The following points highlight the four great saints of Maharashtra who participated in the bhakti movement. The saints are: 1. Nam Dev (1270—1350 A.D.) 2. Tuka Ram (1601—1649) 3. Ram Dass (1608—1681 A.D.) 4. Bahina Bai.
Saint # 1. Nam Dev (1270—1350 A.D.):
According to Dr. Tare Chand, “The first of the saintly array of men who changed the faith of this region (Maharashtra) and turned the mind of men from the priest-ridden ceremonial of a narrow creed to freedom and love was Nam- Dev. He is remembered by every saint of Maharashtra, Hindustan, Rajputana and Punjab as the great historic name in the long list of Bhaktta.”
Nam Dav was born ‘ in 1270 and was the disciple of Vishoba Khechar. He preached the sublime gospel of love and devotion and liberated the peoples from the shackles of rituals and caste system.
He was opposed to idol worship and religious intolerance. He held that salvation could be achieved through Bhakti or devotion to God.
Emphasizing the inefficacy of the external acts of religion Nam Dev said: “Vows, fasts and austerities are not all necessary; nor is it necessary for you to go on a pilgrimage. Be you watchful in your hearts and always sing the name of Hari, it is not necessary to give up eating food or drinking water; fix your mind on the feet of Hari. Yoga or sacrificial ceremonies or giving up objects of desire is not wanted. Realise a fondness for the feet of Hari”
Saint # 2. Tuka Ram (1601—1649):
One of the most prominent saints of Maharashtra was Tuka Ram. He was born in Shudra family, which was devoted to the worship of Vithoba. He led a normal life during childhood and took to trade at the age of fourteen.
Due to death of his father and losses in business he became disgusted with the worldly life and devoted himself to contemplation and devotion. He soon became popular with the people because of his life of piety and service. Even Shivaji had great admiration for Tukaram. The teachings of Tukaram are contained in his numerous Abhanjas.
Tukaram insisted that it was not possible to combine both spiritual joy and the activity in the world. A person who tries to achieve both in the end achieves neither. Tukaram’s conception of God is almost identical to that of Kabir.
He says – “He has neither form nor name, nor place of abode; He is present wherever we go, Vitthal our mother and sister. He knows neither form nor change of form. He pervades the moving and immovable world. He is neither with nor without attributes, who, indeed can know Him ? He will turn to none, says Tuka, who has not faith in him.”
Tukaram rejects ceremonies, Vedic sacrifices, visits to holy places, worship of stones, putting on saints guise, fasts and other types of austerities. He also tried to reconcile Hindu and Muslim faiths.
In one of his hymns he says:
“What Allah wishes that is accomplished, O! my friend (Baba), the Maker is the sovereign of all.
Cattle and friends, gardens and goods all depart.
My mind dwells, O! friend, on my Lord (Sahib) who is the Maker I ride there on the back of the horse (mind).
O ! friend, mediate (zikr) on Allah, who is in the guise of all, Says Tuka, the man who understands this becomes a Darwesh.
Saint # 3. Ram Dass (1608—1681 A.D.):
Another great saint of Maharashtra was Ram Dass. Unlike Tukaram, Ram Dass believed that only success in Samsara can lead to success in Para Martha and the former was a necessary condition for the latter.
Ram Dass tried to integrate the different sciences and arts of life with religious quest and the monumental work in which he right to accomplish this is entitled Dasabodha Shivaji was greatly inspired by the teachings, of Ram Dass. He advised Shivaji “to adorn his body not with clothes and ornaments but with shrewdness and wisdom.”
According to Swami Ramdas the essential qualification of a good ruler included the following:
“To spread the message of God, to protect the poof, the pious and the helpless, to strive for the well-being of his subjects and to remain eternally vigilant and to practice the virtue of forbearance and tolerance.”
Saint # 4. Bahina Bai:
Bahina Bai was another great saint of Maharashtra. She received her Mantra ‘Rama-Krishna-Hari’ in a vision from Tukaram and accepted Tukaram as her Guru. Initially her husband did not like her devotion to Tukaram, but subsequently he changed his stand.
Bahina also produced outstanding poetry in the style and meter of Tukaram. She exercised great control over her sexual appetite. Talking of the duties of a wife Bahina Bai says- “a wife must make her domestic life happy by accepting her husband’s wishes in a noble spirit, and, though it may even mean death to her, she should not transgress them. Bless is she, her caste and her family.”
It may be noted that all the saints of Maharashtra were devoted to the deity named Pandurang, Vithoba or Vitthal, and the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra centred round the shrines of Vithoba or Vishnu at Pandharpur on the banks of Bhima. These religions reformers and saints made an ardent appeal to God Almighty to intervene on behalf of the oppressed people and bring them relief from Muslims persecution. Making an assessment of the commendable work done by the saints of Maharashtra in the field of social and political life of the people Mahadeo Govind Ranade says, “The saints come out well in their struggles with their foreign rulers, and they prevailed not by fighting, not by resistance, but by quite resignation to the Will of God. There was a tendency perceptible towards a reconciliation of the two races in mutual reconciliation of the essential unity of Allah with Rama, and by the time Shivaji appeared on though, this reconciliation seems to have been almost complete, though occasional outbursts of Muhammedan fanaticism were not altogether unknown even then.”
As a result of the teachings of these saints certain changes in the society were also effected. They Subordinated the importance of the rites and ceremonies, and of pilgrimages and fasts, and of learning and contemplation, to the higher excellence of worship by means of love and faith. It cheeked the excesses of polytheism.”