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The famous Vedantic poem in Tamil by Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi

(consisting of two preliminary verses called Mangalam,

40 verses which form the main text ,

and another 40 verses called the Appendix)


Translation into English by Lakshmana Sharma

Detailed Commentary in Tamil by Lakshmana Sharma,

adapted into English by Profvk





In this seminal work, Bhagavan teaches that Self-Enquiry is the best means for Mokshha. What helps that enquiry is *satya-asatya-vivekam* -  that is the wisdom to discriminate between truth and falsity. And what we obtain by that enquiry is Self-Realisation. Though these three topics Discrimination, Enquiry, and Realisation appear in almost every verse, the particular order in which the verses appear suggest that verses 1 to 26 are mostly about Discrimination (Vivekam), 27 to 29 are mostly about Enquiry (Vichaaram) , and 30 to 40  are mostly about Realisation (anubhavam). So these three portions  may be classified as Viveka chapter, Vichaara chapter and Anubhava chapter.


Viveka chapter (Verse nos.1 to 26)


What is viveka? The Existent Reality is the Atman; the false appearances – the triad of jIva, Ishvara and the Universe – hide the Atman; the world that hides appears real and the Atman that is hidden appears unreal. The means of Enquiry is difficult to accomplish. What one has to do as prerequisite to this Enquiry is to decide that the falsity that hides is false  and the reality that is hidden  is real. This is Discrimination (Viveka). Thus this Discrimination becomes an indispensable prerequisite to the seeker. This chapter elaborately explains this discrimination.


Introduction to Verse #1:


In the first verse Bhagavan takes the analogy of the movie on the movie screen in order to explain that  Brahman is the Reality and the universe that hides it is a false appearance.  In technical terms Brahman is adhishhTAnam (base, substratum) and the universe is Aropitam (superimposed).


Verse #1.


nAM ulagam kANDalAl nAnA AM shakti uLa

Or mudalai oppal oru-talaiye.

nAma uru cittiramum pArppAnum cEr-paDamum Ar oLiyum

attanaiyum tAn Am avan.


Lakshmana Sharma’s Translation:


Since we see the world, (it follows that) there does exist a source of it, a sole Reality transcending (world and mind), of whose power all this is a becoming; this is beyond dispute. This cinema show of names and forms, their sustaining screen, the light (of Consciousness), and the spectator - all these four are only that Supreme Being, who is the Real Self within the Heart.


Prof. Swaminathan’s Translation:


Since we know the world, we must concede for both a common Source, single but with the power of seeming many. The picture of names and forms, the onlooker, the screen, the light that illumines -- all these are verily He.


Osborne’s Translation:


From our perception of the world there follows acceptance of a unique First Principle possessing various powers. Pictures of name and form, the person who sees, the screen on which he sees, and the light by which he sees: he himself is all of these.


Word by Word:


nAm ulagam kANDalAl : Since we cognize the universe (ulagam = world, universe)

nAnA Am shakti uLa: that which has the power to appear as many (nAnA = multiple)

Or mudalai:  One single Primal entity

oppal : to agree, to concede

oru talaiye:  can have no objection.

nAma uru cittiramum : all the picture-forms full of names (nAmam = name; cittiram = picture)

pArppAnum : and he who sees them  (pAr = see, watch)

cEr paDamum : and the cloth-base

Ar oLiyum : and the Light that shows (all these)  (oLi = Light, luminiscence)

attanaiyum: all these (four)

tAnAm : are the Atman (that is in the heart)  (tAn =  Self,  (also) the egoistic self)

avan : He, the God Almighty.


