Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Sage and a Disciple

This vacation for me in Kerala was very subdued with many personal issues warranting my attention. Heavy rains were lashing across Kerala as I had seen only in my younger years. At Palakkad it rained incessantly during July and I was confined to reading in the comforts of our house. This time the books I read were mainly in Malayalam and were biographies or autobiographies some of which I enjoyed considerably.

Among the scores of books I read, some were most enjoyable because of the astounding personalities those covered. Integrity, commitment and simplicity were common traits found in great people and even in ordinary people who did great feats. Some of the books I read included the following:

Manasaasmarami by S.Guptan Nair, renowned writer, critic and teacher.
Katha Ithu Vare by D.Babu Paul, well known civil servant.
Ente Kazhinjakaala Smaranakal by Kumbalathu Sankupillai, politician and social reformer.
Smrithi Darpanam by Prof.Manmadhan, renowned Gandhian.
Sneha theeram Thedi by S.V.Govindan, Vinobha Bhave‘s disciple.
Kavikulaguru PV Krishna Warrier –poet- by Prof.CK Moossad
Thakarnna maniyum nilakkaatha nadavum – on poet Edappally Raghavan Pillai – by Raju Narayana Swami
Pundit Gopalan Nair- Sagely scholar- by P.Rajagopalan.

While each of the above books was inspiring and informative in many ways, I was quite touched to go through the biography of Pundit Gopalan Nair, a sage like teacher and great scholar of Sanskrit and Malayalam. Born in 1870, his productive years were spent as the Headmaster of Kollengode Rajas High School. He lived to the ripe old age of 95 and is best known as the translator and commentator of Sreemad Bhagavatham from Sanskrit to Malayalam. Originally published by Achuthan Nair of the famous Norman printing press, Calicut, it was subsequently taken over by the Guruvayur Devaswom which published it in 10 volumes. Bhagavatham contains the essence of the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavath Geetha that a prophetic mind of a Rishi is needed to comment on its various stanzas. Pundit Gopalan Nair, eminently qualified to do this stupendous work took up the assignment in his 80s under the advice of Bharathi Theertha Swamigal of Sringeri. He has also written commentaries on the Brahma Sutra and other holy texts of Hinduism. Dr.Radhakrishnan, as Vice President of the country had attended the centenary celebrations of Kollengode Rajahs High School and had warmly felicitated the octogenarian Gopalan Nair, who had come to the function as a guest. On his 93rd birthday, Dr.Rajendra Prasad, President of India sent the following message of felicitation which reflects the esteem with which he was held during those times.

14th April 1961
I am glad to know that the 93rd birthday of Pundit Gopalan Nair, a celebrated Malayalam writer is being celebrated by the people of Kerala as a public event. On this occasion I send my best wishes and wish many more happy returns to Pundit P Gopalan Nair.

Incidentally, Gopalan Nair was a favourite disciple of Vidwan Ettan Thampuran –PD Manavikraman Rajah- who was the senior Thampuran of Mankavu Kovilakam. He was later to become the Zamorin of Calicut and used to be hailed as Bhoja Rajah because of his encouragement to scholars and poets of the times.

In 1910, Gopalan Nair was working as Malayalam pundit at Rajahs high school owned by Vasudeva Raja of Kollengode. He was a friend of P P Braithwaite, an Englishman who was the Inspector of Schools under the eighth circle comprising Malabar, Kodagu and South Canara. Braithwaite was a remarkably inquisitive European and requested Vasudeva Raja for a personal Malayalam tutor to be sent to him for a year and Pundit Gopalan Nair was assigned with this.

Gopalan Nair left for Cannanore which was the Head quarters of Braithwaite. Braithwaite’s studies went on for 19 months and he came out first in the Malayalam examinations which were conducted after 10 months. Gopalan Nair has often mentioned about his unique relationship with this bright and friendly disciple possessing a serene and balanced mind and attitude.

“While learning Malayalam, Braithwaite was keen to absorb the essence of Vedanta to enable him to read and grasp the Geetha. As such, the mutual affection went on strengthening through our frequent conversations”, so said the guru about the disciple. While mentioning about the Englishman, he used words only like, “best friend, ideal disciple and great thanks-giver. “

Once, Braithwaite visited his Guru’s Kollengode School for one of its anniversaries. He spoke in Malayalam and the audience heard it with rapt attention and reverence which started with the preface, “’Njan gurubhakthiyil uthamanum, sishyanmaaril adhamanum aakunnu.”’- I am supreme in my respect to the guru but am worst as a disciple-

During the Delhi durbar of 1911, honours and recognitions were conferred on many and Braithwaite was appointed as Principal of the college in Ajmer. The disciple wanted the guru to accompany him to Ajmer. However, the household chores did not permit Gopalan Nair to accept the invitation and to follow his student. Braithwaite came to Kollengode to call on the guru’s wife and to take permission to leave for Ajmer.

