(as appeared in May and June 1973 issue of Shri Sai Leela)
By-Dr. S. D. Parchure. M.A.,Ph. D.
Whenever we talk about the Saints of Maharashtra, the name of Dnyaneshwar easily stands the first. However his contemporary Saint Namdeo is also equally important. His place among the Maharashtrian Saints is unique; because unlike most other Maharashtrian :saints he moved far and wide outside Maharashtra for preaching, and even today his followers are found in large numbers in far off places like the Punjab and Haryana.
Like Dnyaneshwar there is no reliable information available about Namdeo, The information that is available is through legends .and also through a number of biographical ' Abhangas' which .are included in the Gatha known after his name; but though over 2000 Abhangas are included in Namdeo's Gatha, we feel that they are compiled by six different persons who were known by the same name viz. Namdeo. We have therefore to accept the information derived from these ' Abhangas' very guardedly, relying only on those that appear to be definitely of Namdeo himself.
From the scanty information available, we can say that we can trace the history of the forefathers of Namdeo to Yadushet Relekar who stayed at Narsi village before some 825 years [i.e. round about 1150 A. D.]. This Yadushet was a tailor and Namdeo was his sixth decendent, the intervning five being Harishet [son of Yadushet], Gopalshet (son ofHarishet),Govindshet(sonofGopalshet), Narahar-shet (son of Govindshet) and Dam shet (son of Naraharshet and the father of Namdeo). Yadushet was running a cloth shop. He was great devotee of God. Vithal was their favourite God. He and al his successors used to undertake a pilgrimage to Pandharpur for " Ekadashi " in every Ashadha and Kartik months. The grand father of Namdeo, Naraharshet, when he had gone to Pandharpur for the pilgrimage was suddenly taken ill on the day next to the Ekadashij day and died in Pandharpur itself along with his wife Limbaba; (perhaps due to an attack of cholera, which is usually rampant their during the time of the pilgrimage.)
Narsi Brahmani the original village of Namdeo is at a distance of about 26 miles from Washim in Vidarbha. The names of the father and mother of Namdeo were Damsheti and Gonai respectively They were married at Narsi.
About 20 miles from Narsi, there is a village named Kalyani One Shri Goma, who was a devotee of Shri Vishnu, was staying ii this village. His wife Umabai was a worshipper of Shri Nrisin whose temple was at Narsi. This couple got a daughter because o the blessings of Shri Nrisinha. This daughter was named Gonai and was married to Damsheti. After their marriage Gona gave birth toa daughter who was named as Aubai. Thereafter she got a son in Shaka 1192 (1270 A. D.). This was Namdeo.
From the family traditions of Namdeo and the special devotedness of his parents to God, we feel it quite appropriate that such a great devotee of God like Namdeo should have been born in this, family.
Outside the Narsi Village there is a temple of Shri Keshavraj. Damsheti, who was a sincere devotee of Keshavraj, used to worship this God with deep faith and was taking his daily food only after offering " Naivedya " to Keshavraj.
This practice was continued by Damsheti for years together. Once, however, when he had some work, he had to stay outside Narsi for a day or two, The work of offering Naivedya was hence shifted to Namdeo who was then only five years of age. As directed he went to the temple and offered the Naivadya to the God. He, however, never knew that the offering to the God was only nominal. He was under the impression that after a formal offering the God takes up the Naivedya as human beings would do. Hence after waiting for a long time when he saw that the idol of the God was not accepting the offering, he shouted at the God and said that if the God did not drink the milk, offered as Naivedya, he would sacrifice his life at the foot of the God. On knowing this firm decision of Namdeo, God had no other alternative but to drink the milk offered to him. On returning home Namdeo's Mother asked him as to what happened to the milk. When he replied that it was drunk by the God, She did not believe in his story. Next day when Damsheti returned home, his wife told him what had transpired on the previous day. When he listened to the whole affair, he also did not believe in the story; but he and his wife decided to keep a watch and find out the truth. Hence they told Namdeo to go again and perform the " Pooja " of Keshavraj, the next day. The innocent Namdeo never knew the intension of his parents and went to the temple for performing the Pooja. Damsheti, However, was following him very closely and to his utter surprise the story told by his son was found to be correct. On seeing the effect of this sincere devotion of Namdeo at the age of five, Damsheti aptly felt proud that he had such a pious son and he was fully convinced that in his future life Namdeo was going to be a renowned devotee of the God.
