The Bhagavatam has 336 chapters, I believe, so there is lots of competition for the best. However some clearly stand out. So for those to whom the numbers are bewildering or meaningless, here is a quick reminder of what's what: (Note, when I say that there are quotable verses, I am making a quick estimate based on what has been underlined in my handy Gita Press Bhagavata, which I have carried around with me for more than 30 years.)
- 1.2 is the great second chapter of the Bhagavatam. It starts with a couple of mangalacharana verses to Sukadeva Goswami (tam pravrajantam, etc.) that many people use at the beginning of Bhagavata recitals. But almost all the rest of the chapter is substantive, including such verses as sa vai pumsam paro dharmo, nasta-prayesv abhadresu, etc. It is top ten material for sure. Speaker is Suta.
- 1.5 is Narada's instructions to Vyasa when he was puzzled about his dejection. This has numerous seminal verses like tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam, tad vag visargo, etc.
- 1.1 really is part of the class with the magnificent mangalacharana of three inspired verses--and several other nice anusthup verses also.
- 1.3 naming the avatars has krishnas tu bhagavan svayam, but not much else that is really memorable.
- 1.7 has Vyasa's samadhi vision, which is often quoted and also the atmarama verse, I count 7 quotable verses.
- 1.8 is Queen Kunti's prayers, in which I count 18 quotable verses, but this is probably skewed because it is the first chapter I ever started memorizing verses from. Still, some of them are all time favorites--vipadah santu tah, janmaisvarya-sruta-sribhir, etc.
- 1.9 is Bhishma's prayers, but not much in there sticks. (I count 3).
- For the rest of the First Canto, there are five verses at the end of chapter 11 that talk about Krishna's relation to the queens which are fairly frequently refered to: uddama-bhava-pisuna, tam ayam manyate lokam, etad isanam isasya... But not a candidate for a whole chapter...
- 2.1 starts off Sukadeva's recital with a bang and there are many good verses right at the beginning. Some I still quote a lot--nidraya hriyate naktam (3), dehapatya-kalatradisu (4), parinishthito'pi nairgunye (9), etan nirvidyamananam (11). I count 15 altogether.
- 2.3 has that famous section by Suta describing the uselessness of the senses without service to Krishna. The most famous verse is tad asma-saram hridayam (24), but those other verses are lots of fun, too. The verse ayur harati vai pumsam, taravah kim na jivanti, sva-vid-varahostra-kharaih (17-19) are all great as well. Prabhupada used to quote 19 a lot, "People who are like dogs, hogs, camels and asses..." akamo sarva-kamo va (10) is also in this chapter. I count 11 quotable verses.
- The second chapter has some good verses at the beginning (3-5) that were among the first that attracted me to the Bhagavatam back in 1970, but that is only 3 quotable.
- Chapter 4 has Sukadeva's mangalacharan, which is very good. I have six verses underlined. The most famous there is kirata-hunandhra-pulinda-pukkasah (18), but only two or three of the others have really stuck with me.
- The other candidate chapter is 2.9, which has the famous chatuhshloki and also the verses describing Brahma's visit to Vaikuntha. I have 8 verses underlined.
- 3.2 has Uddava speaking to Vidura. There are three very important verses in this chapter--yan martya-lilaupayika (12), svayam tv asamyatisaya- (21), aho bakiyam (22).
- 3.25 with satam prasangat (25) and na karhicit mat-parah (38) has two important verse.
- Chapter 29 is probably the best candidate of the entire Canto, with the verses beginning with mat-guna-sruti-matrena (11) and the other verses describing bhakti in the modes of nature. A very important chapter. I have 9 quotable.
- Chapter 31 has 7 underlined, but those are about stri-sanga.
- Chapter 33 has those two very important verses about bhakti and birth--yan nama-dheya-sravananukirtanad (6) and aho bata svapaco'to gariyan (7)
Canto 5 is mostly in prose. 5.5 is a great exception with Rishabhadeva's instructions to his sons. This has a lot of great verses--nayam deho deha-bhajam nri-loke (1), mahat-sevam dvaram ahur vimuktes (2), gurur na sa syat (18), etc. Chapter 12 is Bharata's instructions to Rahugana, which has some good verses: rahuganaitat tapasa na yati (12), but does not have 5 according to my reckoning.
