The Warkari Movement III – Namdeva: The pioneer of Nirguna Bhakti

Namdev_maharaj

एक अनेक बिआपक पूरक जत देखउ तत सोई ॥

माइआ चित्र बचित्र बिमोहित बिरला बूझै कोई ॥

One is in all and all is in One,

Wherever I look there is One

Enchanting is the world of Maya

Only the wise know, they are the only one

सभु गोबिंदु है सभु गोबिंदु है गोबिंद बिनु नही कोई ॥

सूतु एकु मणि सत सहंस जैसे ओति पोति प्रभु सोई ॥

All is Govind,** in all is Govind

Without Govind there is nothing

Like one thread that pierces all beads

God traverses all beings

जल तरंग अरु फेन बुदबुदा जल ते भिंन न होई ॥

इहु परपंचु पारब्रह्म की लीला बिचरत आन न होई ॥

Waves, foam, bubbles from water are not apart

Think and you will see,

the world is an illusion

of the Lord, they are all a play and part

मिथिआ भरमु अरु सुपन मनोरथ सति पदार्थु जानिआ ॥

सुक्रित मनसा गुर उपदेसी जागत ही मनु मानिआ ॥

You desire false illusions and dream objects

Real and true to the mind they appeareth

At Gurus counsel the desire for good deeds

in the a mind awaketh

कहत नामदेउ हरि की रचना देखहु रिदै बीचारी ॥

घट घट अंतरि सरब निरंतरि केवल एक मुरारी ॥

Says Namdev gazing at Lords creation my heart decides

the One and only Murari** in every pore, the Eternal resides

(Namdev’s Bani in Guru Granth Sahib,Ang 485,21934-21941)1

(All English trans. Myself)

 

Namdeva stands in the company of courageous revolutionary poets like Kabir, Raidas and Nanak, who apart from being saints were also radical reformers who stood above caste and organised religion, broke the bonds of ritual and ceremonies, denounced idolatry and brushed aside the authority of religious scriptures. Being a Shudra, Namdeva had to face the contempt of the Brahmins. He was also one of the pillars of the Warkari movement. He walks among the few in the world who rose from the pits of sin to the realisation of the highest principals of Nirguna bhakti and Advaita

 

Between the 13th and 17th century a religious and literary renaissance flooded the region of Maharashtra. It was a spiritual awakening, the kind of which was never seen before or after. It scarcely left a soul untouched.

Some even believe that this movement whose basis was Bhakti, which later came to be known as the Warkari movement, was far more powerful than its counterpart in northern and central India. In Maharashtra, this religious revival spanned over 500 years during which more than 50 saints breathed life into it and left their mark. These saints came from all walks of life: Marathas, kunbis, tailors, gardeners, potters, gold smiths, reformed prostitutes and Muslims. 2p45

Sant Namdeva was one of the saints under whose guidance the Warkari movement gathered extraordinary saints in its fold. But apart from being one of the stalwarts of the Warkari movement Namdeva is also known as the first major saint poet of Nirguna Bhakti. A ‘Chimpi’ or variously interpreted as a tailor, dyer-cloth printer by caste, he also stands among those few saints who rose from the pit of evil doers 3p.16;4p.85 to a Saguna bhakti saint and ultimately reached the unfathomable heights of Nirguna bhakti. The sixty one hymns of Namdeva, which are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, pertain to the period when he had achieved enlightenment through devotion to the formless Absolute – Nirguna Bhakti. This change in the nature of his devotion and perception, from being a passionate devotee of Vithoba of Pandharpur to a nirgunibhakta who considered Vithoba to be a symbol of the supreme Soul that pervades the Universe is apparent in his Abhangs. Namadeva’s guru, Shri Visoba Kechar, who himself was a disciple of Gyanadeva, is believed to have shown the path of Nirguna bhakti to Namadeva4p.120. In Namdeva’s Abhangs one can see the synthesis of knowledge and devotion.

Namadeva’s contribution to Bhakti literature is significant. Apart from bhajans (devotional songs set to music), he is believed to have written over 2500 abhangs(a form of devotional poetry sung in Marathi in the praise of Vithoba during pilgrimage to the temples of Pandharpur, the centre of Warkari movement) and about 250 padavalis – simple passionate lyrics in Hindi. These padavalis are beautiful syncretic lyrics in which Namadeva used various dialects of northern India that he came across during his travels. These include Khadi boli, Brajabhasha, Purvi Hindi, Punjabi, Arabic and Persian. In these Padvalis we get a glimpse of this saint and his beliefs.

