Goswami Tulsidas - The Man Who Brought The Ramayana to the Masses Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Goswami Tulsidas - The Man Who Brought The Ramayana to the Masses

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An illustration of Goswami Tulsidas sitting cross-legged, scribing, under a tree.
I want the Gospel of Lord Ráma to reach every home in the country and in every language. - Tulsidas Goswami

Tulsidas (1532 - 1623) was born of Pandit1 Atmaram Shukla Dubay and Hulsi, in Sauron, situated on the banks of the River Ganga, Rajapur, in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, India, in Samvat2 1589, or 1532 A.D. He was a Sarayupareena Brahmin3 by birth and is regarded as a reincarnation of Válmiki, the author of The Rámáyana4. Some also say he was Vyása reborn.

Childhood Days and Education

Tulsidas was orphaned soon after his birth. Chunia, the maid, decided to bring up the infant, despite her husband Ramu's objections, who thought the baby to be unlucky. When Tulsidas was just 7 years old, Chunia died of a snake-bite. An enraged Ramu asked the child to leave. Saint Naraharidas asked him to seek refuge in Lord Ráma (The protagonist of The Rámáyana. An incarnation of Lord Vishnu), and took him to his hermitage. He named the little boy Rambola, and told him about The Rámáyana, and taught him to read and write. Rambola could soon easily read The Rámáyana all by himself. The saint then took him to Acharya5 Shesh Sanatan of Varanasi (also known as Kashi or Benares) in Uttar Pradesh, India. The scholar took a keen interest in teaching him and taught him Pánini's grammar, The Vedás and other scriptures. At the end of his studies, the Acharya asked him to to go forth and spread the lore of Lord Ráma, far and wide, and also to become a householder.

Tulsidas Becomes a Recluse

Rambola returned to his hometown, Sauron, and began earnestly to give discourses on The Rámáyana. He was now known as Tulsidas and his fame spread far and wide.

Tulsidas was married to Buddhimati (also known as Ratnavali), daughter of Dinabandhu Pathak from the village of Badri; they had a son – Tarak. Tulsidas was passionately attached to his wife, he could not bear even a single days separation from her. One day Anant from Badri came to Buddhimati with news from her parents. Tulsidas was not at home, but Buddhimati had to leave for her father's house immediately, without informing her husband, leaving just a note behind. Tulsidas rushed to her that same night, bearing heavy rain and a fierce storm. It's said he crossed the river clinging to a corpse, and climbed up to the floor where Ratnavali was staying, by clinging to a snake. This produced a sense of shame in Buddhimati. She said to Tulsidas,

"My body is but a network of flesh and bones. If you would develop for Lord Ráma, even half the love that you have for my filthy body, you would certainly cross the ocean of Samsára (the materialistic world) and attain immortality and eternal bliss".

These words pierced Tulsidas' heart like an arrow. He did not remain even for a single moment. He left home and became an ascetic, spending fourteen years in pilgrimage to various sacred places of India.

The Backdrop

This was during time when a vast area of India was under Mughal rule. Amongst the Hindus, there were frequent debates between the worshippers of Lord Shiva (called the Shaivas), of Lord Vishnu (called the Vaishnavas) and of Shakti, the Mother Goddess (called the Sháktas); and again between the worshippers of Lord Ráma and of Lord Krishna, despite both being revered as incarnations of Lord Vishnu!6 There were other cults too, which were isolated from mainstream Indian life. In such an atmosphere, Tulsidas attempted to weave all the cults into an integrated whole.

The Ráma of his story did not tolerate anyone who showed disrespect to Lord Shiva. Tulsidas worshipped not only at temples dedicated to Lord Ráma, but also at those dedicated to Lord Krishna. His works and teachings stressed the importance of the life of a householder and weaned people away from Tantric7 cults.