Canto 6 has the Ajamila story, so there are several verses about the power of Harinam. Yama's instructions to the Yamadutas in chapter 3 is probably the best candidate in the whole canto, with the verses about the Mahajanas, etc. (5 underlined).
As far as I am concerned, the most memorable verses in the whole canto come at the end of chapter 11 in the prayers of Vritrasura as he is dying, killed finally by Lord Hari's own favoritism to Indra. These carry that Alvar flavor vividly: aham hare tava padaika-mulam (24), ajata-paksha iva mataram khagah (26) and mamottama-sloka-janesu sakhyam (27). But that is only 4 verses.
Canto 7 has a few candidates.
- Chapter 1 is famous for its verses 29-31 describing how any mood in relation to Krishna is liberating. These are quoted in BRS in connection with raganuga bhakti.
- Chapter 5 is Prahlada's instruction to the daitya schoolboys. Verse 5 is tat sadhu manye'sura-varya dehinam (5), a truly great one. "O best of the demons (Dad!), what have I learned in school? Well what I think is really good for all embodied beings is to get out of this blind well called samsara, which is the downfall of the soul; make for the forest and take shelter of Hari!" Sravanam kirtanam visnoh (23-24) is a key verse for bhakti practice, of course. But verses 30-32 are also very powerful: matir na krishne paratah svato va, na te viduh svartha-gatim hi vishnum, naisam matis tavad urukramanghrim, all of which were oft-quoted by Prabhupada and which speak to the importance of sadhu-sanga, an important theme in 7.9 as well.
- 7.9 is one of the sure top ten chapters, as far as I am concerned. This is Prahlada's prayers to Nrisingha. These prayers are comparatively long (42 verses), so there are naturally many good ones. Humble mentioning of his asura birth -- kvaham rajah prabhava isa (26), evam janam nipatitam prabhavahi-kupe (28), jihvaikato'cyuta vikarshati (40, repeated in the 12th canto), naivodvije para duratyaya (43), yan maithunadi-griha-medhi-sukham hi tuccham (45) are some of the more memorable. I have 11 underlined.
Cantos 8 and 9 are not particularly strong in terms of siddhanta or rasa. 9.4, which is the story of Ambarish and Durvasa contains those famous verses in which Vishnu glorifies the devotee (63-68), which are required learning for all devotees, as well as the sa vai manah krishna-padaravindayoh verses (18-20) about Ambarish's way of serving with all the senses. 9.24.65 is a great verse, but that's about it for Canto 9.
Canto 10, of course, has many, many good chapters. The ones I listed are
- 10.2, the prayers of the demigods to Krishna in the womb, which has some really beautiful and important verses, satya-vratam satya-param tri-satyam (26), tvayy ambujakshakhila-sattva-dhamni (30), svayam samuttirya (31), ye'nye'ravindaksha (32), tatha na te madhava (33), to name a few. But I only have six underlined.
- 10.3 Devaki's prayers (2),
- 10.9 Damodara lila (4) have merit.
- 10.14, though, has a double whammy. There are the 40 verses of Brahma-stava, of which 20 are on my to-memorize list. Then there are the verses 50-59 which describe how the self is what everyone truly holds dear. This is the second set of lessons to be taken from the Brahma-mohan lila. That ends with a favorite of Srila Prabhupada's--samasrita ye pada-pallava-plavam, mahat-padam punya-yaso murareh, etc. Altogether 30 verses.
- 10.15 has the two verses of the gopis' purva-raga, well worth putting on any to-memorize list (42-43).
- 16 is Kaliya-damana with the prayers of the Naga-patnis--kasyanubhavo'sya, etc. (36), but that is really the only important verse in the chapter.
