Bhakti Saints and Reformers
In the year 1017 A.D., Ramanuja was born in the village of Perumbudur, about twenty-five miles west of Madras. His father was Kesava Somayaji and his mother was Kantimathi, a very pious and virtuous lady. Ramanuja’s Tamil name was Ilaya Perumal. Quite early in life, Ramanuja lost his father. Then he came to Kancheepuram to prosecute his study of the Vedas under one Yadavaprakasha, a teacher of Advaita philosophy.
Ramanuja’s fame spread far and wide. He became a good controversialist. Then he wrote his commentary on the Brahma Sutras known as the Sri Bhashya. The Visishtadvaita system is an ancient one. It was expounded by Bodhayana in his Vritti, written about 400 B.C.
Ramanuja travelled throughout the length and breadth of India to disseminate the path of devotion. He visited all the sacred places throughout India including Kashi, Kashmir and Badrinath.
Ramananda was born at Allahabad and had South Indian parentage. he studied scriptures at a very young age and was a disciple of Raghavananda, an ascetic of the Sri Vaishnava order. He went on a pilgrimage to South India and on his return, his brother saints refused to admit him into their fold, arguing that he might not have adhered to strict rules regarding food and other rituals, during his long absence.
This was a rude shock to Ramananda who came out of the fold, became a liberal, practicing severe austerities on the banks of the Ganga river at Banaras. He defined his own interpretation of self-surrender and dedication to the Supreme soul. Disciples started coming in, Hindus, Muslims and Dalits (untouchables). Among them were Kabir, Ravidas and Dhanna.
According to Ramananda, Lord Rama was the supreme spirit and humanity was one big family. He was a great preacher and drew big crowds wherever he went but his poems and sayings are not preserved. Only one poem is recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy text work of Sikhs. But this single piece advocates his profound philosophy.
After initiation, Ramananda served his guru for a number of years. Then he decided to go on tirth-yatra. Till then, Ramananda led the life of an orthodox Vaishnava. That pilgrimage proved to be a turning point in his life and he rebelled against prevailing customs. He was expelled from the sect. Ramananda said: “Let no one ask a man’s caste or with whom he eats. His philosophy was very simple. He did not believe in the supremacy of Brahmins and encouraged free dining among his followers irrespective of their previous caste labels.
He raised the vernacular tongue to the status of Sanskrit and promoted the growth of language. He evolved a sect that subordinated the importance of rites and ceremonies and of pilgrimages and fasts, and of learning and contemplation, to the higher excellence of worship by means of unalloyed faith. The list of his prominent followers testifies to this. The most important twelve followers of the saint were Ravidas, the cobbler; Kabir, the weaver; Dhanna, the Jat peasant; Sena, the barber and Pipa, the Rajput, as well as Bhavanand, Sukhananda, Asananda, Surasuranada, Paramananda, Mahananda and Sri Ananda.
Sant Ravidas was a great Saint, philosopher, poet, social reformer and follower of the God in India during 15th century. He was one of the most famous and leading star of the nirguna sampradaya lead the North Indian Bhakti movement. He has given a variety of spiritual and social messages through his great writings of poetry to his lovers, followers, community people, society people to reform their mind and show their boundless love towards God. He was the vision of people as a messiah in order to complete the social and spiritual needs. He was a spiritually rich person worshipped by the people.
Kabir Das, a mystical poet and great Saint of India, was born in the year 1440 and passed away in the year 1518. It is clearly not known about his birth parents but it is noted that he has been grew up by the very poor family of Muslim weavers. He was a very spiritual person and became a great Sadhu. He got fame all over the world because of his influential traditions and culture.
It is considered that he got all his spiritual training from his Guru, Ramananda, in his early childhood. He became a well known disciple of Ramananda.
Sant Kabir was prejudiced by the existing religious mood of that time like Hinduism, Tantrism as well as the personal devotionalism mixed with the imageless God of Islam. Kabir Das is the first Indian saint who has coordinated the Hinduism and Islam by giving a universal path which could be followed by both Hindus and Muslims. According to him every life has relationship with two spiritual principles (Jivatma and Paramatma). His view about the moksha that, it is the process of uniting these two divine principles.
