On what basis is Krishna claimed to be source of Vishnu?


Why is Krishna considered as source of Vishnu?

The answer is based on analysis by Jiva Goswami in his Sandarbhas.

This belief is based on Srimad Bhagavatam & other Vedic literatures.

Few reasons Srimad Bhagavatam is considered as sarva-pramananam cakravarti - emperor of all evidences:

  1. After composing all the Vedas, puranas and mahabharat, Vyasa was still dissatisfied and then finally wrote Bhagavatam and got satisfied.

  2. Many other puranas glorify Bhagavatam as the best.

  3. Garuda purana declared this to be natural commentary on Vedanta Sutra and most complete of all.(see here)

Some more reasons will be given later, for now we will leave it here.

Verse 1.3.28

ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam indrāri-vyākulaṁ lokaṁ mṛḍayanti yuge yuge

All these incarnations are either plenary portions or parts of the plenary portions of the puruṣa-avatāra. But Kṛṣṇa is the Bhagavan Himself. In every age He protects the world through His different features when the world is disturbed by the enemies of Indra.

This is the emperor of all verses in the Bhagavatam, for it is the most conclusive, unambiguous, declarative, absolute and categorical in establishing the Supremacy of Lord Krishna.

This is discussed in Krishna Sandarbha in great detail.

Jiva Goswami calls this paribhasa-sutra of Srimad Bhagavatam.

Paribhasa-sutra of any book, is stated only once, generally in the beginning, provides the key for proper understanding of the entire work and governs even a great literature that contains millions of statements.

Srimad Bhagavatam describes the ultimate phase of the Absolute truth and the supreme goal of life. It is not a random collection of stories. Hence, the seriousness of the subject matter of Bhagavatam demands it to be prefaced by a Paribhasa-sutra.

Lord Sri Krishna is repeatedly described in the verses of Srimad Bhagavatam. The verses of the Bhagavatam may be compared to an army and this verse may be considered commander of that army.

Bhagavatam describes activities of various incarnations of Lord Krishna which are mysterious(SB 1.3.29) as seen from the declaration 12.13.11. Since, the third chapter of 1st Canto summarises the incarnations and their activities, and verse 1.3.28 connects all the incarnations, it is indeed paribhasa-sutra of Bhagavatam.

Another example of this is the paribhasha-sutra “vipratishedhe param karyam,"(When two grammatical rules are contradictory, second should be done) which governs the entire text of Panini's Ashöadhyayi.

Meaning of the Emperor Verse:

ete - "All these" refers to incarnations(previous described in SB 1.3)

ca - and (all the incarnations that are not mentioned in this list)

amsa-kalah -> are plenary portions or parts of the plenary portions and kalās, or in other words, vibhūtis (displays of lesser power).

pumsah -> of the purusa incarnations who expanded from Bhagavan

krsnas-> Lord Krishna who is counted as 20th incarnation in this list

tu -> but

  1. It distinguishes Lord Krishna from "amsa-kalah"
  2. Also means certainly or indeed or used for emphasis; thus the word "tu" emphasized that only Krishna is the original form of Bhagavan and Narayana or any of the other secondary expansions of the Lord, are not the original forms.

bhagavan svayam -> is that very Bhagavan who is original source even of the Purusa.

He is the source of all the incarnations(in fact, ultimate source of the sources of incarnations) and not simply an expansion of Vishnu. This is emphasized by the use of the word "svayam"(in person).

Let's go into details :

In the above verse, by the principle “the predicate should not be stated without specifying the subject,” the characteristic of being Bhagavān (bhagavattva) [i.e., the predicate] is established as belonging specifically to Kṛṣṇa [the subject], and not the reverse, that the characteristic of being Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇatva) is established of Bhagavān. Consequently, because Śrī Kṛṣṇa alone has been determined as being the repository (dharmī) of the characteristics of being Bhagavān (bhagavattva), it is thereby proven that He is the original source (avatārī) of all avatāras and not [merely] a manifestation of the Puruṣa. Sūta expresses this very fact by the word svayam (“Himself ”), which is to say that He is Bhagavān in and of Himself, not because He has appeared from Bhagavān, nor because of the superimposition (adhyāsa) of “Godhood” (bhagavattā) upon Him(as Advaitins think).

