Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bhaja Govindam: Vendanta In A Nutshell

‘BHAJA GOVINDAM’ of Acharya Shankara

Acharya Shankara was the most powerful exponent of the doctrine of Advaita in the country. His times [about the 8th Century] were such that belief in Gjnana Marga had gone down and various sects like the Kapalikas, the Bhairavas, and the Tantrikas were thriving. Even among the Vedic believers, the Karma Meemamsakas who extol the mere ritual aspect of the Vedas, were reigning supreme. It was given to Shankara to revitalize the orthodox thought and re-establish the belief and efficacy of following the Gjnana Marga. With a view to achieving this, Shankara, apart from establishing the various organizational institutions, has left for us, a voluminous mass of literature in Sanskrit like his various commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, Bhagavadgitha etc in addition to his immortal Prakarana Granthas like the Viveka Choodamani etc.

Apart from being the author of the above works of philosophy, Shankara was also a great devotee and a great mystic. Several of the Stotras composed by him are the cries of the soul and spirit which move, even today, any one by the depth of their emotions and profundity of appeal. Among them, one of the most popular Stotras is the
‘Bhaja Govindam’ which contains the entire essence of Vedanta in a nutshell in simple melodious Sanskrit, easy to understand and comprehend.

Bhaja Govindam is one of the seemingly smaller but in fact an extremely important work of Shankara which revels in the highest Vedantic thought. In this magnificent composition, the essence of Vedanta is condensed in the form of simple musical verses—so simple and melodious that even children can revel in its recitation even though they may not catch the Vedantic purport. For a grown-up and intelligent man, a thorough study and understanding of Bhaja Govindam will remove all delusions
[Maya] of the materialistic world. So the poem is also known by the name ‘Moha Mudgara’ which means the ‘Hammering of our delusions’. [Mudgara means hammer in Sanskrit]

The composition consists of 31 verses in all. However, the opening verse, which is taken as a refrain or chorus, is normally chanted at the end of each verse. The opening verse reads:

Bhaja Govindam Bhaja Govindam Govindam Bhaja Moodhamathe

Samprapte Sannihite kale Nahi Nahi Rakshathi Dukring Karane

Translated in English it means; “Seek Govinda, Seek Govinda, oh Fool! When the appointed time of death comes, surely learning grammar rules will not save you”.

In this refrain-verse the disciple is asked to pack up his heart with thoughts of God rather than with his anxieties to acquire, hoard or possess secular accomplishments or achievements. The word ‘Govindam’ stands for the Atman which is the Truth behind the ever-changing flux of things that constitute the universe of our experience. Govinda is the Brahman of the Upanishads and He is the Highest Reality. Therefore, Bhaja Govindam means ‘seek your identity with Govinda, the Supreme; and do not waste your time in mere grammar learning [Dukring Karane] and in such other unprofitable pursuits of secular knowledge, of worldly possessions, of ephemeral fame and of passing joys. These are addressed to seekers as a book of instructions to help them with the path straight to their goal. Hence Bhaja Govindam is a text book of advice and not a book of disputation [Veda]. In Bhaja Govindam we meet with a teacher who is softly advising his disciples to reach Brahman in the straight pursuit of the Gjnana Marga.

Tradition has it that the 12 stanzas after the opening stanza were composed by the Acharya himself and these twelve stanzas are classified under the name “Dwadasha Manjarika Stotram” which means ‘A bouquet of 12 flowers in verse’. Very contagious must have been the teacher’s inspired mood that each one of the 14 disciples who accompanied the Master contributed a stanza of his own. After listening to all these verses, Shankara blessed all the true seekers of Vedantic knowledge by the last 4 stanzas. Thus, the entire composition of ‘Bhaja Govindam’ consists of 31 stanzas in all.

Bhaja Govindam was one of the most favorite stotras of Rajaji, the great statesman.
Commenting on the greatness of the composition as a Practical Guide to Vedanta which fosters a sense of detachment and devotion, Rajaji writes:

“Adi Shankarachrya wrote a number of Vedantic works for imparting the Knowledge of Self and the Universal Spirit. He also composed a number of hymns to foster Bhakthi in the hearts of men. One of these hymns is the Bhaja Govindam.
The Way of Devotion [Bhakthi Marga] is no different from the Way of Knowledge or Gjnana Marga. When intelligent matures and lodges itself securely in the mind, it becomes wisdom. When wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action, it becomes Bhakthi. If it does not get transformed into Bhakthi, such knowledge is useless tinsel. To believe that Gjnana and Bhakthi –Knowledge and Devotion—are different from each other is sheer ignorance.
If Adi Shankara himself who drank the ocean of Gjnana, as easily as one sips water from the palm of one’s hand, sang in his later years hymns to develop devotion, it is enough to show that Gjnana and Bhakthi are one and the same. No other testimony is needed.
Sri Shankara has packed into Bhaja Govindam the essence of all Vedanta and has set the oneness of Gjnana and Bhakthi to melodious music which delights the ear”

B.M.N. Murthy

ARTICLE NO. 443---Bhaja Govindam of Acharya Shankara
Created: Friday, May 9, 2008 11:33 AM


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