translation and commentary by Smt. Savitri Puram
If we have a lighted lamp, we can use it to read and enjoy a book
or use it to burn and destroy the book. We have the choice
to draw the life circle with Bhagavaan and His naamam as the center
and kindness and love as radius of the circle…
Poonthaanam advises us to use the lighted lamp inside us,
lit by the Light of Lights, to walk through the path of Bhakthi and Naamasankeerthanam.
Njanappaana can be considered as the Bhagavad Gita of Malayalees. This is a Darshanika kaavyam or philosophical poem expressed in the most simple Malayalam language for ordinary people. Poonthanam Nambudiri, an ardent devotee of Shri Guruvayurappan, transformed his unbearable sorrow from his infant son’s death into a “yogavishesham”. He used this sad experience to build his Bhakthi soudham or house of devotion and opened it for all devotees for all time. Even though the language is very simple, this njaanappana, or song of wisdom deals with the essence of all vedas and upanishads. May Bhagavan Guruvayurappan, Bhagavathy Sarswathi Devi and Sri Poonthaanam Nambudiri bless us to become wiser by going through this great Song of Wisdom!!
alpakaalam kondororo janthukkal
Garbha paathrathil pukkum purappettum
Karmam kondu kalikkunnathingane
We are all (naamellaam) alpakamikal or our duration of one life to do karmaas are short (when compared to the celestial beings). Hence with the karmaas accumulated in this short period we take birth in different animal’s’ womb (kondororo janthukaal garbhapaathratthil pukkum), come out (purappettum), live for a short period (alpakaalam) and continue playing this karma-bound game (karmam kondu kalikkunnathingane)“Alpakarmikal” include all animals and human beings We are all “alpakarmikal” when compared to celestial beings because one celestial year is 365 human years. What about Brahmadevan? One day time of Brahma is one chaturyugam which is equal to 4,320,000,000 human years. Then night also is as long as the day. So one full day is 8,640, 000,000 human years. So if we multiply with 365 and then by 100 years of Brahma’s life it becomes beyond comprehension for us. So let us not go further to Paramapurusha’s time scale because Bhagavan’s one moment is Brahma’s whole life duration which is 311,040,000,000,000 human years!
We perform karmaas continuously during our short life and then take birth in different animal wombs or human wombs based on our sukrutham or dushkrutham or mixture of both.. For example, some say one cat year is equivalent to seven human years. So when born as a cat, results of the accumulated karmaas get exhausted in a short time. We believe that before getting a human birth or narajanmam, we go through millions of lives in the lower species with short durations of life. If we are born as a fire-fly (in Malayaalam, Iyyaampaatta) duration of life to exhaust karmaas is only about 21/2 hours or so. As a crocodile, it may be more than 100 years and as an elephant it may be 60 years. Also we see early deaths in all species and the only explanation for all these untimely deaths and diseases is the results of poorvajanma or previous janmaa’s karmaas. Poonthaanam expresses this numerous cycles of birth and death as a karma-bound game. Only Jeevathmaas in the form of different species of animals and humans are involved in this karma-bound game. Paramaathma is only a witness.
When we are finally blessed with a human birth, Poonthaanam advises us to use the power of discrimination bestowed on us by Lord. Only humans have the “vishesha buddhi” to change the course of our life by surrendering to God and offering all our karmaas at His Lotus feet. Continuous chanting of Bhagavaan’s auspicious names will help us not only to understand the real meaning of the famous sloka, but also to practice it in our daily life:
Kaayena vaacha manasendriyairvaa
budhyaathmanaa vaa prakruthe swabhaavaath
karomi yadyath sakalam parasmai
Whatever I do with my body, speech, mind or with other senses of my body, or with my intellect and soul or with my innate natural tendencies I offer (dedicate) everything to Lord Narayana.
With the complete surrender or Sharanagathi, we can escape the terrible cycle of birth,death and sufferings and attain His Lotus feet. Naamasankeerthanam destorys desires and tendencies and helps us to do all karmaas with out expecting anything in return.
