occupies a very high place
in Sanskrit literature, both
because of the intense devotional fervour of the verses,and because
of their extraordinary literary merit.
The author of this work, Melputhur Narayana Bhattatiri, was born about the year 1560 in a village near the famous temple of Tirunavaya in Kerala. Even at a very young age he mastered the Vedas and the Vedangas. He
learnt Mimamsa and the other Sastras from his father, Matrudatta, the Vedas from one Madhavacharya, the scienceof Logic (Tarka) from his elder brother Damodara, and Sanskrit Grammar from Achyuta Pisharoti,
a celebrated grammarian.
the Narayaniyam at the age
of 27.He wrote
a monumental work on Sanskrit
Grammar, entitled Prakriyasarvasva,
a work similar to
theSiddhanta Kaumudi, but written earlier. It is said that Bhattoji Dikshita, the author of the Siddhanta Kaumudi,on hearing about Bhattatiri, set out
for Keral to meet him, but had to return disappointed on hearing on the waythat Bhattatiri had passed away. Bhattatiri composed many other devotional hymns and also a work onPurva-Mimamsa entitled Manameyodaya, and panegyrics in praise of his royal patrons. It is believed that he lived
till the ripe old age of 105, honoured by all for his great erudition, his superb literary creations and above all, for his supreme devotion.
The circumstances which led to the composition of the Narayaniyam by Bhattatiri in his 27th. year are asfollows. His Guru in Sanskrit grammar, Achyuta Pisharoti, fell victim to a severe attack of paralysis andsuffered unbearable pain. Bhattatiri, the devoted disciple that he was, could not
bear the suffering of the Guru. He therefore fervently prayed that the disease may be transferred to him and his Guru freed of suffering.
It happened as he wanted and soon, while Pisharoti recovered, the
fell disease made Bhattatiria cripple. It was the general belief in those days, as it is now, that sincere prayers to the Lord of Guruvayur would bring immediate relief from all troubles. Bhattatiri, who was unable even
to move, got himself carriedto the Guruvayur temple and sat there spending his time in prayer. He was then advised by Tunchath Ezhuthachan,
an eminent Malayalam poet of the time, that he would be cured of his disease if he composed a hymnrecounting all the incarnations of the Lord.
started composing the Narayaniyam,
at the rate of one dasaka
(canto) consisting generally of
10 verses, every day. On
the 100th. day he had
a vision ofthe
Lord in the form of
Venugopala. The 100th. canto,
composed on that day, gives
a graphic description
of this form from head
to foot. On that day
he became completely cured
of his disease.
In the 100th. canto the poet says that he has named this work Narayaniyam for two reasons :
(1) it is about Lord Narayana; and (2) the poet's name is also Narayana.
From the word "Ayurarogyasaukhyam" appearing at the end of the 100th. canto, scholars have worked out the date of completion of the work as the 28th. day of the Malayalam month of Vrischikam of the Malayalam year 762, corresponding to the 27th. November, 1587. (According to some the year is 763 and the date is the 12th. Dec. 1587)
As a devotional hymn, this work ranks among the best of its kind. The superiority of the pathof devotion, as compared with the paths of action (Karma) and knowledge (Jnana) is repeatedly stressed by the poet. He
points out that Bhakti grows in the heart of an individual without any specialeffort on his part if he merely listens to the narrations about the incarnations and the deeds and excellences of the Lord. Bhakti is nothing but intense love for God. It is natural for every human being to love
anything beautiful and so, to develop love for the Lord of Guruvayur who is beauty incarnate, does not need any special effort. Unlike the path of Jnana which is possible only for those who have developed a high degree
of detachment, the path of Bhakti is open to everyone. But devotion
in the real sense of the term is possible only when it is informed by some knowledge of therelationship between the world and God, between the individual and God and between the individual and the world. These matters are dealt with in the first 10 cantos and the last 10 cantos.
cantos thus contain the
essence of all the Upanishads.
Every verse is addressed
to the Lord. This
work is considered eminently
suitable for daily Parayanam
(devout reading) by devotees.
when life is full of
tensions and problems, the
reading of at least a
few verses every day is
to preserve one's equanimity
and enjoy inward peace.
From the literary point of view also this work can be placed on par with those of the greatestSanskrit poets of all time. Twenty different metres have been used by the poet. This variety makes the reading of this work
a delightful experience. Bhattatiri is an adept at choosing words and metres
in such a manner as to make the narrative come alive before the mind's eye. In the 25th. canto, whiledescribing the incarnation of the Lord as Narasimha, he uses words which bring out the awesomeness of the situation. In canto 55 describing Krishna dancing on Kaliya, the Totaka metre is
very appropriately employed. Canto 69 describing the Rasakrida in the Kusumamanjari metre sends a thrill through us,bringing the scene before
us in all its vividness. Cantos 98 and 100 elevate the reader to the
mostsublime heights of direct communion with the Supreme Being. Literary devices such as Anuprasa, Yamaka, etc enhance the poetic quality of the work.
According to the Sthala purana of the Guruvayur temple, the image installed therein was originally given by Mahavishnu to Brahma. Brahma
gave it to a sage named Sutapas; he gave it to Kasyapa Prajapati who
in turn, gave it to Vasudeva, the father of Krishna. Sri Krishna got it from his father andworshipped it at His capital Dvaraka. Before the conclusion of His incarnation as Krishna the Lord told his devotee and minister Uddhava that the image would come floating in the sea which would soon engulf Dvaraka. Uddhava was asked to request Brihaspati,
the Guru of the gods, to install the image at a suitable place. Accordingly, when the image came floating, Brihaspati took it and, along with Vayu, went all over the world and finally selected this spot and installed the
image there. As the place was selected by Guruand Vayu, it came to
be known as Guruvayur.
I wish to express here my deep sense of gratitude to my good friend, Shri.C.N.Ramachnadran, F.C.A. but for whose initiative this book would perhaps not have seen the light of day. He collected substantial donations from individuals and trusts and thus enabled me to commence printing of the book.I am extremely grateful to all the donors for their generous donations.
While the printing of the book was in progress, I made a request to H.H. Swami Chinmayananda that the book may be accepted for publication
by the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Bombay. he verykindly acceded
to my request. I am deeply indebted to him for this.
In preparing this commentary I have derived great help from the
excellent commentary in Sanskritentitled 'Balabodhini' by Konath Krishna Wariyar. I have also made use of the following books : (1) The
commentary 'Vanamala' in Malayalam; (2) The commentary in English by Swami Tapasyananda ofthe Ramakrishna Mission , Madras; and (3) The translation in Tamil by N.Somasundara Dikshitar. I amvery much indebted
to the authors of all these works.