Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Dear Readers/Seekers,

I am glad to present the article “From Soka (Sorrow) to Sloka (Divine Hymn)”. It is about a poet named Poonthanam. The soka i.e. sorrow which attended him changed him to become a great devotee and by corollary a great poet composing Sloka (divine hymn).

The poet hailed from Kerala, the God’s Own Country. Outside Kerala, many people may not be aware of this great poet whose poems have inspired scores in to the realm of Bhakti towards Lord Guruvayurappan, the presiding deity of Guruvayur. In modern parlance, it is a romance of love between the Lord and his devout Bhaktha.

Guruvayur is an abode with scores of devotees experienced miracles like Poonthanam, Bhattathiri, Kruramma, Manjula, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Sengalipuram Anantharama Deekshitar etc., even an elephant (Guruvayur Kesavan) expressed bhakti towards the Lord. Such is the greatness of Guruvayur. The offering to the Lord of this temple is unique which you cannot find elsewhere and yes that is the chanting of divine Srimad Bhagavatham. If one can visit this temple and sincerely prays all their wishes will be granted and more than that they will be elevated in their devotion.

I have heard in my child hood song with the refrain

“Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janarthana Krishna Govinda Narayana Hare…” But I didn’t know that it is sung at the end of Poonthanam’s famous poem “Jnaanapaana” or “Njaanapaana” which oozes with pure bhakthi, wisdom and knowledge. I hereby thanks Sri V. Ramachandran of Mumbai who was instrumental in writing this article about Poonthanam. Myself and Ramachandran are friends since our school days and we used to visit Guruvayur often when we were in Coimbatore which are still memorable. I also take this opportunity to thank Sri Ramachandran’s parents Sri Venkataraman and Smt Lakshmi Venkataraman who are ardent devotees of Lord Guruvayurappan and who inculcates bhakti to many through Guruvayurappa Bhakta Samajam in Coimbatore.

My sincere thanks to Major Sri V. Venkat Narayanan whose continued support in doing the necessary corrections and adding the necessary rangoli work wherever required despite his pre-occupation.

I also happened to have a brief chat with Dr. U. R. Giridharan who had carried out the colossal translation of Jnaanapaana to Tamil christened aptly as “Gnaana Virutham”. Dr. Giritharan who hails from Kerala was raised in Tamilnadu and is endowed with a sublime knowledge of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil. He has translated many masterpieces in Sanskrit and Malayalam in to the regional languages. You can read his translated works in the following portal which is a treasure trove.

The Jnaanapana or Njaanapana song is available in the youtube and I sincerely recommend all readers to hear the Jnaana-paana song by going through the following link or you can buy music CDs which you can get in any leading music store.

Let me not stand in the way of your enjoying Poonthanam and the legend behind his Jnaana-Paana. Happy reading and hearing ! Warm Regards AV Devan 31-3-2011 Chennai


Poonthanam Nambudri (1547 – 1640 AD) Poonthanam Nambudri was born in a village called Keezhattoor near Perinthalmanna, in the Malappuram District of Kerala State. He was a contemporary of Melpathur Narayana Bhattahiri and Ezhuthachan, two glorious poets of Kerala. In Kerala a person is referred to by his family name first, then the actual name followed by the caste / title. Thus Poonthanam was the family name. His actual name is not known. Since he was born in the Nambudri Brahmin community he is known as Poonthanam Nambudiri or simply Poonthanam. The house where he lived, known as “Poonthanam Illam” at Keezhattor is still preserved by the Guruvayur Devaswom Board.