- 10.21 is Venu-gita, which philosophically is perhaps not important, but from the point of view of rasa is very significant. I had the whole chapter (21 verses) underlined.
- 10.22 is Katyayani-vrata, which I translated a couple of years ago on Gaudiya Discussions for Agrahayan month. But from the point of view of quotable verses, there are only three or four.
- 10.23 is Yajnapatni uddhara, which similarly only has two or three verses that are truly worthy of memorization. Verse 22, for instance.
- 10.28 is very important for Jiva Goswami because it describes the transcendental Goloka, which Krishna showed in a vision to Nanda and the gopas, so verses 9-17 are often quoted in his work.
- The Rasa-lila is the crown jewel of the Bhagavatam, so several of its chapters are top ten shoo-ins. 10.29 in particular, with its beautiful introductory verses, the description of the gopis running to Krishna, but most particularly Krishna's challenge to them and their response are all potent. I think that the best part of the chapter is the gopis' prayers, verses 31-41, for which alone this chapter is a primary candidate.
- 32 has the verses about Radha, but verses are of less standing power individually, so I did not nominate it.
- 10.31 is the Gopi-gita, which is probably the most spoken on chapter from the Bhagavatam. It contains only 19 verses, many of which are gems. tava kathamritam (9), surata-vardhanam (14), yat te sujata (19) are my favorites.
- 10.32 merits consideration for tasam avirabhuc chaurih (2), but mostly for the gopis' question and Krishna's answers (16-22), which include of course na paraye'ham (22). I have 10 of the 22 verses underlined.
- 10.33 contains numerous verses of importance, describing the Rasa dance--tasam madhye dvayor dvayoh (3), tatratisusubhe tabhir (7), evam parisvanga-karabhimarsa (17), evam sasankamsu-virajita nisah (26). But then this is followed by Maharaj Parikshit's questions and Sukadeva's answers, which is an important series of 11 verses, most of which are worth committing to memory.
- 10.35 is the Yugala-gita, which is nice, but probably the least significant of the poetic chapters of the Bhagavata's gopi cycle.
- 10.39 is Krishna's departure and the gopis' prayers at that time. This is one of the least known segments of the gopi cycle, but it is actually pretty good. Verse 19, aho vidhatas tava na kvacid daya is nice, and so are many others, but they are less memorable.
- 10.47 is the next big chapter, with the Bhramara-gita, Krishna's message to the gopis, and Uddhava's glorification of the gopis. I would say about 20 verses underlined, more could easily be added.
10.87 is the Shruti-stuti and is pretty significant. It is a tough chapter from many points of view, but it is one of the most serious in the entire Bhagavatam, with sophisticated references to the Upanishads throughout. The commentaries are very thorough and they merit deep study. I only have six verses underlined (out of 27), but I think that the chapter has a great deal of gravitas, so I put it in the top 20 at least.
In the Eleventh Canto, there are many philosophically important chapters. On the whole, it is probably the biggest source of quotes for the Sandarbhas (I should do the count). But as far as chapters are concerned, 11.2 and 11.5 really stand out. These are both part of the Nava-yogendra-samvada.
- Chapter 2 has a great sequence on the Bhagavata Dharma from 35-43 included such verses as bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syat (37), evam-vratah sva-priya-nama-kirtya (40), bhaktih paresanubhavo (42). This is followed by Hari, another Yogendra, who gives the prakrita, madhyama and uttama bhagavata descriptions (verses 45-55), most of which are worthy of memorization. (14 underlined altogether).
- Chapter 3 has some really important verses also--tasmad gurum prapadyeta (21), tatra bhagavatan dharman (22), parasparanukathanam (30), smarantah smarayantas ca (31), kvacid rudaty acyuta-cintaya kvacit (32). A candidate no doubt.
- Chapter 5 has Karabhajana's teachings about the avatars, including the verses in which we recognize Lord Chaitanya. (7 underlined).
- Chapters 7-9 have the teachings of the Avanti Brahmin, which I just posted.
