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Jnaneshvara In The Indian Context

Chandrakant B. Bandiwadekar
Retired Professor of Hindi, University of Pune and University of Bombay.


Saint Jnaneshvara has tremendously influenced culture, literature and language of Maharashtra. For six hundred years (from 13th century to 18th century) the Varkari sect made all-pervading impact on the life of the common people. This impact reformed the psyche of Maharashtra. Ultimately human life achieves its goal and significance only when it realizes that the world of living and non-living beings is an expression of the play of the Brahman and that the existence, progress and prosperity of life became significant when this knowledge is gained. This knowledge can be gained in many ways such as Yoga, Bhakti, action without any desire for result, asceticism, self- realization and perception of the Ultimate Reality. Even though the ultimate goal of the Truth is determined, the process of life striving towards it is very long. For this process the creation of values and their implementation in life on individual and social levels is very much essential. The Varkari sect has looked upon God as the Ultimate Truth and has ascertained grades of values in social life and insisted upon each man's inculcating them in him. The sect has accepted ultimate equality among men. It lays stress on values such as individual sacrifice, forgiveness, simplicity, overcoming passions, peaceful co-existence, compassion, non-violence, love, humility in social life.

All these values were the thrust of all indian saints. The Varkari sect tried to mould the attitude of the common people (including Sudras and women) towards life. As far as possible, it inspired people to live according to high ideals of life. Jnaneshvara and Jnanadevi that he preached are important because they formed the attitude and the way of life of Maharashtrian masses. A person must have a kind of detachment while living his life and he must have the courage of his convictions in the face of evil forces that deform life and dreadful death. Jnaneshvari helped common man to inculcate these qualities in him.

The oral tradition directly and effectively influenced the audience. Moreover, the sacrificial lives of Jnaneshvara and his brothers and sisters were a revealing experience for the common people. At that time, the facilities of information media were not at all available. But the impact of the saints' ideal lives and their expressions was surprisingly large and tremendous on the minds of the common people. While translating the store of knowledge in Sanskrit into Marathi and making it easily accessible to the common people, Jnaneshvara chose Bhagavadgeeta and wrote his commentary on it. Why did he select Bhagavadgeeta?

It is obvious that the essence of Indian culture is found in Bhagavadgeeta, which is in a way the complete thought about religion in the broadest way. Bhagavadgeeta teaches reason to distinguish between a right action and a wrong action. It places before us the ideal human life based on the conception of the best (uttama) man. It places before us the ideal of the man whose mind is ever tranquil and it justifies this great attitude towards life. It is the result of mature Indian outlook towards human life. Jnaneshvara's life may tell us something more as to why he chose Bhagavadgeeta.

Jnaneshvara underwent many sufferings because of the high-caste people. In fact, any individual or a group of people did not inflict sufferings on an individual. The Brahmins of that period accepted Jnaneshvara's greatness; but they were at the mercy of the traditions and rituals of their religion. An individual was not so much responsible for his sufferings but the custom-bound religion was. Jnaneshvara, a great soul, had in mind a universal religion full of higher ideals and significance which is expressed very poetically in his Pasayadana. There was a great conflict between universal religion and custom-bound religion of the people. He considered Geeta as a proper medium to propound his conception of universal religion (vishvadharma). His imagination as well as his poetic power that expounded the all-pervading and mysterious (deep) nature of the universal religion was at its highest. In his personality there was a wonderful confluence of a philosopher, a saint and a poet. So the choice of Bhagvadgeeta was appropriate for his highest purpose.

Jnaneshvari has deeply influenced the people of Maharashtra. But so far there has not been a detailed analytical study and evaluation of its influence. Shri. M. P. Pethe, the chief librarian of Poona University has prepared a bibliography of books, articles and critical essays on Jnaneshvari published so far. The bibliography includes nearly 2500 entries. There is a long tradition of keertankars who preach the teachings of Jnaneshvari. This tradition has left a deep impact on the people of Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, there do exist caste-differences. Still there are people considerate to one another. The high class is sympathetic and just towards Dalits. The high castes do actively participate in the works for the uplift of the Dalits. The Dalits have been encouraged and helped to educate themselves. All this has been possible because of the foundation laid by the Varkari sect. The spiritual equality has been strengthened by Jnaneshvara and other saint-poets.

The Varkari sect has impressed the sanctities of the society on the minds of farmers and other working classes. The very name of Jnaneshvara brings people of far away villages together, even though he passed away seven hundred years ago. These people try their best to live peaceful and virtuous life. Jnaneshvara has impressed upon the minds of people of Maharashtra, except some educated people, that devotion is a way to God.