While Braithwaite was serving in Ajmer, the First World War erupted. Braithwaite accepted the call of the fatherland and joined the army. He used to write letters to Gopalan Nair even from the war fronts. After 18 months of service in the war he was killed in the war and the tragic news came to the guru through Braithwaite’s sister in England.

These brief interludes in the lives of a sage and a disciple were very moving as I read the book. However, my searches through the net did not provide any additional information on P.P.Braithwaite except the following from the National Archives of UK.

Application from Mr P P Braithwaite for the post of Principal of the College for Teachers at Bombay IOR/L/PJ/6/709, File 419 2 Feb 1905

If any of my readers have any supplements to the life of PP Braithwaite, I shall welcome it. He indeed belonged to an era in which the pursuit of knowledge, humility, hard work and dedication were considered great virtues. People like him had greater ideals in life than the common folks of the present day of which I too am a representative.

Dubai, 3rd August 2009.


Maddy said...

This blog was very interesting and two things were of particular interest!!

One - Norman Achutan nair was our next door neighbor in Calicut, during my kid days, i used to go often to their house, they had a big wooden elephant at home, which I would try to clamber on all the time..

and the second -the Vidwan Ettan Raja you mentioned, happens to be my great grandfather.

I am off next week to Palghat & Calicut for a fortnight...

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Maddy. The association between Norman Achuthan Nair and Pundit Gopalan Nair was so close that PGN used to stay at NAN's house during his visits to Calicut. I was curious to note that you were staying close to him during your boyhood days.

I knew about your relationship to Vidwan Ettan Raja. He was indeed a great patron of scholars that illustrious persons like Mahakavi Kunjukuttan Thampuran (who was incidentally a frequenter at my Dad's kovilakom in Vellarappally) and Vallathol were regulars at Makavu kovilakom.

You must rightfully be very proud of the ancestry!

Kind regards,

meerasworld said...

its wonderful reading books when its raining and you cant go out.i wish i was back home:(

Murali RamaVarma said...

Yes, Meera. I see that you tend to be nostalgic thinking of home and the rains seen in younger days!

vmsivadas said...

Fine blog Would like to know from where can get the books of Pandit Gopalan Nai Bhagavad giita & Bhagavadam . Publishers name & address. SIVADAS

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Sivadas. Srimad Bhagavatham in 8 volumes with commentary in Malayalam by Pundit Gopalan Nair is published by the Guruvayoor Devaswom, Guruvayoor (1995 edition was priced at Rs 800).You must be able to procure it from there. I presume that Bhagavadgita should also be available there.

suresh said...

Dear Sri. Murali

Who has the copyright of Pandit P. Gopalan Nairs books. Of course Bhagavatham copyright is given to Guruvayur Devaswom. There is precious commentary on Panchadasi written by master. Where we can see a copy of that book and who has the copy right for Panchadasi. Please give some feedback. Suresh

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear Suresh,

It is highly likely that the copyright of Panchadasi might be with Norman Achuthan Nair. Let me see if I can find it out to know if any new edition is available.

kind regards,

Mata Amritanandamayi Math, Pune Centre said...


I am glad that I came across this blog while searching for Pandit Gopalan Nair. I would like to buy a copy of his biography mentioned in your post. Could you please give me the name of the publisher and other details. I could not find any mention of the book by searching on the internet except on this blog.

With thanks and regards

shankara said...


I am glad that I came across this blog while searching for Pandit Gopalan Nair. I would like to buy a copy of his biography mentioned in your post. Could you please give me the name of the publisher and other details. I could not find any mention of the book by searching on the internet except on this blog.

With thanks and regards

shankara said...


I am glad that I came across this blog while searching for Pandit Gopalan Nair. I would like to buy a copy of his biography mentioned in your post. Could you please give me the name of the publisher and other details. I could not find any mention of the book by searching on the internet except on this blog.

With thanks and regards

Prabha Chembath said...

While browsing I stumbled upon this beautiful blog. I am so happy to inform you that I am the great grand nephew of Pandit and I am going to publish some of his major works very soon.My name is Vasudevan Nair mobile 9447059833 and eager to hear from you
With regards

Calicut Heritage Forum said...

There is a detailed biography of P P Braithwaite in the following Facebook page
There is a reference to Pandit P Gopalan Nair also. PPB was indeed a remarkable person. His brilliant career was cut short in 1918 when he was killed in action in the Palestine war. He is buried in the Haifa Military Cemetery.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you very much. It was very informative to know about Capt. Braithwaite . Since I am also a collector of war medals, based on your info I checked up his details at and found it very interesting. I commented onthat post too.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Thank you, Prabha Chembath. Please go through the site to know more about Capt. Braithwaite, the disciple of Pundit.

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