If Vivekānanda (A. D. 1863-1902) declared that he alone lives who lives for others, he was probably echoing another great saint who preceded him by four centuries, who sang thus: ‘He alone is a Vaiṣṇava—a man of God—who under¬stands the sufferings of others’ (vide his song Vaiṣṇava janato...’). This was Narsī Mehtā (also spelt as ‘Narasī Mehatā’), the foremost saint of Gujarat. Born in A. D. 1415 as the second son of Kṛṣṇa Dāmodar Dās and Lakṣmī-gauri (who were nāgara-brahmaṇas by caste) at the village Talājā (near the modern town of Junagadh in Gujarat), Narasiriiharām
—that was his earlier name—was dumb right from his childhood days. Having lost both the parents at the age of five, he was brought up by his grandmother Jayakuvarī. When he was eight years old, he was suddenly endowed with the power of speech by a great saint, who made him utter the words ‘Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa!’ After the death of Jayakuvarī, the boy Narsiriiharām or Narsī Mehtā, had to be taken care of by his elder brother Vamśīdhar and aunt Duritgaurī. As per the traditions of the family, Vaiṅśīdhar tried to get him educated and also got him married to Māṇikgaurī, a girl from a good family. Narsī was blessed with two children—a boy and a girl—in course of time. However, this shrew of an aunt made his life so miserable that he, one night, leaving behind his own wife and two children escaped to a deserted temple of Lord Siva on the outskirts of the town. After seven days of fasting and intense prayer he was blessed with the vision of Lord Siva who was instrumental in vouchsafing to him an actual experience of participating in the Rāsalīlā dance of Kṛṣṇa with the gopīs! This changed his whole life permanently and Lord Kṛṣṇa gave him the boon of remaining as his eternal friend, guide and protector. Narsī Mehtā now started an entirely new life, a life rooted in God, spending most of his time in composing and singing devotional songs related to Kṛṣṇa, as also dancing in ecstasy. True to his word, as promised in the Bhagavadgitā (9.22), Kṛṣṇa came to the rescue of Narsī many a time, when evil¬doers created serious problems. Some of the miraculous happenings described in his traditional biographies are: supplying all the things demanded of Narsī by the parents of his son-in-law; giving plenty of money to a rich man who had brought a ‘demand draft’ issued by Narsī; getting garlanded by Kṛṣṇa himself in the temple, by a garland of tulasī leaves, and so on. Narsī’s son predeceased him. This, instead of making him dejected, made him more happy since he could pray to his Lord even more intensely. He gave up the body in great peace, during the year A. D. 1481. His contribution to Gujarati literature in the form of beautiful songs of devotion is considerable. Some of his compositions are: Syāmaldāsno Vivāh; Hārmālā; Surat Sañgrām; Sudāmācarit; Rāsasahasrapadi- Srñgārmālā', Govindāgaman and Bālalīlā. He laid great stress on devotion to God and ignored caste restrictions. Culti¬vation of firm faith in God and dependence on Him are his other teachings.