TULSI DAS (1532-1623), the greatest and most famous of Hindi poets, was a Sarwariya Brahman, born, according to tradition, in A.D. 1532, during the reign of Humayun, most probably at Rajapur in the Banda District south of the Jumna. His father's name was Atma Ram Sukal Dube; that of his mother is said to have been Hulasi. A legend relates that, having been born under an unlucky conjunction of the stars, he was abandoned in infancy by his parents, and was adopted by a wandering sadhu or ascetic, with whom he visited many holy places in the length and breadth of India; and the story is in part supported by passages in his poems. He studied, apparently after having rejoined his family, at Sukarkhet, a place generally identified with Sorori in the Etah district of the United Provinces, but more probably the same as Varahakshetra 1 on the Gogra River, 30 m. W. of Ajodhya (Ayodhya). He married in his father's lifetime, and begat a son. His wife's name was Ratnawali, daughter of Dinabandhu Pathak, and his son's Tarak. The latter died at an early age, and TulsI's wife, who was devoted to the worship of Rama, left her husband and returned to her father's house to occupy herself with religion. Tulsi Das followed her, and endeavoured to induce her to return to him, but in vain; she reproached him (in verses which have been preserved) with want of faith in Rama, and so moved him that he renounced the world, and entered upon an ascetic life, much of which was spent in wandering as a preacher of the necessity of a loving faith in Rama. He first made Ajodhya (the capital of Rama and near the modern Fyzabad) his headquarters, frequently visiting distant places of pilgrimage in different parts of India. During his residence at Ajodhya the Lord Rama is said to have appeared to him in a dream, and to have commanded him to write a Ramayana in the language used by the common people. He began this work in the year 1574, and had finished the third book (Aranya-kand), when differences with the VairagI Vaishnavas at Ajodhya, to whom he had attached himself, led him to migrate to Benares, where he settled at Asl-gha^. Here he died * This is the view of Baijnath Das, author of the best life of Tulsi Das. At Soron there is no tradition connecting it with the poet. Varahakshetra and Sukar-khet have the same meaning (Varaha = Sukara, a wild boar).
in 1623, during the reign of the emperor Jahangir, at the great age of 91.
The period of his greatest activity as an author synchronized with the latter half of the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), and the first portion of that of Jahangir, his dated works being as follows: commencement of the Ramayan, 1574; Ram-satsai, 1584; Pdrbati-mangal, 1586; Ramagya, 1598; Kabitta Ramayan, between 1612 and 1614. A deed of arbitration in his hand, dated 1612, relating to the settlement of a dispute between the sons of a land-owner named Todar, who possessed some villages adjacent to Benares, has been preserved, and is reproduced in facsimile in Dr Grierson's Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustan, p. 51. Todar (who was not, as formerly supposed, Akbar's finance minister, the celebrated Raja Todar Mall) was his attached friend, and a beautiful and pathetic poem 1 by Tulsi on his death is extant. He is said to have_been resorted to, as a venerated teacher, by Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur (d. 1618), his brother Jagat Singh, and other powerful princes; and it appears to be certain that his great fame and influence as a religious leader, which remain pre-eminent to this day, were fully established during his lifetime.
Tulsi's great poem, popularly called Tulsi-krii Ramayan, but named by its author Rdm-charit-mdnas, "_the Lake of Rama's deeds," is perhaps better known among Hindus in upper India than the Bible among the rustic population in England. Its verses are everywhere, in this region, popular proverbs; an apt quotation from them by a stranger has an immediate effect in producing interest and confidence in the hearers. As with the Bible and Shakespeare, his phrases have passed into the common speech, and are used by every one (even m Urdu) without being conscious of their origin. Not only are his sayings proverbial: his doctrine actually forms the most powerful religious influence in present-day Hinduism; and, though he founded no school and was never known as a guru or master, but professed himself the humble follower of his teacher, Narhari-Das, 2 from whom as a boy in Sukar-khet he heard the tale of Rama's doings, he is everywhere accepted as an inspired and authoritative guide in religion and conduct of life.
