BHAJA GOVINDAM-A look beyond the melody

Sankaracharya pratima Kedarnath 2001
  • Author shares few teachings from the Bhaja Govindam, Holy Gita and practical learnings from Heartfullness that he practices.

This blog does not purport to be a detailed commentary on the hymn Bhaja Govindam composed by Shri Adi Shankara Bhagwatpada.  At the outset, I consider myself to be unequipped to make any effort in offering yet another commentary on the subject.  On the other hand, there are so many wonderful commentaries on Bhajagovindam by eminent personalities, which amplify what Adi Shankara Bhagwatpada sought to convey through this thought-provoking hymn.  This piece is aimed at conveying my views on what an ordinary person can practically consider doing in the current era, after listening to this hymn and assimilating its meaning.


I have beautiful memories of my stay in Chennai during my youth. As I walked through its streets, I loved the fragrance of Jasmine flowers and the strong smell of freshly brewed coffee. I also enjoyed devotional music emanating from its temples, homes and shops.


One such devotional hymn played out was the Bhaja Govindam, an eighth-century composition in Sanskrit by Adi Shankara Bhagwatpada and his disciples.  The hymn sung by Bharat Ratna, MS Subhalakshmi, a doyen of Carnatic Music is the most popular one.

Sankaracharya Samadhi Kedarnath, 2001. 

The story of Bhaja Govindan has been beautifully explained here  


The Acharya is believed to have composed the Bhajagovindam during his famous pilgrimage to Kashi (Benares).  The fourteen disciples are said to have accompanied him. 

'The story goes that when he was walking along the streets of Kashi, he was pained to observe an elderly man trying hard to learn Sanskrit grammar.  At his advanced age, the remaining valuable little time of his life should have been used for worshipping God, instead of learning a language. This prompted Sri Sankara to burst out this composition.” 


“The Acharya urges the man to turn towards God and sing His glory instead of trying to learn a language.  A censure is implied when the Acharya calls the man a fool (Moodhamathe).  It may be added here that the tone of Bhajagovindam is not at all soft, but somewhat striking, in spite of its exotic poetic beauty and perfection of composition. 

“This is no wonder because such a treatment is required to wake up man from his slumber.” A milder approach would delay the matter.


“The matter is urgent, as the Acharya explains in the next verse, for, when the hour of death approaches without any forewarning, the hard-learned verses of grammar are not going to save the poor soul.  Hence the song rightly starts without any preamble.”


As a child, we were taught this hymn in spiritual classes and would often recite it at home. But despite the efforts of parents and teachers, I could understand the real meaning only later in life.


A few months back, I was going through this version of the hymn, containing its essence. Here one can hear Bhajagovindam in the unique voice of Bharat Ratna, the late Smt. MS Subhalakshmi, a doyen of Carnatic Music. The video also displayed the meaning of the song in English.


I went through the English translation of the hymn once again in recent times. This time the urgency conveyed in the Adi Shankara Bhagwatpada’s verses struck a chord. I reflected on the whole matter and now express my views. Look beyond the melody

MS Subbalakshmi ji. 

The bhajan in MS Subbalakshmi’s voice is captivating. The melody touches the soul. Nevertheless, when we listen to such wonderful music, especially spiritual bhajans and hymns, we ought to analyse the meaning of the songs and see how we can apply them to change our lives for the better.  


If I consider that Bhajagovindam is addressed to me, every time I listen to this beautiful rendering, I recognise that I am called a fool at least a dozen times (Mudhamathe). Any person with self-respect who listens to Bhajagovindam every day is likely to resent labelled a fool several times. Looked at from this angle, if one listens to Bhajagovindam even once – understanding its full meaning – it should be sufficient to galvanise a listener into action.


The urgency conveyed in the hymn applies to all–young and old because one does not know when death will strike. 


The Action Plan

1. Give up attachments and renounce comforts


It is given in verse 181 is as follows:-

sura ma.ndira taru muula nivaasaH

shayyaa bhuutala majinaM vaasaH .

sarva parigraha bhoga tyaaga

kasya sukhaM na karoti viraagaH ..

