About 2500 years ago was born, in a village called Kalady, a boy for a scholarly and vaidik Brahmin couple, Sivaguru and Aryamba, and this boy was to become, in later years, the greatest philosopher the world has ever seen. He was Shankara, known as Adi Shankara, the world over.
During His short sojourn, He travelled through the entire Bharatha, on foot, preaching His philosophy of Advaita and taking many disciples from the four corners of the country, chief among them being four.
He restructured all the 72 forms of desultory religious practices into acceptable norms and laid stress on the six ways of worship based on Vedas. He discussed with many a scholar during His long journeys in the country and was the cause for many philosophical treatises establishing the concept of Advaita, with commentaries on Brahma Sutras, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Ten Principal Upanishads and a few other works and poems in praise of various Vedic dieties.
Shri Shankara composed a number of hymns to foster the sense of devotion in the hearts of men and this is His greatest service. Bhaja Govindam is one among His many works and in this short garland of poems in praise of Lord Govinda (Krishna), He dwells upon the ephemeral nature of life upon the greatness of Guru, Bhakti, etc. Some immature critics of Indian Philosophy believe and say that the way of devotion is different from the way of knowledge. The learned employ this distinction to emphasise a particular theses on which they discourse in different contexts. We should not get confused by this and fail to understand the truth. When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the heart, it becomes wisdom. When that wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action, it becomes devotion. Knowledge which has become mature is spoken of as devotion. If it does not get transformed into devotion, such knowledge is useless and tinsel. To hold and to say that Jnana and Bhakti, knowledge and devotion, are as different from each other as gold is from baser metal is to expose one’s ignorance. Unless the senses are controlled, knowledge will not obtain a fort-hold in the heart. Wisdom will not come into being. How is one to trestrain the native impulsion of the senses? The heart cannot be chastened if desires and attachments are not eschewed. Its attachment is to be completely extinguished and if the mind should be released from it, the mind must be turned towards God. It must be realised that except through devotion to God, there is no other effective way to restrain the senses. Sri Shankara has packed into the “Bhaja Govindam” song the substance of all the vedantic works that he wrote and he has set the truth of the union of devotion and knowledge to melodius music which delights the ear and our soul.
There is a story attached to the composition of the present Hymn. acharya Shankara, it is said, was walking along a street in Varanasi, one day, accompanied by his disciples. He heard the sound of grammatical rules being recited by an old scholar. Taking pity on the scholar, he went up to him and advised him not to waste his time on grammar at his age but to turn his mind to God in worship and adoration. The Hymn to Govinda was composed on this occasion. Besides the refrain of the song beginning with the words “Bhaja Govindam” , Shankara is stated to have sung twelve verses, hence the hymn bears the title “Dvadasamanjarika-Stotra” (A hymn which is a bunch of twelve verse-blossoms). The fourteen disciples who were with the Master, then, are believed to have added one verse each. These fourteen verses are together called “Chaturdasa-manjarika-Stotra” (A hymn which is a bunch of fourteen verse-blossoms).
sampraapte sannihite kaale
nahi nahi rakshati dukrijnkarane
Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda. Oh fool! Rules of Grammar will not save you at the time of your death.
mudha jahiihi dhanaagamatrishhnaam
kuru sadbuddhim manasi vitrishhnaam
vittam tena vinodaya chittam
Oh fool! Give up your thrist to amass wealth, devote your mind to thoughts to the Real. Be content with what comes through actions already performed in the past.
manasi vichintaya vaaram vaaram
Do not get drowned in delusion by going wild with passions and lust by seeing a woman’s navel and chest. Bodies are flesh, fat and blood. Do not fail to remember this again and again in your mind.
lokam shokahatam cha samastam
Uncertain is the life of man as rain drops on a lotus leaf. Know that the whole world remains a prey to disease, ego and grief.
staavannija parivaaro raktah
pashchaajjiivati jarjara dehe
vaartaam koapi na prichchhati gehe
So long as a man is fit and able to support his family, see the affection all those around him show. But no one at home cares to even have a word with him when his body totters due to old age.
