Goswami Tulsidas (Devanagari:गोस्वामी तुलसीदास), (1532–1623) was a Hindu poet-saint, reformer and philosopher renowned for his devotion to lord Sriram. A composer of several popular works, tulsidas is best known for being the author of the epic Ramcharitmanas, a retelling of the Sanskrit Ramayana in the vernacular Awadhi. Tulsidas was acclaimed in his lifetime to be a reincarnation of Valmiki, the composer of the original Ramayana in Sanskrit. Tulsidas lived permanently and died in the city of Varanasi. The Tulsi Ghat in Varnasi is named after him. He founded the Sankatmochan Temple dedicated to Hanuman in Varanasi, believed to stand at the place where he had the sight of Hanuman. Tulsidas started the Ramlila plays, a folk-theatre adaption of the Ramayana. He has been acclaimed as one of the greatest poets in Hindi. The impact of Tulsidas and his works on the art, culture and society in India is widespread and is seen to date.
Tulsidas was born on the seventh day of the bright half of the lunar Hindu month Shraavana (July–August). Although as many as seven places are mentioned as his birth-place, most scholars identify the place with Rajapur (Chitrakuta), a village on the banks of the Yamuna river in modern-day Uttar Pradesh. His parents were Hulsi and Atmaram Dubey. Most sources identify him as a Saryupareen Brahmin of the Parashar Gotra (lineage), although some sources claim he was a Kanyakubja or Sanadhya Brahmin.
There is difference of opinion among biographers regarding the year of birth of Tulsidas. Many sources rely on Veni Madhav Das’ account in the Mula Gosain Charita, which gives the year of Tulsidas’ birth as Vikrami Samvat 1554 (1497 CE). These sources include Shivlal Pathak, popular editions of Ramcharitmanas (Gita Press, Naval Kishore Press and Venkateshvar Press), Edwin Greaves, Hanuman Prasad Poddar, Ramanand Sarasvati, Ayodhyanath Sharma, Ramchandra Shukla, Narayandas, and Rambhadracharya. A second group of biographers led by Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras and Sir George Grierson give the year as Vikram 1589 (1532 CE). These biographers include Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Ramghulam Dwivedi, James Lochtefeld, Swami Sivananda and others. A third small group of authors which includes H. H. Wilson, Garse De Tasse and Krishnadatta Mishra gives the year as Vikram 1600 (1543 CE).
The year 1497 appears in most current-day biographies and in popular culture. Biographers who disagree with this year argue that it makes the life span of Tulsidas equal 126 years, which in their opinion is unlikely if not impossible. In contrast, Ramchandra Shukla says that an age of 126 is not impossible for Mahatmas (great souls) like Tulsidas. The Government of India and provincial governments celebrated the 500th birth anniversary of Tulsidas in the year 1997 CE, according to the year of Tulsidas’ birth in popular culture.
Legend goes that Tulsidas was born after staying in the womb for 12 months, he had all 32 teeth in his mouth at birth, his health and looks were like that of a five-year old boy, and he did not cry at the time of his birth but uttered Rama instead. He was therefore named Rambola (literally, he who uttered Rama), as Tulsidas himself states in Vinayapatrika.
As per the Mula Gosain Charita, he was born under the Abhuktamula constellation, which according to Jyotisha (Hindu astrology) causes immediate danger to the life of the father. Due to the inauspicious events at the time of his birth, he was abandoned by his parents on the fourth night, sent away with Chuniya (some sources call her Muniya), a female servant of Hulsi. In his works Kavitavali and Vinayapatrika, Tulsidas attests to his parents abandoning him after birth due to an inauspicious astrological configuration. Chuniya took the child to her village of Haripur and looked after him for five and a half years after which she died. Rambola was left to fend for himself as an impoverished orphan, and wandered from door to door begging for alms. It is believed that the goddess Parvati assumed the form of a Brahmin woman and fed Rambola every day.
Marriage and renunciation
According to the Mula Gosain Charita and some other works, Tulsidas was married to Ratnavali on the thirteenth day of the bright half of the Jyeshta month (May–June) in Vikram 1583 (1526 CE). Ratnavali was the daughter of Dinbandhu Pathak, a Brahmin of the Bharadwaja Gotra, who belonged to Mahewa village of Kaushambi district. They had a son named Tarak who died as a toddler. Once when Tulsidas had gone to a Hanuman temple, Ratnavali went to her father’s home with her brother. When Tulsidas came to know this, he swam across the Yamuna river in the night to meet his wife. Ratnavali chided Tulsidas for this, and remarked that if Tulsidas was even half as devoted to God as he was to her body of flesh and blood, he would have been redeemed. Tulsidas left her instantly and left for the holy city of Prayag. Here, he renounced the Grihastha (householder’s life) stage and became a Sadhu (Hindu ascetic).
