SAMARTHA RAMADAS Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


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In a place called Bedar in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, a son was born to a couple highly devoted to God. He was named Narayana. He grew up as a naughty boy, neglecting his studies and quarrelling with other children. At the age of eight years, he lost his father. His mother, Rama Devi, found it hard to control her mischievous and delinquent son. Her relatives and neighbours advised her to get him married so that he might realise his responsibilities and change for the better. Although the boy was only 13 years old and too young for marriage, his mother yielded to the persuasions of others and arranged for his marriage. At the time of the wedding a screen of thick cloth hung in between the bride and the bridegroom, according to the prevailing custom. The purohits removed the curtain to hand over the Mangala soothram (the sacred and auspicious thread of wedlock) to the bridegroom for him to tie around the bride’s neck. Lo and behold! the bridegroom had disappeared behind the curtain without anybody’s notice. A thorough search was made to trace him out, but in vain. So, the marriage could not be performed.


The boy Narayana, who had escaped from the marriage hall, ultimately reached a place called Nasik near the source of the sacred river Godavari. He stayed there for some time and then moved to a nearby mountain called ‘Chitrakoota’ which is considered holy, because Sri Rama lived there for nearly 12 years. There he selected an exquisitely beautiful spot by name panchavati. The boy was enraptured by the grandeur of the scenery of the place, and its sanctity, associated with the stay of Sri Rama there during his exile. It sent thrills of ecstasy in him. He was always immersed in the contemplation of Sri Rama.


What was the cause for the naughty boy turning into a pious young man? A part from the fact that his latent good samskaaras (accumulated tendencies) were aroused by the sudden shock of the prospect of being saddled with the heavy responsibilities of married life, the boy during his journey to Nasik, entered a famous Hanuman temple enroute, and wholeheartedly prayed to the deity to bless him with all the noble qualities for which Hanuman was renowned. And he had an indication of his prayer being answered by way of a gentle spiritual vibration in the direction of the boy.


After 12 years of intense penance at Panchavati, Narayana gained the three fold realisation of Sri Rama as did Hanuman, namely, when he had body consciousness, he was the servant and Rama the master, when he was conscious of his being a Jiva (individual soul) he was part of Rama (Visishtaadvaita) and when he was aware of his being the Atma, he and Rama were one (Advaitha).


After this realisation, he returned to Nasik from Panchavati. While there, he came to know that the country was in the grip of a severe famine. Then he began to reflect that to spend his time thinking of only his own liberation, when all his countrymen were suffering due to famine, amounted to extreme selfishness. So he coined the slogan, “Dil me Raam, Haath me Kaam” (i. e. Rama in the heart, and work in the hand), and entered the arena of social service with all his energy and zeal, giving to himself and his band of dedicated workers mottoes such as “Maanava seva (service to man) is Madhava seva(Service to God). Graama seva (Service to Villages) is Rama seva (Service to Rama)". He filled the tank of his heart with the holy water of Rama nam (Rama’s name) which flowed through the top of his hands to quench the thirst of the multitudes of his village.


Proceeding thus from village to village doing social work, coupled with chanting of Rama’s name, Narayana finally reached Rameswaram at the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. From there he went to the pilgrim centres of Tirupati (Where he had the darshan of Lord Venkateswara) and Hampi (Where he worshipped Lord Viroopaksha). Ultimately he returned to Nasik. On the way to Nasik, he saw saint Tukaram, who was singing the glories of Rama. So melodiously that a large number of people, including Shivaji, the ruler of Maharashtra were attracted to him. As Shivaji listened to Tukaram, and told him about his decision to give up his kingdom and to devote himself fully and whole heatedly to the pursuits of the spiritual path, Tukaram admonished Shivaji for his narrow minded view of spirituality and exhorted him to consider duty as God and work as worship. Thereupon Shivaji prayed to Tukaram to give him initiation. Tukaram declined saying, “Ramadas is your Guru, not I, so you have to receive initiation only from him". Rather disappointed, Shivaji returned to his capital.


Ramadas appeared before Shivaji with his usual call for alms, “Bhavati Bhiksham Dehi". Shivaji realised that the guru is God, so he wrote something on a piece of paper and deposited it reverentially in the alms bag of Ramadas. “For the relief of hunger, how can paper suffice?” asked Ramadas. Shivaji prayed that the paper may be read. The paper recorded a gift of the entire kingdom and all that Shivaji owned to the Guru. Ramadas replied, “No, my Dharma is Dharmabodha the teaching of Dharma, instructing the people in the right way of life, Kshatriyas like you must follow the dharma of ruling the land, ensuring peace and content to the millions under your care.”


