In the thirteenth century, a small percentage of the society in Maharashtra knew the Sanskrit language and followed the religious and other books written in that language. The majority of the people of the society were therefore denied the key to religious books or to knowledge. At such a stage in the history of Maharashtra, there arose a very bright star on the horizon of knowledge, who pledged himself to writing in the language of the people, the Marathi Language. This star was none else but the Saint Dnyaneshwar who was bold enough to go against the traditions of his times of writing in the Sanskrit language and to use Marathi as the vehicle of his preaching. Dnyaneshwar was so very sure about the power of the Marathi language that he writes in Dnyaneshwari that, his highly appreciative readers will surely say that Marathi Language is even sweeter than nectar.
Dnyaneshwari is the most revered book of the "Warkari" Sect. Every member of that sect regards that book as the base of the "Warkari" sect; but it is a great pity that fully authentic account of the life of the writer of Dnyaneshwari is not known. A few fragments of his life are available in 'Dnyaneshawar Vijay' by Satchita-nand Baba and a few Abhangas composed by Namdeo. The complete life account of Dnyaneshwar is more or less legendary and has got to be constructed from the fragments of facts selected from the aforesaid books.
On the North bank of the Godawari river and at a distance of about eight miles on the East side of Paithan, there is a village known as Apegaon. The forefathers of Saint Dnyaneshwar were holding the 'watan' of Kulkarni in this village. This office was hereditary in that family. From the information available it can be said that in Shaka 1060 (1138 A. D.), one of the ancestors of Saint Dnyaneshwar, Haripant by name, held this office. After Haripant, Rama-chandrapant, his son, came to the office. After the death of Rama-chandrapant, his son Gopalpant followed him in the office of 'Kulkarni.' Ramachandrapant, the son of Gopalpant, next came to Office. Gopalpant's son Trimbakpant followed him. At that time Jaitrapal was the ruler of the country. He deputed Trimbakpant's, son Haripant on a mission to subjugate one rebellious Deshmukh in the country. In the battle that followed, however through misfortune, Haripant was slain. Because of the sad demise of his son. Trimbakpant lost all his interest in the worldly affairs and dedicated his life to God. Later on the great ascetic Gorakhanath, while on pilgrimage, happened to visit Apegaon. He initiated Trimbakpant and accepted him as his disciple. Trimbakpant, who was the great-grand-father of Dnyaneshwar, was the first person in the family of Dnyaneshwar to have a philosophical and religious bent of mind
Trimbakpant's son Govindpant and Vithalpant the son of Govindpant were respectively the grandfather and father of Dnyaneshwar. The thread ceremony of Vithalpant took place at the age of seven. Thereafter, he very soon completed his study of the Vedas and Shastras and with the permission of his father, he started on a pilgrimage of the holy places. From his childhood Vithalpant was of religious nature. After visiting Dwarka, Prabhas, Sapta-shringi, Trimbakeshwar, Bhimashankar and such other holy places, Vithalpant came to Alandi. Here one Shri Sidhopant, who thought that Vithalpant was a suitable match for his daughter, gave his daughter to Vithalpant in marriage. After the marriage, Vithalpant went to Shri Shaila, Vyankatgiri, Rameshwar, Gokarna and such other holy places in the South and returned to Alandi. From here he went to Apegaon along with his wife and his in-laws. There he bowed down to his parents and stayed with them. After the death of his- father and mother, the responsibility of the whole house fell on Vithalpant; but because of his religious and philosophical bent of mind he could never take keen interest in the household duties and therefore remained aloof from them. When his wife Rukminibai noted this, she informed her parents about it, so they came to Apegaon from Alandi and returned to Alandi along with their daughter and son-in-law.