Poonthanam married an heiress at the age of twenty. As they were issueless, they prayed to Lord Guruvayurappan for progency. Finally their prayers were answered and a son was born to them in the year 1586. Poonthanam did the initial samskaras for his son like Jathakarma [purifactory rites done upon birth of the Child], and Naama Karana [Naming of the Child]. When the Child was six months old Poonthanam decided to celebrate the Child’s Annaprasanam i.e. first feeding of cooked rice. He fixed an auspicious date and invited all his friends and relatives. But on the day of the ceremony the Child died miraculously. There are two version as to how the child died. One due to accidental suffocation caused by the clothes strewn over the babyand another one was that the child fell in the boiling rice and died. Whatever may be the reason, Poonthanam and his wife were thoroughly shattered as they had begot the Child after many years of penance.

The grief-stricken Poonthanam sought refuge at Guruvayur and started praying with the puranic story of Kumaraharanam. By stoically absorbing the tragedy with a sense of reality, Poonthanam submitted himself to the will of the Lord. He was at once blessed with a vision of the divine child Krishna, inspiring him to sing “Jnanappana”, a devotional and philosophical treatise. Poonthanam did not know Sanskrit and so decided to express his innate feelings in chaste Malayalam.

In one of the verses he says

“Unni Krishnan Manasil Kalikkumbol Unnikal Mattoru Venamo Makkalai?” "When the divine child Krishna dances in my heart, Is there any need to have another Child?” Works of Poonthanam

Poonthanam’s popular poems apart from his famous ‘Jnanappaana’ are ‘Bhasha Karnamrutham’, ‘Kumara Haranam’ or ‘Santhanagopala pana’, ‘Noortettu Hari’, ‘Kuchela Virutham’ and a divine series of melodious songs in praise of Lord Krishna and other deities. These are devotional works in Malayalam laced with Krishna Bhakti and his works stand apart as they are very simple, easy to understand with fast paced verses making them very attractive to the layman. Poonthanam’s mission also turned out to be a historical necessity for the revival of the Bhakti movement in Kerala. Consequent to Portugese rule in Kerala, to combat moral and social degradation coupled with political violence the poet founded a new plank on the doctrine of Bhakti as the best means of attaining salvation.

As a ‘Basha Kavi’ or ‘Vernacular Poet’ Poonthanam succeeded in elevating Malayalam as a popular medium of devotional literature. He defied the tradition and used the vernacular at a time when Sanskrit and Manipravalam were dominant in the literary horizon of Kerala.

JNANAPPAANA – The Song of Wisdom

‘Jnana’ means wisdom and ‘Paana’ means a pattern of folk poem. ‘Jnanappana’ was composed by Poonthanam in a literary style called ‘Panapattu’. It consists of about 360 short lines in verse form clothed in very simple Malayalam. It is musical at the least and rich in meaning at best being steeped in philosophical wisdom. The poem is a veritable treatise on ‘Nama Sankirtan’ or devotional worship through chanting the names of Lord Krishna. In chorus every phrase is repeated at the end with the refrain of

Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardhana Krishna Govinda Narayana Hare Achuthananda Govinda madhava Sachithanda Narayana hare. The immediate effect of chanting this is one of long lasting joy and warmth of feelings. No wonder, Poonthanam’s Jnanappana is a household name in Kerala. The poet emphasizes the ephemeral nature of human life, the unending cycle of birth and death, Karma, spiritual vacuum of modern civilization and delusions of materialistic life. Poonthanam urges men to sing the glory of the Lord by giving up ill will and hatred. Covetousness for wealth and attachment keep men away from God says Poonthanam and he pleads men to guard against the lure of money. ‘Jnanappana’ eulogises Bharatavarsha as a ‘Karma Bhoomi’ and he laments that men of other countries were not fortunate enough to be born even as a grass in India. Drops of Wisdom – from Jnaanapaana

The following are few drops from Jnaanapaana.:

