Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Tulsi Das and Madhusudan Saraswati
Every morning, melodious lyrical verses came floating along the banks of the river Ganga. The atmosphere of Kashi reverberated with the glorious bhajans of Shri Ram. ‘Sri Rama Charita Manas’ is a unique creation of Tulsi Das. When he sang the verses in his pleasant voice, a huge crowd would gather on the riverside to listen to him.
Tulsi Das wrote the ‘Rama Charita Manas’ in Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Shri Ram. After completion of his work, he had a desire to publicise it in Kashi so that it could reach the huge gatherings of devotees. During that time, Kashi was the seat of all learned scholars. Writers, poets and scholars from all over assembled at Kashi to get their work approved by these great intellectuals of this holy soil of Bharatvarsh. So, Tulsi Das also wanted his work to be acknowledged, liked, and made available to people in general. That was the reason for his settling down in Kashi. Why else would he ever have nurtured the thought of leaving his Ayodhya, the place that he worshipped?
He sang the lyrical verses of his ‘Rama Charita Manas’ everyday so that they could reach the ears of the inhabitants of Kashi. Simple, easy, without any ostentatious decoration of words, his verses were appreciated by everyone. Earlier there were many books written in Sanskrit but they were not able to generate interest in the common man since most people were not educated in Sanskrit and hence unable to admire. When Tulsi Das started singing his ‘doha’ (verses), it attracted the rich and the poor, the learned and the illiterate, the intellectuals and the ignorant alike. The dwellers of Kashi assembled around him. Even eminent personalities like Raja Todarmal, Raja Jayasingh and the King of Kashi showed interest in his work. Day by day, his glory spread far and wide. Everywhere people showered praises on him and he became the talk of the town. The fame of Tulsi Das made the learned pandits of Kashi insecure. Writing the Ramayana in Hindi just for the common man was an unpardonable crime! How can a devotee indulge in such an ignoble act? The scholars and the priests of the temples got together and voiced against it. They made many attempts to defame Tulsi Das and persuade people to reject the ‘Rama Charita Manas’ written by him.
There were two main reason behind this slander. The most important reason was that, people depended on the scholars to translate the Sanskrit texts so they can understand it and that was how the scholars earned their living. Since ‘Rama Charita Manas’ was written in common man’s language, it began to be recited in every house, and Tulsi Das was loved and respected by everyone. If this continued, people would thereafter hardly seek the help of scholars. This enraged the scholars more and more. The second reason was that the ‘Rama Charita Manas’ of Tulsi Das denounced the extravagant frivolous celebrations, the greed of the priests, and the behavior of the fake saints.
The associations of brahmins, priests and learned scholars came together and started campaigning against Tulsi Das. They disgraced him and spread the rumors that Tulsi Das was nonreligious, ignorant of the ‘Shastras’ and holy scriptures. There were conspiracies to even put an end to his life but he escaped death all the time. Who can harm when you when the all merciful protects you! Tulsi Das was a representation of the divine truth and the priests couldn’t express their resentment towards him. Their hearts were burning with jealousy and no sacred advice from the scriptures could dampen that flame. Untouched, Tulsi Das was always engaged in chanting the name of his dear Lord Ram.
After facing defeat on all fronts, the learned pandits thought of approaching Srila Madhusudan Saraswati, who was acclaimed as the highest authority of the Vedas. Madhusudan Saraswati was a peerless vedantic brahmin and was revered by everyone. His ashram was located along the Ganges, in the Chausathi Yogini Ghat of Kashi. Tulsi Das lived very close to this place. Madhusudan knew that Tulsi Das was invincible and was aware of his literary prowess.
