Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri (1559-1632) was the celebrated author of Narayaneeyam, a devotional composition in Sanskrit verse which is a masterly summary of the main episodes in Srimad Bhagavatam. He was a scholar in the Sanskrit Language and its grammar on which he wrote his masterpiece Prakriya-sarvaswam which sets forth an axiomatic system elaborating on the classical system of Panini the grammarian.
Narayana Bhattathiri was born in a Namboodiri family of Kerala. He was a disciple of Achyuta Pisharati from whom he studied Sanskrit grammar. As a student he also studied the Rig Veda and Tarka Sastra (the science of logical reasoning and argument).
Bhattathiri was struck with paralysis when he was still young. The disease was painful and Ezhuthachan the author of Adhyatma Ramayana in Malayalam who was also a devotee of Lord Krishna of Guruvayoor advised Bhattathiri “meen thottu koottuka” in Malayalam which meant ‘take fish as food’ or ‘start counting from fish’. It was obvious that the erudite Ezhuthachan would not have advised Bhattathiri, a Nambooiri brahmin, to eat fish since Namboodiri brahmins are staunch vegetarians. The intelligent Bhattathiri figured out that the meaning of ‘start counting from fish’ was that he should start recounting the incarnations of the Lord from the matsyavatara (incarnation as fish) onwards, the sequence being matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha(Boar), Nrusimha (half-man and half-lion), Vamana who asked for two feet of land from Mahabali and measured the three worlds in two steps as trivikrama, Parasurama, Srirama, Balarama, Krishna and Kalki (the incarnation yet to come).
Bhattathiri took the advise and wrote his Magnum Opus based on Srimad Bhagavatam which chronicles the many incarnations of Mahavishnu and expounds the highest philosophy of the Hindus embodied in the Upanishads. He dedicated his work to Lord Krishna, fondly called by devotees as Guruvayoorappan, at the temple at Guruvayoor in Kerala. The work consists of 100 dasakas each containing 10 verses. However, a few dasakas contain more than ten verses so that the total number of slokas is not 1000 but 1034.
Legend has it that Bhattathiri composed one dasaka a day in the presence of the Lord and recited it before Him for His approval and the Lord did nod his head in agreement. The composition is directly addressed to the Lord telling him His own exploits and leelas. The refrain in the last sloka of every dasaka is a prayer to the Lord of Guruvayoor to remove his (Bhattathiri’s) ailments and sufferings.
The late Brahmasri Anantarama Dikshitar, the celebrated exponent of our Vedas, Epics and Puranas used to quote profusely from Narayaneeyam during his discourses on Srimad Bhagavatam. He was instrumental in popularising Narayaneeyam outside Kerala. He is considered by many as the reincarnation of Narayana Bhattathiri. The omission from Narayaneeyam of the important episode of King Bharata, described in chapters seven to fourteen in the fifth Canto (skandha)of Srimad Bhagavata, perturbed him. Being himself a scholar in Sanskrit and author of several stotras in that Language he wrote the episode in three daskas to fill the gap. He adopted the same style of narrative directly addressing the Lord and ending each dasaka with a prayer for healing the illness of the author.
The story of Bharata from whom India got the name Bhaarata, as told by Brahmasri Anantarama Dikshitar in Sanskrit verse, is reproduced below with an English translation.
त्वत्भक्तवर्यो भरतो महात्मा
निक्षिप्यराज्यं तनयेष्वसक्तः ।
स गण्डकीतीरमवाप राजा
त्वत्पूजनार्थं पुलहाश्रमं ही ॥१॥
(O Lord of Guruvayoor!) King Bharata who was of a saintly nature and a fine devotee of Yours entrusted the kingdom to his sons and, free from all attachments to material things, repaired to the hermitage of saint Pulaha on the banks of the Gandaki river in order to worship You.
