Sant Namdev Ji was born on October 26th, October 1270 in the state of Maharashtra, village Naras-Vamani, in Satara district (presently called Narsi Namdev). The name of his father, a calico printer/chhipi/chimba/tailor, was Damshet and his mother’s name was Gonabai. Most of the spiritual messages of Bhagat Namdev, just like our gurus’, emphasized the importance of living the life of a householder (grihsth jeevan) and that, through marriage, and having a family, one could attain enlightenment. He emphasized that the truest form of devotional meditation, is to enter matrimony and jointly seek the holy experience.
At the age of eleven, Namdev was married to Rajai. Namdev and Rajai had four sons namely Nara, Vitha, Gonda, Mahada and a daughter called Limbai. His elder sister Aubai also lived with them. There were in all fifteen people in the household. Janabai, the family’s maidservant and a bhagat 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. God’s name was always on the lips of Namdeo. He was asked by the king to show miracles. He refused to do so and was thrown before a drunk elephant to be crushed to death. God saved His own saint. When the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan dev compiled the Guru Granth Sahib, he decided to give some recognition to the saints of the Bhakti movement. This is the reason that Guru Granth Sahib contains verses of fifteen such saints. In some cases Guru Granth Sahib is the only voice remaining for such saints over the years.
The year 1291 was a turning point in his life at the age of twenty-one when he met Saint Dnyaneshwar. Several records in various saint literatures have been found to the following event –
Once, all the Saints like Dnyaneshwar, Nivruttinath, Sopandev, Muktabai, Namdeo, Chokhamela, Visoba Khechar, etc had congregated at Saint Goroba’s house in Terdhoki. As instructed by Saint Dnyaneshwar, Saint Goroba tapped each saint’s pot (head) to find out who was spiritually mature. The reference to the pot being tapped is because Saint Goroba was a potter and him being selected for the test showed his own spiritual maturity. On testing Saint Namdev, Saint Goroba expressed his opinion that Namdev was still immature, which was backed by Saint Muktabai. Miffed by this, Namdev complained to the Lord himself. But the Lord advised him to accept the guidance of Visoba Khechar and Namdev acquired a Guru.He accepted Visoba Khechar as his ultimate Guru, through whom he actually saw the form of God.
His Kirtan have references to many holy books. This shows that he was well read and a great scholar. His Kirtan were so effective that it is said –
Namdev Kirtan kari, pudhe nache dev Panduranga
(Namdev delivers his kirtan, in front of him dances the Lord Pandurang)
His goal in life was –
Nachu Kirtanache rangi, Dnyandeep lavu jagi
(Will dance to the tune of Kirtan, light the lamp of knowledge the world over)
Follows Bhakti Marg:
Under the influence of saint Dnyaneshwar, Namdev became part of the Bhakti Movement. 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. His Hindi verse and his extended visit to the Punjab carried his fame far beyond the borders of Maharashtra. His hymns or shabads were very much a inspiration to the Sikh Gurus and they were able to identify the God in Namdeo’s hymns with the Sikh version of the formless God.
Remembrance of God’s Name – Central:
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., everything is God; there is nothing but God; consider the world and God to be one; the foam and the water are not different. Sant Namdeo 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, Namdeo is very other worldly.
Message of Unity:
One should lay aside differences between oneself and others, and feel no anxiety for things of the world. Namdeo’s cosmogenic views were 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 human birth. To him, shop, shopkeeper, men and everything are unreal excepting God. Against this background he sought release from the world and suggested renunciation: “Namdeo gave up trade, and devoted himself exclusively to the worship of God”.
Namdeo’s goal was to have union with God through devotion and singing. He says, “I perform worship, sing God’s praises and meditate on Him for eight prahar 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 for his acts, he clearly does not believe in a world rigidly governed by karma. Sant Namdeo 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. Without doubt, Namdeo’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.. His was a solitary search for God.
Gurdwara & Temple:
Namdev travelled through many parts of India, reciting his religious poems. In difficult times, he played the difficult role of uniting the people of Maharashtra spiritually. In the company of Dnyaneshwar 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 samadhi still preserves his memory. Ghuman is situated about 26 KM Southeast of Batala city and about 10 KM from Sri Hargobindpur. It is towards west side of Sri Hargobindpur. Baba Namdeo was the founder of this town and meditated here. The eastern entrance to this temple is known as the Namdeo gate. The sanctum enshrines the standing image of Vithoba also known as Panduranga, Pandhari or Vitthala. Stylistically, the image dates back to the 5th century. There are inscriptions in this temple dating back to the 13th century which place origin of this shrine to the 6th century. Temples in his memory have also built in Rajasthan by the Sikhs.
The Sikh brethren in Punjab consider him one of their own, singing praises of him as Namdev Baba. Bahordas, Laddha, VishnuSwami and Keshav Kaladhari were his disciples in Punjab. He composed around 125 Abhanga in Hindi. Sixty-one of these came to be included in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib as Namdevjiki Mukhbani (The holy songs of Namdev). There is an amazing similarity between the ShabdaKirtan of Punjab and the Warkari Kirtan of Maharashtra.
In his early fifties, Namdev settled down at Pandharpur where he gathered around himself a group of devotees. His Abhanga became very popular and people thronged to listen to his Kirtan. Approximately 2500 of Namdev’s Abhanga have been collected in NamdevVaachi Gatha. The book also includes the long autobiographical poem Teerthaavali, talking about his travels in the company of Saint Dnyaneshwar. This poem makes him the first auto-biographer in Marathi literature. He has also written a biography on Saint Dnyaneshwar through Aadi, Samadhi andTeerthavali, which makes him the first Marathi biographer. He continued to propagate the Bhagawad-Dharma for 50 years after the death of Saint Dnyaneshwar. Saint Namdev is regarded to have had a significant influence on Saint Tukaram.
He died on 3rd July, 1350 at the age of 80 in Pandharpur at the feet of the Lord at Pandharpur. He preferred to be a stepping stone at the temple in Pandharpur so that he would be forever blessed by the touch of innumerable saints and devotees stepping on him into the temple.
Compiled by S.R.Rohilla
Ashok Vihar, Delhi-52