History of Sant Namdev

Sant Namdev is recognized as one of the five great saints of Maharashtra, which include Gyaneshwar, Eknath, Sant Ramdas and Tukaram. He was a great devotee and an accomplished saint. His entire life was devoted to Vitthal (Lord Krishna).

Namdev’s period is from 1327 to 1407 Vikram Samvat. During this period he propagated Santmat (the path followed by saints) in the North and the South India. Many of his compositions have been included in the ‘Adi-Granth’ of Sikhs, which points out towards his popularity and wide acceptance as a great saint. He was born in a Vaishnav family. His ancestors were deeply rooted in bhakti, one of whom, Yadu Seth, was a great devotee of Vitthal. He lived in a village called Narsi-Brahmani near Kanhad in the Satara district of Hyderabad. Namdev was born in this family in 1327 Vikram Samvat. His father was Dama Seth and mother was Gonaai. At the outskirts of the village, there was a Shiva temple. Namdev’s father visited this temple daily to offer water to the Lord. Once in a year he used to visit Pandharpur for the Darshan of Lord Vitthal. Later Dama Seth settled at Pandharpur itself. From his early childhood Namdev acquired the habit of worshiping and reciting the name of Vitthal, as was the tradition in the family. His parents took care that the child Namdev is brought up in the company of saints and scholars so that he acquires the qualities of devotees. A strange incidence is related to Namdev’s childhood. There was a Vitthal idol in their house. Dama Seth used to perform Pooja daily observing all rituals. Once Dama Seth was required to go to another village. He, therefore, entrusted the Pooja to Namdev.Dama Seth used to offer milk to the deity. He asked Namdev to do so in his absence. Namdev was happy that he had got a chance to serve Vitthal. In the absence of his father, Namdev took milk in a bowl and offered the milk to Vitthal sitting with eyes closed in front of Vitthal. His anxiety was growing to find whether Vitthal has drunk the milk or not. He opened his eyes and got frightened to see that Vitthal had not drunk the milk. He thought that there was definitely some thing wrong in his offering the milk to Vitthal because of which Vitthal had not drunk the same. He thought that his father must be offering milk maintaining purity but as he was yet a child he must have committed some mistake. He, therefore, thought that until Vitthal drinks the milk, he would also not eat or drink any thing. As the time passed, Namdev was getting restless. God looks at the intention and not on the act. So Vitthal appeared before Namdev and drank milk from the bowl. This went on for a few days till Dama Seth returned. When he learnt what had happened, he was thrilled. He embraced Namdev and said that he had made not only their own house but the entire village auspicious.

Namdev’s bhakti for Vitthal kept on taking deeper roots. At the age of eight, Namdev was married to a girl named Rajai, who was daughter of Govind Seth. After some time his father died as a result of which the entire responsibility of the family fell on his shoulders. His mother and wife wanted that Namdev should take on to some business but Namdev had already entered the arena of bhakti with all his might. For him there was nothing greater than getting engrossed in reciting the name of Vitthal, taking a dip in the river Chandrabhaga and visiting Pundalik. The worldly affairs had no meaning for him. Living in Pandharpur he used to spend his time in the remembrance of Vitthal.He started composing melodious ‘Abhangas’ (poetry) to please Lord Krishna and His consort Rukmaniji. Satsang (company) with saints like Gora Kumhar and Sanvata Mali was easily available to him in Pandharpur. In their company he completely got absorbed in the bhakti of Vitthal. Namdev’s bhakti in Vitthal had grown so much that the Lord could not remain away from him even for a moment. The Lord used to appear before him in human form and used to do all his work. On the other hand Namdev also could not live for a moment without his Lord. The way of love is strange; both the lover and beloved become restless for each other.

