Origin of the Bhagavata Purana

Based primarily on the earliest known written references of Abhinavagupta and Al-Biruni, academics estimate the date of origin of the Bhagavata Purana to be between 800–1000 C.E.

Indian cultural tradition

It is impossible to accurately date Vedic literature as Indian culture emphasised oral tradition over written. Therefore Vedic literature was spoken long before being written:

“The outstanding feature of the oldest Indian education and Indian culture in general, especially in the centuries B.C., is its orality. The vedic texts make no reference to writing, and there is no reliable indication that writing was known in India except perhaps in the northwestern provinces when these were under Achaemenid rule… The antiquity of writing in India is a controversial topic.”

Indian culture also emphasised intertextuality (e.g. recycling, elaborating, and reprocessing existing stories, teachings, etc.) over novelty, meaning Vedic literature shared common elements between one another (e.g. philosophies, themes, genealogies, myths, etc.):

“The Puranaic narratives are of various kinds. Some are creation myths found also in the Mahabharata, such as… the raising of the earth from beneath the cosmic waters (Mbh. 3.100.19; Markandeya 47.2-14; Padma 1.3.25b-52a; 5.3.20b-52a; Varaha 2.21-6; Visnu 4.1-52 [and Bhagavata 3.13; 3.18-19]).”

Many elements, such as the Vamana avatar of Vishnu (Sanskrit वामन, meaning ‘dwarf’ or ‘small or short in stature’; eighth canto of the Bhagavata), can be traced back directly to the Rig Veda, the most ancient scripture:

“The seeds of the Vamana incarnation are found in the deeds of Vishnu described in Vedic literature. The Rig Veda speaks of three steps of Vishnu which he placed in three places… Epics and Puranas elaborated upon the story and gave it a twist or new versions.”

From the Rig Veda itself:

“3. Three times strode forth this God in all his grandeur over this earth bright with a hundred splendors. Foremost be Vishnu, stronger than the strongest: for glorious is his name that lives forever. 4. Over this earth with mighty step strode Vishnu, ready to give it for a home to Manu.”

Summary of Findings

  • The Atharvaveda (e.g. hymn 11:7) - one of the four Vedas - is the earliest known written record that mentions Puranas in general
  • Abhinavagupta (950-1016 C.E) authored the earliest known written record that specifically referenced the Bhagavata Purana
  • Al-Biruni (973-1050 C.E.) authored a list of Puranas that named the Bhagavata, and explicitly stated that list originated from the Vishnu Purana
  • Vopadeva (circa 1350 C.E.) - a grammarian and commentator on the Bhagavata - is not the author of this scripture (as surmised by some Indologists)
  • Allowing a couple of centuries prior to the lives of historical figures for the Bhagavata to have become influential in their time
  • Composition based on and therefore after the Vishnu Purana (which itself cannot be reliably dated)
  • Composition in entirety after historical events or dynasties mentioned (i.e. rather than amendments to existing work, or actual prophesies)
  • An absence of known, written references by figures such as Ramanuja (1017–1137 C.E.) and Yamuna (circa 900 C.E.) Based on the references below:

The earliest known written references to the Srimad Bhagavatam - of which there are two - can be reliably dated to between 950-1050 C.E.; otherwise, there is no known evidence to establish a date of origin for this or any other Vedic literature. The overall academic consensus of between 800-1000 C.E. for a date of origin is entirely speculative and based on assumptions such as:

Daniel P. Sheridan

Theologian Daniel P. Sheridan:

“According to J.A.B. van Buitenen, while Vedic archaism  was notably absent in classical Sanskrit, the Bhagavata is a notable exception, especially with the Puranic tradition from the second to the tenth century A.D… T. Hopkin’s assessment seems correct: “the ninth century, probably between 850 and 900 A.D., would thus seem the most likely time for the Bhagavata to have been written.”

This information can only be derived circumstantially. Early European scholars, such as Colebrooke, Burnouf, and Wilson, thought that the Purana was composed by the grammarian Vopadeva (ca. 1350), the author of an index to the Bhagavata, the Harilila, but the theory is untenable… Since it gives greater detail to Krsna’s biography than either the Harivamsa or the Visnu Purana, the Bhagavata probably postdates these texts of the third or fourth centuries. Thus the limits for its dating are 500-1000 A.D….

There are no references to the Bhagavata in Ramanuja (12th century) nor in Yamuna (918-1038), both south Indian devotional theologians… Nevertheless, a reasonable working hypothesis dates the Bhagavata around 900 A.D., and there seems to be no alternative to a South Indian origin.”