According to the custom of the time, Namdeo was married at a very early age. The name of his wife was " Rajai". Though there is no definite proof to know what were the educational attainment of Namdeo we can say from his " Abhangas " that according to the traditions of his time, Namdeo must be knowing to read and write properly. In the Namdeo-Gatha we come accross 164 biographical Abhangas; but from their contents there arises a doubt whether all of them are composed by Namdeo himself. It is quite possible that so many of them have been composed later on by some other person and have been pawned as those of Namdeo.
From his childhood Namdeo was a devotee of God. As year: rolled on, he grew up and was married; but his interest in worldly things did not increase. On the other hand he became famous as sincere and staunch devotee of Pandurang. This no doubt pleased his father Damsheti; but the lady folks in the house viz. his mother Gonai and his wife Rajai were both displeased with this queer behaviour of Namdeo. As a married man, they expected him to take interest in worldly life and work for the family. They tried to impress; this thing upon him in various ways; but all their advice fell on deaf years. Namdeo did not leave his Bhajan and continued to spend almost his whole day in the temple in the worship and meditation of God.
In the biographical " Abhangas " we come across the account where Gonai, Namdeo's mother, quarrelled with God (Pandurang' for having made her son mad after Him. She has scolded God in various ways. She has censured God for making Namdeo lose interest in the family life. Of course all this conversation and quarrel must be imaginary; but it no doubt shows the inkling of the mind of Gonai.
In some other " Abhangas" Rajai also has expressed the sorrow because of the disregard shown by Namdeo towards worldy affairs. She is also not lagging behind in pulling up her husband on that score. This is a clear indication that the financial position of Namdeo was not at all happy and poverty reigned in his house. Namdeo's Son Gonda has also written a few Abhangas in which he has narrated the following story which reflects on the characters of both Namdeo and his wife Rajai :-
Because Namdeo was spending his whole day in the temple in-the Bhajan of God he was not earning anything for the family. There was therefore, hardly anything in the house to feed upon. Rajai also had four children. She would therefore first try to feed her children before taking food herself. Hence, for many days in the month she would not have enough to eat. Looking to this state of affairs in the house, Rajai once decided to commit suiside. She therefore, tied her son Nara on the back and Mahada on the front portion, of her body. She took her third young child in her hand and threw herself in the river Bhivara; but looking at this thoughtlessenss of Rajai, Lord Pandurang appeared on the scene and lifting her up, He placed her on the bank of the river.
When Rajai found that God was not allowing her to die peacefully she dashed her head on the ground and again jumped into the river; but the God repeated his former performance and placed her on the bank of the river in a very safe position. Thinking that it was futile to try to end her life in this fashion, she started for home. On her way she saw a dead serpent lying by the roadside. She therefore thought of making use of that serpent for ending her life. She came home, cut the serpent into pieces, and kept them on the fire for cooking. Her idea was to eat the poisonous bits herself and also to give them to her children for eating so that they can all end their life simultaneously; but lo! when she removed the cover on the pot, which she kept on the fire, to her utter surprise, there was no trace of the serpent. Instead of that there were pieces of pure gold, glittering and shining. Rajai got overjoyed at the sight of Gold and she went to Namdeo and showed the pieces of Gold to him. On seeing that he said, " Oh! what a fool you are! why did you give so much trouble to Lord Pandurang?" saying so he immediately sent for the Brahmins and distributed all the pieces of Gold among them. It cannot be said exactly how far this story might be true, but no doubt it reflects very clearly on the mind of Namdeo and his wife Rajai.
