Over the last fortnight, the nation has been awakened rudely by the happenings which are a result of erosion of fundamental human values that is resulting in degradation of personal and social well-being.
As part of our upbringing, every morning, we at home listen to various chants and slokas. Nothing religious about it, but a soothing way of starting the day. It is like reminding ourselves of the basics of humane values and also cleansing ourselves. It is a like a humane ritual.
One of the hymns that we play is ‘Bhaja Govindam’. a creation of philosopher Sri Adi Sankara, and rendered by matchless nightingale of India, Classical Musician, GURU M S Subbulakshmi. Here, I share the background, lyrics and meaning of this unique creation, along with the rendition. Thanks to all those who have shared it on the wonderful web. I am just collating and presenting them here, to remind myself too. When Sri Adi Sankara talks about Govindam or Govinda, I interpret as ‘For the well-being of society, humanity”. When you serve the society or humanity, you are serving the ultimate being.
Sankaracharya was one among the greatest philosophers that India, or the world, has ever produced. He is unique in the history of the world as he combined in himself the attributes of a philosopher, a devotee, a mystic, a poet and a religious reformer. Though he lived twelve hundred years ago, India and the world feels the impact of the life and work of this spiritual genius even today.
Bhaja Govindam is one of the smaller Sanskrit compositions of Adi Sankaracharya, compared to his monumental works called *Bhashyas*, commentaries on Indian Scriptures. Bhaja Govindam, along with Atma Bodha, etc., comes under the category of *Prakarana Granthas*, introductory manuals for spiritual studies. They are like primers, explaining the philosophical terms etc., for the spiritual initiates. The elementary spiritual truths are brought to the fore in these booklets and make man think, ” Ah, this is life; I must seek escape from this prison-hole and may God guide and help me”. Man is thus drawn out of miry by-lanes of life in which he is stuck in and put onto the royal road of spirituality and self-realization.
A popular story describes the circumstances in which this great poem burst forth the lips of Sankara. It is said that once in Banaras when he, together with his fourteen disciples, was going along on his daily rounds, he overheard a very old Pundit cramming Panini’s grammer rules. Sankara was touched with pity at the ignorance and folly of the man to be wasting away the most precious ‘dusk hours’ of his life for a mere intellectual accomplishment instead of spending them in contemplation on the Lord, praying for spiritual enlightenment and for release from the bondage of Samsara. He knew that this was not the state of that particular old man only, but was the general state of most of the men.
Sankara intimated that men waste and while away their lives in many (or most) futile ways, groveling in the mire of earthly attachments forgetting God who is the only goal in life. In compassion for man’s plight, he burst forth into these stanzas, famous as Moha Mudgara, now popularly known by the refrain of the song, which is *Bhaja Govindam*.
“Oh, Mudha ! Oh, ignoramus ! Grammer rules (in fact all your secular learning) will not come to your rescue when death knocks to snatch you away. Instead of wasting away the precious span of your life in a futile manner, turn to and seek Govinda, who alone can save you from the jaws of life and death”.
In thirty-one simple, sweet and lucid Slokas, giving homely analogies and illustrations for our easy understanding, Sankara tells us about the fallacy and futility of our life; and sloka by sloka he removes veil after veil, dispelling our ignorance, illusions and delusions (moha) and showing us where the remedy for all our misery lies. The poem is, therefore also called “Moha Mudgara.” He touches all aspects of our life, how these blind and bind us, plunging us deeper and deeper into the abyss of ignorance and misery. He wants each one of us to cultivate a discerning and discriminating eye (viveka) to distinguish the permanent from the transitory, the real from the unreal, to practice dispassion (vairagya) for worldly attractions and distractions, to cultivate devotion for realizing Govinda, the abiding Absolute Truth and thus getting released from the misery and bondage of this phenomenal existence.
*Bhaja Govindam of Adi Shankara*
Verse 1: ~~~~~~
BHAJA GOVINDAM, BHAJA GOVINDAM
GOVINDAM BHAJA MUDHAMATE
SAMPRAAPTE SANNIHITE KALE
NA HI NA HI RAKSHATI DUKRINKARANE
Seek Govinda! Seek Govinda! Seek Govinda! Oh ignoramus, at the time of death the rules of grammer, which you are trying to cram and master, will not be able to rescue you at all.