Amongst his contemporary saints, Sant Gyaneshwar was very famous. He came to Pandharpur to meet Namdev. Sant Gyaneshwar was going on a pilgrimage and wanted Namdev to accompany him. Both of them were deeply impressed with each other. When Namdev asked him to accompany, Namdev was very happy that he would have the benefit of the satsang of Sant Gyaneshwar but at the same time he could not leave Vitthal even for a moment. He, therefore, said to Sant Gyaneshwar that as he is a great saint and thus the God personified, he (Namdev) would be happy to accompany him, if the Lord so permits. These were the words of a Bhakt (devotee), recommendation of a saint like Gyaneshwar and the matter was in the court of the Lord Pandurang. Sant Gyaneshwar pleaded before the Lord and the Lord agreed saying that Namdev is very dear to Him and if Sant Gyaneshwar wanted to take Namdev with him, he must take care of him (Namdev) on the way. Such was His Grace on Namdev.With the permission of the Lord, Namdev accompanied Sant Gyaneshwar on the pilgrimage. On the way Sant Gyaneshwar explained him that God is omnipresent and all pervading but Namdev was deeply rooted in Sagun bhakti (in the bhakti of Lord in the form of Vitthal). He told Sant Gyaneshwar that Lord Vitthal alone is worth the worship; one should engage in reciting his name and in His remembrance; the love for Lord Krishna is the essence of life and that Lord Pandurang is the essence of his life. The Nirgun Gyan of Sant Gyaneshwar was of no interest to Namdev. All along he was rooted in the remembrance of Vitthal. After visiting Prabhas and Dwarka etcetera when they were returning, a strange incidence occurred with them near Bikaner. Both of them were very thirsty. They spotted a well in the village named Kaulavat. Gyaneshwar was a Siddha-yogi (an accomplished yogi, who had acquired various Siddhis). He used Laghima-Siddhi by which he became small, entered the well, drank water and brought some water for Namdev, as well. Namdev was a Bhakt; he refused to drink the water saying humbly that his Lord Vitthal would definitely take care of his thirst. Hardly had he uttered these words that the water in the well rose up to the brim of the well and Namdev quenched his thirst. This is how the Lord serves his Bhakt and takes care of even their slightest needs. While returning from Kashi to Pandharpur, they stayed with Gora-Kumhar, a family man and a great saint. Gyaneshwar and his sister Muktabai held him in very high esteem. Muktabai was accompanying Gyaneshwar on this pilgrimage tour. During their stay there, once during satsang spotting a Thapi (a wooden instrument used by potters for patting pots) she asked him in a lighter vain as to what it was. Gora-Kumhar replied that it is a Thapi, which helps in judging whether a pot is Kachcha (half baked) or Pakka (fully baked-ready). She said-‘We are also like mud-pots. Are we Kachcha or Pakka’?

Gora-Kumhar said okay, we shall find out and then he started patting their heads with the Thapi. When Namdev’s turn came, Gora-Kumhar said that he was Kachcha. On his asking Gora-Kumhar explained that Namdev had not yet taken the shelter of a Guru and, therefore, he was not Pakka. Namdev after returning to Pandharpur put this matter before Vitthal, Who supported Gora-Kumhar. It was revealed to Namdev that though he was very dear to the Lord but still he was required to take shelter of a Guru at whose feet he must surrender his ego; till he did so he would remain Kachcha. Namdev then took Visova Khechar as his Guru on the direction of the Lord. Visova Khechar was an accomplished saint through whom Namdev acquired the knowledge of Truth. A strange incidence in this regard is related to Namdev. Vitthal had directed Namdev in his dream to take Visova Khechar as his Guru. Namdev went out looking for him. He was informed that Visova Khechar was resting in a Shiva temple. There Namdev saw an old man resting with his feet on the Shivalinga. When Namdev objected, he asked him to shift his feet to another place away from Shivalinga. Namdev pulled his feet to another place but to his surprise a new Shivalinga suddenly appeared at that place. Namdev then understood that this old man himself was Visova Khechar and took initiation from him. In his Abhangas Namdev has written a lot in the praise of his Guru Visova Khechar. In one Abhang he has written that ‘my mind is like a needle and my body is like thread. I have fallen at the feet of my Guru Visova Khechar, who has made my life auspicious. I have forgotten about all my afflictions and my heart is now full of bliss. My Guru has applied the collyrium (lampblack-Kajal) of true wisdom in my eyes, without which my life was like a snake without the Mani (a precious stone believed to be hidden in the hood of snake). With the grace of my Guru I remembered the Lord and it got me absorbed in the Lord’. Thus the journey of Namdev with Gyaneshwar fructified in Namdev taking the shelter of Visova Khechar and getting completely immersed in the love of Lord Pandurang. For some time Namdev also lived in Dhomangaon of District Gurudaspura in the Punjab state, where he composed many verses in the Hindi language while spreading the message of Krishna-bhakti. Many of these verses have been included in the Guru-Granth Sahib. The early part of his life he spent in Pandharpur and the later part he spent in the North India. He was one of the early saints of the Varkari sect. In Maharashtra he propagated a mix of Vishnu bhakti and Sant-mat. He saw the Lord everywhere in the form of Vitthal. He had surrendered himself completely to the Lord and had risen above the caste and creed considerations. He has stated that ‘I bow before that Supreme, Whom my Guru had shown to me.’ He also said that the Lord was his all-in-all and that he had no argument with any one; his only goal was the lotus feet of his Lord. Many miracles are associated with Namdev. Once he went to a place named Alavati. There he sat in front of a temple and engrossed deeply in the love for the Lord started singing a Bhajan. The priests took him as one of the beggars and pushed him towards the back of the temple. To their surprise the front door of the temple also shifted from the east to the west.