Discourses on The Rámáyana and Conflicts with the Brahmans

Tulsidas reached Prayag, Uttar Pradesh, India, on the banks of the river Ganga and renounced the world. He decided to spread the Gospel of The Rámáyana. So, proceeding to Rajapur he began his discourses on The Rámáyana in colloquial Hindi, the dialect of the common people of the region, and because of this he became very popular. However, many orthodox Brahmans objected, opining that The Rámáyana was too sacred to be read in anything but the Sanskrit original by Válmiki. Some others, who possessed more liberal views, agreed that it could be explained in the local dialect. Tulsidas reasoned,

"How can the common man know the greatness of Lord Ráma, unless I speak to him in his language?"

And, the audience continued to swell at his evening discourses.

Tulsidas' Views on Lord Krishna

Tulsidas used to preach that Lord Ráma and Lord Krishna are one and the same, and are 2 different incarnations of the same God. One day, a scholar objected, pointing out that God is formless, attributeless and invisible. Tulsidas agreed, but also reasoned, "The invisible, formless God assumes form out of love and compassion for His devotees."

The Legend of Tulsidas and Lord Ráma

Some thieves came to Tulsidas' Ashrama (Hermitage or monastery) to steal away his goods. They saw a blue-complexioned guard, with bow and arrow in his hands, keeping watch at the gate. Wherever they moved, the guard followed them. The thieves were duly frightened. In the morning they asked Tulsidas, "O venerable saint! We saw a young guard with bow and arrow in his hands at the gate of your residence. Who is this man?" Tulsidas remained silent and wept. He realised that Lord Ráma Himself had been taking the trouble to protect his belongings and at once distributed all his wealth among the poor.

Tulsidas and the Murderer

Tulsidas lived in Ayodhya for some time, before relocating to Varanasi. One day a murderer came and cried, "For the love of Lord Ráma give me alms. I am a murderer". Tulsidas called him to his house, gave him sacred food which had been offered to the Lord, and declared that the murderer was purified. The Brahmans of Varanasi reproached Tulsidas and said, "How can the sin of a murderer be absolved? How could you eat with him? If Nandi, the sacred bull of Lord Shiva, would eat from the hands of the murderer, only then we would accept that he has been purified". The murderer was then taken to the temple, and the bull ate from his hands. The Brahmins were put to shame.

Tulsidas, Rana Pratap and Akbar the Great

The Mughals and the Rajputs were in constant clashes with each other; the Mughals wanted to bring the Rajputs under their control, while on the other hand, the Rajputs did not want to lose their sovereignty. The Mughal Empire reached its peak during the reign of Emperor Akbar the Great, who was a benevolent and just ruler, reputed for his tolerance towards all religions. He was in a constant war with Rana Pratap Singh (1540–1597), the Rajput ruler of Mewar. Akbar's forces had taken over Mewar, and the Rana was in exile. The dejected Rana visited Tulsidas who consoled him, "Don't lose heart, Rana! Wasn't my Lord Ráma in exile for 14 years?" However, the Rana was still in despair as he did not have the necessary money to free Mewar from Mughal rule. In the meantime, Bhama Shah came to visit Tulsidas, and moved to tears on hearing the plight of Mewar, donated all his wealth to the Rana's cause. However, the Rana was too proud a warrior to accept a donation, whereupon Bhama Shah donated the wealth to Tulsidas, who then gifted it to the Rana.

On the Rana's request, Tulsidas even convinced Raja Man Singh8 (1550-1614), one of the Navratnas or 9-Gems, in the court of Akbar, and an ally of the Emperor Akbar, to pledge not to take up arms against the Rana.

When news about Tulsidas reached Akbar, he desired to honour him in his court. Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana9  (1556-1627), another of the emperor's 9-Gems, met Tulsidas, and conveyed to him the wish of the emperor. However, Tulsidas humbly turned it down. He said, "My songs praise the glory of Lord Ráma. What can I sing in the court of a mortal king?"

