Shivananda Lahari -Waves of Transcendental Bliss

Of Surrender and Mental Talk

Sujatha R
11 min readMar 16, 2021

What a poem composed by the great master Shankaracharya. As if etched specially for us.. Simple language of ‘one on one’ talk.. Beautiful illustrations of surrender, meditation, and maanasa bhakti.

Each of the 100 verses is like a mini poem by itself. There is an element of Kalidasa, Valmiki, and Tagore in this work. The words are weaved in an interlude of slow and fast-moving sounds as if Siva and Parvati are striding through the waves of music.

Kilns of Devotion

One day when the poet Purandara Dasa did not have enough food to feed his family, he makes porridge out of Rama Naama and uses the sugar of Krishna Naama!

Shankaracharya outlines different ways of meditation and devotion that can be performed right in the comfort of the mind which he repeatedly refers as ‘su-manas’.

Bookmarking a few anecdotes and some simple and yet profound and uncommon poetic phrases. Based on P R Ramanchandra’s translation of the work and Chaganti Garu’s pravachanams.

Hallmark of a Poem

Towards the end, he signs off and characterizes his kavya in these words. How thoughtful and beautiful.

Oh Lord,
Please accept and marry my
‘poem maid’,
Which has good
figure of speech,
Which is made up of
simple lovable words,
Which has
musical meter,
Which shines in
well chosen sounds,
Which is being praised by
intellectuals,
Which aims at
propagating devotion,
Which is a
model poem,
Which has
attractive phrases,
Which sounds soft and sweet,
And which grants
good to all

May I constantly meditate on you..

My salutations to the divine couple who bring auspiciousness to all the worlds. From the pond of my heart, may I dwell in your bliss.. May my ears, mouth, body, eyes, intellect be at your service..
May my mind not get clouded by lower pleasures like a mirage.
May I meditate on you..

Oh mind.. Dont be swayed by the complex logic and thoughts of inference deduction..

I seek your devotion Oh Shambhu Oh Pashupati.. No matter which animal form I take.. I only seek for you..

The limited ‘me’ at your door

I know no lofty grammar and yores.. I lack the knowledge of scriptures, flattery and poetry.. And hence how can I go behind the Earthly Kings? Tell me Who am I? You are my refuge and please shower your grace on me..

Offering you the flowers of my mind

Searches and hunts the dim witted one,
In the deep dark lake,
In the lonely dangerous forest,
And in the broad high mountains
For a flower to worship thee.

It is a wonder,
That these people do not know,
To offer to you the single
lotus,
From the
lake of ones own mind..

The words gabeere gahane vijane vane meaning ‘dense and lonely forests’ is widely used by Tagore in his poems which could mean the outer forest as well as the forest of the mind.

Salvation for All. No matter who, what or where.

Be it a human, God or animal form,
That wanders the forests and hills,
Be it domesticated, mosquito, worm or a bird whatsoever..

Be it a celibate seeker of truth,
Be it a man of the family,

Be it in a cave, Be it in house,
Be it outside, Be it in a forest,

If always the mind is engaged in play,
Of
meditation in thine lotus like feet,
Then what does it matter,
Whatever body we have.

My Monkey Mind

Wanders my mind always in the forest of evil desires,
And it wanders at its will on all four directions,
From the branches to branches of desires,

Oh Lord who bears the skull for begging,
(would n’t it be nice you have a dancing monkey for your begging)
Be pleased to take under your control,
My mind that like a monkey,
And tie it with the rope of your affection.

My limited self at your devotion.

Like the Sun I do not have
a Thousand rayed hands at your service..
Like
Vishnu I do not have the power
to worship thee who is every where..
Like the
Vaayu I do not have the power to spread incense of sandal in the airs..

Churning Knowledge in the mind

The crowd of good minded people,
Are
churning the ocean of Vedas,
Using the
rope of stable devotion ,
And the
churning stick of the attentive mind..

Cultivating Devotion in the heart

The crop of devotion,
growing in the field of
heart,
Using the pot of
words,
Brought through canals of
poems,
Irrigated with machinery of
wisdom,
with nectar like water of the story of
Shiva..

How can this servant of yours fear famine ever.

My mind is your hunting ground

Don’t go searching here and there,
Oh primeval
hunter
In the dreary
forest of my mind,
Live many
wild rutted animals
like envy , delusion and others..
And you can kill and play thine sport of hunting,
And enjoy there yourself.

You dwell in the cave of my Mind

The being that is called Lion,
Lives in the cave of my mind,
And how will fear ever come to me?