(Grammer rules mean all secular knowledge and earthly acquistitions. Mudhamati means a materialist, wholely worldly-minded, who does not believe in God or the spiritual entity that is in man)
Verse 2: ~~~~~~
MOODHA JAHEEHI DHANAAGAMATRISHNAAM
KURU SADBUDHIM MANASI VITRISHNAAM
VITHAM TENA VINODAYA CHITHAM
(refrain from Verse 1 to be sung after every verse…BHAJA GOVINDAM, BHAJA GOVINDAM……….)
Oh, Fool! give up your insatiable desire for earthly possessions; be sensible and develop serenity and contentment. Be satisfied and happy with whatever you may earn by the sweat of your brow and whatever has destiny marked for your lot.
Verse 3: ~~~~~~
NAAREE STHANABHARA NABHEEDESAM
DHRISHTWA MAA GAA MOHAVESAM
YETAN MAAMSAVASAADI VIKAARAM
MANASI VICHINTHAYA VAARAM VAARAM
Enticed by the physical glamour of a woman, do not lose your senses; the body is nothing but a conglomeration of flesh, do not forget this any time.
Verse 4: ~~~~~~
LOKAM SHOKAHATAM CHA SAMASTHAM
The water droplet on the lotus leaf is tremulous and unsteady. So too is life which is as uncertain. Know the body to be in the claws of disease, which may swallow it at any moment. Life is ultimately nothing but worry, misery and grief.
Verse 5: ~~~~~~
VAARTHAM KOPI NA PRICHCHATHI GEHE
As long as you are fit to make an earning, so long will your kith and kin be solicitous about you, but no sooner your limbs become infirm and your earnings cease, none will care for you, not even your own home-folk.
Verse 6: ~~~~~~
YAAVATPAVANO NIVASATI DEHE
TAAVATPRICHCHATI KUSHALAM GEHE
GATAVATI VAAYO DEHAAPAAYE
BHAARYA BIBHYATI TASMINKAAYE
As long as there is life in your body, your people may have concern for you, but once the life-breath ebbs out of your body, even your own wife will run away from you.
Verse 7: ~~~~~~
BAALASTAAVAT KREEDAA SAKTHAH
PARASE BRAHMANI KOPI NA SAKTHA
Childhood skips off on sport and play. Youth flies off in pursuits of love-making. As one grows older he is drowned in worry about the security and future of his wife and children. One’s whole life gets spent in some kind of worry or other. And at no stage does man find time to lift his thoughts to God.
Verse 8: ~~~~~~
KAA TE KAANTAA KASTE PUTHRAH
KASYA TWAM KAH KUTHA AAYAATAH
TATWAM CHINTHAYA TADIHA BHARATAH
Who indeed is your beloved and who indeed is your son? Strange indeed are these family bonds; who belongs to you and to whom you belong? Whence did you come, Oh brother! Reflect on the truth of it all.
Verse 9: ~~~~~~
The company of the good weans one away from false attachments; when attachment is lost, delusion ends; when delusion ends, the mind becomes unwavering and steady. An unwavering and steady mind is merited for Jeevan Mukti (liberation even in this life).
Verse 10: ~~~~~~~
VAYASI GATE KAH KAMAVIKARAH
SHUSHKE NEERE, KAH KAASAARAH
KSHEENE VITHE KAH PARIVARO
GYNATE TATWE KAH SAMASARAH
When youth is gone, where is lust and its play? Where is the lake when its waters have dried up? Where are the kinsfolk when riches are gone ? When Truth is realised, where is the snare of Samsara?
Verse 11: ~~~~~~~
MAA KURU DHANAJANAYOUVANAGARVAM
HARATI NIMESHAATKAALAH SARWAM
BRAHMAPADAM TWAM PRAVISHA VIDITWA
The pleasures and riches of worldly life are deceptive appearances. Understanding that they are all but a passing-show, be detached and dispassionate, cultivate renunciation and seek Brahman.
Verse 12: ~~~~~~~
DINAYAAMINYOU SAAYAM PRAATAH
KAALAH KREEDATI GACHCHATYAAYUH
TADAPI NA MUNCHATHYAASAAVAAYUH
Day and night, dawn and dusk, winter and spring, all these are flitting across the stage of the world. While time thus is frolicking and befooling us, our life span is also running out; yet we do not, even a little, give up the clinging to our desires, nor do we let the desires loosen their grip on us.
