Bhagavan, also written Bhagwan or Bhagawan, from the Sanskrit nt-stem bhaga-vant- (nominative भगवान् Bhagavān) literally means "possessing fortune, blessed, prosperous" (from the noun bhaga, meaning "fortune, wealth", cognate to Slavic bog "God", Russian богатый (boga'ch) "wealthy"), and hence "illustrious, divine, Venerable, holy", etc.
In some traditions of Hinduism it is used to indicate the Supreme Being or Absolute Truth, but with specific reference to that Supreme Being as possessing a personality (a personal God). This personal feature indicated in Bhagavan differentiates its usage from other similar terms such as Brahman, the "Supreme Spirit" or "spirit", and thus, in this usage, Bhagavan is in many ways analogous to the general Christian conception of God.
Bhagavan used as a title of veneration is often translated as "Lord", as in "Bhagavan Rama", "Bhagavan Krishna", "Bhagavan Shiva", "Bhagavan Swaminarayan", etc. In Buddhism and Jainism, Gautama Buddha, Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, Buddhas and bodhisattvas are also venerated with this title. The feminine of Bhagavat is Bhagawatī and is an Epithet of Durga and other goddesses.
The title is also used by a number of contemporary spiritual teachers in India who claim to be Bhagavan or have realized impersonal Brahman.
The Bhagavata purana (1.2.11) states the definition of Bhagavan to mean the supreme most being:
The Learned Know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.
The Sanskrit word bhagavan is explained in the Vishnu Purana (6.5.79) by the great authority, Parashara Muni, the father of Vyasa Deva, defines Bhagavan as one who possesses six opulences completely, as follows:
The Supreme Personality who possesses all riches, all strength, all Fame, all Beauty, all knowledge and all renunciation is called Bhagavan. There are many persons who are very rich, very powerful, very beautiful, very famous, very learned, and very much detached, but no one can claim that he possesses all riches, all strength, etc., entirely.
Early epigraphical evidence
The Bhāgavat religion of early Hinduism is documented epigraphically from around 100 BCE, such as in the inscriptions of the Heliodorus pillar, in which Heliodorus, an Indo-Greek ambassador from Taxila to the court of a Sunga king, describes himself as a Bhagavata ("Heliodorena bhagavatena"):
This Garuda-standard of Vasudeva (Vishnu), the God of Gods was erected here by the Bhagavata Heliodoros, the son of Dion, a man of Taxila, sent by the Great Greek (Yona) King Antialcidas, as ambassador to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior son of the princess from Benares, in the fourteenth year of his reign."
(Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report (1908-1909))
The word "Bhagava" is used many times to refer to The Buddha in the Pali suttas. The term "Bhagava" has been used in Pali Anussati or recollections as one of the terms that describes the "Tathagatha".
In The Buddha anussati, Bhagavan is defined the following way:
Iti pi so Bhagavā
Thus is Buddha,
1) Arahaṃ - deserving homage.
2) Sammā-sambuddho - perfectly awakened.
3) Vijjā-caraṇa sampanno - perfect in true knowledge and conduct.
4) Sugato - well gone (to Nibbana)
5) Lokavidū - knower of the worlds
6) Anuttaro purisa-damma-sārathi - incomparable leader (lit. charioteer) of persons to be tamed.
7) Satthā Deva-manusānaṃ - teacher of gods and humans.
8) Buddho - awakened one.
9) Bhagavāti - Blessed One.
Sākamunisa bhagavato is recorded in the kharoshthi dedication of a vase placed in a Buddhist Stupa by the Greek meridarch (civil governor of a province) named Theodorus (Tarn, p391):
"Theudorena meridarkhena pratithavida ime Sarira sakamunisa bhagavato bahu-jana-stitiye":
"The meridarch Theodorus has enshrined relics of Lord Shakyamuni, for the welfare of the mass of the people"
(Swāt relic vase inscription of the Meridarkh Theodoros