Naarsi Mehta – (1414 – 1481) Mahatma Gandhi included in his daily prayers Narsi Mehta’s song `Vaishnava Jana to tene kahiye’. The song has become so popular that it has been rendered into almost all Indian and many non-Indian languages. Herein are idealised the virtues of a gentleman. They are so universal that every social thinker would endorse them, and accept them as his own ideal.
Narsi Mehta was a great singer from Gujarat. He lived for a while with his brother. He and his wife Manek Ba had no peaceful time in the house where the brother’s wife subjected them to great ridicule and trouble. Narsi bore this patiently but, on one occasion, when unsalted food was served and he was told that he deserved nothing better as he earned nothing, he left the brother’s house. Narsi went on singing the Lord’s name. In his great love he even said that it was because of his brother’s wife he was blessed with the darshan of the Lord. This moved the brother, who asked him to return to the house. But as Narsi’s mind was turned inwards now, he had no need of family or the pleasures of the world. He could only be the slave of Krishna, Nandakumar. So he bade good-bye to his brother and went his way, singing.
The spiteful Nagar community laid many charges against Narsi before the ruler of Junagadh. Narsi submitted himself to the trial in the Raja’s temple. A miracle took place. All those assembled including the king saw the temple door open by itself and a garland came out of it and fell round the neck of Narsi. Others saw this, but seeing the Lord Himself doing all that, Narsi fainted. The ruler was astounded at the devotion of Narsi and Lord’s love for him.
Narsi and Manekbai had a daughter. One day his wife said to him: Sethji! Our daughter is old enough to marry. We are poor. Why don’t you ask some rich people for money to marry her off?” Narsi replied: “Listen to me, my dear. Last night God Krishna of Dwaraka came to me in my dream. He said, ‘Narsi. do not worry about your daughter’s marriage. Send somebody to Dwaraka with a hundi for any amount of money Address it to Seth Samaldas. He will give you the money, and you can have your daughter married.” Narsi wrote a hundi for Rs. 1500 and asked their cowherd to take it to Dwaraka. A hundi is a letter asking for money with a Promise that it would be repaid. At that time some merchants were staying in the cowherd’s house. They were going to Dwaraka. They said: “We have some money. We shall give you Rs. 1500 immediately and take your hundi. As we are ourselves going to Dwaraka, we shall collect the money from Seth Samaldas and give him the hundi.” Manekbai agreed. She took Rs. 1500 from the merchants. Narsi handed over thehundi accordingly. Narsi celebrated the marriage of his daughter in a grand manner with the money he borrowed. The merchants arrived in Dwaraka. They searched for Seth Samaldas. But in the whole of Dwaraka there was no Seth Samaldas. They were disappointed and also angry. They thought Narsi had deceived them. At last a man came to see the merchants. He said, “I am Seth Samaldas. What do you want?” The merchants replied, “We have a hundi for Rs. 1500 which Narsi Mehta of Juna- gadh gave to us.” “Oh! I thought it was for Rs. 2000. Anyway, I have brought Rs. 2000. You may take this entire money and give me the hundi!”said Seth Samaldas. The merchants hesitated. “Sir, how can we take more money than we have given? Please give us only Rs. 1500,” they said. The Seth said: “Doesn’t matter. I shall give you Rs. 500 as a gift, because you have helped Narsi.” The merchants were pleased and took the money. It is said that God Krishna himself had come as Seth Samaldas to help his devotee!
Considered to be the foremost poet-saint of Gujarat, Narsi Mehta’s songs (padas) are full of devotion of Lord Krsna. They describe in a most vivid and passionate manner the early life of Krsna, his love-play with the Gopis of Gokula and the basic philosophy of early bhakti cult. Narsi Mehta’s style is both simple and moving, and consequently the impact of his songs can still be felt in the villages of Saurashtra (Gujarat) where they have become part of the folk tradition. The book Devotional Songs of Narsi Mehta states: “Besides being a poet, devotee and saint, Narsi Mehta was also a social reformer. Though born as an orthodox Nagar Brahmin, he was one of the strongest critics of the caste system and its evils. His naturally sensitive and loving nature revolted against the treatment of untouchables by his castemen. Narsi knew no caste distinctions; he looked upon all human beings as the children of Hari (Harijana).”