तत्रापि स त्वां तुलसीभिरीशं
कृष्णं समर्चन् गुरुवातनाथ।
ध्यायन् प्रपंचं भवदंगभूतं
निनाय कालं प्रणवं जपंश्च ॥२॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor, there he spent his days worshipping you Krishna with tulsi leaves, meditating on you your cosmic form as the universe and doing japa of Omkara, the mystic syllable denoting Brahman,the Ultimate Reality.
यज्ञॆश गोविन्द हृषीकनाथ
हेऽनन्त कृष्णाच्युत माधवॆति।
स्वप्नेऽपि राजा भवदीयनामा-
न्यनारतं संकथयन्ननाम ॥३॥
He bowed to you chanting, without break even in his dreams, your names like yagnesha, govinda, Hrisheekesa, ananta, krishna, acyuta and madhava.
किरीटिनं कुण्डलिनं गदाब्ज-
शंखारिपाणिं नवनीरदाभम् ।
पीताम्बरं त्वां मनसाऽस्मरत्स ॥४॥
He visualised and mentally meditated on your form adorned with crown and ear-globes, holding the mace, the lotus, the conch and the disc in your hands, resplendent in your dark blue colour as the newly formed clouds, teeth shining and shapely like the buds of jasmine flower, with your body captivating the hearts of all and clothed in raiment of bright yellow.
मनोहरं मञ्जुलभाषणं त्वाम् ।
He visualised and mentally meditated on your beautiful form with a garland of mandara flowers around your neck, with speech sweet as nectar, with the divine urdhwapundra on your forehead, adorned with gold jewellery and wearing strings of pearls
नदीतटेऽस्मिन् जपतः कदाचित्
तृषाकुलाऽगात् हरिणी सगर्भा ।
तया हरे वारिणि पीयमाने
जगर्ज सिंहो जनयन् सुभीतिम् ॥६॥
Once he was seated on the bank of the river chanting your names. A pregnant she-deer came to the river to quench her intense thirst. While she was drinking the water there was the roar of a lion hearing which she was terrified.
भीत्या मृगी सा सहसोत्पतन्ती
पपात गुल्मॆऽथ ममार विष्णो ।
बालं मृगं योनिविनि:सृतं तं
जग्राह राजा कृपया जलोढम् ॥७॥
Driven by fear the deer sprang up to run but fell down in the shrubbery and breathed her last leaving its young one which had slipped out of her genitals into the river. The king, moved by compassion, rescued the infant deer from being carried away by the current.
मात्रा विहीनं परिपालयन् सः
त्वत्पूजनात् भ्रष्टमना भभूव ।
पश्यन् मृगं प्राप मृगस्य जन्म ॥८॥
Bringing up the infant deer which had lost its mother Bharata became distracted in his mind and could not concentrate on Your worship. He breathed his last, seeing the deer shedding tears for him like a son. Since the deer was uppermost in his thoughts in his last moments, he was born as a deer in his next birth
प्राप्तो मृगत्वम् पुलहाश्रमेऽस्मिन्
कालं जरामेत्य चचार भूयः ।
शृण्वन् समाजे च कथाम् मृगत्वं
त्यजन् तदोचे भवदीय नाम ॥९॥
Having taken birth as a deer in Pulahashrama, he attained old age and moved about in the hermitage hearing the leelas of the Lord retold by His devotees and uttered your name while breathing his last.
हास्यन् मृगत्वं भरतो महात्मा
भीतस्तु संगात् मनसा स्मरंस्त्वाम् ।
जलॆ स्थितस्सन् हरये नमस्ते
नारायणायेति जगादचोच्चैः ॥१०॥
Shedding the body of the deer and standing in water the saintly Bharata (in the body of the deer), afraid of all attachments, mentally visualised your form and loudly called out “O Hari!” and “O Narayana!”
