Language is no more a barrier to enjoy Poonthanam’s Malayalam verses.
It was perhaps M.S. Subbulakshmi who introduced Poonthanam’s ‘Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardhana’ and ‘Kandu Kandangirikkum Janangale’ to Carnatic music rasikas. While the former is from the poet’s Krishna Karnamritham, the latter is from Gnanappana. “I was fortunate enough to render their meaning in Tamil, for the benefit of Tamil-knowing public!” says Geetha Kalyan.
Born in Kerala, Geetha Kalyan migrated to Chennai after marriage. Her husband presented her a volume of Paramacharya’s Arulvaakku. “I could speak Tamil but not read or write. I made an effort to learn the language so that I could read the book. Slowly I gained proficiency,” says Geetha in her foreword to her book, a translation of Sri Krishna Karnamritam and Gnanappana.
“As an official in the UNHCR for Srilankan Tamil refugees in Chennai, I could easily translate their statements from Tamil. They spoke the pure dialect avoiding English words in their conversation. In fact, they asked, ‘Why do you Tamils in Tamil Nadu mutilate the language (sidhaikkireergal)?’ It was, therefore, another opportunity for me to improve my Tamil!” smiles Geetha Kalyan
A devotee of Kanchi Mahaswami and a regular visitor to the Kanchi Mutt, Geetha was asked to translate the Tamil book ‘Kancheepurathin Kavinmigu Koilgal’ by T.V.R. Chariar into Malayalam. Geetha has completed this book. “Now that you have done the first book, you can now translate all the slokas of Adi Sankara, except Viveka Chudamani, into Malayalam!” suggested Sri Vijayendra Saraswati. Geetha is on the job and the 1,000 page volume will go to print soon.
“I happened to read all the seven volumes of ‘Maha Periyavalin Darsana Anubhavangal’ by several hundreds of devotees, which was introduced to me by Sri Ganesa Sarma. The entire collection is fascinating. These are not available in Malayalam. I have already translated two volumes and the third is in progress!” says Geetha.
“I have all the volumes of ‘Deivathin Kural’ and you know what I do first thing on my wedding day? I open the book and read one full chapter first and only then I attend to my domestic chores!” she adds.
How did Geetha Kalyan take up the translation of Poonthanam’s poems?
“My Narayaneeyam Guru Janaki Vaidyanathan called me one day and asked me whether I could get the Tamil version of Krishna Karnamritham and Gnanappana for a discourse by Damal Ramakrishnan. I hesitated but went ahead. I provided word-by-word meaning for each stanza followed by complete meaning in a short paragraph. I saw to it that the pronunciation in Tamil script matched the Malayalam pronunciation and I am glad they have been rendered correctly.
“The well-known Upanyasaka was much impressed after he went through the translation. He felt that both Krishna Karnamirtham and Gnappana should not be confined to the Malayalam-knowing public. Tamils also should enjoy the beauty of the lyrics and so the idea of bringing it out in the book form took shape. “I sought the help of my friend Su.Ra. (Sundararajan), Tamil writer to oversee the script and he went through the translation and guided me.” Gnanappana is nothing but the essence of the Vedas, Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, Bhajagovindam, Viveka Chudamani and Narayaneeyam.
Devoted to Krishna
Poet Poonthanam was a contemporary of Melpattur Narayana Bhattadri, who wrote Narayaneeyam. He was born in 1547 in the month of Masi on the day of Aswini, in Keezhaatrur, 8 km from Perinthalamanna in Malapuram district, in a Nambudiri family. He prayed to Krishna to grant him a child and recited ‘Santhana Gopalam.’ A child was born but died on Annaprasanam day. According to legend a heartbroken Poonthanam was consoled by Guruvayurappan, who laid himself on his lap as a child for a moment.
Once when Poonthanam was travelling, he was waylaid by robbers and Krishna appeared as Mangaatachan, a minister, and saved him. Poonthanam gave him his ring as reward. When the temple priest opened the door the next day, he heard a voice saying, “The ring on my idol belongs to Poonthanam. Please return it to him!” Mahakavi Vallathol has penned a poem based on this incident.
Narayana Bhattadri was rebuked by Guruvayurappan for ignoring Poonthanam’s kriti ‘Santhanagopala Paana.’ Krishna told him that He admired Poonthanam’s true bhakti more than Bhattadri’s Vibhakti.
In the 163rd sloka of Krishna Karnamritham, Ponthanam pleads that he should continue to do namasankirtanam till his last breath. Legend has it that he left this world with his body. He announced that he was leaving for heaven and whoever wanted could join him. While the villagers were sceptical, his servant maid who had nursed his ailing wife all along joined him. This happened in 1640.