Jñāneśvarī – Unsullied by Time (Part 1)

Jñāneśvarī – Unsullied by Time[1]

 

Bahiṇā-bāi, the poetess rich in experiential wisdom, has rightly said that the foundation of the bhakti-temple of Maharashtra was laid by Jñāneśvara, the stone-structure was Nāmadeva, the pillars were Ekanātha, and Tukārāma rose to become the śikhara (rising tower; literally, ‘pinnacle’) of the temple[2]; “Jaya māya Jñānadevī!”[3] – thus she has sung praises of him in ecstasy.

Jñāneśvara is widely known for being the founding father of the Bhāgavata tradition in Maharashtra. In him we see a culmination of the Nātha tradition, the Śāṅkara [Advaita] tradition, and the bhakti tradition. His vision was naturally gifted with samanvya (harmonious reconciliation) without dichotomies as regards to various prasthānas (schools of thought). Nāmadeva famously said, “Viveka sāgara sakhā majhā Jñāneśvara[4] – My friend Jñāneśvara is an ocean of sad-asad-viveka (the wisdom to discern between the real and the unreal). Tukārāma has said, “Jñāniyāñcā guru rājā mahārāv[5] – Among the wise ones, he is a guru and a peerless emperor! Ekanātha has showered praises on Jñānadeva, calling him a “śreṣṭha-mūrti[6] – an embodiment of greatness.

The Jñāneśvarī is not merely a work of philosophy composed for the sake of explaining the Bhagavad-gītā. It is also the first major work of Marathi literature.

taiseṃ jī na baḍabaḍīṃ padācī kora na sāṃḍīṃ
parī mūḻadhvanīṃciye vāḍhīnimitta jāhaloṃ[7]

I’m not chattering sans reason; I haven’t
deviated from the original meaning of the words
I’ve only tried to capture their essence in my work
I’m only an instrument in doing so!

There is a befitting synonym to this work – ‘Bhāvārtha-dīpikā’ (suggesting that it captures the meaning of the spirit of the Gītā and illumines our path to comprehension).

 

People’s Respect for the Work

The Jñāneśvarī is an ever-glowing lamp that has shed light on the depths of the meaning of the Gītā in the language of the common masses, i.e. Marathi. There is no dearth of people who have memorized all the nine thousand ovīs[8] composed by Jñāneśvara. The language he has used is deśi (regional dialect) but it has captured the profundity of the Gītā. In fact, it transcends all language barriers.

mājhā marāṭhāci bolu kautukeṃ pari amṛtāteṃhī
paijāṃ jiṃkeṃ aisīṃ akṣareṃ rasikeṃ
meḻavīna[9]

My language is Marathi, but it can
well compete with amṛta and surpass it
Because of the aesthetic usage of words
that I’ve put together

 

jaiseṃ śāradīciye caṃdrakaḻe māji amṛtakaṇa koṃvaḻe
te veṃcitī maneṃ mavāḻeṃ cakoratalageṃ[10]

 

Like Cakora fledglings skilfully drink the amṛta-like tender rays of the full moon in autumn,
listeners should experience the meaning of the Gītā using their sharp intellect

 

Even after seven hundred years of its composition, thousands of families perform a nitya-pārāyaṇa (daily recitation) of the Jñāneśvarī, even today. There aren’t many works that have earned such respect from the masses. The philosophy-tree that originated because of Jñāneśvara had its ramifications on the Vārkarī tradition[11]. The annual Vārkarī-yātra that proceeds from Dehu—the birthplace of Saint Tukārāma—and heads towards Āḻandī—the samādhi (final resting place) of Jñāneśvara—and the procession of Jñāneśvara’s pādukās (sandals) that starts from Āḻandī and heads towards Pandharpur on the Jyeṣṭha-bahula Aṣṭami (eighth day of the lunar fortnight starting from the new moon in the month of Jyeṣṭha), accompanied by a continuous, energetic singing of abhaṅgs  (devotional poetry in Marathi; the poetic meter is a variation of the Ovī) – these are elevating experiences in the lives of āstikas (those endowed with faith in the Vedas).

 

Gītā – the Mother

The Jñāneśvarī is hailed asmāulī’ (mother) in Maharashtra. Jñānadeva was neither a yogi nor a sādhaka (seeker, practitioner) but is considered to be a jñāna-rāja, the emperor of wisdomso says Nāmadeva out of his reverence in his abhaṅgJñānarāja mājhī yogyāṃcī māulī[12] Just as little children enjoy and forget themselves in their mother’s lap, hordes of devotees too experience untainted bliss when they are enveloped by the Jñāneśvarī. Jñāneśvara considered Pāṇḍuraṅga—his beloved deity—as his mother. The motherly love that he thus attained, he shared it freely with all other seekers. Just as a child that spends all its time with its mother receives unconditional motherly love constantly, one who takes refuge in the Bhagavad-gītā definitely gains the guidance required to tread the rightful path of life. This is the assurance given by Jñāneśvara. His request and his command was “Maga mātāci te bhajāvī[13] – always respect your mother.

devī lakṣmīyevaḍhī javaḻika parī tehī na dekhe yā
premāceṃ sukha। āji kṛṣṇasnehāceṃ pika
yāteṃci āthī[14]

Even Lakṣmī-devī, always in the company of Mahāviṣṇu
did not obtain such love-laden peace
Such is the extraordinary compassion that
Arjuna received from Śrīkṛṣṇa!

Jñānadeva says that the fruit of all the good deeds that he had performed in his previous births is the refuge he got in the island of Bhagavad-gītā in this birth.