ततो महाभागवतो महात्मा
राजर्षिवर्यॊ भरतस्तु जातः ।
विप्रान्ववाये भवतः स्वरूपं
ध्यायन् जडोन्मत्तवदास लोकॆ ॥११॥
Then Bharata, the foremost among rajarshis and a great devotee of Yours, took birth in the family of a brahmin and led his life in this world shunning all attachments. He went about meditating without break on your beautiful form and was, to all appearances, a dullard, dud or half-wit not reacting in any way to his surroundings. (He therefore came to be known as jadabharata)
ष्वतीव पीवा मलिनैक वस्त्रः ।
यदृच्छया याचनयाऽपि लब्ध-
मश्नन् समं त्वां मनसाऽस्मरत्सः ॥१२॥
Not covering his body even in rain, shine or snow, stockily built, wearing a single soiled cloth, eating whatever he got fortuitously or by begging, Jadabharata always mentally remembered your captivating form
श्री भद्रकाल्यै भवदंघ्रिभक्तं
बलिं प्रदातुं यतते स्म चॊरः।
दुष्टस्य सा सानुचरस्य दॆवी
शिरांसि चिच्छॆद महासिनैव ॥१३॥
A robber, with his followers, tried to kill your devotee as a sacrifice to Bhadrakali but the Goddess cut off the heads of those people with her sword
को वा निहन्तुं प्रभवेत्परात्मन् ।
माम् पाहि कारुण्यनिधॆ हरॆ त्वं
त्वद्भक्तवर्यम् कुरु मारुतॆश ॥१४॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor ! Paramatman! who can ever have the power to kill a devotee of Yours. O Hari! Ocean of compassion ! Kindly protect me and make me a true devotee of yours.
अथेक्षुमत्यास्तु तटे महान्तं
स्वयानवाहं तरसा चकार ॥१॥
Once the King of Sauvira and Sindhu domains came across the Jadabrahmana, who had been purified by the constant meditation on your form, on the banks of the Ikshumati river. He made him one of the persons who carried his palanquin.
हिंसादिहीनस्य मुनेः स्वदृष्ट्या-
पूतेहि दॆशॆ चरणप्रवृत्तिः ।
इत्थं गतेऽस्मिन् शिबिका चचाल
मुक्ताय विष्णो कुपितो नृपोऽभूत् ॥२॥
Jadabharata who was averse to inflicting injury, ensured that he was not stepping on even the tiniest of life forms by carefully examining with his eyes where he was placing his foot. He was out of step with the other carriers resulting in the shaking of the palanquin. The King therefore got angry with jadabharata a realised soul free from all material trappings.
भ्रातर्नपीवा न युवा जरावा-
नध्वानमेकॊ वहसे हि दीर्घं ।
चिरं न चॆमॆ शिबिकां वहन्ती-
त्युवाच राजा भवदंघ्रिभक्तं ॥३॥
The King taunted the brahmin, Your devotee, saying sarcastically “ brother, you are not stocky and not young, you have started greying and you have taken this load alone for a long distance, the others do not at all take the load of the palanquin”
गर्वेण राज्ञा बहुधा स विप्रः ।
त्वां संस्मरन्नोत्तरमाह किञ्चित् ॥४॥
Though haughtily taunted by the king with sarcastic comments, the brahmana, who was devoid of any identification with or possessiveness over his body, remained silent remembering You all the time.