Take your residence in a temple or below a tree, wear the deerskin for the dress, and sleep with mother earth as your bed. Give up all attachments and renounce all comforts. Blessed with such vairagya, could any fail to be content? Stanza attributed to Nityananda.

But the problem is that we are already earning a livelihood and providing for the family, including parents and children. The solution given in the above verse seems to be impracticable for ordinary people in general.  Giving up attachments and comforts is indeed difficult for a normal human being.


2. Seek a Capable Guide

Jagadguru Shri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Mahaswamigal (1894–1994) also known as the Sage of Kanchi or Mahaperiyava has specifically mentioned that the Hymn starts with “Bhaja Govindam chanted three times and in saying thus at least once Adi Shankara Bhagwatpada  must have invoked his Guru, whose name was Govindapada….”2


In verse 31 of Bhajagovindam, Adi Shankara Bhagwatpada appears to express a fervent hope that we will find a Guru who will awaken our inner aspirations and help us to seek the Lord in the innermost core of our heart.1


gurucharaNaambuja nirbhara bhakataH

saMsaaraadachiraadbhava muktaH .

sendriyamaanasa niyamaadevaM

drakshyasi nija hR^idayasthaM devam. .. (31)


Oh, devotee of the lotus feet of the Guru! May thou be soon free from Samsara. Through disciplined senses and controlled mind, thou shalt come to experience the Indwelling Lord of your heart!


Seeking a Guru of calibre is also advised in the Bhagwat Gita as can be seen from the following text-3


tadviddhi pranipaatena pariprashnena sevayaa upadekshyanti te jnaanam jnaaninas tattwadarshinah // 4.34 //

Learn it by prostration, by inquiry and by service. The wise who have realized the Truth will teach you in that Knowledge.


Thus, the need to approach a Guru of Calibre who can help to realise our inner aspirations are indicated in the Bhajagovindam and the Bhagwat Gita.


The problem of breaking free from worldly attachments remains as does the issue of finding a Guru of calibre. This could be the reason for one staying satisfied with the melody of the hymn and not going beyond. Merely listening to or reciting the words of scriptures may not however bring a solution to the problem. Understanding the meaning of the scriptures and due action is required.


Bhagwat Gita Shows the Way

The Bhagwat Gita helps us to find solutions to the problems of life. In the current context the following two stanzas (among many others) provide practical guidance -3

yastwindriyaani manasaa niyamyaarabhate'rjuna karmendriyaih karmayogam asaktah sa vishishyate // 3.7 //

But he who restrains his senses with his mind and directs his organs of action to work, with no feeling of attachment - he, O Arjuna, is indeed superior.


tasmaad asaktah satatam kaaryam karma samaachara asakto hyaacharan karma param aapnoti poorushah // 3.19 //

Therefore, always do without attachment the work you have to do; for by performing action without attachment, a man reaches the Supreme.


To enable a better appreciation of work done in dedication to and in remembrance of the Lord, take a few examples from “Talks on the Gita”  by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, venerable freedom fighter, philosopher, saint and above all a great karma yogi. 4 He narrates stories from scriptures, which exemplify karmic actions and their effect.


In her Swamyawara, the Goddess Lakshmi decided to marry the one person who did not covet her. She went around and saw Lord Vishnu lying in perfect contentment on Adishesha. Lord Vishnu never coveted anything. She placed her garland around his neck and is permanently seated at his feet. Thus it is said that Lakshmi (the Goddess of prosperity) showers wealth only on those who do not hanker after it. (Page 46)


Sudhama, a childhood friend of Lord Krishna, went to Him with the offering of parched rice. It might not have been worth a farthing, but to Sudhama, it was priceless. It was the stamp of his love and devotion on them, which as it were, had charged them with magical potency (Page 46).