Jnaneshvara endowed Marathi language which had been a folk-language till that day with great literary qualities. Jnaneshvari is rich in many figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, drstanta. Its influence on Marathi language is still to be seen. Jnaneshvari made Marathi speaking world confident of the strength of the language. Jnaneshvari has shown how ably he expressed the complex meaning in the most subtle ways. If a Sanskrit scholar does not write a commentary on Prasthanatravi, he is not considered a scholar. So also a Marathi scholar cannot be a scholar in the true sense of the term if he has not expressed his views and reflections on Jnaneshvari. We are confronting tremendous forces of Western culture. Still our life-values arc shaped and directed by Jnaneshvari. Jnaneshvara looked upon Geeta as the foundation of formation of ideal life.

Tilak's Geeta-rahasya tried to coordinate action, devotion and knowledge. It is difficult to find as to how much impact of Jnaneshvari was there on the mind of Lokamanya Tilak. Both Mardhekar, the pioneer of new poetry and Vinda Karandikar were inspired by Saints' literature. This is evident not only from their use of oviand abhanga but from their vocabulary also. Karandikar has rendered Jnaneshvara's Amritanubhava into modern Marathi language. Dilip Chitre who translated important abhangas of Tukaram has recently translated Amritanabhava into English. We find new poets in Marathi are much inclined to the study of Jnaneshvara and Tukaram. Out of three works on the life of Jnaneshvara, the novel Mogara Fulala by G. N. Dandekar is the masterpiece. There are some dramas and films also available in Marathi. The life of the people of Maharashtra is not falling victim to the extremities of individualism, hedonism and materialism. This was only because Jnaneshvara impressed the importance of a particular way of life on their mind.

Saints like Jnaneshvara were born in other parts of India. The influence on the people in these parts varied according to the personalities of those saints. Since the eighth century, the Indian languages were developing as well as communicating with one another. Many Marathi saints composed devotional songs in Hindi. Namadev and Ramadas came into contact with the saints of other provinces. In spite of this, there is no proof that other provinces were acquainted with books such as Jnaneshvari till the end of the 19th century. There is no evidence that Marathi saints except Ramadas and Namadev were acquainted with the works in other regional languages.

The cultural heritage of all the regional languages was the same as they had imbibed the cultural, religious and literary influence from Sanskrit and had drawn upon the vocabulary in Sanskrit. Their philosophical attitudes were not at all different. Their religious values were alike. Still their knowledge of each other's literary works was as good as nothing. Ovi and abhang (Marathi metres) in Marathi possess resonance which is rarely heard in other languages. The peculiarity of dohas and kavitta savaiyya of Hindi cannot be found in other languages. The gulf between Indian languages and their literatures began to widen particularly in poetry which clings to language intimately.

In the modem age, the means of transport as well as facilities for communication have increased and improved. Inspite of diversity of languages, one is aware of contemporary cultural unity. Politics wants the cultural unity to be strengthened. The importance of translation was fully realized and now the works are being translated from one language into another. Naturally Jnaneshvari, a classic work, was translated in most of the Indian languages.

In Maharashtra Jnaneshvara has influenced people on a large scale. From generation to generation, Jnaneshvari has been read and recited in many houses, though such houses might have gone for livelihood to other provinces. They might have carried this tradition of reading Jnaneshvari. But its influence is not much felt in other societies. Babu Ramchandra Varma translated Jnaneshvari into Hindi in 1937. It was published by Hindi Sahitya Kuteer, Varanasi. Varma translated Jnaneshvari edited by Balkrishna Anant Bhide. The translation is simple, lucid and fluent prose. The translation has run into more than twelve editions. This shows how popular the translation has been. The translation by Pandit Raghunath Madhav Bhagade was published in 1940. The translator humbly requested the readers to point out defects if they were found. And some readers did respond. Taking into account suggestions made and defects shown by the readers, the publisher published the revised edition in 1955. As far as possible, the translator tried to keep the original meaning unchanged. Perhaps because of the prose translation, meaning did not suffer.