Once his hut caught fire. Seeing that things lying on that side of the hut were gutted in fire, he started throwing the remaining things also in the fire. In the red-hot flames he had a glimpse of his Lord Vitthal. He stated, ‘O my Lord! I am sacrificing all my belongings in this Agni-Yagya. Due to my ignorance I had taken all these things as belonging to me. Now by accepting them, shower Your grace on me.’ The fire turned more severe and burnt the entire hut. Namdev was not even the least bothered about it but then his Lord appeared in the form of a laborer and reerected his hut.Once Namdev stayed in a deserted house in a village. The villagers told him not to stay there, as that house was haunted by a Brahm-Rakshas (a powerful ghost of a dead Brahman). For Namdev, however, the entire world was the abode of his Lord and Vitthal alone existed in the form of all creatures. For him even that Brahm-Rakshas was also Vitthal. At mid-night that Brahm-Rakshas appeared before Namdev. His body was very long and dreadful. Namdev started singing in the praise of Vitthal stating that ‘My Lord Vitthal You have appeared in an elongated form of Brahm-Rakshas today. Your head is touching the heavens and Your feet are on the earth. No one can describe Your this form fully. You are my Lord; shower Your grace on me.’ Instantly Namdev saw the Lord Pandurang showing His glimpse with conch, chakra, mace and lotus flower in His hands.

Once Namdev cooked some pan-cakes (Roti) for himself in a jungle. As he got up to relieve himself, he saw a dog running with the pan-cakes in its mouth. Namdev picked up the bowl containing ghee (butter-oil) and started following the dog saying ‘O My Lord! Let me apply some ghee on these pan-cakes. Without ghee you would not like them.’ The Lord cares for the feelings. Instantly He showed His glimpse in the form of Vitthal in place of the dog. Namdev fell at the feet of his Lord, Who embraced him. Once a person named Shamnath visited Namdv along with his son named Tatya. Shamnath was a devotee and used to attend satsang regularly but his son did not do so inspite of his father telling him repeatedly. Shamnath mentioned this to sant Namdev. While they were talking, it got a little dark in the evening. Namdev took both of them in the rear of the temple, which was a big area and a lamp was lighting in one corner.

Namdev purposely took them to the other side where the light was very dim. Tatya asked Namdev as to why were they not sitting near the lamp. Namdev remarked, ‘this is what your father is telling you all along. You can acquire the purity of mind only by attending satsang, as it lightens up the mind.’ Tatya got the message and started attending satsang. Chokha Mahar (Chokha Mela) was a contemporary saint of Namdev in Maharashtra. Once Namdev went to the village Vedha with his associates for Kirtan and stayed in the village. People requested him to take food at their house but Namdev said that he would take food at the house of the most pious man of the village and went to 89 Chokha Mahar for food along with people accompanying him. The villagers were surprised as Chokha Mahar belonged to a low caste and he used to peel off skin of dead animals. Namdev explained to them that although Chokha Mahar was engaged in that job, which was his family tradition, his heart was pure as he was always immersed in the thought of the Lord. When he saw that people did not believe this, he took them to the

temple of Vitthal. Chokha Mahar, however, did not enter inside the temple and stood outside the gate. There was no end to the astonishment of people when they saw that the flower garland from the neck of the Lord flew on its own and landed in the neck of Chokha Mahar. His Samadhi is situated at the gate of Vitthal temple. At the age of eighty years Namdev left this mortal world at the main gate of the Vitthal temple Chokha Mahar for food along with people accompanying him. The villagers were surprised as Chokha Mahar belonged to a low caste and he used to peel off skin of dead animals. Namdev explained to them that although Chokha Mahar was engaged in that job, which was his family tradition, his heart was pure as he was always immersed in the thought of the Lord. When he saw that people did not believe this, he took them to the temple of Vitthal. Chokha Mahar, however, did not enter inside the temple and stood outside the gate. There was no end to the astonishment of people when they saw that the flower garland from the neck of the Lord flew on its own and landed in the neck of Chokha Mahar. His Samadhi is situated at the gate of Vitthal temple. At the age of eighty years Namdev left this mortal world at the main gate of the Vitthal temple in front of his Lord Pandurang in 1407 Vikram Samvat. His Samadhi is located in Pandharpur.