Monday, March 08, 2010

Shri RamChandra Kripalu Bhajman (Prayer by Tulsidas, with translation and notes)

Introduction (for the uninitiated, for foreigners, for skeptics and for believers)
Ramayana is the most important and influential epic ever written. The epic has defined the code of Indian customs and morality for at least twenty to twenty-five centuries, and  if we compare by sheer numbers, Ramayana has been the book or saga that has affected, influenced, educated, enlightened over one-fifth of the humanity that has existed since it was written. While Illiad and Odessey claim a greater fame in the West, among ancient epics, only Mahabharata (which is longer, includes stories of the great battle between the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas, the whole history and genealogy of kings, people and beasts that existed in India or Bharatvarsha before its time, the life-story of Lord Krishna, with his romances, battles and finally also his conversation with Arjuna, in form of Bhagavad Gita: which rephrases the essence of classic Hindu-Vedic-Indic philosophy, and includes many more stories, discussions on nature of being, good and evil and so on), only Mahabharata comes close to Ramayana in grandeur and impact on the combined psyche and daily living of a large section of humanity. 

While Valmiki wrote Ramayana originally in Sanskrit, almost every major poet of Indian subcontinent has rewritten, reinvented, translated, transcribed, memorized and rephrased the whole epic in the language closest to his age/time and his heart. Tulsidas brought out his version of Ramcharitmanas in sixteenth century in a language that can be thought of a bridge between Sanskrit and Hindi of present times, as well as between the khadi boli (spoken language) of his time and  the divinity. The hymns from Tulsidas are imbibed into our culture to the extent that we cannot usually trace these back to his writing. The cultural identity, diversity and evolution of India, I believe, can be tracked by looking at the versions of Ramayana and by watching versions of Ramlila in different villages, towns, cities, streets spread not only in Indian subcontinent, but also in Eastern Asian countries like Cambodia.

Ramayana or the travels of Rama or the epic story of Ramchandra, the obedient son of King Dashratha, son-in-law of sage-king Janaka, the loving husband of Sita {incarnatation of Goddess Laxmi, who appeared out from earth (and not from womb)},  the glorious archer-warrior who destroyed all-powerful demon Ravana and his monstrous kith and kin, the protector of poor and downtrodden, who ate berries picked by untouchable Shabri, who brought Ahalya back into life, who killed Bali to make Sugreev the king of monkeys and then raised an army of monkeys to defeat powerful demons, the just king who did not even hesistate before exiling his own wife to uphold the law of the land, the eternal legend of the incarnation of Vishnu, MaryadaPurushottam: the one who respected and knew the bounds/limits of ethical/right conduct, and is the greatest or best among men...  Even the description of Ramayana requires an epic to be written down. Some of the greatest Indian festivals are based on the story of Ramayana, and many names, pilgrimage centers, temples, fasts, rituals, and an endless source of karuna / piety and priti / love emerges from this one grand poem. 

About the translation

In this post, I present a sincere and humble attempt at the translation of a prayer invoking Bhagwan Ram (and I will continue to work throughout my life to provide a better translation for my favorite  poems, hymns and verses in Hindi and Sanskrit).  Bhagwan is sometimes translated as lord, but the regard for a Lord is often due to fear or due to custom, and regard for Bhagwan Ram arises from the admiration of his deeds and virtues, as well as his spiritual, conceptual, physical and emotional beauty.  Fear never features in admiration, dedication for Ram. While the person is submissive in prayer, the submission comes from the recognizition of something greater than one self, something grander than mere personality of the own self and of the diety. Hence old poets called themselves Das, or slave; but again slave is a tainted word, for slavery comes with forced subjugation and denial of basic rights to the slave... where 'das' is voluntarily curtailing his personal desires and demands to present himself or herself in the service of someone or something. Tulsidas, Surdas.. Kabirdas.. In Ramayana, Hanuman is presented as a perfect and appropriate example of being a seeker, a sage, a das, a disciple, a 'servant of greater man and cause', a believer, a doer, a warrior and his greatness lies in using his strength for the service of others. The Hanuman Chalisa again underlies this belief system, this thought process, this devotion. The essential lessons of Ramayana are piety scores over pride, sacrifice over selfishness, obedience over defiance, fidelity over lust, and the ways of just, even if besotted by setbacks and hardships, bring them joy, riches, victories and love in the end. As Tulsidas was one of the greatest or perhaps the greatest poet in Bhakti (unbridled devotion for 'beloved' God) tradition in medieval world, his verses approach divinity through unbounded affection, where every beautiful form is attributed to the Godhead, and the final goal of the worshipper is tocease being a separate entity.