Shri Ganesh Prasad Agarwal was the first translator to publish his translation of Jnaneshvari in verse in 1967. Sant Gulabrao Maharaj had given a copy of Jnaneshvari to Agarwal and asked him to read it everyday. Agarwal translated some ovis (stanzas) into Hindi dohas and read them out to Gulabrao Maharaj who asked Agarwal to translate the whole book in verse. Agarwal was too busy to do the work. Gulabrao appeared in his dream and putting his finger on 66th stanza of 18th adhyaya (chapter) ordered him to start translating Jnaneshvari. Agarwal began his work and completed his translation within two and a half years. It was translated into dohas and sorathas in Avadhi language. This reminds one of the dream Eknath had: Jnaneshvara told him in his dream to research into the manuscript of his book and decide upon the original copy.

Shri Bapurao Kumathekar's attempt was more ambitious. He translated Jnaneshvari into Hindi using ovimetre of the original work. The translation was published in 1970. (In Sant Jnaneshvara: Jeewan Aur Karya, Editor Chandrakant Bandiwadekar, Vani Prakashan, Delhi, 1988, two articles entitled Hindime Jnaneshvara have been published. One is by Dr. N. G. Sathe and another by Dr. M. D. Paradkar. I have drawn upon that material.) In 1995, Shri. M. G. Tapaswi translated Jnaneshvari in Hindi: using the original metre (i. e. ovi). The translation is smooth, lucid and has a good flow.

In fact, the prose rendering of Jnaneshvari in Hindi has become much popular. And this was natural. It is not possible for Hindi readers to be aware of the complete poetic power and beauty of the original work.

Gujarat is the land of emotional people. In some ways Gujarati and Marathi languages are similar. Shri Chakradhar Swami, the founder of Mahanubhav sect of Maharashtra hailed from Gujarat. He carried on his mission in Maharashtra. "Sastu Sahitya Wardhak Karyalay" founded by Bhikku Akhandanand published Jnaneshvari Bhagavadgeeta which ran into 16 editions. It was translated by Ratnasinha Deepsinha Parmar and Gowardhandas Kahandas Ameen. It was published towards the end of the 19th century. Vamanrao Patel published Jnaneshvara and Changdev. While describing Changdev episode he translated Changdev Pasashthi into Gujarati. Vimalbai translated in verse two books of Jnaneshvara entitled Amritanubhav and Changdev Pasashti in 1979.

Two sisters "Harishchandra" translated Vinobaji Bhave's Jnanadeva Chintanika into Gujarati. It ran into two editions till 1966. Under the guidance of Vimalatai, Shri Kishan Sinha Chawda has freely translated some stanzas written in the praise of Guru from the early parts of the adhyayas of Jnaneshvari This book has included a small biography of Jnaneshvara and preface by modern Gujarati saint (late) Mota. This book (Jnaneshvari ki Guru Upasano: Bhavartha Nandini) was published in 1970. In 1978 Shri Kishan Sinha translated Jnaneshvari keeping ovi metre of the original book. While translating the work, Kishan Sinha took the help of all criticism and commentaries on Jnaneshvari. Mrs. Smita Bhagwat has written a novel Tejaswini, the central character of which is Muktabai. It was published in 1982. As children's literature in Gujarati included Jnaneshvara's biography, most Gujarati people are well acquainted with his life.

The information given above has been taken from the article written by Dr. Jayendra Trivedi published in the above mentioned book, "Sant Jnaneshvara: Jeevan aur Karya" Dr. Jayendra Trivedi has written this article, namely, "Gujarati ma Jnanamrit Varsha" in a language soaked in emotion. The article ends with a remarkable note. "If in the literature of any language, the translations of Geeta, Anubhavamrit and Jnaneshvari are not available, the Indianness of the people speaking that language cannot be deemed complete." The ardour with which this article has been written shows how dearly the Gujarati readers have owned Jnaneshvari. We should not forget that this became possible only in the modern age.

The situation in Bengal is totally different. The great scholar of Bengali, Shri Kshitimohan Sen, has published a book, namely, Bharatiya Madhye Uge Sadhanar Dhara, in which only the name of Jnaneshvara has occurred. The translation of Jnaneshvari was published in 1963. The translation by Shri Girishchandra Sen was published by Sabitya Akademi. It seems that Shri Girishchandra Sen had studied the commentaries on Jnaneshvari. He translated Amritanabhav and Changdev Pasashti in 1965. As there is very thin evidence of the impact of Jnaneshvari on Bengali language, it is very difficult to say how much acquaintance Bengali literary class has gained from the translation.

Jnaneshvari is translated into Oriya language also. It was published in 1978 and republished in 1983 by Gauravchandra Mishra.

