Njanapaana by Poonthaanam Nambudiri-7

translation and commentary by Smt. Savitri Puram

 Repetition of Bhagavaan’s names purifies our mind and guides us to the Ultimate Truth. 


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!!

This is continued from

 Part One: https://luthar.com/njanappaana-1
Part Two:   https://luthar.com/njanappaana-2 
Part Three:  https://luthar.com/njanappaana-3
Part Four:  https://luthar.com/njanappaana-4th/
Part Five:   https://luthar.com/njanappaana-5/
Part Six:      https://luthar.com/njanappaana-6/

Ithra kaalamirikkuminiyennum
Sathyamo namukkethumonnillallo

We do not know how long we will live (first line) or what is the truth (behind this world we see) (second line)

In the above two lines poet says how incapable we are of predicting the time of death. Astrologers, palmists and other future telling scientists might predict a time and physicians and nutritionists might provide advices to prolong life. But nobody who is born can avoid death. Whoever is born has to die. That is the reason we are called “marthyas” or mortals. Only Bhagavan is immortal.  Even if we keep the best of health, we have seen healthy people meeting death in accidents. Life is uncertain. It can end the next moment or it can prolong for several years, sometimes more than we expect it to last. There is no  rule that older people die first. Of course we all know this truth, but we never internalize the truth and make desirable changes in our life style and attitude.

Pandavaas were exiled by Kauravvas and during that time they were wandering in the forest. It was the peak of summer and all of them were very thirsty. Nakula was asked to bring some water from a nearby pond. When Nakula did not come back in a reasonable time, Sahadeva went. He also did not come back and Arjuna and then Bheema also went and did not came back. Finally Yudhishtira went and saw all of them lying dead near the pond (they were all revived later). He was about to drink water and a Yaksha told him not to drink before answering his questions or else he would have the same fate as his four brothers. Yudhishtira did not drink water and agreed to answer his questions. One of his questions was:

“What is the greatest wonder in the world?”
Yudhishtira answered: “The greatest wonder is that although people see living beings die everyday, they still try to live forever”

So, this mentality is not new to Kaliyuga. But in any yuga this attitude does not help. Poonthaanam is not telling us to think of death every moment and live with fear. He is reminding us not to waste time going after transient pleasures, instead he is persuading us to go after eternal happiness or eternal Truth.

When we put the second line in prose order, it reads “sathyamo onnu namukkaethumillallo” or we do not have (any knowledge of) “that one” which is the truth or sathyam. This world is not real. To say that, we should know about something that is real. Shri Nambishan gives the famous example of a rope and snake. One may misunderstand a rope as a snake. Here snake is not real, but we see the unreal snake because of the real thing rope. Once the misunderstanding is cleared, he sees the rope only as a rope. Basis of an unreal thing is a real thing. Here Poonthaanam says that Brahmam is  the rope or truth and  because of ignorance or avidya or ajnaanam, we are not able to see the truth. Also any time death can knock at our door. In this predicament we should not waste any moment of our precious life by going after seemingly real pleasures.

How to get started our spiritual journey in such a complicated, so called unreal world, which seems to be hundred percent real to us? The good thing is, Poonthaanam says, any saadhaka or yearning devotee at any stage of his spiritual journey can confidently travel in the path of devotion just by chanting Bhagavaan’s names. Repetition of Bhagavaan’s names purifies our mind and guides us to the Ultimate Truth.  

Neerppola poleyulloru dehathil
Veerppu maathramundigane kaanunnu
Orthariyaathe padu pedunneram
Nerthu pokumathenne parayavoo
Athra maathramirikkunna nerathu
Keerthicheedunnathilla thirunaamam

We can see that body is like a breathing water bubble (first line). While struggling, oblivious of everything (orthariyaathe paadupedunneram), we can say that breathing becomes slow and stops (nerthu pokumatenne parayaavoo). This limited time span of life is not used for chanting divine names (last line)

Poet has compared our body to a bubble of water. There are three points of comparison. First obvious comparison is that bubbles form and die soon. We “marthyas” or mortals take birth, live for a while and die just like the water bubbles.

Secondly, a bubble breaks with the escape of the air trapped in it. A human body is dead with the last exhalation of praanavaayu. Also this can happen any time due to several reasons just like a bubble can break any moment with the disturbances around it.

Thirdly, if we look into a water bubble, we can see our reflection in that. Even we stand still, if the bubble moves in the wind or due to some disturbance, we can see that our reflection in the bubble also shakes or moves. Also it is to be noted that even when the bubble dies, nothing happens to us or we remain unaffected. Now poet says that the relationship between our body (which is like a breathing water bubble) and Aathma or soul is exactly like this. Aathma is real and eternal. Irrespective of the body’s birth or death, Aathma remains unaffected.

With out ever thinking about the uncertainty of our existence, we go after material pleasures building attachment to all sources of sorrow. Real source of happiness is the eternal Paramaathma. Influenced by maaya, or ignorance, we try to find happiness going after insignificant transient pleasures. While immersed in this search for happiness, old age and diseases weaken the body and death quietly arrives. Poet says that it is a real pity that we do not use this very short span of human life we received with lot of punyam, to chant Bhagavaan’s divine names.