Narakatthil kitakkunna jeevan poy
Durithangal otungi manassinte
Paripaakavum vannu kramatthaale
Narajaathiyil vannu pirannittu
Sukrutham cheythu maelppottu poyavar
Salkarmam kondu maelpottu poyavar
Swargatthinkal irunnu sukhikkunnu
Until the consequences of the the multitude of sins gets exhausted (durithangal otungi) Jeevan stays in Naraka or hell ( narkatthil kitakkunna jeevan) and when slowly mind attains maturity (kramatthaale manassinte paripaakavaum vannu) jeevan moves (poy) to take birth as human being (narajaathiyil vannu). After taking birth as humans (pirannittu), those who do sukrutham or good deeds in abundance goes all the way up ( sukrutham cheythu melpottu poyavar) to the sathyalokam (sathylokattholam) and remains there happy and peaceful (sukhiccheetunnu)( never to return and take birth again). Those who do satkarmaas go up to heaven and remain there (for sometime) enjoying the heavenly comforts.
Can we differentiate sukrutham and satkarmam? Sukrutham is the result of dhaarmic punya karmaas. In other words sukrutham is Nishkaama satkarmam or good deeds with out expecting anything in return. All actions performed with purity of mind is Sukrutham. Sukrutham is satkarmaas done for the Kalyaanam or mangalam of all. Bhagavaan assures in Gita “the doer of good (kalyaanakruth), never comes to grief” or “sukruthis never come to grief”. According to another definition Sukrutham is the results of the satkarmaas accumulated from one’s own past karmaas or sukrutham can even be passed on from ancestors.
What is satkarmam? Satkarmaas are definitely good deeds, but the purpose of action may or may not be pure and also good actions can be performed with selfish motives These satkarmaas with out purity of mind do not become Sukrutham. But the results of these satkarmaas are experienced in Swargam or heaven and when they are exhausted soul is subjected to rebirth.
Another word for sathyalokam is “yathaarthalokam” or real world and once we have realisation, no more suffering, sorrows or rebirth.
Life after death is not to punish the souls by sending them to hell or reward them by sending them to heaven. These experiences are given to remind the soul of it’s true purpose of life. Of course the soul’s journey to mukthi or salvation, or heaven or hell depends on the sukrutham or good deeds done. Experiences in heaven and hell are supposed to impart knowledge and wisdom so that when they take rebirth, they can strive to do more good deeds and attain salvation. That is why poonthaanam says about maturity of mind (manassinte paripaakam). But often Maaya masks this realisation and again jeevan goes after transient pleasures and ahdarmic deeds. But because of the Vishesha Buddhi and power of discrimination, humans have the choice to acquire good and bad karmaas. It is only in human birth jeeva gets this opportunity to go beyond the bondage of karma as a whole and attain salvation. Poonthaanam recommends Naamasankeerthanam as the most easy and enjoyable path to salvation.
In this context Njaanaaanada Saraswathi’s description about the fate of souls after death may help us to understand this better. In this book called Vedantha Vinjaanam, he compares the soul’s journey to a bouncing ball. When we throw a ball to the ground with lot of force, it bounces very high. But when it is thrown with less force it bounces only to a lower height. When it is thrown with hardly any force it hardly bounces and leaves the ground. Here the force with which we throw the ball is compared to sukrutham of the soul. After the death of the body, depending on how much sukrutham one has accumulated, soul goes to Sathylaokam, or Swargam (heaven) or chandralokam or Parjanya lokam , pithrulokam or in the vicinity of earth called prethalokam. Souls that go to Sathyalokam never returns to take janma because they have either attained saalokyam, sarropyam, saameepyam or saayujyam with Paramaathma. (In sathylokam soul can unite with paramaathma and this is Saayujyam. Souls can reside for ever in God’s abode and this is called saalokyam. Next is soul’s assumption of God’s form called Saaroopyam. Staying near to God is Saamipyam.) Poonthannam here mentions about only sathyalokam, heaven and hell. In all other worlds except Sathyalokam, soul stays until the consequences of satkarmaas or dusshkarmaas or a mixture of both are exhausted, and then with the remaining inherent vaasnaas or tendencies takes birth in an appropriate womb determined to improve oneself.