Some authors consider the marriage episode of Tulsidas to be a later interpolation and maintain that he was a bachelor. They include Rambhadracharya, who interprets two verses in the Vinayapatrika and Hanuman Bahuka to mean that Tulsidas never married and was a Sadhu from childhood.
Ramacharitamanas (रामचरितमानस, 1574–1576), literally The Holy Lake of Acts of Rama, is the Awadhi rendering of the Ramayana narrative. It is the longest and earliest work of Tulsidas, and draws from various sources including the Ramayana of Valmiki, the Adhyatma Ramayana, the Prasannaraghava and Hanuman Nataka. The work consists of around 12,800 lines divided into 1073 stanzas, which are groups of Chaupais separated by Dohas or Sorthas. It is divided into seven books (Kands) like the Ramayana of Valmiki, and is around one-third of the size of Valmiki’s Ramayana. The work is composed in 18 metres which include ten Sanskrit metres (Anushtup, Shardulvikridit, Vasantatilaka, Vamshashta, Upajati, Pramanika, Malini, Sragdhara, Rathoddhata and Bhujangaprayata) and eight Prakrit metres (Soratha, Doha, Chaupai, Harigitika, Tribhangi, Chaupaiya, Trotaka and Tomara). It is popularly referred to as Tulsikrit Ramayana, literally The Ramayana composed by Tulsidas. The work has been acclaimed as “the living sum of Indian culture”, “the tallest tree in the magic garden of medieval Indian poesy”, “the greatest book of all devotional literature”, “the Bible of Northern India”, and “the best and most trustworthy guide to the popular living faith of its people.”
Several manuscripts of the Ramcharitmanas are claimed to have been written down by Tulsidas himself. Grierson wrote in the late nineteenth century, two copies of the epic were said to have existed in the poet’s own handwriting. One manuscript was kept at Rajapur, of which only the Ayodhyakand is left now, which bears marks of water. A legend goes that the manuscript was stolen and thrown into Yamuna river when the thief was being pursued, and only the second book of the epic could be rescued. Grierson wrote that the other copy was at Malihabad in Lucknow district, of which only one leaf was missing. Another manuscript of the Ayodhyakanda claimed to be in the poet’s own hand exists at Soron in Etah district, one of the places claimed to be Tulsidas’ birthplace. One manuscript of Balakanda, dated Samvat 1661, nineteen years before the poet’s death, claimed to be corrected by Tulsidas, is at Ayodhya. Some other ancient manuscripts are found in Varanasi, including one in possession of the Maharaja of Benares that was written in Vikram 1704 (1647), twenty-four years after the death of Tulsidas.
Dohavali (दोहावली, 1581), literally Collection of Dohas, is a work consisting of 573 miscellaneous Doha and Sortha verses mainly in Braja with some verses in Awadhi. The verses are aphorisms on topics related to tact, political wisdom, righteousness and the purpose of life. 85 Dohas from this work are also found in the Ramcharitmanas, 35 in Ramagya Prashna, two in Vairagya Sandipani and some in Rama Satsai, another work of 700 Dohas attributed to Tulsidas.
Kavitavali or Kavitta Ramayan (कवितावली, 1608–1614), literally Collection of Kavittas, is a Braja rendering of the Ramayana, composed entirely in metres of the Kavitta family – Kavitta, Savaiya, Ghanakshari and Chhappaya. It consists of 325 verses including 183 verses in the Uttarkand. Like the Ramcharitmanas, it is divided into seven Kands or books and many episodes in this work are different from the Ramcharitmanas.
Gitavali (गीतावली), literally Collection of Songs, is a Braja rendering of the Ramayana in songs. All the verses are set to Ragas of Hindustani classical music and are suitable for singing. It consists of 328 songs divided into seven Kands or books. Many episodes of the Ramayana are elaborated while many others are abridged.
Krishna Gitavali or Krishnavali (कृष्णगीतावली, 1607), literally Collection of Songs to Krishna, is a collection of 61 songs in honor of Krishna in Braja. There are 32 songs devoted to the childhood sports (Balalila) and Rasa Lila of Krishna, 27 songs form the dialogue between Krishna and Uddhava, and two songs describe the episode of disrobing of Draupadi.
