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surdas

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Surdas was born blind, the younger of many siblings in a poor family, in 1478. His disability, rather than creating sympathy, resulted in his mother neglecting him, as she saw no future for him. She began to ignore him to the point that she failed to even acknowledge his existence. The privations he suffered provoked him to run away from home when he was barely six. He began to sing songs as he wandered, surviving on the charity of those who felt drawn to his soulful singing. His melodious voice and natural musical talent soon attracted the attention of an eminent Guru, Vallabhacharya who adopted him as a disciple in his monastic order. His musical abilities soon won the appreciation of all. As time passed he rose in favour with the Guru and became his chief disciple.

Like Mira he became an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, the maverick, cupid like Avatar whose melodious flute had captivated the souls of all the maidens of the glade of Vrindavan and  enraptured every man. He transferred eventually to that Vrindavan of legend and myth, singing songs of the beauteous blue Avatar. Legend has it that once straying close to a well he fell into it, remaining there for several days, till giving up all hope he sought divine help by calling out to his Krishna. A youth appeared suddenly and pulled him out of the well but when he turned to thank him there was no trace of him. Convinced that it was none other than his Krishna he began composing heart-rending verse in his praise and adoration. His Sursagar (Lake of Melody), is a collection of thousands of songs covering the legend of Krishna from childhood to kingship, the Machiavelli of the Mahabharat epic and the voice and soul of the Indian bible, the Bhagawat Gita.                                                     surdas stamp

His fame as a mystic poet and musician spread across the land far and wide, even reaching the Mughal court. Legend has it that the Emperor Akbar a connoisseur of music wishing to hear him is said to have joined the ever-present congregation of admiring disciples, incognito. Later revealing himself he asked him to join the musicians at his imperial court. Surdas declined averring that he sang for Krishna alone.

Krishna among Hindus is regarded as the incarnated Supersoul (Paramatma) into which every soul (Atma) merges after its long and arduous journey of numerous lifetimes, experiencing mortal trials and travails to learn the lessons of temptation and limitation to which the physical form of the mortal is subject. The process through which the  evolution of the material shell the souls inhabit takes place The ubiquitous presence of divinity in the physical world harmonizes it, balancing furious materialism with the calming and healing spirit of the soul.

 Surdas, in one of his most famous songs, addresses his beloved Lord, the Supersoul Krishna to be patient and tolerant of the shortcomings, failures and frailties of the physical condition that the soul is experiencing through its host, for eventually they will be overcome and healed by the power of the spirit, merging eventually with the Supersoul in enlightenment and bliss.

LET NOT MY FAULTS EFFECT YOU  SO

( Prabhu more avagun chit na dharo )

Lord let not my faults affect you so,

You are called the discerning one,

Then forgive and help me go

Across this ocean of life,

For metal can take any mould,

 As a devotee’s lamp,

Or shaped also

To become a butcher’s knife

But the Philosopher’s stone never discriminates

In turning both lamp and knife to gold.

Here is a river

There a drain, filled with defiling waters

But in the holy Ganges,

As one they flow.

One is called an incarnate soul,

The other,  Supersoul

But when they merge

As one they glow,

So help me cross to the other shore

Or your honour as saviour forego.

Memorial Statue of Surdas

Memorial Statue of Surdas

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Tulsidas.

