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In Search of Ramanand - The Guru of Kabir and Others


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A great read.

(This essay was originally written for a collection of essays to be put together in honour of David Lorenzen. A shorter version of this essay is soon to appear in the said collection-’From Ancient to Modern: Essays in honour of David Lorenzen’- Edited by Saurabh Dube and Ishita Banerjee-Dube; and published by the Oxford University Press.)

The story of this essay goes back to the summer of 2000, when I published an article in the Hindi Journal Bahuvachan, analysing the legends of the Kabir-Ramanand relationship. In that article, granting the common assumption that Ramanand was born in 1299 CE and passed away in 1410, I tried to look at the legends surrounding this key figure in the religious history of north India sympathetically. David Lorenzen, while appreciating my treatment of the legends, disagreed vehemently with the dates of Ramanand that I assumed in that article. I continued to work and reflect upon the question of Ramanand’s floruit and his role in the Bhakti sensibility of north India.

The present essay is the culmination of research and reflection spread over all these years. It would not have been possible without the help and support of many friends and students. Dr. N.K. Pande, a very fine text scholar of the Sarvangi literature helped in obtaining many rare books and information. My old friend and a fine poet Samir Baran Nandi made the Haridwar edition of Agastya Samhita available. Prof. Pinuccia Caracchi was generous enough to send me the photocopy of elusive ‘chapters from the Agastya Samhita.’ Dr. Noorin of JNU very kindly translated from Italian a part of Caracchi’s introduction to ‘Vita Di Ramanand’. Mr. Lakshmi Narain Malik of the JNU library was, as usual, his helpful best. My friend and student Keshav Mishra and Koslendradas, a young activist of the Ramanandi Sampraday, helped in obtaining a lot of material.

I thank John S. Hawley and David Lorenzen for their very helpful comments on the draft of this essay.

My wife Suman and children - Ritambhara and Ritwik - deserve very special thanks for their sustained support.

Ramanand is indeed a unique figure in the religious and literary history of northern India - resplendent in the glory of being traditionally considered the Guru of historically well-known Sant poets Kabir, Raidas and Pipa, yet obscure so far as his own life is concerned. On the one hand, he has been a source of inspiration for many intellectuals who have questioned and criticized Brahman supremacy until as late as the early twentieth century; on the other, more recent scholars often describe him as an epitome of Brahman orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The irony lies in the fact that it was one such interrogator of Brahman supremacy within the Ramawat Sampraday - an early 20th century scholar named Bhagwadacharya, about whom we will be hearing a great deal - who contributed most directly to the construction of the Brahman image of Ramanand. This essay intends to deal with the historical context and cultural import of this irony in some detail.

It is interesting to note that whatever little we know of Ramanand is gathered from medieval vernacular sources - the hagiographies found in the Sant and Vaishnava traditions and the poetic compositions attributed to him in the Adi-Granth and Sarvangis of Rajjab and Gopaldas. By contrast, Sanskrit writings from medieval north India take no notice of Ramanand at all.

Yet, modern scholarship clearly privileges two Sanskrit works attributed to him, the Ramarchan Paddhati and the Vaishnava Matabaj Bhaskar in determining his world-view. We will also discuss a third, the Ananda-Bhashya. It is to be noted that the world-view reflected in the Hindi compositions attributed to Ramanand is quite different from the one reflected in these Sanskrit works. For the sake of convenience let us call the Ramanand, as reflected in the Sarvangis and Adi-Granth, ‘Hindi Ramanand’ and the Ramanand reflected in the Sanskrit works attributed to him, ‘Sanskrit Ramanand’. I hope to demonstrate that the privileged position of Sanskrit Ramanand is not rooted in any serious research but in uncritical acceptance of very recently constructed image of Ramanand as an orthodox Acharya of the Ramawat Sampraday. Because of this acceptance, the Hindi Ramanand has been effectively marginalized in academic discourse on the Bhakti sensibility.

Similarly interesting is the fact that all pre-modern references to Kabir make the following two points: Kabir was born a Muslim weaver, and he was a disciple of Ramanand. But modern scholarship, particularly in the western academy, has convinced itself that Ramanand could not have been even a contemporary of Kabir, not to talk of any connection between the two. David Lorenzen and Pinuccia Caracchi, however, remain exceptions to this scholarly consensus.


As far back as 1978, Richard Burghart noted the “poverty of informationâ€[1] regarding the life and views of Ramanand. Over the last three decades, this poverty has not decreased in any way. William Pinch observes in this context,

As both a Sanskrit educated Brahman and a Vaishnava Bhakti visionary Ramanand is believed by many to have occupied an important and neglected space between two competing “Hinduismsâ€: one composed of sophisticated pandits, the other of radical poets. For Indologists reared on the basic structural oppositions of caste hierarchy, the difficult question is: can one life occupy both ends of the spectrum?[2]

The fact that he is believed ‘to have occupied an important and neglected space’, should have made Ramanand an interesting figure for scholars of Bhakti, but as Pinch himself has noted,

Indeed it can be argued that the increasing interest in Sant studies has pushed Ramanand and Ramanandis into the background. Guru Nanak is included among the Sants, as are several figures claimed by Ramanandis as members of Ramanand’s original circle of disciples, most notably Ravidas and Kabir. Sants are bound to each other in the clarity of scholarly hindsight by a disdain for brahmanical knowledge and ritual, an outspoken disregard for idols and images, and a dedication to egalitarian poetic verse - all of which lends to the study of Sant literature a distinctly counter-elitist, folk-culture appeal.[3]

If one were to go by the Hindi compositions attributed to Ramanand which have been preserved in Adi-Granth and Sarvangis, Ramanand himself would come out as someone who, having a ‘disdain for brahmanical knowledge and ritual, an outspoken disregard for idols and images and a dedication to egalitarian poetic verse’, would be a figure quite suitable for ‘a distinctly counter elitist, folk culture appeal’. But the Sanskrit Ramanand gets in the way. There is such a world of difference between Sanskrit and Hindi Ramanands that Charlotte Vaudeville, having cited a pada by ‘Hindi’ Ramanand (found both in the Adi-Granth and the Sarvangi of Rajjab) has this to say: “If this pad was really composed by Ramanand, the latter should indeed be considered a true follower of the Sant-Mat: idol worship is clearly rejected, the supreme lord is conceived of as invisible and all-pervading, solely revealed through the sabda uttered by Satguru.â€[4] But since “modern Ramanandis… claim their orthodoxy in matter of worship and caste…†- that is, since they take ‘Sanskrit’ Ramanand as their authority - “that liberal saint (which comes out in the Hindi compositions) may have been another Ramanand but of that other Ramanand, we know nothing: he may have been influenced by Nath-panthi beliefs and, at the same time, cultivated a preference for the Vaishnav name of Ram.â€[5]

Vaudeville’s idea that the ‘liberal saint Ramanand’ was someone else is not unprecedented. Ramchandra Shukla, the eminent literary historian and critic writing his ‘Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas’ (‘a History of Hindi literature’) way back in the fourth decade of the last century, cites the same pada and comes to the same conclusion (the nature of his sympathy was different though.) - “It is clear from this citation that such padas could not have been composed by Vaishnava Bhakta Ramanand. Maybe some other Ramanand penned them.â€[6]

Ignoring the circumstances and the context that led to the construction of Ramanand as ‘Acharya’ by the modern Ramanandis, Vaudeville and many others have also failed to take note of the interesting fact that even Sanskrit Ramanand is quite liberal, so far as caste is concerned. It was bound to be so, because Sanskrit Ramanand was being constructed precisely in order to bestow ‘orthodox’ approval on the lack of strict observance of Brahmanical rules of conduct by modern Ramanandis. The crux of the matter for the ‘radical’ Ramanandis in the early twentieth century was to resist the arrogance displayed by the Ramanujis - that is, adherents of the Ramanuja or Sri Vaishnava Sampraday - who prided themselves on their accurate observance of the caste rules and ‘superiority’ accruing from the same.[7] The Ramanujis made no effort to hide their contempt for the Ramanandis, many of whom came from the middle and lower castes.

The specificity of the social base of the Ramanandis is a historical constant that will be noted by any observer who has bothered to look into the social composition of the Ramanandi Sampraday and its lay followers, be it the author of Dabistan-e-Mazahib in the seventeenth century, Buchanan and Wilson in the nineteenth century, or Peter Van der Veer and William Pinch in the late twentieth century. Naturally, with their members coming from the middle and lower castes, the Ramanandis could hardly observe caste rules as ‘accurately’ as the upper-caste Ramanujis. Consequently, they were literally treated as ‘country cousins’ by Sanskrit speaking, caste-rules-observing Ramanujis. Their ‘inferior’ status (which accrued from their negligence of caste rules) was reinforced by many symbolic gestures in everyday life and, more particularly, on symbolically significant occasions like the Kumbh gatherings, where they were supposed to follow after the Ramanujis in the ritual baths and processions. So much so that on such occasions the Ramanandis used to bear the palanquins carrying the Ramanuji Mahants and Acharyas.

We will have occasion in the course of this essay to hear the voices and detail the attempts of the ‘radical’ Ramanandis like Bhagwadacharya, who were angry at this humiliation and bent upon radically severing any connection with the Ramanujis. Bhagwadacharya did this by pushing back Ramanand’s floruit by a century and making him a native of north India, thus eliminating any possibility of his belonging to the fold of Ramanujis. Bhagwadacharya argued this on the basis of Sanskrit writings he attributed to Ramanand. The ‘traditionalists’ among the Ramanandis, those who upheld the late floruit and southern origin of Ramanand, fiercely resisted the attempts of such ‘radical’ Ramanandis, though they accepted several of the Sanskrit texts as genuine. The point I wish to elaborate in this essay is that, in taking the ‘evidence’ advanced in favor of Ramanand’s early floruit at face value, which was to privilege Sanskrit Ramanand over the Hindi one, academic scholars have completely missed the context of such ‘evidence’ and consequently the irony of situation. In fact, this early and Sanskrit Ramanand is not supported by the historical evidence, but is the product of modern Ramanandis’ attempt to create an orthodox sanction for the heteropraxy of their Sampraday. Little did the ‘radical’ Ramanandis realize that their modern construction of a Sanskrit Ramanand belonging to 14th century would distance the historical Hindi Ramanand actually belonging to 15th century from his traditionally accepted circle of disciples causing, what is nowadays seen as, chronological and temperamental improbability. This was the unintended consequence of putting the past into the service of the present without any regard for plausible evidence - the cost of creating ‘traditions’ at will.

[1] Richard Burghart, ‘The Founding of the Ramanandi Sect’ in ‘ Religious Movements in South Asia 600-1800′(Editor David Lorenzen,) New Delhi, 2004,p.231.

[2] William Pinch, “Peasants and Monks in British Indiaâ€, New Delhi, 1996, p 50.

[3] Ibid. P 50.

[4] Charlotte Vaudeville, ‘A Weaver named Kabir’, New Delhi, 1993,p.88.

[5] Ibid. P 88-89.

[6] ‘Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas’ Varanasi, (Samvat 2035, i.e. 1978 CE), p.86.

[7] In the early phase of their history, even the Shri Vaishnava were quite liberal on the issue of caste. Ramanuja himself is credited with establishing rather liberal Pancharatra form of worship in many temples. The Shri Vaishnavas even had Shudra functionaries in their temples. By the fourteenth century, however the Shri Vaishnava were divided on the issues of caste along with on other issues of doctrine. the vijayanagar rulers played a major part in ‘undermining the rights and privileges of the Shudra functionaries in the temples. See Burton Stein, ‘Social Mobility and Medieval South Indian Sects’ in ‘Religious Movements in South Asia 600-1800′ (Editor: David Lorenzen), New Delhi, 2004, p 80-101.

A role similar to that of the Vijayanagar rulers was to be played three centuries later by the ruler of Jaipur in order to make Ramanandis stick to caste order and its ideology.

By the time Shukla was writing his canonical volume in the course of the 1920s, the ‘radical’ faction of modern Ramanandis led by Bhagwadacharya and Raghuvaracharya. (who later adopted a different course, as we shall see) had succeeded in creating and historically back-projecting the figure of ‘Acharya’ Ramanand, a person who did not belong to the spiritual lineage of Ramanuja, who did not come from south, but was born in Prayag, who had established his own independent Sampraday, and who had the Bhashya on the Vedanta Sutras to his credit. After all, in the Brahmanical tradition one cannot be recognized as Acharya if one has not authored a Bhashya. The supposedly ‘authentic’ Sanskrit text ‘Ramarchan Paddhati’ was also attributed to Ramanand during this period of the early twentieth century and the ‘authenticity’ of various manuscripts vigorously debated - the purpose being either the approval or the rejection of traditional ‘guru-paramparas’ that indicated the connection between Ramanuja and Ramanand. It was with this rejection in view that the traditionally accepted floruit of Ramanand was vehemently denied and he was placed one century earlier. ‘Ancient’ manuscripts were produced as and when required in order to make a point in the ongoing struggle of ‘independence’ from Ramanuji hegemony. The ‘poverty of information’ noted by Burghart has only further strengthened the certainty of radical Ramanandi conclusions about such crucial points as the floruit and world-view of Ramanand. The presumption of an eternal Brahmanical ‘conspiracy of appropriation’ has itself become an important datum: if so much was suppressed, is its value not automatically certified as soon as it is once again “brought to light�

Winand Callewaert has the following to say about Anantdas, the 16th century hagiographer of leading Sants:

He sang about Namdev, Kabir, Raidas, Dhana, Angad, Trilochan and Pipa. More famous Bhaktas he could not have chosen and four of them (Kabir, Dhana, Pipa and Raidas), he says were initiated by Ramanand. Namdev, Angad and Trilochan were too far away in the past, even for his sense of history to call them disciples of Ramanand.[8]

Unlike Callewaert, Anantdas, of course was not gifted with a proper sense of history, but his sense of chronology seems to be quite precise. He was careful enough to note that ‘the first Bhakta who lived in this kali age was Namdev; he had God in his hands.’[9] According to Callewaert himself, ‘The saint Namdev lived around 1300 A.D,’[10], hence Anantdas seems to be right in describing him as the pioneer of Bhakti proper in ‘this kali age.’ If indeed he was obsessed with ‘Brahmanising’ Kabir and others by making them disciples of Ramanand, why not Namdev and others? Why not make Ramanand the pioneer? After all, Anantdas was a Ramanandi himself and Ramanand lived between 1299 and 1410 CE, as Callewaert and others with a rich sense of history would want Anantdas to believe. But obviously, Anantdas knew better.

The certainty rooted in the poverty of information coupled with a rash dismissal of medieval understanding of the time and temperament of Ramanand forces not only Callewaert but also many others to overlook the simple and profound fact that all four bhaktas mentioned by Anantdas as the disciples of Ramanand belong to 15th century CE. Instead of taking note of such facts from medieval Hindi sources, and by ‘going from known to unknown’ as David Lorenzen tries to do, [11] such scholars have chosen to reject the Ramanand - Kabir connection ‘known’ consensually to the traditions in favor of a Sanskritized Ramanand active between 1299 and 1410, who was completely ‘unknown’ not only to Anantdas, but to each and every source from medieval India.

In fact, Sanskrit Ramanand of the fourteenth century has entered the unquestioned consensus of Bhakti scholars. As we saw above, Vaudeville wants to believe in some other Ramanand who should ‘indeed be considered a true follower of the Sant Mat,’ she like many others, here follows Bhandarkar and has assumed 1299-1410 to be ‘Hindu traditional dates’[12] of Ramanand. On the other hand, she feels, “Modern Hindu opinion tends to make Kabir a disciple of Vaishnava reformer Ramanand: Kabir is supposed to have received ‘the name of Ram’ from him, by way of initiation.â€[13] And this ‘Vaishnava reformer’ could have nothing to do with ‘Sant Mat’ as his modern day followers ‘claim their orthodoxy in matters of worship and caste’. As we will see in the course of this essay, the so-called ‘Hindu traditional dates’ are quite modern and it is, in fact, the tendency to make Kabir a disciple of Ramanand that is rather traditional, while it is the ‘orthodox’ Ramanand who represents a modern construct. Strange as it is, this Ulatbansi (upside-down logic) of taking modern as traditional and vice-versa has become an unquestioned consensus in modern Bhakti scholarship.

