(As appeared in Shri Saileela November 1974)
By Dr. S. D. Parchure M. A., Ph. D.
Caste system is a distinguishing feature of Hindu religion. It naturally follows that some castes are considered to be higher than others. The so called higher castes always got reverance from the low castes. They had free entrance to the temples. They were only supposed to have the access to the Vedas and learning; but inspite of this there were a number of persons born in the so-called low castes, who were highly esteemed and sincere devotees of the God. These persons were so highly devoted to God that irrespective of their caste, they were recognised as saints and history has given them an honourable position among the saints of Maharashtra. Hence though generally speaking we find that the majority of the saints in Maharashtra belong to the Brahmin caste, the other castes also have got their respresentatives among them. For example there is a tailor like Namdeo, a gardener like Savta Mali, a barber like Sena Maharaj, an untouchable (Harijan in the modern terminology) like Chokha Mela and a potter like Gora Kumbhar in the galaxy of Maharashtrian saints.
Due to our natural apathy towards maintaining the historical records, the authentic birthdate of this great saint is not known. In' one book known as "Bhakta Katha Kalpatatva" the year of birth of Goroba (as he was commonly known) is stated as Shaka 1189 (1267 A. D.) This year is not corroborated anywhere else while giving the information of Goroba. However, the time of writing of Dnyaneshwari viz. 1290 A. D. is not disputed by anyone and Goroba is said to be the contemporary of Dnyandeo and Namdeo. Hence looking to the life span of both these saints, the above year may not be far from correct, though it cannot be said that it must be the correct one.
Though the authentic date of birth of Goroba is not known, still he is traditionally known to have lived in a village named Satyapuri alias Ter. In some places this village has also been mentioned as Terdhoki. No detailed history of the parents and the childhood of Goroba is available; but he was known to be a pious and religious minded man. He no doubt attended to his business of manufacturing earthen pots from mud; but even while attending to his work physically his mind would all the time be meditating on his favourite god Vithoba or Pandurang. He would also be chanting the name of God when his hands would be busy in work.
In course of time Goroba was married. The name of his wife was Santi. Soon after, his wife gave birth to a son and her joy knew no bounds; but the philosophically minded Goroba, who had little interest in worldly life, was not much perturbed by this event. His concentration on god continued as before. In the absence of any elderly person in the house, once when his wife Santi had to go for fetching water, she left the child to the care of Goroba, who was very busy in his usual work. Goroba was working in the ditch. He was pounding and mixing the earth in the ditch with his feet for preparing the mud. The child, that was kept nearby by Santi, crept slowly and fell into the ditch. Goroba, who was as usual busy in chanting the name of god, was almost in a trance and he never noticed the child and trampled it to death under his feet!
On her return Santi started looking about for the child here and there, but when she could not find the child anywhere she peeped into the ditch and finding the mud fully red with blood, understood what had happened and started crying bitterly. In her sad bereavement she started putting all the blame of the loss of her child on Vithoba, in whose 'bhajan' Goroba was spending most of his time. As Goroba had strong faith in god Vithoba, he got angry at the words of his wife and ran at her to thrash her. Seeing the wrath of Goroba Santi got frightened and requested on Vithoba's oath not to touch her.
The above incident may not be thought to be plausible if we look at it from the point of view of reality. If the wife tells her husband to look after the child, how is it that the husband (Goroba) forgot about it so soon? When the child came to the ditch and fell in it, it must have made some noise or cried when it fell in the ditch, where Goroba was preparing the mud. How is it then that Goroba did not come to know about the movements of his child, however much he might have been engrossed in the bhajan? These and some other questions similar to these, are likely to be raised by modern scientific thinkers, who are likely to question the bonafides of the above incident; but these lives of saints have come to us by tradition through generations and there is at present no data to verify the authenticity to such incidents, which are very common in the lives of the saints all over the world We have to look upon them with faith; as all saints are supposed to have some supernatural power.
To revert of Goroba's life, we see that there was nothing more holy to Goroba than the name of God Vithoba. He therefore accepted the word of his wife regarding the oath and threw away the stick in his hand and again got fully engrossed in the bhajan of Vithoba, forgetting totally the incident about his son. Santi, who was a devoted Hindu wife, got reconciled after some days and one night when Goroba was lying down, she went near him, to rub his legs. On seeing his wife near him, Goroba reminded her about her own oath not to touch her and did not allow her to touch him.
Knowing Goroba's faith in God Vithoba fully well, Santi had no argument with her. However remembering the death of her only son, she thought that their family would come to an end, if Goroba would continue to behave in this fashion and refuse to touch her under the preteset of the oath, which she once proclaimed in her sad bereavement.