Tulsidas: Sri Ganga Publishers, Banares / Wikimedia commons

Tulsidas is easily the foremost among the mystic poets of India, a veritable Indian Milton. His remarkable achievement was rendering the epic Ramayan into verse, a feat which elsewhere only a Shakespeare could match in the volume and excellence of his verse. The Ramayan is the story of Ram an epic hero and Avatar (human incarnation of the Divine Essence – God), incarnated to save the world from ever-growing perils of evil. Tulsidas became such a fountainhead of spontaneous inspiration that people averred that it could only have come to him directly from the great Indian god of literature and learning, Lord Ganesh. Indeed in his opening verses he attributes his voluminous epic poem entirely to divine inspiration if not intervention. This prodigious work became all the more extraordinary as heretofore the epic could only be read in Sanskrit, thus debarring the masses from access. Now composed in Avadhi the language of the ordinary folk, suddenly the epic came alive in every humble home, reinvigorating faith as never before, much as Dante’s Divine Comedy made Heaven, Hell and Purgatory real for medieval Europe. Today Tulsidas’ melodious verse is sung or chanted daily, virtually in every Hindu home, acquiring the stature of a scripture. His ‘Ramcharitmanas ( The Holy Lake of Lord Ram’s Character and Career) has become gospel for the common man, the most quoted of Indian religious texts.

Tulsidas, aside from the Ramcharitmanas also composed numerous hymns, prayers and devotional songs which are today sung  and recited at congregations, temples and homes, virtually daily to enthrall and uplift quite ordinary people to spiritual ecstasy.

Tulsidas born in 1533 A.D. however began life as an ordinary householder, totally infatuated with and inseparable from his wife. The transition to sainthood came with a chance rebuke from his wife that were he to devote half of such passion and energy towards God, it would surely bring him instant salvation. Struck like a thunderbolt by her remark, to the horror of his wife, Tulsidas’ metamorphosis was effected in that very moment. He promptly left home and hearth, never to return, commencing his wanderings in search of the truth. Later when his sainthood was universally acknowledged, she meekly joined his congregation of followers, not as a wife but as a disciple, who had inadvertently enabled the unleashing of his true spirit.

Tulsi’s infatuation thus transformed, now focussed on Ram, the reduction of the Supreme Essence on the earthly plane as Avatar – the ideal man, the ideal son, the ideal spouse, the ideal adversary, the ideal King of Kings, God incarnated as man –  but equally subject to every conceivable indignity, affront, suffering and misfortune that every other mortal faced. Ram never flinched in facing adversity with honour, courage and conviction setting an example for all. He showed man how to act in adversity with a sense of sacrifice much like Jesus had on the cross. People call him Maryada Purushottam, the most honourable ideal man.

Tulsi’s love and adoration of Ram knew no bounds and he sang with ardour of his life of sacrifice, renunciation and tragedy making every eye in the land fill and flow with tears and in every heart arose a conviction that if God incarnate could thus experience and endure a life of earthly trial and travail, so could they. Tulsi became India’s greatest poet, saint and healer. His verse thus overtook all the wisdom and metaphysics of the Vedas and scriptures, transferring them from the mind and intellect to the heart.

The hymn below is one of his most popular expressions of his love for Ram and concludes by asserting that he resides in his heart and is his true essence. The message of the divinity of the soul, this time as the resident Lord Ram, comes through again as with all mystic poets of the age – internalizing the experience of external divinity, turning the objective divinity into a subjective one.

Ram

Painting by:Raja Ravi Varma / Wikimedia Commons

O MY MIND SING OF RAM

( Shri Ram Chandra Kripalu Bhaj Mana….)

O my mind, sing praise of gracious Ram

Who overcomes our every fear of life and death and harm

Whose every aspect charms

Like a new blue lotus in heady bloom,

The perfection of his dark strong form

With limbs long,

In a yellow robe worn

Like blue thunderclouds

With lightening’s garb adorned,

Even the beauty of  a cupid

In comparison deforms –

 To such a glorious vision of him

 With my heart so full, I bow.

My mind sing, sing praise of Ram

Resplendant like a sun,

Humble friend of the poor and downtrodden,

This son of the solar race of Kings,

This bliss for  his parents born,

This virtuous Sita’s spouse

I see him adorned with a golden crown,

And ear drops,

And on his forehead the sacred mark,

Holding aloft a bow and arrow,

 Forever all evil to overcome.

Such a Ram, the beloved of angels and saints,

Tulsi declares resides in his heart

Arisen like a lotus (in muddy waters)

All evil desires there, to graciously thwart.

(modified in translation to English)

English: Stamp by India post on Gosvami Tulsidas

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