A simple introduction to Shankara’s poetry
BANGALORE: The Selected Stotras of Adi Shankara by S Ramaswamy is a lucid commentary on the hymns of the great Advaita philosopher, Sri Adi Shankaracharya who had a profound influence on Hinduism during the late eighth century when chaos, superstition and bigotry were rampant. The great religious teacher developed his philosophy through commentaries on the various scriptures.
It is believed that Adi Shankara, the revered saint, completed these works even before he turned 16. His major works fall into three distinct categories: commentaries on the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
The most important of Shankaracharya’s works are his commentaries on the Brahmasutras Brahmasutrabhashya, considered the core of Shankara’s perspective on Advaita, and Bhaja Govindam written in praise of Govinda or Lord Krishna, a Sanskrit devotional poem that forms the center of the Bhakti movement and also epitomises his Advaita Vedanta philosophy.
Through the centuries, Adi Shankara’s famous commentaries and philosophic treatises have been open for interpretations by many Sanskrit litterateurs and teachers.
Having many published works in the areas of American literature, comparative literature and Indological studies, S Ramaswamy, this time, has done a commendable job in re-introducing the great Indian spiritual guru and helping people better understand the basic Advaitic concepts and philosophy.
The author has written 50 commentaries on the stotras and prakaranas of Adi Shankaracharya that were earlier published in a monthly spiritual journal Sadguru’s Blessings and other Vedantic texts. Most of the stotras that have been selected here: the Shiva stotras, Vishnu stotras, Devi stotras and other philosophical poems are from the eleventh volume of the Complete Works of Shankaracharya.
Further, the author has chosen the most representative and popular hymns like Bhajagovindam bhajagovindam bhajagovindam mudamate, Samprapte sannihite kale nahi nahi rakshathi....... for his commentary and writes : “The Bhajagovindam Stotram is so well known that it is on the lips of everyone, and it is the simplest and easiest to remember. Although it has been repeated parrot like so many times, the irony is, it has not sunk into the minds and consciousness of these repeaters. If it must generate genuine vairagya, it has generated in many, only the aberration of it like the prasuti vairagya, mashana vairagya and even abhava vairagya.”
Although the basic tenets of Advaita Philosophy come out repeatedly in the various 50 selected works, still the author’s meaningful information and interpretation helps one to understand this vast collection of verses in Sanskrit.
And, who better than S Ramaswamy who has knowledge and experience of both the languages to put it in the simplest and most comprehensible terms for those people who have completely forgotten the revered saint’s teachings and writings.
Apart from the famous stotras and hymns, the author has commented briefly on Prakarana Granthas like Vivekachudamani and Sarva Vedanta Siddhanta Sara Sangraha. Having 1006 shlokas, the latter Prakarana has the essence of all Vedanta.
Finally, the book ends with Shanti Mantaras, the unifying mantra of the Upanishads. Traditionally, it is applicable to disciples studying together and the Guru-Sishya relationship.
Their prayer is — “Let us both be protected. May the Guru be pleased with both of us. Let it be so that both of us will be blessed with performing noble deeds.......Let there be concord between the two of us, the Guru and the Sishya. The saying should become a reality.”
The book is erudite without being tedious, and is informative.