Thoughts on Swati Tirunal’s composition – Gopalaka Pahimam Anisham

Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma (April 16, 1813 – December 27, 1846) was the Maharaja of the state of Travancore. He reigned under the regency of his mother Maharani Gowri Lakshmi Bayi from 1813 till 1815 and then under the regency of his aunt Maharani Gowri Parvati Bayi till 1829. In 1829 he turned major and assumed full powers and ruled  as Maharaja of Travancore until his death in 1846. He was a patron of music and was a great musician himself. He has written around  400 compositions in Carnatic and Hindustani music. Swathi Thirunal was fluent in a number of languages including Malayalam, Sanskrit, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Hindustani,  Tamil, and English.  His composition Gopala Pahimam Anisham is being discussed here.  A beautiful rendering of this song by Yesudas may be heard here 

This particular song abounds not only in music & rhythm, but also in श्लेष – श्लेष  is one of the काव्य-अलङ्कार.  Apart from this the song also describes various kalyana guNas. 

What are kalyana guNas or the excellent qualities of the Lord are:

 ज्ञान Gnana (true and perfect knowledge), 2) बल bala (ability to support the whole Universe), 3) ऐश्वर्य Aishwarya  (incomparable wealth and ruler ship of the Universe), 4) vIryam वीर्य (untiring virility), 5) शक्ति Sakthi  (power to act without extraneous help) and 6) तेजस् Tejas (unmatched radiance), [such six qualities].

The other qualities of the Lord are: सौशील्य  Sousheelya (good moral qualities), वात्सल्य Vatsalya  (tender & solicitous affection),  मार्दव mArdava  (softness of heart), Arjava आर्जव  (Honesty), सौहार्द  Souhardha   (compassion although literally it means good heart), साम्य Samya (equinamity), कारुण्य kArunya (Merciful), माधुर्य  mAdhurya (sweetness),  गाम्भीर्य gAmbhIrya (majesty and nobility), औदार्य audhArya  (giving out liberally), चातुर्य  cAthurya (skillfulness), स्तैर्य sthairya   (determined to stay on chosen course), धैर्य  dhairya (undaunted courage), शौर्य showrya ( ablility to fight alone), पराक्रम parakrama (winning the battles effortlessly), कृतज्त्वम् (gratitude even for smallest of offerings or “help” made by devotees).

Gopala Krishna

Gopala Krishna

पल्लवी or the first line: 

गोपालक पाहिमाम् अनिशं तव पदरतमयि 

O गोपाल=Gopala, Krishna माम् =me पाहि =protect अनिशं= always.  तव = your पद = word, feet,a line or stanza रतमयि = full of delight  go=cow,  knowledge, earth, senses, cow; पालक = protector, guardian, nourisher ruler

Gopalaka protect me always; you feet is delight.  (alternative meanings are) also that your verses are delight or your name itself is a delight.  This stanza addresses Krishna, as  Supreme God who protects knowledge (Hayagriva), earth (varaha/narayana), and is also the Lord of senses = as Hrishikesha (Lord of senses).  What is celebrated here is Gnana ज्ञान Vatsalya  वात्सल्य and  Madhurya माधुर्य guNas of the Lord.

अनुपल्लवी or the 2nd line

nata pada pallava

nata pada pallava

पाप विमोचन पविधरादि नत पद पल्लव


meaning:  पाप=sins विमोचन=delivering पवि=fire, speech, thunderbolt, rim of wheel, arrow पवि+धर+आदि = पविधरादि; ie. Agni, Indra, Brahma, Shiva, Arjuna, Abhimanyu, Sahadeva etc नत = bowed (to)/ bent/ curved ; पद= feet पल्लव=bud or like a tender leaf i.e., tender.

Your tender  feet, which delivers from sin, is bowed to by Agni, Indra, Brahma, Shiva, Kumara Arjuna, Abhimanyu, Sahadeva & others

चरणम् 1 (stanza 1 of concluding verses)

साधुकथित म्रदशन सरोषभीत मात्रु वीक्षित भूधर

 जलनिधिमुख बहुविध भुवन जाल ललित मुखाम्बुज


साधु=good (people) कथित= said or reported (to your mother) मृद्+अशन=mud+eat स+रोष+भीत = She [with] anger & fear मात्रु = mother वीक्षित = saw भूधर earth or the number 7 जलनिधि=oceans; मुख = mouth, face  बहु=many विध=kinds भुवन=worlds जाल=net ललित=charming मुख=face अम्बुज=lotus (from अम्बु+ज अम्बु=water ज =born.

Some good people reported to your mother that you ate mud.  When she angrily asked you to open your mouth and Yashodha saw in  your mouth oceans and the seven worlds and many other Universes; When she was terrifed of this sight  she again saw your charming lotus face once again.  A question that will arise is why should Lord show his mother such a terrifying sight?  Amongst kalyana gunas is Arajavattvam (truthfulness, honesty, being straightforward).  In response to his mother’s question, the Lord revealed true nature – i.e., he carries within himself the Universes and that he transcends the Universe.  However seeing that his mother is terrified Bhagvan, exhibiting his true kArunya  and displayed that माधुर्य mAdhurya guNa of his and she could see his sweet face once again.

चरणम् 2  (stanza 2 of concluding verses)

सारसभव मदहर सतीर्थ्य दीन भूसुरार्पित पारारहित 

धनचय निरूपम पतगराजरथ कमलावर


सारसभव=Brahma मद=pride हर=destroy सतीर्थ्य= co-student refers to sudAma भूसुरार्पित = भु + सुर + अर्पित earth+god = Brahmin अर्पित = offered धन+चय = heaps of wealth निरूपम= incomparable पतगराजरथ=पतग + राज+ रथ= bird+king+chariot = patagaraja = Garuda ratha =chariot; कमला+ वर=lakshmi’s +groom

You destroyed the pride of  Brahma.  Even though you ride up high in the heavens upon Garuda, but  to a (poor) co-student who offered pounded rice you offered him untold wealth, Husband of Lakshmi. The reference is here to Sudama offering Lord some rice flakes.   Here the lord not only demonstrated his audharya औदार्य (giving out liberally) but also displayed the कृतज्त्वम् (gratitude) even for the smallest and the insignificant acts of offering that he received.

चरणम् 3 (stanza 3 of concluding verses)

सारसरस सुवचन सरोजनाभ लोकानयक भूरि करुण

तनुजित मनसिज भुजगराजशयन मुरशासन


सारस रस  = you are the essence of essence; सुवचन= good word सरोजनाभ=one who has lotus growing out of navel ; लोकानयक = leader of this world भूरि=full  करुण=compassion तनुजित= winning bodies (a philosophical concept which I will explain later) मनसिज= born of heat i.e., kamadeva भुजगराजशयन = भुजग राज शयन= snake+king+sleep i.e., he who sleep on king of snakes i.e., vishnu मुरशासन = He who punishes (kills) mura (mura = dullness hence there is a adversarial relationship with Gopala – i.e., He who nourishes wisdom)

Meaning:  You are essence of essence.  The Lord as antaryami is being described here.  You are the good word and leader of this world.  You win bodies and minds with compassion.  You sleep upon sesha and lotus grows out of your navel; You punished Mura the general of Narakasura.  Mura also means dullness. Shashana = punisher Hence this use of this word in conjunction with Gopalaka indicates an adversarial relationship with the dullness of intellect.


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