When it is said, “Kṛṣṇa is Svayaṁ Bhagavān,” the known subject is Kṛṣṇa, because He was already mentioned as the twentieth avatāra. His being Svayaṁ Bhagavān, however, was not known. This additional information is now being provided in the present verse. If the sentence is interpreted in reverse order, i.e., “Svayaṁ Bhagavān is(has taken form of) Kṛṣṇa,” then we have a case where the subject is unknown, because no earlier reference was made to any Svayaṁ Bhagavān. If such is the case, Suta would have said something like 'narayanas tu bhagavan svayam krishna narayana eva'. Svayam means “by His very own Self ” and not because of any other medium or upādhi. The quality of being Bhagavān is intrinsic to His nature and not a superimposition.

Further Analysis:

1)Consistency: Opening and concluding statements of a composition match with each other.

In the opening verse of this chapter of the Bhāgavata (sb 1.3.1), Sūta Gosvāmī used the two words pauruṣam and bhagavān, while in the concluding verse of the section (sb 1.3.28), he uses the two words puṁsaḥ and bhagavān. Because the word puṁsaḥ is a synonym [for puruṣa] and because the word bhagavān is identical, Śrī Sūta here reminds us that these are the very same two words employed earlier. To dispel all obstacles to clear understanding, the learned use the same or equivalent words in their opening (uddeśa) and concluding statements (pratinirdeśa). For example, in the section that deals with the topic of Jyotiṣṭoma, in the injunction “In each spring worship by jyotiṣ,” the word jyotiṣ refers to the Jyotiṣṭoma sacrifice.

If a speaker were to introduce one subject in the beginning and a different one in the conclusion, it would be difficult to understand his or her intention. This repetition of the same words in the opening and closing statements also shows not only that Bhagavān is distinct from and is the source of the Puruṣa, but that Kṛṣṇa is Bhagavān Himself.

2A)Reconciliation: More significant facts are placed at the end of the composition.

One should not doubt this conclusion on the plea that Kṛṣṇa is also listed among the avatāras. [Such an allegation is dispelled] by the hermeneutical principle: “Among prior and succeeding [injunctions], the former is weaker, like prakṛti [the fundamental part of a yajña, or ritual, which is overridden by the atonement process (vikṛti)]” (Jaimini-sūtra 6.5.54)

Though 1.3.23 mentioned Krishna in the list of incarnations, 1.3.28 dispels the doubt that he is just one of the incarnations. 1.3.28 being stated at the end has more weightage than 1.3.23.

2B)A Direct Statement Overrides the Context

Alternatively, the statement “Kṛṣṇa, however, is Bhagavān Himself ” (sb 1.3.28), is validated by the hermeneutical principle that a direct statement (śruti) overrides the context (prakaraṇa) [which in this case is concerned with the avatāras]. An example of the application of this principle is found in the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya on Vedānta-sūtra, “Because a direct statement (śruti) carries greater authority [than the context (prakaraṇa)], there is no contravention [of the fact that these fires (manaścit and so on) are independent of ritual action (kriyā), being associated with knowledge (vidyā) instead]” (vs 3.3.50).

Although Kṛṣṇa is listed as the twentieth avatāra and is thus included within the context of the avatāras, His characteristic of being an avatāra is overridden by the direct statement (śruti), “Kṛṣṇa (alone) is Bhagavān Himself.”

Consequently, here also, in the context of the discussion of the avatāras, Sūta Gosvāmī did not use the word bhagavān for any other avatāra but did so only in reference to Kṛṣṇa: “Bhagavān removed the burden [of the earth]” [sb 1.3.23].

Hence, His inclusion in the list of avatāras is because of the fact that although He is Bhagavān Himself and is ever situated in His own intrinsic nature, He sometimes becomes visible to the world at large, nourishing a special sweetness through His divine play (līlā), such as taking birth, in order to bestow uniquely astonishing bliss upon His personal associates.

3A)Distinction: Importance of the word "tu"

According to Amara-kośa, a noun followed by tu has no relation to anything that precedes it.(tv-antāthādi na pūrva-bhāk).

