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Goswami Tulsidas

(1543-1623 / Rajpur, Uttar Pradesh / India)

Biography of Goswami Tulsidas

Goswami Tulsidas poet

Tulsidas (also known as Goswami Tulsidas) was a Hindu poet-saint, reformer and philosopher renowned for his devotion for the god Rama. A composer of several popular works, he is best known for being the author of the epic Ramcharitmanas, a retelling of the Sanskrit Ramayana in the vernacular Awadhi. Tulsidas was acclaimed in his lifetime to be a reincarnation of Valmiki, the composer of the original Ramayana in Sanskrit. He is also considered to be the composer of the Hanuman Chalisa, a popular devotional hymn dedicated to Hanuman, the divine monkey helper and devotee of Rama. Tulsidas lived permanently and died in the city of Varanasi. The Tulsi Ghat in Varnasi is named after him. He founded the Sankatmochan Temple dedicated to Hanuman in Varanasi, believed to stand at the place where he had the sight of Hanuman.Tulsidas started the Ramlila plays, a folk-theatre adaption of the Ramayana. He has been acclaimed as one of the greatest poets in Hindi, Indian, and world literature. The impact of Tulsidas and his works on the art, culture and society in India is widespread and is seen to date in vernacular language, Ramlila plays, Hindustani classical music, popular music, and television series.

Birth

Tulsidas was born on the seventh day of the bright half of the lunar Hindu month Shraavana (July–August). Although as many as seven places are mentioned as his birth-place, most scholars identify the place with Rajapur (Chitrakuta), a village on the banks of the Yamuna river in modern-day Uttar Pradesh. His parents were Hulsi and Atmaram Dubey. Most sources identify him as a Saryupareen Brahmin of the Parashar Gotra (lineage), although some sources claim he was a Kanyakubja or Sanadhya Brahmin.

Conflict About the Year of Birth

There is difference of opinion among biographers regarding the year of birth of Tulsidas. Many sources rely on Veni Madhav Das' account in the Mula Gosain Charita, which gives the year of Tulsidas' birth as Vikrami Samvat 1554 (1497 CE).These sources include Shivlal Pathak, popular editions of Ramcharitmanas (Gita Press, Naval Kishore Press and Venkateshvar Press), Edwin Greaves, Hanuman Prasad Poddar, Ramanand Sarasvati, Ayodhyanath Sharma, Ramchandra Shukla, Narayandas, and Rambhadracharya. A second group of biographers led by Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras and Sir George Grierson give the year as Vikram 1589 (1532 CE). These biographers include Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Ramghulam Dwivedi, James Lochtefeld, Swami Sivananda and others. A third small group of authors which includes H. H. Wilson, Garse De Tasse and Krishnadatta Mishra gives the year as Vikram 1600 (1543 CE).

The year 1497 appears in most current-day biographies and in popular culture. Biographers who disagree with this year argue that it makes the life span of Tulsidas equal 126 years, which in their opinion is unlikely if not impossible. In contrast, Ramchandra Shukla says that an age of 126 is not impossible for Mahatmas (great souls) like Tulsidas. The Government of India and provincial governments celebrated the 500th birth anniversary of Tulsidas in the year 1997 CE, according to the year of Tulsidas' birth in popular culture.

Childhood

Legend goes that Tulsidas was born after staying in the womb for 12 months, he had all 32 teeth in his mouth at birth, his health and looks were like that of a five-year old boy, and he did not cry at the time of his birth but uttered Rama instead. He was therefore named Rambola (literally, he who uttered Rama), as Tulsidas himself states in Vinayapatrika. As per the Mula Gosain Charita, he was born under the Abhuktamula constellation, which according to Jyotisha (Hindu astrology) causes immediate danger to the life of the father. Due to the inauspicious events at the time of his birth, he was abandoned by his parents on the fourth night, sent away with Chuniya (some sources call her Muniya), a female servant of Hulsi. In his works Kavitavali and Vinayapatrika, Tulsidas attests to his parents abandoning him after birth due to an inauspicious astrological configuration.

Chuniya took the child to her village of Haripur and looked after him for five and a half years after which she died. Rambola was left to fend for himself as an impoverished orphan, and wandered from door to door begging for alms. It is believed that the goddess Parvati assumed the form of a Brahmin woman and fed Rambola every day.

