|Originally Published by Sikh-History
Guru Granth Sahib recognizes many saints of the Bhakti movement of medieval India. Kabir, Farid, Namdev are the saints belonging to this movement which swept across the North India from 1100 A.D. till 1600 A.D. When Fifth Guru Guru Arjan dev ji compiled Guru Granth Sahib, he decided to give some recognition to the saints of Bhakti movement, that is the reason that Guru Granth Sahib contains verses of such saints. In some cases Guru Granth Sahib is the only voice remained for such saints over the years.
According to the generally accepted version of the current traditions, Namdev was born in AD 1270 to Damasheti, a low-caste tailor, and his wife, Gonabai, in the village of Naras-Vamani, in Satara district of Maharashtra. Janabai, the family’s maidservant and a bhakta and poetess in her own right, records the tradition that Namdev was born to Gonabai as a result of her worship of Vitthala in Pandharpur. Namdev was married before he was eleven years of age to Rajabal, daughter of Govinda sheti Sadavarte. He had four sons and one daughter, Under the influence of saint Jnanadeva, Namdev was converted to the path of bhakti. Vitthala of Pandharpur was now the object of his devotion and he spent much of his time in worship and kirtan, chanting mostly verses of his own composition. In the company of Jnanadeva and other saints, he roamed about the country and later came to the Punjab where he is said to have lived for more than twenty years at Ghuman, in Gurdaspur district, where a temple in the form of samadh still preserves his memory. This temple was constructed by Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia and the tank by its side was got repaired by Rani Sada Kaur , mother-in-law ofMaharaja Ranjit Singh . In his early fifties, Namdev settled down at Pandharpur where he gathered around himself a group of devotees. His abhangas or devotional lyrics became very popular, and people thronged to listen to his kirtan. Namdev’s songs have been collected in Namdevachi Gatha which also includes the long autobiographical poem Tirathavah. His Hindi verse and his extended visit to the Punjab carried his fame far beyond the borders of Maharashtra. Sixty-one of his hymns in fact came to be included in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. These hymns or sabdas share the common characteristic of lauding the One Supreme God distinct from his earlier verse which carries traces of idolatry and saguna bhakti. In the course of his spiritual quest, Namdev had, from being a worshipper of the Divine in the concrete form, become a devotee of the attributeless ( nirguna) Absolute.
The legend about Bhagat Namdev is that at Gurdaspur Bhagat Namdev was asked by a king to show miracles which he refused as it meant intefering in God’s way. Bhagat Namdev was thrown before a drunken elephant to be crushed to death. God saved His own saint. Namdev spent the last days of his life in village Guman.
Bhagat Nam Dev is a pioneer of the Radical bhakti School. Though he appeared a century earlier than Kabir, his religious and social views are very much like those of Kabir. He unambiguously repudiates all the four fundamentals of Vaisnavism. Though in his devotional approach, he is clearly a monotheist, he makes many pantheistic statements too, e.g., every thing is God; there is nothing but God; consider the world and God to be one; the foam and the water are not different. Chaturvedi writes: “Sant Nam Dev seemed to believe both in transcendence and immanence, in pantheism and nondualism. His devotion was purely of the non-attributional absolute. He also considers God to be immanent, everywhere, in all hearts, and the Creator of everything. Like Kabir and the Sufis, Namdev is very other worldly. He says, “The strength of contempt of the world should be in the body an unchanging companion. One should lay aside differences between oneself and others, and feel no anxiety for things of the world.”Ranade also writes: “He (Nam Dev) tells us that it is impossible that the pursuit of God can be coupled with a life of Samsara. If it had been possible for a man to find God while he was pursuing Samsara, then Sanaka and others would not have grown mad after God. If it had been possible for him to see God while carrying on the duties of a householder, the great Suka would not have gone to the forest to seek God. Had it been possible for people to find God in their homes, they would not have left them to fond out. Nam Dev has left all these things, and is approaching God in utter submission (Abhg. 83).
NamDev’s cosmogenic views are also orthodox. He says that God created maya and “maya is the name of the power that placeth man in the womb.”Indirectly, he is neither happy with the world, nor with the human birth. Him, shop, shopkeeper, men and everything are unreal excepting God. In this background he seeks release from the world and suggests renunciation: ” Namdev gave up trade, and devoted himself exclusively to the worship of God.
The world being a play of maya and not being a worthwhile of spiritual endeavours, Namdev’s goal is to have union with God through devotion and singing. His praises. He says, “I perform worship, sing God’s praises and meditate on Him for eight pahar in a day i.e, round the clock. At the same time, he suggests good conduct and purity of life. For, God created all men alike. Though he holds every person responsible lor his acts, he clearly does not believe in a world rigidly governed by karma. Because he says: If everything were determined by karma, who created karma originally?
NamDev not only claims union with God, but, like Kabir, also states that more than once God miraculously intervened on his behalf to reveal Himself to him, or help him. Without doubt, Nam Dev’s approach remains otherworldly both before and after his achievement. At one time, he even gave up work so as to remain absorbed in his worship and meditations. He never initiated any religious institution or movement. His was a solitary search for God, without creating any social or religious organisation.
We find that in his repudiation of Vaisnava doctrines, in his metaphysical ideas, methodology and goal, and more particularly in his otherworldly approach to the world and society, Namdev’s views are quite identical with those of Kabir.
- Copyright © Daljeet Singh and Kharak Singh “Sikhism, its philosophy and History”
- Copyright © Daljeet Singh “The Radical Bhagats”