Bhattatri’s addition to Mahabharata

Narayana Bhattathiri is most famous for his wonderful work nArAyanIyam. It is a condensation of Srimad Bhagavatam. It describes the ten avatAras of Lord Vishnu. It contains 100 parts of 10 verses each with each of the set ending in a prayer to lord Guruvayurappan (Krishna) to remove his disease.

Not many people know that he has written a work in grammar called prakriyAsarvasva – which is also a rearrangement of the work of Panini. Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri enjoyed the patronage of Veera Kerala Varma (1601-15), the ruler of Cochin and wrote the Veerakeralaprashasti in his name.

There is a story thus about Bhattathiri and a king (could be Veera Kerala Varma) – पुराणोतिहासश्रवणम् or listening to epics is ordained for kings. On one particular day the king had no one to read out mahAbhArata for him. So he went to a temple in search of somebody who could read devanagari letters, add them up and say in the form of a sloka. It is called kootti vashippadu in malayalam/tamil. He caught hold of someone and asked him to read. This person kept reading and at one point the king heard something which he had not heard before. When asked to read the sloka again, the king was even more confused. He questioned the person about the sloka. The person being none other than Bhattathiri explained, “you asked me to read. The word ‘kootti’ also meaning ‘to add’, I added my own sloka and read”.

शिखा खल्वाटकस्येव कर्णमूलमिवागता॥

śikhā khalvāṭakasyeva karṇamūlamivāgatā||

The army of duryodhana, being hit by bhIma’s gadA returned to karNa, just like the head of a bald person, for whom the hair is seen only near the ear (karNa).


L N Srinivasakrishnan said...

Very nice story. In the version I have heard, it was the King of Ambalapuzha.

He asked Bhattatiri: "kUTTi vAyikkAn ariyAmO"? i.e., "Can you read together"? Reading together means reading continuously e.g., without splitting sandhi's.

The King was apparently bald so he appreciated the play on the word 'karNamUla' very much but protested at the same time that it was a spurious sloka. The version of the sloka I've heard incidentally has the first foot as 'bhImasenagadAtrastA'.

It was apparently on the insistence of this same King of Ambalapuzha that Bhattathiri wrote his great grammatical work, prakriyasarvasvam.

Aarathi Sankaran said...

Since Bhattathri enjoyed Cochin king's patronage, I assumed it must have been him.

PRG said...

very beautiful sloka and an interesting story. I have not heard this before.