Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Warkari Movement II: Sant Eknath- A Brahmin Saint and a Sufi’s Disciple who Embraced Dalits






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 saviour 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 stood 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 sung 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 centre 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 quarrelled to open up the knowledge of high truth,
In order to enlighten the very ignorant.
In place of karma-awakening!!’


(Note: References for any information cited in the article may be obtained on request from the writer.)

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Warkari Movement I : Sant Dnyaneshwar- Beyond Brahmanical Tryranny



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 on wards 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 outcaste 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
 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 were enjoying a wide reputation nearly four of five centuries before Dnyaneshwar. Dnyaneshwar’s father and grandfather were regular visitors to Pandharpur. 


Dnyaneshwar is 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, 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 Brahmins. The priests and Brahmins, 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 . 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 wisedom 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.Jnanadeva and the Warkari Movement by Prof. Fred Dallmayr, Ph.D.

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

2. Thatte, R. 2012. A Miraculous Rendering on the Bhagwat Geeta by Sant Dnyaneshwa. Shree Book Center, Mumbai, India

3. Bahirat, B.P. 1956, The Philosophy of Jnandeva. Pandharpur Research Society, Pandharpur, Maharashtra, India.

4. Schomer, Karine, W. H. McLeod. 1987. The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. Motilal Banarasidas. Delhi.













Saturday, 2 May 2015

Bhakti poets – Premanand, the Manbhatt of Gujarat - II







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 :



Sunday, 26 April 2015

THE WARKARIS




Namaste friends,
 
I'm back after a long break and have decided to continue with this blog. My next post will be a series on the Bhakti movement of Maharashtra and the Hindu and Muslim saints associated with it.