A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Poonthanam Namboodiri – A life devoted to Sri Krishna – Part 1

Sri Poonthanam Namboodiri

Sri Krishna, at Guruvayoor, Kerala is worshipped by millions of devotees from all over the world. However, some of the devotees are remembered and talked about even today for their staunch devotion. Sri Poonthanam Namboodiri is one among them.

Poonthanam Namboodiri was born in Keezhattur near Perinthalmana in the present Malappuram district of Kerala in 1547 CE. Poonthanam Illam – the house where he lived and left for Vaikunta still stands at Malappuram as testimony to his existence. ‘Poonthanam’ was the name of the family he belonged to. His real name is not known since he was ever referred to as Poonthanam.

In those days, though all Namboodiri children studied Sanskrit right from childhood, Poonthanam was not very conversant in Sanskrit. But he was very fluent and knowledgeable in Malayalam.

From an early age, Poonthanam was drawn to the worship of Lord Sri Krishna. He went to Guruvayoor regularly.

Poonthanam married when he was twenty and the couple were childless for a long time. Husband and wife fervently prayed for an heir. Soon, they were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. Greatly thrilled, they planned a grand feast for the community on the occasion of the “Anna Praasanam” ceremony (first time feeding of solid food for the six-month-old baby)

Elaborate arrangements were made and many people invited. The whole household was filled with a festive ambience. Poonthanam’s wife bathed and dressed up the baby, fed him milk, wrapped him in a clean white cloth and lay him to sleep in the corner of a dimly lit room.

In those days it was the social norm for Namboodiri women to cover themselves with a wrap-around shawl and carry a palm leaf umbrella whenever they went out. So, when the lady guests started arriving at Poonthanam’s house for the function, the first guest went into the room where the baby was sleeping, removed her shawl and not noticing the baby, kept it over the sleeping baby. The other ladies followed suit and soon there was a heap of clothes on the baby. Poonthanam and his wife were busy talking to the guests and overseeing the arrangements that they failed to notice this.

When Poonthanam’s wife went to the room to bring the baby for feeding food, to her greatest shock, she found a mound of clothes on top of the baby. Hurriedly she removed the clothes only to find that the baby had died due to suffocation. It was horrific! In a split second, the joyous atmosphere of the household turned into one of deep sorrow and anguish leaving all in tears.

Poonthanam and his wife could just not come to terms with what had happened. This incident made Poonthanam totally depressed and detached. He started seeking solace by visiting the shrine of Guruvayoor more often. Yet, he was simply unable to forget his infant son.  

One day as he sat in his house deep in thought, Sri Krishna, as an infant, was suddenly on his lap. Yes! It was real! Poonthanam could touch and feel Krishna! Hugging the little Krishna, tears of joy overflowed from his eyes. Little Krishna wiped the tears with His tiny palms which were as soft as lotus petals. Then,He disappeared. And, from the heart of Poonthanam sprang the words “When Baby Krishna is playing in the mind, do we need other children?”  (Unni Krishnan manassil kalikkumbol unnikal mattu venamo makkalai?)

And thus Njaanappana – the song of wisdom, was born. Composed by Poonthanam, this brings the essence of the Upanishads in simple Malayalam. The awakening that life on earth is impermanent, brought forth this beautiful song from the depths of Poonthanam’s heart. The simple language and the ‘Pana’ style of folk poetry could be appreciated by all. It is sung even today. Each paragraph is succeeded by the following lines:

“Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardana Krishna Govinda Narayana Hare

Achyutananda Govinda Madhava Sachidananda Narayana Hare”

Sri Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri was a contemporary of Poonthanam. Bhattathiri , a great Sanskrit scholar, had come with a vow to stay at Guruvayoor praying to Sri Krishna to get a cure for his severe rheumatism. Staying there, he was composing the great poem, ‘Narayaneeyam’. He was blessed to have visions of Lord Krishna often.

Poonthanam had heard about and seen Bhattathiri. He held him in high esteem. Poonthanam was then composing another poem, ‘Santhanagopalam Pana’. He was very eager to show that to Bhattathiri and request him to suggest corrections/modifications. So, he went to Guruvayoor carrying the half-finished manuscript.

Bhattathiri, on the other hand, considered himself superior, on account of his Sanskrit scholarship. He did not attach much value to literature in local languages, more so if it was composed by people who were not known scholars.

When the naive Poonthanam went and asked Bhattathiri to have a look at his composition and correct it, Bhattathiri looked at him with disdain and said “Oh! Malayalam poem? I see no literary value … This will certainly be full of errors, as you have no knowledge of Vibhakti (grammar – in Sanskrit). I can’t waste my time.” With that curt reply without even touching the manuscript, he cut Poonthanam off.