Once when Namdeo had gone to the temple of Naganath he got order from the God to go and stay permanently at Pandharpur. He accordingly went to Pandharpur and stayed there. Because of his ardent devotion, Lord Pandurang showered his favours on him and he used to meet him in live form and would talk to him. Because of this favour of the Lord, Namdeo became egotistic and the story goes that when Nivrittinath and his brothers and sister had come for a visit to the temple of Pandurang, at Pandharpur, they all bowed down to Namdeo after they bowed down to God Pandurang. When this was done Namdeo said proudly, "I am always in the vicinity of God. Hence it is my previliege to be honoured by all of you, who are far away from God Pandurang."
When Muktabai heard the above words of Namdeo, she at once realized that the ego of Namdeo has not left him though he has been a devotee of the God Pandurang for so long a time. So a meeting of all the saints of that time was arranged in the Dnyanadeo Gumpha. This gathering was attended by Goroba, Nivritti, Dnyanadeo, Sopan Muktabai, Visoba Khechar, Chokhamela, Sawata Mali, Namdeo and other saints of the time. Goroba was a Kumbhar (Potter) by caste. He was well versed in examining the pots and simply by tapping he would know whether the pot was properly baked or not. He was therefore requested to examine the heads of all the persons in the gathering. Goroba went on tapping and when he tapped on the head of Namdeo he sarcastically remarked, "This pot is not properly baked." When Muktabai heard this remark she at once said, "Goroba, your examination is quite correct." When Namdeo heard this he felt ashamed of his pride.
The above incident was however taken to heart by Namdeo and after going back to Pandharpur from Alandi, he requested God Pandurang to show the way for atoning this disrespect. The God advised him to go to Visoba Khechar and bow down at his feet and take advice from him as his Guru. Namdeo therefore came to Nagnath where to his utter surprise he found Visoba sitting in the temple of Shankara with his feet on the stone idol. He had wounds on all his body through which blood was oozing, flies were therefore howering round his body. On seeing this Namdeo was in two minds. He got confused. He doubted for a moment whether this was the person intended by God Pandurang; but he brushed aside his doubts and requested Khechar first of all to remove his feet from the head of the idol. He however said that because of old age he was not in a position to lift his feet, and therefore requested Namdeo to lift them. Namdeo tried to do accordingly; but to his surprise wherever he would place the feet, the idol of God Shankar would come up below them. On seeing this Namdeo got non-plused, when Visoba explained to him that God was not only in that idol, but God was everywhere. Visoba thereafter accepted Namdeo as his disciple and gave him advice as his Guru and thus the ego of Namdeo was removed.
After this incident God Pandurang tried to testify whether Namdeo has fully digested the philosophy. Once when Namdeo was taking food, the lord came on the scene in the form of a dog and snatched away the bread in his plate. Namdeo had now changed so much that he saw god in that dog and started running after him with the pot containing ghee, saying that, "Don't eat the bread without ghee. Take this ghee also along with that, otherwise you will get griping in your stomach." This change in the bent of mind of Namdeo shows his satisfactory progress in the philosophical field.
Namdeo in Punjab
There was a tradition among the Maharashtrian saints to visit holy places of pilgrimage like Kashi, Hardwar, Rameshwar, Jagannathpuri etc; but apart from this travel most of them did not stay outside Maharashtra for a long time only for the purpose of preaching devotion to God. The Punjabi people are of opinion that Namdeo must have stayed in Punjab alone for a period of about 20 years and in view of the followers of Namdeo in Punjab, who can be counted in lakhs, we have to conclude that he must have stayed there for a pretty long time.
The other fact that indicates the long stay of Namdeo in Punjab is the inclusion of 61 songs composed by Namdeo in Hindi and Punjabi languages in the Granthasaheb, the sacred book of the sikhs. By simply a passing visit to Punjab, Namdeo would not have been able to compose songs in a foreign tongue. In order to be able to compose songs in Hindi and Punjabi therefore, Namdeo must have had long contact with those languages, which he could have had only by staying in Punjab for a long time.