Vinay Dharwadkar tells the whole story of attempts to absorb Kabir in a ‘particularly conservative variety of saguna Vaishnava devotion’ (shall we say Hinduise him?) with enviable self-assurance:

One series of biographical accounts constructed after about 1600, for example, has suggested that he [Kabir] was the illegitimate child of a brahmin widow in Banaras, who abandoned him at birth, leaving him to be discovered by a childless julaha couple named Niru and Nima, who then adopted him and raised him in a community of poor Muslim weavers. It has also been suggested that Kabir was a precocious adolescent and acquired a diksha-guru by tricking a high brahmin - the philosopher and theologian Ramananda - into accepting him as a disciple and initiating him into bhakti. The stories in this series acquired their influential forms in the Kabir Parachai, composed by Anantdas around 1625, and the Bhaktirasabodhini, composed by Priyadas about 1712, both of whom were commentators of the Ramanandi Sampraday, and tried to absorb Kabir, however implausibly, into a particularly conservative variety of saguna Vaishnava devotion.[14]

Self assured this story might be, nonetheless it has several holes. Priyadas was not a Ramanandi, Anantdas of course was. Nonetheless, nowhere in his Parachai of Kabir does Anantdas describe him as ‘the illegitimate child of a brahmin widow’. On the contrary he is quite unambiguous and insistent on Kabir’s ‘Muslim julaha’ origin. Priyadas does the same. In fact, it is only in the 19th century that Kabir is given a brahmin widow as mother! But that is another story. The point here is that Dharwadkar’s confident description of the ‘Ramanandi Sampraday’ as a ‘particularly conservative variety of saguna Vaishnava devotion’ is not answered even by the modern Ramanandis, not to talk of those in the medieval north India.

We indeed know little of Ramanand; there are no certain ‘facts’ available about his life. But the ‘fact’ remains that all medieval mentions of Kabir concur unanimously on two points: he was born a Muslim weaver, and Ramanand initiated him. Starting with Hariram Vyas, the native of Orchha who was the first to make mention of Kabir in the mid-16th century, proceeding to Anantdas writing his Parchais at the turn of 16th century, and continuing with the author of Dabistan-e-Mazahib in the mid-17th century, everyone ‘knew’ that Kabir was ‘initiated by Ramanand’. The fact of this consensus cannot be dismissed simply as ‘attempts to Hinduise Kabir’. Tradition - Hindu, Indian or any other for that matter - is something more than institutionalized conspiracy!

[8] Winand Callewaert, ‘The Hagiographies of Anantdas: the Bhakti poets of North India’, Surrey, 2000, p 1.

[9] Ibid. P 32.

[10] Ibid. P 3.

[11] David Lorenzen, ‘Kabir Legends and Ananata-Das’ Kabir Parchai’, New Delhi, p 10-18.

[12] ‘A weaver named Kabir’, p.52

[13] Ibid. P 87.

[14] Vinay Dharwadkar, ‘Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs’, New Delhi, 2003, p 19-20.

The Problem of the Agastya Samhita

Supposedly the most important and irrefutable evidence in favor of Ramanand’s early floruit is the ‘Agastya Samhita‘. As a matter of scholarly caution, however, the very fact that the relevant ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘ (as Bhandarkar described them) give very precise dates - even the time of birth and death of Ramanand and also of his twelve disciples - should have served as a red flag to scholars. We are told in these chapters that Ramanand was born in Prayag (Allahabad) on the seventh day of the Krishna Paksha of Magha month of Vikrami Samvat [VS] 1356, corresponding to 1299 CE, and passed away the third day of Vaishakh Shukla of 1467 VS, corresponding to 1410 CE. Such precision is as improbable as the remarkable life span. Moreover - another sign warranting caution - these are the dates recognized by the Ramawat Sampraday.

R. G. Bhandarkar was the first to introduce the ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘ into scholarly discussion. Writing about Ramanand in his ‘Vaisnavism, Saivism and minor religious systems’ (1913), he mentions the floruit of Ramanand as given by Macauliffe, which was in tandem with what all 19th century British Indologists got from the then available sources and their informants, and then goes on to repudiate it on the basis of the Agastya Samhita:

Mr. Macauliffe mentions Mailkot as the place of his birth and says he must have flourished in the end of the fourteenth century and the first half the fifteenth century, which, he states, corresponds with a reckoning, which gives 1398 A.D. as the date of the birth of Kabir. The authority I have consulted states that that he was born at Prayaga as the son of a kanyakubja Brahmana named Punyasadana and his wife Susila. The date of his birth is given as 4400 of the Kali age, equivalent to 1356 of Vikrama Samvat. This corresponds to 1299 or 1300 A.D. and is more consistent with traditional statement the there were three generations between him and Ramanuja. The date of Ramanuja’s death is usually given as 1137 A.D., though it makes him out as having lived for 120 years. The lapse of three generations between 1137-1300 A.D. is a more reasonable [sic] supposition than between 1137 and the end of the fourteenth century. This last date, therefore, given for Ramanand is manifestly wrong and that occurring in the book I have consulted appears to be correct in all probability.[15]

Bhandarkar gives a footnote in which he cites his authority - “chapters from the Agastya Samhita with a Hindi translation by Rama Narayana Das completed in Samvat 1960, corresponding to 1904 A.D.†Indeed, Rama Narayana Das’s Agastya Samhita also gives the exact dates of the twelve famous disciples of Ramanand. The question, however, is: are these ‘chapters’ really from ‘Agastya Samhita‘? Or both the Sanskrit ‘original’ and its Hindi translation were composed by the same person - Rama Narayana Das? And why was the authority of the Agastya Samhita invoked to authenticate these chapters?

The book cited by Bhandarkar describes itself as the Shri Ramanand Janmotsva Katha (‘the narrative celebrating the birth of Shri Ramanand’) taken from the Bhavishya Khand (canto of the future) of the Agastya Samhita, commented upon by the ‘resident of Ayodhya, Pandit Rama Narayana Das,’ and finished in Vikrama Samvat 1960″.[16] This book was published by ‘Vaishnava Rama Dasji†of Dakore from Mumbai in VS 1963, i.e. 1906 CE. Sitaramsharan “Rupkala†in his commentary on the Bhaktamal of Nabhadas (first published in 1903) also refers to the “life of Ramanand†as stated in Shri Agastya Samhita Bhavishyottar Khand, but explains that the edition consulted by him was “available from ‘Hazarilal Ganeshprasad’ of Kunjgali, Kashi.â€[17] The text, however, is undoubtedly the same, as born out by a couple of slokas cited by ‘Rupkala’.

Thus the earliest reference to the ‘Bhavishya’ or Bhavishyottar Khand’ of the Agastya Samhita is in 1903. The Agastya Samhita proper however contains nothing like a ‘Bhavishya Khand’ - or an ‘Atit Khand’ (canto of the past) either, for that matter.

The tenuousness of this source doesn’t seem to have bothered any scholar dealing with the question of the floruit of Ramanand. In fact, the only scholar who has analyzed the Agastya Samhita in some detail is Hans Bakker, but his concern was the development of the Rama cult in medieval north India, not the time and temperament of Ramanand.

I have in my possession three copies of the Agastya Samhita. One of these is a digital copy of the manuscript originally preserved in Lalchand Research Library, Lahore, now found as manuscript no. M-826 in the library of D.A.V. College, Chandigarh.[18] It consists of 56 folios, five of which are missing. The manuscript is described as, “ancient, incomplete and mutilatedâ€. The second Agastya Samhita in my possession is a photocopy of the edition published from Hitwadi Library, Calcutta in Bengali year 1315, corresponding to 1909 or 1910 CE. This has the slokas in Bengali characters along with a Bengali translation by Shri Kamal Krishna Smrititirtha, who informs the reader in the preface, “I have determined the text on the basis of four manuscripts - one from the Asiatic society, one from Sanskrit College and two from my own village.â€[19] The third is the Agastya Samhita, Purva Bhag (the first half), published in VS 2042 (corresponding to 1985 CE) from Haridwar with a Hindi translation by Pt. Mahavir Prasad Mishra, who says in the preface, “this work was found in ‘VidyaVaridhi library’ in mutilated and lamentable condition, and my paternal uncle Pt. Kanhaiya Lal Mishra had decided to work on it, but nothing took place due to his sudden demise in 1927 CE. I have also consulted the manuscript from the library of Alwar state.â€[20] He further informs the reader that the text consists of 32 chapters. Due to “financial constraintsâ€, however, he presently is able to publish only eleven of these: hence the “Purva Bhag†in the title. All these copies of the text are exactly the same. Moreover, they tally with the one used and extensively quoted by Bakker.

The Agastya Samhita is undoubtedly one of the most important texts of the Rama cult. Hans Bakker rightly places it in the context of “a tendency to ‘Ramatize’ older forms of Visnuism†and further explains:

The older Vaishnava theology apparently continued in so far as the idol of Vishnu, now said to be that of Rama, was often retained. Neither was there any need to change the essential structure of liturgy (Puja). However, the alterations in the phenomenal aspects of god involved new formulae (mantras), prayers (stotras), mediation (dhyana) etc. in order to invoke, visualize and worship the new pantheon. To provide for this need Ramaite cult texts were composed from the 11th-12th centuries, the period from which our first archeological evidence for this new development dated.

The three oldest of these texts appear to be the Ramapurvatapaniya Upanishad (RPTUp), the Ramarakshastotra of Budhakausika, and the Agastyasamhita (AgS). The AgS is by far the most extensive, and not surprisingly it is fully modeled upon the great tradition of Visnuite ritual as laid down in the Pancratra samhitas. The replacement of the vyuha doctrine by the conception of Vishnu’s identity with Rama, however explains why it has been labeled as an ‘apocryphal text’.[21]

Obviously, the Agastya Samhita is an apocryphal text in the sense that its title is supposedly part of ancient Pancharatra Agamas, but its present text has evolved only after the emergence of the Rama cult. This is the ‘most important’ text of the Rama cult, as it helps ‘Ramatize older forms of Visnuism’ on the authority of the ancient, putatively authentic ‘Narada’ Pancharatra of which it is supposed to be a part. It is also referred to as the “Agastya Sutikshna Samvadaâ€, as it is composed in the form of a dialogue between Agastya and Sutikshna.

It seeks to use the older Vaishnava concepts in order to establish the identity of Rama with Vishnu and gives elaborate instructions regarding worship and fasting related to Rama. Two chapters (the 26th and 27th) detail the importance and rituals of the Ramanavmi vrata (the fast or vow pertaining to the birth date of Rama) and one of these chapters is, according to Bakker, “quoted by Hemadri in his Caturvargacintamani (c. AD 1260). This vow was apparently unknown in the preceding century, however, since it does not appear in the Vartakanda of Lakshmidhara’s Kriyakalptaru (AD1125-1145)â€[22] Bakker’s ‘tentative surmise’ regarding the time and place of the composition of Agastya Samhita arrived at on the basis of internal and external evidence seems to be quite right: “the Agastya Samhita originated in the 12th century in Varanasi, the bulwark of Hindu orthodoxy, in Brahmin circles possibly related in some way or another to Brahmin families attached to the aforementioned sanctuaries.â€[23]

Had the scholars who took at face value the ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘ mentioned by Bhandarkar bothered to compare these with the Agastya Samhita proper, the curious fact of a text composed between 1145 and 1260 CE (most probably in the 12th century itself), giving the birth year of Ramanand as 1299 or 1300 would have surely struck them. To be fair, Pinuccia Caracchi has raised the question as to ‘when were these chapters added to Agastya Samhita?’ Before going into this, however, a brief and comparative introduction of the contents of the copies in my possession and the one used by Bakker would be in order.

The manuscript no. M-826 of Chandigarh and the printed copy from Calcutta, both contain 32 chapters. The Haridwar edition in its present form consists of 11 chapters, but the commentator Mahavir Prasad Mishra informs in a footnote at the end of the preface, “The financial assistance received by us could meet the expenses for publishing 11 chapters only, but the work actually has 32 chapters, the publication of the remaining part will depend on the generosity of the donors.â€[24]

The chapters in the manuscript and in the Haridwar edition are left untitled, a colophon at the end of each chapters reads: “here ends the chapter named ‘Param Rahsya Kathanam’ (the exposition of the highest mystery) in the Sri Agastya Samhita“. The published version from Calcutta also follows the manuscript faithfully in this regard. However, the commentator has added a ‘table of contents’ at the beginning, for the convenience of his reader, in which he indicates the theme of each chapter. In this table, the first chapter is titled: ‘Agastya narrates to Sutikshna the dialogue between Shiva and Parvati’, the following chapter deals with, ‘the exposition of the knowledge of the Brahma’, the third is titled, ‘the description of the avatar of Rama’, followed by the exposition of the stotras for the worship of Rama. The commentator, Pt. Kamal Krishna Smrititirtha has followed this pattern till the last, giving the title of the 32nd chapter as, ‘the description of the Hanuman Mantra and its impact’.

In all the copies available with me, the seventh chapter deals with the ‘Rama mantra’ followed in the eighth by a genealogy of the gurus who gave this mantra to their disciples. The list starts with Brahma the creator himself and ends with Shaunka, the seer. The 26th and the 27th chapters deal with the details of the Ramanavmi vow on the basis of which Bakker has surmised about the period of this text. It is important to note at this point that the Agastya Samhita does not at all mention any ‘historical’ person; all the personae mentioned herein are ‘mythological’ and the list includes - Shiva, Rama, Lakshamna, Hanuman, Parvati, Vashishta, and Vyasa etc.

Hans Bakker has quoted the Rama-Mahatmya (the praise of Rama) in full from the tenth chapter of his copy of the Agastya Samhita.[25] It runs into 34 Slokas and tallies exactly with all the copies in my possession. Similar is the case with many more Slokas cited by Bakker. It can be then imagined that the edition used by him was also based on the very manuscripts, which were consulted by Kamal Krishna Smrititirtha in 1909 or 1910 and by Mahavir Prasad Mishra in 1985 and which tally with the manuscript no. M-826 preserved in the D.A.V. College Chandigarh.

At this point, it is extremely important to note that Bakker, even though aware of ‘ten entries under the title, ‘Agastya Samhita‘ in NCC (National Catalogue Catalogorum)’, for his purpose concerned himself, “only with the Agastya Samhita as edited by Ramnarayanadas.â€[26] Why is this important? Let us turn to Caracchi at this point.

