The Nama Ghosa-A Synopsis

The first two couplets of Madhavadeva's Nām Ghosā is interpreted as containing the key to the whole work:

Muktita nispriha yito	sehi bhakataka namo;
	Rasamayi māgoho bhakati:
Samasta mastaka mani	nija bhakatara basya,
	Bhajo hena Deva Yadupati. [1]

I bow low to the devotee who is indifferent even to liberation. I pray for that devotion which is full of sweet joy. I worship that Lord of the Yadavas, who is the crowning gem of all and (yet) who is submissive to His own devotee.

jāra Rāma-Krishna nāma	nāve bhava-sindhu tari
	pāve param-pada pāpi yata:	
sadānanda sanātana	henaya Krishnaka sadā
	upāsā karoho hridayata. [2] 

Whose name 'Rāma-Krishna' serves as a boat, as it were,
ferrying all sinners across this world-ocean
towards the supreme abode;
such a Lord (Krishna),
Who is eternal and ever-joyous,
I always worship in my heart.

First, Madhavadeva bows to the selfless devotee (bhakata) whose model is his Guru Sankaradeva himself. Second, he prays for the devotion (bhakti) which is full of joy. This is pure, selfless devotion which spurns even liberation. Third, Madhavadeva reveals the object of his devotion, the Deity or deva to be the Lord of the Yadavas, Shri Krishna, who is ever-joyous (sadānanda) and eternal (sanātana). Finally, he declares the Name (nāma) of the Lord to be all-powerful. It is so powerful that it can rescue even the sinners and transport them to the Supreme Abode.

[ It is related in the caritas that Madhavadeva began with the couplet now numbered third, with salutation to God in His ten incarnations, but when he showed this beginning of his work, Sankaradeva took the pen from Madhavadeva and wrote the first half of the present first couplet: “I bow to that devotee who is not desirous even of liberation; I beg that devotion which is full of joy.” Madhavadeva immediately got the hint. Taking the pen from the Master, he completed: “I submit myself to God Krishna who is the jewel of all heads (crowns) and (yet) who is submissive to His own devotee.” ]

Thus, Madhavadeva's Nām Ghosā focuses on the four main factors or four reals (cāri-vastu) of the Bhaktic path preached by Srimanta Sankaradeva and their significance in the profession and practice of the path. These factors, as already revealed, are:

The whole scripture is devoted in the discussion of them and on their utility in devotion:

The Preceptor or Guru

The function of the preceptor is to give counsel to man to realise the Deity. This preceptor may either be a man or a Sāstra or a treatise. Mere literary learning, however, cannot make a man fit to be a preceptor. He must have the qualification of having been a sincere devotee of the Supreme Deity. Such a preceptor can show the right way to his disciples. Madhavadeva in his work holds that Srimanta Sankaradeva alone deserves the epithet of preceptor and his instructions are alone to be followed by those who profess his path:

Srimanta Sankara	Hari Bhakatara
	Jānā yena kalpataru
Tāhānta bināi	nāi nāi nāi
	āmāra parama Guru [375]

Know ye that Srimanta Sankaradeva is like the wish-yielding tree (kalpataru) of all the devotees of Hari. Be triple sure that there is no (other) Guru than Sankaradeva himself.

The Deity or Deva

Madhavadeva in his Nām Ghosā, establishes on the basis of the Vedas, Upanishads, the Gitā and the Bhāgavata that Sri Krishna,
Who has been, being worshipped by Brahmā and Siva, the chief of the Devatas (gods) recognised in the Hindu Sāstras, and by Lakshmi, the goddess worshipped by all the gods, and
Who incarnated Himself in different forms in different ages to educate His creatures to realize their ownself,
Who is the Lord of time and illusion (Māyā),
Who alone has self-consciousness,
Who is omnipresent and omniscient, and has neither beinning nor end,
Who is the soul of the Universe and the dispenser of all individual souls,
is the only divine Deity whom a man ought to recognise, realise and worship. Madhavadeva devotes more than half of the scripture in the vindication of this statement.