In the languages of southern part of India, in Kannada and Telugu there is some literature about Jnaneshvara. Some Chitpavan Brahmin families settled in Karnataka and devotedly read or recited some part of Jnaneshvari everyday. Raghavendra Subbarao, the devotee of God Dattatreya was ordered by his teacher (Guru) Vishnupant to translate Jnaneshvari into Kannada. He translated the book in Yamini Shatpadi metre of Kannada language. He has been faithful to the original meaning. In the post- independence days, Kashinath Kurdi Keri, A. K. Kulkami, B. N. Deshpande and Swami Krishna Bharati translated Jnaneshvari in Kannada.

As Kannada language had developed and found its identity earlier compared to Marathi and as there was indifference towards Geeta and as Jain and Shaiva literatures impact on Kannada was more powerful, the books like Jnaneshvari were not considered for translation in Kannada. Dr. Shrinivas Havnoor has shown that Marathi was influenced by Kannada and that many Kannada words are found in Jnaneshvari. He has cited the article by Adya Rangacharya. The article, "The grammar of Jnaneshvari", written by Shri Ederat and published in 1927 had given inspiration to Adya Rangacharya. The translation of Jnaneshvari in Kannada was looked upon mainly as a religious book and was read devotedly by Kannada-speakers. Not much attention was paid to the richness of meaning and beauties of expression in it.

Jnaneshvari was translated into Telugu during post-independence period. Shri Digavalli Sheshagiri Ray translated Jnaneshvari into sophisticated Telugu prose. It should be borne in mind that he translated the Hindi translation of the original. It was published under the title Jnaneshvari Bhagavadgeeta in 1949. It ran into a second edition in 1972. The book consists of the biography of Jnaneshvara. Dr. Narasi Reddy has said that other compositions by Jnaneshvara have not been translated into Telugu. The Maratha kings ruled over Telugu province till 1855. Shivaji's brother Ekoji was the first among them. All the Marathi kings helped Telugu language, culture and literature develop. According to Dr. Narasi Reddy, this is the splendid example of Indian tradition.

Dr. Sadanand Moray has written a scholarly article, "Jnaneshvara in Indian English" (Bharatiya Angrejime Jnaneshvara) in Sant Jnaneshvara Jeevan aur Karya. "Geeta explained by Jnaneshvara Maharaj" is the translation by Manu Subedar, of Shri Govind Moghe's original book in Marathi (Subodhini Chhaya). Manu Subedar has freely rendered the book into Marathi in 1932. It ran into a second edition in 1942 and a third one in 1972. The translator himself is not satisfied with his own work. He holds that English is a weak language to fully communicate the message and poetry of Jnaneshvari. Ramchandra Keshav Bhagwat was the first to translate complete Jnaneshvari into English. It was published in two volumes. The first volume was published in 1952 and the second in 1954. The book ran into second edition in 1974. In the seventh decade, UNESCO published the translation by Shri. B. G. Pradhan. Thus the Jnaneshvari was introduced to the whole world. Swami Umanand translated Jnaneshvari under the title "Shri Jnaneshvari as understood by Swami Umanand". It was published in three volumes in 1980. He has called Jnaneshvari "Siddhayoga".

Some adhyayas (chapters) have been translated by some other writers. J. F. Edward wrote a book, Jnaneshvara, the outcast Brahmin, in Dr. Justice Amber's series named "The poet saints of Maharashtra". The book includes the translation of the 18th adhyaya (chapter). J. F. Edward has made use of N. R. Godbole's translation. Shri. V. S. Upalekar translated into English Govind Maharaj's Marathi book Jnaneshvari Subodhini with the help of its Hindi translation by Barsavade.

Shri. K. R. Kulkami translated Amritanubhava into English. The second translation of Amritanubhava was done by Shri Madhav under the title The New Nectar of Divine Experience. It was published in 1918 by Ajay Prakashan, Pune. Both these translators have translated Changdev Pasashti also. Recently the well-known new poet of Marathi, Shri Dilip Chitre, has translated Amritanubhava into English published by Sahitya Akademi.

Jnaneshvara's abhangas have not been translated. Shri K.R. Kulkarni has translated 28 abhangas from Haripath in 1968.

In R. G. Ranade's The History of Indian Philosophy one finds fine interpretation of Jnaneshvara's philosophical thoughts. Shri Bahirat has written The Philosophy of Jnaneshvara which was first published in 1954. Many writers have laid stress on Chidrilasavada of Amritanubhava.