In this translation, I have tried to use words that are closest in meaning to the original. But Indian Sansar is not Western World, as in the West, Man lives in the World as he is exiled from Eden, brought down by his following the advice of Eve and Snake. World in West is a region that man inhabits once, and his deeds here decide whether he will go to heaven or Dante's hell in the end, on a judgment day. Indian Sansar is a stage, where beings appear in different acts, each performance determines the role in next birth, and the woes of the world are left in the world: the being seeks to reach  union with perfect being after which there is no need for further performances. Hindu Mann is not just mind, Indian/Hindu aatma is not just soul and Anand is not just bliss. Anand is state of perfect joy, the joy of child happy in its mothers arms is a partial manifestation of it, the joy of person who finds that his/her beloved loves him equally is a partial manifestation, joy of father whose son wins a medal or grand praise or prize, is a partial manifestation. In complete manifestation, anand is a joy without bounds, an end in itself, a manifestation of the unmanifest (God), unity with both nothingness and with everything... ultimate goal of man is Sat-Chit-Ananda (poorly translated as Truth-Beauty-Joy), another name for Bhagwan). The lack of proper words in English shows that Indian, Hindu, non-Western notions, beliefs, philosophy, lifestyle, religion, actions are best analyzed, understood, taught, transmitted, expressed and paraphrased in Indian, Hindi/ Sanskrit, language. Even there, the language can take us only so far...  

Sanskrit (better to say Samskrit, for Sam is Good, Krit Made/Designed), as I have written in posts earlier, contains many words that carry contradictory connotations. The word kama means both love and lust, attachment of spirit as well as of flesh, and in poetry, the use of such words allows several levels of meaning. Since detached action, which can be identified as something done for its own sake, irrespective of what ultimate result is, is identified as a virtue, kama in both or any meaning can be undesirable. Yet according to Ved Vyas in Mahabharata, the Grihasta Ashram, or married state, is the best phase of life; grander thanthe Brahmacharya (abstinence before marriage) as well as Sanyasa (renouncing world, family at old age). The interplay between kama as a life-force as well as materialism and vairagya (abstinence) or tyaag (self-sacrifice) or selflessness as symbol of spirituality is a constant theme in novels like Banbhatta ki ataamkatha by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Gunahon ka Devta by Dharamveer Bharati, Chitralekha, etc. The similes in the verse below abound in references to lotus. It must be remembered that lotus plays a central role in Hindu mythology: Laxmi sits on Lotus, Humanity is derived from lotus in some versions of mythology, and lotus, because it manages to remain clean in spite of growing in mud, always invokes beauty, purity, divinity. The verse evokes a richly decorated, fully-limbed, handsome physical image of Ram; but the symbolism is, as always, only to create a focus on the deity, on Rama. The last couplet reminds us that the ultimate being, the Godhead, the joy of Mann (Mind or that element in us that desires and hesitates, thinks and meditates), the joy of Muni (wise), of Shankara (of devout, of godly beings), and so on, is within our own heart... or we ask of Rama to reside within, and save us from fears and vices. The aatma, the soul, the self (that goes beyond ego, body, knowledge gained through senses) is where the mighty deity is requested to reside. Perhaps the prayer will be realized only when the self is ready to receive the one desired, and hence it is useful to invoke him through song and symbol...