- Chapter 12 has a description of pure bhakti--na rodhayati mam yogo (1), and a pretty frequently quoted section on the gopis (verses 10-14), ramena sardham mathuram pranite (10), tas tah ksapah presthatamena nitah (11), ta navidan mayy anusanga-baddhah (13), matkama ramanam jaras hy asvarupa-vido'balah (14), tasmat tvam uddhavotsrijya codanam praticodanam (15).
- Chapter 14 contains a good description of the pure bhakta and his ecstasies. The famous verse--nirapeksam munim shantam nirvairam sama-darshanam
anuvrajamy aham nityam puyeyety anghri-renubhih
"I follow my devotees in the hope of purifying myself with the dust of their feet." (16)na sadhayati mam yogo (20), bhaktyaham ekaya grahyah (21), katham vina romaharso (21)... Actually why don't I just quote these in their entirety, they really are special:
katham vina romaharsham
dravata cetasa vina
shuddhyed bhaktya vinashayah
How can a person’s heart or be purified without the ecstatic devotion that causes his hair to stand on end, his mind to melt with love and tears to flow from his eyes? (SB 11.14.23)
vAg gadgadA dravate yasya cittaM
rudaty abhikSNaM hasati kvacic ca
vilajja udgAyati nrityate ca
mad-bhakti-yukto bhuvanam punati
The person blessed with my devotion, whose words stutter with divine love, whose mind melts, who cries constantly and sometimes laughs, who shamelessly sings and dances out of love—such a person purifies the entire world. (11.14.24)
yathagnina hema-malam jahati
smatam punah svam bhajate ca rupam
atma ca karmanushayam vidhuya
mad-bhakti-yogena bhajaty atho mam
Just as gold when heated is freed of its impurities and retrieves its natural brightness, so does the soul become purified of its accumulated karmic reactions through bhakti-yoga. When one has been thus purified, he worships me. (SB 11.14.25)
yatha yathatma parimrijyate’sau
tatha tatha pashyati vastu sukshmam
Just as an eye that has been treated with balm can see physical objects more clearly, the spirit soul cleansed of all sin by listening to the telling of my holy pastimes becomes able to see the most subtle truths clearly. (SB 11.14.26)Vishwanath comments, “‘Subtler truths about me’ means the particular experience of the sweetness of my svarupa, or essential being, such as my form and pastimes.” (tattvam mad-rupa-liladi-svarupam sukshmam tan-madhuryanubhava-vishesham.)
vishayan dhyayatash cittam
mam anusmaratash cittam
mayy eva praviliyate
The mind which dwells on sense objects becomes attached to sense objects. The mind which constantly remembers me becomes absorbed in me. (SB 11.14.27)What can I say about how those verses influenced my life?
The Twelfth Canto similarly has a lot of good verses about Hari-katha scattered throughout. Chapter 12 is probably the best, tad eva ramyam ruciram navam navam (49). Some of these are repetitions from 1.5. Chapter 13 has some big verses--yam brahma varunendra (1), sarva-vedanta-saram hi (15). And in view of this survey of the Bhagavatam, why don't we conclude with 12.13.18--
yasmin paramahamsyam ekam amalam jnanam param giyate
tatra jnana-viraga-bhakti-sahitam naishkarmyam avishkritam
tac chrinvan vipathan vicarana-paro bhaktya vimucyen narah
The beautiful Bhagavatam is the spotless purana, the scripture which is most dear to the Vaishnavas. The supreme knowledge which is the unique wealth of the paramahamsas is glorified herein. One who reads it will discover the liberation that comes from knowledge, renunciation and devotion. A human being who hears and studies the Bhagavatam and then discusses and meditates on what he has heard and studied will, by this devotional act alone, be liberated. (SB 12.13.18)That deserves an ahaha!!, and a little shiver of ecstasy, I think.
So vote for your favorite chapter, please! If you like, you can do a write in. Your approach may be entirely different from mine. As a matter of fact, it probably is.
You don't have one? I am afraid you haven't been reading it. Read the Bhagavatam for the spots of nectar.