Commentary by Lakshmana Sharma:


Here we are taught that there exists an ever-existing Reality which is the substratum (or base, adhishhTAnam) for the visible universe.  But in order to clear the question whether that Reality transformed itself into the universe, or whether without undergoing any change it only forms the base for the appearance of the universe, the words *nAnAvAm shakti uLa* are added. What shows as this multiplicity of the universe is a miraculous power called mAyA, that cannot be distinguished as distinct from that Reality. That Reality has not undergone any change or transformation – is the meaning here. In other words, the universe is superimposed on the adhishhTAnam of Brahman.The analogy for this is the movie show. But between the movie show and the show of the universe there is a major difference. In the movie show the viewer is separate from the movie. But in this show of the universe (by mAyA) the viewer is also part of it. The viewer is not distinct from the universe. He is included in it. So if the universe is false, he also is. This is an important teaching.


In the analogy, the pictures that appear and disappear are impermanent; therefore unreal. The unmoving screen that really undergoes no change is permanent; therefore real. So also, the appearances of the universe along with the viewer are both unreal. The sat-cit that is the adhishhTAnam (base) is the reality, Brahman. By the factor of ‘sat’ it constitutes the base for the false appearances; and by the ‘cit’ factor it becomes the Light that shows up those appearances.So this unreal universe appears on the real Brahman. By the very jnAna-svarUpa (Nature of Knowledge) of that Brahman the universe appears as real. The universe by itself has no claims to Existence or the Light of Knowledge.  This fact will also be clear from verse #13 *jnAnamAm tAne mey*. 


But the Upanishads do say the jagat (=universe) has been created by Brahman and in fact Brahman itself became the universe.  How can they say it if it were not true? But wise experienced knowledgeable people say that the real intention of the Upanishads is to convey that the universe as such has no existential privilege nor the privilege of expression (=prakAshaM) ; only the sat-cit nature of Brahman which is the substratum makes it appear so.


Here it is said that neither the JIva who is the viewer, nor the show of the universe is distinct from the substratum Brahman and so they are actually Brahman itself.  Thus it is clear that all names and forms are unreal. This will again be made clear in the verse #4 which begins with ‘uruvaM tAnAyin’.


Further  that sat-cit Brahman is also the Atman, says this verse, through the words ‘tAnAm avan’. The Tamil word ‘tAn’ denotes the Atman here.


It is a foolish argument to say that Brahman that is the Atman has really transformed into the Universe. It is like saying that in the milk of Brahman drops of  the buttermilk of Ignorance (ajnAnam) got mixed and that produced the curd of the Universe.  Ignorance is not a material entity. How can it make changes in Brahman? Also, when milk becomes curd, the latter does not turn back into milk ever. So also if Brahman gets transformed into the universe in the same manner, then it cannot become Brahman again.  It turns out therefore that Brahman is incapable of preserving its own nature.  How can we expect such a Brahman  to protect us?


If there were no such thing as a never-changing Reality, then there would be no scope for our release.  It is because of the existence of something which never changes, we have a way of release, says the Buddha. All the jnAnis do clearly say that Brahman is the one which never changes; so we don’t have to accept the argument of the previous paragraph.


Finally the central meaning of this verse is to be taken like ‘this snake is the rope’.  The rope in reality has not become the snake, but in our time of ignorance it appears like a snake. In the same manner, in our time of Ignorance Brahman appears as the Universe. By proper knowledge of ours the rope shows up as it is. So also when Knowledge dawns the world-appearance vanishes and Brahman shows up as it truly is, namely the Atman. Even when the snake appeared it was the rope in reality, so also even when the world appears the Atman that is Brahman is the only Truth.  The Universe is never the reality.  This is the substance of this verse.


Footnote: Names and Forms appear to be true only in the state of Ignorance, that is, to the ego-full mind.  In the Jnana experience of a Released person (mukta) they are not true. This truth is also expressed by Bhagavan in the fifth verse of Arunachala-ashhTakam.


Note by VK: In this verse Bhagavan has elaborated the well-known Upanishad-declaration (Chandogya Upanishad: III – 14 – 1): *sarvaM khalvidam Brahma* (All this is Brahman). Adi Shankara explains it in his commentary as: This world diversified through names and forms and which is the object of direct perception etc. has Brahman as its origin.

GO TO 31.4

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