Citing J.A.B. van Buitenen, Thomas Hopkins, Moriz Winternitz, Chintaman Vinayak Vaidya, and Friedhelm Hardy to support his claim, Sheridan admits this range has only been ‘derived circumstantially’ (i.e. speculated or inferred). To know exactly what ‘derived circumstantially’ means and how it affects accuracy or reliability, these citations will be examined, starting with J.A.B. van Builtenen.

J.A.B. van Buitenen

Indologist J.A.B. van Buitenen:

“The exact date of the Bhagavata Purana is still unsettled, though in its case closer approximation can be achieved than that of any other Purana. The terminus ante quem [“limit before which”] is roughly 1000, as it was known by name (but barely) to Persian scholar al-Biruni, and was quoted by Abhinavagupta. The terminus post quem [“limit after which”] is the Vaisnava bhakti movement of South India… Until fresh evidence turns up, it is better not to push back the date of the final version of the Bhagavata too far, nor too uncompromisingly to insist on the southern origin of our text. No quotations from the Bhagavata have been identified in Ramanuja’s work, although this theologian of bhakti cites the Visnu Purana profusely. Nor have I been able as yet to identify citations from our text in the works of Yamuna. Both Ramauja and Yamuna were South-Indian Vaisnavas deeply concerned with the orthodoxy of their faith.”

That Ramanuja (1017–1137 C.E.) did not reference the Bhagavata Purana is immaterial as he was born after Abhinavagupta (950-1016 C.E) - who did reference the Bhagavata - died. Al-Biruni (973-1050) also referenced the Bhagavata Purana.


The reference to Abhinavagupta (950-1016 C.E):

The assertion that Vyasa is the incarnation of God (1.3.40) and the story of Yashoda seeing the universal form in the mouth of boy Krishna (10.8.37-39) are specific to the Srimad Bhagavatam (e.g. not in the Vishnu Purana or Bhagavad Gita). As Abhinavagupta died in 1016 C.E., his devotional poem referencing the Bhagavata Purana would have been composed by that year at the very latest. Significantly, this proves Vopadeva (ca. 1350) could not be the author of the Bhagavata as it was referenced around three hundred years before he was born.


The reference to Al-Biruni (emphasis added):

“Another somewhat different list of the Puranas [from those Al-Biruni heard from unknown sources] has been read to me from the Vishnu-Purana. I give it here in extenso [“in full length”], as in all questions resting on tradition it is the duty of an author to give these traditions as completely as possible:”

This evidences three significant facts. First, Vopadeva (ca. 1350) - again - could not be the author of the Bhagavatam as it was listed by Al-Biruni (973-1050) around three hundred years before Vopadeva was born. Second, Al-Biruni stated the Bhagavatam was listed in the Vishnu Purana. And third, although Al-Biruni cited the Vishnu Purana and Bhagavad Gita extensively, he did not cite or quote the Bhagavatam (i.e. only listed it by name).


No known writings of Yamuna (circa 900 C.E.) reference the Srimad Bhagavatam. Yamuna does however acknowledge and refute orthodox Smarta objections that opposed the ’less-than-respectable Bhagavatas’ (meaning ‘devotees of Vishnu’), although this may concern the influence of the Vishnu Purana rather than the Srimad Bhagavatam:

“13. Objection: Nevertheless, the fact that Bhagavata Brahmins, who wear the hair-tuft, the sacred thread etc. prescribed in Scripture, perform daily the rites of Pancaratra should then justify the presumption that these rites likewise ultimately derive from the Veda… Brahmins? Far from it!… Hair-tuft, sacred thread etc. which are prescribed for Brahmins and the other two estates, do not make a man a Brahmin! Nor do they demonstrate that a man is a Brahmin, for we see them worn illegally by blackguards, outcastes, and the like. 14. Refutation: We reply: Well! So you really argue that the Bhagavatas, who are hated by the three estates, are exemplary and hence authoritative?!”

T.J. Hopkins

The reference to Thomas Johns Hopkins is from ’’ |source=A History Of Indian Literature Vol.i, Section II (‘The popular epics and the puranas’) }}

Exactly what Winternitz meant by the Bhagavata being ‘undoubtedly dependent’ on the Vishnu Purana is not explained; neither are the nature or extent its being ‘closely connected’ or its ’literal agreement’. As such, the claim made is purely speculative and without evidence. The footnote has been examined below, beginning with Bhandarkar, as C.V. Vaidya was also cited by Sheridan and is addressed in another section.

R. G. Bhandarkar

The reference to R. G. Bhandarkar:

“The Bhagavata, therefore, must have been composed at the, [sic] least two centuries before Anandatirtha to account for the reputation of the sacred character which it acquired in his time. It cannot be very much older, for its style often looks modern and in copying from the older Puranas it falls into mistakes, such as the one pointed out by me in another place.”

