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Bhakt-Bharti’, ‘Matwali’, ‘Meera’, ‘Shyam’, ‘Satsai’ and ‘Satyagrhi Prahlad’ are the poetic creations of the poet Tulsi-Das Sharma Dinesh of Bhiwani.

The Sanskrit name of Tulsidas can be transliterated in two ways. Using the original Sanskrit, the name is written as Tulasīdāsa. Using the Hunterian transliteration system, it is written as Tulsidas or Tulsīdās reflecting the vernacular pronunciation (since the written Indian languages maintain the vestigial letters that are no longer pronounced). The lost vowels are an aspect of the Schwa deletion in Indo-Aryan languages and can vary between regions. The name is a compound of two Sanskrit words: Tulasī, which is an Indian variety of the basil plant considered auspicious by Vaishnavas (devotees of god Vishnu and his avatars like Rama), and Dāsa, which means slave or servant and by extension, devotee. Tulsidas, thus means a servant of the plant Tulsi.

Tulsidas himself has given only a few facts and hints about events of his life in various works. Till late nineteenth century, the two widely known ancient sources on Tulsidas’ life were the Bhaktamal composed by Nabhadas between 1583 and 1639, and a commentary on Bhaktamal titled Bhaktirasbodhini composed by Priyadas in 1712. Nabhadas was a contemporary of Tulsidas and wrote a six-line stanza on Tulsidas describing him as an incarnation of Valmiki. Priyadas’ work was composed around a hundred years after the death of Tulsidas and had eleven additional stanzas, describing seven miracles or spiritual experiences from the life of Tulsidas. During the 1920s, two more ancient biographies of Tulsidas were published based on old manuscripts – the Mula Gosain Charit composed by Veni Madhav Das in 1630 and the Gosain Charit composed by Dasanidas (also known as Bhavanidas) around 1770. Veni Madhav Das was a disciple and contemporary of Tulsidas and his work gave a new date for Tulsidas’ birth. The work by Bhavanidas presented more narratives in greater detail as compared to the work by Priyadas. In the 1950s a fifth ancient account was published based on an old manuscript, the Gautam Chandrika composed by Krishnadatta Misra of Varanasi in 1624. Krishnadatta Misra’s father was a close companion of Tulsidas. The accounts published later are not considered authentic by some modern scholars, whereas some other scholars have been unwilling to dismiss them. Together, these five works form a set of traditional biographies on which modern biographies of Tulsidas are based.

Tulsidas was born on saptami, the seventh day of shukla paksha, the bright half of the lunar Hindu calendar month Shraavana (July–August). Although as many as seven places are mentioned as his birthplace, most scholars identify the place with Rajapur (Chitrakoot), a village on the banks of the river Yamuna, on the border between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. In 2012 Sukarkhet Rajapur village on Pashka Road near Parashpur Bhauriganj Bajar, currently in District Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, approximately 50 km from Ayodhya, was declared officially by the government of Uttar Pradesh as the birthplace of Tulsi Dasji. His parents were Hulsi and Atmaram Dubey. Most sources identify him as a Saryupareen Brahmin of the Parashar Gotra (lineage), although some sources claim he was a Kanyakubja or Sanadhya Brahmin.

There is difference of opinion among biographers regarding the year of birth of Tulsidas. Many sources rely on Veni Madhav Das’ account in the Mula Gosain Charita, which gives the year of Tulsidas’ birth as Vikrami Samvat 1554 (1497 CE). These sources include Shivlal Pathak, popular editions of Ramcharitmanas (Gita Press, Naval Kishore Press and Venkateshvar Press), Edwin Greaves, Hanuman Prasad Poddar, Ramanand Sarasvati, Ayodhyanath Sharma, Ramchandra Shukla, Narayandas, and Rambhadracharya. A second group of biographers led by Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras and Sir George Grierson give the year as Vikram 1589 (1532 CE).These biographers include Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Ramghulam Dwivedi, James Lochtefeld, Swami Sivananda and others. A third small group of authors which includes H. H. Wilson, Garse De Tasse and Krishnadatta Mishra gives the year as Vikram 1600 (1543 CE). The year 1497 appears in many current-day biographies in India and in popular culture. Biographers who disagree with this year argue that it makes the life span of Tulsidas equal 126 years, which in their opinion is unlikely if not impossible. In contrast, Ramchandra Shukla says that an age of 126 is not impossible for a Mahatma (great soul) like Tulsidas. The Government of India and provincial governments celebrated the 500th birth anniversary of Tulsidas in the year 1997 CE, according to the year of Tulsidas’ birth in popular culture.

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 started composing poetry in Sanskrit in Varanasi on the Prahlada Ghat. Tradition holds that all the verses that he composed during the day, would get lost in the night. This happened daily for eight days. On the eighth night, Shiva – whose famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located in Varanasi – is believed to have ordered Tulsidas in a dream to compose poetry in the vernacular instead of Sanskrit. Tulsidas woke up and saw both Shiva and Parvati who blessed him. Shiva ordered Tulsidas to go to Ayodhya and compose poetry in Awadhi. Shiva also predicted that Tulsidas’ poetry would fructify like the Sama Veda. In the Ramcharitmanas, Tulsidas hints at having the Darshan of Shiva and Parvati in both dream and awakened state.