His great writing, Bijak, has a huge a collection of poems which makes clear Kabir’s general view of spirituality. He simply followed the oneness in the God. He always rejected murti pujan of Hinduism and shown the clear confidence in bhakti and Sufi ideas.
He composed poems in a concise and simple style resonating the admire for factual guru. After being an illiterate he had written his poems in Hindi mixing with Avadhi, Braj, and Bhojpuri. He was insulted by some people. The poems are called variously as dohe, saloka and sakhi. Sakhi means to be memorizes and to remind the highest Truth. The memorizing, performing, and pondering over these utterances comprises for the Kabir and all his followers a way to the spiritual awakening.
His life cycle is centered in the region of Kashi (also known as the Banaras or Varanasi). He was heriditarically related to the weaving occupation and cast of Julahas. His immense contribution towards the Bhakti Movement in India is considered as a pioneered one along with Farid, Ravidas and Namdev.
In the fifteenth century, all the areas of life of people in the Varanasi were strongly held by the Brahmin orthodoxy as well as learning centers. To make free the people from, Kabir Das had to work hard to preach his idealogy as he belonged to the low caste, Julaha. He never felt any differences among the people as to whether they are prostitutes, low caste or high caste. He preached to all by gathering self and his followers. He was ridiculed by the Brahmins for his preaching activities but he never criticized them back and that was why he was much liked by the common people. He started reforming the mind of common people towards the real truth through his couplets.
Kabir has given the people an authentic fact about what is the religion of human beings that one should have. This has helped the common people to understand his message very easily.
Maluk das was a long-lived Vaisnava saint who spanned the reigns of the Mughal emperors from Akbar to Aurangzib. He was widely venerated and counted among his admirers and followers, Muslims as well as Hindus.
He lived at Kara, on the right bank of the River Ganga, in Allahabad district of Uttar Pradesh. Guru Tegh Bahadur met him in 1666 while travelling to the eastern districts. Maluk Das had heard about Guru Nanak and the spiritual line issuing from him. The samadh of Maluk Das still exists at Kara and is visited by Hindu and Muslim devotees.
Dadu Dayal ji was a saint from Gujarat India. He was a poet-mystic and spiritual Master of Nirguna Bhakti from Rajasthan.
In the tradition of Guru Kabir, Sant Dadu Dayal was a great Bhakti Saint of India. ‘Dadu’ means brother and ‘Dayal’ is: “the Compassionate One.” His songs are in a Hindi dialect known as Braj Bhasa, being a mixture of Hindi and Rajasthani.
Sant Dadu Dayal gathered around himself a group of followers, which became known as the Dadu Panth. This organisation has continued in Rajasthan to the present day, and has been a major source of early manuscripts containing songs by the North Indian Saints [the Panch Vani, including Dadu Vani]. He himself did not write down any of his compositions. These were recorded by his disciple Rajjab. Another disciple, Jana Gopal wrote the earliest biography (The Janma Lila by Jana Gopal). Dadu experienced the bliss of Sahaja and alluded to it in his songs.
Rajjab, a follower of Dadu, could not leave away from him even for a moment. After Sant Dadu Dayal proceeded for his heavenly abode, Sant he took a vow that he would not see the face of any one else for the rest of his life. He then came to Sanganer and started doing Tapa over there. Once someone invited Sant Rajjab along with his disciples for food.
He announced that a poor Brahman would be his successor and in the future only poor people would succeed him.
Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Gurus of the Sikhs, was born in the year 1469 in the village of Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib, near the city of Lahore .
Before Guru Nanak Dev Ji departed for his heavenly abode in 1539, his name had traveled not only throughout India’s north, south, east and west, but also far beyond into Arabia, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Afghanistan, Turkey, Burma and Tibet; new records now show even as far as Europe and in particular Italy.