Marriage and Renunciation

According to the Mula Gosain Charita and some other works, Tulsidas was married to Ratnavali on the thirteenth day of the bright half of the Jyeshta month (May–June) in Vikram 1583 (1526 CE). Ratnavali was the daughter of Dinbandhu Pathak, a Brahmin of the Bharadwaja Gotra, who belonged to Mahewa village of Kaushambi district.They had a son named Tarak who died as a toddler. Once when Tulsidas had gone to a Hanuman temple, Ratnavali went to her father's home with her brother. When Tulsidas came to know this, he swam across the Yamuna river in the night to meet his wife. Ratnavali chided Tulsidas for this, and remarked that if Tulsidas was even half as devoted to God as he was to her body of flesh and blood, he would have been redeemed. Tulsidas left her instantly and left for the holy city of Prayag. Here, he renounced the Grihastha (householder's life) stage and became a Sadhu (Hindu ascetic).

Some authors consider the marriage episode of Tulsidas to be a later interpolation and maintain that he was a bachelor.They include Rambhadracharya, who interprets two verses in the Vinayapatrika and Hanuman Bahuka to mean that Tulsidas never married and was a Sadhu from childhood.

Literary Life

Tulsidas started composing poetry in Sanskrit in Varanasi on the Prahlada Ghat. Tradition holds that all the verses that he composed during the day, would get lost in the night. This happened daily for eight days. On the eighth night, Shiva - whose famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located in Varanasi - is believed to have ordered Tulsidas in a dream to compose poetry in the vernacular instead of Sanskrit. Tulsidas woke up and saw both Shiva and Parvati who blessed him. Shiva ordered Tulsidas to go to Ayodhya and compose poetry in Awadhi. Shiva also predicted that Tulsidas' poetry would fructify like the Sama Veda. In the Ramcharitmanas, Tulsidas hints at having the Darshan of Shiva and Parvati in both dream and awakened state.

Composition of Ramcharitmanas

In the year Vikram 1631 (1575 CE), Tulsidas started composing the Ramcharitmanas in Ayodhya on Tuesday, Ramnavami day (ninth day of the bright half of the Chaitra month, which is the birthday of Rama). Tulsidas himself attests this date in the Ramcharitmanas. He composed the epic over two years, seven months and twenty-six days, and completed the work in Vikram 1633 (1577 CE) on the Vivaha Panchami day (fifth day of the bright half of the Margashirsha month, which commenrates the wedding of Rama and his wife Sita).

Tulsidas came to Varanasi and recited the Ramcharitmanas to Shiva (Vishwanath) and Parvati (Annapurna) at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. A popular legend goes that the Brahmins of Varanasi, who were critical of Tulsidas for having rendered the Sanskrit Ramayana in the vernacular, decided to test the worth of the work. A manuscript of the Ramcharitmanas was kept at the bottom of pile of Sanskrit scriptures in the sanctum sanctorum of the Vishvanath temple in the night, and the doors of the sanctum sanctorum were locked. In the morning when the doors were opened, the Ramcharitmanas was found at the top of the pile. The words "Satyam Shivam Sundara" (literally "truth, auspiciousness, beauty") were inscribed on the manuscript with the signature of Shiva. The words were also heard by the people present.

Per traditional accounts, some Brahmins of Varanasi were still not satisfied, and sent two thieves to steal the manuscript. The thieves tried to break into the Ashram of Tulsidas, but were confronted by two guards with bows and arrows, of dark and fair complexion. The thieves had a change of heart and came to Tulsidas in the morning to ask who the two guards were. Believing that the two guards could be none other than Rama and Lakshmana, Tulsidas was aggrieved to know that they were guarding his home at night. He sent the manuscript of Ramcahritmanas to his friend Rai Todar Mal, the finance minister of Akbar, and donated all his money. The thieves were reformed and became devotees of Rama.