Anandatirtha lived between 1238-1317 C.E. The claims made by Bhandarkar are entirely speculative and without any arguments or evidence to support them. This includes no refutation of the possibility an earlier copy of the manuscript may have been re-written in ‘modern’ language or what ‘modern’ means (especially in relation to contradicting other academics’ assertions that the Bhagavata uses of ‘archaic’ language). Clearly Bhandarkar’s posited date of origin for the Bhagavata Purana - around 1038-1117 C.E. - is nonsense given this is 20-100 years after Abhinavagupta had already referenced it. As for the purported ‘mistake’ found, said to be on page 46 of the above book, no reference to any mistake was found, nor any reference to the Bhagavata Purana.

F. E. Pargiter

The reference to F. E. Pargiter:

“Three other Puranas contain all or nearly all the genealogies, the Garuda, Agni, and Bhagavata. Their accounts are all late recompilations, the Bhagavata being one of the very latest, about the ninth century A.D.”

Although repeating this claim on pages 72 and 80 (as quoted above) no argument or evidence to support it is provided, and therefore it is purely speculative. Tellingly, Pargiter admitted on page 131 ’’ |source=History Of Mediaeval Hindu India Vol.i, Chapter XVI (‘The KainKila Yavanas of Andhra’) }}

It is true that the Vishnu Purana does mention the Kilakila Yavanas in Chapter XXIV (Book 4), albeit as a prophecy, not an historical account. However, K. R. Subramanian posits the Kilakila invasion of Andhara to be as early as 225 A.D./C.E., over 200 years earlier than Vaidya. Regardless, even if Vaidya does not accept the prophetic nature of this material in the Vishnu Purana, he does not account for the possibility this information could simply have been added to an existing Purana (i.e. rather than being composed from scratch during or after this point). Consequently, Vaidya’s claim about the date of origin of the Vishnu Purana is speculative in nature and without evidence.

Exactly what Vaidya meant by the Bhagavata following the Vishnu Purana ‘at a distance’ is not explained, rendering the claim virtually meaningless. While likely to mean (as more explicitly claimed by others) that the Srimad Bhagavatam copied from the Vishnu Purana (again intertextuality is a notable feature of Indian culture), even if true, no information on the origin of the Vishnu Purana or ‘distance’ (in years) from the Bhagavata Purana is given, nor is any evidence provided to support the supposition that the scripture originated after 800 C.E.

Friedhelm Hardy

The reference to Friedhelm Hardy is from ’’ |source=The Blackwell Companion To Hinduism (Editor Nindi Punj), Chapter 6 (‘The Puranas’) }}

It is true that the Atharvaveda mentions the word Purana (more examples are given in the Puranas article):

“23. All things that breathe the breath of life, all creatures that have eyes to see, All the celestial Gods whose home is heaven sprang from Resudue. 24. Verses, and songs, and magic hymns, Purana, sacrificial text.” Matchett makes the same citation to Hardy as Sheridan (addressed above) and another to Rocher (addressed below).

Ludo Rocher

Speculated Date of OriginProponent / Author / Translator
1200-1000 B.C.S.D. Gyani (Date of the Puranas, NIA 5, 1942-43, 132)
900-800 B.C.Vyasa (Bhagavata 1974: 34-35)
A.D. 200-300Ramachandra Dikshitar (1951 - 55, 1.xxix)
300-400Tagare (Bhagavata tr. 1.xxxiv - xxxvii)
400-500Krishnamurti Sarma (Bhag. 1932-33: 190-218); Rukmani (Bhag. 1970: 12-14)
500-550Harza (Bhag. 1938: 525; cf. 1940: 53-55; 1958: 240n. 312)
500-600Majumdar (Bhag. 1961: 384; Bhag. 1966: 118); - Sharma (Bhag. 1978)

The reference to Ludo Rocher:

“In view of what has been said earlier in this volume, both on the transmission of puranic materials and on the role of the “mini-puranas,” I submit that it is not possible to set a specific date for any purana as a whole. Dates proposed by other will be reported in Part Two. It will become clear, at that point, that even for the better established and more coherent puranas - Bhagavata, Visnu, etc. - opinions, inevitably, continue to vary widely and endlessly.”

In part 2 of the same work - after discussing the belief amongst some (including H.H. Wilson) that Vopadeva was the author of the Bhagavata Purana (discredited, see Al-Burini, above) - Rocher duly provided a table of some estimated dates of origin, reproduced below from page 147 (notably, Vyasa is incorrectly attributed to have composed the scripture between 900-800 B.C., not at the onset of Kali Yuga as stated in the scripture, calculated to have occurred around 3100 B.C.):