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 advised Bhattathiri “meen thottu koottuka” which in Malayalam 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. Bhattathiri figured out that the meaning of ‘start counting from fish’ was that he (Bhattathiri) should start recounting the incarnations of the Lord starting from the matsyavatara(incarnation as fish to redeem the Vedas from the asura named Hayagreeva) and go on upto the incarnation of Lord Krishna.
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 Lord did cure Bhattathiri of his affliction by the time he completed Narayaneeyam and also revealed to him His captivating form which Bhattathiri has captured ecstatically in the 100th dasakam
Given below is a reproduction of Dasaka 22 from Narayaneeyam which is a summarised version of the story of Ajamila described in detail in chapters 1-3 of the 6th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. A simple transalation in English is given for the benefit of those who cannot follow the original.
अजामिलो नाम महीसुरः पुरा
चरन् विभो ! धर्मपथान् गृहाश्रमी ।
गुरोर्गिरा काननमेत्य दृष्टवान्
सुधृष्टशीलां कुलटां मदाकुलाम् ॥ १॥
O Lord ! Once upon a time there was a Brahmin known as Ajamila who was a householder living a life of virtue. On one occasion, at the instance of his father, he went into the forest where he came across a woman of easy virtue who was intoxicated by drinks and was impudent.
स्वतः प्रशान्तोऽपि तदाहृताशयः
स्वधर्ममुत्सृज्य तया समारमन् ।
अधर्मकारी दशमी भवन् पुन-
र्दधौ भवन्नामयुते सुते रतिम् ॥२॥
Though inherently calm and peaceful, his heart was stolen by the woman and he enjoyed her company leaving his own duties as a householder and engaged himself in sinful activities. In course of time he became old when he dearly loved the youngest of his sons bearing your name ( ‘Naryayana’).
स मृत्युकाले यमराजकिंकरान्
भयंकर्रांस्त्रीनभिलक्षयन् भिया ।
पुरा मनाक् त्वत्स्मृतिवासनाबलात्
जुहाव नारायणनामकं सुतम् ॥३॥
On his death bed he was frightened by three of the fierce-looking
orderlies of Yama who had come to take him. Because of the force of his past impressions of remembering You, he called out to his son whose name was Narayana.
चतुर्भुजाः पीतपटा मनोरमाः ॥४॥
Though his thoughts were not pure, because of the power of Your name alone which issued forth from his mouth, Your own attendants with four hands, wearing robes of yellow colour and very handsome, appeared before him.
अमुं च संपाश्य विकर्षतो भटान्
निवारितास्ते च भवज्जनैस्तदा
तदीयपापं निखिलं न्यवेदयन् ॥५॥
They commanded the orderlies of Yama to release Ajamila who was bound with ropes and was being dragged. They forcibly prevented the men of Yama from taking Ajamila. Yama’s men
then recounted to Your men all the sins Ajamila had committed.
भवन्तु पापानि कथं तु निष्कृते
कृतेऽपि भो! दण्डनमस्ति पण्डिताः ।
न निष्कृतिः किं विदिता भवादृशा-
मिति प्रभो! त्वत्पुरुषा बभाषिरे ॥६॥
O Lord ! Your men told the men of Yama “ You are all wise men. Don’t you know that there is no punishment when the sinner atones for his sins. Don’t people like you know what the atonement is for one’s sins?”
श्रुतिस्मृतिभ्यां विहिता व्रतादयः
पुनन्ति पापं न लुनन्ति वासनाम् ।
अनन्तसेवा तु निकृन्तति द्वयी-
मिति प्रभो ! त्वत्पुरुषा बभाषिरे ॥७॥
O Lord ! Your attendants told the men of Yama “The rites prescribed in the Vedas and the smritis only absolve one of one’s sins but they do not erase the underlying vasanas (impressions). But service and devotion at the feet of Ananta (Lord Mahavishnu) destroys both the sins and the vasanas”
अनेन भो जन्मसहस्रकोटिभिः
कृतेषु पापेष्वपि निष्कृतिः कृता
यदग्रहीन्नाम भयाकुलो हरे-
रिति प्रभो ! त्वत्पुरुषा बभाषिरे ॥८॥
O Lord ! Your attendants told the men of Yama “ This man has atoned for all his sins committed in one thousand crore births because he, in the grip of fear, uttered the name of Hari “
दहत्यघौघान् महिमास्य तादृशः ।
यथाग्निरेधांसि यथौषधं गदा-
निति प्रभो ! त्वत्पुरुषा बभाषिरे ॥९॥
O Lord ! Your attendants told the men of Yama “ Even unwittingly uttering the name of Mukunda frees men from all the sins they might have committed. That is the greatness of His name. It is like fire burning wood and medicine curing diseases irrespective of whether they are taken intentionally or unwittingly.
भवद्भटानाञ्च गणे तिरोहिते ।
भवत्स्मृतिं कञ्चन कालमाचरन्
भवत्पदं प्रापि भवद्भटैरसौ ॥१०॥
When the men of Yama, thus told, left the place and your attendants also disappeared, Ajamila spent the remaining years of his life remembering You and then he was taken to your abode by your attendants.
स्त्वदंघ्रिभक्तेषु न गम्यतामिति ।
स देव वातालय नाथ पाहि माम् ॥११॥
Yama to whom his orderlies reported the incident became cautious and strictly ordered his men not to go near your devotees. O Lord of Guruvayoor! save me (from my afflictions).