"tu" here divides the sentence, since tu is used to indicate that the subject matter following is different from previous ones, it distinguished Lord Krishna from amsa kalah. Thus tu conclusively declares that Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead

Alternatively, the word tu implies restriction, in the sense of “only” or “exclusively.”(syur evaṁ tu punar vai vety avadhāraṇa-vācakāḥ)

Then, the śruti, or express statement, is understood as definitive (sāvadhāraṇā). Thus, by the principle, “The definitive śruti is stronger [than other statements]” (sāvadhāraṇā śrutir balavatī), even if Mahā- Nārāyaṇa, Rama or others are referred to as Svayaṁ Bhagavān in certain statements of the Śruti itself, this is to be understood in a secondary sense by virtue of the above direct statement. (This is to say that Nārāyaṇa can be indirectly considered as Svayaṁ Bhagavān only in relation to all the avatāras that expand from Him, but not in relation to His own source, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This is to be concluded because there cannot be two forms of Svayaṁ Bhagavān)

3B) The Distinction between the Whole and Its Parts

In this regard, the following is to be said: The aṁśa’s identity of prowess, nature, and so on with that of the aṁśī is to be understood as due specifically to their oneness [of categorical being ( jātīyatva)]. This situation is comparable to that of rivulets flowing from an inexhaustible lake, where the inexhaustibility of the rivulets is due to the inexhaustibility of their source[SB 1.3.26]; otherwise, it would be impossible to distinguish between the part (aṁśa) and its all-encompassing whole (aṁśī).

Consequently, a hierarchy (tāratamya) certainly exists between the avatārī and His avatāras.

Thus, in the eighth chapter of the Third Canto, Vāsudeva is described as superior even to Saṅkarṣaṇa:

The four topmost celibate sages (the Kumāras), desiring to know the truth regarding He who is superior even to Bhagavān Saṅ- karṣaṇa, approached and inquired from Him [Saṅkarṣaṇa], the original Deva, whose consciousness [sattva, i.e., jñāna] is unobstructed and who was situated in the Pātāla region. At that time, He was worshiping [through complete meditative absorption] His own source, [whom the Vedas] proclaim as Vāsudeva.

(sb 3.8.3–4)

Otherwise, the phrase kṛṣṇas tu would become redundant, because its purpose would be served merely by the phrase, bhagavān svayam.

Therefore, since a distinction exists between the part (aṁśa) and the whole (aṁśī), the meaning of the statement, “Kṛṣṇa, however, is Bhagavān Himself” (kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam) is appropriately explained.

The second half of the verse is not connected syntactically with the first half, because the word tu indicates a break in sentence structure. Consequently, the statement, “Kṛṣṇa, however, is Bhagavān Himself,” is complete in itself.

The second half of verse indicates the purpose of Lord's or his incarnations' advent in each yuga.

4)Philosophy: Philosophical statement is more authoritative than that which is historical.

The Paribhasa sutra of a book is like a ruling king, whom all others(statements) have to obey. So, if a statement doesn't obey Paribhasa sutra, the reader may reject it, or interpret that statement to make it agree with the Paribhasa-sutra.

5)Contradictions: Apparent contradictions to Paribhasa-sutra are refuted and correct meanings are given (to align with Paribhasa-sutra)

For ex, the pastime of Krishna and Arjuna meeting Maha-Vishnu mentioned in SB 10.89 is explained in detail in this perspective.(see here) The word amsena in 10.43.23 doesn't mean an expansion of Lord Narayana, but rather means accompanied by all His plenary portions.

The statement "kalabhyam nitaram hareh" (SB 10.20.48) may also be presented as a statement contradicting our paribhasha-sutra, and someone may claim that these words mean "Hari appeared in the forms of His two expansions, Krishna and Balarama." Actually, however, this is not the proper interpretation of these words. "Kalabhyam" (by the two plenary portions) is not actually one word, but the two words "kala" and "abhyam", joined by sandhi. The phrase "hareh kala" means the earth planet, which is one of Lord Hari's many potencies, and “abhyam" means "by Krishna and Balarama". The actual meaning of this statement is: "The earth planet, which is Lord 's potency appeared very beautiful because of the presence of Krishna and Balarama."