He ridiculed idol worship:

 

एकै पाथर कीजै भाउ ॥

दूजै पाथर धरीऐ पाउ ॥

जे ओहु देउ त ओहु भी देवा ॥

कहि नामदेउ हम हरि की सेवा ॥४॥१॥

One stone is worshiped while the other is trodden upon

If one is god why the other is not?

Says Namdeva I worship Hari** none other ought

(Namdev’s Bani in Guru Granth Sahib,Ang 525,23502-2194)1

 

He was of the opinion that saguna bhakti i.e. the worship of God with attributes with its rituals is only a ladder to be discarded once the goal of Nirgun bhakti, the worship and oneness with the Formless Reality is achieved:

 

तीरथ ब्रत जगत की आस। फोकट कीजै बिन बिसवास।।

एकादसी जगत की करनीं। पाया महल तब तजी निसरनीं।।

               भणंत नामदेवतुम्हारै सरणां। मुझा मनवां तुझा चरणां।।2p.283-84,Pad56

In pilgrimages and fast the world’s hope lies

Without true faith useless they lie

The ladder of fasts and outward rituals

Once the divine palace is attained it is of no use

Says Namdev he seeks Your shelter,

my heart lies at your feet’s shelter

 

He was brutal in his criticism of the hyppocracy and façade among Hindus and Muslims alike:

 

ब्रह्मा पढ़ि गुंनि बैद सुनावै मन की भ्रांति  न जाइ रे

करम करै सौ सूझै नांहीं बहुतक करम कराइ रे

मास दिवस लग रोजा साधै कलमां  बंग पुकारैं रे

मन मैं काती जीव बाधारैं नांव अलह का सारैं रे

केवल ब्रह्म सती करि जांनैंसहज सुंनि मैं ध्याया रे

             प्रणवंत नांमदेव गुर परसादैं पाया तिनिहीं लुकाया रे 2 Pad 64, p291

 

They read Brahma, Veda yet deluded they remain

Offer endless rituals yet ignorance they gain

They observe the month long Ramzan fast

by the muezzin a call for prayer is requested

recite the name of Allah

yet with violent minds they are afflicted

Only those who know the One Brahma

can dwell effortlessly in the Formless

To the grace of guru Namdev bows

keeps it hidden he who knows

हिन्दू अन्हा तुरक काणा दुहां ते गिआनी सिआणा

हिन्दू पूजे देहुरा मुसलमाणु मसीत

नामे सोई सेविया जह देहुरा न मसीत 2 pad 208,p.367

The Hindu is blind and the Muslim is half-blind

None has true knowledge

In the temple worships the Hindu, the Muslim in Masjid

Namdev worships Him who is neither in temple nor Masjid

It is obvious from Namdeva’s  Padvalis that like, Kabir after him,  Namdeva was well versed in  the ways of the Sahaj, Nath and Advaita panths:

चंद सूर दोउ समि करि राषौं मन पवन डीढ डांडी

सहजैं सुषमन  तारा मंडल इहि बिधि त्रिस्नां षांडी

बैठा रहूं न फिरूं न डोलूं  भूषां रहूं न षाऊं

मरूं न जीऊंअहि निसि भूगतौं नहीं आऊं नहीं जांऊं

गगन मंडल मैं रहनी हमारी सहज सुनिं ग्रीह मेला

अंतरधुनि मैं मन बिलमा ऊंकोई जोगी गंमि लहैला

पाती तोड़ि न पूजौं देवा  देवलि देव न होई

नांमां कहै मैं हरि की सरना पुनरपि जनम न होई 2p.292.Pad 65

The sky resounds with the music of the flute

The sound of Anhad every where

Ignorant of his Self, O Lord, the fool wanders

here and there, nowhere

United the Sun and the Moon with ease

Held firm the mind the breath and the spine

Rose I through the subtle to the star constellation

Thereby all desires I cease

Neither stay still nor move nor vacillate I

Neither hungry nor satiated am I

Neither live nor die nor suffer do I

Neither come or go

My home I have made  in the cosmic skies

Dwell I effortlessly in the Void within

Enrapt is my mind with the music within

Rare is a Yogi who can hear such a hymn

I gather no leaves for the Deva in the temple

No God dwells in the idol

Only in Hari, in Hari I have lain

Never to be born again

 

According to the tradition available, Namdeva (1270-1350) was a close companion of Sant Jnanesvar also known as Gyanadeva, another great Marathi saint and the author of Gyaneshvari.2p.43  Namdeva was a householder and a married man. After Gyanadeva’s death, Namdeva moved to north India and settled in Punjab in a village called Ghuman in Gurdaspur. Here he spent 20 years of his life spreading the message of devotion. However, some scholars question whether Namdev was a contemporary of Gyanadeva and whether the two came in contact with each other at all3p18.