पुनश्च याने विषमं गतेऽसौ
जीवन्मृतो मामवमन्यसे त्वम् ।
भजिष्यसे त्वं प्रकृतिं यथा स्वां
कुर्याम् तथेति न्यगदीत्त्वदीयम् ॥५॥
When the movement of the palanquin became unbalanced again the King angrily said “you are dead while living, you have insulted me and I will do something which will bring you back to your real state (nature)”
स्थौल्यं कृशत्वं च रुजामयोऽन्ये
देहेन जातस्य हि तॆ भवन्ति ।
मानॆन शून्यस्य न सन्ति राज-
न्नित्याह यॊगी त्वयि बद्धभावः॥६॥
The brahmin who was a yogi and whose mind was always contemplating You replied that fatness, leanness, pain, disease etc are applicable only to those born with the body and are possessive of the body. Those who have transcended this identification with the body do not experience these states
देहो मयाऽयं बहुशिक्षितोऽस्ति
पुनश्च शिक्षा यदि पिष्टपॆषः ।
स्थितोऽस्म्यहं स्वप्रकृतौ हि राज-
न्नित्यब्रवीत् तं गुरुवातनाथ ॥७॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor, the brahmana replied “this body of mine has been punished by me heavily and punishing it again is like mashing what is already mashed. I am already established in my real nature (and there is no need for the king to do anything about it).
श्रुत्वा तु राजा बहुयोगशास्त्र-
सारं महत्त: त्वरयाऽवरुह्य ।
तत्पादमूले निपपात भक्त्या
क्षमापयन् त्वच्चरणैकचित्तम् ॥८॥
Hearing these words conveying the very essence of the yoga sastras from the brahmana whose heart always revelled in Your lotus feet, the King hastily came down from the palanquin and fell at the brahmana’s feet with reverence and begged his pardon
कस्त्वं महात्मन् चरसीह गूढः
ब्रह्मंस्तवांसे किल यज्ञसूत्रम् ।
इत्यब्रवीत्तं गुरुवातना ॥९॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor! the king said to the brahmana “ O great soul ! who are you moving around incognito. You are wearing a sacred thread on your shoulder which it is rare to see in the midst of avadhutas (sanyasins)”
अध्वा च भारश्च तथैव गन्ता
सर्वं तु मिथ्येति किल त्वयोक्तं ।
जलस्य पानेन गता तृषा हि
कथं भवॆदित्यवदत् हरॆऽसौ ॥१०॥
The Kings said to the brahmana “ You have said that the road, the load, the wayfarer – all these are illusions. If that is so how is it that thirst is quenched by drinking water?”
कथं नु राजन् व्यवहारमेनं
तत्वॆन तुल्यं वदसि ह्यतज्ञः ।
दॆवादि जन्मानि तु चॆतसा स्युः
इत्याह विप्रो गुरुवातना ॥११॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor! , the brahmana replied “ How can you O king, quote this mundane example and raise it to the level of Reality of which you have no knowledge. Even taking birth as a celestial or earthly being is only the creation or projection of the mind and not real”
भ्रातृव्यमेतत् मन एव राजन्
सेवासिना सद्गुरुपादयोस्तत् ।
छिन्धीत्युवाचाथ रहूगणं सः
मां पाहि रॊगात् मरुतालयेश ॥१२॥
The brahmana told King Rahugana “ the whole of this manifested universe is the projection of the mind only. Cut off this illusion by the sword of service at the feet of a true guru”. O Lord of Guruvayur!, save me from my affliction.
प्रणम्य राजा जडविप्रमेनं
पुनश्च पप्रच्छ मरुत्पुरेश ।
तथापि दृश्यं कथमित्यसत्यम् ॥१॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor!, the King prostrated before the brahmana and said that the darkness of his ignorance had been dispelled by the nectarine words of the brahmana. Even then he had doubts about the manifested world being only a mental illusion and non-existent.
त्वद्रूपनिष्ठो भवतः स्वरूपं
सर्वत्र पश्येदविनश्वरं यत् ॥२॥
The brahmana then imparted him the knowledge of the samsara ( the cycle of births and deaths in different life forms) being only an illusion. He also imparted the knowledge that the manifested world is only the creation or projection of the mind and not real and advised him to be firmly established in You, the eternal Lord, and see You everywhere.
चरन् पृथिव्यां तव भृत्यवर्गः
सन्दृश्यतेऽस्यापि पदादिकानि ।
सर्वं तु दृश्यं ह्यसदाह विष्णॊ ॥३॥
All these servants of yours who are seen going about on this earth, the palanquin carried on their shoulders and King Rahugana himself seated therein and all other things which are seen by the senses are non-existent, not real.