Pinuccia Caracchi has translated the ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘ (by Ramnarayanadas, i.e. those used by Bhandarkar) into Italian. She has also written an introduction, a section of which is titled: “Which Agastya Samhita?â€[27] At the outset she raises the question, “It is still to be seen when our text was added to the Agastya Samhita and of which Agastya Samhita it would be a part?â€

Believing in the existence of “three or four totally different texts of the Agastya Samhita“, she refers to the one used by Bakker as “Agastya Sutikshna Samvada“(which is quite right, not only for the one used by Bakker but also for those consulted by me) and then says about it:

This, in my assessment is only one of the Agastya Samhitas and has had numerous editions (Lucknow-1898, Ayodhya-n.d., Calcutta-1910, Mysore-1957), while it appears that all the others are found only in the manuscript form. What are more interesting directly to our study are the five chapters that proclaim to be part of the Bhavishya Khanda of the Agastya Sutikshna Samvada. Still, the studies of this Agastya Samhita in the manuscript form and its published versions describe it as divided in 32 or 35 chapters, while our text is to be imagined as being part of a work of vast proportions, divided into Khandas which in turn ought to be sub-divided into a considerable number of chapters. (Only the Bhavishya Khanda consists at least of 135). On the subject being discussed, it is to be noted that the life of Ramanand does not find place in the editions of Agastya Sutikshna Samvada studied by B.Bhattacharya and Bakker. Even the date of its composition proposed by Bakker testifies in favor of the exclusion of life of Ramanand from it… One then needs to think of another Agastya Samhita… Given the considerable number of the manuscripts that are taken under the title of Agastya Samhita, a research in the field to trace the manuscript containing the Ramanand Janmotsva would be welcome. This should be in possession of Ramanandi Sampraday, as most probably it was a Ramanandi, Pandit Ramnarayanadas who took care of publishing the text translated here.[28]

Caracchi mentions the 1910 Calcutta edition of the Agastya Samhita (which I have with me), but fails to note that this was based on four manuscripts as explained by the translator, and then there is remarkable consistency between this edition, the Haridwar edition (based on the Alwar manuscript), and the manuscript from Lahore (presently in Chandigarh). She opines that the Agastya Samhita containing the relevant chapters “should be in possession of Ramanandi Sampradayâ€. But is that really so? As indicated in the beginning of this essay, the issue of the floruit of Ramanand is deeply implicated in the controversy about Ramanandis’ relationship with Ramanujis. I will discuss it in some detail a little later, but a relevant piece of information will be in order here. By the third decade of the last century, the ‘radical’ Ramanandis under the leadership of Bhagwadacharya had almost convinced the majority of Ramanandis about their sect being completely independent of Ramanujis and about Ramanand having nothing to do with the spiritual lineage of Ramanuja. But the polemics persisted. It was in the course of such polemics that Balbhadra Das, a firm believer in the Ramanuja-Ramanand lineage, published an edition of the Vaishnava Matabaj Bhaskar along with Ramarchan Paddhati in 1928. He wrote a lengthy introduction under the title “Prastuta Prasanga†(‘the matter at hand’, literally; a more appropriate translation indicating the context would be ‘the present controversy’). Demolishing the arguments and blasting the evidences advanced in favor of ‘no connection with Ramanuja’ position, he had this to say regarding the ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘:

This work claims to be ‘Agastya Samhita Bhavishyottar Khanda’. But Agastya Samhita has no such Khanda, in fact it has no Khanda division at all, it is simply divided in the ‘Adhyayas’ (chapters), 33 in all, running from first to last. This is true of the published version as well as that of the manuscripts. The abovementioned Bhavishyottar Khanda starts from the 131st chapter, which proves that the author of this has not even seen the Agastya Samhita. Had he seen the Samhita, he would have certainly begun his Khanda from the 34th chapter, not from the 131st. There is still another remarkable feature of this Khanda. It has in the beginning, the Upakrama (â€invocationâ€), which makes it an independent work. Had this been a Khanda of the Agastya Samhita it would not contain the Upakrama… Obviously then, this is nothing but a forgery in the name of Agastya Samhita. [29]

This challenge remained unanswered. The ‘radical’ faction could not produce any manuscript containing the ‘Bhavishyottar’ or ‘Bhavishya’ Khanda - not even Bhagwadacharya, who was the butt of an attack in polemics by Balbhadra Das, and who was known for producing “ancient†manuscripts with remarkable promptness and competence. Bhagwadacharya made a very sharp response to Balbhadra Das, but simply dodged the issue of the authenticity of the said ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘. The radical faction’s hesitation in this regard is understandable. The Agastya Samhita was a rare and ‘apocryphal’ work all right, but was still sufficiently well known and revered in Vaishnava, particularly Ramanandi circles, that any ‘innovation’ in the text would be noticed. After all, that was and is the most important work detailing not only the ritual but also the ontology and theology of the Ramanandi Sampraday.

Balbhadra Das was quite right in catching Ramnarayanadas on the wrong foot. But he got it wrong when he said, ‘the author of this has not even seen the Agastya Samhita‘. Ironically enough, the ‘author’ actually had edited the 1898 edition of the Agastya Samhita.

In the light of foregoing, it is not difficult to answer the basic question posed by Caracchi - ‘when was our text added to the Agastya Samhita and of which Agastya Samhita it would be a part?’ To put it quite simply - only between 1898 and 1903. And it would be no part of the Agastya Samhita proper. This addition was done by none other than the editor of the 1898 edition of the Agastya Samhita - the same Pandit Ramnarayanadas.

Caracchi has taken note of the similarity of the name of the editor of 1898 edition and the ‘commentator’ on the Ramanand Janmotsva, “It would be interesting to check if, as the name suggests, this Pandit is the same one who edited the Agastya Samhita published from Lucknow in 1898 and studied by Hans Bakker in which the Adhyayas dealing with Ramanand are not included.â€[30]

Indeed he was the same. Hans Bakker says about the editor of Agastya Samhita used by him:

Ramnarayanadas was a Sanskrit scholar who apart from the Ayodhya Mahatmya edited several other Rama Bhakti texts, e.g. the Agastya Samhita (Lucknow, 1898). He claimed spiritual descent from Bhagavannarayana, a pupil of Agradas and lived in the Bara Sthan in Ayodhya under the Mahant ship of Ramamanoharprasda, the 8th Mahant since Ramprasada.[31]

The author of the chapters translated by Caracchi also gives his guru-parampara (spiritual genealogy) in four and a half Sanskrit slokas printed just beneath the table of contents. It starts with Anantanada, one of the twelve disciples of Ramanand himself, who was the guru of Krishandasa, who in turn was the guru of “Shri Bhagavannarayana.†Thus, clearly this author is also claiming “spiritual descent†from the same person. Moreover he unambiguously identifies himself as “Ayodhya Niwasi, Narayana Vanshi†(a resident of Ayodhya, belonging to the house or dynasty of Narayana) at the end of Shri Ramanandashtakam (eight verses of Ramanand), given before the Ramanand Janmotsva Katha and also at the end of each chapter of the latter. The “belonging to the dynasty of Narayana†part of his identity is extremely significant, as will become clear from the following.

Bakker continues his description:

Until the death of Mahant Ramamanoharprasda, Ramnarayanadas, though himself a Ramanandi, acknowledged the authority of Ramanuja to whom the official Parampara was traced back, and salutation of Ramanuja found at the beginning of his Ayodhya Mahatmya edition testifies to this affiliation. After the death of the Mahant of Bara Sthan, however, most Ramanandi branches broke away from the Ramanuji tradition under the influence of Bhagwaddas [or Bhagwadacharya], another chela of Manoharprasada, which resulted in the declaration of 1921. Ramnarayanadas seemed to have been a reluctant follower of this movement, nevertheless he and Ramavallabhasharana are known in Ayodhya as the authors of several forgeries written in the first decades of the present century, such as the Ramarchan Paddhati ascribed to Ramanand and the Shri Janakibhashya, a commentary on the Vedanta sutras ascribed to Ramprasada. The need for such a commentary became felt once the majority of the Ramanandis had ceased to recognize Ramanuja’s Shri Bhashya, yet the Shri Janakibhashya was never acknowledged by the Mahants of the Bara Sthan and Ramprasada’s authorship is vehemently denied. That, at least, Ramnarayanadas did not shy away from interpolating new ideas into traditional texts is proven by his edition of the Ayodhya Mahatmya.[32]

It was undoubtedly the “same Pandit Ramnarayanadas†- a ‘resident of Ayodhya and belonging to the Narayana dynasty, claiming spiritual descent from Bhagavannarayana’ - who indeed did not shy away “from interpolating new ideas (i.e. the five chapters of the Ramanand Janmotsva) into the traditional text†(i.e. the Agastya Samhita.). The ‘belonging to Narayana dynasty’ component of his identity is significant in as much as it symbolically underlines his faith in the traditional view of Ramanand belonging to the spiritual lineage of Ramanuja - a view that was contested vehemently by the radical Ramanandis under the ‘influence of Bhagwadacharya.’ Ramanuja propagated the Narayana (another name of Vishnu) mantra and worshipped the four-armed Narayana while the radical Ramanandis insisted on the Rama mantra and worshipped the two-armed, bow-carrying Rama.

Ramnarayanadas appended the “Ramanand Bhavotsaha Ashtakam†(eight slokas celebrating the birth of Ramanand) to his own five chapters. Actually the slokas here are ten, the second of which gives the date of the birth of Ramanand as ‘Thursday, the 7th of the Krishna Paksha of the Magha Masa of the year 1356 of Vikrami Samvat.’ The tenth sloka informs us “this set of eight was composed by Pandit Shri Ramacharan on Magha Vadi the 8th, 1937 of the Vikrami Samvat.â€[33] 1937 VS would correspond to 1880 or 1881 of the Common Era. To the best of my knowledge this is the earliest mention of 1356 VS (i.e., 1299 CE) as the year of Ramanand’s birth. It seems Ramnarayanadas was only following this lead in his own ‘five chapters found in the Agastya Samhita‘.

The central issue of all the debates and polemics within the Ramanandi Sampraday was the guru-parampara. Even if somebody quite ‘innocently’ believed in the veracity of the parampara placing Ramanand ‘fifth in descent from Ramanuja’, it would be logical for him to ‘celebrate’ 1299 or 1300 CE as the year of Ramanand’s birth and then produce the remaining details - the day of the week and date of the fortnight - quite confidently. But as we know, there are paramparas and paramparas, and not all of them place Ramanand in the fifth generation from Ramanuja. Sure enough, all of the Paramparas respected traditionally relate these two figures in some way, and that is why our Pandit Ramanarayandas not only referred to himself as ‘belonging to the dynasty of Narayana’ but also mentioned the years of the birth and death of Ramanuja along with those of Ramanand at the end of the octave composed by “Pandit Shri Ramacharan.†This allowed the ‘traditionalists’ to argue that both these Acharyas had some connection after all. The ‘radical’ Ramanandis, however, could not countenance even a remote connection between the two and their leader Bhagwadacharya, who had made it the mission of his life to change the guru-parampara forever quite often referred sarcastically to Ramanarayandas self-description of ‘belonging to the dynasty of Narayana.’

We will have occasion to discuss the achievements of Bhagwadacharya and their critical import not only for his Sampraday but also for the religious and literary history of north India. One of his early works was Shri Parampara Paritrana (‘Salvaging the Tradition’), written in the form of a spirited response to a set of “insinuations and offensive questions†supposedly sent to Bhagwadacharya by an adversary. The work is a no holds barred attack on anybody not agreeing with Bhagwadacharya’s position. It was composed during the height of the polemics between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘radical’ Ramanandis - probably in 1922 or 1923 CE - since in the work’s Mangalacharan (actually its preface, not its invocation, for it is written in quite a modern, academic style) the author refers to another of his works, the Bhakta Kalpadrum, and gives 1979 VS (1922 or 1923 CE) as the year of its composition.

Like many a missionary in possession of the only possible version of Truth, Bhagwadacharya had neither patience nor respect for those who dared to disagree even mildly. (This, despite the fact, that he actively participated in the Gandhian National Movement, in fact lived in the Gandhi Ashram in Kocharab, Ahmedabad for quite some time and composed an epic in Sanskrit celebrating the life and achievements of Gandhiji!) His motto was simple: You are either with us or against us. He wanted nothing less than full loyalty to the cause. Pandit Ramanarayandas, the author of the Ramanand Janmotsva Katha (the ‘chapters from the Agastya Samhita‘ to which we have often referred), was a Ramanandi, propagated the early floruit of Ramanand which effectively put the connection between Ramanand and Ramanuja in serious doubt, (as for him and others in the sampraday, the guru-parampara consisted of several generations), and yet he somehow believed in this connection - hence his self-description as the one ‘belonging to the dynasty of Narayana’. He, therefore, saw nothing wrong in putting the ‘record’ of the birth and death of both the Acharyas in one place.

Bhagwadacharya, angry at this cardinal deviation, came down hard on Ramnarayanadas:

Well, after all, he belonged to the dynasty of Narayana, so what if he made an irrelevant connection here? And don’t you forget, in 1921 he was not able to answer even one of the several questions put to him in a pamphlet published by the general secretary of Shri Ramanandiya Vaishnava Mahamandala. Don’t expect to get any relief for your misplaced idea of Ramanand being in the lineage of Ramanuja from such irrelevancies.[34]

He was even more sarcastic in his response to another work by Pandit Ramnarayanadas, wherein the Pandit dared to refer to the ‘traditional’ view of his and Bhagwadacharya’s Guru, the Mahant of Bara Sthan in Ayodhya:

Listen, O, questioner. Pandit Ramanarayandasji, belonging to the house of Narayana, pens this. What is beyond him? I am actually grateful to him for not describing my Guru plainly as Ramanuji, but as Ramanandi. Another act of grace: He has not made out our Guru to be a worshipper of the four-armed one (Vishnu) and allowed him remain to be a devotee of bow-carrying, two-armed Rama! Thank God for small mercies![35]

After the death of the Mahant of Bara Sthan and in light of Bhagwadacharya’s increasing influence, Ramanarayandas was left with no choice than to become ‘a reluctant follower,’ as indicated by Bakker.

It seems the ‘radical’ Ramanandis impressed the ordinary Ramanandis and lay people by invoking the Agastya Samhita, and yet were aware of difficulties involved in equating Ramanarayandas’s ‘chapters’ with the Agastya Samhita proper, particularly when having an argument with the rival scholars. The reason is simple. Unlike other texts ‘produced’ by Bhagwadacharya with the claim that these were based on rare manuscripts that survived in his possession alone, the Agastya Samhita was rather well known in Ramanandi and other Vaishnava circles. Its manuscripts were preserved in places from Bengal to Lahore in north India and could be easily consulted for confirmation or disproof. So they confined themselves to vague references and as we saw above, dodging the issue of the authenticity and antiquity of Ramanarayandas’s ‘chapters from the Agastya Samhita‘.

Their aim was to construct a ‘Sanskrit’ Ramanand capable of bestowing orthodox approval on their practical liberalism in the matter of caste rules of purity and pollution. The early or later floruit of Ramanand was only of secondary significance so far as Bhagwadacharya and his supporters were concerned. Bhagwadacharya composed his “Shri Ramanand Digvijay†(‘The universal victory of Ramanand’) in 1927 CE on the assumption of 1356 VS (1299 CE) being the year of Ramanand’s birth, but in the 1967 edition of the same work he quite simply put a footnote to the relevant sloka: “This Samvat has been proved wrong. Maybe we will need to make it a hundred years earlier.â€[36]

But the need did not arise as, not only the Sampraday, but the academics also had by this time come around to the early floruit and - more important from Bhagwadacharya’s point of view - to the image of Ramanand as a ‘Sanskrit’ Acharya, a “Shastrasiddha (â€well-versed in orthodoxyâ€) albeit liberal Acharya, as Hazari Prasad Dwivedi was to describe him in his well-known work on Kabir. [37]

Within the Puranic tradition but outside Ramanandi circles, Ramanand continued to be assigned to the 15th century, all the way up to the 19th century. This is clear from the sources used by early British scholars and even from a text like Bhavishya Purana, slokas from which are cited by Ramanarayandas. The Bhavishya Purana is plainly an apocryphal text, evolving as late as the 19th century. Its present version contains quite explicit references to not only the establishment of the British rule in India, but also the events of 1857. True to its title, it describes all these events in the future tense, thus showing the same ‘lack of sense of history’, which Callewaert laments in the context of Anantdas, but like that 16th century text, the Bhavishya Purana, however apocryphal, nonetheless possesses a generally accurate sense of chronology. It mentions Akbar as son of Humayun and not vice versa, it glorifies Shivaji as a defender of the Hindu faith in the face of onslaughts of Aurangjeb only and not those of Timur. And with such a sense of chronological order, it gives Ramanand’s place of birth as Prayaga, Allahabad, does not mention the names of his parents, only describes his father as a temple priest, reports many miracles performed by Ramanand and gives details regarding his twelve disciples. Most importantly for our purposes, however, it mentions Ramanand only after it has described the invasion of India by Timur, which took place in 1399.[38]

As indicated already, to Bhagwadacharya the floruit was less important than the overall image of Ramanand - the Sanskrit Ramanand replacing the Hindi one - and he had already succeeded in bringing about this metamorphosis. He apparently felt he didn’t have to bother too much about dates. Evidently not: The author of the canonical history of Hindi literature, Ramchandra Shukla, already doubted the attribution of “Vaishnava Bhakta Ramanand’s†authority and name to the Hindi compositions that bore his signature in the medieval anthologies. This meant, effectively, that by the end of third decade of the twentieth century Ramanand had become an orthodox yet liberal Sanskrit Acharya rather than an iconoclastic Hindi poet for many readers of Hindi.

