Gosvāmī Tulsīdās (1532-1623; Devanāgarī: तुलसीदास, may be written as Tulasī Dāsa depending on if the name is transcribed to indicate Sanskrit pronunciation instead of Hindi) was an Awadhi poet and philosopher, and the author Rāmacaritamānasa ("The Lake of the Deeds of Rama"), an epic devoted to Lord Rama.
He was born in Rajpur, India in the present day Banda District, Uttar Pradesh, during the reign of Humayun to Hulsi and Atmaram Shukla Dube. During his life time, Tulsidas wrote 22 different works and although a Sanskrit scholar, he 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.
Rāmacaritamānasa ("The Lake of the Deeds of Rama"), an epic devoted to Lord Rama, was the Awadhi version of Ramayana of Valmiki, 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.
Tulsidas has probably been the most influential saint of North India in the several centuries since his birth. His works have had great impact on individuals, society, political systems, arts and culture and will continue to impact these in future. He is believed to have composed 22 works. The two most influential have been the Ramcharitmanas (often called the Tulsi Ramayana) and the Hanuman Chalisa.
The former is the most popular version of the Ramayana. Tulsidas lived at a time when Sanskrit learning was on the decline in India and he rewrote the ancient Ramayana, in the common dialect of the people, once again making the story of Rama and Sita accessible to the people. His Ramayana is still commonly studied, recited and sung throughout India today, particularly in the Hindi speaking North, where it is the most popular book for all Hindus, from rich to downtrodden, high and low. Tulsidas was a great poet and singer and also a saint and self-realised yogi, trained for 18 years in all branches of Sanskrit learning. He wove into his work all the wisdom of the entire civilisation and the great truths of Yoga and Vedanta, with their spiritual practices designated to show us our true self beyond time and space. His Ramayana is lauded as not only a great story, but has been elevated to the level of a scripture by the people as it has woven into it teachings for all people at all levels of spiritual development. Out of all the characters in the Ramayana, Hanuman occupies a crucial position. He is the embodiment of auspiciousness, courage, devotion, eloquence, physical prowess and victory. Therefore Tulsidas composed his beautiful ode to Hanuman, the Hanuman Chalisa. It was only through Him that Sita and Rama could be reunited. Similarly, it is through the lessons that we find in His character that the realm of divinity can become of our society. Sita represents the earth, the field, Mother Nature, creativity, abundance. Rama is the spiritual potential, which has been lost from creation. Hanuman is the forces and teachings that can reunite the creation and spirit, leading to the manifestation of the divine in life itself. The lessons in the character of Hanuman are the keys to unfolding divinity in our lives. The Hanuman Chalisa was written by Goswami Tulsidas to be a beautiful prayer and song, yet also to contain hidden in it the entire message of Hanuman in the Ramayana. These are the secrets of creating divinity in life, which if learnt, are reaffirmed into our minds each time we recite it. The Hanuman Chalisa is literally one of the most widely said prayers in the entire world.
Tulsidas’s life story itself is a very well known and celebrated tale. He became an orphan at a very young age, and spent much time as a homeless wanderer. One day a sage gave him an image of Lord Rama and told him to make his home the holy name of Rama. Some local pandits believed that he had stolen the image and were angry with him, forcing him to flee. While fleeing the wrath of the locallers, a learned wondering Brahmin, named Guru Narahari Das protects Tulsidas and invited him to come live at his ashram on the banks of the river Ganga. There Tulsidas began his extensive religious learning and soon excelled. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama and promised that he would make the story of Rama and Sita accessible in the common tongue of the people. Tulsidas left his ashram, with the blessings of his Guru and protector, and continued his study in Varanasi. He became one of the most learned and widely respected young men in the land. In time, he married a wise and beautiful lady by the name of Ratnavali. After a time, however, Tulsidas becomes so infatuated with his beautiful wife he could hardly think about anything else! Even in meditation, his mind rested not on Ram, but on his wife’s lovely form. Ratnavali herself is a great devotee of Ram was upset by this. One day she went to her brother’s house for a length of time. Tulsidas could not bear any separation from his wife began to go mad. One night he decided he just had to see her, even though there was a violent storm going on. On his way he tried to cross a river, he is swept along in a fierce flood. Catching hold of a log, he manages to struggle ashore. Barely surviving the journey to Ratnavali’s brother’s house, Tulsidas climbs a rope onto her balcony. She is shocked to see him there. A girl today would be pleased at such romance, but Ratnavali was disgusted. Ratnavali implores Tulsidas to focus his love not on her but on the Lord. She said that if you let your peace of mind rest of Rama rather than on my body which is just after all a modification of flesh and fat which will soon go old then you might actually the peace of mind that you apparently are so learned in. Her words hit Tulsidas like arrows. With these words, Tulsidas realizes that in his mad infatuation for his wife, he has indeed forsaken Rama. Tulsidas left home and took to a life trying to spread spiritual values amongst the people. He fulfilled his childhood promise of making the story of Rama and Sita available to the people in the common tongue. He traveled through North India, spending long periods of time in Varanasi and Ayodhya. It is believed he had mystic communion with Hanuman, who led him to Rama. His works have had such an effect of the lives of the people that it is difficult to describe. As Ram Chandra Prasad, who translated the Ramcharitmanas into English has said of Tulsidas “To many of his readers in India he has been a lamp of guidance, a star of good fortune shining from the horizons of shining from the horizons of humankind, and a fountain of life for such as lie buried in the muir of ignorance and delusion. To those who find themselves wandering in the wasteland of their defilements and sins he has been a clear, sacred spring of perfections, a strong citadel of faith in the graciousness of God, and an impregnable sanctuary of love and peace for the sorely distressed.”
Yet it must be noted that Tulsidas can certainly be criticised on a number of grounds based on modern humanistic ideals. He portrayed the ideal of a women as having little purpose other than absolute devotion to the husband – not necessarily a bad thing – but Tulsidas appears to push the ideal too far. In addition, although Tulsidas shows his ideal society in which all castes are treated humanely, with Rama dining with and befriending people who may be considered “untouchable” or outside the caste system, and repeatedly states that all castes can achieve liberation – there is undoubtedly a caste hierarchy which is based on birth perhaps more than merit. However all of this has to be taken in the context of the time. Hindu society was under terrible attack at the time – which Tulsidas saw first hand, living in Varanasi at a time when the city of temples was being ravaged by fanatical Muslim marauders. The society was war torn and totally disorientated. A Hindu social polity based on diligently doing one’s duty of birth and respecting the hierarchy and social norms in place was probably a very good if not the only way to sustain and preserve the society in its time of utmost hardship.
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 Hindi-speaking Hindus in 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, a founder of popular Vaishnavism in northern India, who was also known for his famous poems.
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 kandas, 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.
His minor works include Baravai Ramayana, Janaki Mangal, Ramalala Nahachhu, Ramajna Prashna, Parvati Mangal, Krishna Gitavali, Hanuman Bahuka, Sankata Mochana and Vairagya Sandipini. 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 praising Hanuman. Many Hindus recite it daily as a prayer.
Further reading on the Subject
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