|Bhaja Govindam - An Introduction|
Adi Shankaracharya’s works
Shankara’s works are classified into 3 main categories:
1. Bhashya: Commentaries on the scriptures such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutras
2. Stotras: Devotional compositions like the Dakshinamoorthy stotras
3. Prakarana Granthas: Introductory manuals for spiritual studies
The Bhaja Govindam belongs to the class of stotras. However, as the verses contain deep Vedantic thought it is often included as a prakarana, introductory text. Although small, it is a prominent composition of Shankara’s that teaches the fundamentals of Vedanta. Its style is simple and its melody makes it appealing to people of all ages. Each one of its 31 verses is a pearl of wisdom that is relevant to our lives.
Another name for this text is Moha Mudgara. The word moha, in Sanskrit, means ‘delusion’ while mudgara means ‘hammer’. Together, Moha Mudgara means the remover or destroyer of delusion. It is called so because it deals a body blow to the excessive value we place on this samsara that is the world.
It was on one of those days when Shankara and his disciples were travelling that they passed through Benaras, a holy city of India. Along the way, Shankara overheard an old pundit, scholar, memorising Panini’s grammar rules. He observed how the pundit memorised the grammar rules but missed the message of what he was studying and this inspired a masterful oration by Shankara that we call the Bhaja Govindam or Moha Mudgara.
The Bhaja Govindam comprises 31 verses. The opening stanza is taken to be the chorus that is chanted at the end of every other verse. Tradition has it that the 12 verses following the chorus were spoken by the great master himself. These 12 verses form the first part of the Bhaja Govindam and are called the Dvadashamanjarika Stotram, a bouquet of 12 stanza-flowers. Just as a bouquet of fresh flowers can be appreciated even by looking at them from afar, the Bhaja Govindam too can be appreciated merely by listening to the melodious chanting of the verses. Those who come near the flower experience the fragrance emanating from the flower. Similarly, those who understand the meaning of the verses gain useful instructions on life. However, the ones that truly enjoy the flowers are the bees that enter deep into the flower to draw out their nectar. Similarly, those who truly enjoy the Bhaja Govindam are those who absorb its message. Those who analyse and reflect upon the matter in the verses. Those who live the philosophy and use it to rise spiritually.
So inspiring was Shankara’s oration that each of his 14 disciples travelling with him added a verse each. These 14 verses form the Chaturdasha Manjarika Stotram. After listening to his students, Shankara blesses the true seekers of all times in the last 4 verses.
Thus together, the chorus, Dvadashamanjarika Stotram, Chaturdasha Manjarika Stotram and Shankara’s blessings form the 31 verses of the Bhaja Govindam.
The Bhaja Govindam deals with our twin motivations in life; kanchana, acquisition of wealth, and kamini, enjoyment of it. By the first, we accumulate wealth for dukha nivrutti, security against sorrow. And by the second motivation, we indulge in sukha prapti, the enjoyment of the accumulated wealth. Shankara, in the Bhaja Govindam, brings the futility of worldly pursuit to our attention and says no matter how much we seek whatever we seek outside, the truth is, it will always be within.
The spirit of the Bhaja Govindam
As we begin our study of the Bhaja Govindam, it is important we understand the spirit of Shankara’s message. There may be times during the study when we feel his admonishments of human nature are a bit harsh. But it is imperative that we feel the love that comes through his words. Like a parent to a child. He does not mean to belittle us but is merely trying to shake us out of our slumber. Urging us to get over our obsession with the trivialities and get on to our real business in life, to begin our search for that Divine Self within. To remind us that we are not human beings going through a spiritual experience but that very Spirit going through a human experience. So together, we must work towards lifting ourselves out of our delusion, our moha to greater heights of awareness.