HISTORY has bequeathed many gifts to us. One such is the beautiful gift from Sri Shankaracharya-the peerless ascetic and lyric poet of surpassing excellence.
Apart from his classic commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the major Upanishads, monumental works remarkable for their wealth of learning, exquisite expression and lucid exposition of the sublime ideas of highest philosophy, the Acharya has written many poems explaining the basic tenets of Vedanta. They are called Prakaranas and are noted for their vigour and simplicity. Moha Mudgara-the original name by which Bhaja Govindam was known-belongs to this category. It contains within its small compass a clear presentation of the fundamentals of Vedanta.
Sri Shankara travelled as a teacher from Kashmir to Kanyakumari engaging in discussions with the leaders of other schools of thought. He radiated peace, grace and benediction wherever he went. During his unceasing travels, once he went to Benaras. One day, when he was going along a street in Benaras on his way to the holy Ganga for his ablutions and bath, he found a grammarian mechanically repeating the words of the Dhatupatha in that serene morning hour. In order to reveal to the old but immature pundit, and through him to all ignorant and erring mortals, the futility of all secular attainments, and to guide them on the eternal path to salvation, Bhagavatpada burst forth and sang twelve verses which became famous as Moha Mudgara. His advice to the old man-not to lose himself eternally in a feverish and pointless activity, forgetful of a more glorious state of existence-is an advice to the entire humanity.
Self-knowledge is vital, as it has a perennial interest and a universal value. All other forms of knowledge are of secondary importance. To stress this point, to make the ordinary man realize how foolish he is in his conduct and behaviour, to give him a real shake-up of his values and to show him the path for attaining Eternal Peace and Blessedness, here and now, these verses came out of the mouth of the Great Teacher.
The first verse is to be sung as a chorus at the end of each of these verses, which go in the name of Dvadasa Manjarika Stotram (a bouquet of twelve verses). The Acharya expounded the ideas so powerfully with eloquent expressions and poetic beauty that the whole atmosphere was surcharged with inspiration, and all the fourteen disciples who were with him at that moment added one verse each in an intense mood of dispassion. All these inspired and extempore outbursts from the depths of their being go under the title Chaturdasa Manjarika Stotram-a companion bouquet of fourteen verses. There are no conclusive evidences confirming the authorship of these verses; tradition has ascribed authorship to each verse as mentioned in the text.
At the end, the Acharya sings four more verses, adding a final piece of advice and giving blessings to all the seekers of Truth. Here again, there is a difference of opinion about whether these last four verses were composed by Sri Shankara himself. But looking at the style and grandeur of the verses, they seem to be his own compositions, and with nothing to disprove to the contrary, it has been taken as his
own for deriving greater inspiration.
These 31 verses come under the heading of Moha Mudgara, as they relieve the hearers of moha (delusion). These verses have been set to music so that they can be sung as prayer songs even by children, thus injecting into their blood the essentials of the Vedanta Philosophy right from childhood.
Bhaja Govindam has a universal appeal as its music goes straight to the heart of the listeners. However, it gives a greater charm and a lingering joy to those who are not only thrilled by its ecstatic music but are also able to follow the reaches of its sublime and transcendental thoughts. Thus, it confers a double blessing, both by its music and by its meaning, to the discerning minds. It is as if a person should at once inhale the perfume and distill the attar of the rose.
Although Bhaja Govindam is classified as a stotram (devotional song), only the first verse comes under this category. The rest of the verses have within them a well- defined philosophy capable of releasing one from bondage. Every verse is intrinsically beautiful and intensely alive with grace and charm. Once we truly grasp the meaning of these verses, all our ignorance would tumble down to pieces. In these assertions, the Master does not seem to be soft, but appears rather irritated and is critical of man's worldliness because he is convinced that worldliness leads only to more and more misery. Moreover, there is an urgency of purpose-life in this earthly mould is short; body is like a brittle pot liable to crack any moment-man has to realize within this short duration his immortal state of purity and infinity. When a man is about to be knocked down by a vehicle, no decorum need be observed; one can drag him aside or roughly push him off the road. Just as a doctor while removing a painful tumour seems to be cruelly indifferent to the suffering of the patient, though in fact he removes pain and restores good health to the patient, the Acharya's blows are like stabs of a sharp knife into the heart of worldliness, ruthless yet kind.
Although all of Sri Shankara's works reflect the inner rumblings of his passionate soul and echo his inner voice, nowhere are they more clearly heard than in Bhaja Govindam. Here the words burst out, as water from a darn, with an urgency of appeal, with the naked beauty of the heart's outpourings without any dressing-up, without any smoothening of the crudity of expression, and so there seems to be a lack of softness and tenderness in his approach. But we must remember that Sri Shankara's pen, dancing to the tune of his heart, sometimes finds it difficult to keep pace with the furious swing of his thoughts and the latter escape, before they are caught and clothed in a cloak of gentleness, with a powerful bang, with a big boom, hitting hard the nail right on our head and knocking us down to the floor, only to relieve us from the afflicting malady of worldliness and opening our eyes to the stark reality of things.
Every seeker of Truth, who cares to achieve self-mastery and sense-control, should carefully read and assimilate these teachings. Every child should get by heart all these verses and make it a point to chant them in their musical rhythm everyday, not only to improve himself or herself but also to instill in their minds the thoughts of higher life. The distressed can face their trials and tribulations with hope and faith and the spiritual aspirants can get guidance in their spiritual practice.
Practicing the teachings described in Bhaja Govindam can make our life wholesome by integrating the inner ideals with the outer conduct. All our strivings get a proper orientation. Our whole life becomes infinitely more beautiful and rich. Our personality becomes complete and perfect when the fictitious barriers of narrow individuality are forever broken and pervaded by a universal and divine consciousness.
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