Bhaja Govindam

Adi ShankaracharyaIt was more than a month ago. I had a call from an old friend in Dubai. ‘Suja, Ravi here. It’s bad news. Gautam is no more’. My mind went blank for a few minutes, I could not quite come to grips with the explanations that followed.

Through the next few days I learnt of more details. I struggled with my emotions, seemingly having lost control of my tear ducts which welled up during the most mundane activities in my life. My husband and I met Gautam in 1985 when we were all very young. There were times when we saw a lot of each other, there were times when we hardly met. Yet he was there. And now he was no more. He was only 53. Father to two beloved  sons, husband to a now desolate wife, he died alone in a hotel room while on a business trip in Singapore. I have taken it harder than I would have thought; after all, we did not live in each other’s pockets. Yet with him gone, I feel as if I have lost a part of the history of my life for he was very much part of it.

Two weeks back I flew into Australia. For those who are newcomers to my blog, my husband and I live in Switzerland, my two grown children live and work in Australia. Trying to live in perpetual summer, I almost always visit Australia in Dec-Jan. Meeting mutual friends of Gautam here was a heart-rending experience as we relived shared moments of our lives.

I tried to write this post a couple of weeks back but grief overcame me and I could not write sensibly at all. But even then a couple of verses from Bhaja Govindam kept running as a refrain in my head –  पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं पुनरपि जननी जठरे शयनम् – Once again birth, once again death, once again lying down in the womb of a mother. How fragile life is, how uncertain. One day a man goes to work and the next day he is no more. It seems so unbelievable! Adi Shankaracharya (788-820?) advises us to worship Govinda, pointing out to us fools ‘मूढमते’,  the illusory nature of life on earth. I have heard this sung hundreds of times, I have myself recited it many times, but today I have finally come to grips with Shankaracharya’s verses.

Listen below to M.S.Subbulakshmi sing the version she made famous. She sings only 10 out of the 31 verses. See footnote for my translation of the verses which are sung. If you are interested, the words of the complete version can be found easily online.

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Sanskrit

Note: I am giving below only the verses sung in M.S.Subbulakshmi’s rendition, with the actual verse number in the full version for reference.

Raga : Yamuna Kalyani

भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं गोविन्दं भज मूढमते ।
संप्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले नहि नहि रक्षति डुकृञ् करणे ॥ १ ॥

bhaja gOvindam, bhaja gOvindam, gOvindam bhaja mUDHamatE samprAptE sannihitE kAlE nahi nahi rakshati DukR.nkaraNE   ॥ 1 ॥

Worship (bhaja) Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool (mUDHamatE)! On reaching (sampraptE) close to (sannihitE) the appointed time of death (kAlE, time, implies time of death), grammatical formulae (DukR.nkaranE) will not save you (nahi nahi rakshati).

Raga : Brindavana Saranga

मूढ जहीहि धनागमतृष्णां कुरु सद् बुद्धिम् मनसि  वितृष्णाम् ।
यल्लभसे निज कर्मोपात्तं वित्तं तेन विनोदय चित्तम् ॥ २ ॥

mUDHa jahIhi dhanAgamatRshNAm kuru sadbuddhim manasi vitRshNAm
yallabhasE nija karmOpAttam vittam tEna vinOdaya chittam ॥ 2॥

O Fool (mUDHa)! Abandon (jahI, verb jahita) the desire (tRshNA) for the acquisition (Agama) of wealth (dhana) now (iha)! In a mind without desire (manasi vitRshNAm), comprehend (kuru buddhim) the Truth (sat). That (yat) that you obtain (labhasE) as your own (nija) work’s (karma) gain (upAttam), delight (vinodaya) your mind (chittam) with that (tEna) wealth (vittam).

Raga: Pantuvarali

यावद्वित्तोपार्जन सक्तः तावन्निज परिवारो रक्तः ।
पश्चाज्जीवति जर्जर देहे वार्तां कोऽपि न पृच्छति गेहे ॥  ॥

yAvadvittOpArjana saktah tAvannija parivArO raktah
paschAjjIvati jarjara dEhE vArtAm kO’pi na pRchCHati gEhE ॥ 4॥

As long as (yAvat) one is engaged in (saktah) earning (upArjana) wealth (vitta), till that time (tAvat) one’s own (nija) family (parivAra) remains attached (raktah) (implied: to you). Later (pashchAt) while one lives on (jIvati) in a decrepit/aged (jarjara) body (dEha), no one (kah api) in the house (gEha) inquires (pRchCHa) of one’s news (vArtA).

