1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tulsī Dās

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22356511911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 27 — Tulsī DāsCharles James Lyall

TULSĪ DĀS (1532–1623), the greatest and most famous of Hindi poets, was a Sarwariyā Brahman, born, according to tradition, in A.D. 1532, during the reign of Humāyūn, most probably at Rājāpur in the Bāndā District south of the Jumna. His father’s name was Ātmā Rām Sukal Dubē; that of his mother is said to have been Hulasī. A legend relates that, having been born under an unlucky conjunction of the stars, he was abandoned in infancy by his parents, and was adopted by a wandering sādhū or ascetic, with whom he visited many holy places in the length and breadth of India; and the story is in part supported by passages in his poems. He studied, apparently after having rejoined his family, at Sūkarkhēt, a place generally identified with Sōrōṅ in the Etah district of the United Provinces, but more probably the same as Varāhakshētra[1] on the Gogra River, 30 m. W. of Ajōdhyā (Ayōdhyā ). He married in his father’s lifetime, and begat a son. His wife’s name was Ratnāwalī, daughter of Dīnabandhu Pāṭhak, and his son’s Tārak. The latter died at an early age, and Tulsī’s wife, who was devoted to the worship of Rāma, left her husband and returned to her father’s house to occupy herself with religion. Tulsī Dās followed her, and endeavoured to induce her to return to him, but in vain; she reproached him (in verses which have been preserved) with want of faith in Rāma, and so moved him that he renounced the world, and entered upon an ascetic life, much of which was spent in wandering as a preacher of the necessity of a loving faith in Rāma. He first made Ajōdhyā (the capital of Rāma and near the modern Fyzābād) his headquarters, frequently visiting distant places of pilgrimage in different parts of India. During his residence at Ajōdhyā the Lord Rāma is said to have appeared to him in a dream, and to have commanded him to write a Rāmāyana in the language used by the common people. He began this work in the year 1574, and had finished the third book (Āraṇya-kāṇḍ), when differences with the Vairāgī Vaishnavas at Ajodhya, to whom he had attached himself, led him to migrate to Benares, where he settled at Asi-ghāṭ. Here he died in 1623, during the reign of the emperor Jāhangīr, at the great age of 91.

The period of his greatest activity as an author synchronized with the latter half of the reign of Akbar (1556–1605), and the first portion of that of Jahangir, his dated works being as follows: commencement of the Rāmāyan, 1574; Ram-satsai, 1584; Pārbati-mangal, 1586; Rāmāgya, 1598; Kabitta Rāmāyan, between 1612 and 1614. A deed of arbitration in his hand, dated 1612, relating to the settlement of a dispute between the sons of a land-owner named Tōdar, who possessed some villages adjacent to Benares, has been preserved, and is reproduced in facsimile in Dr Grierson’s Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan, p. 51. Tōdar (who was not, as formerly supposed, Akbar's finance minister, the celebrated Rāja Tōdar Mall) was his attached friend, and a beautiful and pathetic poem[2] by Tulsi on his death is extant. He is said to have been resorted to, as a venerated teacher, by Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur (d. 1618), his brother Jagat Singh, and other powerful princes; and it appears to be certain that his great fameand influence as a religious leader, which remain pre-eminent to this day, were fully established during his lifetime.

Tulsī’s great poem, popularly called Tulsi-krit Rāmāyan, but named by its author Rām-charit-mānas, “the Lake of Rāma’s deeds,” is perhaps better known among Hindus in upper India than the Bible among the rustic population in England. Its verses are everywhere, in this region, popular proverbs; an apt quotation from them by a stranger has an immediate effect in producing interest and confidence in the hearers. As with the Bible and Shakespeare, his phrases have passed into the common speech, and are used by every one (even in Urdu) without 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, but professed himself the humble follower of his teacher, Narhari-Dās,[3] from whom as a boy in Sukar-khét he heard the tale of Rāma's doings, he is everywhere accepted as an inspired and authoritative guide in religion and conduct of life.