Apart from the books mentioned above there are books such as "Dnyandeo" (1982), a biography of Jnaneshvara by Prof. S. B. Dandekar. "Jnaneshvara, the Superman" (1973), a monograph by P. Y. Deshpande. It is heard that Dr. Ravi Thatte, a renowned expert in plastic surgery, is deeply interested and engaged in translating Jnaneshvari into English.

All the discussion above highlights the fact that other languages were ignorant of Jnaneshvara and his works till the end of the 19th century. The acquaintance with him and his work is the result of exchange of thoughts and works during the post-independence days. Have these translations been at least partial inspiration to the non Marathi readers? The original book has been a constant inspiration to Marathi mind. The prose rendering of Jnaneshvari in Hindi has run into twelve editions whereas the one in Gujarati has run into 16 editions. Sentimental Gujarati people basked in the showers of the nectar of Jnaneshvari. Other parts of the country did not experience such a spiritual thrill. There may be cultural as well as literary reasons for this.

Every region has its own literary and cultural tradition with which people identify themselves. Under such circumstances it becomes difficult for them to greet and digest the impact of others. Tulsidas's Ramacharitamanas that has impressed the minds of people of Northern India as a devotional book, cannot directly appeal to Marathi, Gujarati or Telugu readers. Jnaneshvari moves the heart of Marathi people. It cannot appeal in that degree to the other people. Till the movement for freedom, it was necessary to show and declare that India is one. That there was a cultural unity among the people is beyond doubt, but it was a sort of national necessity to show or restore the unity among diversity. That was why activists like Senapati Bapat and Sane Guruji translated works of other languages into Marathi in the belief that it was a service to nation.

To some extent, translation influenced the psyche of the country. In the exchange of literary and other works in post-independence days, the academic view became more prominent than any other view. The scholar took the advantage of publication facilities. Their works were limited to and influenced only the literary coterie or the esoteric.

In what ways can/should Jnaneshvaribe received and interpreted in other Indian languages?

In Maharashtra there are many factors that have made Jnaneshvari great. In the beginning, I have shown how he had culturally united the people. This historical importance has just been the simple matter of information for a non-Marathi reader. Jnaneshvari has greatly influenced and shaped the psyche of Marathi people. Historically speaking, he did a great service to Marathi language. The glorious identity of Maharashtra consists in the tradition of Bhakti as well as in the great achievement of Shivaji. Jnaneshvara was the founder of Bhakti sect. So he is looked upon as mother of Maharashtra. People of Maharashtra call him Mäuli with great reverence This feeling will be the object of admiration, respect and curiosity for non-Marathi people.

Study of linguistic influence of Jnaneshvari on Marathi in the following periods will be revealing. The importance of philosophical views in Jnaneshvari and Amritanubhava will be limited. In a way, this philosophical approach is the extension of the great Indian philosophical tradition expressed in a regional language. In this context, Jnaneshvara does not claim to be original. It is impossible and unnecessary to show the difference in the life views in Geeta with those revealed in Jnaneshvari.

There is another way to approach Jnaneshvari. It is to study Jnaneshvari along with Amritanubhava and abhangas from the purely aesthetic point of view. To see how the philosophical work with a certain view towards human life becomes intensely poetic will be a rewarding study. A critic will explore new fields if he tries to find out how philosophy without foregoing its theoretical stand expresses itself through images and very rich poetic language. In his book Jnaneshvariteel Vidagatha Rasovritti, Dr. R. S. Walimbe has discussed rasas in Jnaneshvari. He has shown many poetic beauties in Jnaneshvari. At least some part of his book should be translated into other languages, without losing one's critical sight. Some people well-versed in criticism of Marathi poetry have expressed their emotional involvement with poetic beauties of Amritanubhava and Jnaneshvari. They have their own attitudes towards these books. Among such writers are P. Y. Deshpande, Baba Maharaj Pundit, Dr. V. N. Pundit etc.

With devotion and analytical ability, one can draw upon the works of many scholars on Jnaneshvari. The translation of these views can prove the greatness of Jnaneshvara in its varied aspects. Leaving aside the attitude of a commentator of Geeta, Jnaneshvara expresses himself as a creative poet of extraordinary ability. The analysis of philosophical insight that expresses into poetic images and poetic language will be important not only to Marathi language but to other Indian languages also. If the gifted critic applies his mind to various places in Jnaneshvari where his poetic abundance overflows and analyses his poetic concerns, it will be a great tribute to the literature of the world.


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