Even more fascinating is the story of Madhusudan Saraswati. Though he was the son of the head priest of a King’s court, he left his house at the tender age of twelve, attracted by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s ‘Bhakti Movement’ which had spread to every corner. He arrived in Nabadwip with the desire to become Mahaprabhu’s disciple. But when he reached Nabadwip, he heard that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had taken sanyas and was residing in Puri. He was heart-broken but he didn’t lose hope. He lived in Nabadwip for some time and immersed himself in chanting the name of the Lord and singing kirtan in the company of the followers of Gouranga. His thirst to acquire knowledge took him to the greatest Pandit of that period, Sri Mathuranath and he mastered the ‘Nyaya Shastra’ under his guidance. Mathuranath was amazed by this twelve-year old precocious child’s intellect, sharp acumen and poetic ability. In a few days Madhusudan became an expert in all the subjects taught. But deep within he meditated on Lord Gouranga. ‘Nyaya Shastra’ has its foundation in dualistic philosophy ‘Dvaita Bada’. So, he thought to make use of all his talent and his analysis to write a book on the unquestionable principles of ‘Dvaita Bada’ which will be exceptional and accepted as a foremost proof of the Bhakti movement which was also propagated by Gouranga Mahaprabhu.
The only hinderance was Shankaracharya’s doctrine of ‘Advaita Bada’, non-duality. So, he had to disapprove the ‘Advaita Bada’, and establish the ‘Dvaita Bada’ or the path of devotion. But to achieve this, he had to thoroughly acquire the principles of Advaita Bada. He had to find out the weaknesses and flaws of this doctrine. So, to acquire knowledge about the non-duality doctrine, he decided to go to Varanasi, the centre of Vedic learning. After arriving in Varanasi, he came under the tutelage of Acharya Ramateertha. He was already a master of Nyaya Shastra and after studying in Kashi, he became an authority on ‘Mimansa Shastra’ in a short time. Steadfast practice and a deep involvement get an in depth understanding of the scriptures filled his heart with the radiance of the divine light of the innermost wisdom of vedas. On his Gurudev’s advice, he wrote an exceptional book ‘Advaita Siddhi’ which opposed the principles of duality and upheld the doctrine of nonduality.
Madhusudan came with a desire to write a book endorsing ‘Dvaita Bada’. But what a turnaround! He merged himself in the entity of non-duality and created the great commentary ‘Advaita Siddhi’. Intriguing is the story of his life!
The scholars of Kashi accepted Madhusudan Saraswati as a great authority on the Vedas. He would never approve of the Ramayana written in Hindi. So, all of them got together and went to him to complain against Tulsi Das.
After going through the works of Tulsi Das, Madhusudan Saraswati gave his comments in a shloka, which read -
Paramananda Patrohayam Jangamam Stulati Taru
Kavita Manjari Yasya Rama Bhramara Chumbita
Meaning – In this blissful forest (Varanasi), Tulsidas is a mobile tulsi tree; resplendent are its poetic blossoms, ornamented by the bee that is Rama.
The priests were astonished listening to such high praise for Tulsi Das’ work from such a distinguished vedantic scholar. They gave up all the bitterness and grudge they had for him and accepted him with great regards.
The life of Madhusudan Saraswati was a rich amalgamation of deep knowledge and intense devotion. Though he overturned all the doctrines of duality and endorsed the principles of non-duality, but the mood of loving devotion reflected in many of his writings.
“Advaita samrajya pathadhiruda sushtikrita khandala vaibhabascha
Shathena kenapi vayam hathena dasi krita gopabadhu bitena”
- Even though we have mounted on the path of the Advaita empire and consider the wealth of Indra as insignificant, but we become the servitors of the treacherous one who stole the hearts of the damsels of Vrij.
There is another well-known verse written by him describing the beauty of Krishna-
Vamsi vibhuṣita karan navaniradabhat pitambarad aruṇa bimb phaladharauṣṭhat purṇendu sundara mukhad aravinda netrat kṛiṣṇat param kim api tattvam aham na jane
- With the flute adorning his hand, body hued like a new cloud, dressed in a yellow garment and with lips as red as the bimba fruit, with a face as beautiful as the full moon and eyes like lotuses, I know of no truth higher than Krishna.