Raga : Bageshri

मा कुरु धन जन यौवन गर्वं हरति निमेषात्कालः सर्वम् ।
मायामयमिदमखिलं हित्वा ब्रह्मपदं त्वं प्रविश विदित्वा ॥ 11 ॥

mA kutu dhana jana yauvana garvam harati nimEshAtkAlah sarvam
mAyAmaymidamakhilam hitvA brahmapadam tvam pravisha viditvA ॥ ११ ॥

Do not be (ma kuru = do not do) proud (garva) of wealth (dhana), tribe (jana) or youth (yauvana). Time (kAla) can take away (harati) everything (sarva) in a moment (nimEsha)! Abandoning (hitvA) this (idam)  illusory (mAyamayam) universe (akhilam), with realisation (viditvA), you (tvam) should (implied) resort to (pravisham) the place of Brahma (brahmapadam).

Raga : Behag

सुर मंदिर तरु मूल निवासः शय्या भूतलमजिनं वासः ।
सर्व परिग्रह भोग त्यागः कस्य सुखं न करोति विरागः ॥ १८  ॥

sura mandira taru mUla nivAsah shayyA bhUtala majinam vAsah
sarva parigraha bhOga tyAgah kasya sukham na karOti virAgah ॥ 18॥

Dwell (nivAsa) in the temple (mandira) of Gods (sura), in the roots (mUla) of trees (taru). Live (Vasah) with a deer skin (ajinam) on the earth (bhUtala) as bed (shayyA).  Renounce (tyAga) the claim on (parigraha) all (sarva) possessions/enjoyment (bhOga). Who (kasya) will not be (na karOti) happy (sukha) with such indifference to worldly things (virAga)?

Raga : Nadanamakriya

भगवद् गीता किञ्चिदधीता गङ्गा जल लव कणिका पीता ।
सकृदपि येन मुरारि समर्चा क्रियते तस्य यमेन न चर्चा ॥ २० ॥

bhagavad gItA kinchidaDHItA gangA jala lava kaNikA pItA
sakRdapi yEna murAri samarchA kriyatE tasya yamEna na charchA ॥ 20 ॥

Yama (Lord of Death) does not argue (kriyatE na charchA) with one who has read (adhITa) a little bit (kinchit) of the Bhagavat Gita, sipped (pIta) even a drop (kaNikA) of a bit of (lava) of water (jala) of the Ganges (gangA), by whom (yEna) Lord Krishna (murAri) has been worshipped (samarcha) even (api) once (sakRt).

Raga : Kapi

पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं पुनरपि जननी जठरे शयनम् ।
इह संसारे बहुदुस्तारे कृपयाऽपारे पाहि मुरारे ॥ २१ ॥

punarapi jananam punarapi maraNam punarapi jananI jaTHarE shayanam
iha sa.msArE bahudustArE kRpayA’pArE pAhi murArE ॥ 21 ॥

Once again (punarapi) birth (jananam), once again (punarapi) death (maraNam), once again (punarapi) lying down (shayanam) in the womb (jaTHara) of a mother (jananI)….in this (iha) world (sa.msArE) which is so much (bahu) difficult to endure (dustAra), with boundless (apAra) compassion (kRpA), protect me (pAhi) O Krishna (murArE) !

Raga : Mohanam

गेयं गीता नाम सहस्रं ध्येयं श्रीपति रूपमजस्रम् ।
नेयं सज्जन सङ्गे चित्तं देयं दीनजनाय च वित्तम् ॥ २७ ॥

gEyam gItA nAma sahasram dhyEyam shrIpati rUpamajasram
nEyam sajjan sa.ngE chittam dEyam dInajanAya cha vittam ॥27॥

That which ought to be sung (gEyam) is the Gita and the thousand (sahasram) names of the Lord (nAma). That which ought to be meditated on (dhyEyam) endlessly (ajasram) is the form (rUpam) of Vishnu, the consort of Lakshmi (shrIpati). That to which the mind (chittam) ought to be led to (nEyam) is the company (sa.ngam) of virtuous people (sajjana). That which ought to be given (dEyam) is the wealth (vittam) to the wretched (dIna) people (jana).

Raga : Senjurutti

अर्थमनर्थं भावय नित्यं नास्ति ततः सुखलेशः सत्यम् ।
पुत्रादपि धन भाजां भीतिः सर्वत्रैषा विहिता रीतिः ॥ २९ ॥

arTHamanarTHam bhAvaya nityam nAsti tatah sukhalEshah satyam
putrAdapi dhana bhAjAm bhItih sarvatraishA vihitA rItih ॥ 29॥

There is no (na asti) true (satyam) divine (Esha) joy (sukha) resulting from (tatah) wealth (artha) on which one thinks of (bhAvaya) all the time (nityam) uselessly (anartha).  One fears (bhIti) sharing (bhAja) wealth (dhana) even (api) with one’s son (putrAt)! This (EshA) practice (rIti) is followed (vihita) everywhere (sarvatra).

