The Bhakti Movement in North India, Part 2


BY: SUN STAFF - 3.10 2019

Sant Namdev

A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

After meeting the renowned Maharashtrian saint Janeswar, the twenty-one year old bhakta Namdev roamed around northern India with Janeswar and other sadhus. He eventually landed at Ghuman, in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab, and there he remained for more than twenty years, preaching his own unique version of Bhakti. A samadhi shrine of Namdev was erected in Ghuman, although the saint actually departed at Pandarpur.

In his early fifties, Namdev left the Punjab, returning to Maharashtra state, where he re-settled along with an entourage of his devotees, at Pandharpur. Returning to his roots as a Krsna bhakta in service to Lord Vithoba, Namdev continued to propagate the Bhakti Movement, having impressed it upon the Punjabi Sikhs.

Today, Pandharpur continues to be recognized as an important pilgrimage site. The tirtha is situated on the banks of the Bhima River in Solapur district of Maharashtra, where Sri Krsna Vithoba's temple attracts half a million devotees each year during Ashadh (June-July).

The impact Namdev had during his years of preaching in the Punjab is reflected by the many songs he wrote that were published in the Guru Granth Sahib. Over sixty of his hymns, written in Hindu, are preserved there. All these hymns, or sabdas, praise the One Supreme God, thus representing a departure from some of his earlier works, which bear traces of saguna-bhakti.

In fact, Bhagat Namdev is often referred to as the proponent of a radical Bhakti school. Although he appeared a century before Kabir, his religious and social views are much like Kabir's. While his devotional practices (e.g., deity worship) were monotheistic, Namdev's preaching was often mayavadic. Describing his siddhanta, the historian Chaturvedi writes:

"Sant Nam Dev seemed to believe both in transcendence and immanence, in pantheism and nondualism. His devotion was purely of the non-attributional absolute. He also considers God to be immanent, everywhere, in all hearts, and the Creator of everything. Like Kabir and the Sufis, Namdev is very other worldly. He says, "The strength of contempt of the world should be in the body an unchanging companion. One should lay aside differences between oneself and others, and feel no anxiety for things of the world."

Repudiating some of the main Vaisnava tenets, Namdev was more inclined towards mystical and metaphysical ideas, which he blended into his understanding of the Absolute. In this way he was also like his contemporary, Janesvara. Namdev is also noted for having been a significant influence on the saint Tukaram, who lived some 300 years after Namdev's departure.

While generally considered an unorthodox Vaishnava, there are also legends about Namdev's pastimes that decry a focus on the mystical. For example, while he resided at Ghuman, in the Punjab, a king asked him to demonstrate a miracle as a show of his spiritual potency. Namdev refused, saying that to do so would be to interfere in God's ways. For refusing the request, the king had Namdev thrown at the feet of a drunken elephant, to be crushed to death. But Namdev is said to have been saved by the Lord.