While Gyanadeva’s influence was limited to Maharashtra, Namdeva along with Ramananda*** spread a more evolved form of Bhakti in North and Central India and laid ground for future Nirguna saint poets like Kabir, Nanak and Raidas.

Notes

*All English translations of the poetic compositions are by the author,  Rupa Abdi

** Govind, Hari, Murari, Ram etc. are various names, avatars and attributes of Vishnu, however in case of Namdeva, they are the various names by which he addressed the Ultimate Reality.

***A 14th century Bhakti saint who founded a new school of Vaishnavism based on love and devotion

 

References and further reading:

  1. https://www.searchgurbani.com/
  2. Sadarangani N.M. 2004.Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception, Cultural Encounter and Impact. Sarup and Sons. New Delhi
  3. MacNicole, N.1919.The Heritage of India: Psalms of Maratha Saints. Association Press. Calcutta
  4. S.K. 1972. हिंदी निर्गुणी काव्य का प्रारम्भ और नामदेवकी हिन्दी कविता. Rachana Prakashan. Allahabad
  5. Callewaert, Winand M & Mukund Lath. 1989. The Hindi Padavali of Namdev. Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt.Ltd. Delhi
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The Warkari Movement II: EKNATH- A Brahmin Saint and a Sufi’s Disciple who Embraced Dalits

Artist's version of Sant Eknath. Picture credit: Shri Eknath Maharaja Mission
Artist’s version of Sant Eknath. Picture credit: Shri Eknath Maharaja Mission

For all those who equate organised religion to dharma and who, due to their narrow mind set, are compelled to box pluralistic saints like Kabir and Shirdi Sai baba into Hindu/Muslim categories, for them, Sant Eknath is an enigma, an embarrassment. His Guru – Swami Janardan, is claimed, by some scholars, to be a Sufi. Many of his bharuds (devotional songs) are in Hindustani and can often be mistaken to be written by a Sufi. He spoke of finding parallels in Hinduism and Islam, his followers belonged to different castes and creeds and according to one legend he even led Muslim armies on one occasion.  Little wonder then that recent Marathi writers, have tried to recast him as a savior of Hinduism from Islam although available literature proves something altogether different!!

The story of sant Eknath is a story of a scholarly Brahmin whose compassion and wisdom allowed him to rise above caste distinction and even engage Muslims in his spiritual dialogues.

Sant Eknath (1533-99 C.E.) was born to a Brahmin family in the holy city of Paithan, known as the Benaras of Maharashtra, which stands on the banks of Godavari. He was the grandson of Sant Bhanudas- a devout Warkari sant who is credited with returning the idol of Vithobha from Hampi to Pandharpur, its original home. It had been taken from Pandharpur by Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar in 1951. Spiritually inclined from a very early age, Sant Eknath was allowed by his guru, Swami Janardhan to lead a life of a house holder. Sant Eknath carried forward the tradition of social reform of Sant Gyaneshwar and Sant Namdev by rejecting all distinctions of caste and creed and the relevance of ritual and rites. For this he won many opponents among the high caste Hindus.

He composed numerous religious songs in Marathi called abhangs, owees and bharuds.  He wrote a commentary in Marathi on the Bhagvad Purana known as Eknath Bhagwat and also began writing Rukimini Swayamvara which, after his death, was later completed by one of his disciples. His works brought the highest of religious truths and moral guidance to the common people. He was a renowned kirtankaar giving birth to a unique style of Marathi kirtan singing called Eknath kirtan. He collected all the versions of Gyaneshwar’s Gyaneshwari and produced a critical edition of it.

Sant Eknath’s abhang recited by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi:

However his unusual contribution to Marathi Bhakti literature is his empathy with the dalits. Out of the three hundred bharuds (drama poems) that he has written, about fifty are from the perspective of a Dalit. In forty seven of which the protagonist is a Mahar and in one a Mang is the central character. Both these castes are considered among the ‘lowest’ in Maharshtra and elsewhere in India. These characters in Eknath’s drama poems, preach morality, the righteous path, the importance of a Guru and how the Bhakti marg liberates us from the cycle of death and rebirth. He mocks at the so-called learned Brahmins and fake gurus in the following Bharud:

“They say ‘we have become saints’

They put on garlands and sandal paste.