The poetic meter till this point is Shikarini. An interlude of slow and fast sounds like the dance of the waves.. like the stride of Shiva and Parvathy. From this point, it switches to Shardula Vikridam. Like the rhythm of Lion’s footwork. What a mastery in poetry.

Story of NeelaKanta

How was the fierce flame like poison
Which made, all the courageous
devas fear,
Seen by you , my Lord?
Was that fire carried in your
hand,
Did it appear like the fully ripe
jambu fruit to you?
Was it not kept on your tongue,
Did it appear as
pills from the Siddha doctor?
Was it not worn in your
neck,
Did it appear like a
blue gem indraneela to you?
Oh ,
Shmabhu the great one , be pleased to tell.

Many names of Shiva

The words pashupathi and jadaa keep repeating in the work.. Pashupathi the keeper of all the life. He who can throw light and dissolve our jaada and ignorance.. and free us from the entanglement of samsaara and mada-vana.

The etymology of shambo and shankara.. ‘Sham bhavayati iti shambo’.. ‘Sham karothi shankara’..That which brings good and auspiciousness.

Staanu He who is permanent.. dishika he who guides and shows us the direction. Vibho the effulgent Lord who is everywhere. Prasanna Murthy, Raja mauli, Rajashekara being other names..

Comparing these names with Vishnu Sahasranamam.. pashupati sounds just like vanamaali, vibho sounds like vishnu and shankara sounds like shanta murthy.

Ode to the Srisailam Mountains

This poem was composed by Shankaracharya in the tranquil hills of Srisailam which is home to Shiva and Parvati as deities Mallikarjuna and Brahmaramba. Deftly, Shankara places his eulogy to Srisailam in the midpoint of his 100 verse composition in lines 50 and 51. It is said Srisailam is the midpoint to the travel between Kashi and Rameshwaram.

The whiteness of Arjuna tree and the white malli jasmines winding its way on the tree is compared to the white and flawless Shiva while the bee brahmara hovering over the flower is compared to Brahmaramba Devi.

Many verses can be interpreted with two meanings. Such is the art in this poem.

Reference to Shambu

He who enjoys dancing in the evening.
He who lives in the Upanishads, Vedas and is very handsome,
Because he is deeply in love with
Bramarambika,
And He , the
Mallikarjuna who lives atop the Sri Sailam mountains,
Would be served by me.

alternately

Reference to Malli flower

That whose flower opens in the evenings,
That which is followed by sweet pretty
bees,
That which is rated the best among flowers,
That which is liked by
Goddess Parvathy,
And that which decorates the
God Mallikarjuna,
Who lives atop
Sri Sailam mountains ,
Would be approached by me

Stories of Shiva

The next verse on Srisailam has several stories beautifully packed into it.

Story of Brahma and Vishnu in search of the column of light. Brahma falsely declares he has seen the beginning of the light. Enfuriated, Shiva annihilates one head of Brahma and holds it as his bowl kapaala

a) Sage Bhringi is a great devotee of Shiva. Every evening he whips the leash and signals Shiva the start and end of his evening dance.

b) When Gajasura was causing havoc at Kashi, Shiva attacks him with his trishula and goes back into his dhyaanam. In the last moments before dying, Gajasura sings the Saama Gaana and Shiva is impressed. As a blessing, Gajasura wishes that his elephant hyde be used as a garb by Shiva and a linga be dedicated to him in Kashi.

c) Shiva burns Manmada the ‘God of Love’ to ashes when disturbed in his meditation. On Rati Devi’s pleading, Parvathy restores life back to Manmada. However he becomes invisible except to his wife Rati Devi. In his invisible form, he spreads love and aids procreation.. Spring being his chariot and bow and arrows of flowers and bees his fragile machinery.

d) Vishnu asks the Goddess for help and as he has a task to eliminate Bhasmasura. She merges into him in the Vishnu Maya. Seeing Mohini, Shiva falls for her causing the fire of rati to be sparked between them and Ayyappa is born.

The story of Manmada and Bhasmasura also appears in Saundarya Lahari.

May he who likes to dance,
As per the wish of sage
Bhringi,
May he who tamed
Gajasura,
May he whose joy increased,
On seeing Vishnu in
Mohini form,

May he who was slaved by the
arrow,
Of the
God of love,

May he who lives in the
Sri Shaila mountain,
And may he who is the consort of Goddess
Bramarambika,
Appear before me and play in the lotus of my mind.

Another way of looking into the verse.. Shiva compared to a hovering Bee Brahmara.