Vithalpant was often telling his wife Rukminibai that he had a strong desire to go to Kashi and become a Sanyasi. He was therefore, often requesting his wife to grant him permission for the same; but the wife would not give it to him. One morning, however, he saught permission of his wife to go to the river for a bath and after getting out of the house he straight-away went to Kashi (Benaras). There he became a disciple of Shri Ramanandswami and observed celibacy. By and by he told Swamiji that he was all alone and that he had no bondage of the wife or children. He entreated Swamiji to give him Mantra and to initiate him as a Sanyasi. Ramananda-swami took the words of Vithalpant as authentic and after initiating him as a Sanyasi gave him his new name "Chaitanyashram."
Somehow the news about Vithalpant's Sanyasa fell on the ears of Rukminibai; but she did not get disheartened. Her devotion to God was firm. She continued her worship of the God as if nothing abnormal had happened. Twelve years rolled on in this fashion. One evening she went to the Maruti temple as usual. There she saw one Swami of outstanding brilliance. As a matter of course she bowed down to the Swamiji, who blessed her that she may get a son. When Rukminibai heard the blessing she could not help laughing. Looking to the smile on the face of Rukminibai, Swamiji enquired what was the matter, when Rukminibai told her whole story pointing out how it was now not possible for her to have a child. After listening to the whole story, the Swamiji took pity on Rukminibai and it at once flashed upon his mind that Chaitanvashram, who took Sanyasa at his hand, must be Vithalpant. Swamiji also felt very sorry that because of the belief, which he blindly kept in the words of Vithalpant, a poor lady had to suffer and has been deprived of the pleasures of a married life. The Swamiji immediately decided to abandon his Southward journey and started for Kashi along with Sidhopant and Rukminibai.
After reaching Kashi Ramanandaswami called his disciple Chaitanyashram and placed all the facts before him, when he confessed everything and expressed his sorrow for having given a false account. Thereupon Swamiji reprimanded and ordered him to cast away his "Sanyasa" and begin his family life (Grihastha-shram) again. Vithalpant had no other go but to obey the orders of his Guru and he returned along with his wife and father-in-law to Alandi immediately after taking the orders of his Guru.
In course of time Vithalpant got the first son in Shaka 1195. He was named Nivrittinath. Rukminibai gave birth to three more children after that and they were named as follows : Dnyaneshwar (Shaka 1197) Sopan (Shaka 1199) and Muktabai (Shaka 1201). Vithalpant was already a pious person conversant with the traditions of Indian Philosophy. He was more or less averse to worldly life. He, therefore, appears to have named his children according to the maxims of the Indian philosophy. When one gets out of this worldly life (Nivritti) he obtains real knowledge (Dynana), when real knowledge is obtained, he finds the bridge (Sopan) leading to the liberation or Mukti (Muktabai). These steps of obtaining Moksha were as if suggested by Vithalpant by the names of his children.
The children were thus growing in Alandi under the care of Vithalpant and Rukminibai, who were both extremely religious and devoted to God. According to the traditions of the time, when Nivrittinath became due for the thread ceremony, Vithalpant requested the Brahmins to perform the same; but they were all against performing any ceremony, as they said vehemently that it was against the orders of the Shastras, to start a family life after once taking Sanyasa. Vithalpant entreated the Brahmins in various ways and requested them to suggest something for atoning the sin committed by him; but the orthodox element in the Brahmins was not prepared to budge an inch and to give permission for the thread ceremony-Ultimately, they referred to all the religious books and said that, if Vithalpant has got to be free from the great sin committed by him, he and his wife Rukminibai should sacrifice their lives at the conference of Ganga and Yamuna. Vithalpant who was really a Godfearing person, accepted the unanimous decision of the Brahmins and with his wife jumped in the holy waters of the Ganga and Yamuna at Prayag.
The four children were thus rendered destitute at a very young age due to the orthodoxy and uncompromising attitude of the Brahmins of Alandi. At that time Nivrittinath might hardly be about 10 years of age, and the others still younger. We can hardly picture the youngsters plungeed deeply in the sorrow of the loss of their parents; but it is a wonder how all the Brahmins of that time could afford to be so merciless !