Krishna is One without a second, the ruler of time, māyā, etc., the One Lord who destroys all sufferings. There is no other lord superior to Him, none, never. Besides Him, there are none who create, preserve and destroy the universe; know it for certain that in the entire universe, Visnu is the root and essence of all.

Name or Nāma

The third factor is Name or Nāma. Madhavadeva in his Nām Ghosā establishes the importance of chanting the name of the Supreme Deity in devotion. He has based his argument on the following:

The only religion prescribed for man in this iron-age is chanting the Name of the Deity. Rules and formalities are to be followed in the observance of other forms of rituals and different classes of persons are permitted by Sāstras to perform different rituals but the names of God can be sung by all classes of people and no rules and formalities are to be observed in doing so. So God Who is Benevolent and Who is equal to all, became a special lover of His Names. It is said that He cannot leave the company of His devotees who always sing His Names:

Verily, O Hari! Dwellest Thou there, where those who are single-minded in devotion to Thee, sit and sing always the attributes of the attributeless Krishna; for their sake, dost Thou leave behind even the Vaikuntha and the hearts of the Yogis.

His names are all descriptive and they indicate His different attributes or aspects. If their significance is properly understood, they can give a real insight into the Greatness of God, and His workings. As his attributes or aspects are innumerable or infinite, so are His names inexhaustible. God, the Deity cannot be dissociated from His name. God exists where His name exists. In other words, a mental image of the form or attributes of the Deity is formed as soon as the name associated with that image or attribute is conceived or pronounced. It helps in the realisation of the soul.

There is a belief that the feet of the Deity are impressed in the heart of every being and there is a covering of illusion or Māyā over it. The only means to see the feet of the Deity is Chanting of His Name. It acts like a lamp and breaks through the illusion.

It is always seen that at the time of death, highest consideration in expectation of salvation is given to the utterance of the name of the Deity.

There are parables in Hindu Sāstras that persons with despicable character attained salvation by uttering the name of the Deity.

The Name of the Lord alone is beyond the three gunas and helps in crossing the ocean of this world which is nothing but the eternal play of these three gunas. At another place, it is said that that Nāma alone is “beyond attributes”, the Unsullied One (754).

Bhakti through Nāma gives eternal bliss, joy and equanimity. It is also through this type of worship that one can conquer the fear of death (verses 45-48) and tear the bonds of karma (verse 504). The worship through Nāma also washes off all the sins of man thereby saving him from the “suffering of eighty-four hells” (verse 46). In verse 289, it is said “How can the foolish one who having been born in Kali-yuga does not love singing the Name of Hari, attain his salvation in any other way.”

Madhavadeva, in verses 251 and 341 of the Nāma Ghosā, says:

In the forest of virtues, the Name of Mādhava roars with great pride like a lion. Hearing his roar, the elephants of great sins trembling with fear take to flight.

Further:

All religions have their abode in Harināma. [verse 429]

Is there anyone in this kaliyuga who has attained salvation without treading the path of bhakti and without the love of Nāma? [verses 289 and 291]

Madhavadeva summarises the effect of chanting the name of the Deity saying that it can give everything to a devotee and make the Deity subordinate to him and comes to the conclusion that God being omnipresent cannot be called in or requested to depart, being above all forms cannot be imagined in mind, beyond the reach of language used by men, cannot be worshipped. Consequently, the only thing that a man can do to purify himself is to chant His name:

Avyakta Isvara Hari	kimate pujibā tānka
	vyāpakata kibā visarjana;
Etāvanta murti-sunya	kenamate cintibāhā
	Rām buli suddha karā mana.[5]

God is not expressed (in any form); how can you worship him? He is all-pervading; how can you denounce Him? He is devoid of form (murti-sunya); How can you meditate Him? (Be not puzzled) Simply utter His Name and purify your heart.

