Friday 5 August 2011

Mahabhashyam by Patanjali

People, pure at heart, tend to flare up spontaneously. But then, they cool down as quickly as they flare up. Sage Patanjali was one such person, good at heart and innocent but highly short tempered. He always took keen interest in the welfare of mankind in general.
After authoring the great Grantham (tome) Mahabhashyam (a complete treatise on grammar), he wanted to propagate its contents for the benefit of posterity. So he began to hold special classes every day for his thousand disciples just to teach them the Mahabhashyam.
One day, he was holding a session on the nuances of the text. The session was nearly complete, when, suddenly, one of his students got up and went out of the class. The sage could not tolerate such indiscipline. For a moment he was so enraged that his eyes began to emit flames of anger. The 999 other disciples, who remained in the class, were burnt to ashes in his kopagni (fire of wrath). The next moment he calmed down. But he could only repent to see his disciples burnt to ashes.
He regretted his tetchy nature because all who had perished, had grasped Mahabhashyam. Now he was left with the tough task gathering another group of disciples and coaching them from scratch. Meanwhile, the disciple, who had gone out came back. He was stunned to see what had happened. However, seeing his Guru crestfallen, he tried to console him.
“Don’t worry, oh great teacher! I am still alive. I have comprehended the substance of the great Mahabhashyam. I shall propagate the text through my disciples,” he vouched.
The sight of the disciple, who was the root cause of the tragedy, made sage Patanjali tremble again with rage. “You wretch! It’s because of you that I have lost my disciples. I don’t need you,” he screamed in anger, again fire emitting from his eyes. And lo! The one and only disciple who was left, was also burnt to ashes.
The next moment the sage began to regret his latest folly. He was feeling dejected when a Gandharva (celestial singer) came to him . “Oh great one. Please do not lose heart. I can help you. I am a Gandharva. I have attended your Mahabhashyam classes, sitting on the pipal tree near your hermitage. I would be honoured if you would kindly permit me to propagate the text,” the Gandharva prayed, hoping that the sage would be pleased.
He was surprised when the sage went livid with anger. “This is cheating. You have imbibed these lessons without my permission. I am going to curse you. You will turn into a Brahmarakshasa (evil spirit).”
“Mercy! Mercy!” cried the Gandharva and the sage started regretting his hasty action again.
“I cannot take back my curse. But I can modify it. You shall come across a scholar shortly who will be worthy enough to comprehend Mahabhashyam. Once you impart the knowledge of Mahabhashyam to him, you will be free from the curse.” Sage Patanjali blessed him before he left. The next moment, the poor Gandharva was transformed into a demon. He then climbed up the pipal tree and began his wait for the eminent one!
The next day he saw a Brahmin coming that way. The Brahmarakshasa swiftly climbed down the tree and asked him a question. The Brahmin could not give the correct answer. So the Brahmarakshasa ate him up.
The following day he saw another Brahmin. The Brahmarakshasa again climbed down the tree and put forth the same question. The Brahmin failed miserably to give the answer and he too was eaten up by the Brahmarakshasa.
This became a regular routine. Seasons rolled by. One day a Brahmin youth came in search of an eminent teacher to initiate him into asceticism. One look at him and the Brahmarakshasa realised that he was a scholar. His charismatic personality also impressed the Brahmarakshasa. He climbed down the tree and asked him the usual question.
The youth gave the correct answer instantly. The Brahmarakshasa was very pleased.
“You are the one I was waiting for. I shall teach you the text of Mahabhashyam, the great work of sage Patanjali”, he said. The Brahmin youth readily agreed, out of his zest for knowledge.
Before starting, the Brahmarakshasa gave a miraculous drug to the youth so that he would feel neither hungry nor sleepy. And then he accepted the youth as his disciple and began to teach him.
The Brahmarakshasa would write the lessons one by one on pipal leaves, sitting comfortably on the fork of a branch atop the tree, and drop them to the ground. The Brahmin youth would learn from them leaning against the heavy trunk of the tree. In six months the Brahmin boy had grasped every lesson and nuance of the holy text.
And when finally the Brahmin boy had mastered the Mahabhashiam, the Brahmarakshasa’s curse became nullified and he soon regained his celestial form. The youth prostrated before his teacher.
“Now it is your duty to propagate Mahabhashyam all over the world. By the way, I have given you a divine medicine to escape sleep and hunger. The effect of the medicine will be lost the moment you touch water. The moment that happens, you will slip into a long sleep lasting for six months. So, be very careful,” warned the Gandharva before disappearing.
The Brahmin collected all the papal leaves scattered at the foot of the tree, with the notes on them. He tied them into a bundle with the intention to copy them and preserve.
As he left the tree, he felt a new vigour in him. He journeyed across many places and one day reached the banks of a river. He looked around for a canoe but could not find one that could help him cross the river. Since the river was shallow, he decided to cross it on foot. He left his bundle on the banks and slowly stepped into the river to have a wash. And lo! He fell asleep instantly.
Luckily a young woman, bathing in the river a little away from where he lay, saw him. She was the daughter of a Shudra landlord who stayed near the banks of the river. She immediately sent her maid and summoned four male servants from her house. With their help she took him home and laid him on a cot. Hours ticked by, but the Brahmin did not show any sign of waking up.