It is Springtime here and the trees are brimming with flowers. With the bees buzzing around, seems like Shiva and Parvati are right here in the backyard.

O Bee, dance in the Lotus of my Mind

May that which likes to dance ,
On seeing the season of spring,
May that which makes a buzzing sound
naada,
May that which likes a flowering garden,
May that which can travel everywhere,
Appear and
dance on the lotus of my mind.

Shiva as a Dark Rain bearing Cloud

The parallels between Shiva and the rain-bearing cloud are just beautiful. Like in Meghadootha and Tagore's poems, the rain-bearing cloud quenches the tapas and torment of the Farmers and the parched lands.

The dark color cloud is the harbinger of water Neelaskandara.. With the sun rays falling on its ‘shape-changing form’ making it look like locks of reddish hair chanchala jata mandala.

The clouds are addressed as Shambho as it brings relief and goodness. The clouds are partial to the farmers as the good-natured farmers are brim with devotion towards the clouds and eagerly waiting for them. sumanas paksha sumanas..

The same verse can be interpreted as referring to Shiva. Makes me think Shiva and the clouds are no different. After all, the clouds with the help of the Sun, labour the act of drinking the salty waters from the ocean, carry them over miles and shower the purest sweet form of freshwater to the needy.

Hey Shambho , Hey God who has blue neck,
Who
showers the nectar like mercy,

Who wants to cure painful aches of the mind,
Which are like the trouble caused by heat in summer,

Wishing for a heavy harvest of the plant of knowledge,
Who can
take any form,
Who has devotees
who dance like the peacock,

Who lives on mountains,
And who has the
waving tuft of hair,

My mind which is the Chataka bird,
Desires for you always,

Kilns of intense longing

Just like the swan desires the cluster of lotus flowers,
Just like the Chataka bird intensely longs for the blue dark cloud,
And just like the Chakora bird longs for the moon every day,

Just like the man dragged by flood longs for the bank,
Just like the tired traveler longs for the tree shade,
Oh my mind, you long for the lotus feet of Shambhu.

One of the 10 verses selected by Sri Ramana Maharshi on highlighting. Just as the fruit falling from the tree rejoins it, a piece of iron is drawn to magnet.. so also thoughts, after rising up, lose themselves in their original source.

Kilns of Surrender

Like the seed reaches for the mother ankola tree,
Like the iron needle reaches for the magnet,
Like the tender creeper reaches for near by trees,
Like the river reaches for the sea,
Like the lady reaches for her Lord,

If the spirit of the mind,
Reaches for the lotus feet of Pasupathi,
And stays there always,
Then that state is called devotion

The devotion of hunter Kannapa

The wayfaring sandals become the kusa crown of Pasupathi,
The gargled mouthful of water become the holy water of bath ,
The just tasted pieces of the remaining meat ,
Become the holy offering to the Lord,

And wonder of wonders,the hunter who lives in the forest
Becomes the king of devotees.
What is there in this world that devotion to the Lord cannot do?

Devotion of Maarkandeya

Like in Chandrashekara Astakam,
Chandrasekhara ma aasraye.. Mama Kim Karishyati Vi yamah..
So what can the God of death do to me?

Nothing impossible is there to attain,
kim durlabham

For him who sings about your holy feet,
For the god of death runs away,
Afraid of the kick from the Lord’s feet,

Travel in my Mind

Oh, Lord Shambhu,
Always recognize and be pleased to wear,
the gem studded shoes of my ‘mind’ and ‘travel’.

Simple path of Bhakthi.. No need to decode the tattvas

“This is the pot, no, this is only mud,
This is the smoke, no, it is only fire”

Can all this debate ever cure the cruel God of death?
Vainly you give pain to your throat,
By these torrent of words,
Instead worship the lotus like feet of Shambu,
Oh , intelligent one, and attain supreme happiness.

Concluding Verses

Is it proper for you my Lord ?
You revealed yourself so easily to me
while Brahma and Vishnu in vain
searched around as Eagle and Boar?

Oh Shambhu.. all this praise I feel is enough..
Though I never wrote anything that is false.

Whatever work I do, all that is Your Aradhana, O Shambhu — Shiva Manasa Pooja

Related Compositions

  • Shiva manaasa pooja
  • Bhavani Astakam
  • Chandrashekara Astakam
  • Saundarya Lahari
  • Raama Naama payasake by Purandara dasa
  • Meghadootha and Cloud by Kalidasa
  • Nilo Anjano Ghano punjana by Tagore: On the blue cloud, Joy and ripening of Earth

Citations

Useful Resources

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Sujatha R

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Music, Linguistics & Patterns