The devotee or the Bhakata

The last but not the least factor is His devotee (bhakata or bhakta). God manifests Himself through his devotees and they are all to Him and He is all to them.

Devotion the Only Path

There are a large number of verses in the Nāma Ghosā of Madhavadeva, which say that love and devotion alone can captivate the Lord (verse 221), and that except bhakti, no other means such as knowledge, austerities can lead to the emancipation of man (verse 200). Madhavadeva, further elucidating the bhakti aspect of Sankaradeva's teachings, says that a devotee should bind with the rope of love the feet of Krishna to the pillars of his heart and should “wear a strong amulet of Rāma Nāma and tightly fasten it to his neck”:

Hridaya stambhata	Krishna caranaka
	prema-jari diyā sāndā
parama sudridha	Rāma-Krishna nāma
	kavaca galata bāndhā
	[verse 258]

The names Rāma-Krishna are, in fact, an “impenetrable armour” for the devotee:

Rāma-Krishna nāma abhedya kavaca

Rites and Ceremonies

Madhavadeva in his Nām Ghosā has not given any importance to the observance of rites and ceremonies associated with religion. He says that they are for only those whose minds have not been imbued in the glory of God. He illustrates his remarks with an analogy that a man who gets nectar to drink does not hanker after any other beverage.

Practice Advocated

So the form of religious practice advocated by Madhavadeva in his Nām Ghosā is that a man ought to take instruction from a preceptor or Guru, take sarana or shelter in Lord Krishna, chant His names with single-minded devotion and dedicate himself in the service of His devotees.

Names and their significance

Probably in anticipation of an objection that if God is without form and beyond the reach of language, how can he have names, Madhavadeva devotes a portion of his scripture in explaining the significance of some of the names of God used in the Sastras.

He says that the names indicate the capacity of God in influencing life and soul of a man. As for instance, the name Krishna indicates that, which can give bliss to man and remove narrowness from mind; Rama indicates that, which can make the world pleasant; Hari indicates that, which can steal all suffering; Purusottama indicates that, which can elevate a heinous person to the highest level; Narasimha indicates that, which can enable a person to move in the world like a lion and so on and so forth. He argues that these are possible to be effected only by the Supreme Deity and so these are considered to be His Names.

Krishna - the Embodiment of the Deity

Another point is that though Madhavadeva has described the Deity as having no form it is found in his scripture that he has taken Krishna, the son of Devaki, to be the embodiment of the deity Himself. His assumption, as given in his scripture, is that knowledge about the soul being too difficult to acquire and to realise, God incarnates Himself to spread knowledge in that regard among mankind. Krishna, as described in the Bhāgavata, exhibited in Himself in concrete form whatever had been told of the soul in the Vedas in abstract and enabled Arjuna and and a few others to realise them. Besides, Krishna is not considered to be an incarnation of God but as the primary cause of all incarnations. So Madhavadeva in his Nām Ghosā advocates that Krishna, the son of Devaki, should alone be taken to be the Deity personified.

Summary

The zeal with which Madhavadeva argues his case, basing his arguments on the Bhāgavata, the Gitā and the Upanishads and alluding to the parables described in the religious scriptures, to arrive at his aim is inspiring and inimitable. His aim is to establish that God is one and everybody else emanates from Him. Nobody can have a comprehensive idea of Him. Performance of rites and ceremonies cannot enable the subject to reach Him. Devotion is the right path to salvation. The only form of devotion that a man can practise in the Kali-yuga (iron-age) is to have implicit faith in Him and to sing His names in the company of such other devotees.

Relevance of the Nām Ghosā

The prayers that are incorporated in the scripture are of universal nature and can be sung, with slight modification, even by those who profess other creeds. The advice which the writer has addressed to the different organs and senses may be repeated by every human being with a religious turn of mind. His self-censure in confounding the body with the soul and in not dedicating himself to the service of God and men, transcend all barriers of time and space. The Nām Ghosā clearly reveals Sankaradeva's teachings to be relevant and beneficial for all humanity in all periods of time.

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