Similar trends were taking hold in English. G.A. Grierson, the well-known linguist and literary historian, relying upon the Bhaktamal in the version it had been given by Rupkala, informed the readers of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics in 1918:

While we may be fairly certain that Ramanand was born in A.D. 1299, the date of his death is involved in some obscurity. The popular tradition is that he died in 1467 Samvat (=1410 A.D.). This would give him a life of 111 years, which is improbable. We can, however, accept the tradition, borne out as it is, by the direct statement of the Bhaktamala that he had an exceptionally long life, and this would authorize us to state that he lived during the greater part of the 14th century A.D.[39]

In coming to this judgment Grierson chooses to ignore the crucial fact that the ‘all native authorities’ (he uses this phrase in the footnote to the very first paragraph of his piece with reference to ‘the year 4400 of Kaliyuga, corresponding to A.D. 1299′) used by him were no more conclusive about the birth-date of Ramanand than they were about his demise - or rather, they were equally conclusive about both. It does not help to say that ‘the date of his death is involved in some controversy’ if one were to go by the authority of Ramanarayandas’s chapters in the Agastya Samhita and Rupkala’s Bhaktamal, as Grierson was actually doing, his sweeping reference to ‘all native authorities’ notwithstanding. Both these authorities give both the birth and death date and no reason is advanced by Grierson for assuming the former to be reliable and the later “obscureâ€. It is another matter, however, that even Rupkala is rather ambivalent on the crucial question of the lineage of Ramanand, thus compromising his own belief in the 1299 CE as the birth year of Ramanand. He gives two genealogies for Ramanand, one with Ramanuja and the other without him.[40] Challenges on this point to the ‘consensus view’ about Ramanand persist to the present day, as does the problem of balancing the Hindi Ramanand (speaking out loud and clear from all medieval sources) with the Sanskrit Ramanand constructed by the twentieth century Ramanandis. Grierson, like Bhandarkar five years before him, tried to perform a balancing act in this regard by noting the fact:

The doctrines of his [Ramanand's] predecessors, the Ramanujis, were in north India, taught only in Sanskrit. Their scriptures were learned books, written for learned men, in a learned language. But for Ramanand, with disciples like Kabir, Pipa, Sena, Dhana and Raidasa who were not Sanskrit scholars, this was intolerable. His teaching was therefore everywhere in the vernacular, and his followers wrote their hymns and other similar compositions in one or other of the various dialects of Hindi [41]

What Grierson and others believing in the early floruit of Ramanand did not realize was this: If Ramanand indeed belonged to the 14th century instead of the 15th, then he simply could not have been the Guru of Kabir or anyone else among the Nirguna Bhaktas (also called Sants). More importantly, the ‘early’ Ramanand was also Sanskrit Ramanand - sometimes with a Bhashya to his credit, sometimes not. The academic consensus represented by Grierson and Bhandarkar veered away from Hindi sources and toward the Sanskrit Ramanand, putting its total faith in a 19th century interpolation to a 13th century text. It chose to ignore completely the Hindi evidence from the medieval period, which painted quite a different picture of the world-view and floruit of Ramanand.

By the second half of the last century, having realized his mission of replacing the Hindi Ramanand with the Sanskrit one of his own making, Bhagwadacharya could sit back and relax. There was no need to reopen the issue of Ramanand’s floruit and ‘take it back a hundred years’. His primary purpose - getting rid of the Ramanuja connection once and for all - had been achieved within the Sampraday and he hardly needed to bother about academic scholars outside the Sampraday, some of whom continued to uphold this connection. For all he cared, Rama was in his heaven and all was now well with the Sampraday.

Having accepted the ‘consensus’ Bhagwadacharya had forged, academic scholars found themselves in quite a different quandary. They now had to discard the traditional consensus that assigned both Ramanand and Kabir to the 15th century of the Common Era. In other words, they now had to adjust the dates of Kabir to make them agree with the supposed Agastya Samhita dates of Ramanand. And if this adjustment did not somehow work, they had to doubt the Ramanand-Kabir connection. The supposed chapters from the Agastya Samhita thus became the benchmark for determining the historicity of the traditional consensus about Ramanand-Kabir connection. Taking these chapters as the evidence, the scholars either insisted on somehow proving that Kabir actually belonged to an earlier date or found the Ramanand-Kabir connection rather improbable. Pitambar Dutt Barthwal in the late thirties unambiguously insisted on an early date for Kabir, precisely on the basis of the ‘undoubted’ fact that he was a ‘disciple of Ramanand’. Parashuram Chaturvedi in the early fifties tried to present a detailed analysis of the evidence advanced in favor of the Ramanand-Kabir connection. Analyzing the references (to guru) found in the works of Kabir and his contemporaries, he found it rather difficult to uphold the Ramanand-Kabir connection, but while independently determining the dates of Kabir, he tentatively accepted 1448 CE as the death-date for Kabir and maintained that, if this date is correct, then Kabir of course could have been a disciple of Ramanand. Hardly any new evidence or argument has been added to the debate about Ramanand’s time and temperament since Barthwal and Chaturvedi wrote, and since most of the scholars today assign Kabir to the 15th century, Chaturvedi’s skepticism about Ramanand being the guru of Kabir has been widely upheld.

In his ‘Nirguna school of Hindi Poetry,’ first published in 1936, Barthwal, even while noting that the Bhavishyottar Khanda is a later addendum to the Agastya Samhita, took it’s dates of Ramanand as traditional and rejected the 15th century floruit of Ramanand on the basis of this ‘later addendum’:

According to Bhavishyottar Khanda, a later addendum to the “Agastya Samhita†which represents the traditions current among the Ramanandis, Ramananda was born at Allahabad in 1299 A.D. and died in 1410. His birthplace according to Macauliffe is Mailkot in Mysore (Sikh, VI, p 328). Farquhar, too, brings him from the south (ORL p 324) and assigns him to the first three quarters of the fifteenth century (ibid p 323). There is nothing, however to disprove the traditional date and it fits well into the chronology as accepted in the present work. [42]

In fact, ‘the chronology as accepted’ in the work of Barthwal was crucially dependent upon his acceptance of the dates of Ramananda contained in the ‘later addendum’ - Bhavishyottar Khanda. He adjusted the dates of Kabir accordingly:

According to prevalent belief, Kabir was born in 1398 A.D. which is too late a date for a disciple of Ramananda that he undoubtedly was. He must have at least been 18 years of age to have an intense spiritual craving, which made him seek Ramananda and made the latter accept him. Even if we keep a margin of two years for association with Ramananda before his death in 1410 A.D., Kabir’s birth must be placed before 1390. Namadeva, who died in 1350 A.D. was surrounded by myth in the time of Kabir. So, we may safely hold Kabir to have been born between 1350 and 1390 A.D. and accept 1370 as his probable date of birth.[43]

Barthwal, having accepted 1356 VS as birth year of Ramanand, continued to believe confidently and enthusiastically that Ramanand initiated Kabir, Raidas, Pipa and others, explaining the obvious time-gap with the help of Nabhadas’s reference to the exceptionally long life enjoyed by Ramanand. He also underlined the ‘reference to Ramanand’ in one of Kabir’s own compositions (pada no.77 of the Bijak) besides referring to medieval sources like Hariram Vyas of Orchha and ‘Dabistan- e-Mazahib’ as evidence in support of the initiator-initiated relationship between Ramanand and Kabir.

In the introductory essay for ‘Ramanand ki Hindi Rachnayen’ (The Hindi compositions by Ramanand), which he compiled from manuscripts found in the Nagari Pracharini Sabha (NPS) as well as from other sources, Barthwal went to great lengths in discussing the metaphysical and ontological questions that arose in reconciling “differences in the philosophical position as reflected in the (Vaishnava Matabaj) Bhaskar and the Hindi compositions of Ramanand.â€[44] Yet the main yardstick he used in the course of explaining the ‘differences’ between Hindi Ramanand and Sanskrit Ramanand apparently had to be the Sanskrit compositions.

For the purpose of determining the floruit of Ramanand, Parashuram Chaturvedi also accepted ‘evidence’ provided in the ‘chapters from the Agastya Samhita‘, but unlike Barthwal, he did not make it the sole criterion for deciding the issue of the Ramanand-Kabir connection. Taking into account the other factors, he found it improbable that Ramanand could have initiated Kabir and other Sants. He also highlighted, in this context, the absence of any mention of Ramanand on the part of Kabir and others and expressed serious doubt about them even being contemporaries. But interestingly enough, Chaturvedi, while discussing the possible floruit of Kabir in detail, tentatively accepts 1448 CE as a death-date for Kabir and then, naturally finds his connection with Ramanand quite probable:

If this [1448 as the death date of Kabir] is accepted, then Kabir being a contemporary of, in fact, being influenced by Ramanand will also become acceptable… yes in such a situation his birth date will have to be taken to an earlier period than 1455 V.S. [i.e. 1398 CE] and maybe in that case, this year [1398] will have to be taken as the year of his enlightenment.[45]

Believing the authenticity of the pada attributed to Ramanand in the Adi-Granth, Chaturvedi quite enthusiastically wanted Ramanand to be included among the “early upholders and propagators of the Sant Mat without any doubt.â€[46]

It is important to note that, despite seriously doubting the Ramanand-Kabir connection and criticizing Barthwal for reading too much into pada 77 of the Bijak, Chaturvedi did not take Sanskrit Ramanand as a referent and yardstick to explain Hindi Ramana

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Chaturvedi realized that Ramanand “occupied an important and neglected space between two competing Hinduisms†(to put it in the words of William Pinch). On the other hand, to use the words of Pinch yet again, “indologists reared on the basic structural oppositions of caste hierarchy†quite confidently view him as representing, “a particularly conservative variety of saguna Vaishnava devotion†(the words used by Dharwadkar to describe the attempts of Ramanandis to ‘absorb’ Kabir) as if Ramanand’s padas in the Adi-Grantha and the Sarvangis had ceased to exist. In any case, in medieval India, the usage of the term ‘Vaishnava’ was not confined to its etymological meaning (i.e. the followers of Vishnu ‘expectedly with a conservative bent of mind’), but was a category that included ‘liberal’ and even ‘interrogative’ trends of thought. In the course of our present argument we will have occasion to read the author of the ‘Dabistan-e-Mazahib’ explaining the sense attached to this word in his times. The detailed treatment of the confusion caused by collating the modern and medieval senses of the term ‘Vaishnava’, however, is outside the scope of this paper.

Working on the social base and the ideology of the Kabirpanth, David Lorenzen took note of the crucial fact of the existence of ‘two competing Hinduisms’ and the complexities of their inter-relationships. Looking at ‘the Sant Tradition to which Kabir belonged’ as ‘the principal expression of non-caste Hinduism’, he rightly emphasized:

It should be noted that neither the caste Hinduism, nor the non-caste Hinduism is sufficiently homogeneous to be regarded as a single undifferentiated cultural entity. At the same time, however, the varied manifestations of each do have many common characteristics, a certain family resemblance. This is true both at the level of the local, non-standardized little traditions and at the level of more widespread and codified great traditions.[47]

Hindi Ramanand is an extremely interesting figure to understand the dynamics of the ‘varied manifestations’ of both caste and non-caste Hinduisms. And so are the attempts to replace him with the Sanskrit Ramanand in the modern times. It is in context of the ‘common characteristics, a certain family resemblance’ that both these contradictory images of the same historical person reveal their cultural and historical significance. Hindi Ramanand is clearly critical of ‘caste Hinduism’ to such an extent that he can be seen as an ‘early upholder and propagator’ of the Sant worldview, even the Sanskrit Ramanand was constructed as being quite liberal within the ideological framework of caste-Hinduism. In both cases, he continues to be a Brahmin by birth and yet transcends the world-view traditionally associated with this Brahmin identity.

The problems faced by scholars ‘reared on the basic structural oppositions of the caste hierarchy’ have only been accentuated by the identity politics that are currently fashionable and the academic discourse that takes these as their base. The assumption that ‘Ramanand, being a Brahmin, could only uphold the caste hierarchy’ - or that, if at all he opposed it, he must have been someone else, ‘of whom we know nothing’ - is taken as a basic point of departure in some academic circles today. The simple empirical fact of every individual carrying multiple identities and having the ability to make moral choices is often ignored in this discourse.

Such assumptions, coupled with the ‘evidence’ of the ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘ have made it an act of faith simply to rule out the possibility of ‘Brahmin’ Ramanand having anything to do with ‘weaver’ Kabir. After all, how could the twain ever meet if they belonged to two structurally opposed worlds? And they were not even contemporaries in any case. Even a scholar like John S. Hawley, otherwise so particular, even fastidious, with his facts and sources before coming to a conclusion, tends to make sweeping remarks in this particular context, which are important as they not only reflect his personal opinion, but also the prevalent consensus and dominant view in a most cogent way:

Ramanand solves too many problems on too little evidence. He supplies the missing link that would relate Kabir’s non-theist ‘eastern’ Banarasi side to the theist bhakti personality so prevalent in manuscripts that show up farther west. He locates Kabir in a specific monastic lineage - the Ramanandis’ - while also providing the means for him to have come from a Muslim family, as his name suggests, and then later be aligned by conversion with a kind of bhakti that at least some Brahmins could call their own. It’s all too neat, and too unechoed in the poems [of Kabir] themselves. I have to side with lower-caste critics who think the connection between Ramanand and Kabir was just a pious invention, a way to deny Kabir his roots.[48]

In the first place, if one were to go strictly and exclusively by the manuscripts and their antiquity, ‘the oldest dated manuscript’ (Fatehpur, 1585 CE) containing the poems of Kabir gives no indication of him being a ‘weaver from Banaras’ - a fact noted by Hawley himself. So, was Kabir a ‘weaver from Banaras’ or not? Secondly, the ‘connection’ will not remain ‘unechoed in the poems’ of Kabir, if one listened to Hindi Ramanand speaking in the medieval sources. Moreover, the Ramanand-Kabir connection was first doubted by Bhandarkar and then questioned by Parashuram Chaturvedi and, as chance would have it, both of them were ‘high caste Brahmins’ not ‘lower caste critics.’ So far as the ‘roots’ are concerned, the bulk of Ramanandis belonged in medieval times, and continue to belong in modern times as well, to the so-called lower castes and middle-level castes. Most of these castes are referred to as ‘backward castes’ in the legal and political discourse prevalent in India today. These castes are of course distinct from the castes referred to as ‘Dalits’ in the contemporary political and cultural discourse. And, incidentally, the caste to which Kabir belonged - Julaha amongst Muslims and Koris amongst Hindus - are considered part of the ‘other backward castes’ (OBCs) and not of Dalits. Hence one can see, here also, in the work of ‘lower caste critics’ with whom Hawley wishes to side, an attempt to appropriate Kabir and ‘deny him his roots.’ If one were to accept the ‘authenticity of representation’ argument implicit in Hawley’s choice of sides, one would have to wait for a Kabir critic belonging to the OBCs to receive an authentic Kabir with authentic roots. In any case, the very idea of the roots of a certain kind is a ‘given’ rooted more in contemporary politics of identity, and can hardly be considered sufficient to dismiss the fact of the universal medieval consensus so far as this connection is concerned. Moreover, this connection is upheld in medieval India, not only by Brahmans but others as well. After all, Nabhadas is supposed to have been a ‘Dom’ - the lowest of the low, in caste order. And finally, as we have seen in the foregoing discussion, in fact it is the ‘irrefutable evidence’ of ‘the chapters from Agastya Samhita‘, which is ‘just a pious invention’, that (even if, inadvertently), has worked against the historicity of the Ramanand-Kabir connection. We could of course find, in the future, more solid reasons than these spurious ‘chapters’ to doubt medieval consensus on the issue but, in the meanwhile, let us accept the location of Kabir in the specific ‘monastic lineage’ of Ramanandis as this lineage itself is of the ‘lower castes’ and the OBCs. It was on behalf of this social composition of his Sampraday that Bhagwadacharya took up cudgels with the Brahmanical Ramanujis.

Unlike many scholars in the field, David Lorenzen goes from ‘known to unknown’ in order to determine the floruit of Ramanand, and hence is perplexed about the wide acceptance of the ‘evidence of Agastya Samhita‘:

The only significant evidence for an early date of Ramanand is the A.D. 1299 birth date of Ramanand said to be given in Agastya Samhita, since this date is incompatible with most other evidence, it is curious that several important modern scholars have accepted it.[49]

Lorenzen argues that there are several independent historical tests that show clearly that Ramanand must belong to the fifteenth century. These include the synchronisms of Kabir with Sikandar Lodi and Virsimha Baghel (and hence Kabir’s floruit of about 1480-1520); the 1588 date of Anantdas’s Namdev Parachai; and the floruit of about 1580-1624 commonly given to Nabhadas. In the traditional genealogy accepted by the Ramanandis and others, Kabir is an immediate disciple of Ramanand, Nabhadas is in the fourth generation of Ramanand’s disciples, and Anantdas is in the fifth generation of his disciples. All this fits together nicely and clearly indicates, according to Lorenzen, that Ramanand must belong to the fifteenth century.

