When my mother emphasizes her point, she does it very firmly.
She sent me three different interpretations of Melpattur Narayana Bhattatiry’s 1036 shloka summary of the great Sreemad Bhagavatham: Narayaneeyam.
Published in different decades, translated from Sanskrit by various scholars, in different stages of use ( one had her green inked notes to the sides, another had pictures of my nephew and Sree Krishna within its pages, the third was dedicated to my daughters, her writing in blue black ink..) the three books grace my home today.
In the seventh century, Mayur Bhatta/Mayura MahaKavi, afflicted with leprosy, had written 100 shlokas praising the Sun God, namely the ‘Surya Sataka’. In a similiar manner, Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathiry, being afflicted by acute rheumatism, stayed in the divine precincts of Lord Guruvayoorappan temple, and wrote the 1036 shlokas in 100 days, in a format called dasakam (10 each).
Lot of us grew up hearing the poignant anecdote of an ailing Melpattur sending a messenger to Ezhuthachan, asking for guidance and the tongue-in-cheek reply from the latter: ” Meen tottu kootikollu” ( Wordplay being translated as : Taste the fish/Start with the fish ). Brahmins of Kerala, being strict vegetarians, Ezhuthachan was showing the way out of the ailment: by describing Lord Vishnu’s various avatars , starting withe the Avatar of the Fish. The young scholar, hardly 27 at that time, completes the feat in 100 days, and is cured of his disease.
In addition to this anecdote , comes the second one- the humble vernacular poet and extremely devoted Krishna Bhakt, Poonthanam Namboodiry, having completed his ‘Jnanapana ‘, ventured to show his manuscript to the erudite Melpathur, whose fame had already spread due to “Narayaneeyam.” The story goes that Melpattoor did not have time for the “vernacular” version .( Indicating that the work was too low for his scholarship level ; he had mastered Sanskrit in all its glory and vernacular was a poor cousin indeed).
Poonthanam was very disappointed and hurt. The cured rheumatism returned that night, and Melpathur had a dream. Little Krishna came to him and said, ” I like Poonthanam’s Bhakti than Melpathur’s Vibhakti (Vibhakti Pratyayam is a part of Sanskrit Grammar) Melpathur went seeking Poonthanam and corrected his manuscript with due humility. Both the works praising the Lord, remain masterpieces of spiritual literature, cherished by the recipients of these gifts.It is a joy to find many translations available online of Narayaneeyam and Jnanapana.
The depth of scholarship is mind boggling. Many scholars of that era(adept in Sanskrit, astrology and Mathematics equally) left clear clues of the time and month of their work, within their shlokas. Melpattur left a clue, ‘Ayurarogyasaughyam'( with life and health at its serene balance), which as per Astrological calculations left a clue that it was 763 Years, Kolla Varsham, Vrischikam, day 28th when he finished his endeavour.
The very erudite foreword explained about his life, other works with extracts, and that of his contemporaries; and how we can calculate the exact date of his demise, using the same strategy of numbers hidden in words. For example, Melpattur also wrote ‘Sree Pada Sapthathy,’ 70 shlokas praising the gorgeous feet of the Goddess Mukollakal Devi. One interpretation is that he was also 70 years old at that time. I was struck by the astounding shloka where the Devi, wife of Shiva, is angry at her husband and her mesmerisingly beautiful feet actively reject his bowed head! Beautiful online versions are available for Sreepada Sapthathy too.
Well, if you are interested in poetry of exquisite proportions, do dip into these scholarly classics. The mind and the spirit will emerge blossoming, much from the beauty of words as from the stories and enchanting lore.
And I finally get my mother’s point. Emphasized thrice.
Riches, scholarship and youth will make a person forget oneself; learn to step beyond and hold onto His lotus feet for a grace filled life.