Similarly other examples are found in 10.2.41,10.2.18,4.1.59 etc are also clarified.

The false claim that Balarama and Krishna appeared from the hair of Vishnu based on some verses of Vishnu purana and Mahabharata is thoroughly refuted.

Sridhara Swami, the oldest commentator also resolves some contradictions this way.

For eg: In 2.7.26: Motilal edition translates it as: "In order to remove the distress of earth which was pounded of Daityas, he, of white and black hair(Balarama & Krishna), will be born by his own amsa."

Sridhar swami doesn't agree with such translation since white hair can't be seen on Lord's head since he doesn't become old.(I discussed here how even normal devatas don't get old). Also it contradicts clear statement krsnastu bhagavan svayam. He comments:

mat-kesav evaitat kartum saktav iti dyotanartham | rama-krishnayor varna-sucanartham ca kesoddharanam iti gamyate | anyatha tatraiva purva-para-virodhapatteh, krishnas tu bhagavan svayam iti etad-virodhac ca

Also, in the story of Candra-kalankapatti-karana in the Prabhasa-khanda of the Skanda Purana, in the description of Lord Krishna's appearance, Krishna is described as Lord Vishnu Himself. By using the words "svayam vishnuh (Vishnu Himself)", the concocted idea that Krishna is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu's hair is refuted by Vyasadeva.

At various instances, Jiva Goswami uses Sridhara Swami's explanations.

After quoting several verses that apparently contradict paribhasa sutra and resolving them with correct meanings, Jiva Goswami declares

"Our paribhasa-sutra (krsna tu bhagavan svayam) now appears as a great heroic king who has just defeated hundreds of enemies in the form of opposing arguments and completely brought them under his submission to the great delight of all onlookers. I shall now bring into view the multitude of arguments that forms the footsoldiers, cavalry, chariot warriors and elephant-riding warriors of his army."

6)Complements: Verses supporting Paribhasa-sutra

Many other verses from Bhagavatam prove that Krishna is the source of all incarnations like lila-avataras and guna avataras. Some examples are 10.2.40,10.14.20,10.8.15,10.10.34,10.58.37,10.87.46 etc..

SB 9.24.55:

shöamas tu tayor asit svayam eva harih kila it "The eighth son of Vasudeva and Devaki was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself-Krishna." The use of the word "kila (certainly)" to emphasize the statement of this verse perfectly corroborates the statement of our paribhasha-sutra.

vasudeva-grihe sakshad bhagavan purusha eva (SB 10.1.23)

SB 10.14.32:

nanda-gopa-vrajaukasam yan-mitram paramanandam purnam brahma sanatanam

"How greatly fortunate are Nanda Maharaja, the cowherd men and all the inhabitants of Vrajabhumi! There is no limit to their fortune because the Absolute Truth, the source of transcendental bliss, the eternal Supreme Brahman, has become their friend."

That Shri Krishna is the Original Personality of Godhead is especially confirmed by the phrase "purnam brahma sanatanam"

7)Principal subject: Krishna's glories are described throughout SB.

The Tenth and the Eleventh cantos that constitute almost half of Srimad Bhagavatam, describe Lord Krishna's pastimes exclusively. Further First Canto describes about Krishna in detail. The first Nine Cantos summarily describe Lord's other forms. Further, each of the twelve cantos describe Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead in various instances.

In the Second Canto, Lord Krishna is described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the account of the conversation between Brahma and Narada(10 verses dedicated toward Krishna in SB 2.7).

In the Third Canto, Lord Krishna is also described in the account of the conversation between Vidura and Uddhava.

In the Fourth Canto, Lord Krishna is described, and the following verses: "That Nara-Narayana Rishi, who is a partial expansion of Krishna, has now appeared in the dynasties of Yadu and Kuru in the forms of Krishna and Arjuna respectively, in order to mitigate the burden of the world." (SB 4.1.59), and "Prithu Maharaja was a powerful incarnation of Lord Krishna's potencies; consequently any narration concerning His activities is surely very pleasing to hear, and it produces all good fortune".* (SB 4.17.6) may be presented as evidence to show that Shri Krishna is the actual subject described in the verses of the Bhagavatam etc....

