Gosvāmī Tulsīdās (1532 — 1623; Devanāgarī: तुलसीदास) was an Awadhi poet and philosopher. He was born in Rajapur, India in the district of Banda in Uttar Pradesh, during the reign of Akbar. Tulsidas wrote twelve books and is considered the greatest and most famous of Hindi poets. He is regarded as an incarnation of Valmiki, the author of Ramayana written in Sanskrit. He wrote Rāmacaritamānasa ("The Lake of the Deeds of Rama"), an epic devoted to Lord Rama. This Awadhi version of Ramayana, like many translations of the original Sanskrit Ramayana, is read and worshipped with great reverence in many Hindu homes in northern India. It is an inspiring book that contains sweet couplets in beautiful rhyme called chaupai. Vinaya Patrika is another important book written by Tulsidas. He is considered one of the northern Indian Saints.
Tulsidas is considered a Prophet of Hinduism. His work, the Rāmacaritamānasa, purportedly dictated by God, was the new Veda for the Kalyug. This new Veda teaches that salvation is achieved not by sacrifices, rituals, or intense yoga, but by simple devotion to Ram (God) and by doing good service to every living being. Tulsidas was a Sarayuparina Brahmin by birth. His father's name was Atma Ram Dube and his mother's name was said to have been Hulasi. A legend relates that, having been born under an unlucky conjunction of the stars, he was abandoned in infancy by his parents, and was adopted by a wandering sadhu or ascetic, with whom he visited many holy places in the length and breadth of India—the story no doubt originates in the passages of his poems. He got his name Tulsi because he devoted a lot of time looking after the Tulsi plants. He studied—if the legend is correct after apparently rejoining his family—at Sukar-khet, a place generally identified with Soro in the Etah district of the Uttar Pradesh, but more probably the same as Varahakshetra on the Ghagra River, 30 miles west of Ayodhya (Varahakshetra and Sukar-khet have the same meaning; Varaha or Sukara means a wild boar).
He married during his father's lifetime and begat a son. His wife was Ratnavali, daughter of Dinabandhu Pathak. Their son Tarak died at an early age. Ratnavali, devoted to the worship of Rama, then left her husband and returned to her father's house to occupy herself with religion. Tulsidas followed her, endeavoring to induce her to return to him, but in vain; she reproached him (in verses which have been preserved) with want of faith in Rama, and so moved him that he renounced the world, entering upon an ascetic life, much of which was spent in wandering as a preacher of the necessity of a loving faith in Rama. He first made Ayodhya his headquarters, frequently visiting distant places of pilgrimage in different parts of India. During his residence at Ayodhya the Lord Rama is said to have appeared to him in a dream, and to have commanded him to write a Ramayana in the language used by the common people. He began this work in the year 1574, and had finished the third book (Aranyakanda), when differences with the Vairagi Vaishnavas at Ayodhya, to whom he had attached himself, led him to migrate to Benares. Here he died in 1623, during the reign of the emperor Jahangir, at the age of 91.
The period of his greatest activity as an author coincided with the latter half of the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), and the first portion of that of Jahangir, his dated works being as follows: commencement of the Ramayan, 1574; Ram-satsai, 1584; Parvati-mangal, 1586; Ramajña Prashna, 1598; Kabitta Ramayan, between 1612 and 1614. A deed of arbitration in his hand, dated 1612, relating to the settlement of a dispute between the sons of a land-owner named Todar, who possessed some villages adjacent to Benares, has been preserved, and is reproduced in facsimile in Dr. Grierson's Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan, (p. 51). Todar (who was not, as formerly supposed, Akbar's finance minister, the celebrated Raja Todar Mal) was his close friend, and a beautiful and pathetic poem by Tulsi on his death is extant. It is said that Maharaja Man Singh I of Amber now Jaipur (d. 1589-1614), his son Jagat Singh, and other powerful princes consulted him as a venerated teacher; and it appears to be certain that his great fame and influence as a religious leader, which remain pre-eminent to this day, were fully established during his lifetime.
Tulsidas's most famous poem is Rāmacaritamānasa, or "The Lake of the Deeds of Rama." It is popularly called Tulsi-krita Ramayana and is as well known among Hindus in North India. Many of its verses are popular proverbs in that region. Tulsidas' phrases have passed into common speech, and are used by millions of Hindi speakers (and even speakers of Urdu) without the speakers being conscious of their origin. Not only are his sayings proverbial: his doctrine actually forms the most powerful religious influence in present-day Hinduism; and, though he founded no school and was never known as a guru or master, he is everywhere accepted as both poet and saint, an inspired and authoritative guide in religion and the conduct of life.
Tulsidas professed himself the humble follower of his teacher, Narhari-Das, from whom as a boy in Sukar-khet he first heard the tale of Rama's exploits that would form the subject of the Rāmacaritamānasa. Narhari-Das was the sixth in spiritual descent from Ramananda, the founder of popular Vaishnavism in northern India.