Taking a lamp in their hands

They cry udo,udo….. !

They do kirtan for the sake of their stomachs

They teach the ‘meaning of all’ to the people.

They cheat their ignorant devotees.

They do not know the meaning of kirtan…….

Do the one kind of Bhakti.

Don’t wait for anything else.

Good and bad come in their own way.

They are the proof of past deeds…..”

Like his predecessors of the Warkari Bhakti movement, Eknath, in his following Bharud preaches that all humans can experience nearness to God irrespective of caste and creed:

God baked pots with Gora

drove cattle with Chokha

cut grass with Savata Mali

wove garments with Kabir

dyed hide with Ramdas

sold meat with butcher Sajana

melted gold with Narhari

carried cow dung with Jana Bai

and even became the Mahar messenger of Damaji

There are numerous stories of Eknath being ostracised and punished by the Brahmins for his proximity and social interactions with the so called ‘untouchables’.

Eknath is also credited with contributing to the religio-cultural pluralism of the Deccan in the sixteenth century. He lived during the rule of Ahmednagar Sultanate. Apart from being an ancient capital, the sixteenth century Paithan was a major trading center and Eknath had the opportunity to interact with people of all castes as well as Indian Muslims and Arabs.

 His guru, Janardhan Swami, was a saint as well as in charge of the Daulatabad fort. Janardahan Swami was the disciple of Chand Bodale, also known as Chandrabhat, who was a Vaishnav and yet a follower of the Kadri or Qadarriya Sufi path and dressed like a faqir. At one time, it is believed, Eknath took his guru’s place to lead the Muslim army when the fort was attacked, as his guru was in deep meditation at this time!! According to Rigopoulos (p.160) Eknath disguised himself as his guru and in the process acquired all his strength and defeated the attacking army. This phenomenon of the disciple (murid) completely absorbing himself into the personality of his master (shaykh) is known as fana-fi-sh’shaykh among Sufis.

The Sufi influence on Eknath is further indicated by the number of Persian and Arabic words found in his Bharuds. While recently many right wing ideologist have tried to cast Sant Eknath as a saviour of Hinduism from the ‘hated’ Muslim tide, numerous scholars, both Hindu and Muslim, concur that medieval India was an era of tolerance, participation of Hindu subjects in the Islamic government and cultural interaction and influence among the two communities. Eknath’s bharud titled, Hindu-Turk Samvad sums up the situation aptly:

Eknath: The goal is one, the ways of worship are different.

Listen to the dialogue between these two!

The Turk calls the Hindu ‘Kafir’!

The Hindu answers: ‘I will be polluted, get away!’

A quarrel broke out between the two,

A great controversy began.

Muslim: O Brahman! Listen to what I have to say:

Your scripture is a mystery to everyone,

God has hands and feet, you say.

This is really impossible!

Hindu: Listen you great fool of a Turk!

See God in all living things.

You haven’t grasped this point

And so you have become a nihilist…….

At that moment that saluted each other.

With great respect, they embraced.

Both became content, happy.

Quiet, calm.

‘You and I quarreled to open up the knowledge of high truth,

In order to enlighten the very ignorant.

In place of karma-awakening!!’

REFERENCES

  • Pemmaraju G. The Mystic Circle: Sufis, Sants & the Songs of the Deccan
  • http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2014/06/the-mystic-circle-sufis-sants-songs-of-the-deccan.html
  •  Ahmend S A. 2011. A Comprehensive History of Medieval India: From the Twelfth to the Mid-Eighteenth Century. Dorling Kindersley. New Delhi .
  • Prasoon S. 2009.Indian Saints and Sages.Hindology Books. Pustaka Mahal, Delhi.
  •  Novetzke C L. 2008. Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India. Columbia University Press. New York
  •  Sadangi H C. 2008.Emancipation of Dalits and Freedom Struggle. Isha Books. Delhi
  • Rigopoulos A. 1998. Dattatreya: The Immortal Guru, Yogin, and Avatara: A Study of the Transformative and Inclusive Character of a Multi-Faceted Hindu Deity. State University of New York Press. New York.