Verse 13: ~~~~~~~
KAA TE KAANTAA DHANAGATACHINTAA
VAATULA KIM TAVA NAASTI NIYANTAA
BHAVATI BHAVAARNAVATARANE NOUKAA
Crazy man ! Why do you worry so much about your wife and property? Why don’t you seek out the Truth? Know that in these three worlds it is only the association with the good and holy that can help you in crossing safely the ocean of life.
Verse 14: ~~~~~~~
JATILO MUNDI LUNCHITAKESHAH
PASYANNAPI CHA NA PASYATI MOODHO
The ascetic with matted locks, the man with the shaven head or one with hair pulled out, or the man parading in the ochre robes — they all have eyes but yet do not see. All these are but deceptions for cheating the world, for filling their bellies. (Renunciation does not lie in external appearance, but in inward thought, attitude and feeling).
Verse 15: ~~~~~~~
ANGAM GALITAM PALITAM MUNDAM
DASANAVIHEENAM JAATAM TUNDAM
VRIDHDHO YAATI GRIHEETWA DANDAM
TADAPI NA MUNCHATYAASHAAPINDAM
The body has become decrepit, the hair on the head has turned completely gray; the mouth has become totally toothless; the back is bent down and the old man cannot take even a step witout the aid of his stick; yet he does not loosen even a bit, his hold on the bundle of desires.
Verse 16: ~~~~~~~
AGRE VAHNIH PRISHTE BHAANUH
TADAPI NA MUNCHATYAASHAAPAASAH
Homeless he is; his back is bent down with age. His body has lost its heat and he has to warm himself before a fire or in the sun. Tree is his only shelter; he lives by begging and by the crumbs thrown into his palms by others; in the night he sleeps by holding his chin on his knee (because the back is bent and he cannot stretch himself and lie down). Yet, he does not let and allow the grip of desires on him loosen even a bit.
Verse 17: ~~~~~~~
MUKTIM NA BHAJATI JANMASATENA
One may have bathed in the holy Ganges or even in the Ganga Sagar; he may have performed many charities and observed many vows; yet unless one has glimpsed the Truth (God), he will not gain release even after a hundred lives.
Verse 18: ~~~~~~~
SURAMANDIRA TARUMOOLA NIVAASAH
SAIYAA BHOOTALAMAJINAM VAASAH
KASYA SUKHAM NA KAROTI VIRAAGAH
Who can disturb the peace and happiness of a man if he has the true spirit of renunciation and has controlled his desires, even if he be the poorest, sleeping only in the temple halls and choultries or under trees or on the bare ground and just with a deer skin to cover.
Verse 19: ~~~~~~~
YOGARATO VAA BHOGARATO VAA
SANGARATO VAA SANGAVIHEENAH
YASYA BRAHMANI RAMATE CHITHAM
NANDATI NANDATI NANDATYEVA
Whether one is immersed in yoga or is revelling in bhoga (i.e, outward enjoyment), whether he is enjoying himself in social company or has retired into solitude, true happiness certainly cannot be his; but who alone is revelling inwardly in Brahman, (wherever he be), he alone will be truly happy and will verily enjoy.
Verse 20: ~~~~~~~
SAKRIDAPI YENA MURARISAMARCHAA
KRIYATE TASYA YAMENA NA CHARCHA
Even a little study and understanding of the Bhagawad Gita, or sipping of even a tiny drop of the waters of the holy Ganges or even a little worship of Murari — these will surely save one from confrontation with death!
Verse 21: ~~~~~~~
PUNARAPI JANANAM PUNARAPI MARANAM
PUNARAPI JANANEE JATARE SAYANAM
IHA SAMSAARE BAHUDUSTAARE
KRIPAYAA(A)PAARE PAAHI MURARE
Undergoing the pangs of birth again and again, passing through the throes of death again and again, lying in the mother’s womb over and over again, this process of samsara is hard to cross over. Save me from it, Oh merciful Lord !
Verse 22: ~~~~~~~
Clad in stray rags, treading the path beyond good and evil, caring for neither earning merit by taking to good deeds nor stooping to do any evil, and lost in meditation the yogi revels in the Supreme always, lost to all outward norms and decorum — his behaviour may look prankish like that of a child or may be even queer like that of a lunatic.
