In honor of New Delhi’s recently held Bhakti poetry presentation, I am devoting this week’s Sunday Prayer to three legendary poets, Tulsidas, Surdas and Kabir Das:
The great Bhakti movement swept through Central and Northern India during the 14-17th centuries. It was initiated by a loosely associated group of teachers or sants. Ramananda, Ravids, Srimanta Sankardeva, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vallabhacharya, Surdas, Meera Bai, Kabir, Tulsidas, Namdev, Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram and other mystics spearheaded the Bhakti movement in the North while Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramadas, Tyagaraja among others propagated Bhakti in the South. They taught that people could cast aside the heavy burdens of ritual and caste, and the subtle complexities of philosophy, and simply express their overwhelming love for God. This period was also characterized by a spate of devotional literature in vernacular prose and poetry in the ethnic languages of the various Indian states or provinces.
Tulsidas was ardently devoted to Sri Ram; in his works, Sri Ram functions as a symbol on which the human mind can focus for the double purpose of conceiving the ultimate Reality and expressing devotion to it. Thus, Tulsi’s Ram is not a historical human character, but Satchidananda, which has not even an iota of the darkness of delusion.
This is the reason why other deities such as Krishna and Shiv appear in his works—rather interchangeably—in addition to Ram. Through his own purity and devotion, Tulsidas brought the impersonal, attributeless Brahman within the range of the imagination of common people and into their daily lives. He brought the Supreme, propounded by Sri Shankaracharya as the unknowable Brahman, within the reach of the masses. He made the Formless take birth and walk on earth and thus redirected the flow of people’s consciousness to this lofty ideal.
Maya (translated in English)
Up till now I have lost much and wasted life in idle pursuits.
The grace of Lord Rama has aroused me from sleep.
Awakened now, I shall not allow myself to be victimized by Maya (illusion).
I have gained the grace of the Lord’s Name. I shall hold it fast to my bosom and not let it from me for a second.
The beautiful form of the Lord I shall cherish in my mind.
Long has this world mocked me, making me a slave of the senses.
Now I shall have no more of it.
I am now a bee at my Lord’s Lotus Feet and shall not allow my mind to leave the enjoyment of their nectar for a moment.
Surdas was born blind to poor parents and because of this he was a victim of neglect and abuse. He left home at the tender age of 6.
The greatest blessing of Surdas’s life came when Sri Vallabhacharya, the celebrated exponent of the Shuddhadvaita. also known as Pushti Marga, accepted him as his disciple. From his teacher he received knowledge of hindu philosophy. He memorized the Srimad Bhagavata and other hymns in Sanskrit.
The love that had been denied to him as a child flows by means of his songs on, the love that was showered on Bala Gopala in Braj by Yashoda, Nandagopa, the Gopis and the Gopas.Surdas never entertained any idea of marriage but saw in Sri Krishna the eternal lover and he portrayed the love between Radha and Krishna as ethereal love-the irresistible attraction the individual soul has for the Oversoul or of the Jivatma for the Paramatma.
The First Meeting Of Radha And Krishna
Krishna went playing in the lanes of Braj,
a yellow silk garment round his waist,
holding a top and a string to spin it with,
a crown of peacock-feathers adorning his head
his ears with charming ear-rings decked,
his teeth flashing brighter than the sun’s rays,
his limbs anointed with sandalwood-paste.
On the Yamuna bank he chanced to see Radha;
a tika mark of turmeric on her brow,
dressed in a flowing skirt and blue blouse,
her lovely long wreathed hair dangling behind,
a stripling, fair, of beauty unsurpassed
with he a bevy of fair milkmaids:
Krishna’s eyes met her’s;
love woke in his heart,
says Suradasa, bewitched by her,
he gazed and gazed.
The saint poet Kabir is one of the most interesting personalities in the history of Indian mysticism. Born near Benaras or Varanasi, of Muslim parents, in c.1440, he became in early life a disciple of the celebrated 15th century Hindu ascetic Ramananda, a great religious reformer and founder of a sect to which millions of Hindus still belong.
Hindus called him Kabir Das, but it is impossible to say whether Kabir was Brahmin or Sufi, Vedantist or Vaishnavite. He is, as he says himself, “at once the child of Allah and of Ram.” Kabir was a hater of religious exclusivism, and seeking above all things to initiate human beings into the liberty of the children of God. Kabir remained for years the disciple of Ramananda, joining in the theological and philosophical arguments which his master held with all the great Mullahs and Brahmins of his day, which acquainted him to both Hindu and Sufi philosophy.
It is by his wonderful songs, the spontaneous expressions of his vision and his love, and not by the didactic teachings associated with his name, that he makes his immortal appeal to the heart. In these poems a wide range of mystical emotion is brought into play – expressed in homely metaphors and religious symbols drawn indifferently from Hindu and Islamic beliefs.
Are you looking for me?
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
you will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but
When you really look for me, you will see me
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.