What makes us forget about our mortality? Desires and the extreme eagerness to achieve the material desires pushes behind our yearning for the eternal happiness. To guide our mind through the right path, Poonthaanam begs us to start naamasnkeerthanam.

 Sthaana maanangal cholli kkalhichu
Naanam kettu nadakkunnithu chilar
Mada malsaram chinthichu chinthichu
Mathi kettu nadakkunnithu chilar
Chanchalaakshimaar veeduakalil pukku
Kunchi Raamanaai aadunnithu chilar
Kolakangalil sevakaraayittu
Kolam ketti njeliyunnithu chilar
Saanthi cheythu pularthuvaanaayittu
Sandhyayolam nadakkunnithu chilar
Ammaikkum punarchhanum bhaaryakkum
Unmaan polum kodukkunnilla chilar
Agni saakshini aayoru pathniye
Swapnathil polum kaanunnilla chilar

Some people walk around shamelessly talking and quarrelling about their status (sthaanam) and pride (maanam) (first two lines). Some people walk around thinking too much about ego (madam) and rivalry (rivalry) and loose their mind (mathi) over that (lines three and four). Some people visit coquettish women’s house (chanchalaakshimaar veetukalil pukku) and dance to their tunes like a circus monkey (kunchiramanaai aatunnu). Some people serve in King’s palaces and show off ( lines seven and eight). Some people do pooja all day for survival (lines nine and ten). Some people do not even give food or feed own mother, father and wife (lines eleven ans twelve). Some people do not see their wife whom they married with the fire as witness, even in their dream (lines thirteen and fourteen).

“Shtaanam” has more than one meaning: title or status or place. “Maanam also has two meanings: pride and measure. Some people are very conscious of their status, title, their birth in a good family etc and do not want to socialize with people whom they think belong to lower status in the society. With undue pride and arrogance they fight with everybody to make the life of themselves and the lives of everybody around miserable. Also fights break out about issues such as what belongs to whom, about how much area of land belongs to one, about the correct and incorrect measurements of different things etc. Finally these immature people when they meet with failures or disappointments or undesirable results, they shamelessly walk around as if nothing has happened.

When one becomes proud of his status and accomplishments, arrogance and rivalry also takes birth in his mind. This leads one to act with out the power of discrimination. “Mathi” is intelligence which gives a balanced mind. So Poonthaanam says that with arrogance and an attitude of unhealthy competition, one turns off their lamp of intelligence and moves in the darkness of ignorance.

Some immature people driven by lust become womanizers and act like circus monkeys dancing to the tune of pretty women. Some others take pride in serving and pleasing the rich kings and landlords and decorate themselves lavishly to express their status. The word “Njeliyunnu” indicates that they forget themselves and show off like a fool.

Some other people use prayers, worship and any knowledge they have acquired as a means to make both ends meet. They do pooja, homams and yanjnaas only with the remuneration in mind. They do it like a business for survival. These group of people make Sankaraachaaryar’s words meaningful: “udaranimittham bahukrutha vesham” – different outfits to feed the stomach. These people go from house to house doing pooja mechanically from dawn to dusk and with never ending desires negotiate for money and other gifts or Dakshina. The word “shanthi” indicates the job as a priest with fixed income. If the priest is not doing the pooja sincerely, then it is just like any other job for survival. Some priests accepts “shanthi” in several temples and then everything is done in a hurry. Poonthaanam is teasing these type of people in lines nine and ten.

Another group of people do not even care for their parents, wife and children. They do not worry about their welfare or feeding them properly with nourishing food. This selfish and irresponsible people make the lives of their families miserable. According to Hindu Dharma, parents are “prathyaksha daivam” or God personified in the form of parents and Poonthaanam says that forgetting that truth is one of the greatest sins. All Hindu marriages are performed with Lord Agni as witness. While taking saptapadi or seven steps with the bride, bridegroom promises:

“O dear damsel, by the first step may Lord Vishnu bless us with plenty of food, by the second step with bodily strength, by the third step success in the performance of all vows, by the fourth step happiness, by the fifth step cattle and all other wealth, by the sixth step may all the seasons be favourable to us, by the seventh step may Lord Vishnu bless that we may together perform all the ordained Vedic rites successfully. By taking seven steps with me you have become my most intimate friend and well-wisher. I shall never swerve from this relationship. God has united us. We shall perform all our actions together with mutual love and full faith in each other. We shall always be of one mind. We shall perform all our religious duties together. We are complementary to each other. May we have good progeny and prosperity” (with immense gratitude, I have taken this part from respected S.N Sathriji’s Geocities site)

It is deplorable to ignore the wife after all these promises one made in front of Agni bhagavan. If they do not take care of their own wife, definitely we can guess what  they are up to. “Even in dream they do not think of their wives” indicates the seriousness of the situation.