yaavatpavano nivasati dehe
taavatprichchhati kushalam gehe
gatavati vaayau dehaapaaye
bhaaryaa bibhyati tasminkaaye
When one is alive, his family members enquire kindly about his welfare. But when the soul departs from the body, even his wife runs away in fear of the corpse.
pare brahmani koapi na saktah
Childhood is lost in play. Youth is lost by attachment to woman. Old age passes away by thinking over many past things. Alas! hardly is there anyone who yearns to be lost in Parabrahman.
kaate kaantaa kaste putrah
kasya tvam kah kuta aayaatah
tattvam chintaya tadiha bhraatah
Who is your wife? Who is your son? Strange is this samsara. Of whom are you? Where have you come from? Brother, ponder over these truths.
From Satsanga comes non-attachment, from non-attachment comes freedom from delusion, which leads to self-settledness. From self-settledness comes Jivan Mukti.
vayasigate kah kaamavikaarah
shushhke niire kah kaasaarah
kshiinevitte kah parivaarah
gyaate tattve kah samsaarah
What good is lust when youth has fled? What use is a lake which has no water? Where are the relatives when wealth is gone? Where is samsara when the Truth is known?
maa kuru dhana jana yauvana garvam
harati nimeshhaatkaalah sarvam
brahmapadaM tvaM pravisha viditvaa
Do not boast of wealth, friends, and youth. Each one of these are destroyed within a minute. Free yourself from the illusion of the world of Maya and attain the timeless Truth.
dinayaaminyau saayam praatah
kaalah kriidati gachchhatyaayuh
tadapi na mujncatyaashaavaayuh
Daylight and darkness, dusk and dawn, winter and springtime come and go. Time plays and life ebbs away. But the storm of desire never leaves.
This bouquet of twelve verses was imparted to a grammarian by the all-knowing Shankara, adored as the bhagavadpada.
kaate kaantaa dhana gatachintaa
vaatula kim tava naasti niyantaa
trijagati sajjanasam gatiraikaa
bhavati bhavaarnavatarane naukaa
Oh mad man! Why this engrossment in thoughts of wealth? Is there no one to guide you? There is only one thing in three worlds that can save you from the ocean from samsara. Get into that boat of satsangha quickly.
jatilo mundii lujnchhitakeshah
pashyannapi cana pashyati muudhah
There are many who go with matted locks, many who have clean shaven heads, many whose hairs have been plucked out; some are clothed in saffron, yet others in various colors — all just for a livelihood. Seeing truth revealed before them, still the foolish ones see it not.
angam galitam palitam mundam
dashanavihiinam jatam tundam
vriddho yaati grihiitvaa dandam
tadapi na mujncatyaashaapindam
Strength has left the old man’s body; his head has become bald, his gums toothless and leaning on crutches. Even then the attachment is strong and he clings firmly to fruitless hope.
agre vahnih prishhthebhaanuh
tadapi na mujncatyaashaapaashah
Behold there lies the man who sits warming up his body with the fire in front and the sun at the back; at night he curls up the body to keep out of the cold; he eats his beggar’s food from the bowl of his hand and sleeps beneath the tree. Still in his heart, he is a wretched puppet at the hands of passions.
muktim na bhajati janmashatena
One may go to the Ganga, observe fasts, and give away riches in charity! Yet, devoid of jnana, nothing can give mukthi even at the end of a hundred births.
sura mandira taru muula nivaasah
shayyaa bhuutala majinam vaasah
sarva parigraha bhoga tyaagah
kasya sukham na karoti viraagah
Take your residence in a temple or below a tree, wear the deerskin for the dress, and sleep with mother earth as your bed. Give up all attachments and renounce all comforts. Blessed with such vairagya, could any fail to be content?