In his commentary on Bhagavad Gita, he has very beautifully shown how knowledge and devotion complement each other.
In the first stage, the devotee considers himself as the servitor. In the next stage he thinks that the Lord is attracted by his love and devotion. But in the end he arrives at the realization that he and his Lord are the same. The pinnacle of Bhakti or devotion is the state when you become one with the Lord and that is what the Advaita or the stream of non-duality affirms.
Adi Shankaracharya had spread the doctrine of nonduality ‘Advaita Bada’, from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, throughout the length and breadth of the country. Shankara ignited the flame again when the radiance od Advaita was beginning to diminish and at the verge of extinct. But once in Manikarnika Ghat of Kashi, Maheshwari Annapurna awakened in him a profound notion. In the course of an event she made him understand that the common man has to be guided to meditate on ‘Saguna Brahma’, the absolute with tangible attributes. The doctrine of ‘Nirakar Parambrahma’ is for the enlightened few who have realized that the world is an appearance and that in fact there is nothing except ‘Brahma’ or the absolute. So, Shankaracharya prescribed different paths for people in different stages of realization. For the sanyasis who have denounced the material world, there is the path of knowledge, meditating upon Nirguna Brahma or the ultimate wholeness that integrates all existence, but for the common devotees Saguna bhakti has been advised. To offer flowers with the hands, to behold his form with the eyes, to listen to his praise with the ears, to sing and chant his name with the mouth, to use the limbs to serve him and to surrender at his feet. Some of his well-known works include ‘Annapurna Stotra’, ‘Shivashtaka’, ‘Ganga Yamuna Stutee’.
Known worldwide as the utmost preacher of Advaita philosophy he sang,
“Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam, Govindam Bhaja Mudhamate.”
Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, O misguided ones.
Tulsi Das was also a great saint who realized the ‘Brahman’ or the supreme absolute. The philosophy of his life was based on the doctrine of Advaita. He said there is no difference between a liberated saint and Ram. But his notion of non-duality was submerged and became one with loving devotion.
Sri Ramkrishna Paramahansa Dev, who followed the path of devotion cried before the mother, “Maa! Please make me realise all that is written in the Vedas and Vedanta.” The Mother filled his heart with the essence of Vedas and Vedanta. How can there be scarcity of love and knowledge when God, who is pure love and pure knowledge, pours his mercy on you?
In the words of Thakur Nigamananda, “The way Advaita (non-duality) has embraced Dvaita (duality) so lovingly, at the pinnacle it cannot exist on its own. Only Advaita remains in the supreme state of realization. When the devotee merges with the object of his devotion, they become one and duality becomes non-existent. sometimes while serving, the essence of Advaita surfaces but the devotees push it away since they prefer to remain in the mood of the servitor.”
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has said time and again,
“Advaya Gnana tattva vastu Krishnera swarupa.”
Advaita is definitely the supreme realization. If you take a measuring scale made of salt and march ahead to measure the ocean then your measuring scale will lose its identity and become one with the ocean. In a similar manner, the devotee meditating upon the lotus feet of the lord, rises steadily and on realization of the supreme absolute becomes one with it. But the devotee keeps a clear distinction between the Lord and the servant since he wishes to enjoy the bliss of serving.”
Acharya Shankara also sang,
“satyapi bhedapagame natha tava aham mamakinastvam
samudro hi tarangah kvachana samudro na tarangah”
- Even at the time of true realization, when I see no differences, I am but a part of you, and you are never my part, for a wave is a part of the ocean and the ocean can never be a part of the wave.
In reality, the doctrine of duality (Dvaita Bhava) does not oppose the principles of nonduality (Advaita Bhava). One fully blossoms in the supreme realisation of the other. Both complement each other.
Inspired by Krushnapriya Mohanty’s essay, ‘Rama Bhramara Chumbita Tulasi’.
Image Credit: Eila Sahu