Time teaches a person to gather strength. The eldest of Vithalpant's children, Nivrithtnath, had therefore, to rise to the occasion. He bravely bore the massive grief due the loss of his parents, consoled his two younger brothers and the sister and went to Apegaon to get some support at least from the other relatives of his father; but in the absence of Vithalpant all his relatives at Apegaon shut their doors for these homeless and desolate orphans.
Nirvttinath and Dnyaneshwar therefore started begging alms and -they somehow kept their bodies and souls together.
Completely baffled in this fashion and getting no support from their relatives, all the four children left Apegaon and came to Alandi; but as they were being treated as outcast their minds were not at rest. Paithan was in those days a great seat of learning and a stronghold of the Brahmins. Hence Dnyaneshwar had a feeling that they may try to get a certificate of purity from the learned Brahmins of Paithan. Because of the request of Dnyaneshwar, Nivrittinath along with his brethren came to Paithan all the way on foot, with standing many dangers and fighting with difficulties. All the brahmins of Paithan were looking upon them with scorn. Hence when Dnyaneshwar said that the God was alike in all the living beings, he was asked to make the passing he-buffalo to recite Vedas and it is said that no sooner Dnyaneshwar placed his hand on the head of the animal, than the he-buffalo started reciting Vedas as well as the Brahmins did. The animal continued to recite Vedas for hours together and all the Brahmins collected on the Bank of Godavari to see this miracle. The performance of this miracle made the Brahmins nowhere and they had to accept the greatness and supernatural power of Dnyaneshwar. The result was that ultimately the certificate of purity was granted to the children by the Brahmins of Paithan; but the Thread ceremonies of Nivritti and Dnyaneshwar were never performed ! !
After performing one miracle Dnyaneshwar went to Newase where another miracle was waiting for him. The mention of Newase is found in Dnyaneshwari, where this exquisite book was written. As these children were entering Newase, they found that one person was lying dead and his wife was lamenting bitterly by the side of his corpse. Dnyaneshwar asked as to what was the name of the person and on being told that it was Sat-chit-ananda, he said that a person bearing that name could never be lifeless. He therefore touched that lifeless body with his nectar like hand and asked the person to get up, when Sat-Chit-Anandababa at once got up as if from sleep. This same Sat-Chit-Anandbaba later on worked as the scribe of Dnyaneshwari, when Dnyaneshwar dictated his great book.
It is reported that this same Sat-chit-Anandbaba had written a book in verse form under the caption of "Dnyaneshwar Vijay"; but unfortunately that book is swallowed by time and is not available. If this book would have been available, we could have had some authentic information about this great personality as written by his contemporary; but the will of God is otherwise and we have to construt the life of Dnyaneshwar by collecting the fragments from various other sources as already said.
Dnyaneshwari or Bhavartha deepika
From the internal evidence in Dnyaneshwari, it is clear that this unique criticism on Bhagwatgeeta was completed in Shaka 1212. It will be seen from the life of Dnyaneshwar that he composed this book at a very early age of sixteen. The knowledge of all the philosophical books, which were then in existence, the different theories of life, the knowledge of the customs and manners of the people of his times and all such things which are evident from the book, simply make the readers wonder how a boy of sixteen could acquire so much maturity and knowledge at that age; but as Lord Krishna has himself expressed in Bhagwatgeeta 'a very learned person take s rebirth in a great family with all his achievements" and hence he proves to be a progidy. Hence as belivers in rebirth, we might say that the knowledge already acquired by Dnyaneshwar in the previous birth came along with him in his present birth. Though Dnyaneshwari is apparently a criticism on the Bhagwatgeeta, still we find that it is really an in -dependent book expounding the Indian Philosophy. It has only taken Bhagwatgeeta as its base, because it was a known book revered by all. The very fact that the commentary on 700 and odd shlokas of Bhagwatgeeta should expand into over 8,500' Ovees goes to prove the independent nature of the book.
