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Thirunavay Brahmasvavm-The most ancient Vedic school of Kerala
by
Dr. R. Nagaswamy


Kerala has many aspects of Ancient Indian culture intact. The temples, the mode of Worship,  Vedic studies, the mode of Vedic sacrifices, functioning of Ancient system of village assemblies, the judicial administrations. Ayurvedic practices, Astronomy, Mathematics, Musical systems, dance and dramas and even what are called folk culture – all are preserved in their pristine purity and simplicity, in spite of distorted presentations, and alien publicity. The World at large has now realized it is at Kerala the Ancient culture of India is still surviving.

One such system is the mode of learning ancient wisdom of India, the study of Vedas and it is the duty of every Indian and perhaps all men of the world to see these are properly understood and preserved. The UNESCO has now recognized the Vedic system of learning as unique a world heritage. More efforts from all sections are required to preserve them and show to the world the achievement of India. India declared to the world that critical Knowledge is the Supreme – “Vijnānam Brahma” for it leads to Universal happiness. So the study and recitations of Vedas were done in the Divine presence of the Temple premises.

Thirunavay is an ancient village on the banks of Bharatapula, where exists the well-known ancient Vishnu temple, centered on which was a great Vedic school from days of yore. This Vedic centre drew form near and far great students and scholars who were to guide the destiny of Kerala culture from very ancient times. Recorded history shows two of Kerala’s greatest thinkers hailed from this school from earlier to 1425 and continued till very recent times for over six hundred years. Interestingly both were named Nārāyaa from Nambudri families. One lived in the 15th cent and the other, two hundred years later in the 17th cent. Luckily the first was popularly called Nārāyanan Nambudri and the later called Nārāyaa Bhaṭṭatri. Both of them were great Vedic scholars.

Nāraāyaan Nambudri of Tantra Samuccaya

The Earlier, Nārāyaan Nambudri was the author of Temple ritual treatise called Tantra Samuccaya which he composed in the Kali year 4529 corresponding to 1428 AD. He belonged to Bhārgava gotra and came in the family of Jayamangala kula which got localized as Cennas (Jayanta becomes Centa in prakrit). Nārāyaan Nambudri wrote the most famous text on Kerala temple architecture and rituals –the Tantra samuccaya - which is followed in most of Kerala temples till  date. Before his there were many texts on Temples and rituals, almost beginning from Ādi Śankarāchārya who is credited with the work  “Prapancasāra”, “Śilparatna” of Sreekumāra etc,  but the Tantra samuccaya became so popular that it eclipsed the other works because of its lucidity and easy to handle approach. Many writers have later written commentaries on this text and it is not an exaggeration to say it is Nārāyaan Nambudri who lives all over Kerala temples through his work. The second one Nārāyaa Bhaṭṭatri who wrote Narayaniyam

 

Nārāyaa Bhaṭṭatri – of Nārāyaniyam

The second Nārāyana Bhaṭṭa who was called Nārāyana Bhaṭṭatri belonged to the family of Melputtur, near the Devi temple of Chandanakkāvu, near Thirunāvāy, the same Vishnu Kshetra. He lived in the late 16th and first half 17th cent. He was the son of a great Vedic and Mimāmsaka scholar, Mātridatta who took keen interest in moulding his son Nārāyanan by personally teaching him Veda and Mimāmsa.

Till very recent times the Traditional learning system was not based getting certificates but mastering each subject by going to masters and learn sitting under them.  Nārāyana Bhaṭṭa wanted to master many subjects in Vedic and Sanskrit lore and went to different masters one after the other, learnt Vyākaraa, Tarka, Kāvya, and other Śāstras. He learnt Vyākaraa under Achyuta Pisharoti, Tarka from Damodara, Vedic literature from Mādhvacarya and Mimāmsa from his own father all masters in the respective fields. He flowered into a master of learning in every field and so contributed in every field that marks him as the best intellect that Kerala has produced. That it is how could emotionally live in the heart of every Keralite to this day. He became a Mathematician and Astronomer. In ancient times Vedic studies did not stop with memorizing the Vedic hymns alone but encompassed what were called the Six systems Shadangas, namely Nirukta, Vyākaraa, Kalpa, Ganitha (Astronomy), Chandas (poetics) and Śikshā ( theories of communication) including script. Nārāyana Bhatta was patronized by Puratam Thirunāl Mahārāja also Called Deavnārāyaa, the king of Ambalap- puzha who himself a great scholar, requested  Nārāyana Bhaṭṭato write a work on Vyākaraa  which Naraya obliged b writing the Prakriya sarvasva. He was  also a contemporary of Yajna-nārāyana Dikshita of Chola-desa.

It is known Kerala has preserved to this day ancient mathematical theories because of Vedic masters who used  them in astronomy and also architectural science.  Similarly they preserved the Ayurvedic science because of their knowledge of Sanskrit. Their system of communication through polished language (Sanskrit), poetry (Chandas) and logic ( all due to mastery of the six systems).

Narayana Bhattatri’s most outstanding contribution was the Narayaniyam on Lord Krishna of Gruvayur. In this work, in addition to various poetic meters, he has used rare musical tunes as well, showing his fine command of Music. There are other works of Narayana bhattatri that may be noted

Prakriyā sarvasva (composed in 1616)

Bhramara sandesa,

Nārāyaniyam (Composed in 1586 AD, expressed in days as Kali 1712210) in 1036 poems in 100 dasakas

It is believed he refers to flood in the river Ambalapuzha river year 1611)

He lived for 106 years from 1560 to 1666 AD

Mānameyodaya First part (on Mimamsa)

Sripādasapatati ( on Goddess)

Asvalayana Kriyakrama (on Asvalayana sutra)

 

Nārāyana Bhaṭṭa has written a number of Prabandhas for the Chakkiyars to enact them in temples. The following were the Prabhandhas also called Campus;

Svāha sudhākara

Matsyāvatāra

Ashtami campu

Rājasuya

Dūta kāvya

Subhadrāharana

Pāncāli swayamvara

 

Besides Narayana Bhattatri has composed royal Prasasti for the king of Ambalappula whixh he used in royal charters and inscriptions

 

As far as one could see there is none in the history of Kerala who was such a genious , Scientist, Mathematician. Poet, dramatist, etc etc and yet he was essentially a Vedic Scholar. He was a product of Thiru-navai school of Vedic studies.

 

 This school which produced such eminent personalities of Kerala, about which Kerala should be proud of, and the entire nation should be proud of and which  flourished till about forty years ago has been closed, after more than five hundred years of existence. It is unfortunate that such a heritage school has been allowed to disappear. Any civilized country would have been proud of continuing such a 500 year old school!  Most of the last batch students who passed out of this school are now above 65 years of age.

 

Some of them are participating now in this Yajna and see how they test themselves for the mastery of Vedas by the most ancient system of examination called “Anyonyam”

 

Articles by Dr. R. Nagaswamy

Dr Nagaswamy

Dr. Nagaswamy is an eminent Archaeologist and the First Vice Chancellor of Shri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya. His full bio-data is available here.

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