In order to do his preaching work, Namdeo appears to have travelled in Gujrat, Malwa, Rajputana, United provinces and Punjab. Narsi Mehta the famous saint of Gujrat, who stayed at Junagad in Saurashtra, had composed a poem in Gujrati in Samwat 1470 under the caption of "Harmala" (a series of garlands) in which he makes a mention of the miracle performed by Namdeo of bringing to life a dead cow. As this miracle is associated with Namdeo, it proves two things. One is that Namdeo must have existed prior to Narsi Mehta and the second is that Namdeo must have stayed for a pretty long time in Gujrat to get followers, who told to the later generation the legends and stories about him.
Out of the sixty one songs of Namdeo included in the Granthasaheb mentioned before, we may say that most of them must have been composed by Namdeo himself because of the following four facts :—
i) There is no mention about any other saint, known as Namdeo, who stayed at any time in Punjab or North India.
ii) The facts relating to the life of Namdeo which are mentioned in the songs included in the Granthasaheb are congruent only with this first Namdeo.
iii) The mention of Vithal is found in the songs.
iv) The life-sketch of Namdeo, which is current among his followers in Punjab, is much alike to that of the Maharashtrian Namdeo.
In some of the songs, out of those 61, a few facts are not correct or are not plausible from the mouth of Namdeo. while making a mention a bout the incident of the milk being drunk by the idol of the God, it is stated that the pot in which the milk was kept was of Gold. This fact is however, not corroborated by the life of Namdeo that is current in Maharashtra and the family of Namdeo was so poor that they could not have afforded to have a golden pot.
The second incident is about bringing to life the dead cow. This incident and that of drinking the milk by God are both mentioned in the third person in those songs. When these experiences were of Namdeo himself, they should have been mentioned in the first person. Similarly in one song it is stated that the people unanimously say that Namdeo is the incarnation of God Narayan. How can Namdeo say about himself in this fashion ? In this connection it may be stated that Guru Nanak the founder of Sikh religion was born in 1469, i.e. nearly two hundred years after Namdeo. By this time the preachings of Namdeo had taken deep root in the minds of the Hindus in Punjab, who later on converted to Sikhism. So some of them included a few of the songs of Namdeo in original that were already known to them and also composed a few others from the facts known to them. It is because of this fact that the in congruencies, pointed out before, appear to have crept in the songs in the Granthasaheb.
In Gurudaspur District in Punjab, there is a place known as Ghoman where there is a big memorial of Namdeo. This memorial was founded there by Namdeo's disciple Bahordas. The persons who are managing the affairs of this memorial claim to be the decendents of Bahordas, the disciple of Namdeo. The whole population of this place is of the followers of Namdeo. These people call themselves "Bawa". The Punjabis call this memoial as "Gurudwara Baba Namdeoji." In this memorial there is one "Samadhi" of Namdeo; but Namdeo never took Samadhi in Punjab. He came back to Maharashtra and took Samadhi here.
Because there are some songs of Namdeo in the Granthasaheb, all the followers of Namdeo in Punjab give respect to Granthasaheb as if it was their religious book. All the followers of Namdeo in Punjab were tailors by caste. Like the Sikhs they grow long hair, wear a bangle (kankan) and have a comb in the hair. They also wear a short pant; but they never keep weapon and because they are the followers of Vishnu, they are strict vegetarians. They use a thread and observe the "Shraddha" of their parents. Their marriages etc. are conducted according to the Vedic rites. They wear garlands of Tulsi beads and also observe fast on Ekadashi day.
It will be seen from all these facts and from the literature that is there on Namdeo in the Punjabi and Hindi languages that Namdeo did a lot of preaching in Punjab and stayed there for a long time.
Every Saint has a halo around him. The incident when the idol of the God drank milk at the hands of young Namdeo, is already mentioned before. Some other miracles are also being mentioned under the name of Namdeo..
