Religion, Spirituality

Cluster of 12 blossoms – द्वादशमञ्जरिका (4) – Sankara courts controversy

This is the third shloka that was not included by MS in her rendition of the Bhaja Govindam song. In fact her song does not include all of the shlokas from द्वादशमञ्जरिका. Instead, it is a selection of stanzas from  द्वादशमञ्जरिका and the appendix to the द्वादशमञ्जरिका written by Sankara’s disciples (14 shlokas, 1 by each disciple). The shloka and its context, transliteration, and purport below:

नारीस्तनभरनाभीदेशं
दृष्ट्वा मा गा मोहावेशम् ।
एतन्मांसवसादिविकारं
मनसि विचिन्तय वारं वारम् ॥ ३॥
Nari-stana-bhara-nabhi-desham
Drusthva ma ga mohavesham
Ye-tan-mamsa-vasadi-vikaram
Manasi vichintya varam varam.

Sankara never minced words and did not care for niceties. In the present times this would be very controversial and in all probability was controversial even then (when we were a far more open society) as seen by the attacks that Mandana Misra and his scholarly wife Bharathi launched against Sankara in the great debate that Sankara eventually won and which was decisive in preserving the vedanta (upanishidic/spiritual) portion of Sanatana Dharma – more about this later. What Sankara says here however has to be viewed in context and the following points are therefore relevant (not a defence but a qualification):

  1. This was addressed to a group of celibate monks who had taken a life-long vow of celibacy.
  2. Sankara never shied away from discussing sex and sexuality – he in fact maintained that all other ashramas (occupations) such as Grahasta (householder) ashrama etc. would be incomplete without conjugality.
  3. He however maintained that the Sanyasa dharma/ashrama required complete celibacy.
  4. In the great debate with Manadana whom he defeated, Sankara agreed to take on Bharathi, Mandana’s wife when she challenged him saying that she and Mandana were one and he had to defeat both if he had to be considered a winner. Sankara lost the debate when Bharathi having failed to defeat Sankara in Philosophy, changed the subject to “Kusumastra-sastram” (the science and art of love between the sexes) – this was his one and only defeat.
  5. To Sankara’s eternal credit, not only did he acknowledge defeat but also dissuaded his supporters/disciples/biographers from expunging all references to this incident. Sankara, the ever practical man then availed a month’s time and practically experienced the science, art, and nuances of sex and came back to defeat Bharathi in Debate-2!

Now to the transliteration:

नारी (Woman) स्तन (Breast) भर (Heavy) नाभी (Navel) देशं (A place, here Midriff)
दृष्ट्वा (See) मा गा मोहावेशम् (Infatuated, possessed by demoniacal passion)
एतन्मांस (This body made of flesh and meat) वसादि (Marrow, Juices, Flesh, Fat etc.)
विकारं (Transformation)
मनसि (Mentally) विचिन्तय (Contemplate, meditate, discriminate, think)
वारं वारम् (repeatedly, everyday)

Oh mind! Do not be led astray by the sight of a woman’s breast, navel, or midriff and act like someone possessed. Reflect on the fact that this body is but a bag of flesh, meat, marrow, juices, and fat that has been transformed to look like this.
Contemplate on this daily…”

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7 thoughts on “Cluster of 12 blossoms – द्वादशमञ्जरिका (4) – Sankara courts controversy”

  1. One reason for skipping this stanza could be the constraints of the tape duration at 45 minutes or so. May be they had to drop one stanza to stay with in this limit and dropped this stanza. Not many including me knew the meaning of bhaja govindam when we heard it on our new tape recorders

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    1. No but she included several other stanzas that appear after this stanza including those from the chaturdasha-manjarika of Sankara’s disciples. So it can’t be time constraints definitely…

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  2. This may be because all other parts of recital might be applicable to all both male and female while this is stanza is one sided. It is natural that a man’s writing is like this and I don’t really mean to undermine it. I only think had it been generalised like body, flesh and fat it would have been known and sung globally!

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  3. The debate on whether the road towards spiritual enlightenment passes through celibacy and non-celibacy seems unresolved. But probably the road forks and then meets again. Which then would mean that while both the abstainer and the taster would reach the same destination, their interpretations would differ because everyone is but a sum of their experiences. It is here that I recall the story of Dharmavyadha.

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