The girl was worried. She asked her father to summon a physician. The physician came and examined the youth. “There is nothing to worry about. He is just sleeping. But I cannot say for how long he would be asleep. However, you will have to subject him to Annalepanam (applying of rice paste all over the body to compensate the lack of food) three times a day to save him from starvation. If you do it properly, he will feel fit and energetic when he wakes up,” the physician advised before taking leave.
The woman was only too happy to look after the Brahmin. She willingly took up the responsibility of administering the annalepanam on him. Months passed. After six months the Brahmin woke up. When he opened his eyes the first thing that he remembered was the bundle he had left on the river bank. He got up and rushed to the river bank. Amazingly, he found the bundle still there. But a few leaves lay scattered around and a cow was munching them one by one. However, he gathered the remaining leaves and was surprised to notice that they were still as fresh as they were when he had bundled them.
Meanwhile, the woman had sent two servants after him. They saw him looking at the cow. “Who is the owner of the cow?” he asked the servants.
“The cow belongs to our master,” they said.
He had an idea. He returned to the landlord’s house. The woman ushered him in with due respect. He felt a great deal of affection for the woman as he realised that it was she who had rescued him and looked after him during his long sleep. He told her everything about himself, starting with his meeting with the Brahmarakshasa, to the sequence of events that transpired before he fell into the spell of sleep. “But I have to save the Mahabhashyam; I have to regain the notes,” he insisted.
However, he stayed overnight, enjoying the hospitality of the landlord and his family.
At daybreak, he went to the cowshed. He collected the cow dung and carefully examined it to find the papal leaves in it. They were not damaged. He washed them in pure water. He was surprised to see the notes scribbled on them still intact and the leaves as fresh as they were when newly plucked. “No doubt, this is due to the divinity of the Gandharva and the sacredness of the Mahabhashyam”, he was certain. He then tied the leaves into a bundle and went to bid good bye to the woman.
“You have looked after me for months. I owe you my life. However except for my blessings, I am unable to give you anything in return. But I assure you, my blessings will not go futile,” he said.
“Oh great one, as you rightly said, I have served you for six long months. Now I cannot even think of serving another man in my life. Kindly accept me as your wife,” the woman pleaded.
The Brahmin was in a dilemma. He thought deeply, for a while. He said to himself. “Oh god! I have chosen to be an ascetic and to free myself from all material ties. I have been trying to concentrate only on the Brahman (supreme soul). Now I am in a dilemma. How can I reject a woman who has been so kind to me? I cannot be so cruel. But according to the Sastras, I have to marry a Brahmin lady, a Kshatriya lady and a Vaishya lady before I marry a Shudra lady. The social customs also demand it. Probably, that’s God’s will. It could also prove to be a good experience that would expose the triviality of worldly life, before plunging into Sanyasam “(asceticism)”. He had made up his mind.
“Oh noble lady, I shall definitely heed your wish. But not before I marry a Brahmin lady, a Kshatriya lady and Vaishya lady because I am bound by the Sastras to do so. Will you wait for me?” he asked.
“Yes! I will wait for you,” she said hopefully.
Accordingly, the Brahmin went back to his village and married three women, one each from Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya communities respectively, and came back to marry the Shudra woman. (In those days, Brahmins used to marry four women, one each from the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and the Shudra communities with agni (sacred fire) as the witness).
The Brahmin began to lead a family life with his four wives. He soon had four sons – Vararuchi by his Brahmin wife, Vikramaditya by his Kshatriya wife, Bhatti by his Vaishya wife and Bharthruhari by his Shudra wife. He performed all the religious ceremonies for his sons during the different stages of their growth and educated them properly, particularly in the Mahabhashyam. He taught through face to face sessions with the three sons,
except for Bharthruhari. Since Mahabhashyam was an offshoot of the Vedas, Bharthruhari had to attend the sessions seated behind a curtain. (In those days the Shudras did not have the privilege of learning the Vedas or its allied subjects. Moreover, he had to promise his father that he would never propagate the holy text among his clan.)
However, all the four sons of the Brahmin became famous – Vararuchi as a renowned scholar, Vikaramadithya as a valourous emperor, Bhatti as a noted intellectual and Bharthruhari as a celebrated grammarian.
Vararucuchi’s works Prakrutaprakasam and Dhanapanchakam are worthwhile contributions to literature. He is also the Adipitta (propagator) of Parayi Petta Panthirukulam, (divine sons born to the Brahmin Vararuchi of a Paraya (low caste) woman).
Vikramadithya became famous through his gallantry and adventures. He ruled for a long time as the emperor of Ujjaini.
Bhatti, the shrewd minister of Vikramadithya is remembered as the author of the famous ‘Bhattikavyam’ (Ramayana version)
Bharthruhari is still held in high esteem as a celebrated writer. His works like Hareteeka and Vakiapadiyam are immortal classics. He has also authored books on Vyakaranam (grammer) and Vedantham (philosophy). Scholars believe that the famous work Amarukasatakam was authored by Bharthruhari.
As for their father, once his sons were on their own, he left home and went on to became an ascetic. He was initiated into sanyas by Sreegandapadacharya and he accepted the name Govindaswami. He spent the rest of his life in the Badari ashram.
It is believed that Adi Sankara, the renowned philosopher, was a disciple of Govindaswami.
After they had mastered by Mahabhashiam, Vararuchi, Vikramaditya, Bhatti and Bhrathruhari had the ardent wish to salute Patanjali.
But they came to know that the sage had attained Moksha (supreme salvation).
So they had to satisfy themselves by penning a couplet in homage to him.
Article by : Sreekumari Ramachandran
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 August 2008
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