The ladies in India, in those days, were not much enlightened. They were depending throughout their life on somebody or the other. In the childhood they would depend on their father, after the marriage the husband would take their care and in the old age the sons would take care of the old lady. In the present case when the husband, Goroba started behaving in this fashion, Santi went to her father for help. She told her father the incident that took place on that day and the adverse effect that her oath had on her husband. She suggested to her father that rather than seeing the end of the family in this way, her younger sister Kami may be given to Goroba in marriage so that the family will have a successor. This suggestion was accepted by Santi's father and he accordingly approached his son-in-law and requested him to accept Rami, his second daughter, as his wife. Goroba agreed to the proposal and the marriage took place. After the marriage was over the father-in-law requested to treat both his daughters alike Goroba acceded to his father-in-law's request and started behaving towards his younger wife also in the same way as he was behaving towards the elder one. He interpreted the request in such a way that the second wife should be treated in the same way as the first one was being treated. He therefore avoided both his wives and did not touch either of them. When this was learnt by Santi from Rami, the latter started lamenting her lot and both again thought that in spite of all their efforts the family would come to an end due to want of an offspring- A sort of a dispair thus overtook both the sisters.
The sisters then scratched their heads for a long time to find some way out of the difficult situation in which they were thrown by destiny; but ultimately they hit out a plan and carried it out on the same night. When Goroba was asleep that night, they went and slept on either of his sides and kept his hands on their breasts. Goroba very soon woke up and found that the oath of Vithoba has been broken and that his hands are instrumental in doing this.
He was a staunch devotee of Vithoba and was not therefore able to tolerate this disorderly behaviour of his hands. In order therefore to punish his hands he hit them on a sharp instrument and chopped off both his hands. Both the wives of Goroba saw this and felt very sorry to find that their remedy has proved worse than the disease and has recoiled on them. However when both of them started lamenting for what had happened, Goroba consoled them saying that God Pandurang (Vithoba) was their protector and well wisher and that he knew what was good or bad for them. He further told them to wait and chant the name of Pandurang, so that he would do a way with all their calamities.
Goroba was a devotee of Vithoba from the bottom of his heart. He did not advise his wives outwardly. He really meant what he spoke. He was passing his days in that condition in perfect contentment. After a few days came Ashadhi Ekadashi. This is a unique day for all the devotees of Pandurang belonging to the Warkari sect. Hence like a true Warkari, Goroba started for Pandharpur and reached that place on the Ekadashi day. He took with him both his wives. No sooner they reached Pandharpur, they took a bath in the sacred Chandrabhaga river and according to the custom paid a visit to the Pundaleek's temple. Thereafter they came to Vithoba's temple and bowed down to him from the main gate thereof.
While they were thus busy in paying homage to Pandurang they heared a song and at once recognised the voice of Saint Namdeo. Yes. It was the voice of Namdeo. He was doing Keertan at the place known as 'Garudpar' near the temple. When an illustrious saint like Namdeo was doing the Keertan, the audience too was of an equally high rank. Most of the saints of that time inclusive of Dnyanadeo Nivrittinath and others were listening to the Keertan attentively. At certain stage of the Keertan, it is a practise of the Haridas (i. e. the person doing the Keertan) to request the audience to perform bhajan and keep the rhythm by clapping. Similarly while the Keertan was in progress Namdeo requested his audience to sing Bhajan and clap. Goroba, like a true devotee, forgot that his hands were chopped off and moved the stumps of his hands emotionally because of the usual habit and lo! what a surprise ? Both his hands grew as before and he was able to sing the bhajan with the rhythm of clapping his hands. When this miracle was seen by the gathering, they were all overwhelmed with joy and they all gave a loud applause. They all were convinced of the true devotion of Goroba on God Pandurang.
Looking at this miracle, Santi repented for blaming god Pandurang on the former occasion when she was sorrow-stricken. She then prayed Pandurang, begged his pardon and requested him to give her child back to her and what a wonder! The child rushed towards Santi, creeping as usual and laughing gaily. Santi hurried to meet the child, lifted it, embraced it and kissed it with emotion. This union of mother and the child was an occasion of joy for everybody and the whole atmosphere became gay. On this happy occasion, Rukmini the wife of Pandurang, reminded Goroba of the oath of his wife and said that the oath was now over and that he should accept both his wives and live happily with them.
