I would like to start this post with a wonderful rendition of one of Swami Tulsidas’ popular bhajans – “Shri Ramchandra Kripalu Bhajaman”
Saint Tulsidas was among the several others who reinforced the Bhakti Movement (devotion to God) in medieval India when the people’s faith in the divine was being intensely tested by the plundering foreign invaders. Tulsidas was born to a Brahmin family in Rajpur, in Uttar Pradesh in 1532 CE. When he was a child the first word he ever uttered was “Ram” and hence he was called RamBola (literally translated to “he said Ram”) by all the villagers.
Tulsidas had a non-descript childhood and after growing up, he married a devout and pious woman called Ratnavali. Tulsidas was extremely attached to his wife. One day his wife went to her parents’ home to a neighboring town across the river Yamuna. That night, Tulsidas felt very lonely, and even though he tried to sleep, he could not. It was a stormy night and Tulsidas, experiencing an unexplainable longing for his wife, decided that he had to see her right away in order to get rid of his restlessness.
He ran outside his house. He was in a great hurry so he decided to take a short-cut through the cemetry. It was raining heavily but he did not care. The rain had caused some dead bodies to be left half burnt. But Tulsidas was so unaware of all this that he just stepped on the skulls, flesh and the half burnt pyres and finally reached the shores of the Yamuna. The river was on high tide and he could not at all swim against the currents to the other bank. He needed a wooden plank or a boat to cross the river. He thought he picked up a wooden plank from the cemetry and sat on it and rowed himself to the other bank of the river. He mind was so fixed on thoughts of his wife, that he did not know what he used as boat and oars were actually a trunk of a half burnt dead body and a few bones. And having crossed the river he rushed to the house of his parents-in-law. He knew that his wife’s room was on the first floor. He saw a rope and used it to climb to his house’s window. He did not even realize that the thing he thought was a rope was actually a python. When he was able to reach his wife, his intense longing subsided. But his wife was actually stunned at Tulsidas’ stupidity. She repimanded him – “O Tulsi, you have so much love and lust for my flesh and bones, which will decay as we grow older. If you have even half this love for Lord Ram, you probably would have seen him by now.”
This statement struck Tulsidas very hard. Thanking his wife, he renounced his family ties, took Sanyas (renunciation) and became a wandering ascetic. It was as if an entire blanket of darkness was removed from his mind and suddenly, all his love was directed towards the great Lord Ram himself. He went on long pilgrimages across India longing for a sight of his beloved Ram. He lived for many years at Ayodhya (where Lord Ram had lived). He sung hymns to his Lord and constantly meditated on his lotus feet longing to see him at least once before he died.
Everyday after his morning wash at the river, he would bring some water in his kamandalu (pitcher) and then pour it at the roots of a pepul tree before going back to his hermitage to start his daily lectures and discourses. One day, as he did his daily routine pouring the water in the roots of the tree, a spirit appeared before him and said – “O Tulsi, I am very satisfied with you. You have been sincerely feeding me water every day for many years now, and I want to give you something in return. What would you like to ask me?” Tulsidas was surprised and said – “O Spirit! I did not know at all that you lived here. I absent mindedly brought water in my kamandalu and poured it here. I am glad you are satisfied with me. For many years I have been longing to see my Lord Ram. Is there any way you could show him to me or make him appear before me?” The spirit replied that she might not be able to show Tulsidas Lord Ram himself, but she told him “I am afraid I do not have that much power, but haven’t you noticed Lord Anjaneya, Lord Ram’s servant visiting your hermitage everyday to listen to your discourses about Ram’s lives and sing the bhajans with you?” And so, the spirit gave Tulsidas a description of how Lord Anjaneya looks like when he comes to listen to the stories about Lord Ram that Tulsidas recited to the public everyday.
Tulsidas knew that if he recognized Anjaneya and begged him, then Anjaneya would definitely be able to show Tulsidas his beloved Lord Ram. So that day, after his encounter with the spirit, Tulsidas happily started his daily lectures. And slowly people started flocking to listen to him. After a while Tulsidas noticed that there was a leper sitting at the back of the rest of the audience, enjoying the lectures with a smiling face and closed eyes, drowned in happiness. Tulsidas immediately recognized this leper to be Anjaneya. After his lectures, he rushed to the leper and washed his feet with water. For a few minutes the leper protested and acted like he disliked being touched, but when he realized that Tulsidas has identified his true identity, he smiled and blessed Tulsidas. With the blessings of Anjaneya, Tulsidas was able to meet his Lord Ram and his goal for the entire lifetime was fulfilled.
Tulsidas is believed to be an incarnation of Sage Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana in Sanksrit. Tulsidas, however wrote the story of Ramayana in the local vernacular of Hindi/Awadhi. Tulsidas’ Ramayana is known by the name of Ramcharitamanas. The Ramcharitamanas was his biggest work as a poet. But he also composed many bhajans and songs in praise of Ram, and he spent many years living blissfully as a wandering saint, still immersed in thoughts of Lord Ram, till he died at a very old age. He spent the last years of his life in Benares.
It is the servant who shows any visitor to the master. Even in the case of trying to approach the magnificent Lord Ramachandra himself, Tulsidas was assured success when he went through his sevak – Lord Hanuman. Tulsidas also composed the Hanuman Chalisa (40 couplets in praise of Lord Hanuman). Hanuman Chalisa is still widely sung in almost every household in India. Some excellent renditions of the Hanuman Chalisa in various western styles can be found here – http://www.krishnadas.com/media/photos-featured-cd.cfm