Most of us have grown up listening to M.S Subbalakshmi’s Bhaja Govindam and Vishnu Sahasranamam.
At that age, I did not give too much importance to the meaning of its lyrics. It was a simple and an almost daily routine of listening to the audio cassette that had both Bhaja Govindam and Vishnu Sahasranamam.
When I began exploring Vedanta, I naturally came across the commentary on Bhaja Govindam. I was surprised by the lyrics as I had developed a different notion of the hymn of being a ‘bhajan’ before the Stotram.
Some how I could not reconcile to MS singing about a womens’ breast ! The morbid lyrics that seek to provoke dispassion and the tune did not agree with me.
Around the same time I discovered the disciples of Swami Parthasarathy’s singing the same hymn. The tune goes like this.
This tune instantly resonated with me as both the lyrics and the tune seemed to be in harmony.
Meanwhile I stopped listening to MS’s version. I felt ‘cheated’ by MS for setting such a melody for these lyrics !
One day in a moment of flash it struck me that MS did not sing all the stanzas but only a select few. I immediately compared the ones she sang with entire set of lyrics and then understood the choice of the tune ! She only chose the ‘benign’ stanzas !
Since then I was mentally sorted and now listen to both the versions depending upon my mood.
Here are the lyrics of Bhajagovindam written by Adi Shankaracharya, those highlighted in red have been chosen by MS for her rendition.
bhajagovindam bhajagovindam govindam bhaja muudhamate sampraapte sannihite kaale nahi nahi rakshati dukrijnkarane
Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda. Oh fool! Rules of Grammar will not save you at the time of your death.
mudha jahiihi dhanaagamatrishhnaam kuru sadbuddhim manasi vitrishhnaam yallabhase nijakarmopaattam vittam tena vinodaya chittam
Oh fool! Give up your thirst to amass wealth, devote your mind to thoughts to the Real. Be content with what comes through actions already performed in the past.
naariistanabhara naabhiidesham drishhtvaa maagaamohaavesham etanmaamsaavasaadi vikaaram manasi vichintaya vaaram vaaram
Do not get drowned in delusion by going wild with passions and l___ by seeing a woman’s navel and chest. Bodies are flesh, fat and blood. Do not fail to remember this again and again in your mind.
naliniidalagata jalamatitaralam tadvajjiivitamatishayachapalam viddhi vyaadhyabhimaanagrastam lokam shokahatam cha samastam
Uncertain is the life of man as rain drops on a lotus leaf. Know that the whole world remains a prey to disease, ego and grief.
yaavadvittopaarjana saktah staavannija parivaaro raktah pashchaajjiivati jarjara dehe vaartaam koapi na prichchhati gehe
So long as a man is fit and able to support his family, see the affection all those around him show. But no one at home cares to even have a word with him when his body totters due to old age.
yaavatpavano nivasati dehe taavatprichchhati kushalam gehe gatavati vaayau dehaapaaye bhaaryaa bibhyati tasminkaaye
When one is alive, his family members enquire kindly about his welfare. But when the soul departs from the body, even his wife runs away in fear of the corpse.
baalastaavatkriidaasaktah tarunastaavattaruniisaktah vriddhastaavachchintaasaktah pare brahmani koapi na saktah
Childhood is lost in play. Youth is lost by attachment to woman. Old age passes away by thinking over many past things. Alas! hardly is there anyone who yearns to be lost in Parabrahman.
kaate kaantaa kaste putrah samsaaro.ayamatiiva vichitrah kasya tvam kah kuta aayaatah tattvam chintaya tadiha bhraatah
Who is your wife? Who is your son? Strange is this samsara. Of whom are you? Where have you come from? Brother, ponder over these truths.
satsangatve nissngatvam nissangatve nirmohatvam nirmohatve nishchalatattvam nishcalatattve jiivanmuktih
From Satsanga comes non-attachment, from non-attachment comes freedom from delusion, which leads to self-settledness. From self-settledness comes Jivan Mukti.
vayasigate kah kaamavikaarah shushhke niire kah kaasaarah kshiinevitte kah parivaarah gyaate tattve kah samsaarah
What good is l___ when youth has fled? What use is a lake which has no water? Where are the relatives when wealth is gone? Where is samsara when the Truth is known?
