Namdev

Vaishnav Namdev
Namdev maharaj.JPG
Picture of Bhagat Namdev in Punjab region
Personal
Bornc. 26 October 1270 CE
Narsi Bamani Maharashtra, India
Diedc. 3 July 1350 CE
Pandharpur
ReligionHinduism
PhilosophyVarkari/Sikh/Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism)
Religious career
Literary worksAbhanga devotional poetry

Shiromani Namdev Maharaj , also transliterated as Nam Dev, Namdeo, Namadeva, (traditionally, c. 26 October 1270 – c. 3 July 1350) was an Indian poet and saint from narasi bamani, Maharashtra India who is significant to the Varkari sect of Hinduism. Bhagat Namdev's writings were also recognized by the Gurus of Sikhism and are included in the holy book of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.[1] Namdev worshipped Vithoba, one of the many forms of lord Vishnu.

The details of Namdev's life are unclear. He is the subject of many miracle-filled hagiographies composed centuries after he died. Scholars find these biographies to be inconsistent and contradictory.[2][3]

Namdev was influenced by Vaishnavism, and became widely known in India for his devotional songs set to music (bhajan-kirtans). His philosophy contains both nirguna and saguna Brahman elements, with monistic themes.[4] Namdev's legacy is remembered in modern times in the Varkari tradition, along with those of other gurus, with masses of people walking together in biannual pilgrimages to Pandharpur in south Maharashtra.[5][6]

Life

Namdev (second from right) with other bhagats of Sikhism: Ravidas, Kabir and Pipa.

Details of the life of Namdev are vague.[7] He is traditionally believed to have lived between 1270 and 1350 but S. B. Kulkarni — according to Christian Novetzke, "one of the most prominent voices in the historical study of Maharashtrian sant figures" — has suggested that 1207-1287 is more likely, based on textual analysis.[8] Some scholars date him to around 1425[9] and another, R. Bharadvaj, proposes 1309-1372.[10]

Namdev was married to Rajai and had a son, Vitha, both of whom wrote about him, as did his mother, Gonai. Contemporary references to him by a disciple, a potter, a guru and other close associates also exist. There are no references to him in the records and inscriptions of the then-ruling family and the first non-Varkari noting of him appears possibly to be in the Lilacaritra, a Mahanubhava-sect biography dating from 1278. Smrtisthala, a later Mahanubhava text from around 1310, may also possibly refer to him; after that, there are no references until a bakhar of around 1538.[11][a]

According to Mahipati, a hagiographer of the 18th century, Namdev's parents were Damashet and Gonai, a childless elderly couple whose prayers for parenthood were answered and involved him being found floating down a river. As with various other details of his life, elements such as this may have been invented to sidestep issues that might have caused controversy. In this instance, the potential controversy was that of caste or, more specifically, his position in the Hindu varna system of ritual ranking. He was born into what is generally recognised as a Kshatriyas caste, variously recorded as shimpi (tailor) in the Marathi language and as Chhipa, Chhimpa,Chhimba,chimpi (calico-printer) in northern India. Shudra is the lowest-ranked of the four varnas and those of his followers in Maharashtra and northern India who are from those communities prefer to consider their place, and thus his, as the higher-status Kshatriya rank.[13][12]

There are contrary traditions concerning his birthplace, with some people believing that he was born at Narsi Bahmani, on the Krishna River in Marathwada, and others preferring somewhere near to Pandharpur on the Bhima river.[14] that he was himself a calico-printer or tailor and that he spent much of his life in Punjab.[7][15] The Lilacaritra suggests, however, that Namdev was a cattle-thief who was devoted to and assisted Vithoba.[16][15][b]

A friendship between Namdev and Jñāneśvar, a yogi-saint,[18] has been posited at least as far back as circa 1600 CE when Nabhadas, a hagiographer, noted it in his Bhaktamal.[7] Jñāneśvar, also known as Jñāndev, never referred to Namdev in his writings but perhaps had no cause to do so; Novetzke notes that "Jnandev's songs generally did not concern biography or autobiography; the historical truth of their friendship is beyond my ken to determine and has remained an unsettled subject in Marathi scholarship for over a century."[19]

Namdev is generally considered by Sikhs to be a holy man (bhagat), many of whom came from lower castes and so also attracted attention as social reformers. Such men, who comprised both Hindus and Muslims, traditionally wrote devotional poetry in a style that was acceptable to the Sikh belief system.[15]

A tradition in Maharashtra is that Namdev died at the age of eighty in 1350 CE.[7] Sikh tradition maintains that his death place was the Punjabi village of Ghuman, although this is not universally accepted. Aside from a shrine there that marks his death, there are monuments at the other claimant places, being Pandharpur and the nearby Narsi Bahmani.[20][21]

Reliability of hagiographies

Scholars note that many miracles and specifics about Namdev's life appear only in manuscripts written centuries after Namdev's death.[22][3] The birth theory with Namdev floating down a river, is first found in Mahipati's Bhaktavijay composed around 1762, and is absent in all earlier biographies of Namdev.[22] Mahipati's biography of Namdev adds numerous other miracles, such as buildings rotating and sun rising in the west to show respect to Namdev.[23]

The earliest surviving Hindi and Rajasthani biographies from about 1600 only mention a few miracles performed by Namdev.[2][3] In Namdev biographies published after 1600 through the end of the 20th century, new life details and more miracles increasingly appear with the passage of time.[2] The earliest biographies never mention the caste of Namdev, and his caste appears for the first time in manuscripts with statements from Ravidas and Dhana in early 17th century.[3] Namdev's Immaculate Conception miracle mentioned in later era manuscripts, adds Novetzke, is a story found regularly for other sants in India.[24] The Namdev biographies in medieval manuscripts are inconsistent and contradictory, feeding questions of their reliability.[3]