Also, instead of dismissing the entire tradition as of no consequence on the basis of spurious ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita‘, and comparing the genealogies given by Nabhadas and Anantdas, Lorenzen notes:

What is the main evidence that supports the existence of this guru-disciple relation? Quite simply, it is the unanimous claim of tradition that Kabir was a disciple of Ramanand. The exact correspondence of the names in the genealogies of Ramanand’s pupils found independently in the works of Ananata-das and Nabha-das is one strong argument in favor of historicity of Ramanand-Kabir connection. Both these works were written within about a hundred years of Kabir’s probable death.[50]

Among the contemporary leaders of the Panth, the erudite Acharya of the Parakh branch, Abhilashdas, even while underlining the uniqueness of Kabir’s worldview and spiritual pursuit and its difference from that of Ramanand, thus making the very idea of any guru for Kabir redundant, still concedes that ‘a seeker after all needs a guru, so it is natural that Kabir went to Ramanand.’ Most importantly, Abhilashdas mentions ‘Sant Nirvan Sahib’ of Surat (Gujarat), a contemporary of Kabir, as welcoming Kabir to his Ashram and singing in a pada that ‘Kabir has taken Ramanand as his guru and lives in Banaras.’[51] This reference to ‘Sant Nirvan Sahib’ obviously deserves to be probed further.

Acharya Vivekdas of the Chaura branch, Banaras, known for his progressive views and organizational activities and also for his polemical acumen, is also quite insistent on the initiator-initiated relationship between Ramanand and Kabir. In fact, in his ‘Amarpur Desh Apna’ (‘I belong to the land of immortals’), an imaginary dialogue between Kabir and his disciple Virsimha Baghel, Vivekdas makes Kabir himself say this of Ramanand by way of explaining the ‘difference between the Guru and disciple’:

He never wanted his disciples to be bound with his own tradition. He gave them freedom to choose and take their own ways. That is why the disciples of Swamiji (i.e. Ramanand) branched out in various traditions. This is actually what he wanted. He desired everyone to protect Indian religion and culture in his own way. The times demanded this as well. He was a Saguna Margi only in appearance. Everyone thought that he worshipped Rama and Sita, but it was all only appearance. Deep down, his way was that of the internal reflection.[52]

Obviously the Panth believes more in ‘medieval’ Ramanand than in his modern construct and has a nuanced understanding of the similarity and dissimilarity of his Hindi and Sanskrit versions. This belief and understanding gives the Kabir of its perception an independence of thought and personality as well as a continuity with the “early upholders and propagators of the Sant Mat†and a location within the “non-caste Hinduismâ€.

It will not be presumptuous, one hopes, to claim, in the light of the foregoing analysis that it is positively misleading to rely on the so-called ‘chapters from Agastya Samhita’ and push the floruit of Ramanand back into the 14th century CE. There is no basis whatsoever to dismiss the 15th century floruit assigned to Ramanand by a consensus in the pre-modern sources. Similarly misleading is the tendency to privilege the Sanskrit Ramanand - a modern construct in fact - over the Hindi Ramanand reflected in the medieval sources. The circumspection shown by the Kabirpanthis is highly instructive in this regard. While being aware of Sanskrit Ramanand and even taking for granted his image as a ‘Saguna Acharya’, they take care not to use this image as the benchmark. In fact, they tend to get around the dilemma by making Ramanand ask his disciples to choose and take their own ways, as is seen in Vivekdas’s treatment of the issue.

[15] ‘Vaisnavism Saivism and minor religious systems’, New Delhi, 2001, p 66-67.

[16] “Shrimadagastyasamhitantargat Ramanand Janmotsva Katha Pandit Ramanarayndasji krit Bhashatikalankrita tatkirtabhahshtikayuta Shri Ramanand janmotsvashtakanch, tatkritam ShriRamannadashtakanch†(the story celebrating the birth of Ramanand as found in the Agastya Samhita with a Hindi gloss by Pandit Ramanarayndasji also containing his Hindi gloss of the octave celebrating the birth of Ramanand and his own Ramanand octave along with a Hindi gloss), Mumbai, 1963 (Vikrama Samvat).

I am deeply indebted to Prof. Pinuccia Caracchi for kindly making the photocopy of this rare book available to me.

[17] ‘Shri Bhaktamal’, Lucknow, 2001, p 292.

[18] I am grateful to my research students, Tyler Williams and Dalpat Rajpurohit, for making this electronic copy with the kind permission of the librarian, D.A.V. College, Chandigarh.

[19] I got this copy form the Goyanka Sanskrit Pathshala, Varanasi, with kind permission of the Pt. Indushekhar Tiwari, deputy librarian. The National Library, Calcutta also possesses a copy (call no.180.Jd.90.13) of this edition.

[20] I acknowledge assistance from my close friend Samir Baran Nandi in finding this particular edition of the Agastya Samhita.

[21] Hans Bakker, ‘Ayodhya’, Groningen, 1986, part one, p.67.

[22] Bakker, ibid. P 68.

[23] Ibid. P 70.

[24] Op.cit. p iv.

[25] Bakker, op.cit., p 83-84.

[26] Ibid. P 68, fn. 1.

[27] Pinuccia Caracchi, ‘Vita Di Ramanand’, Torino, 1989. Pp 10-13. I am indeed deeply indebted to Dr.Noorin of the Center of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Latin American Studies, JNU, for diligently and promptly translating this part of the introduction.

[28] Ibid.P 11-12.

[29] ‘Shri Vaishnava Matabaj Bhaskar Ramarchan Paddhati Sahit’, Jaipur, Vikrmi Samvat 1985 (1928CA), p 243. I acknowledge the help from Koslendradas, a young activist of Ramanandi Sampraday and a student at the LBS Central Sanskrit Institute, Delhi in obtaining this and other rare works pertaining with the controversy between the ‘traditional’ and ‘radical’ Ramanandis.

[30] Caracchi, op.cit. P 12.

[31] Bakker,(part two) op. cit. p. xv.

[32] Ibid.,p.xv.

[33] Ramnarayanadas, op.cit, p.49.

[34] ‘Swami Bhagwadacharya’ (Volume III), Ahemadabad, 1961,p.104. “Swami Bhagwadacharya†is the general title Bhagwadacharya gave to his own ‘collected works’ running into several volumes. The first of these-his autobiography-appeared in January 1958.

[35] Ibid.,p.113.

[36] Bhagwadacharya,’ Shri Ramanand Digvijay’, Ahemadabad, 1967,p47.

[37] Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, ‘Kabir’ in ‘Hazari Prasad Dwivedi Granthawali’ (Collected Works), Vol.3, New Delhi, 1981,p.70. The work, ‘Kabir’ was first published in 1942.

[38] ‘Bhavishya Maha Puranam’ (Vol.II), Allahabad, 1997,p.606. Here in the sixth chapter the invasion by Timur is described. The very next chapter of this Sarga gives the description of the birth of Ramanand and Nimbarka.

[39] ‘Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics’(Vol.X), ed. James Hastings, Edinburgh,1918, p.571.

[40] See his ‘Bhaktamal’, p. 283 and 296.

[41] Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics’(Vol.X),p.571.

[42] ‘Traditions of Indian Mysticism based upon Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry’, New Delhi, 1978,p. 249.

[43] Ibid. p. 252.

[44] Pitambar Dutt Barthwal, ‘Ramanand ki Hindi Rachnayen’, Varanasi, Vikrmi Samvat 2012(1955 CE), introduction, p.23

[45] Parashuram Chaturvedi, ‘Uttari Bharat ki Sant Parampara’ (the Sant Tradition in Northern India’), Allahabad, VS 2008(1951 CE),p. 869.

[46] Ibid. p.228.

[47] “Traditions of Non-Caste Hinduism’ in David Lorenzen, ‘Who Invented Hinduism: Essays on Religion in History’, New Delhi, 2006,p.79-80. This essay was first published in 1987.

[48] John Stratton Hawley, ‘Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas and Kabir in their times and ours’, New Delhi, 2005,p.272.

[49] David Lorenzen, ‘Kabir Legends and Ananta-Das’s Parchai’, Delhi, 1992,p.12-13.

[50] Ibid. P.11.

[51] Abhilashdas, ‘Kabir Darshan’, Allahabad, 1997,p89.

[52] Sant Vivekdas Acharya, ‘Amarpur Desh Apna’, New Delhi, 2006,p.22.

Hindi Ramanand and Sanskrit Ramanand

This is perhaps the right place to step back from controversies surrounding the Sanskrit Ramanand and describe the Ramanand we meet in Hindi texts - those that could well have been composed in the 15th century. Relatively firm dates can be assigned to five padas attributed to Ramanand in the Sarvangis of Rajjab and Gopaldas and the Adi-Granth. I will treat these in a moment. Before doing so, however, let me mention two works whose date of composition is more difficult to assess. These are the Gyan Lila, a work consisting of thirteen couplets, and the Gyan Tilak, a dialogue between Ramanand and Kabir.

Apart from the Gyan Lila and Gyan Tilak, we have six padas attributed to Ramanand in Hindi. Only one of these padas - glorifying Lord Hanuman - can be put under the category of ‘Saguna’ Bhakti. Notably, it is not found in any of the manuscripts used by Barthwal to prepare his Ramanand ki Hindi Rachnayen. In other words, it is found neither in any of the two Sarvangis nor in the Adi-Granth. Grierson sent it to Shyam Sundar Das who published the same in his article - “Ramawat Sampraday.â€[53] In all probability Grierson was given it by one of his friends amongst the Ramanandis, perhaps Rupkala. It was this pada of dubious provenance that was used by Ramchandra Shukla and others to imagine the existence of two Ramanands, since the ‘Vaishnava Bhakta’ author of, if we may call it so, ‘Grierson’s pada‘ could not have composed the padas rejecting idol-worship and celebrating the ‘Nirguna’ worldview. The ‘Gyan Lila’ was found in the library of Jodhpur Durbar and ‘Gyan Tiilak’ in the collection of Nagari Pracharini Sabha itself.

If we exclude ‘Grierson’s pada‘, we are left with five padas in all. One of these (kahan jayeie ghar hi lago rang: ‘Where to go? I have found his hue in my very own homeâ€) is found in a Sarvangi manuscript of 1660 VS (1603 CE) preserved in the collection of the NPS, in the Adi-Granth, and also “in another manuscript of 1771 VS (1714 CE),†according to Barthwal.[54] The same is also found in the Sarvangi of Rajjab, quite appropriately given the very first place amongst the padas collected in the chapter dealing with Tirath Tiraskar, ‘the rejection of pilgrim places.’[55] This pada also appears in Gopaldas’s Sarvangi, composed in 1627 CE.[56] It was the author of this very pada that Vaudeville wanted ‘to be considered a true follower of the Sant mat.’ The second of Barthwal’s padas (sahaj suni main chit vasant, “The mind enjoys the eternal spring of Sahaj and Shunyaâ€) is also recorded by Gopaldas, with only minor variations in the text.[57] The pada, taten na kichchu re samsara (â€What I have to do with this world?â€) presents a similar case.[58] The remaining two padas recorded by Gopaldas, sahjen sahjen sab gun jaila (â€By and by you get rid of all attributesâ€) and Hari bin janam britha khoyo re (â€You’ve wasted your life without Godâ€) are also found with slight alterations in the Sarvangi of Rajjab.[59]

What kind of persona emerges form these padas? To put it quite simply, they are so similar to the poems attributed to Kabir that one could easily replace the chhap or bhanita (i.e., signature) ‘Ramanand’ with the signature ‘Kabir’. Here are complete prose translations of the five padas that appear in these early Dadupanthi collections:

Those who ignore the name of Rama and refuse the company of noble souls waste the preciousness of human life. The chanting of His name is the only anchor of the life. It enlightens darkened lives and souls; I am here to tell you this by the order of the Lord Himself. Don’t waste your life in the false pride that comes with of wealth and status.

So far as I am concerned, what I have to do with this world? My only anchor is the name of Rama. I know the illusionary nature of worldly pleasures. To go after them is to meet the fate of the ant that gets stuck in molasses. In fact, it is like believing a dream to be true reality. The ego destroys the knowledge of true self. I tell you, meditate on this, for my Guru has taught me the secrets of life and death.

It is only through ‘Sahaj’ that all attributes of the Self eventually disappear. It is only by the sweet nectar of chanting the true name that you achieve liberation. Ramanand enjoys the eternal company of Rama and partakes in the nectar of His grace.

Where to go? I have found His true hues in my very own home. I am not inclined to go on any pilgrimage. Pilgrimage places have only water and stones, while Hari permeates every place in the world. O my Guru, Ramanand is indebted eternally to you, for your Word has freed me of the bondage of Samsara.

My mind enjoys the eternal spring of Sahaj and Shunya, and is not inclined to wander any more. I have reached a ‘place’ where there is no desire, no OM, no Brahma, no Vishnu and none of his twenty-four avatars. There is no Maya in the place where Ramanand’s Swami dwells undisturbed.

Academic scholars are aware of this Hindi Ramanand, of course, but in their world he is expected to prove his credentials on the benchmark provided by Sanskrit Ramanand. They are too enamored of the Sanskrit Ramanand constructed by Bhagwadacharya and his followers to admit the historical and theoretical primacy of the Hindi Ramanand. In this regard Bhagwadacharya’s perseverance has borne much fruit.

Bhagwadacharya’s strategy was clear. He did not always want to denounce the Hindi compositions of Ramanand but only to subordinate them to the Sanskrit ones - many of which were his own creations. He found - in fact, created - occasions to underline the primacy of Sanskrit Ramanand. The purpose always was to disprove the link with Ramanuja. In his Shri Parampara Paritrana, mentioned already in the course of present argument, he found such an occasion. His interrogator is supposed to have presented the Siddhant Patal, a Hindi composition attributed to Ramanand and a text highly regarded by the Tapsi branch of Ramanandi sadhus, as a proof of Ramanand’s appreciation of and gratitude to Ramanuja, and Bhagwadacharya goes into the fits of anger:

I am shocked! What kind of scoundrels I have to put up with! The Ananda Bhashya composed by Shri Ramanand Swami is in press, and the rogues are already going to town saying it is not his work: “Bhagwaddas is making it himself.†On the other hand the same people claim Ramanandji’s authorship of trash like Siddhant Patal - what is the matter with you guys? Why in the world do you despise our Sampraday and our Ramanandji? You doubt the authenticity of all his great works and force the authorship of all kinds of trash on him. Do you intend to project him as illiterate [in Sanskrit], capable only of composing some poems in broken Hindi? But listen my dear; we are here to set you rascals right. As long as I am alive, nobody will succeed in proving Ramanand Swami illiterate [in Sanskrit]. You think cleverly that if someone were to reject this Patal, his head will be broken by the ascetic [tapsi] sadhus, and if that someone were accept it, the stinking view held by the idiots will be accepted by everyone. Don’t you act smart. I will explain the matter to ascetic sadhus - who can kill and get killed for the Dharma. It will take time to convince them, but convinced they will be.â€[60]

Bhagwadacharya’s anger is indicative of his anxiety. Ramanand had to be credited with several Sanskrit works in order to prove his ‘literacy’ (of Sanskrit). For the same reason, he had to be distanced from Hindi works, particularly if any of these (e.g. ‘Siddhant Patal‘) indicated any relationship with Ramanuja. One has to have an idea of his times and the culture of his Sampraday in order to grasp the import of his anxiety. He knew better than any body else that no Sanskrit work could be traced back to the historical Ramanand, yet it was imperative for Ramanand to have penned a Bhashya in order to be recognized as Acharya in Sanskrit academic tradition. Only an Acharya recognized as such, yet still upholding the Ramanandis’ practices could help the ‘radical’ Ramanandis in their ‘war of independence’ from the Ramanujis. Hence the need for the Ananda Bhashya to which Bhagwadacharya (or Bhagwaddas, in this phase) is referring here. The reference itself speaks of the presence of doubts regarding its authenticity. In fact, as we will see, Bhagwadacharya himself later exposed the said Bhashya for what it was - a forgery.

The task of Bhagwadacharya was great indeed. In order to construct a Sanskrit Ramanand, independent of Ramanuja, he had to ‘find’ rare manuscripts of Sanskrit works “by†Ramanand and fight for their acceptance. He also had to reject similar manuscripts ‘found’ by others if they did not agree with his own positions on the most crucial issue of all - the issue of guru-parampara. For him the test of the authenticity of any manuscript - Hindi or Sanskrit - was whether it helped to sever the ties between Ramanuja and the Ramanujis or failed to do so.

Let us see, at this point, how the Sanskrit Ramanand compares with the Hindi one on all-important issue of caste.