maa kuru dhana jana yauvana garvam harati nimeshhaatkaalah sarvam maayaamayamidamakhilaM hitvaa brahmapadaM tvaM pravisha viditvaa
Do not boast of wealth, friends, and youth. Each one of these are destroyed within a minute. Free yourself from the illusion of the world of Maya and attain the timeless Truth.
dinayaaminyau saayam praatah shishiravasantau punaraayaatah kaalah kriidati gachchhatyaayuh tadapi na mujncatyaashaavaayuh
Daylight and darkness, dusk and dawn, winter and springtime come and go. Time plays and life ebbs away. But the storm of desire never leaves.
dvaadashamajnjarikaabhirasheshhah kathito vaiyaakaranasyaishhah upadesho bhuudvidyaanipunaih shriimachchhankarabhagavachchharanarih
This bouquet of twelve verses was imparted to a grammarian by the all-knowing Shankara, adored as the bhagavadpada.
kaate kaantaa dhana gatachintaa vaatula kim tava naasti niyantaa trijagati sajjanasam gatiraikaa bhavati bhavaarnavatarane naukaa
Oh mad man! Why this engrossment in thoughts of wealth? Is there no one to guide you? There is only one thing in three worlds that can save you from the ocean from samsara. Get into that boat of satsangha quickly.
jatilo mundii lujnchhitakeshah kaashhaayaambarabahukritaveshhah pashyannapi cana pashyati muudhah udaranimittam bahukritaveshhah
There are many who go with matted locks, many who have clean shaven heads, many whose hairs have been plucked out; some are clothed in saffron, yet others in various colors — all just for a livelihood. Seeing truth revealed before them, still the foolish ones see it not.
angam galitam palitam mundam dashanavihiinam jatam tundam vriddho yaati grihiitvaa dandam tadapi na mujncatyaashaapindam
Strength has left the old man’s body; his head has become bald, his gums toothless and leaning on crutches. Even then the attachment is strong and he clings firmly to fruitless hope.
agre vahnih prishhthebhaanuh raatrau chubukasamarpitajaanuh karatalabhikshastarutalavaasah tadapi na mujncatyaashaapaashah
Behold there lies the man who sits warming up his body with the fire in front and the sun at the back; at night he curls up the body to keep out of the cold; he eats his beggar’s food from the bowl of his hand and sleeps beneath the tree. Still in his heart, he is a wretched puppet at the hands of passions.
kurute gangaasaagaragamanam vrataparipaalanamathavaa daanam gyaanavihinah sarvamatena muktim na bhajati janmashatena
One may go to the Ganga, observe fasts, and give away riches in charity! Yet, devoid of jnana, nothing can give mukthi even at the end of a hundred births.
sura mandira taru muula nivaasah shayyaa bhuutala majinam vaasah sarva parigraha bhoga tyaagah kasya sukham na karoti viraagah
Take your residence in a temple or below a tree, wear the deerskin for the dress, and sleep with mother earth as your bed. Give up all attachments and renounce all comforts. Blessed with such vairagya, could any fail to be content?
yogarato vaabhogaratovaa sangarato vaa sangaviihinah yasya brahmani ramate chittam nandati nandati nandatyeva
One may take delight in yoga or bhoga, may have attachment or detachment. But only he whose mind steadily delights in Brahman enjoys bliss, no one else.
bhagavad giitaa kijnchidadhiitaa gangaa jalalava kanikaapiitaa sakridapi yena muraari samarchaa kriyate tasya yamena na charchaa
Let a man read but a little from the Gita, drink just a drop of water from the Ganga, worship Murari just once. He then will have no altercation with Yama.
punarapi jananam punarapi maranam punarapi jananii jathare shayanam iha samsaare bahudustaare kripayaa apaare paahi muraare
Born again, death again, birth again to stay in the mother’s womb ! It is indeed hard to cross this boundless ocean of samsara. Oh Murari ! Redeem me through Thy mercy.