The Pilgrimage of Tulsidas

One day Anant from Badri10 came with news that Buddhimati and her father were killed while rescuing people from the flooded Ganga. Tulsidas consoled him saying, "Anant! They were noble souls. It was indeed my wife's advice that took me to the grace of Lord Ráma."

A grief-stricken Anant decided to set forth on a pilgrimage and Tulsidas decided to accompany him and spread the love of Lord Ráma through the length and breadth of the country.

Tulsidas and the Bhils

Once, while encamped within a temple on the outskirts of Rajasthan, Tulsidas was in deep meditation, when there was a huge commotion and uproar outside. Anant discovered that some Bhils desired to meet with Tulsidas, but the priest was not letting them inside the holy temple as they were from a low-caste. Tulsidas said, "Anant, amongst the devotees, there are no castes. He who worships Lord Ráma is a brother of mine." He rushed out, and mixed freely with the Bhils, a Rajasthani tribe, saying, "It was among you that my Lord Ráma spent so many days of his exile."

The Legend of Tulsidas and Lord Krishna

Tulsidas travelled to Vrindavan, where he visited a temple. Upon seeing the image of Lord Krishna he said, "How shall I describe Thy beauty, O Lord! But Tulsi will bow his head only when You take up bow and arrow in Your hands". The Lord revealed Himself before Tulsidas in the form of Lord Ráma with bow and arrows.

At Puri and Rameshwar

Tulsidas proceeded with his pilgrimage, still in the company of Anant, and visited the Jagannath, The Lord of the Universe11 Temple at Puri, Orissa, India, where he paid homage. He spent his days in prayer and meditation in the company of Sadhus and Saints. According to the Mool Gosain Charit, it is here that Tulsidas started to rewrite parts of The Rámáyana in his own hand. It is said that copies of these have been found and do indeed exist.

From Puri, Tulsidas left for Rameshwar. The priests of the Shiva-temple at Rameshwar would not allow Tulsidas to enter the temple, because he was a Vaishnava. Ironically, according to The Rámáyana, the Shiva-lngam at Rameshwar was built by none other than Lord Ráma. So Tulsidas sat outside the temple and prayed to Lord Shiva. Soon he was blessed with the darshan12 of Lord Shiva, who told him to return to Varanasi and fulfil the mission of his life. For Tulsidas Rameshwar became a special place because according to The Rámáyana, it was here that Lord Shiva and Lord Ráma were shown to be one within the other.

At Dvaraka, Badrikashram, Mansarovar and Other Places of Pilgrimage

From Rameshwar, Tulsidas travelled northwest towards Dvaraka, Western Gujarat, India, and paid homage to Lord Krishna at this site. Again, he spent many days in reverence to the Lord and in the company of saints. En route it is said that he visited Ujjayini and the grand Jyotirling of Mahákáleshwar. He is also said to have passed through Nasik (Panchavati), where Lord Ráma stayed while in exile.

Tulsidas travelled up the western route of India and arrived at Badrikashram at the abode of Lord Badrinath (another name of Lord Vishnu). He resided here, while engaging in prayer, meditation and worship, for many days.

From Badrikashram, Tulsidas travelled to Mansarovar or Manas Sarovar, in Tibet high up in the Himalayas. Here he gained supreme peace and joy. He performed the Parikramá (circumambulation) of the great Kailash Parvat (Mt. Kailash) and paid homage to Lord Shiva. Tulsidas was absolutely delighted at the sight of Kailash and is said to have spent many days there.

Tulsidas then made his way to the region of the Nilgiris or The Blue Mountains. Legends say that it is here that the great crows Kágbhushundi and Garuda (Lord Vishnu's eagle) reside engaging in Ráma Katha or discussions on Lord Ráma. It is said that Tulsidas had the darshan of Kaag Bhusundi here in Nilgiri.

From here, he passed through Sukarkhet, and then arrived in Chitrakut, spending a while in this region visiting various places of interest, including temples and religious sites.