The oral tradition attributes a one-liner to Ramanand: Hari ko bhaje so Hari ka hoi, jat paant poochhe nahin koi (â€One who relates to God belongs to Him. The question of caste does not ariseâ€). Important as it is in popular memory, this verse is not to be found in any early collections of Ramanand’s Hindi works. Richard Burghart goes on to claim “The saying is in Hindi and hence would not be found in the two Sanskrit texts, Vaishnavamatabjabhaskar (Bhaskar for short) and Ramarchanpaddhati, which have also been attributed to Ramanand.â€[61] Normally, it is true, one should not expect to find a Hindi saying in a Sanskrit work, but in this case we must look a second time. Consider the following slokas from the Bhaskar, which I quote from the edition published by Balbhadra Das in 1985 VS (1928 CE):

God in his grace does not care for the caste, purity or the power of anyone seeking refuge in Him.†(Sloka 100, pp.180-181.)

How would this sloka translate in Hindi? Tolerably close to the famous verse from the oral tradition. And it does not stand alone. Other slokas could also be cited where the text discusses relationships between caste Vaishnavas and others:

The sages and the scriptures enjoin those born in the higher castes to serve Vaishnavas, even those belonging to the lower castes (Sloka 107, pp. 184-185.)

Those belonging to the twice-born castes must seek liberation in Hari, who does not care for either rituals or caste. (Sloka 125, pp. 197-198.)

Those who carry the five Vaishnava marks on their body, whether twice-born, Shudras, or women - are epitomes of piousness. In fact, they are manifestations of Vishnu himself. They are the essence of the holiness of holy places. They purify the place in which they dwell. All sins go away merely by looking at these noble souls. (Slokas 149-150, p. 213.)

Burghart did well in not even mentioning the Ananda Bhashya amongst the works ‘attributed to Ramanand’; its authenticity was contested right from day one and in due course of time even its most enthusiastic upholders discarded it. Similarly the authenticity of the Ramarchanpaddhati was always a matter of bitter polemics between the ‘traditionalist’ and the ‘radical’ Ramanandis - as it contained a guru-parampara, the real bone of contention between these two factions. Bhagwadacharya and his supporters tried to produce their own version of the Paddhati, but ultimately quite bluntly rejected the ‘present Ramarchanpaddhati’ as nothing but ‘forgery.’ The case with the Bhaskar, however, was different. Contesting factions produced their own versions of the ‘Bhaskar’ as well, but nobody ever questioned the authenticity of the work in its entirety. The ‘radical’ Ramanandis only eliminated any reference to Ramanuja from the manuscripts “found†by them. Apart from such contested Slokas the ‘Bhaskar’ was accepted as authentically representing the philosophical and liturgical views of Ramanand.

Let us recall that Balbhadra Das, the editor of the version used here was engaged in bitter polemics against Bhagwadacharya. Ramanand being in the lineage of Ramanuja was an article of faith for him. Naturally enough, he upheld the sanctity of the caste order and its ideology. But he allowed Ramanand his say in this matter in his edition of the Bhaskar, which he claims to have prepared on the basis of a manuscript ‘certified’ to be “364 years old†by the Mahant Ramkrishnanand of Jaipur. Whether the manuscript was really that old is of course open to question. Nobody seems to have examined this claim of antiquity, which, if true, will take the manuscript back to 1564 CE, making it actually belong to the times just a century after Ramanand.

It seems, however, highly improbable that Ramanand himself composed the Bhaskar, as it is a report of a ‘dialogue’ between Ramanand and his disciple Sursuranand, wherein the teacher explains the basic principles of his variety of Vaishanavism, which does not care for ‘the caste, purity or power of anyone seeking refuge in God.’ At the same time, the ‘Bhaskar‘ quite explicitly upholds the authority of Vaishnava scriptures and gives detailed instruction about worshiping Saguna Rama and other deities, also discoursing on the importance of various holy days of the Vaishnava calendar. Incidentally, in his Sanskrit elaboration of the slokas, Balbhadra Das quotes quite liberally from Puranas and other sources revered in the Vaishnava tradition, including the Agastya Samhita proper.

So, what do we conclude from the above?

Peter Van der Veer in his study of ‘religious experience and identity in Ayodhya’ makes a very interesting observation in the general context of “indological interpretation of Sanskrit textsâ€:

The reference to the textual tradition is extremely problematic. In the first place, the texts are generally taken from the Vedic and classical periods of Hindu civilization, i.e. texts dating from about 1000 B.C. to A.D.1200. Let us compare this with the study of modern Christianity. It is perfectly clear that the Bible and the interpretations of men like Augustine are of great importance in modern Christianity, but no one would even attempt to derive models from these texts to interpret the actual behavior of Calvinists in a Dutch village. Such a method is based upon the assumption that before the arrival of the Europeans, the traditional society was a kind of ‘frozen’ social reality, in which no change of any importance occurred.[62]

He also sounds a note of caution to scholars, “In India, one finds a mixture of oral and textual tradition, which might even be more variable than the oral history of African societies. ‘Ancient’ texts can be made by the day in India, as I have actually observed in Ayodhya, while traditions can be transformed in accordance with changing social configurationsâ€.[63]

It is extremely important to approach the Bhaskar - or any text, for that matter - as an entity taking life not in a ‘frozen’ social reality, but in the dynamics of human subjects coming to terms with life through their everyday practice, ‘transforming traditions,†as Peter van der Veer has said, ‘in accordance with changing social configurations’. If we keep this in mind, the Bhaskar becomes more suggestive precisely due to its uncertain provenance. It may sound like a prescriptive text, but it deserves to be read as an attempt of rationalizing an existent everyday practice of the Sampraday. The “Vaishnava Bhakta†speaking out in the ‘Bhaskar‘ could indeed ‘not have composed’ the pada attributed to Ramanand in the Adi-Granth, as Ramchandra Shukla remarked, but Ramanand could also not have composed the kind of unabashed defense of the caste order found, for example, in Shukla’s favorite Tulsidas. Had he done so, he could not have been an Acharya of a community that was and is known for its internal diversity and criticized, even stigmatized for its hetropraxies in matters of caste and rituals.

The significance of the Bhaskar lies in its being the single consensually accepted statement of the views of Ramanandi Sampraday as a whole, including the traditionalists as well as the radicals. Whether it really came down from the 16th century or was attributed to Ramanand much later, it presents us with the peculiarity of Ramanandi Sampraday, which wants to see its “founder†as an Acharya well-versed in Sanskrit, practicing and teaching the Saguna mode of worship, yet rejecting the caste hierarchy not only in matters of Bhakti but also, by extension, in everyday practice. It calls the Shudra and women Vaishnavas ‘epitomes’ of piousness, deserving the reverence normally paid to the ‘twice-born.’ It is extremely suggestive that to clinch this point, (whosoever he was and whenever he composed this text) the author of the Bhaskar took care to insert into his text a Sanskrit rendering of the Hindi saying that for ‘one who relates to God, one who belongs to him, the question of caste does not arise.’

The Sanskrit Ramanand of the Bhaskar represents continuity with the Hindi Ramanand insofar as the issue of caste is concerned, even though he diverges in conceptualizing the Supreme Being and representing modes of worship. The Sanskrit Ramanand affirms ‘non-caste Hinduism’. He had to. After all, those who were constructing Sanskrit Ramanand in modern times were seeking the seal of orthodox approval on their heteropraxy, which was an inevitable result of the ‘diversity’ of their sect. As Burghart puts it:

One feature of the Ramanandi sect which appears unique in comparison with other ascetic sects is its diversity. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both devotional and Tantrik disciplines were attributed to Ramanand; both twice-born Hindus as well as members of the servant and untouchable castes, women and perhaps even Muslims were recruited into the sect.[64]

[53] P.D. Barthwal, ‘Ramanand ki Hindi Rachnayen’, Varanasi, 1955, Introduction, p.1.

[54] Ibid.p.1

[55] ‘The Saravngi of Rajjab’, edited by Dharampal Singhal with a Hindi introduction, Jalandhar, 1990, p.400.

[56] ‘The Saravngi of Gopaldas’, edited by Winand M. Callewaert, New Delhi,1993,p.166.

[57] Ibid, p.322.

[58] Ibid, p.424.

[59] Rajjab, op.cit. , P.269.

[60] Bhagwadacharya, ‘Shri Parampara Paritrana’ in ‘Swami Bhagwadacharya’-Vol. III, Ahemadabad, 1961, p.94-95.

[61] Burghart in Lorenzen (ed.), op.cit. Endnote 1, p 247.

[62] Peter Van der Veer, ‘Gods on Earth: Religious Experience and Identity in Ayodhya’, New Delhi, 1997, p. 56.

[63] Ibid. p.57.

[64] Burghart, op.cit.p231.

The Dabistan and Galta

The radical voice of Hindi Ramanand is also powerfully echoed in the way the mid-seventeenth century author of the ‘Dabistan-e-Mazahib’ describes the peculiarities of the ‘Vairagi’ sect. The Ramanandis are known by this term till today. ‘Dabistan’ was describing the sect two centuries after Ramanand and some decades before the Galta conference of the Vaishnavas. The times were troublesome and confusing for the Ramanandis, who were passing through a crisis of identity and association. On one hand, they were actually living out the radical views of Ramanand, and on the other they were under pressure to internalize a conservative identity not only from the more dominant Ramanujis, but also from the rulers and chieftains. The legend, indicating Ramanand’s hesitation about taking Kabir, a Muslim weaver, as disciple had come down to author of the ‘Dabistan’ and his contemporaries. But, at the same time, his observations about the ‘Vairagis’ of his own times tell quite a different story. He records the legend about Kabir tricking Ramanand into taking him as disciple, but his own contemporary Vairagis included Muslims without any trick:

The Vairagis are not devoted to a particular worship; they say, the name of Vichnu suffices for the acquisition of Mukt, “the union with Godâ€. This sect was formed in Kali yug and call themselves also Vaichnavas; they renounce the world and say: “our way is opposite to that of the Vedas and the Koran; that is we have nothing to do either with Muselmans or Hindus.†A great number of Muselmans adopted their creed such as Mirza Salah and Mirza Haidar; two noble Muselmans who became Vairagis. Of this sect, was Naraindas who sided with Ramanandis, which is one of the Sampradays that is the first of the four classes before mentioned. The author of this book saw him in the year 1052 of the Hegira [1642 A.D.] in Lahore…

This sect [obviously our author is referring here to Ramanandis with whom his Naraindas sided] do no harm to any living being which is common to all Vairagis, as well as to neglect devotion; but they do not admit the avatars and say God is exempt from transmigration and union… [65]

The author of the ‘Dabistan’ also notes the practical catholicity of the term ‘Vaishnava’ in his times: “In Hindostan it is known that whoever abstains from eating meat and hurting living animals is esteemed a Vaishnava without regard to the doctrine beforesaid.â€[66]

According to Vaudeville, “the account of Kabir’s life given in the Dabistan is rather confused and it reflects some late Hindu traditions and interpretations of Kabir’s sayings; at the same time, a rather absurd story is introduced to show Kabir’s extreme devotion towards fakirs.†She says further in the footnote, “the Dabistan does not distinguish between the Vaishnavas, the Bairagis and the Ramanandis.â€[67]

Actually, as Vaudeville herself notes, the Dabistan also reflects at least some of the ‘late’ Muslim traditions (even if ‘absurd’), showing Kabir’s ‘extreme devotion towards Fakirs’; it should not, therefore, stand guilty of ‘Hinduising’ Kabir. ‘Confused’ the author of the Dabistan certainly seems to be, but Vaudeville misses the crucial point - it is this ‘confusion’ which is most pregnant with historical significance. The boundary lines were actually not clearly demarcated; otherwise our Bhagwadacharya would not have to work so hard to delineate a clear-cut identity of Ramanandis in the early decades of the twentieth century. The ‘confused’ account given by the author of the ‘Dabistan’, if read in its entirety, makes clear that all Vaishnavas in his times were not called ‘Vairagis’, but all ‘Vairagis’ were seen as Vaishnavas. One fails to see here any ‘confusion’; after all, exactly the same situation prevails today. Ramanujis are of course Vaishnavas, but they are not called Vairagis.

In Dabistan’s time, Ramanandis like Naraindas mentioned by the author must have been under tremendous pressure from all quarters to align themselves unambiguously with this or that clearly defined tradition and communitarian identity. The community of Ramanandis was apparently trying to adjust to such pressures by insisting on some parts of their world-view and feeling free to negotiate with respect to the others. They were still freely admitting Muslims like the two Mirzas mentioned by the author into their fold, but in the universe of legends that the Dabistan reports, the Vairagis’ source of inspiration, Ramanand, was not willing to take a Muslim weaver as disciple. It is this ‘confusion’, which points to the complex history of the adjustments and conflicts Ramanandis were subjected to in those times.

All this came to a denouement in Galta, near Jaipur, in 1734 CE when the Ramanandis were forced to change their ‘deviant’ ways in return for the recognition as the authentic followers of the ‘ancient’ Shri Sampraday. This meant they could no longer occupy a position somewhere between the Vedas and the Koran and independent of both. They now had to pay the requisite symbolic and theoretical respect to the authority of the Vedas. They also had to ‘admit avatars’ and ‘be devoted to a particular mode of worship’ to align organizationally within the fold of the four recognized sampradays of Vaishnavas.

The Galta conference served as a culmination for the series of meetings and conclaves of the Vaishnavas that had been organized in the context of the ongoing fierce battles between them and the Dashnami Sanyasis. These were battles for the control over trade in various items, especially along pilgrimage routes. Both these monastic orders indulged in trade and a conflict of interests was inevitable. This conflict also took the form of conflict over the control of symbolic capital. Ritual congregations like the Kumbh were marked by great violence between the Vaishnavas and the Dashnamis, the latter having an upper hand due to their superior military organization and greater cohesion. The Vaishnavas felt terrorized and humiliated, as the author of the Dabistan suggests in the following report:

In the year 1050 of the Hegira [1640 A.D.], a battle was fought at Hardwar, which is a holy place of the Hindus, between the Mundis (i.e. Vaishnavas) and the Sanyasis in which the latter were victorious and killed a great number of the Mundis; these men threw away their rosaries of Tulasi wood which they wear about their necks, and hung on their perforated ears the rings of the Jogis, in order to be taken for these sectaries.[68]

Among the Vaishnava orders, only the Ramanandis were capable of taking on the Dashnamis, but due to their deviant ways, other Vaishnavas looked down on them. Cohesion was the need of the hour and the series of conclaves was meant to iron out the differences. The “less heralded agenda†(as Pinch puts it) for the Ramanandis, “was the elevation of Ramanand to a level equal to that of Ramanuja…â€[69]

The rulers felt quite anxious about the armed conflicts among various sects of Sadhus. The Raja of Jaipur took an active interest in laying down the ‘rules of game’ and tried to enforce them in his region. Due to their social composition and the tradition of armed Sadhus, Ramanandis were expected to play the role of being ‘armed protectors’ of ‘the four Sampradays of the Vaishnavas. The interesting thing, however, was that they were not recognized as an independent Sampraday of the Vaishnavas. Both Nabhadas (who composed his Bhaktamal between 1585 and 1620 CE) and Raghavdas in his Bhaktamal (composed in 1660) mention Ramanand in the lineage of Ramanuja - who, according to them, was founder of one of the four Sampradays of the Vaishnavas. The south Indian Shri Vaishnavas were neither involved in the conflict with the Dashnamis nor much interested in the affairs of north Indian Vaishnavas in general. The Galta conference provided an opportunity for the Ramanandis to get recognition as the ‘authentic’ inheritors of Shri Vaishnava sect of Ramanuja in north India. It was a strategic arrangement serving everybody’s interests. Only the Ramanandis had the necessary wherewithal (reflected in the fact that out of fifty-two ‘gateways’ [70] recognized at Galta, thirty-six belonged to Ramanandis) to take on the Dashnamis, but they lacked ‘respectability’ due to their ‘deviant’ ways not only in matters of caste but also even with regard to ‘modes of devotion,’ as hinted at by the author of ‘Dabistan’. Quite naturally, these two ‘deviations’ - caste and worship practices - were interdependent. The Dashnami challenge forced all Vaishnavas to ‘sacrifice’ some of their specific features. Ramanandis had to ‘accept’ the Varnashrama discipline in exchange for being able to ‘claim a link with the far away Shri Vaishnava community’ (as Van der Veer puts it) or to ‘displace the Shri sect’ (as Burghart puts it) in the universe of the north Indian Vaishnavas. They had to give up any claims that ‘untouchables’ and women could be recognized as spiritual initiators - and with retrospective effect. Persons other than ‘twice-born’ males, even among the original twelve disciples of Ramanand (who included Kabir, Raidas and Padmavati - two of them lower caste and one a woman) were now seen as illegitimate transmitters of tradition. Ramanandis continued to admit disciples from among the ranks of ‘untouchables’, Shudras and women, as Pinch has said, but “henceforth they would have to link themselves to the Ramanandi past via one of original, twice-born disciples of Ramanand.â€[71] In spite of all this the fact remained that in actual everyday practice the Ramanandis followed these rules of ‘Varnashrama’ only half-heartedly and according to their own convenience. On the other hand their inferior status vis-à-vis the ‘real’ Shri Vaishnavas continued to be emphasized symbolically; they were expected to adopt the names ending with word ‘Dasa’ - slave - while the Ramanujis had the sole privilege to append ‘Acharya’ - teacher - to their names. In the early twentieth century, Bhagwaddas caused quite a scandal when, in a deliberate symbolic gesture of defiance, he started calling himself Bhagwadacharya.

