In the history of religious mysticism in India, Maharashtra has a prominent place. During the four centuries, between the 13th and the 17th, this part of the country witnessed the birth of a galaxy of God-intoxicated beings, both men and women, who, by their life and teachings, showed the pathway to God. They were like the Alvars and Nayanmars of an earlier period in the South who proclaimed the glory of bhakti or devotion to God.
The children of Vithala and Rukumabai stand foremost among the saints of Maharashtra - Nivritti, Jnaneshwar, Sopandeva and Muktabai. To Jnaneshwar we owe the great commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, ‘Jnaneshwari’ and to Muktabai, Tatice abhanga, the present work in English translation. When Saint Jnaneshwar locked himself up in a room unable to bear the insult hurled at him by an orthodox Brahmin, Muktabai implores her brother to come out, reminding him of the qualities that a saint should possess; he should be calm, freed from anger or worry. And what is the universe? “It is Brahman when Maya is uprooted”. The message of Advaita goes through.
Mahatma Gandhi used to visit the hut of Parachure Shastri (a victim or leprosy) at Sewagram (1939) every day at the end of his morning walk. One day, Shastriji was reciting some abhangs from Tatice abhanga. He stood rooted to the spot and later came to know who had composed the abhangs. Gandhiji appreciated the lofty ideas contained in Tatice abhanga.
Dr. (Mrs.) Vanamala Parthasarathy, Deputy Director of the Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, Bombay, has rendered into English from the Marathi original the elevent abhangs with reverence and concern for accuracy in the translation. She has also written a detailed introduction about Muktabai and her disciples.
We hope the book will be read widely by a large number of readers.
Back of the Book
Dr. (Smt.) Vanamala Parthasarathy is a research scholar in Indian religious and cultural traditions. She got her doctorate from the Bombay University in 1983 for the thesis ‘Evolution of Rituals in Vishnu Temple Utsavas’. She has presented several learned papers at various seminars.
‘Open the door, Jnanesvara!’ is the outcome of her interest in the lives of the saints of Maharashtra. Married to Shri P.R. Parthasarathy, IPS (Retd.), a former Director General of Police, she has been Deputy Director at the Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute, Bombay.
She has added an illuminating introduction to her English translation of Muktabai’s ‘Abhangas’ containing lofty philosophical truths and affirming the only reality of the Supreme Being.
Maharashtra has the reputation of being the birthplace of
a number of saint-poets. Many of them belong to the period
between 13th -17th cent. A.D.
The awakening of the spirit of bhakti during this period
came to be characterised by two significant factors, namely, the
'humanistic approach' and the 'socialistic democracy'. The
'abhangas' and kirtanas' are in simple language intelligible to
the common man and have a rich devotional and spiritual
Simultaneously religious sampradayas (traditions) such
as that of Mahanubhava, Natha, Varkari belonging to
Chakradhara, Nivritti, ad Jnanadeva and Namadeva respec-
tively gained acceptance among the masses. A noteworthy
feature of this period was the presence of a number of women
saint-poets of distinction. Some of them being Mahadamba, a
contemporary of Chakradhara, Muktabai the younger sister of
Jnanadeva, artabhakthagayayika Kanhopatra, and Janabai, the
savaparayana dasi of Namadeva. Among these venerable per-
sonalities who adorned the hall of Marathi literature, Muktabai
has carved out a secure niche for herself. Gifted with the
instinctive knowledge of Self at a very young age, her works are
held as par excellence. They include abhangas', pade, Kalyan
patrika and 'Heripatha', A Hindi pada of hers has also been
published. As per the list given by Hari Avate in Gathapancaka
Muktabai's compositions number in all fortytwo. They are
Pandhari mahatmya-kathana: Nama mahima varnana, Santa-
gaurava, Nijasthiti; Guruprasada sthiti, Upadesapara, Parama
Jnanaci Pteciti and Kutaracana among others. Besides, the
Gathapancaka includes seventy-seven abhangaracanas of
Changadeva. Out of these there are twenty-four Chanda of
Muktabai - Changadeva conversations.
Commenting on her literary creations, Sri V.L. Bhave in
'Maharashtra Sarasvat? says that the abhangas evoke such joy as
is comparable to the chirprings of birds before sunrise. He ad-
mires greatly her Tatice abhanga He is astonished that
a child below fourteen/fifteen has composed these songs! Chil-
dren of that age are normally playful in nature. But in Muktabai
one found great wisdom, steadfast devotion and total aversion to
wordly things. Rare indeed at so young an age!
Tatice abhanga, as published by Anmol Prakashan, Pune
(Ist edition) 1978 consists of eleven abhangas The stanzas in
each of them vary from four to seven. Though they represent
Muktabai's emotional outpourings, they contain lofty philo-
sophical truths which are thought-provoking.
I have made an attempt at a free rendering of the abhangas
in English. Barring a few places where literal translation is
adopted, by and large, I have tried to retain the spirit of the
songs. Familiar spellings are adopted for proper nouns. The
. Marathi terms are transliterated in English according to the
accepted method for transliteration of Devanagari.
The import of the abhangas would be better understood in
the light of the available biographical material about Muktabai
- who is rightly referred to as balayogini.
Govindpant and his wife Nirabai lived in the village of
Apegaon in Ahmednagar district. They were blessed with a son
who was named Vithala. From a very young age this boy was
drawn to Lord Vithala (Panduranga). At the instance of his
parents he went on a holy pilgrimage. He reached Alankapuri
(Alandi). It is believed that here he had a vision of Panduranga
who instructed him to marry Rukumabai, daughter of one
Siddhopant. He married and the course of his life changed.
While he was leading the life of a family man, he had an
irrepressible urge to become an ascetic. He sought his wife's
permission and with her consent, left for Varanasi. He received
initiation (diksa) from guru Sripada Yatisvarasvami. He took
the name Caitanya. After some time, Sripada Yatisvarasvami
happened to visit Alankapuri in the course of a holy tour of
Ramesvaram. He accidentally met the wife of his disciple,
Caitanya; she had gone to worship the asvattha tree near the
temple of Siddhesvar. She visited the svami who was staying
there. He blessed her with progeny little knowing that she was
Caitanya's wife. When he was told about it, he advised Caitanya
to return to his wife. He instructed him to undertake Parmartha
- sadbana and recommence his homely life. With the passage of
time four children were born to them, Nivritti, Jnanadeva,
Sopandeva and Muktabai.
There are two opinions (according to Dr. Kamat) about the
birth-dates of the siblings.' The former is based on Janabai's
abhailga, the authenticity of which is questioned. In keeping
with this, Muktabai's date is assigned to saka 1199. Another
view that is accepted by many scholars, is that Muktabai was
born in saka 1201 i.e., roughly 1279 A.D.
When the time came for performing the thread ceremony
for the boys (Maunji-bandhan) objections were raised by the
orthodox in Alandi. After all, it was said, they were the children
of an ascetic who had returned to domestic life! Such a person
was arudhapatita, one who has fallen from the ideal state.
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