Welcome 2024

Let us welcome 2024 and joyfully hug it with a prayer instead of a usual resolution that we make on every new year and of course, jolly well forget about it as the first month comes to an end. And this prayer is in the form of a pithy verse that is supposed to be offered as a respectful obeisance before every reciting of Mahabharata. It runs as:

Naaraayanam namaskrtya naram caiva naroottamam I
deviim sarasvatiim caiva tatoo jayam udiirayet II

This verse directs us to first offer our salutations to Naaraayana. But who is this Naaraayana? Our Puraanaas say that — Naaraayanah paro vyaktaat — Naaraayana is that invisible, formless transcendental pure consciousness, which is the abode, support, and impeller of living beings. Maharshi directs us to first salute that Parabrahman.

He then directs us to salute the man too! This is a bit surprising, for it is all right to salute Parabrahman, but why bowing to a mortal man? Pundits, of course, have an answer: Dehoo devaalayah prooktah jiivoo devassanaatanah — the body is a temple and the life enshrined in it is the eternal Lord. So, conceptually, they mean that man is Naaraayana. Maharshi therefore proclaims that there being no difference between jeevaatma and Paramaatma, man too deserves to be saluted.

Yet, we, the mortals, feel that there is a difference. And that difference is more due to a delusion — the belief that our physical body is the real “I”. Thus, man distanced himself from Naaraayana. Hence, he remained as a mere man. So, the question is: How does a man who thinks that he is different from Naaraayana deserve a salutation along with Naaraayana?

It is perhaps to obviate this dilemma that the Maharshi tagged an adjective, naroottamam (the supermost human being) to Nara man. In other words, he is saying that it is only the best of men and Naaraayana are the same. And that’s what even Gita says: uttamah purusas tv anyah paramaatmety udaahrtah … … it is that man who realizes this indwelling spirit becomes an emancipated soul. Such a man of illumined consciousness and Naaraayana become one. It means if a man becomes Uttam purusha (supermost human being), he certainly deserves to be saluted along with Naaraayana.

Here, we must appreciate one fact: Naaraayana, by nature, is pure consciousness while man can only become that by ardent practice of Dharma and Nishkaama karma. As the saying goes — Manushyaanaam sahasreshu — it is only one in a lakh that can become a super-being, a question arises: How does one become a super-being?

The sage’s answer is: deviim Sarasvatiiṁ. After naroottamam, we are directed to salute Devi Saraswathi. Now, who is this Saraswathi? She is the Goddess of Vidya (learning). Vidya could be either para or apara. Apara vidya is knowledge of the physical world and para vidya is the knowledge about Aatma, which knowledge alone ultimately leads one to Moksha — the summum bonum. So, it is the Para vidya that merges Nara man with Naaraayana — jeevaatma with Paramaatma. Sages say that Sa vidya ya vimktaye — “Knowledge is that, which liberates!” It is by bowing to Devi Saraswathi that we are in a way praying to her to grant us that para vidya to join God.

There is yet another underlying meaning in our salutation to Saraswati: ‘Sara’ means to crawl and Maharshi, perhaps meant to say that it is by slowly crawling upwards to Naaraayana by shedding off one’s grossness that one can attain immutable oneness with Parabrahman.

It is only upon such liberation that man attains the Summum Bonum. That alone can be said as Jayam (victory) for man. Then alone it can be declared: tatoo jayam udiirayet — Jayam be announced. In other words, it is vidya of aatma that leads us to liberation, and this liberation ultimately facilitates our merger with Naaraayana, and it is only upon reaching that divine destiny that man can be said to meet with Jayam. That’s why Maharshi is advocating namaskar to Naaraayana, naroottamam and Devi Saraswati.

There is another meaning hidden in the words ‘Devi Saraswati’: the authorless/Divine revelations. They are nothing but Vedic literature. And this Vedic literature introduces to us two doctrines: Dharma and Moksha. It tells us that the practice of Dharma leads us to relative Jayam, while realizing God within oneself leads to the absolute Jayam i.e. Moksha.

It is about these two doctrines — Dharma and Moksha — that the whole of Mahabharata talks about through the journey of Pandavas, various Vyaakhyanas and Upaakhyanas. Thus, the whole essence of Mahabharata, as Pundits often comment, Vyasa Maharshi decocted into this simple verse and highlighted its significance by placing it at its very beginning —perhaps, for our meditation.


More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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