पिण्डः स्वहेतौ पृथिवीत्यवेहि
पृथिवी स्वहेतौ परमाणुनिष्ठ: ।
अज्ञान कॢप्तः स च मारुतेश
तच्चैव चारोपित इत्युवाच ॥४॥
The brahmana said that the morsel of food is established in its cause the Earth and the Earth is established in its cause the atom which itself is the creation of ignorance, being a superimpositon on the Ultimate Reality.
द्दीपेन रज्जौ तमसा प्रतीतः ।
ज्ञानॆन चाध्यस्त जगच्च नश्ये-
त्त्वमेव भासीत्यवदत् स राज्ञॆ ॥५॥
The brahmana told the King that the serpent in the rope which is an illusion caused by darkness is destroyed by light. Similarly the light of Knowledge will cause the annihilation of the manifested universe which is superimposed, by ignorance, on You the Ultimate Reality which alone will then shine forth.
श्री शंखचक्राब्ज गदाकिरीट-
हारी भवान् मंगल मंगलेशः।
श्रीवासुदेवस्तु सदा सुपूर्ण-
ज्ञानात्मनास्तीत्यवदत् स भूप ॥६॥
The brahmana told the king that You adorned with the conch, the lotus, the mace and the crown is the very embodiment of all that is auspicious. Sri Vasudeva is all pervasive and exists as the pure and absolute consciousness (knowledge or awareness)
ज्ञानं हरॆ सत्यमिति न्यगादीत् ।
एतच्च नाप्नोति मखादिना हि
विना महत्पादरजॊभिषॆकम् ॥७॥
The brahmana said that the whole world is sri Vasudeva only and the knowledge of Hari is the only Truth. This cannot be attained without the grace of the devotees of the Lord. The aspirant should bathe himself in the dust of such devotees’ feet meaning he should serve them and get their grace.
अहं पुराऽऽसं भरताख्य भूपः
विसृज्य राज्यं हरिपूजनार्थम् ।
वनं गतस्तत्र मृगत्वमाप-
मित्याह भूपं स च मारुतॆ ॥८॥
The brahmana said to the King “ Once upon a time was a king known as Bharata. I left my kingdom and went to the forest to worship Hari. There I was born as a deer (after I left my human body)
पुरा मृगत्वेऽपि तदा न नष्टा ।
भीतस्तु संगात् विचरामि राजन्
O Lord of Guruvayoor ! the brahmana told the King “By the grace of Lord Krishna whom I worship I remember the incidents of my previous births. This remembrance was with me even when I was a deer. I go about in constant fear of attachment”
ततस्तु राजा जडविप्रमेनं
स्तुत्वा च नत्वा च मरुत्पुरेश ।
मोहः प्रणष्टस्त्विति चाब्रवीत्सः ॥१०॥
Thereafter O Lord of Guruvayur ! Rahugana praised the brahmana, prostrated before him and told him that all his delusions and ignorance had been dispelled in a matter of hours because of his association with the brahmana.
किं किं न कुर्यात् महतस्तुसंगः
मां पाहि रोगात् मरुतालयेश ॥११॥
Rahugana, because of his association with jadabharata, became free from all sorrows and miseries and gain the knowledge of the Atman. What cannot be gained by the association with men of saintly character and devotees of the Lord? O Lord of Guruvayoor save me from my illness.
श्री भट्टपादारचितस्तुतौ या
प्रीतिस्तवाभूत् मरुतालयेश ।
स्तोत्रे च जायॆत कुरु प्रसादम् ॥१२॥
O Lord of Guruvayoor! May this hymn of mine get from you the same liking which you had for Narayaneeyam composed by Narayana Bhattathiri praising your glories. May you be pleased with me and bless me.