all over the world for humanitarian purposes. In other words, one who takes birth in the land of Bharata-varsa by virtue of his past pious activities gets full facility to develop the human form of life. In India, the climatic condition is such that one can live very peacefully without being disturbed by material conditions. Indeed, during the time of Maharaja Yudhisthira or Lord Ramacandra, people were free from all anxieties. There was not even extreme cold or extreme heat. The three kinds of miserable conditions--adhyatmika, adhibhautika and adhidaivika (miseries inflicted by the body and mind itself, those inflicted by other living entities, and natural disturbances)--were all absent during the reign of Lord Ramacandra or Maharaja Yudhisthira. But at present, compared to other countries on earth, India is artificially disturbed. Despite these material disturbances, however, the country's culture is such that one can easily attain the goal of life--namely salvation, or liberation from material bondage. Thus in order to take birth in India one must have performed many pious activities in a past life.

In this verse the word laksita-laksanam indicates that the human body attained in Bharata-varsa is very auspicious. Vedic culture is full of knowledge, and a person born in India can fully take advantage of Vedic cultural knowledge and the cultural system known as varnasrama-dharma. Even at the present time, as we travel all over the world, we see that in some countries human beings have many material facilities but no facilities for spiritual advancement. We find everywhere the defects of one-sided facilities and a lack of full facilities. A blind man can walk but not see, and a lame man cannot walk but can see. Andha-pangu-nyaya. The blind man may take the lame man over his shoulder, and as he walks the lame man may give him directions. Thus combined they may work, but individually neither the blind man nor the lame man can walk successfully. Similarly, this human form of life is meant for the advancement of spiritual life and for keeping the material necessities in order. Especially in the Western countries there are ample facilities for material comforts, but no one has any idea of spiritual advancement. Many are hankering after spiritual advancement, but many cheaters come, take advantage of their money, bluff them and go away. Fortunately the Krsna consciousness movement is there to give all facilities for both material and spiritual advancement. In this way people in the Western countries may take advantage of this movement.

In India any man in the villages, unaffected by the industrial cities of India, can still live in any condition and make spiritual advancement. The body has been called the city of nine gates, and these nine gates include two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, a genital and a rectum. When the nine gates are clean and working properly, it is to be understood that the body is healthy. In India these nine gates are kept clean by the villagers who rise early in the morning, bathe in the well or rivers, go to the temples to attend mangala-arati, chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra and take prasada. In this way one can take advantage of all the facilities of human life. We are gradually introducing this system in different centers in our Society in the Western countries. One who takes advantage of it becomes more and more enlightened in spiritual life. At the present moment, India may be compared to the lame man and the Western countries to the blind man. For the past two thousand years India has been subjugated by the rule of foreigners, and the legs of progress have been broken. In the Western countries the eyes of the people have become blind due to the dazzling glitter of material opulence. The blind man of the Western countries and the lame man of India should combine together in this Krsna consciousness movement. Then the lame man of India can walk with the help of the Westerner, and the blind Westerner can see with the help of the lame man. In short, the material advancement of the Western countries and the spiritual assets of India should combine for the elevation of all human society.

(Srimad Bhagavatam 4.25.13 Purport)

bharata-bhumite haila manusya-janma yara
janma sarthaka kari' kara para-upakara
(Cc. Adi 9.41)

Likewise, in his purport to SB 5.6.13 Srila Prabhupada quotes Adi 9.41, and states the following:

"As stated in this verse, Bharata-varsa is a most pious land. The followers of Vedic literature understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His different incarnations, and they are privileged to glorify the Lord by following the directions of Vedic literature. After realizing the glories of human life. such people should take up the mission to spread the importance of human life throughout the whole world. This is the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The word adhipunyam indicates that there are certainly many other pious men throughout the world, but the people of Bharata-varsa are even more pious. Therefore they are fit to spread Krsna Consciousness throughout the world for the benefit of all human society. Srila Madhvacarya also recognizes the land of Bharata-varsa: visesad bharate punyam. Throughout the world, there is no question of bhagavad-bhakti or devotional service, but the people of Bharata-varsa can easily understand the devotional service of the Lord. Thus every inhabitant of Bharata-varsa can perfect his life by discharging bhagavad-bhakti and then preaching this cult throughout the world for the benefit of everyone."