Guru-naathan Thuna Cheiga Santhatham Thiru-Naamangal Navin Mel Eppozhum Priyiyathe Irikkanam Nammude Nara Janmam Saphala Makkeduvan Let my Guru help us all the time So that the Divine Name is always present in the tongue And continue to be there with us forever So that this human birth becomes most fruitful Innale-yolam Enthaanu Arinjeela Ini Naleyum Enthaanu Arinjeela Ini Kanda Thadikku Vinsasamum Inna Neram Enthu Arinjeela We don’t know what happened till yesterday We don’t know what is going to happen tommorrow The material body which is visible to us We don’t know when this is going to end Chuzhaneedunna Samsara Chakrathil Uzhaneedum Namakku Aringheeduvan Arivulla Mahathukal Undoru Paramarthangal Chey Thirikkunnu Eluthayittu Mukthi Labhippanai Chevi Thannethu Kelpin Ellavarum In this rotating wheel of life of birth and rebirths To teach us who are entangled in this wheel Those Great Sages who have realized Have showered on us many a truth with their divine grace To easily attain Salvation So every one please listen with care POONTHANAM & BHATTATHIRI

Poonthanam was a Contemporary of Melpathur Sri Narayana Bhattahiri who was one of the greatest poets of that time in Kerala. Bhattathiri a great devotee of Lord Guruvayurappan wrote the famous master piece “Narayaneeyam” in Sanskrit. There are several legends associated with Poonthanam & Bhattathiri.

· Padmanabho ‘Mara Prabhu’ or ‘Amara Prabhu’?

Once Poonthanam was reciting Vishnu Sahasranamam. In one of the verses he read “Padmanabho Mara Prabhu”. Hearing this Bhattathiri laughed at him and pointed the mistake that it is not ‘Mara Pranbhu’ rather he should be read as “Amara Prabhu”. Immediately there was a celestial voice stating “Am not only Amara Prabhu (Lord of Devas) but also Mara Prabhu (Lord of Trees).

· Bhakti Vs Vibhakti

Once Poonthanam sought the help of Bhattathiri in editing his poetic work “Sri Krishna Karnamrutham”. However Melpathur refused saying that he never read works in Malayalam which hurt Poonthanam. The next day when Melpathur arrived at the Guruvayur Sannidhanam to compose his dasaka (Narayaneeyam) he could not proceed as there was an Asareere or celestial voice stating that “Poonthanam’s Bhakti is more pleasing to me than Melpathur’s Vibhakti (learning or knowledge in Sanskrit Grammar)”. Melpathur realized his mistake and requested Poonthanam to pardon him and then agreed to review the works of Poonthanam. · Aa Mothiram – (That Ring)

Poonthanam used to wear a ring gifted by Bhattathiri and used to walk nearly 100 kilometers to have darshan of Guruvayurappan. He had to across the forest on his journey. Once when Poonthanam was crossing the forest some robbers attacked him. He gave everything to the robbers along with the Ring gifted by Bhattathiri except a small bag which he clung to as it which contained the invaluable Srimad Bhagavatam. When he told the thieves that it was only a book they tried to snatch it and he cried “Guruvayurappa” clinging to it. At ths same time, the minister of the Zamorin King named “Mangattachhan” was passing through that area who rushed, chased the robbers and retrieved the money and ring and gave it back to Poonthanam. Mangattachan also escorted Poonthanam upto Guruvayoor who gifted the ring to Mangattachan. The same day night the Melsanthi (Chief Priest) of Guruvayur Temple had a dream wherin he saw a Unni Namboodiri telling him that “you will find a ring on the idol and give it to Poonthanam who will come tomorrow.” When Melsanthi went to the Sanctom-Sanctorum he was surprised to find a ring on the deity’s finger. Melsanthi turned and saw Poonthanam waiting to have the Nirmalya Darshan of the Lord. Melsanthi then explained his dream to Poonthanam and handed over the ring. Poonthanam was thrown out of surprise as it was his own Ring which he had gifted the day before to Mangattachan. Poontham then realized it was the divine play of Guruvayurappan who came in the guise of Mangattachan and saved him. This episode has been immortialized in “Aa Mothiram” a Malayalam poem by Vallathol, a famous poet. Book Mark in Srimad Bhagavatham

