Tulsi, Kabir, Surdas

Learning Goals:

A new wave of bhakti movement started in north India in the 13th century. In this period, there was an influence of various streams of faith, on each other, like Islam, Brahmanical Hinduism, Sufism, various strands of bhakti, and the Nathpanthis, Siddhas and Yogis. New towns and kingdoms were emerging and people were taking up new professions and roles for themselves. Such people thronged to listen to these new saints and spread their ideas. Mainly such people were craftspersons, peasants, traders and labourers. Some of them like Baba Guru Nanak and Kabir rejected all orthodox religions.


Tulsidas and Surdas

They did not outrightly reject all existing beliefs. They in fact accepted all beliefs that existed and wanted to make them accessible to all.

Tulsidas: He conceived God in the form of Rama. The composition of Tulsidas, the Ramcharitmanas, is important both as an expression of his devotion and as a literary work. It was written in Awadhi.

Surdas: He was a devotee of Krishna. His compositions that are compiled in the Sursagara, Surasaravali and Sahitya Lahari express his devotion.

Shankaradeva: He was another contemporary of the period. He belonged to Assam and composed poems and plays in Assamese. He emphasized devotion to Lord Vishnu. He began the practice of setting up namghars or houses of recitations and prayers. This practice still continues. This tradition also includes saints like Ravidas, Dadu Dayal and Mirabai.


Mirabai

She was a Rajput princess married into a royal family of Mewar in the 16th century. She became the disciple of a saint named Ravidas who was considered untouchable. She was devoted to Krishna and expressed her devotion by composing many bhajans. Her songs openly challenged the existing norms of the ‘upper castes’. They also became very popular among the masses in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The compositions of all saints were in their regional languages and could be sung. They gained popularity and were passed on from generation to generation. These songs were transmitted mostly by the poorest, most deprived communities and women, also by adding their own experiences to them. These songs that exist even today are compositions of saints as well as the people who transmitted them.


Kabir

He was one of the most influential saints. We have little reliable information about him. He probably lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. He was brought up in a family of Muslim Julahas or weavers settled in or near the city of Banaras. We get to know about his ideas from a vast collection of verses called sakhis and pads. These are said to have been composed by him and sung by wandering bhajan singers. Some of these were later collected and preserved in the Guru Granth Sahib, Bijak and Panch Vani.

Kabir's Teachings: Kabir’s teachings were based on vehement rejection of major religious traditions and openly ridiculed all forms of external worship of both Brahmanical Hinduism and Islam, the pre-eminence of the priestly classes and the caste system. His language in poetry was spoken Hindi that was widely understood but he sometimes also used cryptic language that was difficult to follow. He believed in formless Supreme God and preached that bhakti or devotion was the only path to salvation. He had both Hindus and Muslims as his followers.



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