The timeless wisdom of India is expressed in the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit texts that touch upon all fields of human knowledge. Originally preserved through oral tradition, the Vedas were first put into writing five thousand years ago by S'rîla Vyâsadeva, "the literary incarnation of God." After compiling the Vedas, Vyâsadeva set forth their essence in the aphorisms known as Vedânta-sûtras. S'rîmad Bhâgavatam (Bhâgavata Purâna) is Vyâsadeva's commentary on his own Vedânta-sûtras. It was written in the maturity of his spiritual life under the direction of Nârada Muni, his spiritual master. Referred to as "the ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic literature," S'rîmad-Bhâgavatam is the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic knowledge.
After compiling the Bhâgavatam, Vyâsa imparted the synopsis of it to his son, the sage S'ukadeva Gosvâmî. S'ukadeva Gosvâmî subsequently recited the entire Bhâgavatam to Mahârâja Parîkchit in an assembly of learned saints on the bank of the Ganges at Hastinâpura (now Delhi). Mahârâja Parîkchit was the emperor of the world and was a great râjarshi (saintly king). Having received a warning that he would die within a week, he renounced his entire kingdom and retired to the bank of the Ganges to fast until death and receive spiritual enlightenment. The Bhâgavatam begins with Emperor Parîkchit's sober inquiry to S'ukadeva Gosvâmî: "You are the spiritual master of great saints and devotees. I am therefore begging you to show the way of perfection for all persons, and especially for one who is about to die. Please let me know what a man should hear, chant, remember and worship, and also what he should not do. Please explain all this to me."
S'ukadeva Gosvâmî's answer to this question, and numerous other questions posed by Mahârâja Parîkchit, concerning everything from the nature of the self to the origin of the universe, held the assembled sages in rapt attention continuously for the seven days leading up to the king's death. The sage Sûta Gosvâmî, who was present in that assembly when S'ukadeva Gosvâmî first recited S'rîmad Bhâgavatam, later repeated the Bhâgavatam before a gathering of sages in the forest of Naimishâranya. Those sages, concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people in general, had gathered to perform a long, continuous chain of sacrifices to counteract the degrading influence of the incipient age of Kali. In response to the sages' request that he speak the essence of Vedic wisdom, Sûta Gosvâmî repeated from memory the entire eighteen thousand verses of S'rîmad-Bhâgavatam, as spoken by S'ukadeva Gosvâmî to Mahârâja Parîkchit.
The reader of S'rîmad Bhâgavatam hears Sûta Gosvâmî relate the questions of Mahârâja Parîkchit and the answers of S'ukadeva Gosvâmî. Also, Sûta Gosvâmî sometimes responds directly to questions put by S'aunaka Rishi, the spokesman for the sages gathered at Naimishâranya. One therefore simultaneously hears two dialogues: one between Mahârâja Parîkchit and S'ukadeva Gosvâmî on the bank of the Ganges, and another between Sûta Gosvâmî and the sages at Naimishâranya forest, headed by S'aunaka Rishi. Furthermore, while instructing King Parîkchit, S'ukadeva Gosvâmî often relates historical episodes and gives accounts of lengthy philosophical discussions between such great souls as Nârada Muni and Vasudeva. With this understanding of the history of the Bhâgavatam, the reader will easily be able to follow its intermingling of dialogues and events from various sources. Since philosophical wisdom, not chronological order, is most important in the text, one need only be attentive to the subject matter of S'rîmad Bhâgavatam to fully appreciate its profound message.
S'rîmad Bhâgavatam on Internet.