The Bhakti Movement in Maharashtra


Sant Janeswar
Lithograph, Ravi Varma Press, c. 1910

Feb 09, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

Like other branches of the Vaishnava Bhakti Movement, the Maharashtra Bhakti tradition drew much of its inspiration from the Bhagavat Purana. It was also influenced, however, by the Saiva Nathpanthis, who were quite popular among the 'lower' classes of Maharashtrian society during the 11th and 12th Centuries. The Nathpanthis composed many scriptural verses in the Marathi language.

Janeswar (1275-1296 A.D.) was one of the most prominent pioneer Bhakti saints of Maharashtra, known as a mystic poet and philosopher in the Nath tradition. He is best known for writing an extensive commentary on the Bhagavad-gita, popularly known as the Janesvari. One of the earliest works of Marathi literature, the Janesvari served as the foundation of Bhakti ideology in Maharashtra.

Sant Janeswar was also the author of many hymns, called abhangs. The philosophy he propounded was that the only way to attain God is through bhakti, and he emphasized the belief that in bhakti there is no place for caste distinctions.

As noted in previous segments of this series, this is a common feature of the Bhakti cults. Both the Rama Bhaktas (Ramanandis) and the followers of Shankaradev's eka-sarana-dharma put great emphasis on eradicating class and caste distinctions. With the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, this sentiment became firmly established from a siddhantic standpoint. The Six Goswamis and successive Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya Acaryas set down the philosophical truths that erase all material lines of separation, replacing them with the absolute tenets of devotional service in bhakti-yoga, a context whichin which the real character and quality of a person is accurately defined.

Jnaneshwar, also known as Dnyaneshwar or Jnanadeva, was born into a Deshastha Brahmin family. According to Nath tradition, he was born to Vitthal Govind Kulkarni and Rukmini, a pious couple from Apegaon, near Paithan on the banks of the river Godavari.

Jnaneshwar's father Vitthal had studied the Vedas and set out on pilgrimages at a young age. In Alandi, about 30 km from Pune, a local Yajurveda Brahmin named Sidhopant became very much impressed with Vitthal, and gave him the hand of his daughter Rukmini in marriage. Vitthal and Rukmini had four children, including their second son Jnaneshwar (Dnyandev/Dnyaneshwar), in 1275.

Vitthal eventually got permission from Rukmini to go to Kashi (Varanasi), where he met the Bhakta proponent, Ramananda Swami. Vitthal asked to be given sannyasa initiation, lying about his marriage. Later, when Ramananda Swami went to Alandi and discovered that Vitthal was actually the husband of Rukmini, he returned to Kashi and ordered Vitthal to return home to his family. The couple was then excommunicated from the brahmin caste.

The couple set out on pilgrimage with their children to Tryambakeshwar, near Nashik, where their elder son Nivrutti, at the age of 10, was initiated into the Nath tradition by Gahininath. The paternal great grandfather of Dnyaneshwar had also been initiated into the Nath cult by Goraksha Nath (Gorakh Nath).

Janeswar's Samadhi at Alandi
(Behind his murti are Deities of Vitthal (Krsna) and Rukmini)

It is believed that Vitthal and Rukmini ended their lives by jumping into the waters at Prayag, the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna. They hoped that upon their death, the four children would finally be accepted into society. But, approaching the brahmin community of Paithan, the Brahmins refused to accept the children, who grew up on alms.

Jnaneshwar became the student of Nivruttinath along with his younger siblings, Sopan and Mukta, at the age of 8. Studying Vedanta and practicing kundalini yoga, the boy grew to adulthood, eventually writing his now famous commentary on Bhagavad-gita and other works, like his Amrutanubhav, another esteemed scriptural work in Marathi literature.


'The Pearson Indian History Manual' by Singh, paraphrased
The Philosophy of Jnanadeva, B.P. Bahirat, Mumbai (1956), Mumbai


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