Vinaya Patrika (विनयपत्रिका), literally Petition of Humility, is a Braja work consisting of 279 stanzas or hymns. The stanzas form a petition in the court of Rama asking for Bhakti. It is considered to be the second best work of Tulsidas after the Ramcharitmanas, and is regarded as important from the viewpoints of philosophy, erudition, and eulogistic and poetic style of Tulsidas. The first 43 hymns are addressed to various deities and Rama’s courtiers and attendants, and remaining are addressed to Rama.
Barvai Ramayana (बरवै रामायण, 1612), literally The Ramayana in Barvai metre, is an abridged rendering of the Ramayana in Awadhi. The works consists of 69 verses composed in the Barvai metre, and is divided into seven Kands or books. The work is based on a psychological framework.
Parvati Mangal (पार्वती मंगल), literally The marriage of Parvati, is an Awadhi work of 164 verses describing the penance of Parvati and the marriage of Parvati and Shiva. It consists of 148 verses in the Sohar metre and 16 verses in the Harigitika metre.
Janaki Mangal (जानकी मंगल), literally The marriage of Sita, is an Awadhi work of 216 verses describing the episode of marriage of Sita and Rama from the Ramayana. The work includes 192 verses in the Hamsagati metre and 24 verses in the Harigitika metres. The narrative differs from the Ramcharitmanas at several places.
Ramalala Nahachhu (रामलला नहछू), literally The Nahachhu ceremony of the child Rama, is an Awadhi work of 20 verses composed in the Sohar metre. The Nahachhu ceremony involves cutting the nails of the feet before the Hindu Samskaras (rituals) of Chudakarana, Upanayana, Vedarambha, Samavartana or Vivaha. In the work, events take place in the city of Ayodhya, so it is considered to describe the Nahachhu before Upanayana, Vedarambha and Samavartana.
Ramagya Prashna (रामाज्ञा प्रश्न), literally Querying the Will of Rama, is an Awadhi work related to both Ramayana and Jyotisha (astology). It consists of seven Kands or books, each of which is divided into seven Saptakas or Septets of seven Dohas each. Thus it contains 343 Dohas in all. The work narrates the Ramayana non-sequentially, and gives a method to look up the Shakuna (omen or portent) for astrological predictions.
Vairagya Sandipini (वैराग्य संदीपनी, 1612), literally Kindling of Detachment, is a philosophical work of 60 verses in Braja which describe the state of Jnana (realization) and Vairagya (dispassion), the nature and greatness of saints, and moral conduct. It consists of 46 Dohas, 2 Sorathas and 12 Chaupai metres.
Hanuman Chalisa (हनुमान चालीसा), literally, Forty Verses to Hanuman, is an Awadhi work of 40 Chaupais and two Dohas and is a prayer to Hanuman. Although some authors do not consider it to be authored by Tulsidas, it is attributed to Tulsidas universally in popular belief and also contains the signature line of Tulsidas. It is one of the most read short religious texts in northern India, and is recited by millions of Hindus on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It is believed to have been uttered by Tulsidas in a state of Samadhi at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar.
Sankatmochan Hanumanashtak (संकटमोचन हनुमानाष्टक), literally Eight verses for Hanuman, the Remover of Afflictions, is an Awadhi work of eight verses in the Mattagajendra metre, devoted to Hanuman. It is believed to have been composed by Tulsidas on the occasion of the founding of the Sankatmochan Temple in Varanasi. The work is usually published along with Hanuman Chalisa.
Hanuman Bahuka (हनुमान बाहुक), literally The Arm of Hanuman, is a Braja work of 44 verses believed to have been composed by Tulsidas when he suffered acute pain in his arms at an advanced age. Tulsidas describes the pain in his arms and also prays to Hanuman for freedom from the suffering. The work has two, one, five and 36 verses respectively in the Chhappaya, Jhulna, Savaiya and Ghanakshari metre.
Tulsi Satsai (तुलसी सतसई), literally Seven Hundred Verses by Tulsidas, is a work in both Awadhi and Braja and contains 747 Dohas divided in seven Sargas or cantos. The verses are same as those in Dohavali and Ramagya Prashna but the order is different.
Tulsidas passed away at the Assi Ghat on the bank of the river Ganga in the Shraavan (July–August) month of the year Vikram 1680 (1623 CE). Like the year of his birth, traditional accounts and biographers do not agree on the exact date of his death. Different sources give the date as the third day of the bright half, seventh day of the bright half, or the third day of the dark half.