The poem is a rehandling of the great theme of Valmiki, but is m no sense a translation of the Sanskrit epic. The succession of events is of course generally the same, but the treatment is entirely different. The episodes introduced in the course of the story are for the most part dissimilar. Wherever Valmiki has condensed, Tulsi Das has expanded, and wherever the elder poet has lingered longest, there his successor has hastened on most rapidly. It consists of seven books, of which the first two, entitled " Childhood " (Bdl-kand) and " Ayodhya " (Ayddhya-kand), make up more than half the work. The second book is that most admired. The tale tells of King Dasarath's court, the birth and boyhood of Rama and his brethren, his marriage with Sita, daughter of Janak king of Bideha, his voluntary exile, the result of Kaikeyi's guile and Dasarath's rash vow, the dwelling together of Rama and Sita in the great central Indian forest, her abduction by Ravan, the expedition to Lanka and the overthrow of the ravisher, and the life at Ajodhya after the return of the reunited pair. It is written in pure Baiswari or Eastern Hindi, in stanzas called chaup&is, broken by dohas or couplets, with an occasional sorafha and chhandthe latter a hurrying metre of many rhymes and alliterations. Dr Grierson well describes its movement: . . .
" As a work of art, it has for European readers prolixities and episodes which grate against occidental tastes, but no one can read it in the original without being impressed by it as the work of a great genius. Its style varies with each subject. There is the deep pathos of the scene in which is described Rama's farewell to his mother: the rugged language depicting the horrors of the battlefield a torrent of harsh sounds clashing against each other and reverberating from phrase to phrase; and, as occasion requires, a sententious, aphoristic method of narrative, teeming with similes drawn from nature herself, and not from the traditions of the schools. His characters, too, live and move with all the dignity of an heroic age. Each is a real being, with a well-defined personality. Rama, perhaps too perfect to enlist all our sympathies; his impetuous and loving brother Lakshman; the tender, constant Bharat; Sita, the ideal of an Indian wife and mother; Ravan, destined to failure, and fighting with all his demon force against his destiny the Satan of the epic all these are characters as lifelike and distinct as any in occidental literature."
A manuscript of the Ayodhyd-kdnd, said to be in the poet s own hand, exists at Rajapur in Banda, his reputed birthplace. One of the Bal-kdnd, dated Sambat 1661, nineteen years before the poet s 1 See Indian Antiquary, xxii. 272 (1893).
2 Narhari-Das was the sixth in spiritual descent from Ramanand, the founder of popular Vaishnavism in northern India (see article HINDOSTANI LITERATURE).
death, and carefully corrected, it is alleged by Tulsi Das himself, is at Ajodhya. Another autograph is reported to be preserved at Malihabad in the Lucknow district, but has not, so far as known, been seen by a European. Other ancient MSS. are to be found at Benares, and the materials for a correct text of the Ramayan are thus available. Good editions have been published by the Khadga Bilas press at Bankipur (with a valuable life of the poet by Baijnath Das), and by the Ndgarl Pracharini Sabhd at Allahabad (1903). The ordinary bazar copies of the poem, repeatedly reproduced by lithography, teem with interpolations and variations from the poet s language. An excellent translation of the whole into English was made by the late Mr F. S. Growse, of the Indian Civil Service (sth edition, Cawnpore, 1891).
