Bhajagovindam – a wake up call for everyone

Bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam
Govindam bhaja mudhamate.
Samprapte sannihitekale
Nahin nahin rakshati tukkkun-karane.

Oh Foolish Mind, sing the song of the divine, sing the song of the divine, sing the song of the divine. The memorization of grammar will not save you from impending death. 

In Sivasutras it is said, “VITARKA ATMAGNANAM”. One has to transcend logic to attain self knowledge. No doubt logic is also helpful. But it has its limitations. Logic can lead one only upto a certain point. That’s how philosophers and scientists who are stuck with logic miss the ultimate. That is also the primary difference between the western and eastern approach to truth. The ultimate mystery can only be felt and lived but not known. Those who are stuck with the language of the head miss the language of the heart.

But Adi Shankaracharya was an exception.  He was a great logician. Using logic he defeated all his contemporary pundits some of whom became his ardent disciples. Using logic he established the supremacy of Adwaita Vedanta and integrated all factions of spiritual traditions of India.

At the same time he has composed some of the deeply devotional Sanskrit hymns. The same person engaged in scriptural debate about the formless Brahman with some of the sharpest minds of his time during day time could be found  immersed in singing the glory of the divine-with-form in the evening. 

Adi Shankaracharya was born in a village named Kaladi in Kerala. Even though he lived only for 32 years his accomplishments are beyond human imagination so much so that some consider him as being more of a mythical figure than a real life person. For a normal person thirty two years are not enough to master the Sanskrit language and the principal scriptures written in that language. Considering the standard of communication of  ninth century India, it is amazing how he was able to travel all over India to establish the four important places of pilgrimage (chardham) and meet with all the renowned pundits to engage them with debate. At the same time he took care of the spiritual growth of his disciples, compiled a large number of hymns, wrote commentaries on many important scriptures like Bhagavad Gita, Principal Upanishads, the Brahmasutras etc.

Now let us come to the background story of Bhajagovindam. While staying in Varanasi,  once while going to the river Ganges for completing his ritual, Shanakaracharya came across a very old man, may be 80 years old, trying to master the intricacies of grammar, oblivious to the fact that death was already knocking at his door. Out of great compassion for such a stupid person, Bhajagovindam was born. Our ancient seers divided knowledge into two categories- apara and para.  Apara vidya consists of all the utilitarian knowledge that is useful for living in the world: science, mathematics, engineering, language, grammar etc. Para means knowledge of the beyond, spiritual knowledge or transcendental knowledge.  Life was also divided into four stages – Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Sannyas and Banaprastha. In the first stage of life which was spent in a Gurukula the child was introduced to both kinds of knowledge.  If one became a grihasta or a householder, he continued to practise both kinds of knowledge. In subsequent stages para vidya was supposed to take precedence and in the fourth stage it was thought foolish to be obsessed with acquiring apara vidya.

Bhajagovindam is also known as Mohamudgara. It has just 33 slokas. If printed without commentaries it will be a tiny booklet. But the wisdom is profound and it brings out the essence of Sankarachary’s philosophy and his observations about the wrong practices of both the householder and the renunciate. In the garb of sadhu and sanyasi we have all kinds of people. All of them may not be serious seekers of self knowledge. In verse 14, Adi Shankaracharya says:

Jatilo mundi luncitakesah
Kasayambarabahukrtavesah
Pasyannapi cha na pasyati mudho
Hyudaranimittam bahukrtavesah

Bhaja Govindam Bhaja Govindam ....

One ascetic with matted locks, one with shaven head, one with hairs pulled out one by one, another parading in his ochre robes – these are fools who, though seeing, do not see.  Indeed, these different disguises or apparels are only for their belly’s sake. O foolish mind, sing the song of the divine.

On one hand there is this senile householder who undertakes to master grammar so as to avoid the fear of death. At a deeper level most of the activities we do could be just cover ups to avoid getting reminded of our evanescence. There are some who renounce family life and take sanyasa to seriously undertake the journey of self discovery. Then there are those who wear orange robes, do matted hair and carefully put up the appearance of a renunciate. This does does not mean everyone of them has embarked on a journey of self discovery. Far from being seekers of truth, some of them do it just to fill their belly and get all other material benefits.

Some notable other texts starting with alphabet B are: Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad / Brahmasutras / Bibeka Chudamani / Brahmabaibarta Purana / Bhagavad Gita, Srimad / Bhahgabata, Srimad / Buddha Charita / Brahmasphutasiddhanta / Bijaganita (Bhaskar II) / Bhava Prakasha / Baudhayana Sutra.  In case I missed a book please let me know.

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P.S: This is the second post (alphabet B post) of Blogchatter AtoZ Challenge 2021. My theme this year is ‘The beauty of Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts’, where in I explore selected compositions in Sanskrit and also some unique aspects of Sanskrit language. Join with me in my journey to understand India’s intellectual heritage.

All the posts of AtoZ Challenge 2021 can be accessed here.

16 thoughts on “Bhajagovindam – a wake up call for everyone

  1. The hymn Bhaja Govindam is an essential part of my life. I listen to it almost daily. In this post, the way you explained its meaning and background made me fall in love with it more. Thank you so much for this enriching post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Living in South I read a lot about Adi Shankaracharya in the papers here. Bhajgovindam is often sung and chanted in my neighbourhood. Your post has raised my curiosity to read more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing so much knowledge about Adi Shankaracharya . I always wonder who have such knowledge, why do they die so young? Even Swami Vivekananda’s case is similar. There must be some secret behind it I guess. And personally I feel calmer wherever I listen to Bhaja Govindam.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Even though I dont understand the words completely but I often listen to M. S. Subbalakshmi singing of Bhajagovindam. Loved to know so much about it from your article sir… And very rightly said… It’s not only the scholars and scientists who are stuck with logic… It holds true for us as well… And as you have said… Miracles can only be lived and experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So wonderfully explained.
    This bhajan reminds me of the mornings many years ago when my mother used to play the cassette.
    Adi Shankaracharya’s contribution is truly immense.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hearing this song played by my grandma early morning is a bliss. Well, while i was young I always used to think the other way. But growing up and grandma house this is something I would remember forever

    Liked by 1 person

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