कविता करके तुलसी न लसे,
कविता लसी पा तुलसी की कला ।(Tulsidas did not shine by composing poetry, rather it was Poetry herself that shone by getting the art of Tulsidas.)
Ramanandi Vaishnava saint, Tulsidas, better remembered as Goswami Tuslidas, doesn’t need an introduction when we speak of Awadhi literature. Best remembered for his epic Ramcharitmanas, Goswamiji is a world renowned Sanskrit and Awadhi scholar whose works in praise of his deity Ram and His Disciple Hanuman are some of the most widely read religious pieces even in modern India.
Story behind Incarnation
Tulsidas was born on Saptami (the seventh day) of the Shukla paksha (bright fortnight) of the Lunar Hindu calendar month of Shraavana. There are various places that are mentioned to be his birthplace, however most scholars identify it as Sookar Kshetra Soron in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Ganga. He is believed to be an incarnation of saint Valmiki. In the following lines from the Hindu scripture Bhavishyottar Purana, Shiva tells his wife Parvati how Valmiki (who got a boon from Hanuman to sing the glory of Ramayan in vernacular language) will incarnate in Kaliyuga.
वाल्मीकिस्तुलसीदासः कलौ देवि भविष्यति।
रामचन्द्रकथामेतां भाषाबद्धां करिष्यति ॥
According to a traditional account, Hanuman went to Valmiki numerous times to hear him sing the Ramayana, but Valmiki turned down the request saying that Hanuman being a monkey was unworthy of hearing the epic. After the victory of Ram over Ravana, Hanuman went to the Himalayas to continue his worship of Ram. There he scripted a play version of the Ramayana called Mahanataka or Hanuman Nataka engraved on the Himalayan rocks using his nails. When Valmiki saw the play written by Hanuman, he anticipated that the beauty of the Mahanataka would eclipse his own Ramayana. Hanuman was saddened at Valmiki’s state of mind and, being a true bhakta without any desire for glory, Hanuman cast all the rocks into the ocean, some parts of which are believed to be available today as Hanuman Nataka. After this, Valmiki was instructed by Hanuman to take birth as Tulsidas and compose the Ramayana in the vernacular.
Life as a Saint
Having spent a normal childhood, at the age of seven Tulsidas was brought to Ayodhya where his Upanayana (sacred thread ceremony) was performed. It was here that Tulsidas started his education. Tulsidas later came to the sacred city of Varanasi and studied Sanskrit grammar, four Vedas, six Vedangas, Jyotisha and the six schools of Hindu philosophy over a period of 15–16 years from guru Shesha Sanatana who was based at the Pancaganga Ghat in Varanasi. He got married for a brief period of time, but later renounced every worldly pleasure and set on his religious voyage. After renunciation, Tulsidas spent most of his time at Varanasi, Prayag, Ayodhya, and Chitrakuta but visited many other nearby and far-off places. He travelled across India to many places, studying different people, meeting saints and Sadhus and meditating. The Mula Gosain Charita gives an account of his travels to the four pilgrimages of Hindus (Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameshwaram) and the Himalayas. He visited the Manasarovar lake in current-day Tibet, where tradition holds he had Darshan (sight) of Kakabhushundi, the crow who is one of the four narrators in the Ramcharitmanas.
Tulsidas used to visit the woods outside Varanasi for his morning ablutions with a water pot. On his return to the city, he used to offer the remaining water to a certain tree. This quenched the thirst of a Preta (a type of ghost believed to be ever thirsty for water), who appeared to Tulsidas and offered him a boon. Tulsidas said he wished to see Ram with his eyes, to which the Preta responded that it was beyond him. However, the Preta said that he could guide Tulsidas to Hanuman, who could grant the boon Tulsidas asked for. The Preta told Tulsidas that Hanuman comes everyday disguised in the mean attire of a leper to listen to his Katha, he is the first to arrive and last to leave.
That evening Tulsidas noted that the first listener to arrive at his discourse was an old leper, who sat at the end of the gathering. After the Katha was over, Tulsidas quietly followed the leper to the woods. In the woods, at the spot where the Sankat Mochan Temple stands today, Tulsidas firmly fell at the leper’s feet, shouting “I know who you are” and “You cannot escape me”. At first the leper feigned ignorance but Tulsidas did not relent. Then the leper revealed his original form of Hanuman and blessed Tulsidas. When granted a boon, Tulsidas told Hanuman he wanted to see Ram face to face. Hanuman told him to go to Chitrakuta where he would see Ram with his own eyes. Tulsidas thus had great affection for Hanuman. The following doha reflects the strength and power of Hanuman who is rightly called as the ‘Mahabali’.
वीर बखानौ पवनसुत, जानत सकल जहान।
धन्य-धन्य अंजनितनय, संकट हर हनुमान।।(The whole world knows about the strength and power of the son of Pawan. He is the son of Anjani and the one who removes all your worries and problems)
At the beginning of the Ramcharitmanas, Tulsidas bows down to a particular Preta and asks for his grace (Ramcharitmanas, Doha 1.7). According to Rambhadracharya, this is the same Preta which led Tulsidas to Hanuman.
Tulsidas followed the instruction of Hanuman and started living in an Ashram at Ramghat in Chitrakuta. On a Wednesday morning on the new moon day of the month of Magha, Ram appeared in front of Tulsidas. Tulsidas was making sandalwood paste when a child came and asked for a sandalwood Tilak. This time Hanuman gave a hint to Tulsidas and he had a full view of Ram. Tulsidas was so charmed that he forgot about the sandalwood. Ram took the sandalwood paste and put a Tilak himself on his forehead and Tulsidas’ forehead before disappearing. This incident is described in the following verse:
चित्रकूट के घाट पर हुई संतन की भीर,
तुलसीदास चन्दन घिसे तिलक देते रघुबीर ।
As mentioned above, Goswami Tulsidas is well known as the composer of a huge variety of religious texts that are read widely across the globe. Some of the most famous pieces include Ramcharitmanas, Hanuman Chalisa, Hanuman Ashtak, Janaki Mangal and Dohavali to name a few. Stay tuned on our blog to read more about interesting facts surrounding these classics and a bunch of unheard tales from Goswamiji’s life.
Concept and Text by Sanskar Jhajharia.