The Warkari Movement I : Sant Dnyaneshwar-Beyond Brahmanical Tryranny

A warkari on his way from Alandi to Pandharpur. Photo credit: Wikipedia
A warkari on his way from Alandi to Pandharpur. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Since the 13th century, Pandharpur in Maharashtra became a birthplace of a religious movement which was born locally but had a universal appeal, going beyond caste and religious identity. This movement was given life to by a saint called Pundalik. According to Bahirat (4 p.6), Pundalik lived before the eighth century A.D. It is believed that in his younger days, soon after his marriage Pundalik began to neglect his parents. However one day,  an encounter with the divine, reformed him and he became a devoted son. As the story goes, Lord Krishna and his consort, Rukmini chanced upon Pundalik’s hut in the forest on a rainy day. Pundalik was busy attending to his parents and did not rise immediately to pay his respects to the deity but hurled a brick in His direction for Him to stand on without getting His feet wet. Pleased with Pundalik’s devotion to his parents, Lord Krishna asked Pundalik to worship Him as Vithoba i.e. the one who stood on a brick. At this scene, a form of Krishna arose standing on a brick, around which the temple of Pandharpur was later built.

Interestingly the name ‘Pandharpur’ is derived from Pandurang – one of the many names of Lord Shiva, moreover the temple of Pandharpur, dedicated to Lord Krishan, an incarnation of Vishnu, is surrounded by Shaivite temples. Perhaps an indication that the universal Truth exists beyond all different forms and cults of worship.

Hence from 13th century onwards Pandharpur became place of pilgrimage for the Warkari Bhakti movement. Most Marathi sant poets who worshipped Vithoba (Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu) and all those who followed their teachings form a part of this movement. The Warkaris identify with a succession of over fifty poet saints who lived over a period of five hundred years. Among whom the major four are,  the outcast Brahmin- Dnyaneshwar or Jnandev (1275-1296); the tailor Namdeva- (1270-1350), Eknath (1533-1599) who was a householder Brahmin and the editor of Dnyaneshwari; the shudra poet saint- Tukaram (1608-1659); and Ramdas (1608-1681) who is considered as a political saint and teacher of Shivaji.

Sant Dnyaneshwar, image credits: Wikipedia
Sant Dnyaneshwar, image credits: Wikipedia

The Warkaris believe Sant Dnyaneshwar, also known as Jnandeva (1275-1296) to be their founder. However according to Bahirat (4 p.6), Pundalika and his God had been enjoying a wide reputation nearly four of five centuries before Dnyaneshwar. Dnyaneshwar’s father and grandfather were regular visitors to Pandharpur.He was one of the greatest poet saints of medieval India . In a short life span, he produced a stupendous amount of spiritual works which included a major philosophical treatise (the Amritanubhava), a large number of religious poems (called abhangas), and an extensive poetic commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (titled, after his name, Dnyaneshwari).  

His works  also include Changadeva-Pasashthi (containing sixty-five verses addressed to a Hathayogi called Changadeva), Haripatha(containing a collection of twenty eight Abhangas) and Namana (a hymn containing hundred and eight stanzas in praise to the Lord of the universe ).  

Dnyaneshwar was an advocate of Bhakti marga. But bhakti, for him, meant more than sentimental affection, it meant the turning around of the whole being towards the Godhead. Dnyaneshwar’s philosophy and poetry, are rooted in concrete life experience of an ordinary human not given to exotic flights of imagination.

Dnyaneshwar, at a very tender age, became an ‘outcaste Brahmin’ because of his father’s actions. His father was a Brahmin named Vithalpant from Alandi in Maharashtra. Vithalpant left his wife and children to become a sanyasin (ascetic). However after being chided by his guru, Ramanand for abandoning his true ‘dharma’ of looking after his family as a householder, Vithalpant returned to his family. Once back in Alandi, he and his wife were excommunicated by the ruling Brahmin elite who denounced him for mixing up “life stages” and for contaminating sannyasa with worldly family concerns. But the fact was that Vithalpant was no sinner, in fact he had shown the courage and selflessness to return to his family to perform his  duties and sacrificed his desire for renunciation. However he became a victim of Brahamanical tyranny. Ultimately Vithalpant and his wife Rukmini committed suicide. At this time Dnyaneshwar was merely eight years old.

Vithalpant’s story proved that the path to God leads through the world, universal love and service of humanity.   This path is available to all and is not the exclusive right of Pundits and Brahmans. The priests and Brahmans, in their arrogance, claim to “possess” God by virtue of their Vedic knowledge (jnana) and rituals. In their ignorance they do not know that the divine can never be possessed but can only be pursued through a life of service.

