Significance of Sreemad Bhagavatham

published on November 23, 2009

V N Gopalakrishnan

Sreemad Bhagavatham is a Malayalam rendering of the Sanskrit Bhagavat written by Veda Vyasa in praise of Lord Vishnu. Ezhuthachan (1475 to 1550 A.D) acclaimed as the father of Malayalam language has translated the work in 43,000 lines in the format of Kilippattu (Song of the Bird). Veda Vyasa’s Bhagavat is a major text in the Bhakti movement as it concentrates on devotion to Lord Vishnu as the means for Moesha. In giving popularity to the Bhakti cult, Ezhuthachan’s work has done great service. Bhakti form is reflected in most of his compositions. Sreemad Bhagavatam emphasise on achieving Moksha (Salvation) by cultivating relationship with Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna. While Bhakti Yoga is given importance, Samkhya Yoga and Advaita Vedanta are also given prominence.

Bhakti is presented as a path of yoga, or “union with the divine”. While classical yoga attempts to shut down the mind and senses, the Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavatam teaches that the focus of the mind is transformed by filling the mind with thoughts of Lord Krishna. Bhagavatam discusses the merging of the individual soul with the Absolute Brahman, a distinctly advaitic or non-dualistic philosophy. It teaches that simply following Vedic injunctions that do not produce devotion towards God are of transitory benefit and are fruitless labour. Suka describes different meditations on the gross and subtle aspects of God, in a way similar to the Yoga Sutra.

Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan popularly known as Ezhuthachan is compared to Valmiki and Veda Vyasa of Sanskrit literature and Tulsidas of Hindi literature. While writing Sreemad Bhagavatham, his mind was firmly established in a realization of the unity of all-man, god and the universe. It is the best Purana for knowing the truth of the Self. He also included excellent texts, episodes, and epithets of god and methods of meditation. He was primarily a poet, moral teacher and a philosopher. He belonged to the Vaishnavite movement as Vaishnavism was powerful during his time in South India. He has extolled Lord Vishnu as the Supreme Lord and his name ‘Narayana’ a panacea for all human miseries. He targeted the ordinary people and composed many works for them by including all good things with a strong sense of righteousness and worship.

Ezhuthachan wrote Adhyatma Ramayanam and Mahabharatam in the style of Kilippattu, which has laid the foundation for a modern poetic language in Malayalam. The script for the present Malayalam also gained popularity through these two classics. ‘Ezhuthachan’ is likely to be a title bestowed on a great teacher or caste name as confirmed by Indologists Dr A.C. Burnell and F.W.Ellis. Ezhuthachan was born in a Nair family called ‘Thunchath’ in Trikandiyur near Tirur in Malappuram district of Kerala.  The person who taught ezhuthu or writing was called Ezhuthassan, or Ezhuthachan. Ezhuthachans also used to copy important Grandhas (works) apart from teaching. Copying original works in Thaliyola (palmyra leaves) was regarded as an art in those days. During the Vijaya Dasami day, people from far and near bring their children to Thunjan Parambu to initiate them to the first Malayalam alphabet.

Ezhuthachan wrote these classics as if made to sing by the Kili, the bird and hence the style came to be known as Kilippattu. The word literally means the “Song of a Bird”. In this style the work is narrated by a bird on the request of the poet. A theory holds that Ezhuthachan was influenced by a practice that had prevailed among devotional poets in early Tamil who used birds as intermediaries in their poetic craft. Another theory is that Ezhuthachan revered the memory of the great sage Suka, the expounder of the Puranas. Hence he chose a Suka (parrot) to sing his works into existence. The same became popular as a literary composition. He is also said to have written Uttara Ramayanam, Harinama Kirtanam, Chintaratnam, Brahmanda Puranam, Devi Mahatmyam, Irupatthinaalu Vruttham, Shatamukha Ramayanam, and Kaivalya Navaneetam.

Ezhuthachan’s place among the poets and teachers of Kerala has been that of a Kulapati or supreme master and it has not been challenged by the changing norms of poetry. He was conscious of a moral and spiritual purpose and all his poetic talents were directed towards it. He was a great educative force. Apart from the spiritual power with which he reformed and dynamised the people, he also contributed immensely to their education in the religious classics of India.

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