Several different explanations are given for the journey of the soul after death. Dvaitha and Advaitha school of thoughts view these differently. One group believes in attributeless or impersonal God and other group sees God as a personality endowed with glorious qualities. But Mukthi or liberation is unanimously defined as the release from the repeated cycle of birth and death. With the abundance of good deeds or sukrutham, mind becomes pure and “sama-darshanam” or Jeevathma-Parmaathma unity happens. This realization is called enlightenment and enlightened souls eventually get liberated.
Parichodangirunnittu bhoomiyil (jaatharrayi)
duritham cheythu chatthavar pinneppoyi
narkangalil vevvaere veezhunnu
When the results of the good karmaas are exhausted (sukruthangalokke otungumbol), souls remaining in heaven (parichotangirunnittu) are reborn on earth (bhhomiyil jaatharrayi). When their previous good and bad experiences do not impart any maturity and knowledge (paripaakavum ellolam illa-not even as much as little sesame seed), they end up doing more and more bad karmaas (duritham cheythu). Again after death (chatthavar) they suffer the consequences of their various negative karmaas in different ways or in different types of hells. (In one old version the word “jaatharaayi” is not there and with out that meaning can be interpreted in a different way. In that case, the word “parichotangirunnittu” can be for the life on earth or bhoomi itself. When the the good results of the past sukrutham experiencing in this life on Bhoomi is exhausted, with out any realisation of how transient the pleasures are, some commit more sins to end up in different hells)
In this stanza Poonthaanam explains how important is “pascchaatthaapam” or atonement. Even when we enjoy a good life here on earth, we tend to forget how blessed we are and keep hurting others in several ways. When subjected to miseries also, some people often do not realize the sins or mistakes they have committed and refuse to learn and correct themselves. Poonthaanam is talking about such people and he says that they commit more and more sins with out atonement and go through more suffering. If we realize our mistake and do “praayasccchttham” sincerely, we will not be tempted to do more sins. Famous story of the prostitute Pingala is an example for purifying one’s mind with “pascchaatthaapam”. She realized how wrong it was to sell her body for a living and later with deep atonement surrendered herself at Bhagavaa’s feet and attained Mukthi.
“Aviveka: paramaapadaam padam” is illustrated in this stanza. This means “avivekam” or lack of wise discrimination is the root cause of all miseries. When there is no maturity of mind, the power of discrimination will not be there. So instead of going after “sreyas” or what is good, we go after “preyas” or what gives pleasure. Swami Desikan describes nine steps for a spiritual aspirant and vivekam is the first step. Poonthaanam used the word “paripaakam” of the mind to indicate this vivekam or wise discrimination. Lack of Vivekam or paripaakam of mind leads us to hell by performing adhaarmic and bad deeds .
Purity of mind is very important in spiritual advancement. Only from a pure mind knowledge is emerged. With all temptations around us, it is harder to purify our mind in Kaliyuga.
Kalau kalmasha chitthaanaam
In Kaluyuga, mind of ordinary human beings are tainted by Kaamam, krodham, madam, moham etc (kalamsha chittham) and often end up doing adharmam (paapam) to make money (dravyam) for living (for upajeevanam). Ordinary people do not have the time or inclination to do good karmaas as prescribed in vedaas (vidhikriyaheenam). The only thing that can give relief from the sufferings of Kaliyuga is Govinda naama sankeerthanam. Bhagavaan and Bhagavaan’s naama are never separated. Naamam is called Kalpa vruksham of the earth.
Suralokathil ninnoru jeevan poi
Chandakarmangal cheythavan chaakumbol
Chandaala kulathinkal pirakkunnu
Amaranmaar marangal aayeetunnu
Ajam chathu gajamai pirakkunnu
Gajam chathangajavum aayeedunnu
Nari chathu naranai pirakkunnu
Naari chathutan oriyai pokunnu
Kripa koodaathe peedippicheetunna
Nripan chathu krimiyaai pirakkunnu
Eacha chathoru poocha yayeetunnu
A jeevan or soul from heaven or land of Devaas (suralokatthil ninnoru jeevan) is born as a Brahmin on earth (naralokatthil maheesuranaakunnu). People who do extremely cruel actions becomes “chandaala” or a member of a despised caste. Demons or Asuraas become Suraas or Devaas. People who are eternal or immortal or deathless (amaranmaar) are born as trees (marangal aayeetunnu) . A goat (ajam) is born as an elephant (gajam) and vice versa. A tiger (nari) after death is born as a human being (naran) and a woman (naari) is born as a fox (oriyaai). A king who mercilessly tortures (kripa kootaathe peedippicchitunna) his citizens takes birth as a worm (krimi). A fly is reborn as a cat and all these are Bhagavaan’s leelavilasam or playful divine drama.