Another issue at Galta was the king’s irritation with the armed bands of Sadhus. The then king of Jaipur had his own agenda of ‘regulating’ the activities of the sadhus of various persuasions. Many scholars - Ghurye (‘Indian Sadhus’, 1953), Burghart, (‘The founding of Ramanandi Sect’, 1978), Horstmann (cited in Pinch, 1996) - have analyzed the significance of the Galta conference for the north Indian Vaishnavas. Giving a good summary of these analyses, Pinch has underlined the far-reaching historical import of Galta conference:

Records housed in the Kapad Dwara (warehouse of valuables) of the Jaipur state provide independent corroboration of Vaishnava arms and of attempts to limit the entry of the low-born into the Ramanandi Sampraday in the Jaipur region after 1700. In the 1720s and until his death in 1743, Maharaja Jai Singh II evinced a strong interest in religious affairs, particularly religious affairs having to do with the Vaishnava institutions in his realm. And, not unlike Warren Hastings a half century later, Jai Singh II apparently looked askance at the phenomenon of armed monasticism and sought to discourage it. To this end, he solicited and received four separate bond agreements containing pledges from prominent Vaishnava Mahants, nine of whom identify themselves clearly as “Ramanandiâ€, to give up the practice of keeping arms and to boycott or otherwise punish those who continued to do so. From separate correspondence it is evident that the Maharaja also solicited opinions from Bengali Vaishnavas regarding the rights of Shudras and other low classes, and obtained pledges from Ramanandi Mahants and other Vaishnavas not only to maintain strict caste rules in commensal relations but to no longer accept shudra and antyaj (low-born) disciples. The fact that Jai Singh II’s efforts to impose orthodox behaviour on Vaishnava monks involved the demilitarization of the armed akharas in tandem with the barring of low-born novitiates suggests that arms and low status were connected not just in the Maharaja’s vision of a new-orthodox Vaishnavism, but in the social-historical reality of Ramanandi monasticism.â€[72]

The Galta conference took place in 1734, but in the early 19th century Francis Buchanan was recording the contempt that Bengali Vaishnavas still felt for Ramanandis: “the convents of Brahmans, who have adopted this [the Ramanandi] order, as usual are confounded with those occupied by Shudras, nor have I been able to distinguish the number of each… my Bengalese assistants confounding them [bihari Vaishnavas] with the Vaishnavas of their own country hold them in utmost contempt.â€[73] It was natural. After all, Buchanan himself found that in Patna district ‘while some Vaishnava gurus are Brahmans… most are Shudras’.[74] The wily Ramanandis did not take even a century to ignore the restrictions on Shudras acting as gurus. Some years after Buchanan, H.H. Wilson also noted the fact that most of the Ramanandis came ‘from the poorer and inferior classes.’

[65] ‘Dabistan-Mazahib’,(Persian), first published in English translation by David Shea and Anthony Troyer in 1843, reprint, Lahore, 1973, p.266. I have retained in this citation, the archaic grammatical structure and spellings of Indian names.

[66] Ibid, p.262.

[67] Vaudeville, op.cit, p.50.

[68] ‘Dabistan-E-Mazahib’, op. cit. p.267.

[69] Pinch, op.cit. p.53.

[70] ‘Dwara’ - gateway- is the word used among Vaishnava sects to denote a branch, each being named after its founder, a noted sadhu of the sect.

[71] Pinch, op.cit.p.27.

[72] Ibid, p.28.

[73] Cited in Pinch, p.37.

[74] Ibid.p.38.

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Balbhadra Das vs. Bhagwadacharya in the early 20th century

Studying the religious life in Ayodhya in the late 20th century, Van der Veer notes:

“Some Brahmin jatis (caste groups) drastically sever all relations with a caste-fellow who decides to become a Ramanandi sadhu… There is evidence of large Ramanandi castes in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Saurashtra that were formed by Ramanandi sadhus who returned to the stage of householders but were rejected by the castes to which they belonged.â€[75]

Ramanandis rationalized their negligence with respect to Varnashrama by referring to Vaishnavas as the ‘fifth’ Varna, poignantly evoking the memories of the connotation of this category - ‘Pancham‘ (fifth) Varna. The term was used in the classical literature of the ‘Dhrmashastras’ as a referent of those ‘outside the fold’ of the social order; in practice it meant the lowest of the low. Ramanandis elevated the term in their usage, at the same time underlining their indifference to the hierarchy of ascribed purity and pollution of social groups. The ‘authentic’ Shri Vaishnavas - or Ramanujis - on the other hand, felt distinctly uncomfortable with their association with Ramanandis, as sealed at the Galta conference. After all, as van der Veer says, they were and “are a Vishnuite community, dominated by Brahmans. The priests in the temple cult as well their religious preceptors are Brahmans who resemble strongly the socially strict caste of Smarta Brahmans in south India.â€[76] Post Galta, they had to bear the burden of the deviant Ramanandis, and evolved their strategy to deal with it. They maintained a distance not only from the Ramanandis, but also from Ramanand himself. He was supposed to have been denied commensality with fellow Shri Vaishnavas after his return from the north, due to his indifference towards the caste rules. Thus the “sin,†according to the Ramanujis, was not confined to his followers but belonged to the leader as well. Like father like son: Ramanand himself was a wayward disciple, not well versed in the intricacies of the Vedanta, ignorant of the ‘lofty’ life style and Varnashrama discipline expected of a ‘true’ Shri Vaishnava - and so are his spiritual offspring. Naturally enough, the Ramanuji guru-paramparas make no mention of Ramanand. The Ramanujis were ‘forced’ to bear the burden of association with wayward Ramanandis, but they could at least obliterate Ramanand himself from their cultural memory. This erasure of Ramanand from the Ramanuji tradition was to prove a powerful tool in the hands of radical Ramanandis and an equally painful obstacle for the traditionalists. Balbhadra Das tries to explain it at the outset of his work:

Kureshacharya was a disciple of Ramanujaji so was his son Govindacharya. The father was instructed by Shri Ramanuja to propagate devotion to Rama, while the son continued to preach the Narayana Bhakti. Hence, the tradition of the Ramanandis started from Kureshji and that of ‘Aacharis’ (Ramanujis) from Govindachryaji. That is why none of the eight seats of the ‘Aacharis’ mention Kureshji in their Paramparas. That is how these two branches grew up after Shri Ramanujacharya.[77]

Such genealogical ‘explanations’ notwithstanding, in everyday life the Ramanujis continued to treat Ramanandis with contempt, as a burden on their ‘pure’ legacy. The attempts to ‘imagine’ Ramanand as an Acharya in his own right and to place him in the 13th century - as reflected in the texts composed in 1880 and 1903, which we have discussed - must be seen in the light of this contempt and resistance. The authors of these texts were not yet insistent on severing the connection with the Ramanujis and Ramanuja altogether, as we have seen, but the undercurrent of discontent surfaced as an open confrontation in Ayodhya in the second decade of the twentieth century. Balbhadra Das tried to understand the reasons:

Why such a hue and cry [to disown the Ramanuji lineage]? There seem to be several reasons. To begin with, there are some differences in the ways and practices of the contemporary ‘Aachari’ Ramanuji Vaishnavas and our Sampraday. Secondly, many of these ‘Aacharis’ deliberately insult us Ramanandis, they insist on giving the Narayana Mantra to all the Vaishnavas and treat contemptuously those without Narayana Mantra. Moreover we [that is, Ramanandis] give more attention to devotion than to scholarly pursuits, and hence they started hating us.[78]

“They hate us†- even Balbhadra Das had to admit this much in 1928. No wonder most of the Ramanandis chose to side with the ‘radicals’ rather than with the traditionalists like Balbhadra Das. Ironically enough, it was the attempt to pay more ‘attention to scholarly pursuits’ that ignited the confrontation in Ayodhya. Balbhadra Das recounts painfully:

In order to take care of the missing ‘Sampradayik’ (sectarian) knowledge, the Mahant of Bara Sthan established the Vedanta Pathshala. A certain Mimansaka Vaishnava was called from the south to impart lessons in Vedanta. His arrival in Ayodhya proved inauspicious for both sects of the Vaishnavas - he sowed the seeds of separation… It is said that he used to insult the Ramanandi Vaishnavas quite often. The hearts of these people were naturally broken, and ground for separation was prepared.[79]

Balbhadra Das tries to adopt a conciliatory tone towards the Shri Vaishnavas, saving any attack for Bhagwadacharya, who was, he felt, exploiting the situation for his own ends:

It was possible for Ramanandis to continue to respect the earlier Acharyas and to compete with contemporary Aacharis just as siblings do. But unfortunately, there was a poisonous seed already in the field. It poisoned other saplings as well. Who was this seed of poison? None other than Shri Bhagwaddasji who had just migrated from the Arya Samaj to the community of Vaishnavas. He had become a disciple of the late Ramamanoharprasda of Bara Sthan. Sensing his opportunity, he injected the Arya Samaji poison into the life of Vaishnava community.â€[80]

In his consternation, Balbhadra Das is quite aptly summing up the situation, even if unwittingly. At issue was not the behavior of this particular person alone, but the disdain suffered by the Ramanandis. According to Balbhadra Das, in contrast with this Mimansaka teacher, the Ramanuji Anantachari, the head of Totadri Math was very generous in his attitude towards Ramanandis, but Bhagwadacharya had something else to say regarding Anantachari’s visit to Ayodhya - this, of course, on the basis of what he ‘heard’ from others:

“His [Anantachari's] behavior in Kanak Bhawan was not appropriate. He never prostrated before the deity. He used to sit on his silver seat even in front of the deity, never used to take the ‘Charnamrit’ (the water which is taken as ‘Prasad’ after washing the feet of deity). His conduct actually encouraged several Ramanandis to discard their Kanthis… The Vedanta teacher at the Vedanta Pathshala in any case refused to impart instruction to non-Brahman sadhus. All this erupted as a volcano in a couple of years.â€[81]

Taken together, the above citations from these two combatants give a fair idea of the situation. While the traditionalist group wanted a ‘fraternal’ competition of scholarship and was willing to accept the protocols for purity set by the Ramanujis, the radical group was crystallizing the sentiments of the bulk of the Ramanandis who had had enough of insults and contempt both in symbolic ways and in regard to the practical everyday life of the community. In any case, the Ramanandis, given their social composition, were more likely to lean towards the ‘Arya Samaji poison’ injected by the radicals than towards the project of proving themselves more Brahmanical than the Ramanuji Brahmans. ‘Generous’ or otherwise, the Ramanujis certainly avoided general commensality with the Ramanandis, and the latter were getting angrier by the day.

Mahant Ramshobhadas of ‘Maniram ki Chhaoni’ (Maniram’s cantonment) was extremely upset with the arrogant and contemptuous behavior of this particular Shri Vaishnava teacher, but he needed some energetic and competent warriors to fight the battle of honor against the Ramanujis. He found such warriors in the duo of Bhagwaddas and Raghubardas, who belonged to the Bara Sthan. Both of them had the virtue of being brilliant scholars of Sanskrit, capable of composing theological texts as well as polemical material. This capacity was exploited to the hilt for the ‘cause’. Ramshobhadas passed away in 1957 and Bhagwadacharya, in his autobiography, fondly cites obituaries to him by the leading Mahants of Ayodhya. These obituaries quite clearly underline the crucial role he played in severing the Ramanuji connection:

Chhaoni is actually the source from which the ‘Ramanandiness’ sprang. It was the late Mahantji who in his 51 years long term made Pandit Bhagwadacharya the leader of the Sampraday… the present image of Ramanandji is actually Mahantji’s creation… He was the sole boatman of the movement [for independence from the Ramanujis], and was the guiding force behind the leaders like Raghuvaracharya [a.k.a. Raghubardas] and Bhagwadacharya.[82]

These two ‘leaders’ started off as comrades in arms and great friends, but in course of time the relations soured and they ended up accusing each other of various acts of indiscretion, including the forgery of the manuscripts. Fascinating as it is, this story of friends turned foes is clearly outside the scope of this essay. Raghuvaracharya passed away in 1951, while Bhagwadacharya was blessed with a very long life, hence had more time to influence the turn of events. He was actually called ‘the second Ramanand’ by a grateful Sampraday and is still revered by Ramanandis today. Raghuvaracharya also remains a respected figure for today’s Ramanandis, but the position of Bhagwadacharya is unparalleled. These two started off as leaders in the ‘war of independence’ from the Ramanujis but gradually moved in opposite directions. While Bhagwadacharya was known, praised or condemned for being an opponent of the Varna order, an Arya Samajist and a ‘congressman’ (a member of the Indian National Congress), Raghuvaracharya was more at ease with the conservative elements of the society. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Varna order and was in favor of retaining it within the Sampraday. Naturally, he was able to get lots of donations from Rajas and landlords.

As for Bhagwadacharya’s association with the Congress Party, it is interesting to note that he decided to reproduce the facsimile of a post-card written by Gandhiji to him at the very beginning of his autobiography. The card, dated 24th September, 1934 and written in Gujarati, was in response to Bhagwadacharya’s query as to ‘whether being a sadhu he should continue to work against untouchability or not.’ Gandhiji characteristically leaves the decision to Bhagwadacharya’s own conscience. As we know, Bhagwadacharya’s conscience was indeed decisive and his active involvement in the temple entry movement invited the wrath of Balbhadra Das and others like him. The most famous conservative Sanyasi, Swami Karpatri, actually called him a ‘Nastika’ - one who has no respect for the Vedas. He got involved with Congress activities quite early and continued to maintain the links till his last. He was a leading light of the Bharat Sadhu Samaj, an umbrella organization of sadhus of diverse persuasions that is known to be very close to the Congress Party even today. Bhagwadacharya’s life and activities deserve fuller treatment, but here we have to confine ourselves to his role in the creation of Sanskrit Ramanand.

In his autobiography, Bhagwadacharya informs us that he was born in 1880 CE in Punjab into a family of Brahman immigrants from Uttar Pradesh. He also gives hints of his opponents’ maligning him as ‘some low caste person from Bihar’, as he was forced to spend his childhood in Bihar and to hide his Brahman identity. His opponents, of course, constantly taunted him for his ‘obscure and uncertain’ origins. But nowadays, nobody in the Sampraday doubts his reconstruction of his early life. He reached Ayodhya in 1918 and was almost immediately ‘spotted’ by those Ramanandis who wanted to take on the haughty Ramanujis, but Bhagwadacharya was a ‘novice’ of the Bara Sthan, whose Mahant clearly sided with the traditionalists. Hence Bhagwaddas had to keep away from the ‘controversies’ out of respect for the ‘command’ of his Guru. He sought an outlet in nationalist politics, as he thought the sectarian feud was not going to help anyone:

Vaishnavas (Ramanandis) wanted me to join their ranks in this feud with the Ramanujis. But I avoided all this: for one, my Gurudeva did not want me to join them; secondly, I always considered the national service more important. This sectarian feud was not going to serve the nation in any way. I left for Prayaga in order to avoid all this.[83]

In Prayaga (Allahabad), he participated in congress activities and took the lifelong Khadi vow, but could not keep away from the sectarian feud for long. He came back to Ayodhya and soon found himself in the leadership role of the radical Ramanandis. According to his recollection in the autobiography, he along with Balalkram Vinayak decided to ‘first of all, form an organization’:

The organization was formed immediately and named ‘Shri Ramanandiya Shri Vaishnava Mahamandala’. The times were terrible. We had to change the guru-parampara. The difficulty of such a task among the sadhus is beyond imagination for outsiders… We also needed a committee to do research into the Paramparas and find from them that there was no connection between Ramanuja and Ramanand. We formed such a committee as well. It was named Puratatwanusandhayini Samiti (the archeological research committee). I was the general secretary of both.[84]

The times were indeed troubled. There was a spate of pamphlets and notices from both the sides and, all of a sudden, the research committee indeed ‘found’ a document detailing the requisite parampara. In a debate at the famous Hanuman Garhi temple (in 1920 CE) the radical group presented this parampara as the ‘main’ evidence of ‘no-connection’. The resulting chasm between Bhagwaddas and his guru led to Bhagwaddas being forced to leave Bara Sthan ‘voluntarily’. He was immediately welcomed at Maniram ki Chhaoni.