Shri Ram Chandra Kripalu Bhaj Mann

(Listen to Lata sing the Bhajan on Youtube)

O (Mann) mind! Invoke the benign Shree Ramachandra,
           the rescuer from the fears of the harsh sansar / world.
Whose eyes are blooming lotuses, face and hands lotus-like,
            whose feet are like lotus -- hued in crimson dawn light.
His image exceeds myriad Kaamdevs (/Eros),
           magnificent like a fresh cloud, blue-colored.
His amber-robes appear like lightening -- captivating & pure.
            Revere this groom of Janaka's daughter.
Sing hymns of the brother of destitute, the Lord of the daylight,
           of the destroyer of the demons Danu-Diti & their bloodline,
Of this progeny of Raghu, the limitless 'anand' (joy),
           Kosala's moon, sing hymns of Dasharatha's boy.
His head bears the crown, ear pendants,  forehead tilak (mark),
           his adorned, shapely limbs are resplendent,
Arms extend to the knees, he is studded with bows & arrows,
           he won battles against Khar-Dooshan rogues, 
Thus says Tulsidas, O joy of Shankara,
           Shesh (Nag), (Mann) Mind and (Muni) Sages,
Reside in the lotus of my heart, O slayer
            of the troops of vices like Kaama and others.

श्रीरामचन्द्र कृपालु भजु मन हरण भव भय दारुणं।
नवकंज-लोचन कंज-मुख कर-कंज पद-कंजारुणं॥१॥

कन्दर्प अगणित अमित छबि नवनील-नीरद सुन्दरं।
पट पीत मानहु तड़ित रुचि शुचि नौमि जनक सुतावरं॥२॥

भजु दीनबंधु दिनेश दानव-दैत्यवंश-निकंदनं।
रघुनंद आनँदकंद कोशलचंद दशरथ-नंदनं॥३॥

सिर मुकुट कुण्डल तिलक चारु उदारु अंग बिभूषणं।
आजानुभुज शर-चाप-धर संग्राम-जित-खरदूषणं॥४॥

इति वदति तुलसीदास शंकर-शेष-मुनि-मन-रंजनं।
मम हृदय-कंज निवास कुरु कामादि खलदल-गंजनं॥५॥


Mayank said...

Gandhiji said "My Rama, the Rama of our prayers, is not the historical Rama, the son of Dasharatha , the king of Ayodhya". Now, this insight comes from one of the biggest devotees of Rama, one who whispered "Hey Ram" on even his last breath.

We are forced, then, to conclude that the object of worship and adulation called "Ram" which Tulsidas ... See morecreated was not meant for political objective, like imposing a distortion version of history for, say, nation or religion building. It was a purely from a devotional standpoint, since Tulsidas himself was purportedly a devotee of the highest order.

Or course, future generations might use the terms "Ram" and "Ramrajya" for political connotations but for Tulsidas that would have been a total waste.

Anonymous said...
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Piyush Ranjan said...


i came across your blog totally randomly, but i am happy that i did. seeing u quote Tulsidas, even though you have been living in the US for last 10 years nearly gave me an unknown satisfaction. Furthermore, it was exhilarating to see that you are an IITD alumnus. I myself am doing metallurgical engineering from IT-BHU, now to be converted to IIT-Varanasi, and am in the third year.

It was great to see your views about Ram, and I do acknowledge most of them, but there are a few things which are not clear to me, or rather, I feel are taken in a totally different sense that they should have been. Calling him a great man is something i would agree to, but calling him a bhagwan - a person who is above every human emotion and necessity, seems to me as something not right. I wont write my views here, for they can be a bit conflicting, but if you read this then you can surely contact me at . I would be more than happy to hear from you and we can discuss our views over the mails. Meanwhile, you might like to read my blog, . It's a collection of poems, stories and articles romantic in nature. I would be expecting your comments.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Buscall Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Do you have a word-by-word translation of theprayer? Whilst your translation is excellent I prefer knowing exactly what each word means so I can contemplate these meaning as I sing each word.

Keep up the good work.