All the Sikh Gurus after Guru Nanak continued to identify themselves as Nanak while penning down their own sacred writings (enshrined in the holy scripture the Guru Granth Sahib), rather than using their own names. Thus, Sikhs believe that all the Guru Sahibs possessed the same divine light and furthered the same divine message as spread by Guru Nanak. For instance, the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad Dev Ji, is revered as the “Second Nanak” or “Nanak II”.
Guru Nanak realised God by singing virtues of God and following a life of true deedsHe did not practise normal Hindu austerities, meditation or yoga; he only sang in the beautiful poetic forms of the time. Singing, often extemporaneously, with all his heart and soul, so much so that his singing became his meditation, his purification and his yugam (yoking ones self to the almighty, to Satguru. This was Nanak’s path; decorated with true flowers of song, songs of glory and praise of the Almighty Lord.
His blissful and mesmerizing songs are not those of an ordinary singer; they have sprung from within one who has known. There is the ring of truth, the reflection of God within them. It is these songs, songs of love and expressions of truthfulness and worship, along with the songs of Guru Nanak’s nine successors, that form the eternal Guru of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Nanak from an early soon mastered the Vedas and Sanskrit and was enrolled into a Madrassa to study Persian and Arabic languages. Picking up both languages quickly, he surprised his teacher by composing an acrostic on the Persian language.
Nanak married Sulkhni of Batala, and they had two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das. Guru ji’s brother-in-law, the husband of his sister Nanki, obtained a job for him in Sultanpur as the manager of the government’s grainary.
One morning, when he was twenty-eight, he went as usual down to the river to bathe and meditate. It was said that he was gone for three days. When he reappeared, filled with the spirit of God, it was apparent to all that he was a changed man. He would say nothing, he quit his job and distributed all that he had to the poor. Accompanied by his childhood friend, a Muslim named Mardana who had always played the Rebab while Nanak sang, they left town. When, after a few days, he spoke saying “There is no Hindu, no Musalman.” It was then that Guru Nanak began his missionary work and travels.
As a householder, Guru ji continued to carry out the mission of his life – to lead people on the true path to God, to dispel superstition, to bring people out of ritualistic practises, to lead them directly to follow Gurbani without the need for priests and clergy, and to restrain and guard against the five thieves within – Pride, Anger, Greed, Attachment and Lust.
Chaitnya Mahaprabhu was born in 1543. His father was Jaggannath Mishra, who was a staunch Brahman and his mother Shachidevi was a noble and very affectionate person. Chaitnya Mahaprabhu’s parents did not have happy experience as far as their progeny was concerned. Their eight daughters had died and the elder brother of Chaitnya Mahaprabhu, Vishvaroop had taken Sanyas. The birth of Chaitnya was, therefore, a very happy occurrence for them.
He was a great scholar of jurisprudence. He used to visit towns along with his disciples and used to explain them the intricacies of jurisprudence at the bank of the river Ganges. Later for the sake of his mother, Nimai married Vishnupriya. She was the daughter of an affluent and well-known Brahman of Navdweep. The marriage was performed with great festivity. Vishnupriya was a noble and divinely beautiful person. Her presence made their home like a heaven.
Chaitnya decided to visit the Southern part of the country. During this journey he met Ramanand Roy at the bank of the river Godavari and Shankaracharya of Shringeri. In Udipi he visited the temple of Nartak-Gopal erected by Madhvacharya, where he started dancing before the Lord in ecstasy. In Pandharpur he visited Lord Vitthal. Later he returned to Puri where the then ruler Maharaja Pratap Rudra desired to meet him but Chaitnya refused saying that he does not meet kings.
He made great contributions to the Bhakti Movement throughout his life and had many followers.
Meerabai is one of the greatest saints of India, who absorbed in the love for her Beloved Lord Krishna, left aside the royal comforts and wandered in the streets for the pleasure of her Lord.
She was a contemporary of Goswami Tulsidas and Sant Raidas. She sang in the praise of her Lord showing her deep devotion and complete surrender to Lord Krishna. She through her sadhana showed path to many. Her Krishna-bhakti and Vairagya bore approval of Goswami Tulsidas, and received the grace of Raidas.
