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Jnaneswar, apostle of Bhakti

Jnaneswar unleashed a silent movement against the religious monopoly of the orthodoxy.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2006 16:55 IST

It is heart-warming on a wintry morning by the now-dry river Indrayani at Alandi in Maharashtra, to see the huge pilgrim turnout. Alandi is the samadhi or last resting place of Saint Jnaneshwar (1274-1296), whose punyatithi is on November 18 this year.

The charming boyish figure of Jnaneswar belies the prodigious spiritual status of this sage-mystic who at merely fifteen wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Bhavartha-Deepika (The Light of Meaning). Known as the Jnaneswari, it has been a household text in Maharashtrian homes for centuries. Initiated early by his elder brother, Nivrittinath, a follower of the Nath Sampradaya of sanyasis, Jnaneswar revolutionised Bhakti literature. Amongst the first to use Marathi to spread and demystify the message of the ancient texts, Jnaneswar unleashed a silent movement against the religious monopoly of the orthodoxy. This new paradigm became the rallying point of many a mystic and reformer later.

The centrality of cosmic love marks Jnaneshwar's other major work Amritanubhava, - The Nectar of Wisdom, an insight into the experience of the Ultimate Merger . In continuation of the traditional four Purusharthas (dharma, kama, artha, moksha), Jnaneswar posits Bhakti as another life goal. Paradoxically he views it as a non-goal that's essential if human beings are live in an ambience of sharing, loving and caring. This concept of "generous fellowship" stems from another unique concept which Jnaneswar revived after centuries, of viewing the union of Shiva-Shakti as "one of parenting or engendering this universe" in contrast to theories that see the world as illusion.

It is this divine parenting love which is recreated in our world as Bhakti towards the Self and as mutual love between fellow human beings.

Miracle stories abound about Jnaneswar's yogic feats, like making a bull recite the Vedas or riding on a wall to meet the yogi Changdev to crush his ego about his own hatha yoga powers. But perhaps the real miracle is the short life of Jnaneswar itself in which he encompassed many lifetimes, ending with "sanjivan-samadhi", the voluntary entombment of his physical body in the meditation pose.

First Published: Nov 17, 2006 16:55 IST