While on the tour of the holy places of Pilgrimage Dnyanadeo and Namdeo came to Marwad. On the way they felt thirsty. When they came across a well, they found that it was very deep. Dnyanadeo, who was well versed in Yoga, went into the well after reducing his body to an atom and satisfied his thurst;but Namdeo could not do that. Hence he propitiated Lord Pandurang who came to his help and the water of the well started flowing. Namdeo then quenched his thrust from that water. This well is in the village named Koladajee which is at a distance of about 22 miles from Bicaner. It is known even today as "Namdeo Koop."
Once on the Shivratri day Namdeo started his "Keertan" in the Naganatha temple. So many people gathered in the temple that the Brahmins could not go in the inner part of the temple, where the idol of the God was kept. They therefore advised him to stop his keertan in the front portion of the temple and start it in its rear. Namdeo, who was unassuming, did accordingly and to the utter surprise of all, the entrance of the temple was turned on his side. The temple of Nagnath was originally facing the East; but today we find that it is facing the west.
Namdeo was known to all the saints of his time. He was present at the time of the Samadhi of Dnyaneshwar, Changdeo, Nivritti-nath etc. In the Namdeo Gatha there are as many as 225 Abhangas giving a detailed description of the occassion of the Samadhi taken by all these saints of his time. These abhangas give a graphic description of the occassion and they are full of "Bhakti" "Prem" and "Karuna" Rasa. The skill of Namdeo as a poet is seen very well from these Abhangas.
After doing the preaching work for a long time devotedly outside Maharashtra, Namdeo returned to Pandharpur and at the ripe age of eighty; in Shaka 1272 (1350 A. D.) Namdeo took Samadhi and had permanent communion with God. Allauddin Khilji came in the Decean in 1294 A. D. This means that Namdeo was alive for fiftysix years after the aggression of the Mohomadens on the Decean. As the cow was the vulnerable point of the Hindus, the Muslims were taking special interest in killing cows in the presence of and in spite of protests from the Hindus. An incident where the Mohamaden ruler killed a cow and asked Namdeo to bring her to life is narrated in the life of Namdeo. Though it is not very clear where this incident took place, the story goes that Namdeo brought the cow to life and thus proved that he had supernatural powers.
At Pandharpur a place is shown as the place of Samadhi of Namdeo; but it does not appear to be correct. The Brahmin pujaris of the temple of Pandharpur would not have allowed a man like Namdeo, who was a tailor by caste, to be cremeted or buried in the compound of the temple of Pandurang. It therefore appears that after cremation of Namdeo at some other place, his bones must have been buried at the place in Pandharpur which is called as "Namdevachi Payree."
In some of the 164 biographical Abhangas in the Namdeo Gatha it is stated that in his youth Namdeo got associated with some bad company and he committeed thefts and looted some people. Then later on he repented and dedicated his life to God. Two or three things can be told in this connection. These Abhangas might have been interspersed by somebody in order to make the life of Namdeo colourful; because a contrast of this type heightens the life of a person. The classical example of Walya Koli turning into Maharshi Walmiki can be cited as a parallel in this case. The second possibility is that Namdeo might have taken part in some sort of a rebellion, against an oppresive ruler, that might have taken place in his days and a perverted account of the same might have been given in the Abhangas. Or it might be true also; because such incidents do take place in the lives of some persons, who are led astray in the beginning and are later on brought on the path of righteousness due to the advice of somebody or due to association with a religious minded person; but after all the whole life of Namdeo is written from the legends and from fragments of facts available from several places. Hence, we have to believe in whatever we think plausible and leave aside the rest.
Namdeo was not a very learned person like Dnyaneshwar. He did not leave in the hands of posterity any thought provoking books or any philosophical literature which will have long standing effect. This was done by Dnyaneshwar. He laid the foundation of the 'Warkari' sect by composing Dnyaneshwari and giving food for the thought of all the followers of that sect; but the importance of Namdeo is not less for that sect. After composing Dnyaneshwari, Dnyaneshwar had hardly any time to go round and do some preaching work. This work was done by Namdeo to a very great extent. He went round the country for a long time and did the preaching by means of his "keertans" which helped the spread of the "Warkari" sect and made it popular among the masses. The real greatness of Namdeo lies in this singular achievement of his life.