sangarato vaa sangaviihinah
yasya brahmani ramate chittam
nandati nandati nandatyeva
One may take delight in yoga or bhoga, may have attachment or detachment. But only he whose mind steadily delights in Brahman enjoys bliss, no one else.
bhagavad giitaa kijnchidadhiitaa
gangaa jalalava kanikaapiitaa
sakridapi yena muraari samarchaa
kriyate tasya yamena na charchaa
Let a man read but a little from the Gita, drink just a drop of water from the Ganga, worship Murari just once. He then will have no altercation with Yama.
punarapi jananam punarapi maranam
punarapi jananii jathare shayanam
iha samsaare bahudustaare
kripayaa apaare paahi muraare
Born again, death again, birth again to stay in the mother’s womb ! It is indeed hard to cross this boundless ocean of samsara. Oh Murari ! Redeem me through Thy mercy.
rathyaa charpata virachita kanthah
punyaapunya vivarjita panthah
yogii yoganiyojita chitto
There is no shortage of clothing for a monk so long as there are rags cast off the road. Freed from vice and virtue, onward he wanders. One who lives in communion with God enjoys bliss, pure and uncontaminated, like a child and as someone intoxicated.
kastvam ko.aham kuta aayaatah
kaa me jananii ko me taatah
iti paribhaavaya sarvamasaaram
vishvam tyaktvaa svapna vichaaram
Who are you? Who am I? From where do I come? Who is my mother, who is my father? Ponder thus, look at everything as essenceless and give up the world as an idle dream.
tvayi mayi chaanyatraiko vishhnuh
vyartham kupyasi mayyasahishhnuh
bhava samachittah sarvatra tvam
In me, in you and in everything, none but the same Vishnu dwells. Your anger and impatience is meaningless. If you wish to attain the quality of Vishnu soon, have Sama Bhaava always.
shatrau mitre putre bandhau
maa kuru yatnam vigrahasandhau
Do not waste your efforts to win the love of or to fight against friend and foe, children and relatives. See yourself in everyone and give up all feelings of duality completely.
kaamam krodham lobham moham
tyaktvaa atmaanam bhaavaya ko aham
aatmagyaana vihiinaa muudhaah
te pachyante narakaniguudhaah
Give up lust, anger, infatuation, and greed. Ponder over your real nature. Fools are they who are blind to the Self. Cast into hell they suffer there endlessly.
geyam giitaa naama sahasram
dhyeyam shriipati ruupamajasram
neyam sajjana sange chittam
deyam diinajanaaya cha vittam
Regularly recite from the Gita, meditate on Vishnu in your heart, and chant His thousand glories. Take delight to be with the noble and the holy. Distribute your wealth in charity to the poor and the needy.
sukhatah kriyate raamaabhogah
pashchaaddhanta shariire rogah
yadyapi loke maranam sharanam
tadapi na mujnchati paapaacharanam
He who yields to lust for pleasure leaves his body a prey to disease. Though death brings an end to everything, man does not gives up the sinful path.
arthamanartham bhaavaya nityam
naastitatah sukhaleshah satyam
putraadapi dhana bhaajaam bhiitih
sarvatraishhaa vihiaa riitih
Wealth is not welfare, truly there is no joy in it. Reflect thus at all times. A rich man fears even his own son. This is the way of wealth everywhere.
Regulate the pranas, remain unaffected by external influences and discriminate between the real and the fleeting. Chant the holy name of God and silence the turbulent mind. Perform these with care, with extreme care.
gurucharanaambuja nirbhara bhakatah
drakshyasi nija hridayastham devam
Oh devotee of the lotus feet of the Guru! May thou be soon free from Samsara. Through disciplined senses and controlled mind, thou shalt come to experience the indwelling Lord of your heart!
muudhah kashchana vaiyaakarano
Thus was a silly grammarian lost in rules cleansed of his narrow vision and shown the Light by Shankara’s apostles.
nahi pashyaamo bhavatarane
Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool! Other than chanting the Lord’s names, there is no other way to cross the life’s ocean.