Dnyaneshwar is believed to have befriended the poet-saint Namadeva who was by some five years his senior, when the two first met in Pandharpur . Dnyaneshwar’s meeting with this great Sant was of great significance in shaping his philosophy which was later to become the foundation of the bhakti cult in Maharashtra. While in Pandharpur, Jnanadeva became a devotee of the god Vithoba (an avatar of Shri Krishna) . The two saints went on a pilgrimage together, visiting most of the holy places in northern India, including Benaras and Delhi. Following this journey, they returned to Pandharpur (in 1296) where a great festival was held in their honour. This festival was attended by many contemporary saints like Goroba the potter, Sanvata the gardener, Chokhoba the untouchable, Parisa Bhagavat the Brahmin. At the end of this festival Dnyaneshwar expressed the wish to return to Alandi and to enter sanjivan samadhi. 

Dnyaneshwar’s writings are  not in Sanskrit but in popular Marathi. They are based on his own life experiences, a life reflectively lived. He was a thinker and a poet as is evident in  both his Jnaneshvari and his Amritanubhava – works well known  for their searching insights and poetic style. He composed the Amritanubhava, a philosophical poem at the behest of his elder brother and guru, Nivrittinath, at a time when Jnanadeva was probably in his late teens. According to some scholars while the Dnyaneshwari appeals to the masses, the Amritanubhava appeals mainly to the learned. It is more argumentative.

As its title indicates,  Amritanubhava is nectar of wisdom derived from direct experience and it gives a glimpse into the nature of ultimate experience. It  is meant to serve as a guide to the understanding of “Brahman” or “being” According to Dnyaneshwar, being is not an object of thought, but what allows thought to happen in the first place. 

He argues that sense (or sensory) experience only ‘”makes sense” in light of another, deeper understanding; similarly, reason is “rational” only  by exceeding itself. For him the truth of experience is not validated or authenticated by scriptures; but scriptures gain their authoritative standing through their agreement with experiential truth. He says that the absolute does not prove or disprove itself with the help of any norms or methods of knowledge….These methods are “like a lamp lit at midday which neither spread light nor dispel darkness.”

He further argues that words to describe the state of Being are not self-contained, each points beyond itself like the symbols of Jung, which stand for something more than their obvious meaning. In Amritanubhava he says,  “Being by itself, the absolute, is beyond the ordinary conceptions of existence and non-existence.”…..” Looked at from this angle, the scriptural words appear as “the residues of our thought”; in the light of being itself, “they vanish like the clouds that shower rain, or like the streams that flow into the sea or the paths that reach their goal.” He further adds that “if the situation is such that nothing at all exists, who then knows [and can say] that there is nothing? Hence, the theory of emptiness (as nothing) appears as an “unjust imputation” to being: For, “if the extinguisher of a light is extinguished along with the light, who knows that there is no light?”

Dnyaneshwari was completed in 1290 A.D. It was written in Old Marathi and was initially  called Bhavartha-deepika. He wrote it on the instructions of his older brother and  Guru Nivruttinath who wanted to bring to the common man the Vedanta philosophy of Upanishads, which till then was available only to the Sanskrit-knowing pundits. Since then Dnyaneshwari, with its anti-Brahmanical overtones, has been a timeless spiritual guide providing knowledge and inspiration to all. It is still the most respected religious text in Maharashtra and has been the foundation of bhakti tradition there: a tradition so old that its exact origin cannot be pin pointed. It is continuous and free flowing like a river and yet without an organised structure.

The Warkari movement or sampraday, is an inner religion of the heart which advocates ethical human behavior and classless values and therefore has a wider appeal than the caste-based organised Hindu religion which has rigid orthodox rules of behavior, is ritual based and requires the mediatory role of Brahmins. While in its earlier form this movement was open to all, both Hindus and non-Hindus, over the years it appears to have lost its pluralistic nature. 

Following are a few lines from the English translation of Dnyaneshwari by Dr. Ravin Thatte, it talks about  people mired in rituals :

“They quote the scriptures for these acts 

Expect the heavens for these acts 

Little realizing what are the facts

Pleasure is their only aim

Reward their only game

Rigid rituals again and again

This is religion only in name”

References:

  1. Sadarangani, N M. 2004. Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception, Cultural Encounter and Impact. Sarup & Sons. New Delhi
  1. Jnanadeva and the Warkari Movement by Prof. Fred Dallmayr, Ph.D.

(http://www.here-now4u.de/eng/jnanadeva_and_the_warkari_move.htm)

  1. Thatte, R. 2012. A Miraculous Rendering on the Bhagwat Geeta by Sant Dnyaneshwa. Shree Book Center, Mumbai, India
  1. Bahirat, B.P. 1956. The Philosophy of Jnandeva. Pandharpur Research Society, Pandharpur, Maharashtra, India.
  2. Schomer, Karine. W H McLeod. 1987. The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. Motilal Banarasidas. Delhi.