The main evidence in this debate, the parampara just mentioned, was said to have been composed by Agradas of the third generation of Ramanand’s disciples. Raghubardas had found it ‘by chance’; it was being used as wrapping paper. This was only the first in a whole series of research miracles performed by the radical Ramanandis. The parampara was composed by Agradas in the form of a dialogue in which his guru Krishandasa requests his guru Anantanada, who was one of the twelve immediate disciples of Ramanand, to identify the lineage through which the initiatory Rama mantra had passed. The parampara consists of twenty-two slokas and contradicts all traditional paramparas on the question of Ramanand’s belonging to the spiritual lineage of Ramanuja. Bhagwadacharya (though he was called only Bhagwaddas at this point in his career) wrote an introduction to this parampara and dismissed all the other paramparas with an argument that, strictly speaking has no academic merit whatsoever but was bound to appeal to his target audience of Ramanandis:

None of the current Paramparas is composed by any of our own Acharyas. We are duty bound to honor a Parampara composed by someone of our own fold. Our committee has found a Parampara that is absolutely different from all others. It is worthy of our special attention and respect as it is composed by Agradasji, who was third in the lineage from Ramanandji himself. We, the Ramanandis, must ponder it. After all, who amongst us dare say that Agradasji was writing any falsehood… This Parampara clearly tells us that Ramanandji did not belong to lineage of Ramanujaji. This statement is bound to cause a lot of disturbance but is still worthy of very serious attention.[85]

The radical strategy and aim both become clear here. Anybody doubting the authenticity of this parampara would be guilty of sacrilege against Agradas himself. And if this sacrilege is to be avoided than Ramanand had nothing to do with Ramanuja. It is important to note here that, unlike the academic reasoning to which we have become accustomed, Bhagwaddas’s discourse and that of his adversaries did not at all distinguish between historical, legendary and mythological personae. Rama himself gave the mantra to Sita, according to this parampara, and it passed down to Raghvananda in the twenty-first generation; he then gave it to Ramanand. As we know, only ‘three or five’ of these generations can be located in history proper. That is equally true of other paramparas as well. The point is, however, that for participants in this ‘sectarian feud’ all generations - twenty-one or thirty-two, as the case may be - were equally ‘historical’. Playing upon this shared term of debate, Bhagwaddas could easily mix up legend, mythology and history and raise the objection - ‘how come more than twenty generations passed in just three hundred years between Ramanuja and Ramanand?’ Countering this in the same terms of debate, Balbhadra Das took pains to prove once again that Ramanand was active in the 15th century CE. Hence so many generations are quite possible. As already indicated, the year 1356 of Vikrama Samvat was useful for Bhagwaddas only so far as it helped him to question the appearance of Varvara Muni before Ramanand in the traditional Paramparas. The deliberate confusion between the Agastya Samhita proper and its putative chapters composed by Ramanarayandas also came in handy for Bhagwaddas, as he could put the lineage of the Rama Mantra, as given in the eighth chapter of Agastya Samhita proper, into the mouth of Agradas in this parampara which Raghubardas had found ‘by chance’. Similarly Bhagwadacharya could also refer to 1356 VS, as given in the “same Samhita,†elsewhere in his writings, with the caveat we have heard, namely, that ‘the floruit of Ramanand might need to be pushed back by another hundred years.’

The other important aspect of this parampara was its complete erasure of any Acharya of southern origin. This was required to completely cut off from the Ramanuji connection and it also implicitly dismissed the popular belief that Ramanand brought Bhakti from south, a sentiment articulated in another well-known Hindi verse - ‘Bhakti dravid upji, laye Ramanand‘ (bhakti originated in the south and was brought (to north) by Ramanand). Here again the Ramanand Janmotsva Katha’s idea of Ramanand hailing from Prayaga was helpful to the cause of radical Ramanandis and they upheld it quite vigorously.

The problem, however, was the guru-parampara as given in the Ramarchan Paddhati attributed to Ramanand. Here Bhagwaddas was faced with his own logic of sacrilege: how dare one doubt the parampara given by Ramanand himself? At first the radical group tried to face the awkward situation by out rightly rejecting the Paddhati as ‘fake’ (1923) but, later, they took a more moderate position, expressing doubts about the ‘authenticity’ of the text doing the rounds in the name of Paddhati (1936) in response to Balbhadra Das’s (1928) claim that his edition was based upon a manuscript of the seventeenth century and a litho copy of 1880 CE. It was only in 1958 that Bhagwaddas finally came to an unambiguous declaration on this matter. He said, “It is beyond doubt that the Ramarchanpaddhati and the present Ananda Bhashya were never composed by Ramanand.†[86]

The radical faction succeeded, on the occasion of the Ujjain Kumbh in 1921, in bringing the bulk of Ramanandis and many leading Mahants to their side. Bhagwadacharya was to call May 11, 1921, ‘the day of deliverance for the sampraday’. It was on this day, he said, that the Ramanujis failed to respond to the charge that their sectarian texts ‘contained insults’ to Rama and other Ramawat deities. Whether Ramanuji texts contained such insults is not sure, but their actual behavior in relation to Ramanandis was certainly colored by disdain. Van der Veer, for example, recounts the experience of a Brahman Ramanandi who joined a Ramanuji teacher in order to learn Sanskrit: “The guru knew that he (the disciple) was of high caste birth, but since he was a Ramanandi, he thought him so low that he did not give him the brass water pot normally used for guests.â€[87] Obviously the Ramanuji teacher in question was sure that due to his regular contact with the Shudras, his Brahman disciple has lost his purity.

The ‘deliverance’ earned at the Kumbh in 1921 had immediate fallout, as if the Ramanandis were only waiting for this ‘intellectual’ victory to be translated into some symbolic act. Bhagwadacharya notes with understandable sense of achievement:

The final ritual bath was just a few days away. Up to that point the Ramanujis led the procession, with a prominent Ramanuji entering in a palanquin carried by the Ramanandis… After the victory things changed dramatically. The Ramanujis were excluded from the procession that forms for the final bath. Now they cannot join the Ramanandis in any Kumbh.[88]

Even after this ‘deliverance,’ however, sharp debates and polemics persisted, as is made clear by the dates mentioned above in the context of the controversy over the Paddhati. The radical faction was faced with the task of not only ‘changing the parampara’ but also that of producing a Bhashya by Ramanand, as without a Bhashya nobody can be considered an Acharya in his own right. Aware of this need, the radical faction was on the job, even before the ‘deliverance’. As we have seen earlier in this essay, already in 1920 Bhagwadacharya was referring to the ‘Ananda Bhashya of ‘Swami Ramanandji’ as in the process of being published. The Bhashya ultimately appeared in full in 1932 and Bhagwadacharya, along with others of the radical faction, continued to swear by its authenticity in the face of onslaughts on the part of opponents like Balbhadra Das, who pointed out as many as fourteen inaccuracies of grammar and doctrine. The opponents categorically accused Raghubardas, the then friend of Bhagwadacharya, of forging it with the sole intent of severing the connection with Ramanujis. Bhagwadacharya rejected all such charges with vehemence at this point in time but, once he fell out with Raghubardas, he started condemning this Bhashya as ‘nothing but a forgery perpetuated by Raghubardas.’ In his autobiography, he gives the fascinating details of intrigues that went into ‘transforming the Janaki Bhashya of Ram Prasad into the Ananda Bhashya and attributing it to Ramanand’. He admits quite candidly, ‘being a new and fresh recruit to the cause, I inspired this act of injustice and fraud.’[89]

This confession came in 1958. He also confessed to having ‘changed the very body of the Vaishnavamatabjabhaskar.‘ But, just as in case of the early or late floruit of Ramanand, the authenticity of the Bhashya, Paddhati, or Bhaskar hardly mattered now. Bhagwadacharya and his group had successfully metamorphosed ‘the wayward disciple of Ramanuji tradition’ into the ‘founder of an independent tradition, into an Acharya in his own right, an author of Sanskrit works.’ This metamorphosis, as was intended, took place in the imagination of the Ramanandis, and we now know the dynamics of this metamorphosis. As we have seen, however, the transformation took place not only in the Ramanandi imagination but also in the imagination of academic scholars.

The metamorphosis had far-reaching consequences, some of which I have tried to analyze in this essay. Having achieved their ‘deliverance’, Ramanandis now take the authenticity of all the Sanskrit works attributed to Ramanand for granted, and in the same measure insist on his early floruit. The strategy of Sanskrtising Ramanand in order to subvert the Brahmanical hegemony of the Ramanujis has worked well so far as the Ramanandis are concerned, or at least they think so. They have not completely disowned the Hindi Ramanand, but have definitely subordinated him to the Sanskrit one. They also continue to revere his ‘low caste disciples’ even if in tune with the Galta decisions such disciples are not to be considered the authentic transmitters of the Ramanand’s doctrine. Obviously, then, the Ramanandi reformists have succeeded; the strategy has worked well, so far as the Ramanandi sect is concerned. But what about Ramanand himself? What this strategy has done to him?

To put it briefly and mildly, it has denied Ramanand his roots and has helped undermine the significance of his attempt at transcending the social identity he was assigned at birth. It has weakened the courage of his convictions. Ramanand emerges as an independent thinker both in his Hindi compositions and in whatever little we have in other references made to him in the medieval period. In spite of being born a Brahmin, he was no Brahmin supremacist; in fact, he was quite critical of ritualism and gave the fullest space to the individual choice of his disciples. The modern Ramanandis constructed an orthodox, albeit liberal, Acharya to replace the historical Ramanand and in so doing reduced the historical facts and evidence to mere instruments at the service of their present project.

This utter instrumentalisation of facts and method - this complete subordination of the past to the present, this total denial of the autonomy of the past, this erasure of its pastness is bound to lead to problems of a very serious kind, as we in India have been witnessing in so many contexts. If it is widely accepted that the politics of identity override honest efforts to know the past, both justice and truth stand on perilously weak footing.

The politics of identity has made the idea of ‘representation’ extremely popular in the academic circles these days. How could a Brahman persist in challenging the idea and practice of caste? Ergo, Ramanand born a Brahman could not but be an orthodox and orthoprax Acharya! The ‘assumptions’ are sufficient in themselves, why bother about proof?

Carlo Ginzburg describes the current academic fashion and its moral implications quite cogently. Let me quote him in some length:

For many historians the notion of proof is out of fashion: like that of truth to which it is bound by a very solid historical (and therefore unnecessary) link. There are many reasons for this devaluation, and not all of them are intellectual in nature. One reason certainly has to do with the overblown importance acquired - on both sides of the Atlantic, in France and in the United States - by the term ‘representation’. Because of the various uses to which it has been put, the term winds up creating an insurmountable wall around the historian. Historical sources tend to be examined exclusively as sources of themselves (of the way in which they were constructed), not as the sources of the things they discus. In other words, there is an analysis of the sources (written, visual and so on) as evidence of social ‘representations’: at the same time, there is a general rejection of the possibility of analyzing the relationship between these representations and the reality they depict or represent; this is dismissed as an unforgivable instance of naïve positivism. Now those relationships are never straightforward - to think that they are simple mirrorings of reality would indeed be naïve. We know perfectly well that every representation is constructed in accordance with a predetermined code - to gain direct access to historical reality (or to reality itself for that matter) is impossible by definition. To infer from this fact, however, that reality is unknowable is to fall into a lazily radical form of skepticism, at once unsustainable in existential terms and inconsistent in logical terms-as we know full well, the fundamental decision of the skeptic is not subjected to the methodological doubt he claims to profess.[90]

The ‘general rejection of the possibility of analyzing the relationships between representations and reality’ has led to the fixation of ascribed identity with the supposedly ‘authentic’ representation that precludes the possibility of moral choice on the part of the individuals who, by definition, happen to carry multiple identities. In the area of Bhakti studies, this fixation results in systematic denial of the very core of Bhakti sensibility. This sensibility is seen as an exclusionist representation on the part of various social identities instead of what it really is: a dialogue between various moral actors. The exclusionist method, quite aware of its essential poverty of proof, insists on creating an insurmountable wall around historians, using the construction material of the overblown notions of representation and authenticity.

The story of Ramanand deserves to be probed further as it, like many others, helps us to see the Indian tradition as something vibrant and not as ‘frozen in time’. It also points out the processes underlying the emergence and spread of the Bhakti sensibility in pre-modern India. This story bears witness to the dynamics in which some individuals and groups go beyond the ascriptive social identities and seek to construct a parallel, moral universe in their imagination as a benchmark of critiquing the existing social life.

One final matter deserves mention: Ramanand’s own silence about his guru and the lineage in which he stood. What are we to make of that? Ramanand’s silence in this regard is hardly unique. We also meet it with Kabir, for example, who also does not mention the name of his Guru explicitly - but then who does? As David Lorenzen reminds us, “Since most of the other early Sant poets rarely refer to their human gurus by name, this objection does not seem to be a particularly important one.â€[91]

The medieval consensus is important. If all this was a matter of Hinduising Kabir, the medieval consensus could have insisted on his not ‘being a Muslim by birth’ - as was actually done later, in the nineteenth century. The implications of the virtual elimination of the guru’s human presence, the obliteration of difference between guru and God are exciting, but will have to wait for another occasion. Suffice it to say at the moment that those wishing to dismiss the entire range of medieval informants insisting on Ramanand being the Guru of Kabir and others as either victims or perpetrators of the ‘Brahmanical conspiracy’ must present more credible arguments than the chronological and temperamental difficulties that have been proposed. I hope I have demonstrated that these difficulties are actually nothing more than baseless assumptions.

[75] Van der Veer, op.cit.p.72.

[76] Ibid.,p.97.

[77] Balbhadra Das, op.cit.preface.p.5.

[78] Ibid.p.7.

[79] Ibid.p.250-51.

[80] Ibid.p.251-52.

[81] Bhagwadacharya, ‘Swami Bhagwadacharya’ (Vol.I), Ahemadabad, 1958,p.65-66.

[82] Ibid. P.568-569.

[83] Ibid.P.79.

[84] Ibid.p.86.

[85] ‘Swami Bhagwadacharya’ (Vol.III), p.31-32.

[86] ‘Swami Bhagwadacharya’ (Vol.I), p.596.

[87] Van der veer, op. cit.p.105.

[88] ‘Swami Bhagwadacharya’ (Vol.I), p.118.

[89] Ibid.P.486-489 and p.574-575.

[90] Carlo Ginzburg, ‘The Judge and the Historian: marginal notes on a late- twentieth-century miscarriage of justice’ (Translated by Anthony Shuggar), London, p.16-17.

[91] Lorenzen, op.cit.p.12.

Concluding Questions

The story of Ramanand needs to be probed further. The idea of two Ramanands is clearly untenable. Similarly there is no ground whatsoever to doubt his fifteenth century floruit and push him back to the fourteenth century of the Common Era. Is it true, as Richard Burghart says, that Ramanand was dwarfed by his disciples in “Priya Dass’ commentary on Nabha Ji’s Sri Bhakta Mala,†[92] or could it be that Ramanand did not care to establish a Panth or create a cult around him? In that case, would what Burghart reads as ‘dwarfing’ turn out to be a genuine tribute to Ramanand’s personality and temperament?

The story of Ramanand deserves to be probed further because it, like many others, helps us see the Indian tradition as something vibrant, not as frozen in time. It also points out some of the processes underlying the emergence and spread of the Bhakti sensibility in pre-modern India. This story bears witness to the dynamics that made it possible for some individuals and groups to go beyond the social identities that had been assigned them at birth and seek to construct a parallel, moral universe in their imagination - a benchmark in the process of critiquing the existing social order. This story needs to be probed further because Ramanand may have been the most important source of inspiration for the spread of ‘non-caste Hinduism’ in the whole sweep of Indian - certainly north Indian - religious history.

[92] Burghart (in Lorezen), op.cit.231.

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