Poonthaanam expressed all these ideas in a teasing or ridiculing way, but he brings the seriousness back by reminding us to chant Bhagavaan’s divine naamam so that we will not belong to the above group of people. Nammasankeerthanam will purify our mind and take us far away from these kind of people. Naamasnakeerthanam will bless us with satsangam.

Sathukkal kandu sikshichu chollumbol
Sathruveppole krudhikkunnoo chilar
Vandithanmaare-kkaanunna nerathu
Nindichathre parayunnithu chilar;
Kaanka nammude samsaaram kondathre
Viswameevannam nilpuvennum chilar
Brahmanyam kondu kunthichu kunthichu
Brahmavu-meni-kkokkayennu chilar
Ardhaasaykku viruthu vilippaan
Agnihothraathi cheyyunnithu chilar
Swarnangal navaratnagale-kkondum
Ennam koodaathe vilkkunnithu chilar

Sajjanaas or good people see this and advise them, they see them as enemies and get angry with them (lines fifteen and sixteen). Some people when they see individuals who are worthy of respect, behaves disrespectfully.(lines seventeen and eighteen). Some people think that the whole universe has a stable existence because of their capability to talk (lines nineteen and twenty). Some people think that they are better than even Brahma because of their undue pride as a Brahmana (lines twenty one and twenty two). Some people do Yanjnas like Agnihothram to get money and titles (lines twenty three and twenty four). Some people sell huge quantities of gold and gems (to make money with out limit) (last two lines).

Who is satthukkal or sajjana or good people? “Sajjanasya hrudayam navaneetham, yadvadanthi kavayashtadaleekam, anyadehavilasath parithaapa sajjano dravathi no navaneetham”- “the heart of sajjanaas or good people are softer than even butter. Butter melts only when it gets heated. But the hearts of sajjanaas melt when they see the sufferings of others or by the heat of other’s suffering”.
Sajjanaas try to advise when they see others following the wrong path . They want to save them from disaster and miseries. But because of the lack of knowledge to understand the good intentions behind their advice, fools see them as their enemies. They only want to hear what is pleasing or “preyaskaram” and give a deaf ear to the words that are good or “sreyaskaram”. The most surprising thing is that even when these fools get angry, sajjanaas do not get angry at their anger. They peacefully pray Lord to give them good mind (satbuddhi) and stay away from them.

We should be very blessed to meet mahaatmas or great souls. When we get such a chance we should pay respect to them and seek their advice and blessings to advance ourselves in our spiritual path. Instead some egoistic people treats them disrespectfully. Poonthanam is hurt to see such people wasting their precious life in ignorance.

When somebody tries to act like he is the most indispensable individual, often he is compared to a house lizard sitting on the ceiling. If the lizard thinks that he is the one who supports the ceiling, what is more ridiculous than this? But in real life, Poonthanam says there are people who really think and act as if they are the architects of the destiny of everybody in this world. He ridicules them saying that they think the stability of the universe rests in the words that come out of their mouth.

A Brahmin is a person who has the highest spiritual knowledge (brahmavidya). It is a very difficult process of discipline of body, mind and senses, and people irrespective of their birth or class, who successfully completes this spiritual training are recognized as brahmins. Athri maharshi says:

“By birth, every man is a Shudra (an ignorant person). Through various types of disciplines (samskaras), he becomes a dwija (twice born). Through the studies of scriptures, he becomes a vipra (or a scholar). Through realization of supreme spirit(brahmajnana), he becomes a brahmin.”

Poonthaanam says that some who are not Brahmins in the real sense of the word (with out spiritual knowledge), takes pride in their false Braahmanyam and acts as if they are superior even to Brahma Devan!! In other words, they raise their false Brahminhood even above Brahma!

When people perform yaagas or yanjnaas, they get different titles. These titles are only to show how knowledgeable they are. Because of their knowledge ordinary people show lot of respect for them by giving gifts and money as dakshina. But some people do yaagaas and get the titles like Agnihothri for the sole purpose of collecting money and gifts. They see it as a money making business. Desire for money (arthaasha) eliminates the element of spirituality in performing the yaagaas like Agnihothram.

When one sells things like rice, vegetables etc for profit, their desire for money can be some what justified because they are at least selling things people need to survive. As long as they do not exploit the clients, we can see an element of “helping others attitude” or “Paropakara manasthithi” in that. But what if somebody sells limitless quantity of gold and gems? They are doing this only to make money and in reality they are encouraging client’s attachment to those material possessions. They who sell these in abundance are actually pulling ignorant people more towards materialism and Poonthanam says there is no dharmam or punyam in their action.

Poonthaanam ridicules several kinds of people that he see around him. He is sad that they are wasting their precious time. He hopes these lines ridiculing different kinds of people will help to open the eyes of at least some fortunate and blessed people and they will turn to Bhagavan. He begs us to start chanting naamam and promises that it will guide us through out our journey of life and lead us to salvation.

Krishna! Krishna! Mukunda! Janardana!



Samasthaaparadham kshamaswa

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