The poem is a re handling of the great theme of Vālmiki, but is in no sense a translation of the Sanskrit epic. The succession of events is of course generally the same, but the treatment is entirely different. The episodes introduced in the course of the story are for the most part dissimilar. Wherever Valmiki has condensed, Tulsi Das has expanded, and wherever the elder poet has lingered longest, there his successor has hastened on most rapidly. It consists of seven books, of which the first two, entitled “Childhood” (Bāl-kāṇḍ) and “Ayōdhyā.” (Ayōdhyā-kāṇḍ), make up more than half the work. The second book is that most admired. The tale tells of King Dasarath’s court, the birth and boyhood of Reima and his brethren, his marriage with Sita, daughter of Janak king of Bidēha, his voluntary exile, the result of Kaikéyi's guile and Dasaratlfs rash vow, the dwelling together of Rama and Sita in the great central Indian forest, her abduction by Ravan, the expedition to Lanka and the overthrow of the ravisher, and the life at Ajodhya after the return of the reunited pair. It is written in pure Baiswari or Eastern Hindi, in stanzas called chaupais, broken by déhds or couplets, with an occasional sarathd and chhand-the latter a hurrying metre of many rhymes and alliterations. Dr Grierson well describes its movement:-

“As a work of art, it has for European readers prohxitxes and episodes which grate against occidental tastes, but no one can read it in the original without being impressed by it as the work of a great genius. Its style varies with each subject. There is the deep pathos of the scene in which is described Rama's farewell to his mother: the rugged language depicting the horrors of the battlefield-a torrent of harsh sounds clashing against each other and reverberating from phrase to phrase; and, as occasion requires, a sententious, aphoristic method of narrative, teeming with similes drawn from nature herself, and not from the traditions of the schools. His characters, too, live and move with all the dignity of an heroic age. Each is a. real being, with a well-defined personality. Rama, perhaps too perfect to enlist all our sympathies; his impetuous and loving brother'Lakshman; the tender, constant Bharat; S1ta, the ideal of an Indian wife and mother; Riivan, destined to failure, and fighting with all his demon force against his destiny—the Satan of the epic-all these are characters as lifelike and distinct as any in occidental literature."

A manuscript of the Ayadhyd-krind, said to be in the poet's own hand, exists at Rajapur in Banda, his reputed birthp ace. One of the B61-kzind, dated Samba! 1661, nineteen years before the poet's death, and carefully corrected, it is alleged by Tulsi Das himself, is at Ajodhya. Another autograph is reported to be preserved at Malihabad in the Lucknow district, but has not, so far as known, been seen by a European. Other ancient MSS. are to be found at Benares, and the materials for a correct text of the Ramayan are thus available. Good editions have been published by the Khadga Bilas press at Bankipur (with a valuable life of the poet by Baijnath Das), and by the Ndgari Prachdrini Sabha at Allahabad (1903). The ordinary bazar copies of the poem, repeatedly reproduced by lithography, teem with interpolations and variations from the poet'£ language. An excellent translation of the whole into English was made by the late Mr F . S. Growse, of the Indian Civil Service (5th edition, Cawnpore, 1891).

Besides the “ Luke of Rdmalr deeds, " Tulsi Das 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 (I) the Dahdbali, consisting of 573 miscellaneous dzihd and sérathti 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 D5/ilibali and in other works of Tulsi; (2) the Kabitta Rdmdyan or Kabittabali, which is a history of Rama in the kabitta, ghandkshari, chhappcii and sawaiyzi metres; like the R¢im-charitmanas, it is divided into seven kdnds or cantos, and is devoted to setting forth the majestic side of Rama's character; (3) the Git-Rdmdyan, or Gitdbali, also in seven klinds, aiming at the illustration of the tender aspect of the Lord's life; the metres are adapted for singing; (4) the Krishnawali or Krishna gitabali, a collection of 61 songs in honour of Krishna, in the Kanauji dialect: the authenticity of this is doubtful; and (5) the Binay Pattrikd, or “ Book of petitions, a series of hymns and prayers of which the first 43 are addressed to the lower gods, forming Rāma’s court and attendants, and the remainder, Nos. 44 to 279, to Rama himself. Of the smaller compositions the most interesting is the Vairāgya Sandīpanī, or “Kindling of continence,” a poem describing the nature and greatness of a holy man, and the true peace to which he attains. This work has been translated by Dr Grierson in the Indian Antiquary, xxii. 198–201.