If specific examples are to be cited we might point out that in the sixth canto of Bhagwatgeeta there are only 47 shlokas while the commentery thereon runs into 497 ovees. Similarly, the number of Ovees in the tenth canto is 1124. Similar figures about the extent of other cantoes could be given for comparison, but it is not quite necessary to prove the aforesaid fact.
Dnyaneshwari is not important only from the point of view of philosophy, it also is a very good example of poetry full of imagination. The use of language is also unique. The words and phrases used are so very appropriate that nobody has been able to suggest so far a substitute for any one of them. The figures of speech like simile, metaphor etc. are met with very often in the book. They are not only appropriate but they show profuse knowledge on the part of the author. The language used is so captivating that any reader will agree to the statement made by Dnyaneshwar that he will get a certificate from his appreciative readers that the Marathi language is even sweeter than the nectar.
Gnyaneshwar is a Yogi. He appears to be well-versed in all practices of Yoga. Whenever he has spoken of Yoga and its practices he appears to be speaking with so much confidence that we feel that he is speaking not from heresay but from his personal experience. The ultimate live Samadhi, that Dnyaneshwar took, to put an end to his life, shows also that he had full knowledge of the practice of Yoga.
Along with Yoga, Dnyaneshwar has not neglected other ways of devotion like "Bhakti" and worship of the idol of the God. He has done enough justice to all these whenever necessary and has also described their importance in human life.
From the point of view of the development of Rasas. Dnyaneshwari is not wanting. In the eleventh canto when Lord Krishna shows to Arjuna the whole universe, we see the develpment of different Rasas like Rowdra, Bhayanaka, Shanta etc. This also shows that Dnyaneshwar had studied the books on literary criticism that were existing at his time.
Dnyaneshwari is supposed to be the basic book of the. "War-kari" sect. Every "Warkari" who recognises God Vithal as his God revers this book unequivocally. In all the lectures of these people they will be constantly referring to "Ovees" from this highly revered book. Apart from the followers of the Warkari Sect, every student of the Marathi Literature has got to peep into this book. No student of Marathi literature can say that his study is complete without the study of Dnyaneshwari. Other great Marathi Saints like Namdeo, Eknath, Tukaram, Ramdas have always mentioned Dnyaneshwari with reverence, and have taken pride in stating that they have been the followers of Dnyaneshwar. Most of the Marathi poets who wrote on religious subjects have made free use of the similies, ideas and quotations from Dnyaneshwari, and even acknowledged that they got inspiration to write their books after reading it.
As Bhagwatgeeta was the source of inspiration for writing a criticism to many Mara-thi poets, similarly there have also been a number of books in Marathi for explaining the philosophy of Dnyaneshwari. As nearly 700 years have elapsed since the composition of Dnyaneshwari, its language has become obscure at certain places, some of the words used therein cannot be understood by the modern generation, hence the modern generation is mostly not able to read or understand Dnyaneshwari without a commentary or a guide.
Even though, as pointed out before, Dnyaneshwari is as good as an independent work, though technically speaking it is a commentary on Bhagwatgeeta, the story goes that, when after completing Dnyaneshwari, Dnyaneshwar went to Nivrittinath, whom he called his Guru, he said, "This is after all a commentary. It is not an independent work. So I want you to do some independent work." Hence Dnyaneshwar wrote the "Amritanubhava" or "Anubhava-mrit" in which he has stated his experiences in Yoga and Philosophy, whereby we can get the experience of nectar. This work of Dnyaneshwar, though not so much universally acknowledged, is also as great and important as Dnyaneshwari itself. The style of writing, the use of words and phrases the use of figures of speech, the ease in writing and the confidence with which the book is written leave no doubt that the work must be of the Dnyaneshwar himself. The subject of this book is abstract and is dealt with great brevity and directness.
