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Sant Jnaneshwar or Dyaneshwar (1275 AD -1296 AD)

Sant Jnaneshwar

Sant Jnaneshwar (or Dyaneshwar) was born to Viththalapant and Rakhumabai on 1275 AD at Alandi, near Pune in Maharashtra. His elder brother was Nivrtthi (1278 AD) and younger brother and sister was Sopana (1277 AD) and Muktabai (1279 AD).

Several years before Jnaneshwar was born, Viththalapant, the father of Jnaneshwar had left his wife Rakhumabai, renounced the world and left for Varanasi for God realization. At Varanasi, he became a sannyasin by taking initiation from Sripada Ramasrama. His guru gave him the name Chaitanyasrama. To take sanyasa Viththalapant told a lie to his guru that he did not have any dependents.

Soon after this, Ramasrama, the guru of Viththalapant on his way to a pilgrimage in South India stopped at Alandi. There, by God's providence, Rakhumabai, the wife of Viththalapant bowed down to him and he gave her the usual blessing, "May you be the mother of sons". Rakumabai replied that his blessings are useless as her husband had gone to Varanasi and taken sannyasa. On further enquiries, Ramasrama understood the whole story, immediately went to Varanasi and commanded Viththalapant to return home.

When Viththalapant returned to Alandi, the villagers did not accept him because he left the path of sannyasa. They not only made him an outcaste but also persecuted him. Living in this surroundings, after twelve years Nivrtthi, his first son was born, followed by Jnaneshwar, Sopana and Muktabai. Nivrtthi was said to be an avatara of Shiva, Jnanadeva of Vishnu, Sopana of Brahma and Muktabai of Adimaya. Viththalapant taught them all of the scriptures he knew and they had an extraordinary ability to assimilate all they learned.

Once the family went on a pilgrimage to Tryambakesvara and while circumambulating the Brahmagiri mountain came upon a tiger. In the confusion, as they fled, Nivrtti became separated from the family, took shelter in a cave where the yogi Gahininatha, the disciple of Goraksanatha (of Natha yoga tradition) was meditating. Gahininatha welcomed him and indicated that he had known that Nivrtti will come. Gahininatha initiated Nivrtti and told him to initiate his younger brother Jnaneshwar, who he said has a great mission to fulfil. After a week Nivrtti returned to his family with the great saint and initiated Jnanadeva. Jnanadeva in turn initiated Sopana and Muktabai.

When Viththalapant felt his sons should be invested with the sacred thread, he approached the Brahmins at Alandi for permission. He pleaded to them to prescribe a penance for him so that his children would not be outcastes. However the Brahmins replied that there was no other penance for him except death. Viththalapant left the village and it is believed that he went to Prayaga, the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati to drown himself.

Nivrtti then pleaded the Brahmins to prescribe a penance for them, but the Brahmins were reluctant. At last they advised the four children to go and obtain a certificate of purification (suddhipatra) from the Brahmins of Paithan who were more learned in the scriptures. After discussing the issue amongst themselves, the children at last went to Paithan to meet the Brahmins.

The Brahmins at Paithan read their letters they brought from the Brahmins of Alandi and replied that there is no penance which can make them pure enough to wear the sacred thread. However they suggested a remedy that they should bow down with love and reverence to every living being - including donkeys, dogs, elephants, pigs, outcastes and so on, with the thought that Lord dwells in all of them. The children were delighted and agreed. However they still would not give them the certificate and instead ridiculed them.

Just then a buffalo was driven past the assembly and Jnanadeva said that he did not see the slightest difference between himself and the buffalo; the same atman is dwelling in all the creatures. One of the Brahmins became furious and when he struck the buffalo with a whip, Jnanadeva winced in pain and a large welt appeared on his back. Still not convinced, the Brahmins dared Jnanadeva to make the buffalo recite the Vedas. Jnanadeva went to the buffalo and asked it to recite and the buffalo started reciting with proper intonation from the Rigveda. Everyone was stunned. The Brahmins saluted Janandeva and said that these children are the Avataras of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and Adimaya. There is no need for any purification for them.

On their way to Alandi, the children reached a town named Mahalaya where Jnanadeva began teaching the people Bhagavad-Gita in their own language, Marathi in a simple and devotional style. This discourse was given by Jnanadeva when he was only 15 years old and the recorded commentary is now known as Jnanesvari or Bhavartha Dipika.

