By a stroke of accidental fortune, modern India’s birthday coincides with the birthday of Sri Aurobindo, formerly Aurobindo Ghose, “the most dangerous terrorist of them all”, as British occupiers had pegged our revolutionaries in the Alipore bombing case. This year, our Independence Day fell on Sharavan Shukla Saptami, the tithi of birth of Goswami Tulsidas, arguably the single individual contributor to the literature of Sri Rama.
पन्द्रह सौ चौवन विसे कालिन्दी के तीर।
श्रावण शुक्ला सप्तमी, तुलसी धरयो शरीर॥
Today is also the tithi he died.
संवत सोलह सै असी, असी गंग के तीर।
श्रावण शुक्ला सप्तमी, तुलसी तज्यो शरीर॥
At the beginning of the Ramcharitmanas, Tulsidas says that his work is in accordance with various scriptures – the Puranas, Vedas, Upavedas, Tantra and Smriti. This establishes both his intellectual lineage and his spiritual authority for retelling, unlike the authors of today who don’t keep their characters even in the same spirit and character as the original, a basic rule for any fiction to be rightly called a ‘retelling’, forget the various spiritual and intellectual authorities required to take up the endeavour.
Two ancient sources of his life are the Bhaktamal and Bhaktirasbodhini, composed by the Nabhadas and Priyadas respectively. Nabhadas had written in his writing about Tulsidas and described him as an incarnation of the Valmiki. It is said that Hanuman had written an even more impressive version of Ramayana than Valmiki Ramayana, having a first-hand account of events. This depressed Valmiki to no end, realizing that his epic would now be rendered redundant, so Hanuman supposedly threw in the river the stone tablets on which he had made his composition. Anjaneya also promised the adikavi that only he would be known as the original storyteller of Sri Rama, and in Kaliyuga, Hanuman would help him in taking Rama to the masses.
Tulsidas (Tulasidasa as per the Sanskrit phonology) was born to Atmaram Dube and Hulsi in the Chitrakoot district of modern-day Uttar Pradesh. He is said to have spoken Rama immediately after his birth, so he was named “Rambola”. He was born with 32 teeth. The parents gave up this strange child, for this trait inspired more fear than awe. Chuniya, the female maid of his mother Hulsi, took Rambola to her town, Haripur, and took care of him. She died after caring for him for just five and a half years. After that event, Rambola lived as a poor orphan and walked door to door begging for alms. From there, he was taken up and raised by his immediate guru Sant Narharidas, who also gave him the name Tulsidas.
Rambola (Tulsidas) was given the Virakta Diksha (known as Vairagi initiation) and got the new name, Tulsidas. His Upanayana was performed by the Narharidas at Ayodhya when he was just of 7 years old. He started his first learning at the Ayodhya. He mentioned in his epic the Ramcharitmanas that his guru narrated him the Ramayana over and over again.
After marriage, Tulsidas was so besotted by his wife that he followed her when she went to her maternal home. He crossed river Ganga on a dead body which he mistook as a raft. This level of attachment left even the wife fuming, who uttered…
लाज न आयी आपको, दौरे आयो साथ।
धिक-धिक ऐसे प्रेम को कहाँ कहहुं मे नाथ॥
अस्थि चर्ममय देह मम तमो ऐसी प्रीत।
तैसी जो श्रीराममय होत न तव भवभीत॥
(I am ashamed of your actions; the level of dedication you have shown to a temporal body, had you shown to Shri Rama, you would have been freed from all fears…)
Hearing this caused vairagya in Tulsidas, and he left householder life forever.
The sannyasin Tulsidas decided to make Hanuman his Guru, for it was known even back then that Hanuman is the dwarapala to Rama, and nobody could access Sri Rama without his grace. To access Hanuman, he is said to have decided to approach lower spirits like preta-s (प्रेत) who are afraid of him, and hence would know of him. He offered excrement water to a babool (acacia) tree for 40 days, following which, it is believed that a preta residing in the tree showed himself to Tulsi and promised him a boon.
On hearing that he wanted to see Hanuman, preta refused to take him there himself but pointed him to the location where Ram Lila used to happen every day, and Hanuman used to visit as a leper and listen. After the Ram Lila was over the next day, Tulsidas followed the leper and as the latter was about to disappear, lunged and grabbed his feet. The leper would start beating him frantically with his stick and every blow would hurt like being clubbed with a mace, thus confirming the identity of the beggar, but Tulsi refused to budge.
The invincible Hanuman was finally defeated by the grit and bhakti of this Brahmin man-child, and revealed himself, only to learn that Tulsi was seeking even his Ishta, Sri Rama. As the ultimate guru of the path of Rama, Hanuman accepted Tulsi as his disciple. Tulsi made meeting Shri Rama the sole aim of his life.
However, this was not easy to be — despite having the wisest and strongest Being alive in the universe guiding him. One day, Hanuman berated Tulsi that Sri Rama came to the latter to give darshan, but he didn’t even recognise him. Then he consoled his distraught disciple and promised to set up another meeting.
This fructified in 1607 finally, on a Wednesday, tithi being Mauni Amavasya, where Shri Rama and Lakshmana met him at Chitrakoot Ghat as kids asking for Chandan tika. Anticipating that his pupil might miss out on Shri Rama again, Anjaneya took form of a parrot and spoke…
चित्रकूट के घाट पर, भइ सन्तन की भीर।
तुलसिदास चन्दन घिसें, तिलक देत रघुबीर॥
(Amongst the crowd of Saints in Chitrakut, Shri Rama has come to Tulsidas asking for a chandan teeka)
Some oral traditions also say that the meeting with Sri Rama took Tulsi back in time to Treta Yuga, a phenomenon known in Yogic traditions as kalpa darshan, where he, as a Brahmin child, met Sri Rama on the then-exiled prince’s trail to Chitrakut. Back in Kaliyuga, Tulsidas realised that Sri Rama had come to return the favour.
He started writing Ramcharitmanas on occasion on Ramanavami in 1631 and took 2 years 7 months and 26 days to complete it in the month of Margashirsha on tithi of Shri Rama-Sita Vivah.
Hanuman Chalisa, Bajrang Baan, Hanuman Bahuk are other timeless works of Tulsidas, and the Shakti of these works still resonates across India across barriers of language and regions..
Following are the major works of Goswami Tulsidas
रामचरितमानस, कवितावली, दोहावली, विनय पत्रिका, रामलला नहछू, जानकी-मंगल, रामज्ञा, वैराग्य-संदीपनी, पार्वती-मंगल, कृष्ण-गीतावली, बरवै रामायण, गीतावली
Edited by Mrinaal Prem Swarroop Srivastava