Composition of The Vinaypatrika

A criminal used to beg everyday with the call: ‘For the love of Ram, give me—a murderer—alms.’ Hearing the name of Ram, the delighted Tulsidas would cheerfully take him inside his house and give him food. This behaviour of Tulsi infuriated the orthodox brahmanas, who demanded an explanation. Tulsidas told them that the name ‘Ram’ had absolved the person concerned of all his offences. This attitude of Tulsi incensed the people further. In a fit of anger, they demanded that if the stone image of Nandi—the sacred bull in the temple of Shiva—would eat out of the hands of that murderer, then they would accept that he had been purified. A day was selected for this ritual, and to the consternation of the people, the Nandi image actually ate from the murderer’s hands. The brahmanas were thus compelled to eat humble pie. However, this did not settle matters. This event increased Tulsidas’s popularity even more and enraged the already defeated people afresh, triggering off more attacks and assaults. The troubled Tulsidas then turned to Hanuman for help. Hanuman appeared to him in a dream and asked him to appeal to Sri Ram. Thus was the Vinay-patrika born. It is a petition in the court of King Ram. Ganesh, Surya, Ganga, Yamuna, and others are propitiated first, just as the courtiers would be approached first. Then follows wonderful poetry soaked in bhakti:

He Hari! Kas na harahu bhram bhari; Jadyapi mrisha satya bhasai jabalagi nahin kripa tumhari.

O Hari, why do you not remove this heavy illusion of mine (that I see the world as real)? Even though the samsara is unreal, as long as your grace does not descend, it appears to be real.

Death

Towards the end of his life Tulsidas suffered from very painful boils that affected his arms. At this time he wrote the Hanuman Bahuk, which begins with a verse in praise of Hanuman’s strength, glory, and virtue, and is followed by a prayer to relieve him of his unbearable arm pain. The disease was cured. He passed away in 1623 (1623 CE) at Asighat, Varanasi. One interesting incident in Tulsidas’s life is quite representative of his teachings. Once a woman, who happened to stay behind after Tulsidas had delivered a discourse, remarked during the course of conversation that her nose-ring had been given to her by her husband. Tulsidas immediately directed her mind deeper saying: ‘I understand that your husband has given you this lovely nose-ring, but who has given you this beautiful face?’

Goswami Tulsidas's Works:

Major Works

Ramacharitamanas (1574–1576), literally The Holy Lake of Acts of Rama, is the Awadhi rendering of the Ramayana narrative.
Dohavali (1581), literally Collection of Dohas, is a work consisting of 573 miscellaneous Doha and Sortha verses mainly in Braja with some verses in Awadhi.
Kavitavali or Kavitta Ramayan (1608–1614), literally Collection of Kavittas, is a Braja rendering of the Ramayana, composed entirely in metres of the Kavitta family – Kavitta, Savaiya, Ghanakshari and Chhappaya.
Gitavali, literally Collection of Songs, is a Braja rendering of the Ramayana in songs.
Krishna Gitavali or Krishnavali (1607), literally Collection of Songs to Krishna, is a collection of 61 songs in honor of Krishna in Braja.
Vinaya Patrika, literally Petition of Humility, is a Braja work consisting of 279 stanzas or hymns.

Minor Works

Barvai Ramayana (1612), literally The Ramayana in Barvai metre, is an abridged rendering of the Ramayana in Awadhi.
Parvati Mangal, literally The marriage of Parvati, is an Awadhi work of 164 verses describing the penance of Parvati and the marriage of Parvati and Shiva.
Janaki Mangal, literally The marriage of Sita, is an Awadhi work of 216 verses describing the episode of marriage of Sita and Rama from the Ramayana.
Ramalala Nahachhu, literally The Nahachhu ceremony of the child Rama, is an Awadhi work of 20 verses composed in the Sohar metre.
Ramagya Prashna, literally Querying the Will of Rama, is an Awadhi work related to both Ramayana and Jyotisha (astology).
Vairagya Sandipini (1612), literally Kindling of Detachment, is a philosophical work of 60 verses in Braja which describe the state of Jnana (realization) and Vairagya (dispassion), the nature and greatness of saints, and moral conduct.

Other Works

Hanuman Chalisa
Hanuman Ashtak
Hanuman Bahuk
Tulsi Satsai

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Within This Body

Within this body
breathes the secret essence.
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Within this body
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