After the discourse, Nivrtti asked Jnanadeva to compose an original work based on his own spiritual experiences. This work, written in Marathi is known as Amrtanubhava (Sweet Nectar of Experience).

After this they resumed their journey to Alandi and shortly before reaching there the buffalo which they brought from Paithan (which recited the Vedas) died. It was buried with great respect. The place where its tomb is located is called Mhasoba.

At Alandi, all the villagers who already got the news of their accomplishments welcomed them with great respect except Visoba Chati, a cruel and arrogant man.

Once during a festival when Muktabai tried to procure an earthen pan for baking some cakes; Visoba warned the potter not to sell anything to her. When Muktabai returned dejected, Jnanadeva upon knowing the reason asked her to bake the cake on his back which he made blazing hot. Meanwhile Visoba who followed Muktabai to their house witnessed this spectacle through a window. Filled with remorse, Visoba decided to purify himeself by eating the crumbs from their plates. From then on Visoba was known as Visoba Khechara (scavenger). He became a disciple of Muktabai and was one of their most devoted followers. (He became the guru of Namadeva).

Changadeva, a hathayogi said to be 1400 years old with many supernatural powers and proud, desiring to meet Jnanadeva send him a blank piece of paper as a message. In reply, Jnanadeva sent him 65 verses which became known as Changadeva Prasasti. Changadeva could not grasp the meaning of the verses but set to meet Jnanadeva with egoistical pride, riding on a tiger, holding a snake for a whip followed by a huge retinue of disciples beating drums and blowing conches.

Nivrtti, Jnanadeva, Sopana and Muktabai were seated on wall. Jnanadeva asked the wall to rise and take them to Changadeva. When the wall flying through the air took them to Changadeva, Changadeva fell at Jnanadeva's feet and decided to remain at Alandi to learn from these four saints. An old banyan tree still exists under which Jnanadeva taught him. Muktabai however is said to be his actual guru. In his abhangas (songs), Changadeva reveals his deep devotion for this family.

Janandeva hearing the great devotion of Namadeva to Viththala, left for Pandharpur along with his brothers and sister. Namadeva was extremely happy to meet them and became greatly devoted to them. They spent their time singing the Lord's praises and the group gained from Jnanadeva's philosophical outlook born of Self-Realization. After some time Jnanadeva begged Namadeva to go on a pilgrimage with him. Namadeva agreed and it is said that they visited Ujjaini, Prayaga, Kasi, Ayodha, Vrindava and Dwaraka among other places.

Soon after their return to Pandharpur, Jnanadeva expressed his desire to enter into mahasamadhi at Alandi. The devotees were very upset but they understood his wish. A pit was dug on the left side of Siddhesvara temple at Alandi and for three days and three nights there was continuous kirtana. On the thirteenth day of the dark half of Kartika (Oct-Nov), Namadeva's four sons cleaned the pit, spread some bilva and tulasi leaves, and flowers, laid some kusa grass and a deer skin over which Jnanadeva would sit. After Jnanadeva had bathed in the river, Namadeva worshipped him with garlands, sandal paste and light. The villagers also prostated and offered garlands. Jnanadeva took leave of everyone, entered the place of samadhi, sat for his final meditation and soon afterwards entered into mahasamadhi. His soul pierced the crown of his head and he became one with the Infinite. With shouts of "Jaya" (Victory), everyone threw flowers over him and bowed down. Finally Nivrtti sealed the pit with a large stone. It was 1296 AD and Janadeva was only 21 years old. Since then a religious festival has been held there every year in the month of Kartika. About three hundred years later, a temple was built on the spot by Ekanatha.

Considered one of the masterpieces of Marathi literature, the Jnanesvari's 18 chapters of Bhagavad Gita are composed in a metre called "ovi". Jnaneshwar liberated the "divine knowledge" locked in the Sanskrit language to bring that knowledge into "prakrit" (Marathi) and make it available to everyone. Amrutanubhav, written some time after, contains 10 chapters and 806 ovi. The basis of this book is non dualism (advaita siddhanta). The seventh and biggest chapter (295 ovi) is the most important.

Saints and mystics of India

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