Poonthanam’s bond with Srimad Bhagavatham is very special which we have seen in the last episode that while he could spare his ring he couldn’t spare Bhagavatham to the robbers. There is a famous Shiva temple at Kottiyoor in North Kerala. This temple is kept open only for a brief period during the year. It is believed that Daksha Yaga was performed in this temple. Once Poonthanam reached Kottiyoor temple and had a bath in the Holy River. He then worshipped Lord Shiva, felt happy and stayed there for a few days. He recited Bhagavatham every day in front of the deity. There is an interesting portion called “KARHICHITH” in Bhagavatham in the tenth chapter wherein Krishna asks his wife Rukmini “Why did you get married to me though I am just a shepherd? You would have had much better life if you had married the King Sishupala.” Hearing this Rukmini faints and the Lord consoles her. This part is described very well in Bhagavatham with profound meaning. Poonthanam finished reading this part of the Chapter and kept the Bookmark at the end. The next day he found the bookmark at beginning of the same chapter. So Poonthanam read it for the second time. Miraculously the Bookmark was found at the beginning of this Chapter eventhough he had kept it at the end of the Chapter everday. It happened to be the last day of the year when the temple was getting closed. Poonthanam some how left his Bhagavatham inside the temple which he realized it later and rushed to the temple to take it back. The door was closed but he could hear some body chanting the Bhagavatham Tenth Chapter where his Bookmark was kept. Curious he was and peeped through the Key Hole and saw Lord Shiva himself chanting Srimad Bhagavatham with Goddess Parvathi listening. Tears flowed from their eyes out of devotion. Poonthanam stood there outside and listened the entire chapter being read aloud by Lord Shiva himself. At the end Lord Shiva asked Parvathi “was my reading as good as that of Poonthanam’s?”. Parvathi promptly replied that it was not on par with that of Poonthanam’s recitation. This episode shows the love with which Poonthanam read Srimad Bhagavatham. Journey to Vaikuntam Poonthanam was getting old and he could not travel much. Hence he remained at home and was spending most of his time in reading Bhagavatham. One day Poonthanam said “Guruvayurappan is visiting us tomorrow and hence the whole house needs to be decorated.” Saying so he got on to prepare himself for receiving the Lord of Guruvayur. The family members felt that he had gone crazy. The next day he could see a plane coming towards his home. He was agog with joy and went out to welcome Guruvayurappan. The family members thought that he had gone berserk. He then told his wife to get ready to go to Vaikuntam. His wife did not took it seriously and told him that she had to do a some more things in the kitchen. A maid who was listening to their conversation asked Poonthanam whether she could join him. Poontham gladly agreed. After a few minutes Poonthanm’s wife finished her chores and came out to find that Poonthanam was missing and the maid dead!. Yes Poonthanam was personally taken by Lord Guruvayurappan to his eternal abode Vaikunta. Such is the kind of devotion of Poonthanam.

Let’s all worship poonthanam, read Jnaanapana and get the divine blessings of Lord Guruvayurappan.

Thiru-Naamangal Navin Mel Eppozhum Priyiyathe Irikkanam Nammude Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardhana Krishna Govinda Narayana Hare Achuthananda Govinda madhava Sachithanda Narayana hare. Acknowledgements

[Major] Sri V. Venkat Narayanan – For making this article colorful by doing the necessary rangoli work.

Sri V. Ramachandran - Whose was instrumental in writing this article about Poonthanam. Bibliography/Reference

Vaishnava Samhita – Sri Sri Krishna Premi Swamigal Kathai Malar - Sri Ramakrishna Publications Soaked in Bhakti – Sulochana Pattabhiraman – The Hindu Article Poonthanam in Tamil – The Hindu Article Bhakti poet of the masses – C.S. Krishnadas – The Hindu Article Jnana Pana – Sri P. R. Ramachander Poonthanam Nampoothiri – Sri Gopala Krishnan – Poonthanam – // Poonthanam - Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri - // Hindu Devotional Blog

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