Jayadeva of the 12th century, whose lyrical extravaganza, known as gIta-govindam, describing Krishna-Radha love-sport in delightful poetry without inhibitions, is venerated as God's own writing. It is at the very centre of religious poetry in the tradition, despite its being considered erotic from a Victorian viewpoint. It is sung all over India, particularly in congregatory devotional singing, the singers often reaching heights of ecstasy, singing and dancing and being thus totally absorbed not only in the music and rhythm but also in the lyric of gIta-govindam which revels in the description of the sacred sport of the divine.
Jnaneswar, of the 12th and 13th centuries, the great poetic genius and mystic saint of Maharashtra. He established the Bhagavata tradition. His commentary on the Gita known as JnaneSvari is probably the most elaborate, ever written. He also composed a series of short poems called Abhangs in praise of the Lord of Pandarpur. His Bhakti is pure and serene, like the love of husband and wife, of Krishna and Rukmini.
Vedanta Desika, Pillai Lokacharya, and Namdev, all of the 13th and 14th centuries. The first was the most learned scholar and the foremeost Vaishnava devotee and Acharya of medieval India., next only to Ramanuja himself. He was a great teacher, expositor, debator, poet, philosopher,thinker and defender of the faith of Vaishnavism. His writings number more than a hundred. The second is considered as the real founder of the tenkalai (Southern Learning) sect of Vaishnavism. The third is the Marathi saint whose numerous compositions of Abhangs in Marathi continue to inspire even the lowliest into devotion. 'As a bee's heart might be set on the fragrance of a flower or a fly might resort to honey", so did the mind of Namdev cling to God. What is needed, according to him, is constant prayer. Prayer can work miracles. He condemned caste, polytheism and idolatry and pleaded for service to mankind and secondly dedicating oneself to God.
Swami Ramananda, (14th century), the apostle of Bhakti in North India who changed its face from its Vedic ritualism to Devotion. He opposed caste distinctions and ignored religious differences. He shocked the orthodox by including among his disciples an outcaste, a Muslim, a barber and a cobbler -- who were, in his time, considered not to belong to the 'high' castes. If Hinduism is convinced today that various religions are but different paths to the same spiritual goal, it is in no small measure due to the waves of Bhakti movement that followed in the wake of Ramananda's teachings. It appears he derived great inspiration from Ramanuja.
Vidyaranya, also known as Madhavacharya, Chandidasa and Vidyapati, all of the 14th century and early 15th century. The first was the polymath commentator of the scriptures known as smritis, which deal with codes of daily life and behaviour, author also of the masterly pancadaSI, the much-translated comprehensive popular manual of advaita philosophy, and spiritual guru of the Vijayanagar kings. He was also the twelfth Pontiff of the Sringeri Sankaracharya Mutt. The second was the greatest lyric poet of early Bengali and was the inspiration for Chaitanya of the 16th century to propagate the practice of congregational singing of bhajans among the masses. The third was the foremost devotee in the eastern part of India after Jayadeva. His poems in the Maithili language on Radha and Krishna and his description in 1000 verses of the Durga festival are very famous.
February 3, 1999
Copyright V. Krishnamurthy
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