The Legend of Tulsidas, a Spirit, Lord Hanumán and Lord Ráma

Tulsidas used to pour water everyday from his drinking vessel on the roots of a tree which a spirit was occupying. The spirit was very much pleased with Tulsidas, and one day the spirit said, "O man! Get a boon from me". Tulsidas replied, "Let me have darshan of Lord Ráma". The spirit said, "Go to the Hanumán temple.Lord Hanumán13 comes there in the guise of a leper to listen to The Rámáyana being recited, as the first hearer, and leaves the place last of all. Get hold of Him. He will help you". Accordingly, Tulsidas met Lord Hanumán, and through His grace, had the darshan of Lord Ráma.

Another similar legend goes like this:

An old Brahmin used to come to listen to Tulsidas' discourses every evening. He would arrive the first of all, and be the last to leave. Tulsidas recognised him to be Lord Hanumán. He threw himself at His feet, and urged Him to help him receive the darshan of Lord Ráma. Lord Hanumán asked Tulsidas to visit Kamadgiri at Chitrakoot, a place where Lord Ráma spent many years in exile. Tulsidas travelled to Kamadgiri where twice he was blessed to have the darshan that he had sought.

Tulsidas was a changed man after this incident. The touch of Lord Ráma transformed him and people started calling him 'Valmiki' or 'Vyasa reborn'.

The Rámcharitmánas

Tulsidas returned to Varanasi and wrote The Rámcharitmánas – the Hindi rendition of The Rámáyana14. It is said that he wrote this book under the directions of Lord Hanumán. The Rámcharitmanas is read and worshipped with great reverence in every Hindu home in Northern India. The work is composed in quatrains called chaupais, broken by sweet dohas or couplets, with an occasional sortha and chhanda, the latter being a hurried metre of many rhymes and alliterations.

Just like The Rámáyana, The Rámcharitmánas is also divided into 7 Kándas or chapters.15

Chapter No.As in RámcharitmánasAs in The RámáyanaEnglish Name
1Bál KándBála KándaThe Childhood Days
2Ayodhyá KándAyodhyá KándaDays in Ayodhya
3Aranya KándAranya KándaDays in Exile
4Kishkindhá KándKishkindhyá KándaAllies
5Sundar KándSundara KándaThe Messenger at Lanka
6Lanká KándYuddha KándaThe Battle
7Uttar KándUttara KándaEpilogue

Legends about The Rámcharitmánas

The Rámcharitmánas was written in the Awadhi dialect of Hindi. When the pandits of Varanasi came to hear about this, they were enraged. They believed that what Tulsidas was doing was sacriligious. They felt that the story of Ráma should not be written in any language except Sanskrit. Some also opined that Tulsidas must drown his work in the Ganga.

Two of the pandits even decided to undertake the task of stealing The Rámcharitmánas from Tulsidas' hut and drown it in the river. But when they reached Tulsidas' hut they saw two princes, who were actually Lord Ráma and his brother Lakshmana, guarding it with bows and arrows. They were so scared that they ran away. The next day, the pandits met and sent a deputation to meet Tulsidas. They said,

"Tulsidas, we think it's quite improper on your part to write The Rámáyana in Hindi. We want you to drown your work in the Ganga."

Tulsidas reasoned,

"Friends, I want the Gospel to reach every home in the country and in every language."

However, the Brahmans were too agitated to listen to any rational reasons. They said,

"We will keep your book along with other religious books near Lord Shiva. Let Him give His verdict".

Tulsidas agreed. The Brahmans put The Rámcharitmánas along with various other religious books beside the Shiva-linga in the famous Vishvanath (Another name for Lord Shiva) temple of Varanasi. Next morning they were astounded to find The Rámcharitmánas lying right at the top of all the books. The Brahmans realised their folly and Tulsidas was overwhelmed with joy.

