By M S SUBBULAKSHMI
I've had this CD for some time - the late M S Subbulakshmi is one of India's greatest Carnatic singers (she's Tamil) - but had no idea what the words meant. I knew it was devotional, but not exactly how. Watch the video and you'll see the translation (you fools). It's quite moving, actually.
When I saw this video, I couldn't figure out why they keep showing Shankaracarya. Those of you who've been to the AYRI in Mysore have no doubt seen his framed picture in the shala, next to Guruji's chair.
Shankaracarya lived during the 8th Century AD, when Buddhism was all the rage. He decided to become a renunciate at the age of eight, telling his mother:
"What the yogi alone knows is that in the cycle of samsara one is born and dies again and again a million times. In the cycle of samsara he sometimes plays the role of a son, a father, a husband, a daughter, a mother, or a wife in an unending succession. Therefore true and lasting happiness can be achieved only by transcending birth and death through renunciation, which is the gateway to self-realization. My dear mother, please permit me to embrace that state and strive to realize myself. Allow me to accept sannyasa."
The mother finally relented in order to free him from the clutches of a crocodile. At their parting, he told her, ""My dear mother, you have always been my provider. Now I am going out into the world and henceforth whoever feeds me is my mother, whoever teaches me is my father. My pupils are my children, peace is my bride, and solitude my bliss. Such are the rigors of my undertaking."
Young Shankaracarya spent four years with his guru, Govindapada, who realized he was an incarnation of Lord Shiva, and told him,
"Proceed to the holy city of Banaras immediately and start instructing the people on how they can understand their real self. That which is taught by the Buddhist philosophers does not reveal the nature of the atma or self. It is your mission to bring the people to the path of theism. Banaras has many well-known scholars in all systems of philosophy. You must hold discussions with them and guide them along the lines of correct thinking. It is most urgent! Please do not delay even one minute."
In Varanasi, at the age of 12, he brought people back to the True Self. He also compiled commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, Bhagavad-gita, and the principle Upanishads.
According to Shankaracharya we ourselves are God. When the veil of ignorance is removed one will realize his complete identity as being nondifferent from the Supreme Brahman or God.
Apparently he wrote this beautiful bhajan, too.
Many scholars hold that this composition encapsulates with both brevity and simplicity the substance of all Vedantic thought found in whatever other works that Adi Shankaracharya wrote.
The refrain "Bhaja Govindam" which defines the composition and gives it its name invokes the almighty in the aspect of Vishnu; it is therefore very popular not only with Sri Adi Shankaracharya's immediate followers, the Smarthas, but also with Vaishnavas and others..."
On the other hand, "A mystery surrounds these prayers in that Shankaracharya taught consistently throughout his commentaries that brahman is the supreme goal. Yet in his prayers he says, "Just worship Govinda."
As for the story behind the prayer: It is said that Adi Shankaracharya, accompanied by his disciples, was walking along a street in Varanasi one day when he came across an aged scholar teaching the rules of Sanskrit grammar to his students by rote. Taking pity on him, Adi Shankaracharya went up to the scholar 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 "Bhaja Govindam" is said to have been composed on this occasion.
Which explains the lyrics, "Worship Govinda, for in the hour of death the formula of grammar will not save you, o fools."