Verse 23: ~~~~~~~
KASTWAM KOHAM KUTA AAYAATAH
KAA ME JANANEE KO ME TAATAH
ITI PARIBHAVAYA SARVAMASAARAM
VISWAM TYAKTWAA SWAPNAVICHAARAM
Who are you ? Who am I ? From Where did I come? Who is my mother, who is my father? — enquire thus and you will then realise that the entire world of experience, all the worries and problems are but a dream, a mere hallucination, born of imagination and delusion. With such a realisation, you will be freed from the delusions of the world.
Verse 24: ~~~~~~~
TWAYI MAYI CHAANYATRAIKO VISHNUH
VYARTHAM KUPYASI MAYYASAHISHNUH
BHAVA SAMACHITTAH SARVATRA TWAM
In you, in me and everywhere, there is but the one Vishnu. Mistakenly viewing me with a sense of difference, you are ill-disposed towards me. Try to see in all beings only the Vishnu who is your own self. Give up your false and egoistic sense of separateness from other beings. Cultivate a sense of kinship, unity and oneness with all.
Verse 25: ~~~~~~~
SATROU MITRE PUTRE BANDHOU
MAA KURU YATNAM VIGRAHASANDHOU
Do not look at anybody in terms of friend or foe, brother or cousin; do not fritter away your mental energies in thoughts of friendship or enemity. Seeking the Self everywhere, be amiable and equal-minded towards all, treating all alike.
Verse 26: ~~~~~~~
KAAMAM KRODHAM LOBHAM MOHAM
TYAKTWAA TMAANAM PASHYATI SOHAM
AATMAJNANA VIHEENAA MUDAAH
TE PASYANTE NARAKANIGOODAAH
Free yourself from lust, anger, greed and delusion. Contemplate on ‘who you are’. Enquire within yourself, who am I? The fools who fail to apprehend the Self are caught in hell-fire even here and now itself and suffer torture.
Verse 27: ~~~~~~~
NEYAM SAJJANASANGE CHITTAM
DEYAM DEENAJANAAYA CHA VITTAM
Recite the Gita; chant the thousand Names of the lord (Vishnu Sahasranama), meditate ceaselessly on the Consort and Lord of Lakshmi; lead the mind towards association with the good. Give away your wealth in charity to those in need and who are poor.
Verse 28: ~~~~~~~
SUKHATAH KRIYATE RAAMAABHOGAH
PASCHADDHANTA SHAREERE ROGAH
YADYAPI LOKE MARANAM SARANAM
TADAPI NA MUNJCHATI PAAPAACHARANAM
As readily as one takes to indulging in carnal pleasures, with the same readiness, alas, he is taken over by disease too. Even seeing death as the inevitable and only end of all, man does not refrain from sinful ways.
Verse 29: ~~~~~~~
ARTHAMANARTHAM BHAAVAYA NITHYAM
NAASTI TATAH SUKHALESAH SATHYAM
PUTHRAADAPI DHANABHAAJAAM BHEETIH
SARVATRAISHA VIHITA REETIH
It is wealth only that causes all harm and brings about one’s ruin. Bear this truth in mind always. Know that the pursuit of wealth does not lead one to happiness at all. The rich fear and are even afraid of their own sons. This is the outcome of riches anywhere and ever.
Verse 30: ~~~~~~~
Regulated breathing and sense control, discrimination between the Enduring and the fleeting, the Eternal and the transcient, Japa and meditation, and submerging of the bodily and mental consciousness in the Consciousness of the Spirit, merging oneself into the total Inner Silence — one must practice these with unrelenting fervour.
Verse 31: ~~~~~~~
SENDRIYA MAANASA NIYAMAADEVAM
DRAKSHYASI NIJAHRIDAYASTHAM DEVAM
Surrender yourself to the Lotus Feet of the Guru; with your senses and mind disciplined, and freed from the shackles of Samsara you will behold the Lord who is seated in your heart.
“Seek Govinda, Seek God, Bhaja Govindam”, in this refrain comprising of two words, Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, has summed up in a nutshell as it were, the entire preaching of Vedanta and religion for the redemption of mankind. It gives us the key for entering into the realm of Bliss, the abode of Govinda and for terminating the misery of life we are in at present.