Poonthanam was terribly heart-broken. Having come with a great desire, Bhattathiri’s reaction hurt him badly. But given his child-like heart, his reaction to Bhattathiri’s behaviour was only to go to a corner of the temple and cry uncontrollably, calling out “Krishna! Mukunda! Hey Guruvayoorappa! Bhagavane!…” He had not a shred of hatred or anger against Bhattathiri and was sad only because his work seemed worthless.

Bhattathiri in the meanwhile went inside the sanctum to pray. As he was gazing at the lotus face of the Murti, he alone heard a distinct voice from the Murti. “Bhattathiri!” said the voice. “Poonthanam’s knowledge of Vibhakti (grammar) may be poor, but his Bhakti (devotion) to Me is far more superior than yours”. Bhattathiri felt as if someone had slapped him tight! His ego was shattered to pieces. He rushed out in search of Poonthanam, feeling very ashamed and small.

Finding Poonthanam in one corner of the temple premises with teary eyes and a downcast face he immediately apologized to him for his behaviour.  “I did not know you would take it so seriously” he said. “Give me the manuscript. I will see it now.”

Pleasantly surprised, Poonthanam gave him the manuscript. Now, Bhattathiri had a shock – the work did not contain one single mistake. Not only that. Every word, line and verse were so beautifully composed that it could evoke devotion in anyone who read it!  Bhattathiri then understood that the verses which came from Poonthanam’s heart were chosen by the Lord himself. It was also a learning for him that language was immaterial when one sings from the heart. Realising Poonthanam’s greatness he started treating him with great regard.

In the ‘Santhanagopalam’, Poonthanam had wanted to describe the beauty of Vaikunta – the abode of Vishnu. But it was so difficult and he was not at all satisfied with whatever he wrote. Days passed and he was sorely tormented by this single thought day and night, that he was unable to do even his normal duties.

One day, he had a vivid dream of himself going to Vaikunta. There, two of the guards welcomed him with great respect and showed him around. And when asked why he was being given so much respect they replied, “We were the two plaintain trees at the entrance of your house. Accruing so much merit by continuously listening to your Bhagavatham explanations, we have now been elevated as the Lord’s guards”.

Startled, Poonthanam woke up and rushed to the entrance of his house only to see that both the trees had  fallen. He then knew that what he saw in his dream was true and it was by the grace of Krishna. He completed Santanagopalam with those beautiful descriptions he had seen in his dream. It is said that Bhattathiri also completed his Narayaneeyam on the same day as Poonthanam completed Santanagopalam.

“Bhagavatha Saptaham” is celebrated in temples and homes where the Srimad  Bhagavatham (the life history of Sri Krishna) is read to the public over a period of seven days. Poonthanam used to attend every  Saptaham without fail, listening to numerous scholars. Each of them interpreted the verses according to their own expertise and after listening to so many scholars, Poonthanam could (with his limited knowledge of Sanskrit) interpret and explain the verses beautifully in Malayalam.  

Over a period of time, in Bhagavatha Saptahams, it became a practice for the scholars to read the Sanskrit verse and Poonthanam to interpret and tell the meaning in simple Malayalam to the local public. So lucid were his explanations that it kept the audience awe-struck and took them back in time to Lord Krishna’s era. Naturally Poonthanam used to get more applause!

In one of these Saptahams, something interesting happened. What was that?

Wait for Part 2 of Poonthanam’s story…


The clever wife – A folktale from South India


Poonthanam Namboodiri – A life devoted to Sri Krishna – Part 2


  1. Gomathi S

    Very nice Vidhya, as usual. Eagerly waiting for Part 2 ..

  2. R. Latha

    very interesting to read vidhya. good narration. keep it up. waiting for part 2.

  3. Satish

    Beautifully written anecdotes of truly one of the great devotees of Lord Krishna (I had never heard of him before but so glad to read about him now). Thank you madam for revealing some of the life history of such Saints depicting their wonderful devotion towards the Lord. People today are blogging about travel, cooking etc. which is not wrong and I agree is useful to many of us, but very few like you take so much effort to blog about Saints reading about whom gives us all a more deeper meaning towards understanding the ultimate goal of human life which is God realisation. Look forward to Part 2.

    • Thank you Satish Chander Ji for your kind words! Thank you for taking time to read and give feedback! Dhanyavaadah!

  4. Sripriya Ramesh

    Could read it only now. Wonderfully written about Pionthanam. Have heard about him in Pravachanams and his bhakti for Krishna. Bhakti is primordial. Vibhakti irunda mattum poradu nu azhaga sonnan kitta. Congratulations and waiting for part 2.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén