Explaining the Katapayadi System
The renowned poet, linguist, mathematician and astronomer from Kerala, Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, authored the devotional discourse Narayaniyam.
According to legend, the nearly paralyzed Bhattathiri composed a dasaka of ten verses each day of the Sanskrit text. He hoped this sincere undertaking would eventually heal his body.
On the 100th day, the Lord appeared before him and completely cured his disease. This miracle led to the inspiration of the final dasaka.
Bhattathiri, like many Indian poets, used the Katapayadi system when composing the Narayaniyam.
“This ancient Indian numerical notation assigns letters to numbers so that the numbers may be easily remembered as meaningful words or verses,” explained Dr. M. P. Chandrasekharan, Dean-Engineering.
Dr. M. P. Chandrasekharan, who belongs to Kerala, was drawn to study this ancient system that originated in the state. He shared his insights with first-year engineering students in the cultural education classes at the Coimbatore campus on August 24.
In the Katapayadi system, several letters can be assigned the same number, however not every letter is allotted a number.
“A beautiful example of this technique can be seen by looking at the last line of the final dasaka in the Narayaniyam: āyurārogyasaukhyam. It literally means long-life, health and happiness, but by using the Katapayadi technique, the word is converted into the number 1712210,” elaborated Chandrasekharan.
“In 1587 AD, when the Narayaniyam was written, this number represented the number of days that had passed since the beginning of the Kali Yuga, per the Malayalam calendar,” he added.
Using his uncomplicated interactive style, Dr. M. P. Chandrasekharan made it easy for students to understand and apply the Katapayadi system in daily life.
For example, he explained how one could easily remember many phone numbers by converting them into words or verses.
The legend of Bhattathiri says that his paralysis was a voluntary condition. He became paralyzed after he prayed to the Lord to transfer his teacher’s disease to himself. The composition of the Narayaniyam and his fervent devotion were Bhattathiri’s medicine which led to his eventual release from suffering.
Both the Narayaniyam and the Katapayadi system are examples that embody the power of India’s ancient culture. The combination of devotion and creative ingenuity arising from inner contemplation led to their creation. Similarly, we too can tap into the infinite potential of universal wisdom simply by practicing the teachings of our culture.
October 17, 2011
School of Engineering, Coimbatore