After death, to experience the results of the residual karmaas, jeevan takes birth in appropriate womb. The passage of a soul from body to body is determined by the force of one’s actions, or karma. If an individual performs good deeds, the next birth will be rewarding, and if not, the person may degenerate into a lower life form. In the above lines, Poonthaanam shows several examples of the effect of karmaas on the soul when it is separated from the body after death. A jeevan from heaven comes to earth to experience the results of his residual negative karmaas. Likewise after experiencing negative results by taking birth as beings in several thousands of species, finally a tiger, for example, gets the life of a human being. Humans bestowed with the power of “wise discrimination” along with the grace of God, can perform good karmaas and advance spiritually. But when a human being resorts to unkind, hurtful, and negative actions, he will again be pushed back to be born in lower life form like a worm. Poonthaanam says: A king who mercilessly tortures (kripa kootaathe peedippicchitunna) his citizens takes birth as a worm (krimi).
There are several examples in our puraanaas to illustrate this law of karma. A good example of how an “amara” or immortal being becomes a “maram” or tree is the story of Nalakoobara and Manigriva who were the sons of Kubera, the lord of Yakshaas or the Lord of wealth. Once Nalakoobara and Manigriva were enjoying themselves playing in a lake with women. They were intoxicated and oblivious of everything around them. Sage Narada passed by the lake during this time and the ashamed ladies immediately covered their body with clothes and showed their respect to Narada with folded hands. But both Nalakoobara and Manigriva, intoxicated with pride and drinks ignored Narada Muni. Narda Muni cursed them to become “maruthu trees”. They had to remain as trees for a very long time until Krishna as Damodara came out of Gokulam and touched them with the wooden mortar.
Another example is the story of Gajendramoksham. King Indradyumana was born as a “divine elephant”. I am quoting below the words of our own respected S.N Sastriji (from the Naaraayneeyam commentary) : “The njana and devotion which he (King Indradyumnan who became an elephant by sage Agasthya’s curse) had acquired in his previous life came back to him under the stress of the suffering caused by the attack of the crocodile. He then worshipped Thee with lotus flowers plucked by his trunk, while singing continuously a great hymn addressed to the Nirguna brahmam which he had learnt in his previous life.” Even though King Indradyumna had to be born as an elephant, his residual good karmaas led him to salvation. (Also the crocodile was Huhu, a gandharvan in the previous janma.)
As a “Bhoktha”, the experiencer, one does not have the freedom of choice in experiencing the results of accumulated bad karmaas. (Bhagavaan and His naamam are the only solution to lessen or erase our suffering due to accumulated bad karmaas). But as a “Kartha” or doer, one has freedom of choice to some extent. If we have a lighted lamp, we can use it to read and enjoy a book or use it to burn and destroy the book. We have the choice to draw the life circle with Bhagavaan and His naamam as the center and kindness and love as radius of the circle. Also we can draw the life circle with “I” and “mine” as center and a combination of kaama,krodha,,lobha moha,mada,maasthryaadi negative qualities as radius of the circle
Poonthaanam advises us to use the lighted lamp inside us, lit by the Light of Lights, to walk through the path of Bhakthi and Naamasankeerthanam.