Raga : Sindhu Bhairavi

गुरुचरणाम्बुज निर्भर भक्तः संसारादचिराद्भव मुक्तः ।
सेन्द्रियमानस नियमादेवं द्रक्ष्यसि निज हृदयस्थं देवम् ॥ ३१ ॥

gurucharaNambuja nirbhara bhaktah sa.msArAdachirAdbhava muktah
sEndriyamAnasa niyamAdEvam drashyasi nija hRdayastham dEvam
॥ 31 ॥

The devotee (bhakta) who relies on (nirbhara) on the lotus-feet (charaNa ambuja) of the Guru is soon (achirat) liberated (mukta) from being (bhava) in this cycle of worldly existence (sa.msAra). Indeed (Eva), with restraint/control (niyamat) of his senses (indriya) with (sa) his mind (mAnasa), he sees (drashyasi) the God (dEva) who is in his own (nija) heart (hRdayasTHa).

17 Comments

Filed under Adi Shankaracharya, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Religious

17 responses to “Bhaja Govindam

  1. One of the greatest of songs rendered by the greatest of singers. This is an immortal piece. Rajaji’s famous introduction to this piece brings out the wondrous depth of the philosophy and says it all.

    In the Behag verse, MS sings it as “bhootalam ajinam”. Perhaps the word you are looking for is ajinam, although I am not sure how deer skin fits into the verse.

    May I offer prayers and condolences for your friend and a supportive hug to you.

    • Aboslutely, an immortal rendition. I can never hear it sung by anyone else, for this has always been ‘The’ rendition!

      Oh..but of course! My head must have been muddled when I was doing the translation, not even looking for alternate sandhi breakups! I fixed my post – I guess it translates to ‘a deer skin on the earth to sleep on’.

      Thanks for your support and prayers. I am still feeling the loss but time has been a healer, as it always is, and I have slowly come to accept the vagaries of life.
      Cheers. Suja

  2. R Sankara Prasad

    God bless! Great service…kudos!

  3. Dr V R Chitguppi

    “Karmopattam” – karma here, does it mean ‘poorvarjita karma’ or ‘work’ ?

    • In this case, it seems to me that it has to mean ‘work’ or ‘action’. It cannot mean karma from previous life as this is an instruction on how to live the current life. In his previous phrase, he says ‘abandon desire’ and ‘comprehend the truth’..so the work mentioned is the work required to the ‘comprehension of truth’ and the ‘karmopattam’ or the gains from this work, is a spiritual one, rather than a physical one.
      Cheers. Suja

  4. Dr V R Chitguppi

    Karmopattam …. Here Karma means not work but Karma one has accumulated over past lives. Karma decides how much vitta one gets in this life. One gets neither less nor more than what’s dictated by karma.

  5. mohan kumar

    My hearty condolences for your loss. I listened to this song with tears. I have listened to this song numerous times. Yet it touched me soulfully. Thanks for breaking into raga wise pieces.

  6. P Venugopal

    Very well written. Thank you for this.
    Can you please tell who composed the music for the MS Amma version

    • A good question! I wonder why I never looked into it! I guess I always assumed it must have been set to music by MS Amma herself..or it could well have been Rajaji, couldn’t it, given he had introduced it in the original disk… I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to the question. I’m on a long road trip with atrocious wifi but when I’m back home I’ll try and do a bit of research. But thanks for the question!
      Cheers. Suja

  7. Venugopal P

    Very nice English translation. Thank you very much. I keep turning to this blog every now and then whenever I listen to the song to be able to enjoy the song with its meaning.
    Could you please tell who has composed the tune. Everyone refers to it as the MS version, but I haven’t been able to know who is the composer.

    • Thank you Venugopal! I am sorry to say that I don’t know the answer to your question. I even checked the photos of the old LPs available online but there is no mention of who set it to music. However, there is a good possibility that it was tuned by Kadayanallur Venkataraman who was closely associated with MS Amma and tuned a number of songs for her. If I can find out with certainty, I will let you know.
      Cheers. Suja

  8. Raman Dhanasekar

    MS Amma’s rendition of Bhaja Govindam would be the first song which awakes us in the morning through the tiles of our old house around 45 years ago, from the nearby Sri Ranganathar Devasthanam and we all have been mesmerized in it, from then. However, in my recent endeavour to find out the meaning and lyrics, I was surprised to note that the rendition is not in the same order of the lyrics and many paras were not included in her song. Any idea, as to why the full Bhaja Govindam was not sung by Amma?

    • Hi Raman,
      Profuse apologies for the delayed response. I have been quite inactive in my blog for quite a few months, but I am now back! When I was researching my post, which I see was written in 2014, I remember wondering about it myself. Unfortunately I didn’t find the answer then and don’t have an answer now. In fact, in my eight and half years of writing this blog, I have come across a number of famous songs where some verses are sung and others totally disregarded. This always leaves me rather puzzled, so join the club 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  9. Lakshman Ragde

    Suja: Would you have the notation for the M.S’s version? Thanks.

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