After the above incident, Goroba was fully reconciled with his wives. They also understood him in the proper perspective and never interrupted him in his bhajan. On the other hand, they also joined him occasionally in the bhajan. After some days he decided to call all the saints of his time to his home and hold their congregation. The idea was cherished by his wives and all the saints were called accordingly. Goroba received all the saints, honoured them, worshipped them and stood them a good feast. Among the saints that had gathered for the occasion, Nivrittinath, Dnyandeo, Sawatamali, Sopandeo, Namdeo, Muktabai, Chokha Mela, Vithoba Khechar etc. were the prominent ones. When they were just chitchating after the feast, Dnyanadeo said, "Goroba you are a potter. Just by a tap you are able to know a baked and unbaked pot. Hence will you please tap the heads of all the saints that have gathered here and let me know your observation?" On this request, Goroba went on tapping the heads of the saints one by one and all of them coolly stood the test. When Goroba came to Namdeo he did not like the idea and said, "What is this queer way of welcoming the guests who have come to your home?" Hearing this query of Namdeo Goroba said, "Yes, here is a pot which is not properly baked."
This remark of Goroba was received by all with great interest, but most of them kept quiet. Muktabai, however could not keep silent. She immediately said, "Goroba, your examination is quite correct." Namdeo, who had the ego that he had achieved a high degree of saintliness, felt hurt at this remark and went to God Vithoba at Pandharpur and complained to him about this remark in spite of his Saintliness. God Vithoba told him that this very feeling of ego was the main defect in him and in order to do away with it he should go to some Guru. The story as told further says that ultimately Namdeo went to Visoba Khechar and bowed down to him. He, in his turn, accepted Namdeo as his disciple and initiated him. After this incident, Namdeo got a very high place in the congregation of the saints of Maharashtra.
This incident has also been narrated at length in the lives of Dnyanadeo and Namdeo, but the venue of the incident is quoted slightly different. In the life of Namdeo this incident is depicted to hove taken place in Dnyanadeo Gumpha at Alandi, while as stated above in Goroba's life, it is stated that this incident took place in the house of Goroba, that means at Terdhoki; but as the incident is narrated in identical manner it must have happened. As regards the difference in the place of the incident, we may say that these lives of the saints were not written during their life time or even within a short time after their death. Their lives have been passed on orally for generations before they were committed to writing and hence such anachronisms might be pardenable in these cases. Anyway this incident shows that Goroba was treated with honour among the saints of his time and the uncle's (Goroba was known as uncle [ Kaka ] among the contemporary saints ) word carried weight in the gathering.
In the Sarvasangraha gatha there are only forty three Abhangas in the name of Saint Goroba; but it appears that most of them have not been composed by him. The first test in this case is the language. Dnyanadeo, Namdeo and other contemporaries of Goroba have left lot of literature behind and their language is a sort of a standard for comparison. On comparison of these Abhangas with those of Gnyanadeo or Namdeo, we find that their language is not as old as that of these two authors.
The next consideration is the internal evidence in these Abhangas. We find the mention of saint Kabir and Suradas in these Abhangas. The time of these two saints is definite. Saint Kabir's time is round about Shaka 1520. Surdas was blind from his birth and he lived and composed his book Sursagar in the reign of Akbar (about Shaka 1500). As against this Goroba's time is round about Shaka 1220. Hence the mention of the saints that have been born later cannot come in the Abhangas composed at an earlier date. It is therefore clear that these Abhangas are not composed by Goroba.
After the incident of testing the heads, referred to above Namdeo got angry and some of the Abhangas are composed to advise and pacify him. Similarly twentyone Abhangas out of the forty three are biographical. In these biographical Abhangas Goroba has been praised a lot. From the aforesaid incidents in the life of Goroba, we will see that he was very humble and-free from any sort of ego and it was because of these qualities and his seniority in age that Goroba was requested to test the heads of the saints. It is therefore not possible that such a man will praise himself so highly in his Abhangas. All this evidence goes to prove that the forty three Abhangas that are traditionally supposed to be those of Goroba are not mostly his.
It is perhaps possible that Goroba had really composed a few more Abhangas; but due lack of care, they might have been lost in the years that elapsed. It may also be possible that Goroba was a saintly person of pure and pious behaviour and a staunch and honest devotee of the God. It is not always possible that a staunch devotee will necessarily be a poet. Hence he might not also have composed many Abhangas Anyway in the absence of any direct evidence, we are left to guessing things and drawing conclusions without any sound base.
The Samadhi of this great sage is at Terdhoki a place which is about fifty miles away from Pandharpur, in the Usmanabad district of Marathwada. There is also a temple near the Samadhi. Unfortunately the exact date of the Samadhi of this sage is not available. There are also no decendents of Goroba now existing in this village. However, the place where he lived and the place, where the incident about trampling of the child took place, are shown even today in the aforesaid village.