Commentary on Narayaneeyam

C. L. Ramakrishnan


English version of "Bhaktaranjini", Malayalam commentary by K.G. Vancheswara Sastry and R. Viswanatha Sastry in three volumes: T. P. Sivasubramani, G. Sankaran, K.V . Gopalakrishna and Parvati Sankaran — Tr. in English; S. N. Sastri — Editor, pub. by Bhaktaranjini Trust, 22 A, II Cross, Judicial Officers' Lay Out, RMV II Stage, Sanjay Nagar, Bangalore-560094. Rs. 800.

The volumes under review present the Sanskrit text of the Narayaneeyam of Melputhur Narayana Bhattatiri, followed by transliteration, meaning by splitting the words and detailed comments. Wherever necessary, cross-references are provided. Rare and interesting usages by the poet are explained, highlighting his literary skill. The philosophical import in the verses has been explained, supported by quotations from the source book, the Bhagavata Purana. While the Narayaneeyam is a condensation (1036 verses) of the Bhagavata (18,000 verses), the commentary gives the incidents and precepts in detail with continuity.

The prose order of the verses helps one to understand the poetic diction of Bhattatiri, whose style is, at times, difficult. In addition, there is a glossary of keywords occurring in the text and an alphabetical index to the verses. A rare feature is the linkage given to verses in the Bhagavata.

Interesting explanations are given to the meaning of words like "Krishna" and "Kumaraka"; why Hiranyakasipu, Ravana and others did not attain Moksha though they met their end at the hands of the Lord; why the Lord opened His mouth when questioned by Yashoda whether He had eaten mud; whether Kuchela entered the house of Rukmini or any other consort of the Lord and so on.

These explanations are value-additions to the text and clarify lurking doubts. A lot of hard labour and study have gone into these volumes. A reading of it reveals its fidelity to the original commentary.

However, the commentary throws up a few issues. For example, the opening verse is taken to mean that not only a person who has not realised the Self cannot explain the principle of the Lord of Guruvayoor, but even the realised one. If this is so, then the role of a Jivanmukta remains unresolved. Again, by the statement that "God is born", it is perhaps meant that God manifests Himself. Otherwise, He being described as Aja (unborn) will be rendered controversial.

It is further mentioned that a Jivanmukta attains liberation after he has exhausted his Prarabdha Karma. The term Jivanmukta itself means, "liberated while being embodied." The extinguishing of Prarabdha Karma and Self-realisation occurs simultaneously in the case of Videhamukta.

The glossary to the third volume refers to Vaisya as a caste, but the tenor of the commentary (with support from the Bhagavad Gita) is that God created four "classes" (and not castes) based on the "Gunas" and activities of the people. Similarly, the exposition on the inexplicability of Maya needs reconsideration.

The explanation for the Upanishadic text "Purna madah purna midam" may be supplemented with some illustrative example for easy comprehension. That Brahman is described as the material cause and also the efficient cause could be explained as in the Mundaka Upanishad giving the spider example. These issues could receive attention in future editions.

The effort of the scholar-devotees in giving this English version of the excellent Malayalam commentary is highly commendable. They have taken pains to make available the rare material in the commentary to a larger audience and the devotees are beholden to them for this service.

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