Jñāneśvara has employed the word ‘mother’ as a technical identifier to allude to all those things he considers extraordinary. He has called even his guru as ‘mother.’

Jñāneśvara composed his commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā at an astonishingly young age. No other evidence seems necessary to establish that this work was a result of divine inspiration.

heṃ gītānāma vikhyāta sarvavāṅmayāceṃ mathita
ātmā jeṇeṃ hastagataratna hoya[15]

 

Upon churning the ocean of words called the Vedas,
what was obtained was the amṛta of Bhagavad-Gītā
Upon consuming this, knowledge of the Self
becomes as sure as a jewel placed in one’s palm

 

buddhyādikeṃ ḍoḻaseṃ heṃ jayāceṃ kā kaḍavaseṃ
mī sarvadraṣṭāhī diseṃ pāhalā jayā[16]

 

In the face of this wisdom,
all worldly knowledge driven by the intellect
becomes as insignificant as an atom
He who enters this temple finds no distinction between
Experience, Experiencer, and Experienced!

paiṃ jaḻā āpaṇapeṃ detāṃ lavaṇa bhulaleṃ paṃḍusutā
kīṃ āghaveṃ tayāceṃ hotāṃ na lajeci teṃ[17]

 

Once salt is dissolved in water,
it loses the memory of its previous identity
It feels no shame in merging with water

 

This is at once an extraordinary example of deep spiritual insight and talented poetic expression.

 


[1] The original Kannada essay, written to commemorate seven hundred years of the composition of the Jñāneśvarī, appeared in the 1990 October issue of the Utthāna monthly.

ಡಾ॥ಎಸ್ಆರ್ರಾಮಸ್ವಾಮಿ. ಕವಳಿಗೆ (೨೦೧೪). ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರೋತ್ಥಾನಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ, ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು. ಪು. ೬೩–೭೬ (“ಕಾಲದಿಂದಮಾಸದ ‘ಜ್ಞಾನೇಶ್ವರೀ’”)

[2] संतकृपा झाली। इमारत फळा आली॥

ज्ञानदेवें रचिला पाया। उभारीलें देवालया॥

नामा तयाचा किंकर। त्यानें केला हा विस्तार॥

जनार्दन एकनाथ। खांब दिधला भागवत॥

तुका झालासे कळस। भजन करा सावकाश॥

बहिणी म्हणे फडकती ध्वजा। निरूपणा केलें वोजा॥

– संत बहिणाबाई

[3] “जय माय ज्ञानदेवी, शब्दरत्न जान्हवी।…”

[4] विवेक सागर सखा मझा ज्ञानेश्वर

[5] ज्ञानियाञ्चा गुरु राजा महाराव

[6] श्रेष्ठमूर्ति

[7] तैसें जी न बडबडीं। पदाची कोर न सांडीं। 

परी मूळध्वनींचिये वाढी। निमित्त जाहलों॥ – Jñāneśvarī 13.854

All verses of the Jñāneśvarī have been taken from the Gita Press edition of the text.

[8] The Jñāneśvarī is composed in a poetic meter called Ovī.

A verse set to the Ovī meter is typically a couplet that is divided into four lines. The first three lines have an ending rhyme and the same number of mātras (shortest recognizable utterances), typically consisting of eight to ten syllables. The fourth line doesn’t rhyme with the rest and has fewer mātras, typically consisting of four to six syllables.

[9] माझा मराठाचि बोलु कौतुकें। परि अमृतातेंही पैजां जिंकें।

ऐसीं अक्षरें रसिकें। मेळवीन॥ – Jñāneśvarī 6.14

[10] जैसें शारदीचिये चंद्रकळे। माजि अमृतकण कोंवळे।

ते वेंचिती मनें मवाळें। चकोरतलगें॥ – Jñāneśvarī 1.56

[11] Vārkarī (meaning ‘pilgrim’) is a tradition of Maharashtra that falls within the ambit of the larger bhakti tradition. Typically vārkarīs worship Viṭṭhala or Viṭhoba, the presiding deity of Pandharpur. Jñāneśvara, Nāmadeva, Ekanātha, and Tukārāma are the most prominent poet-sages of this tradition. Vārkarīs undertake the annual Vārī pilgrimage to Pandharpur, gathering there on the Ekādaśi (the eleventh day of the lunar month) in the śukla-pakṣa (the fortnight of the waxing moon) of Āṣāḍa (typically in late June or early July).

[12] ज्ञानराज माझी योग्यांची माउली।

 

[13] …मग माताचि ते भजावी।… – Jñāneśvarī 18.203

[14] देवी लक्ष्मीयेवढी जवळिक। परी तेही न देखे या प्रेमाचें सुख।

आजि कृष्णस्नेहाचें पिक। यातेंचि आथी॥ – Jñāneśvarī 4.9

[15] हें गीतानाम विख्यात। सर्ववाङ्मयाचें मथित।

आत्मा जेणें हस्तगत। रत्न होय॥ – Jñāneśvarī 18.1323

[16] बुद्ध्यादिकें डोळसें। हें जयाचें का कडवसें।

मी सर्वद्रष्टाही दिसें। पाहला जया॥ – Jñāneśvarī 18.1325

[17] पैं जळा आपणपें देतां। लवण भुललें पंडुसुता।

कीं आघवें तयाचें होतां। न लजेचि तें॥ – Jñāneśvarī 18.1350

 

 

To be continued....

 

Author(s)

About:

Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of greats like D. V. Gundappa and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.