Keezhmelingane mandunna jeevanmaar
Bhoomiyeennathre naetunnu karmangal
Seemayillatholam pala karmangal
Bhoomiyeennathre naetunnu jeevanmaar
Angane cheythu nedi marichudan
Anya lokangal oronnil oronnil
Chennirunnu bhujikkunnu jeevanmaar
Thangal cheythoru karmangal than phalam
Odungitum athottunaal chellumbol
Udane vannu naetunnu pinneyum
Thante thante grihathinkal ninnutan
Kondu ponna dhanam kondu naamellam
Vittoonennu parayum kanakkine
These jeevaas run (mandunnu) between the lower worlds and upper worlds (keezmelingane) of the universe. But it is said (athre) that they get to do karmaas (karmangal naetunnu) only in Bhoomi. It is said that only in Bhoomi these jeevaas get to do various (pala) and limitless (seemayilaatholam) karmaas. Thus (angane) they accumulate karmaas(naeti) and after death (maricchutan) spend time (chennirunnu)in different worlds one by one (lokangal oronnil oronnil) and experience or enjoy (bhujikkunnu) the results of (good) karmaas (karmangal than phalam) done by themselves(thangal cheythoru). These experiences end (odungitum-with the exhaustion of accumulated good karmaas that can be experienced in worlds other than earth) in a little while (athottunaal chellumbol) and again (pinneyum) jeevaas come (vannu) to earth and collect (netunnu) karmaas. When a person goes to some unknown place and spends prodigiously all the money he collected and brought from his own house, can be called “vittunnunnavan”. Exactly in the same way, jevaas accumulate all the karmaas from earth and experience the results in another world.
It appears that a literal translation of some of the verses my not make much sense. Therefore, it seems appropriate to explore the metaphysical meaning that the lines convey.
In Vedanta, earth is often referred to by another name “karma-kshethra”. This name came because souls can experience the results of karmaas performed ONLY on earth and not in any of the other 13 worlds. What ever experiences any jeeva go through in any other world is the result of karmaas done on earth. If good karmaas outweigh the bad karmaas, we go to heaven, experience the results of good karmaas that can be experienced in heaven until those results are exhausted. Then it goes to hell to experience the results of bad karmaas that can be experienced in hell until those results are exhausted and comes back to earth with some residual good or bad (or both good and bad) karmaas that can be experienced only on earth. But no new accumulation of karmaas can happen in any other world. “otungeetum ottunaal chellumbol” (line 5, first part) means that the karmaas that took the soul to heaven (or hell) will be exhausted in heaven (or hell) by enjoyment (or suffering). Every action we perform is like sowing a seed. It remains vibrant and at a later time we reap the results. It is not possible for ordinary people like us to link the past karmaas and what we experience now by any reasonable method. The same karma performed with different attitude can lead us to heaven, hell, or salvation. Bhaavam is very important.
Poonthaanam has used the word “bujikkunnu” for experiencing the results. The word “bhojanam” is defined as “sukhena anubhuyathe iti bhojanam” or “what is experienced happily”. So “bhujikkunnu” may apply only for the experiences of our good karmaas. When the good karmaas that can be enjoyed in heaven are over, we come back to earth. To experience the results of different types of karmaas, our subtle body goes to different worlds and then with a gross, physical body comes to earth and experience what ever residual karmaas are left as well as to perform new karmaas and the cycle continues. The word “Vitttoonu” is a characteristic of a spendthrift. Origin of the word spendthrift is some one who has spent his accumulated wealth from predecessors or ancestors. Poonthannam compares jeevan’s enjoying the results of the accumulated karmaas from the past (from earth) to a person’s enjoying life by spending all the wealth acquired over a period of time. Just like wealth gets exhausted by spending, results of karmaas gets exhausted by experiencing. Life in heaven is not eternal, it is transient. It is interesting to note that jeevans in subtle body and gross body welcome the end of suffering, but definitely want the enjoyment of the results of good karmaas to last for ever when both are transient Only Nishkaama karmam (with out expecting anything in return) leads to eternal peace and happiness or salvation.
Since every action we perform, and every thought that comes to our mind has a result or consequence, Poonthaanam used the word “Seemayillatholam” or limitless or endless karmaas. Wheel of karma continues on and on. Nobody can remain Karma-free. There is one and only one solution to get out of the wheel of Karma and all scriptures and our great seers suggest to surrender to God and do karmaas with renunciation of the fruits of actions.. Poonthaanam gives an easy solution to develop this attitude of complete surrender -Naamasankeertthanam.
Let us chant the naamam to purify our mind with Shri Poonthaanam and other millions of devotees:
Krishna! Krishna! Mukunda! Janaardana!
Krishna! Govinda! Naaraayana! Hare!
Achyuthaananda! Govnda! Maadhavaa!
Sachindaananda! Naaraayana! Hare!
Samasthaaparadham kshamaswa Sreekrishnaarpanamasthu