Shankaracharya’s Song to Fool Caught in Samsara (Bhaja Govindaṃ)

Bhaja Govindaṃ was written by Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya. Bhaja govindaṃ is one of the minor compositions of the spiritual giant, Ādi Shankarācharya.

It is classified as a prakaraṇa grantha, a primer to the major works. Though sung as a bhajan, it contains the essence of Vedānta and implores the man to think,

“Why am I here in this life? Why am I amassing wealth, family, but have no peace? What is the Truth? What is the purpose of life?”

The person thus awakened gets set on a path to the inner road back to the God principle.

The background of Bhaja govindaṃ is worth examining. During his stay in Kashi, Ādi Shankarācharya noticed a very old man studying the rules of Sanskrit by Panini.

Shankara was touched with pity at seeing the plight of the old man spending his years at a mere intellectual accomplishment while he would be better off praying and spending time to control his mind.

Shankara understood that the majority of the world was also engaged in mere intellectual, sense pleasures and not in the divine contemplation.

Seeing this, he burst forth with the verses of Bhaja govindaṃ. In 31 verses, he, like no other, explains our fallacies, our wrong outlook for life, and dispels our ignorance and delusions. Thus bhaja govindaṃ was originally known as moha mudgāra, the remover of delusions.

Shankara explains, nay chides, us for spending our time in useless trivia like amassing wealth, lusting after (wo)men and requests us to discriminate and cultivate the knowledge to learn the difference between the real and the unreal.

To emphasise that, he concludes that all knowledge other than the Self-Knowledge is useless, Shankara makes the person realize how foolish he/she is in the conduct and behaviour by these verses, and shows the purpose of our worldly existence, which is to seek Govinda (Brahman, Consciousness) and “attain” Him.

Bhaja govindaṃ is divided into dvādashamanjarikā stotram and chaturdashamanjarika stotram.

At the end of composing the first stanza, it is said that Shankara burst forth with the next 12 stanzas of bhaja govindaṃ. Thus stanzas 2-13 with 1st as refrain are called dvādashmanjarika stotram.

Anyone who listens to the music of Bhaja govindaṃ is attracted to it. However, the significance of the text goes much deeper and contains a well defined philosophy of attaining salvation.

Shankara's words seem to be quite piercing and seem to lack the softness and tenderness often found in his other texts, thus addressing directly.

The reason is that this was an extempore recital to an old man. His words can be compared to a knife of a surgeon. The surgeon's knife cruelly removes the tumour with much pain, but removing the tumour ultimately restores good health in the patient.

So are Shankara's words, which pierce and point out our ignorance. It is a knife into the heart of worldliness, and by removing this tumour of ignorance, we can attain everlasting bliss with the grace of Govinda.

May the Achāryā guide us from ignorance to truth.


OM tat sat.

भज गोविन्दं

भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं
गोविन्दं भज मूढमते ।
सम्प्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले
नहि नहि रक्षति डुकृङ्करणे ॥ १॥ 

Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool !
Rules of grammar will not save you at the time of your death.

मूढ जहीहि धनागमतृष्णां
कुरु सद्बुद्धिं मनसि वितृष्णाम् ।
यल्लभसे निजकर्मोपात्तं
वित्तं तेन विनोदय चित्तम् ॥ २॥ 

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.

दृष्ट्वा मा गा मोहावेशम् ।
मनसि विचिन्तय वारं वारम् ॥ ३॥ 

Do not get drowned in delusion by going wild with passions and
lust by seeing a woman's navel and chest. These are nothing but
a modification of flesh. Fail not to remember this again and
again in your mind.

तद्वज्जीवितमतिशयचपलम् ।
विद्धि व्याध्यभिमानग्रस्तं
लोकं शोकहतं च समस्तम् ॥ ४॥ 

The life of a person is as uncertain as rain drops trembling on a
lotus leaf. Know that the whole world remains a prey to
disease, ego and grief.

स्तावन्निजपरिवारो रक्तः ।
पश्चाज्जीवति जर्जरदेहे
वार्तां कोऽपि न पृच्छति गेहे ॥ ५॥ 

So long as a man is fit and able to support his family, see
what 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.

यावत्पवनो निवसति देहे
तावत्पृच्छति कुशलं गेहे ।
गतवति वायौ देहापाये
भार्या बिभ्यति तस्मिन्काये ॥ ६॥ 

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.

तरुणस्तावत्तरुणीसक्तः ।
परमे ब्रह्मणि कोऽपि न सक्तः ॥ ७॥  var   परे 

The childhood is lost by attachment to playfulness. Youth is
lost by attachment to woman. Old age passes away by thinking over
many things. But there is hardly anyone who wants to be lost in

का ते कान्ता कस्ते पुत्रः
संसारोऽयमतीव विचित्रः ।
कस्य त्वं कः कुत आयात-
स्तत्त्वं चिन्तय तदिह भ्रातः ॥ ८॥ 

Who is your wife ? Who is your son ? Strange is this samsAra, 
the world. Of whom are you ? From where have you come ? 
Brother, ponder over these truths.

सत्सङ्गत्वे निस्सङ्गत्वं
निस्सङ्गत्वे निर्मोहत्वम् ।
निर्मोहत्वे निश्चलतत्त्वं
निश्चलतत्त्वे जीवन्मुक्तिः ॥ ९॥ 

From satsanga, company of good people, comes non-attachment,
from non-attachment comes freedom from delusion, which leads to 
self-settledness. From self-settledness comes JIvan muktI.

वयसि गते कः कामविकारः
शुष्के नीरे कः कासारः ।
क्षीणे वित्ते कः परिवारः
ज्ञाते तत्त्वे कः संसारः ॥ १०॥ 

What good is lust when youth has fled ?
What use is a lake which has no water ?
Where are the relatives when wealth is gone ?
Where is samsAra, the world,  when the Truth is known ?

मा कुरु धनजनयौवनगर्वं
हरति निमेषात्कालः सर्वम् ।
मायामयमिदमखिलं हित्वा  var  बुध्वा
ब्रह्मपदं त्वं प्रविश विदित्वा ॥ ११॥ 

Do not boast of wealth, friends, and youth. Each one of these
are destroyed within a minute by time. Free yourself from the
illusion of the world of Maya and attain the timeless Truth.

दिनयामिन्यौ सायं प्रातः
शिशिरवसन्तौ पुनरायातः ।
कालः क्रीडति गच्छत्यायु-
स्तदपि न मुञ्चत्याशावायुः ॥ १२॥ 

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.

का ते कान्ता धनगतचिन्ता
वातुल किं तव नास्ति नियन्ता ।
त्रिजगति सज्जनसङ्गतिरेका
भवति भवार्णवतरणे नौका ॥ १३॥ 

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 of samsAra, get into
the boat of satsanga, company of good people, quickly.

कथितो वैयाकरणस्यैषः ।
श्रीमच्छङ्करभगवच्छरणैः ॥ १३अ ॥ 

This bouquet of twelve verses (2-13) was imparted to a grammarian
by the all-knowing Shankara, adored as the bhagavadpada.


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