Besides the " Lake of Rama's deeds," Tulsi Das was the author of five longer and six shorter works, most of them dealing with the theme of Rama, his doings, and devotion to him. The former are (i) the DdhdbaK, consisting of 573 miscellaneous doha and sora(ha verses; of this there is a duplicate in the Ram-satsai, an arrangement of seven centuries of verses, the great majority of which occur also in the DohabaK and in other works of Tulsi; (2) the Kabitta Ramayan or Kabittabafi, which is a history of Rama in the kabitta, ghanaksharl, chhappal and sawaiya metres; like the Ram- charitmdnas, it is divided into seven kaifds or cantos, and is devoted to setting forth the majestic side of Rama's character; (3) the GttRdmayan, or Gitabatl, also in seven kdyds, aiming at the illustration of the tender aspect of the Lord's life; the metres are adapted for singing; (4) the Krishndwali or Krishna gltabaK, a collection of 6 1 songs in honour of Krishna, in the Kanauji dialect : the authenticity of this is doubtful ; and (5) the Binay Pattrikd, or " Book of petitions, ' a series of hymns and prayers of which the first 43 are addressed to the lower gods, forming Rama's court and attendants, and the remainder, Nos. 44 to 279, to Rama himself. Of the smaller compositions the most interesting is the Vairagya Sandtpani, or " Kindling of continence," a poem describing the nature and greatness of a holy man, and the true peace to which he attains. This work has been translated by Dr Grierson in the Indian Antiquary, xxii. 198-201.
Tulsi's doctrine is derived from Ramanuja through Ramanand. Like the former, he believes in a supreme personal God, possessing all gracious qualities (saguna), not in the quality-less (nirguna) neuter impersonal Brahman of Sankaracharya ; this Lord Himself once took the human form, and became incarnate, for the blessing of mankind, as Rama. The body is therefore to be honoured, not despised. The Lord is to be approached by faith (bhakti)- disinterested devotion and surrender of self in perfect love, and all actions are to be purified of self-interest in contemplation of Him. " Show love to all creatures, and thou wilt be happy; for when thou lovest all things, thou lovest the Lord, for He is all in all." The soul is from the Lord, and is submitted in this life to the bondage of works (karma) ; " Mankind, in their obstinacy, keep binding themselves in the net of actions, and though they know and hear of the bliss of those who have faith in the Lord, they attempt not the only means of release. Works are a spider's thread, up and down which she continually travels, and which is never broken; so works lead a soul downwards to the Earth, and upwards to the Lord." The bliss to which the soul attains, by the extinction of desire, in the supreme home, is not absorption in the Lord, but union with Him in abiding individuality. This is emancipation (muklf) from the burthen of birth and rebirth, and the highest happiness. 3 Tulsi, as a Smarta Vaishnava and a Brahman, venerates the whole Hindu pantheon, and is especially careful to give Siva or Mahadeva, the special deity of the Brahmans, his due, and to point out that there is no inconsistency between devotion to Rama and attachment to Siva (Ramayan, Lankdkdnd, Doha 3). But the practical end of all his writings is to inculcate bhakfi addressed to Rama as the great means of salvation emancipation from the chain of births and deaths a salvation which is as free and open to men of the lowest caste as to Brahmans.
The best account of Tulsi Das and his works-is contained in the papers contributed by Dr Grierson to vol. xxii. of the Indian Antiquary (1893). In Mr Growse's translation of the Ram-charit- Manas will be found the text and translation of the passages in the Bhaktamdla of Nabhaji and its commentary, which are the main original authority for the traditions relating to the poet. Nabhaji had himself met Tulsi Das ; but the stanza in praise of the poet gives no_ facts relating to his life.; these are stated in the fikd or gloss of Priya Das, who wrote in A.D. 1712, and much of the material is legendary and untrustworthy. Unfortunately, the biography of the poet, called GSsaln-charitra, by Benimadhab Das, who was a personal follower and constant companion of the Master, and died in 1642, has disappeared, and no copy of it is known to exist. In the introduction to the edition of the Ramayan by the Nagari Pracharini Sabha all the known facts of Tulsi's life are brought together and critically discussed. For an exposition of his religious position, 3 The summary given above is condensed from the translation by Dr Grierson, at pp. 229-236 of the Indian Antiquary, vol. xxii., of the fifth sarga of the Satsat, in which work Tulsl unfolds his system of doctrine.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)