Bhakti poets – Premanand, the Manbhatt of Gujarat – II

Premananda

The Bhakti movement has its inception  in the  8th century  Tamil Nadu. By the 10th century it had spread to Karnataka and Maharashtra and finally by the  16th century,  it had established itself in North , West and East of India . This era saw the rebel-mystic-poets who in their spiritual poetry spoke against the orthodox Brahmins, the caste system and the irrelevance of mindless rituals. For them Divinity dwelt within the heart of Man and could be experienced with Love and surrender. They insisted on the personal experience of God.

In its initial stages it was nurtured by Shaiva and Vaishnava Bhakti cults in Tamil Nadu and by Lingayats of Karnataka in 11th and 12th century followed by the Warkari panth of Maharashtra in the 13th century. In the 14th century Central and North India saw the initiation of Nirguna Bhakti by Ramananda’s school and the Chaitanya school of Saguna Vaishnava Bhakti and Bengal and Orissa. There was a parallel stream of Saguna Bhakti running in Gujarat (Sadarangani: Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India, 2004).

The Vaishnava Bhakti school was born at the time when Buddhism and Jainism were on the decline. This movement found acceptability among the so called lower castes who had been sidelined by mainstream Hinduism.

Premanand Bhatt was a 17th century bhakti poet (1649-1714), who mastered the art of akhyan: a form of story telling popular during the middle ages. The first clear notion of Gujarati language developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in the work of Premanand. The stories were usually taken from the Puranas. The episodes were modified depending on the theme; for entertainment or edification. The narration was split into units called kadavans. The narration was dramatized giving a detailed description of the characters, their emotional states, the seasons and scenes etc. The narrator who presented the tale before an audience was called a bhatt, who produced beats  on a copper pot hitting it with metal rings on his fingers. The pot was  called mann, .

Premananda was the supreme akhynkara. His akhyans were based on Puranic themes, the life of Narsinha and lilas of Shri Krishna. He was a master of language and melodious verse. Akhyans were offshoots of Bhakti poems  and their stories celebrate the infinite lila of the Divine.

To listen to an Akhyan please check the following link :

http://www.yourepeat.com/watch/?v=Hg_Yw-y0Vjw

Bhakti Saint Poets of India

tukaram

They belonged to various castes and communities, spoke  varied language and dialects and came from different professions. We had Kabir the weaver, Namdev the tailor, Akho the goldsmith, Goro the potter and Chokhmela the mahar who rebelled against the exploitative caste system and exclusiveness of organised religions. While Eknath and Gyanadev, the Brahmin,  from Maharashtra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal, and Shankardev from Assam strove for bringing about reform and transformation in religion. Namdev, Tukaram and Chokhamela from Maharashtra, the Lingayat Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi and Allamaprabhu from Karnataka spoke of a novel tradition based on equality of all mankind. Then there was Mirabai and Narasinh Mehta – who, intoxicated with the love of God, overcame pain and suffering by singing and dancing to their beloved Lord. They belonged to no one religion or tradition. They belonged to this country and its people. They did not write high philosophies in Sanskrit, but preached and sang in the common dialect and their poetry survived hundreds of years of oral tradition. The Santvani (song of the saints) of this land still vibrates in its air and ether, if we could only tune in…..

These saint poets were the harbingers of the Bhakti movement which rose in the southern part of India and from there surged upwards into east, west and northern parts of the country. Its philosophy was guided by a humanizing multiculturalism, an passionate fervor and a thirst for the the Beloved – the Divine essence, and experience.

The Bhakti movement was a unique attempt, a first of its kind, at decentralizing the rigid class and caste hierarchy imposed by the Brahmins and the elite. The saint poets used the language of the masses – the marginalized part of the society i.e. the vernacular languages of the common people and their folk idioms  motifs in their poetry.

The Bhakti movement began in the 8th century Tamilnadu with the Shaiva and Vaishnav Bhakti cults and continued into the 12th century by the Lingayats of Karnataka,  onto the 13th century  Warkari Panth of Maharashtra . From here it flowed into Central and North India where Nirguna Bhakti was initiated in the 14th century by Ramananda’s school along with the Saguna Vaishnava Bhakti of Chaitanya in Bengal and Orissa which had a parallel stream flowing from the Saguna saint poets of  Gujarat.