Tulsi’s doctrine is derived from Ramiinuja through Ramanand. Like the former, he believes in a. supreme personal God, posses sin all gracious qualities (saguna), not in the quality-less (nirguṇa) neuter impersonal Brahman of Sankarāchārya; this Lord Himself once took the human form, and became incarnate, for the blessing of mankind, as Rama. The body is therefore to be honoured, not despised. The Lord is to be approached by faith (bhakti)—disinterested devotion and surrender of self in perfect love, and all actions are to be purified of self-interest in contemplation of Him. “Show love to all creatures, and thou wilt be happy; for when thou lovest all things, thou lovest the Lord, for He is all in all.” The soul is from the Lord, and is submitted in this life to the bondage of works (karma); “ Mankind, in their obstinacy, keep binding themselves in the net of actions, and though they know and hear of the bliss of those who have faith in the Lord, they attempt not the onl means of release. Works are a spider's thread, up and down which she continually travels, and which is never broken; so works lead a soul downwards to the Earth, and upwards to the Lord." The bliss to which the soul attains, by the extinction of desire, in the supreme home, is not absorption in the Lord, but union with Him in abiding individuality. This is emancipation (muktī) from the burthen of birth and rebirth, and the highest happiness.[4]

Tulsī, as a Smārta Vaishnava and a Brahman, venerates the whole Hindu pantheon, and is especially careful to give Siva or Mahadéva, the special deity of the Brahmans, his due, and to point out that there is no inconsistency between devotion to Rāma and attachment to Siva (Rāmāyan, Lankākānd, Dōhā 3). But the practical end of all his writings is to inculcate bhakti addressed to Rama as the great means of salvation-emancipation from the chain of births and deaths-a salvation which is as free and open to men of the lowest caste as to Brahmans.

The best account of Tulsī Dās and his works is contained in the papers contributed by Dr Grierson to vol. xxii. of the Indian Antiquary (1893). In Mr Growse’s translation of the Ram-charit-Mana! will be found the text and translation of the passages in the Bhaktamalci. of Nabhaji and its commentary, which are the main original authority for the traditions relating to the poet. Nibhiji had himself met Tulsi Das; but the stanza in praise of the poet gives no facts relating to his life; these are stated in the ṭīkā or gloss of Priyā Dās, who wrote in A.D. 1712, and much of the material is legendary and untrustworthy. Unfortunately, the biography of the poet, called Gésain-charitra, by Benimadhab Das, who was a personal follower and constant companion of the Master, and died in 1642, has disappeared, and no copy of it is known to exist. In the introduction to the edition of the Rāmāyan by the Nāgarī Prachārinī Sabhā all the known facts of Tulsi’s life are brought together and critically discussed. For an exposition of his religious position, and this place in the popular religion of northern India, see Dr Grierson's paper in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, July 1903, pp. 447–466.  (C. J. L.) 

  1. This is the view of Baijnāth Das, author of the best life of Tulsī Dās. At Sōrōn there is no tradition connecting it with the poet. Varāhakshētra and Sūkar-khēt have the same meaning (VarāhaSūkara, a wild boar).
  2. See Indian Antiquary, xxii. 272 (1893).
  3. Narhari-Dās was the sixth in spiritual descent from Raminand, the founder of popular Vaishnavism in northern India (see article Hindostani Literature).
  4. The summary given above is condensed from the translation by Dr Grierson, at pp. 229–236 of the Indian Antiquary, vol. xxii., of the fifth sarga of the Satsai, in which work Tulsi unfolds his system of doctrine.