Besides the Rāmacaritamānasa, Tulsidas was the author of five longer and six shorter works, most of them dealing with the theme of Rama, his doings, and devotion to him. The former are:
- the Dohavali, consisting of, 573 miscellaneous doha and sortha verses; of this there is a duplicate in the Ram-satsai, an arrangement of seven centuries of verses, the great majority of which occur also in the Dohavali and in other works of Tulsi.
- the Kabitta Ramayan or Kavitavali, which is a history of Rama in the kavitta, ghanakshari, chaupaï and savaiya metres; like the Rāmacaritamānasa, it is divided into seven kandas or cantos, and is devoted to setting forth the majestic side of Rama's character.
- the Gitavali, also in seven kands, aiming at the illustration of the tender aspect of the Lord's life; the metres are adapted for singing.
- the Krishnavali or Krishna gitavali, a collection of 61 songs in honor of Krishna, in the Kanauji dialect of Hindi: the authenticity of this is doubtful.
- 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 Rama's court and attendants, and the remainder, Nos. 44 to 279, to Rama himself. He also wrote "Hanuman Chalisa" containing 40 rhymes addressed in praise of Hanuman.
Of the smaller compositions, 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's most famous and read piece of literature apart from the Ramayana is the "Hanuman Chalisa," a poem primarily praising the god Hanuman. Although it is not one of his best poems, it has gained popularity among the modern-day Hindus. Many of them recite it as a prayer every week.
Tulsi's doctrine is derived from Ramanuja through Ramananda. Like the former, he believes in a supreme personal God, possessing all gracious qualities (sadguna), as well as in the quality-less (nirguna) neuter impersonal Brahman of Sankaracharya—this Lord Himself once took the human form, and became incarnate as Rama for the blessing of mankind. The body is therefore to be honored, not despised. The Lord is to be approached by faith, (bhakti) disinterested devotion, and surrender of self in perfect love, and all actions are to be purified of self-interest in contemplation of Him. His philosophy can be described as "Show love to all creatures, and thou wilt be happy; for when thou lovest all things, thou lovest the Lord, for He is all in all. The soul is from the Lord, and is submitted in this life to the bondage of works (karma); Mankind, in their obstinacy, keep binding themselves in the net of actions, and though they know and hear of the bliss of those who have faith in the Lord, they don't attempt the only means of release. Works are a spider's thread, up and down which she continually travels, and which is never broken; so works lead a soul downwards to the Earth, and upwards to the Lord. The bliss to which the soul attains, by the extinction of desire, in the supreme home, is not absorption in the Lord, but union with Him in abiding individuality." This is emancipation (mukti) from the burden of birth and rebirth, and the highest happiness. Tulsi, as a Smarta Brahmin, venerates the whole Hindu pantheon, and is especially careful to give Shiva or Mahadeva, the special deity of the Brahmins, his due, and to point out that there is no inconsistency between devotion to Rama and attachment to Shiva (Ramayana, Lankakanda, Doha 3). But the practical end of all his writings is to inculcate bhakti addressed to Rama as the great means of salvation and emancipation from the chain of births and deaths, a salvation which is as free and open to men of the lowest caste as to Brahmins.
The literary worth of Tulsidas has been highligthed by Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla in his critical work Hindi Sahitya Ka Itihaas. Acharya Shukla has elaborated Tulsi's Lokmangal as the doctrine for social upliftment which made this great poet immortal and comparable to any other in world literature.
Sources and manuscripts
Growse's translation of the Rāmacaritamānasa contains the text and translation of the passages in the Bhagatmala of Nabhaji and its commentary—which are the main original authoritative tradition. Nabhaji had himself met Tulsidas; but the stanza in praise of the poet gives no facts relating to his life—these are stated in the tika or gloss of Priya Das, who wrote later in 1712 C.E., and much of the material is legendary and untrustworthy. Unfortunately, the biography of the poet, called Gosai-charitra, by Benimadhab Das, who was a personal follower and constant companion of the Master, and died in 1642, has disappeared, and no copy of it is known to exist. In the introduction to the edition of the Ramayana by the Nagri Pracharni Sabha all the known facts of Tulsi's life are brought together and critically discussed. For an exposition of his religious position and his place in the popular religion of northern India, see Dr. Grierson's paper in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, July 1903, pp. 447-466. (C. J. L.)
A manuscript of the Ayodhya-kanda, said to be in the poets own hand, exists at Rajapur in Banda, his reputed birthplace. One of the Bala-kanda, dated Samvat 1661, nineteen years before the poet's death, and carefully corrected, it is alleged by Tulsidas himself, is at Ayodhya. Another autograph is reported to be preserved at Maliabad in the Lucknow district, but has not, so far as known, been seen by a European. Other ancient manuscripts are to be found at Benares. An excellent translation of the whole into English was made by F. S. Growse, of the Indian Civil Service (5th edition, Cawnpore, Kanpur, 1891).
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
- Bahadur, S. P. The Ramayana of Goswami Tulsidas. Jaico Pub. House: Bombay, 1972.
- Bharadwaj, Ramdat. The Philosophy of Tulsidas. Munshiram Manoharlal: New Delhi, 1979.
All links retrieved March 27, 2020.
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