rathyaa charpata virachita kanthah punyaapunya vivarjita panthah yogii yoganiyojita chitto ramate baalonmattavadeva
There is no shortage of clothing for a monk so long as there are rags cast off the road. Freed from vice and virtue, onward he wanders. One who lives in communion with God enjoys bliss, pure and uncontaminated, like a child and as someone intoxicated.
kastvam ko.aham kuta aayaatah kaa me jananii ko me taatah iti paribhaavaya sarvamasaaram vishvam tyaktvaa svapna vichaaram
Who are you? Who am I? From where do I come? Who is my mother, who is my father? Ponder thus, look at everything as essenceless and give up the world as an idle dream.
tvayi mayi chaanyatraiko vishhnuh vyartham kupyasi mayyasahishhnuh bhava samachittah sarvatra tvam vaajnchhasyachiraadyadi vishhnutvam
In me, in you and in everything, none but the same Vishnu dwells. Your anger and impatience is meaningless. If you wish to attain the quality of Vishnu soon, have Sama Bhaava always.
shatrau mitre putre bandhau maa kuru yatnam vigrahasandhau sarvasminnapi pashyaatmaanam sarvatrotsrija bhedaagyaanam
Do not waste your efforts to win the love of or to fight against friend and foe, children and relatives. See yourself in everyone and give up all feelings of duality completely.
kaamam krodham lobham moham tyaktvaa atmaanam bhaavaya ko aham aatmagyaana vihiinaa muudhaah te pachyante narakaniguudhaah
Give up l___, anger, infatuation, and greed. Ponder over your real nature. Fools are they who are blind to the Self. Cast into hell they suffer there endlessly.
geyam giitaa naama sahasram dhyeyam shriipati ruupamajasram neyam sajjana sange chittam deyam diinajanaaya cha vittam
Regularly recite from the Gita, meditate on Vishnu in your heart, and chant His thousand glories. Take delight to be with the noble and the holy. Distribute your wealth in charity to the poor and the needy.
sukhatah kriyate raamaabhogah pashchaaddhanta shariire rogah yadyapi loke maranam sharanam tadapi na mujnchati paapaacharanam
He who yields to l___ for pleasure leaves his body a prey to disease. Though death brings an end to everything, man does not gives up the sinful path.
arthamanartham bhaavaya nityam naastitatah sukhaleshah satyam putraadapi dhana bhaajaam bhiitih sarvatraishhaa vihitaa riitih
Wealth is not welfare, truly there is no joy in it. Reflect thus at all times. A rich man fears even his own son. This is the way of wealth everywhere.
praanaayaamam pratyaahaaram nityaanitya vivekavichaaram jaapyasameta samaadhividhaanam kurvavadhaanam mahadavadhaanam
Regulate the pranas, remain unaffected by external influences and discriminate between the real and the fleeting. Chant the holy name of God and silence the turbulent mind. Perform these with care, with extreme care.
gurucharanaambuja nirbhara bhakatah samsaaraadachiraadbhava muktah sendriyamaanasa niyamaadevam drakshyasi nija hridayastham devam
Oh devotee of the lotus feet of the Guru! May thou be soon free from Samsara. Through disciplined senses and controlled mind, thou shalt come to experience the indwelling Lord of your heart!
muudhah kashchana vaiyaakarano dukrijnkaranaadhyayana dhurinah shriimachchhamkara bhagavachchhishhyai bodhita aasichchhodhitakaranah
Thus was a silly grammarian lost in rules cleansed of his narrow vision and shown the Light by Shankara’s apostles.
bhajagovindam bhajagovindam govindam bhajamuudhamate naamasmaranaadanyamupaayam nahi pashyaamo bhavatarane
Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool! Other than chanting the Lord’s names, there is no other way to cross the life’s ocean.
Meanwhile listen to this tune from the movie on Adi Shankracharya. The last one minute (1.11) of the first video and the first minute of the second video.
This tune simply overwhelms you with a feeling of renunciation. In a curious way, it makes you attached to detachment.
Three different tunes. Same set of lyrics.
One sets you on the path of devotion.
One sets you on the path of enquiry
One attracts you to the path of detachment.
Vairagya here I come.