Hence, the description of Lord Krishna is the principal subject matter of the Bhagavatam.

8)Common Interest: All the various speakers and all the audiences of Srimad-Bhagavatam want to hear and glorify Krishna.

Example of Speakers: Suta Goswami(1.2.5), Sukadeva Goswami(2.4.20), Maitreya Rsi(4.17.8) Example of Hearers: Saunka Rsi(1.1.12-14), Maharaja Pariksit(1.19.5 , 10.1.1-13), Vidura(4.17.6-7)

In accordance in Narada Muni's instruction "And thus you can think of the pastimes of the Lord in trance for the liberation of the people in general from all material bondage."(SB 1.5.13).

Vyasadeva's meditation or trance in (1.7.6-7), reveals that Krishna is the primary subject of Bhagavatam.

yasyāṁ vai śrūyamāṇāyāṁ  kṛṣṇe parama-pūruṣe

SB 1.7.7 — Simply by giving aural reception to this Vedic literature, the feeling for loving devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sprouts up at once to extinguish the fire of lamentation, illusion and fearfulness.

9)Substitute: Bhagavatam is itself considered one of the forms of Sri Krishna.

Though the sun of Krishna has set, the sun of Bhagavata Purana has risen 1.3.43

This Bhāgavata Purāṇa is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Kṛṣṇa to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the Age of Kali shall get light from this Purāṇa

10)Name: No other holy name of Lord is equal to Krishna.

sahasra-namnam punyanam, trir-avrttya tu yat phalam; ekavrttya tu krsnasya, namaikam tat prayacchati

Once chanting the holy name of Krishna is equivalent to the purifying effect of chanting the other names of Lord three thousand times(Vishnu sahasra nama thrice)

(Brahmanada Purana 2.36.19). See here

11)Reconfirmation: Other literature also refer to Krishna as the Original Personality of Godhead.

Jiva Goswami quotes from Mahabharata, Brahma Samhita and Brahma Vaivarta purana, Padma purana, Bhagavad Gita.

12)Supreme Form: The eternality and supremacy of the form of Sri Krishna is confirmed within the Bhagavatam and other literatures as well.

eg: 3.2.12 yam martya lilaupayikam., 11.6.5 tasyam vibhrajamanayam.., 10.14.1 naumidya te bhra vapuse.., 10.14.14 narayanas tvam na hi. Bhagavad Gita(11.51-54)

What about evidences contradicting this view?

Someone may object: by speaking few arguments, you have attempted to refute the great mass of evidence against your theory. I can't believe you.

Reply: In the Vedanta-sutra and other Vedic literatures many lengthy arguments are refuted in a few words. The length of an argument is not the criterion of whether it is true or not. Even in the material world we may see an example of this, for sometimes a single strong fighter may defeat a thousand soldiers in the battle. In the same way a single strong argument may defeat thousands of illogical words.

In truth, apparent contradictions in other puranas also can be resolved.

Hari-vamsha describes Lord Krishna as an incarnation of Lord Upendra (Vamana). This false conception is refuted by the following words spoken by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavatam, which describe Lord Krishna's return to His own eternal abode in the spiritual world (11.6.31). That Lord Krishna, after leaving the earth planet, returned to His own abode in the spiritual world is also confirmed in the following statement of Brahma (Bhagavatam 11.6.27)

In some places in the scriptures it may say that Lord Vaikunöha, the son of Vikunöha-devi, appeared as Lord Krishna; in other places it may say that Kshirodakashayi Vishnu appeared as Lord Krishna; in other places in the scriptures it may say that the purusha-incarnations appeared as Lord Krishna; in other places in the scriptures it may say that Narayana Rishi appeared as Lord Krishna; in the Brihat-sahasra-nama Prayers in the description of the identity of Lord Balarama and Lord Lakshmana, it may say that Lord Ramacandra appeared as Lord Krishna; in other places in the scriptures it may say that a hair of Lord Narayana appeared as Lord Krishna; and in other places in the scriptures there may also be other descriptions of how other forms of Godhead have incarnated as Lord Krishna. How are these contradictory statements to be resolved? Actually all these statements are true, for all forms of the Personality of Godhead are simultaneously present in the form of the Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, and when Shri Krishna descends to this material world, all other forms of Godhead also descend with Him(for He is source of all and for detailed explanation, refer Krishna Sandarbha)