Since Ramadas had the extraordinary capacity to do many great things, he came to be known as Samartha Ramadas, the appellation Samartha meaning a man of versatile skills. There is an episode in his life which describes the context in which the title of Samartha was conferred on him. He used to dress himself and move about like kodandapaani (Rama armed with his bows and arrows). Once when he was walking along the banks of the Godavari in this dress, some brahmins who were taking bath there questioned him whether he belonged to the community of koyas (Hunters belonging to a hill tribe were called koyas). Ramadas told them that he was Ramadas (A servant of Rama) and not a Koya. Thereupon they questioned him why he was dressed and equipped with bow and arrows like Rama if he was only a servant of Rama. They heckled him saying, “What is the use of merely trying to imitate Kodandapani in appearance only? Are you capable of wielding the bow and arrows as Rama did?” Just then a bird was flying fast at a great height across the sky above their heads. The brahmins pointed the bird to Ramadas and asked him whether he could shoot that bird. With Rama’s name on his lips, Ramadas immediately aimed an arrow at the flying bird and brought it down right in front of the Brahmins. Seeing the dead bird, the Brahmins accused Ramadas saying, “There is no harmony of thought, word and deed in you and therefore you are dhuraatma (a wicked person). You chant Rama’s name and at the same time you have committed the sin of killing an innocent bird, to show of your skills.” When Ramadas replied that he shot the bird at their instances only, they remonstrated saying, “If we ask you to eat grass, will you do so ? Don’t you have your own independent thinking or discrimination?” Then Ramadas gently replied, “Sirs, past is past. Kindly tell me what I should do now?” They asked him to repent for his sin. Ramadas promptly closed his eyes and prayed to God Wholeheartedly, repenting for his sin and asking for his forgiveness. Then he opened his eye and pointed out to the brahmins that the dead bird had not regained life inspite of his repentance. The brahmins said reprovingly, “What a madcap you are! Repentance can not undo what you have done; but its purpose is to enable you to make up your mind not to repeat such misdeeds in future". “That is no repentance in my humble view” countered Ramadas, “God and his name are so powerful that if we pray sincerely, His Grace will bring the bird back to life.” So saying he picked up the dead bird, hugged it to his bosom, and with tears flowing down his cheeks he wholeheartedly prayed, “O Rama, if I have been chanting your name with all my mind, heart and soul and if it is a fact that I have killed this bird out of ignorance and not with an intent to kill, may your Grace either revive this dead bird or take away my life also along with that of the bird". As he concluded his prayer, the bird fluttered in his hands. Then he opened his eyes, thanked the almighty and released the bird into the sky. Astonished at this miracle, the brahmins exclaimed in one voice, “Revered sir, forgive us for not recognising your greatness. Since you have the capacity to kill a flying bird with a single arrow and also the capacity to revive the dead bird, you will hereafter be known by the worthily name of Samartha Ramadas.”


After this, Ramadas visited Pandaripuram where he was an eye witness to the ideal way in which a man by name Pundarika served his parents as veritable Gods, making lord Panduranga Himself wait in front of his house standing on a pair of bricks till he completed his service to his parents.


Then he visited Shivaji and gave him three things as moments to guide him in his royal duties, one, a coconut to remind him that just as our intention in buying a coconut is to consume the white kernel inside, so also the purpose of owning and administering the kingdom is that the king himself should lead a satwic life and also to ensure that the satwic quality prevails in his kingdom; second, a handful of earth to remind the king and through him his subjects about the sanctity of Bharath, their motherland; third, a pair of bricks to symbolise that just as bricks are used to construct houses for the safety of the inmates the king should use his powers to protect the people and promote their welfare and progress.


At this time, the memory of Pundarika’s devoted service to his parents at Pandaripuram was revived in Ramadas’ mind and he hastened back home with the idea of serving his aged mother. When he reached home, his old mother could not recognise him, particularly because of his long beard and strange dress. He told her that he was her son, Narayana, who was popularly known as Samartha Ramadas. Thereupon, his mother exclaimed ecstatically, “O my dear son, I have been hearing so much about Samartha Ramadas and have been eager to see him for a long time. But I never knew that it is the popular name of my son, Narayana. I am proud of you and thank the Lord for making me the mother of such a great one. My life is fulfilled.” So saying, she breathed her last on her son’s lap.


Ramadas duly performed the obsequies of his mother. Shortly thereafter, he heard about Siviaji’s death in A.D. 1680. (just six years after he was coronated by Ramadas in A.D. 1614). He went to the kings capital installed Shivaji’s son as the king and blessed him so that he might rule the kingdom, following the foot steps of his noble father.


Samartha Ramadas, while a boy, was going through the bazar reading books. Some one reprimanded him for reading while he was walking. He said that Ramadas could read when he reached school. But Ramadas replied, “For me, the entire world appears as a school which I must attend throughout life. I do not see any difference between the school where I learn some lessons and the world where I learn other lessons.”


Once Ramadas wailed “O lord! You are mighty, all-powerful, all-knowing; I am alone, helpless, orphaned and poor.” Then the Lord interrupted the self condemnation and said, “No, how can you name yourself poor, helpless and orphaned? I am with you, in you and showering My Grace. The only orphan in the universe is Myself for I have no guardian, no means of support, nobody to fall back upon. I am the anaatha (orphan); all else are Sa-naatha (with lord), for I am their Naatha (Lord).”


Once when Samartha Ramadas was moving about the countryside with his disciples, those behind him saw a fine field full of juicy sugarcane and entered it and started pulling out the cane and munching it with great relish. The owner of the field was naturally enraged at their behaviour and at the loss to which they were subjecting him, he fell upon them with a stout cane. Later Shivaji offered himself to attend personally to the guru during his ceremonial bath. When Ramadas undressed, Shivaji was shocked to find broad red marks indicating that he had been beaten. Such was the sensitive sympathy of the great saint towards his disciples. Ramadas was requested to inflict on him any punishment he liked. But Ramadas accepted that the wrong was committed by his disciples, that they should not have allowed the cane to attract them into theft.