Other Works

Besides The Rámcharitmánas, Tulsidas was the author of five major and a number of minor works, most of them dealing with the theme of Lord Ráma, His deeds, and devotion towards Him.

  1. Dohavali, consisting of, 573 miscellaneous doha and sortha verses; of this there is a duplicate in Rám-satsai, an arrangement of 7 centuries of verses, the great majority of which occur also in the Dohavali and in other works of Tulsidas.
  2. Kabitta Rámayan or Kavitavali, which is a history of Lord Ráma in the kavita, ghanakshari, chaupaï and savaiya metres. Like the The Rámcharitmánas, it is divided into 7 Kándas or cantos, and is devoted to setting forth the majestic side of Lord Ráma's character.
  3. The Gitavali, also in seven Kándas, aims at the illustration of the tender aspect of the Lord's life. The metres are adapted for singing .
  4. Krishnavali or Krishna Gitavali, a collection of 61 songs in honour of Lord Krishna, in the Kanauji dialect of Hindi.
  5. The Vinaya Patrika, or Book of Petitions, a series of hymns and prayers of which the first 43 are addressed to the lower gods, forming Ráma's court and attendants, and the remainder, Nos. 44 to 279, to Lord Ráma himself.

His minor works consist:

  1. Baravai Rámáyana
  2. Jánaki Mangal
  3. Rámalálá Nahachhu
  4. Rámajna Prashna
  5. Párvati Mangal
  6. Krishna Gitávali
  7. Hanumán Bahuka
  8. Sankata Mochana
  9. Vairagya Sandipini

Of these, the most interesting is the Vairagya Sandipani, or Kindling of Continence, a poem describing the nature and greatness of a holy man, and the true peace to which he attains.

Tulsidas' most famous and read piece of literature, besides The Rámcharitmánas is Hanumán Chalisa, a poem praising Lord Hanumán. Many Hindus recite it daily as a prayer.

The entire collection of compositions by Tulsidas, consisting of 13 books, has been translated into English (as poems) by Binda Prasad Khattri (1898-1985). The work is however, yet to be published.

His Final Journey

Tulsi left his mortal coil and entered the Abode of Immortality and Eternal Bliss in 1623 A.D. at the age of ninety-one at Asighat in Varanasi.

1A scholar.2Vikram Samvat is an ancient Hindu calendar. Its era was started in 56 BC by King Vikramaditya of Ujjayini , for his victory over the Sakas. On the first day of the month of Kartik following Diwali, the Vikram Samvat new year begins. This day follows the worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. For observing religious ceremonies and fixing auspicious times, Hindus widely follow this calendar. Vikram Samvat is 56 years ahead of the Christian Calendar and runs on the Gregorian Solar System. It shows the same time with the Jain year. Today, stock markets in India mark the new year on the Vikram Samvat during Diwali.3Brahmins or Brahmans were the priest or scholar class in ancient India, which were later converted to a caste.
Sarayupareena Brahmins are North Indian Brahmins who reside on the eastern plain of the Sarayu River in India.
4One of the 2 famous epics of India, the other being The Mahábhárata.5A scholar, a professional teacher.6Hinduism, though a monotheistic religion, worships God in different names. Lord Brahmá, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva are the 3 major forms of the God and form the Holy Trinity, in which Brahmá is the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. Shakti is God worshipped as Mother, considering the Energy of the the Holy Trinity.7A sort of black-magic.8Man Singh was the then governor of the East Indian states of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.9Abdul Rahim was a composer, and was well known for his couplets and books on Astrology.10Tulsidas' wife's village.11 The Lord of the Universe is another name for Lord Krishna.12Literally meaning 'sight' a darshan is a spiritual vision.13A very important character of The Rámáyana. Revered as the monkey-incarnation of Lord Shiva.14It had originally been written in Sanskrit by the sage Valmiki.15Although, it has been proved by historians that the 7th Kánda was not written by Válmiki, and was added to The Rámáyana later.

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