References:

Sadarangani,N M. 2004. Bhakti Poetry in Medieval India: Its Inception , Cultural Encounter and Impact. Sarup & Sons. New Delhi

Bhakti poets – Premanand, the Manbhatt of Gujarat – I

The tradtion of Brahmins (Bhatt) drumming on earthen or copper pots (mann) with their ringed fingers while narrating akhayans – melodious poetical compositions describing in detail, episodes from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharat is unique to Gujarat.
Born in Vadodara, Gujarat in the 17th century, Kavi Premanand was one such Manbhatt who raised the standard of Gujarati bhakti poetry with his akhayans to new heights. His simple yet vivid compositions reflected the life and culture of common people of Gujarat during the Mughal period. He travelled around Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh with his akhayans, narrating, with unique vivdness, episodes from Mahabharat and Ramayan.
to be continued……

Kabir: the weaver of mystic

 

Where do you seek me O devout?
I reside neither in the temple nor in the mosque
neither in Kashi nor in Kaba
Neither in rites nor in ceremonies
Neither in Yoga nor in renunciation……
the true seeker shall find me in a moments realisation
for I reside in the very breath of your being….

(translated from the ‘Bijak’ collection of Kabir sayings)

 

Sometime in the 15th century lived a julaha – a ‘low caste’ Muslim weaver, who preached the oneness of all men and all beliefs, the futility of all religions and rituals and the eventual passing away of all that is of flesh or of material in this phenomenal world. His name was Kabir. He claimed no sainthood or a personal philosophy. He taught the religion of love, in a language that could be understood by all –Sadhukhadi, the twilight language of the mystic poets, bhakti saints and sufi poets. Kabir was the first, the first to imbibe a pluralistic tradition in his teachings and poetry, the first to transcend both Hinduism and Islam. Many were to follow in his footsteps….Akbar, Dara Shikoh, Amir Khusro…., but Kabir was the first to win the hearts and souls of the people who mattered – the common people of India. An illiterate, he spoke of the highest esoteric truths in a simple language. A simplicity that the ‘learned’ pundits and maulvis are incapable of. One can see the syncretic reflections of Advaita theology and intense and personal passion of Islamic mysticism in his spontaneous compositions. Indian sufis in Delhi, Agra and Kashmir were reading his poetry during the rule of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. He was a predecessor of Guru Nanak, – the founder of Sikh religion. The sacred Guru Granth Sahib contains a substantial number of Kabir’s verses. Kabir is believed to have been born around 1398 and died around 1448. Most of his life was spent in the Banaras-Magahar region of present Uttar Pradesh, India. He was a family man and did not retire from the world to pursue a life of contemplation. He lived the simple life of a Julaha and died like one, earning his living at the loom and spurning the company of the ‘learned’ and royalty alike. He believed that the simple and hardworking life of an ordinary man was the world in which the quest for Higher Reality could be fullfilled. According to Kabir, every individual has to find his own Path and seek liberation from this illusory world of Maya. This, he says, can be achieved through unwavering love for the Higher Reality or God and compassion for fellow humans. He compares the individual soul or atman to the Hansa or swan, who will leave the cage of this body and fly away into the vastness of the limitless sky:

Ud Jayega Huns Akela,

Jug Darshan Ka Mela

Jaise Paat Gire Taruvar Se,

Milna Bahut Duhela

Naa Jane Kidhar Girega,

Lageya Pawan Ka Rela

Jub Howe Umur Puri,

Jab Chute Ga Hukum Huzuri

Jum Ke Doot Bade Mazboot,

Jum Se Pada Jhamela

Das Kabir Har Ke Gun Gawe,

Wah Har Ko Paran Pawe

Guru Ki Karni Guru Jayega,

Chele Ki Karni Chela

 

Which loosely translates as:

 

Alone you shall fly O Swan

 

This world is a brief fanfare

Like a leaf that falls from a tree

where to it will fall,

where to the wind will carry it

no one can tell

once your life is over

servitude and slavery is over

the omens of Yam (Death) are strong

it is Yam (Death) you will encounter

Kabir had immersed himself in the praise of God

and God he will attain

the Guru will reap his karmas

and the disciple his.

 

Kabir’s another composition addresses the Swan thus:

O Swan let us talk of ancient tales

where from have you come

and what dark shores do you seek ?

Awake ! Arise!

the morning is upon us

follow me

and I will take you to a land

where there is no sorrow

no fear of death

where the wind blows

with the fragrance of

“I am thou”

in Whose nectar the bee of the heart

is deeply immersed

and yearns for no other joy…