Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
A huge crowd had gathered in front of the building housing a finance company. Most of the people appeared agitated and the looks on their faces were murderous. I went near to find out what was wrong, with all the curiosity of a passerby and was surprised to find the Lord’s name being uttered by many of them, but without the devotion or ecstasy that normally accompanies such chanting. In fact they appeared to be uttering the naama more in chagrin and pain, than in any joy or elation. ‘Govinda!’ was the glorious name emanating from their lips, irrespective of religious affinity. When I inquired, it transpired that after mobilising sizeable deposits from a large number of gullible investors, the finance company owners had done a vanishing act overnight, disappearing with crores of rupees of public money. While describing the loss of money, many in the crowd were saying ‘Panam Govindaa thaan’. Anguish and sorrow engulfed me, less in commiseration with the plight of those who had lost the money, and more at the way Emperuman’s tirunaamam was being misused to depict a case of cheating and misappropriation. And this naturally led me to thoughts of the glory of this particular name of the Lord, my mental rambling confirming the extreme inappropriateness of using such a hallowed name of the Lord under such circumstances.
If you really think about it, you would find the greatness of the Govinda naama such as to defy narration. If a competition were to be held among Bhagavan Naamaas, in terms of efficacy, sweetness, greatness, popular acceptance, handiness for repetitive use, etc., the Govinda naama would win hands down. This is no idle claim of an ignoramus like me, but a well-documented fact that is reiterated often in our Itihaasaas and Puranas.
Further, the Govinda naama is intertwined with our lives and finds use from the time we wake up till we go to sleep daily. One of the very first acts after our getting up from bed is to perform an Aachamanam. And during this Achamanam and every other that we perform on various occasions throughout the day, the name Govinda occupies a pride of place, chanted first while sipping the water and again while touching various parts of the body with our fingers. ‘Sarvaangaanaam Nayanam pradhaanam’ say the Shastras, attributing primacy to the eyes among the various organs of the body. And it is perhaps an indication of the greatness of the Govinda naama that the prescribed part to be touched while uttering it is the eye. And before we eat too, after sanctifying the food with the Parishechana mantras and offering it to our Inner Dweller symbolically, it is the Govinda naama that we utter, before even a crumb passes our lips. And Shastras tell us that with each morsel of food intake, we should utter the Govinda naama-‘Kapale kapale chaiva kuryaat Govinda keertanam’.
At the beginning of every Sankalpam, which precedes any vaidika karma, we recite, “Sri Govinda! Govinda! Govinda! asya Sri Bhagavata: mahaa Purushasya..” This perhaps makes food tastier, healthier and more nourishing. Most of us, when we are past 40 and our limbs start giving us trouble, making us grunt and groan when we sit down and get up, involuntarily say ‘Govinda’, to ease the process. It is Govinda who protects those who play, the Mahabharata tells us-‘Kreedantam paatu Govinda: sayaanam paatu Madhava:’ Hence the Govinda naama appears to be the ideal one for athletes to utter. Thus, the use of the Govinda naama is widespread and is inextricably mingled with our daily routine, made so by Maharshis who have known and experienced the efficacy of this tirunaamam.
To talk of the efficacy of Bhagavan naamaas is perhaps sacrilegious-one holy name of the Lord is definitely as potent as another in destroying sin and conferring auspiciousness. However, some of these names have found much greater favour with devotees, on various grounds. For instance, though the Lord has a thousand names and more, there is no practice of chanting ‘Nyagrodha:, Udumbara:, Amoorti:’ etc., though these are doubtless a part of the Sahasranaama Stotram. Though these naamaas signify certain attributes of Emperuman, yet we do not go in for intensified chanting or japam of these names. Similarly, though there are divine names galore, devotees have preferred the Govinda naama as protection against evil and while appealing to Him for assistance during emergencies.
A classic case in point is Droupati. When all effort at protecting her modesty (from the intemperate Ducchaasana who was intent on disrobing her in pubic) fails, she puts up her hands in desperation and calls to a distant Krishna to rush to her aid. And in doing so, she couches her appeal in the following words-‘Shanka Chakra Gadaa paane! Dwaaraka nilaya! Achyuta!Govinda! Pundareekaaksha! Raksha maam saranaagataam’.
Readers may wonder-Droupati has definitely not given any primacy to the Govinda naama while crying out to Sri Krishna, prefacing the same with others like Achyuta, Dwaraka Nilaya, etc. So, where is the question of Govinda naama alone coming to her rescue? To find an answer to this, we have to look into the response of Sri Krishna to Droupati’s appeal. Discussing the matter at Dwaraka with Sri Rugmini, the Lord tells Her that He had to rush to the distressed damsel’s rescue immediately, because her calling Him ‘Govinda’ had struck a deep chord in His merciful heart and His sense of obligation to save her was multiplying every moment, much like a debt contracted at usurious rates of interest. Among all the other names she calls Him in her appeal, Emperuman particularly remembers and repeats the name Govinda, as being responsible for making Him feel extremely obliged – ‘Govinda! iti yat aakrandat Krishnaa maam doora vaasinamRinam pravruddham iva me hridayaat na apasarpati’
Sri Pillai Lokacharya declares that it was this Govinda naama, not even the Lord Himself, which protected Droupati from certain shame and ignominy-‘Droupatikku aapattile pudavai surandadu tirunaamam ire’. The Acharya explains that even if Emperuman is far off, as He was at distant Dwaraka when Droupati (at Hastinapuram) appealed to Him, His glorious Govinda naama is always by our side and would protect us from peril, if only we choose to utter it-‘avan doorastthan aanaalum idu kitti nindru udavum’. Hence the Acharya concludes that the Govinda naama in particular and all Bhagavan naamaas in general, are greater and more glorious than the Lord Himself-‘Vaachya prabhaavam pol andru vaachaka prabhaavam’.