That all forms Godhead are manifested from the body of Lord Krishna is confirmed by the following statement of Uddhava (Shrimad-Bhagavatam 11.11.28):

My dear Lord, as the Absolute Truth You are transcendental to material nature, and like the sky You are never entangled in any way. Still, being controlled by Your devotees’ love, You accept many different forms, incarnating according to Your devotees’ desires

That Bhagavatam is the best of all Vedic literatures is confirmed in the following verse (SB 9.22.22-23):

"From Vyasadeva, I [Sukadeva Gosvami] was born, and from him I studied this great work of literature, Srimad-Bhagavatam. The incarnation of Godhead Vedavyasa, rejecting his disciples, headed by Paila, instructed Srimad-Bhagavatam to me because I was free from all material desires."

Vyasadeva had instructed the Four Vedas and the Puranas to His disciples, but He did not teach them the Bhagavatam. Only Sukadeva was qualified to study the Bhagavatam, because he was free from all material desires. This shows the superiority of the Bhagavatam to all Vedic literatures.

Because Bhagavatam is the best of all Vedic literatures, the statement of the Bhagavatam, that Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, should be accepted as the actual truth.

In this context the example of the village-chief and the king may be given. In the village chief's assembly hall a certain thing may be praised as the best of all, and in the king s assembly hall a different thing may be praised as the best of all. The standards of the village chief and the king are not on the same level. What is considered best by the king may be accepted as superior to what is praised by the village chief. In the same way, the Bhagavatam is the best of all scriptures, and because in the verses of the Bhagavatam Sri Krsna is glorified as the Original Personality of Godhead, this must be accepted as truth, even if someone may be able to find some evidence to contradict it in some other Vedic literatures. Any scriptural statement contradicting the Bhagavatam's affirmation "Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam" (Sri Krsna is the Original Personality of Godhead) should therefore be rejected, and there is no impropriety in this

We see in Bhagavatam 10.77.30:

"Such is the account given by some sages, O wise King, but those who speak in this illogical way are contradicting themselves, having forgotten their own previous statements."

This verse clearly describes how untrue statements may sometimes be found in the Vedic literatures. The careful reader must be prepared, therefore, to sometimes reject scriptural quotations. The guideline for accepting and rejecting such statements should be the authority of Bhagavatam.

When Bhagavatam was spoken by Sukadeva Goswmai, even great sages like Narada and Vyasa were present to hear. Although these two sages were Sri Suka's guru and grand-guru, respectively, when they heard Srimad Bhagavatam issuing from his lips, they felt as if they had never heard it before. For this reason it is said here that he taught this most significant wisdom even to them. As mentioned in suka mukhad amrta drava samyutam: "The Bhagavatam is enriched with nectarean juice from the mouth of Suka" [Bhag 1.1.3]. Thus in this sense also Bhagavatam is more glorious than any other scripture. Statements about the superiority of other Puranas, such as the Matsya Purana, are only relatively true.

So even if, as some people think, other Puranas are subordinate to the authority of the Vedas, Bhagavatam directly denies this idea in regards to itself. In other words, the Bhagavatam claims its own authority independently. Thus its position is that of the highest sruti authority, as is stated, "How did it so happen that King Pariksit met this great sage, making it possible for this sruti text for the pure Vaishnavas to be manifest?" [Bhag 1.4.7]"

It's not that Sruti(Vedas, especially Upanishads) teach something different, but they speak in indirect way.

Krishna says in 11.21.35

parokṣa-vādā ṛṣayaḥ parokṣaṁ mama ca priyam

"The Vedic seers and mantras, deal in esoteric/indirect terms, and I am pleased by such indirect descriptions"

Bhagavatam's declaration being greatest purana is absolute and thus Bhagavatam's conclusions are highest.

Which other sampradayas accept this idea?

There are other sampradayas like Rudra Sampradaya(Pustimarg) & Nimbarka Sampradaya who accept that Krishna is the source of all.

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