This offering made to the Lord, charged with love and devotion, turned the status of Sudhama from a pauper to a wealthy man. (Read the story of Krishna and Sudhama here


The story of Rukmini and Satyabhama, the two wives of Lord Krishna weighing the Lord himself is a very famous one. Read here


Rukmini put on the scale a single leaf, of Tulsi (the holy basil plant) which equalled the weight of Lord Krishna while heaps of gold ornaments were placed on the scale by Satyabhama, proved to be insufficient to weigh Him. This was because the Tulsi leaf placed by Rukmini was full of devotion. It was no longer an ordinary leaf, It was charged with devotion. This is the true action of a Karmayogi. (Page 48)


Acharya Vinobha Bhave mentions that desireless selfless Karmayoga is attained only when outward actions are complemented with inward action of the purification of the mind.


My Personal Experience

I have been practising a system of Raja Yoga comprising meditation and other practices prescribed by Heartfulness Institute. (For full details see


In this system, individual efforts are backed by the unique feature of Yogic Transmission or Pranahuti which is transmitted by a Heartfulness Trainer or the Global Guide into the heart of the aspirant.


During meditation, as we delve deep into our hearts with the help of Pranahuti, we feel an inner connection with our Self. This felt condition, which can be retained for extended periods even after the meditation is over, is called the “meditative state”.


With this meditative state, we can perform our duties without the emotional burden caused by worldly attachments. I make this statement not out of theoretical knowledge but after the practical experience of the condition. It is also backed by the experience of thousands of Heartfulness aspirants located in more than 100 countries.  Guidance is provided by Revered Shri Kamlesh Patel, the Global Guide of Heartfulness, Shri Kamlesh Patel, (affectionately known as Daaji.) Besides, over 14000 trainers of Heartfulness Movement offer their services voluntarily and provide free training to the aspirants.


Just like you and me, the Heartfulness practitioners from across the globe include ordinary individuals-workers, salaried employees, doctors, teachers, other professionals, businessmen, industrialists, students, sportspersons, homemakers, farmers etc., all trying to fulfil their worldly duties while remaining in a meditative state. Through this meditative state, it is possible to regulate one’s mind and perform duties without attachments, as prescribed in Bhajagovindam and the Bhagwat Gita. 


This is the Heartfulness Way, which prescribe a set of specific practices eminently suitable for current times, but which are based on the wisdom of the centuries.  They enable ordinary human folk to carry on with their daily lives and simultaneously fulfil the spiritual obligations as is outlined in Bhajagovindam and the Bhagwat Gita. I reiterate this can be substantiated by personal experience only.


In his book Designing Destiny 5, the “meditative state”, its effects and benefits are vividly described by Daaji as under - 


During morning meditation, we achieve a certain level of consciousness. When we hold on to it and carry on with our day-to-day activities, we retain a grip over the morning condition with open eyes…. Once serenity and purity are created within through meditation, we learn how to hold on to them. This act is known as "meditation with open eyes" or "constant remembrance" in which we carry the condition received during meditation throughout the day into all aspects of our life……… (Page 42)


The more we retain the meditative state after morning meditation, the easier it is to live a life in which we don’t form impressions*. And we already know the method to do this. Meditating with eyes open. In this state we are drowned in love, resting in absolute osmosis with the Guide (Guru), and going about all other activities in this state. This demands a conscious lifestyle. (Page 58)


*Impressions harden into Samskaras (Karmic blueprint). Unless the samskaras are erased and further accretion of Samskaras are arrested, they will keep pulling us back into the cycle of birth and death.  In Heartfulness System, various levels of “cleaning" take place with the help of Guide (Guru) to erase samskaras. Remaining absorbed in the meditative state prevents further formation of Samskaras. 


Not the end but a new beginning


I pray that all of us may imbibe the real spirit of Bhajagovindam. May we all understand the real purpose of human life and find a Guru of Calibre who will take you to the Goal.


If there are any factual errors, do write in and I will correct.


Author is a retired banker based in South India.



1. The verses of Bhajagovindam and its meaning has been taken from here 

2. The Guru Tradition pg. 5 of 2008 edition.

3. Bhagwat Gita Text and Translation has been taken from here

4. Talks on the Gita (by Spiritual Hierarchy Publication Trust) 2019 edition.

5. Designing Destiny. 

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