Sunday, June 13, 2010

Saint Namdev's story

Saint Namdev's story in a remarkable way resembles the story of our own Nandanar.

Bhagat Namdev Ji

Bhagat Namdev Ji

God's name was always on the lips of Bhagat Namdev. He was asked by the king to show miracles. Bhagat Namdev refused to do so and was thrown before a drunk elephant to be crushed to death. God saved His own saint. Bhagat Namdev spent the last days of his life in village Ghuman, now in district Gurdaspur, Punjab (India).

        Guru Granth Sahib recognizes many saints of the Bhakti movement of medieval times. Bhagat Namdev was one of the saints belonging to this movement, which swept across the North India from 1100 CE till 1600 CE. When fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan, compiled Guru Granth Sahib, he incorporated some of the verses of these saints of Bhakti movement who spoke of the same things which the Sikh Gurus did, that is the reason that Guru Granth Sahib contains verses of such saints. In some cases Guru Granth Sahib is the only source where the voice of such saints is heard.

        According to the generally accepted version of the current traditions, Namdev was born in CE 1270 to Damasheti, a low-caste tailor, and his wife, Gonabai, in the village of Naras Vamani, in Satara district of present day Maharashtra. Janabai, the family's maidservant and a bhagat and poetess in her own right, records the tradition that Namdev was born to Gonabai as a result of her worship of Vitthala in Pandharpur. Namdev was married before he was eleven years of age to Rajabai, daughter of Govinda Sheti Sadavarte. He had four sons and one daughter. Under the influence of saint Jnanadeva, Namdev was converted to the path of bhakti. Vitthala of Pandharpur was now the object of his devotions and he spent much of his time in worship and kirtan, chanting mostly verses of his own composition. In the company of Jnanadeva and other saints, he roamed about the country and later came to the Punjab where he is said to have lived for more than twenty years at Ghuman, in Gurdaspur district. A Gurdwara was built there in his memory. This Gurdwara was constructed by Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and the tank by its side was repaired by Rani Sada Kaur, mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.                             In his early fifties, Namdev settled down at Pandharpur where he gathered a group of devotees around himself. His abhangas or devotional lyrics became very popular, and people thronged to listen to his kirtan. Some of Namdev's supposed songs have been collected in Namdevachi Gatha, which also includes the long autobiographical poem Tirathavah. His Hindi verse and his extended visit to the Punjab carried his fame far beyond the borders of Maharashtra. Sixty-one of his hymns are included in Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. These hymns or shabads share the common characteristic of lauding the One Supreme God distinct from his supposed earlier verse, which carries traces of idolatry. In the course of his spiritual quest, Namdev had, from being a worshipper of the Divine in the idol form, become a devotee of the attributeless (nirguna) Absolute.

          Bhagat Namdev is a pioneer of the radical bhakti school. Though he appeared a century earlier than Kabir, his religious and social views are very much like those of Kabir. He unambiguously repudiates all the four fundamentals of Vaisnavism. Though in his devotional approach, he is clearly a monotheist, he makes many statements which might be misunderstood as pantheistic, e.g., every thing is God; there is nothing but God; consider the world and God to be one; the foam and the water are not different. Chaturvedi writes: "Sant Namdev seemed to believe both in transcendence and immanence, in pantheism and nondualism. His devotion was purely of the non-attributional absolute. He also considers God to be immanent, everywhere, in all hearts, and the Creator of everything. Like Kabir and the Sufis, Namdev is very otherworldly. He says, "The strength of contempt of the world should be in the body, an unchanging companion. One should lay aside differences between oneself and others, and feel no anxiety for things of the world."

           Namdev's cosmogenic views are also radical. He says that God created maya and "maya is the name of the power that placeth man in the womb." Indirectly, he is neither happy with the world, the human birth nor unhappy. For him shop, shopkeeper, men and everything are transient excepting God, who is eternal. In this background he seeks release from the world: "Namdev gave up trade, and devoted himself exclusively to the worship of God."

           The world being a play of maya and not being worth pursuit, Namdev's goal is to have union with God through devotion and singing His praises. He says, "I perform worship, sing God's praises and meditate on Him for eight pahar a day (i.e. round the clock)." At the same time, he suggests good conduct and purity of life, for God created all men alike. Though he holds every person responsible for his acts, he clearly does not believe in a world rigidly governed by karma. Because he says: “If everything were determined by karma, who created karma originally?”

          Namdev obliquely refers to union with God, but like Kabir, also states that more than once, God intervened on his behalf to help him. Without doubt, Namdev's approach remains otherworldly both before and after his achievement. At one time, he even gave up work so as to remain absorbed in his worship and meditations. He never initiated any religious institution or movement. His was a solitary search for God, without creating any social or religious organisation.

          We find that in his repudiation of Vaisnava doctrines, in his metaphysical ideas, methodology and goal, and more specifically in his otherworldly approach to the world and society, Namdev's views are quite identical with those of Kabir.

          Shabad by Bhagat Namdev in Guru Granth Sahib, where the temple rotated towards him, as he was not allowed to enter the temple because of his being born in a low caste:
Laughing and playing, I came to Your Temple, O Lord.
While Namdav was worshipping, he was grabbed and driven out. || 1 ||

I am of a low social class, O Lord;
why was I born into a family of fabric dyers? || 1 || Pause ||
I picked up my blanket and went back, to sit behind the temple. || 2 ||

As Namdev uttered the Glorious Praises of the Lord,
the temple turned around to face the Lord’s humble devotee. || 3 || 6 |
Shabad by Bhagat Namdev in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib on how he had the darshan of the Lord.
Nam Dev milked the brown cow,
and brought a cup of milk and a jug of water to his family god. || 1 ||

Please drink this milk, O my Sovereign Lord God. Drink this milk and my mind will be happy.

Otherwise, my father will be angry with me. || 1 || Pause ||

Taking the golden cup, Nam Dev filled it with the ambrosial milk,
and placed it before the Lord. || 2 ||
The Lord looked upon Nam Dev and smiled.
This one devotee abides within my heart. || 3 ||

The Lord drank the milk, and the devotee returned home.
Thus did Nam Dev come to receive the Blessed Vision of the Lord’s Darshan.

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