One more book in Ovee form under the caption of [Yoga Vashishtha] goes as a work of Dnyaneshwar; but on close study o-the book, though it appears to be written in the same style as that of Dnyaneshwari, we feel that the grace of the words and the poetic imagination is not of the same level as that in Dnyaneshwari. The scholars of Marathi literature have therefore a serious doubt whether this work is of the same Dnyaneshwar who composed Dnyaneshwari. It is suspected that somebody else has imitated the style of Dnyaneshwari and has pawned his own work under the name of Dnyaneshwar.
Apart from the above works there are about 1200 Abhangas said to be composed by Dnyaneshwar, but on their close examination we find that all of them are not of the same standard. From the style of the use of words, the ideas and the philosophy embodied therein we may say that only about two to three hundred of these abhangas must have been composed by Dnyaneshwar himself and the others are composed and interspersed by other writers.
The two miracles, in Dnyaneshwar's life, one of making the he-buffalo repeat Vedas and the other of bringing to life Sat-chit-Anandbaba have already been referred to. A few more can be narrated here.
At Paithan once a Brahmin wanted to perform the Shraddha (death anniversary) of his father. So Dnyaneshwar requested the Brahmin to make all the preparations and after going there invited all the forefathers for lunch. At other places these ancestors are supposed to come, but they are not visible. However, here they remained physically present and enjoyed the feast.
In Alandi there was a Brahmin named Visoba Chati. He was very orthodox and used to ridicule the Sadhus and sages. Once Nivrittinath expressed his desire to Muktabai to eat "Mande" which are required to be baked on a frying pan. So Muktabai went round the village for buying a pan; Vosoba, who was wicked, had informed all the potters in the village not to give the pan to Muktabai and hence she could not get it in the whole village. She came home empty-handed and was sobbing, because she thought that Nivrittinath, her eldest brother, would get annoyed at this. When Dnyaneshwar knew about this he consoled Muktabai and by the power of Yoga, he kindled the fire inside his stomach and told Muktabai to bake the "Mande" on his back which was as red hot as the frying pan.
One Yogi, Changdeo by name, was said to be fourteen hundred years old. By his Yogic power he had subdued all fierce beings like the tiger and the serpent. After knowing the power of Dnyaneshwar he started for a visit to him. He rode on a tiger and was using a serpent as a whip. At that time Dnyaneshwar and his brethren were sitting on a compound wall outside their house. When they were told that Changdeo was coming to them on tiger backs they made the wall itself to move and thus went forward to receive Changdeo. When Changdeo found that Dnyaneshwar was having control over inanimate objects as against his control on living beings, he was completely subdued and knew his folly in underestimating the power of Dnyaneshwar. He at once fell at the feet of Dnyaneshwar and became his disciple.
A number of such other miracles are narrated under the name of Dnyaneshwar; but they need not all be listed over here. The miracles already referred to are enough to show the supernatural power of Shri Dnyaneshwar.
After composing 'Amritanubhava', Dnyaneshwar went to visit the holy places along with Namdeo and other saints of his time. In his Abhangas known as "Tirthawali" Namdeo has given a graphic description of this their visit to the holy places from which we know that Dnyaneshwar had visited many holy places of his day.
After completing their visits to the holy places, Dnyaneshwar felt that the mission of his life was over. He therefore, expressed his intention to take live Samadhi. When all his colleagues knew about this they felt sorry that this ocean of knowledge was leaving them; but Dnyaneshwar was firm on his decision. Ultimately, on the 13th day of the second half of Kartik in Shaka 1218 Dnyaneshwar Maharaj took live Samadhi at Alandi. An account of this heartrending incident is graphically pictured by Namdeo in his Abhangas known as "Samadheeche Abhanga". After setting of this Sun of Knowledge, pitch darkness spread before the eyes of Dnyaneshwara's brothers and sister. After the departure of Dnyaneshwar, they also therefore decided to end their existence in this world and within a year's time from the Samadhi of Dnyaneshwar Maharaj they all left this perishable world. Thus ended the tragic life of all these four children of Vithalpant, whose only fault was that he did not observe the traditional sequence of the Ashrams.