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From The Archives: Rajaji’s Take On Adi Sankara’s ‘Bhaja Govindam’ And The Path To Devotion
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Reproduced from the 15 April, 1972 edition of Swarajya, here is the review of the English translation of Rajaji’s Tamil work on the ‘Bhaja Govindam’.

THE PATH OF DEVOTION

“BHAJA GOVINDAM”:

English rendering by Prof. S SAKARANARAYANAN of C. Rajagopalachari’s Tamil book on Sri Sankara’s original in Sanskrit

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, Bombay-7

Price: Re 1

“Bhaja Govindam” is a hymn of 31 stanzas, into which Adi Sankara has packed the substance of Vedantic wisdom, dressing it up with a popular appeal and setting the truth of the oneness of knowledge and devotion “to melodious music that delights the ear.” The way of devotion, urges Rajaji, is not different from the way of knowledge, though, as he adds, “the learned employ this distinction to emphasize a particular thesis, on which they discourse in different contexts.” Mature intelligence, lodged securely in the heart, becomes wisdom; wisdom integrated with life and issuing out in action becomes devotion, he explains. “Knowledge that “does not get transformed into devotion” is “useless tinsel”. “Bhaja Govindam” is an inimitable, eloquent expression both of the heights of delight, to which true devotion could rise and of the profundities of wisdom, that lie hidden in the utterances of illumined devotion.

What “devotion” here implies is well brought out in the very opening words of the song:

“Lift the heart up to Govinda, lift the heart up to Govinda,

Lift the heart up to Govinda, O foolish mind.

When thou art at death’s door,

The rules of grammar which you are trying to master will be of no avail.”

That it is an experience of the aspiring heart, not an exercise of the meticulous intellect, that all the sciences and all the skills that one might have acquired during a life-time would be of little avail if death closes all and calls for a final reckoning, comprise their gist. Like the desire for mere scholarship and thirst for reputation, the insatiable appetites of the body and delusions of bodily attachments, too, deserve to be discarded. The secret lies in true renunciation, which alone could secure self-knowledge. But “renunciation is the top rung of the ladder.” There are other steps to be ascended, before one could take to sannyasa in a formal or final sense. The spirit of renunciation is more significant for a man of samsara than any formal act. The matted locks or the shaven head, the ochre robes and the muttered mantras,–these do not make a sannyasin. To renounce is to give up. “To give up truly is to abandon the desires that work up the mind.” A heart filled with devotion to God alone can cleanse the mind and sublimate the desires into a single, one-pointed longing for the Supreme. It is futile to seek pleasure in the satisfaction of desires. When one’s thoughts are centred in the Supreme Brahman, one’s delight is boundless. Yasya Brahmani ramate cittam, nandati, nandati nandatyeeva,” says one of the verses.

Ask yourself again and again, “Who am I?” “Who is my mother?” “Who is my father?” Treat it all as no more than a dream, and wake up and open your inward eye and see the one Reality behind all illusory forms. This is Sri Sankara’s exhortation in Verse 23. Indeed, it is more than an exhortation. It is a summing up of the profound philosophy of Advaita offered as a panacea to human suffering, and administered in delightful doses of illumined devotion. That is the magnificent purpose which “Bhaja Govindam” fulfils.

––Prof. K. SESHADRI

See also: This recital of the Bhaja Govindam by MS Subbulakshmi