Meerabai was born in 1558-59 Vikram Samvat in a village called Kurki in Merata of Rajasthan. She was born in the royal family of Rathors. She was great-grand daughter of Rao Jodhaji, the founder of Jodhpur, grand daughter of Rao Dudaji and daughter of Raja Ratan Singhji. She was brought up in the company of famous saint Jaimal, who has been greatly acclaimed by Sant Nabhadas in his ‘Bhaktmal’ (a great treatise of saints and Mahatmas of India).
Goswami Tulsidasji was one of the greatest saints of medieval India. He through the Ramcharitmanas immortalized his devotion to Lord Ram and gave such an epic to people, which is perhaps the most popular and is considered to lay the ideals for them to guide their lives.
He brought about a revolution not only in the literary world but also in the arena of bhakti. By presenting Lord Ram as protector, auspicious and ideal person, he laid limits for the Indian culture through the medium of literature. The entire population of the country by singing in tune with the Ramcharit-Manas exhibited firm faith in the ideals of Lord Ram. Most of the information about the life of Goswami Tulsidas is found in ‘GosaiCharitra’ by Raghuvar Das and the ‘Mool Gosai-Charit’ of Baba Veni Madhav Das and ‘Vinay-Patrika’ of Tulsidas where he has mentioned about himself.
Tulsidas was a contemporary of many great saints and Mahatmas and was also in touch with them. Mahatma Hitharivansh, Meera and Rahim are foremost amongst them.
He spent all his life in promoting and preaching Ram-bhakti. He considered devotion as the means to reach the Lord. Lord Ram was his Ishta, his objective and the center of all his activities. He adored the Sagun-Rupa (Lord with attributes) of Lord Ram and his Ram is the ‘Maryada-Purushottam-Ram’ (the Perfect One).
He experienced the divine-grace in the entire existence, in all living and non-living things.
Surdas was born in the year 1535 Vikram Samvat in a village Sihi, near Delhi on the day of Vaishakh Shukla-Panchami in the family of a poor Brahmans.
In due course of time the child Surdas started exhibiting his divine and pure nature and started showing a tendency of Vairagya. He started living in a secluded hut near a pond at the boundary of the village under a Pipal tree. He started practicing augury and it was strange that his predictions came true.
He was declared as the principal-poet of the Lord.
Vallabhacharya (1479–1531 CE), also known as Vallabha, was a devotional philosopher, who founded the Krishna-centered Pushtisect of Vaishnavism in the Braj region of India, and the philosophy of Shuddha advaita.
Vallabha was born in a Telugu Brahmin family that had been living in Varanasi, who escaped while expecting Vallabha, during the turbulent times of Hindu-Muslim conflicts in the late 15th century. Vallabha studied the Vedas and the Upanishads as a child, then travelled throughout the Indian subcontinent over 20 years.
He became one of the important leaders of the devotional Bhakti movement. The hagiographies written by his followers, just like those for other Bhakti leaders, claim that he won many philosophical debates against the followers of Ramanuja, Madhvacharya and others, had visions and miracles.
He is the Acharya and Guru within the Pushti sub-tradition, which he founded after his own interpretation of the Vedanta philosophy. Vallabha rejected asceticism and monastic life, suggested that through loving devotion to God Krishna, any householder could achieve He is associated with Vishnuswami, and is the prominent Acharya of Rudra Sampradaya out of the four Vaishnava Sampradayas.
He authored many texts including the Anubhashya (a commentary on Brahm Sutra), Shodash Granth or sixteen ‘stotras’ (tracts) and several commentaries on the Bhagavata Purana. Vallabha’s writings and kirtan compositions focus on baby Krishna and his childhood pranks with Yashoda (unconditional motherly love), as well as a youthful Krishna in relationship (erotic mysticism) with cowherding women as the many lilas (pastimes) of Krishna, Krishna’s protection of the good (divine grace) and his victory over demons and evils, all with allegory and symbolism.