The Lord Loves Us Fools

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Some books create themselves. One just acts as a medium. It happened with Sundar Kanda. My publisher sent me a beautiful draft of the book today. It is an English interpretation of Tulsidasji’s Sundar Kanda.

I was trying to understand the beautiful lines of  Sundar Kanda- a much loved canto in Sree Ramcharit Manas of Goswami Tulsidasji. Every one of my colleagues seemed to know it by heart. My friend, a great Hanuman bhakt, typically started all her training sessions with Hanuman Chalisa- a forty line devotional eulogy by Tuslidasji . And one day, another friend told me that he found it difficult to understand the various nuances of Sundar Kanda, when his aged mother recited it during pujas.

I had no difficulties with the stories of Ramayana. I had grown up with them. The only question was, whether SreeRamcharit Manas would be accessible to my understanding. The Lord, I believe, has a great liking for fools like me. We rush in where angels fear to tread.

I remembered, a vernacular line on Krishna’s preference, often quoted by mother : Melpathoorinte vibhaktiye kaliha, Poonthanathin bhaktiyanennikishtam!( I prefer Poonthanam’s bhakti to Melpathoor’s vibhakti). 

The story is about Melpathoor Bhattathiry, who wrote the sanskrit classic Narayaneeyam during his prayer-penance for curing his rheumatism. He was staying at Guruvayoor temple in Kerala, acclaimed as the Mathura of the South. He was cured of his disease and praised by all for his exemplary mastery of the language.

Poonthanam Namboodiri, was a poor Krishna Bhakt, who wrote a vernacular paean to Lord Krishna called, ‘Jnanapana.’   So Poonthanam decided to get his text corrected by a scholar. He respectfully approached the learned Melpathoor. The sanskrit scholar condescended to speak to the poor amateur writer of vernacular. But there he stopped. He sniffed that he did not have the time to waste on vernacular writings.  Poor Poonthanam was heart broken at the contemptuous treatment of his labour of love.

That night, Melpathoor’s rheumatism returned with a vengeance. As he groaned in desperate pain, a laughing Krishna, cute and sweet in his Bal avatar, appeared in his dream and told him amidst much home truths : Melpathoorinte vibkatiye kaliha Poonthanathin bhaktiyanennikishtam. ‘Hey, Melpathoor- compared to your Sanskritic grammar and vibhakti pratyayam, I prefer Poonthanam’s devotion to me.’

( Note : I have often wondered whether this anecdote was the satirical rebuttal of the vernacular writer towards their condescending brethren who wrote in upper-class Sanskrit language! While there were poets who wrote in pure Sanskrit, taking pains with the severe rules of structure and syntax, they were also those who – like stringing  beads of mani and pravala in a string-combined words of malayalam and sanskrit like pearls and rubies, to create a mixed language of creation. Then there were those like Poonthanam who wrote in the simplest of Malayalam language.)

Melpathoor sent a word to Poonthanam (He could not move!) and apologised profusely. He corrected the draft and Poonthanam was gratified. Melpathoor’s rheumatism disappeared as subtly as it came-having laughed at the human pettiness of considering one language superior to another.

Anyway, fools like me gain confidence due to such anecdotes. Hanumanji was going to help me in this journey across the word-sea. He knew what a dunce I was when it came to Hindi grammar. How I mix up my ka and ki in every sentence.I guess, Hanumanji, that great bhakt of Sree Ramji- Lord Narayana himself- took pity on me. In fifty days, he helped me sail across Sundar Kanda and blessed me with a sudden official tour to Chitrakoot, where Tulsidasji wrote his master piece.

My relation with God is very personal. He is friend and philosopher and possesses an  irrepressible sense of humour. He does not scare me. He is my best friend. Also, I prefer that He remains He. Though I love Him being Her too. Somehow, growing up with a mother who would say, ‘ My Krishna’ while she bowed before Devi herself, set the basic infrastructure of my devotional growth. It is very fluid, my family’s version of bhakti. You just call. He answers.

I do not have a dedication page for this book. But in my heart, it is for that divinity who exists beyond any narrow human perspective of language or culture, colour or religon, creed or country. The One who just loves us.

Blessed Be! Jai Hanuman Ji!

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The Radiance of Grace

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.

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