We come across several devotees, especially at Tirumala, uttering this holiest of holy names differently some say ‘Goyinda’, yet others ‘Gohinda’. Etymologically, such pronunciations rob the word of all significance, making it probably meaningless. However, as far as the Lord is concerned, it is the devotion with which the name is uttered, rather than its grammatical perfection, which matters more. Whichever way the Govinda naama is uttered, rightly or wrongly, it offers comprehensive protection to its votaries, unlike most other mantras which require perfect pronunciation and intonation. This again is stated by Sri Pillai Lokacharya-‘sollum kramam ozhiya sonnaalum than svaroopam keda nillaadu’.
Well, if it is all that exalted as is touted by Shastras, the purport of this tirunaamam must indeed be profound. What exactly does the name Govinda mean? According to the Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram, the Lord is known as Govinda: as He is the (sole) recipient of wholesome words of praise by the Shruti-‘Gavaam, Stuti Giraam vinda: Govinda: sa udaahrita:’. It is a universally accepted fact that all words of the immaculate Vedas are nothing but words of adoration and adulation addressed to Emperuman. At places, it may appear that the Shruti is heaping praise on various devatas like Agni, Vaayu, Varuna, Indra, Rudra, et al. However, all such paeans of praise are meant solely for the Universal Inner Dweller, the Paramatma. As such, Sriman Narayana is the only person entitled to be adulated (‘Stavya:’ says the Sahasranaamam) and to whom all words of admiration are addressed, thus making Him Govindan.
Sri Parasara Battar interprets the naama as referring to Varaha Perumal-He is Govindan because He rescued and regained Mother Earth who had been spirited away by asuras and hidden deep under the ocean. In support of this, he quotes the Lord Himself, in the following Mahabhaarata slokam-
‘nashtaam cha dharaneem poorvam avindam cha guhaa gataam
Govinda iti tenaaham devai: vaagbhi: abhishtuta:’.
This appears to be most authentic interpretation, since it comes from Emperuman Himself and is reiterated elsewhere too in Mahabharata-
‘imaam hi dharaneem poorvam nashtaam saagara mekhalaam
Govinda ujjahaara aasu Vaaraaham roopam aasrtita;’
The most obvious interpretation and the one which brings out in full the Lord’s admirable trait of Accessibility or Soulabhyam, is of course to define Him as one who attains/protects/leads cows. Just think of it, the Supreme Paramatma, the omnipotent Parabrahmam coming down to earth and moving as one with the lowliest of lowly and engaging Himself in the humble occupation of a cowherd! The Lord is praised by Indra as being the leader of cows, in the following Harivamsa sloka-
‘Aham kila Indro devaanaam, tvam gavaam Indratvam gata;
Govinda iti lokaa: tvaam stoshyanti bhuvi saasvatam’
He knows each of the cows in Gokulam individually and inside out. And the cows know Him too, recognizing Him as the Supreme Lord and showering their love and affection on Him in abundant measure– this too gives Him the name Govinda;-“Govindo vedanaat gavaam”. And He is crowned by Indra as the King of Cows, in what is known as Govinda Pattaabhishekam, which followed the Lord’s holding up the Goverdhana mountain for seven days with His little finger, as a protective umbrella for the cows and cowherds of Gokulam from the sleet, rain and storm let loose by an enraged Indra, denied his usual annual tribute.
There are several other subsidiary meanings of the Govinda naama arrived at by scholars who have immersed themselves in the beauty and glory of this hallowed name of the Lord.
It is interesting if you see how the Govinda nama is used by scriptures while denoting the Paramatma. To offer just one example, we know the famous Taittiriyopanishad dictum which tells us that all demigods perform their appointed work, prompted by fear of the Parabrahmam-“Bheeshaasmaat vaata; pavate, bheeshodeti Soorya: bheeshaasmaat Agnischa Indrascha, Mrityu: dhaavati’. That Paramatma, who is left nameless by the Taittiriyopanishad, is identified definitively as Govinda, by the Gopala Poorvataapini Upanishad-‘Govindaat Mrityu: bibheti’. If Govinda is thus the source of fear (“Bhaya krit”), He is also the one who destroys fear “Bhaya naasana:”, we are told by Sri Mahabharatam-
“Atasee pushpa sankaasam peeta vaasasam Achyutam
Ye namasyanti Govindam na teshaam vidyate bhayam’
Srimate SriLakshmiNrisimha divya paduka sevaka SrivanSatakopa Sri Narayana Yatindra Mahadesikaya nama:
(To be continued…)
Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore