Reading the biography of Tulsidas was on my list since I read Ramcharitmanas and since I visited his ashram at Tulsi ghat in Varanasi. There even a Tulsi Akhada right behind that which is attributed to him. Little did I realize that I had the biography in my library, picked up during one of my Lucknow trips. Moreover, it has been written by Dr. Yogendra Pratap Singh, the Director of Ayodhya Shodh Sansthan. I have had the privilege of knowing him and working with him for my book ‘Ayodhya Mahatmya’. I knew this is going to be a great read and from someone who has literally taken on the baton from Tulsidas Ji for doing the work of Sri Ram.
The language of the book has a lot of Awadhi influence, especially in the beginning. So, it takes a bit of orientation to mentally be in Awadh and map some of the words. Once you are there, the story just flows. You see an infant Tulsi being orphaned again and again as everyone who takes care of him passes away. It was as if destiny was snatching away everything and at the same time blissfully pushing him towards Ram and Hanuman.
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He gets adopted by a temple priest, from where he keeps meeting his next Gurus who keep teaching him and guiding him. To me, this is a great story of a child, who had no one but immense devotion and talent. He never gave up his faith even when he had to beg for mere morsels as a kid. Eventually, his faith started attracting the right people into his life and gave this world a poet par excellence.
His return to his native village after studying in places like Chitrakoot and Kashi is something we all yearn for. Our birthplace always has a pull that brings her back to it. His marriage to Ratna and his attachment to her as he suddenly found a person to share his lonely life with is also worth reading about. How a person who was so devoted to his Ishta, someone who learned all the scriptures and was an excellent storyteller, gets entangled in Maya after getting married. He finds it difficult to stay without his wife even for few days and chases her to her marital home, only to be kicked by her. This was the kick that would make an ordinary Tulsi in a small village into the creator of one of the greatest poems of its times.
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Tulsidas Ji also comes across as a wanderer. His primary travels were between Varanasi, Chitrakoot, Ayodhya, and his native village Rajapur. There is one mention of his travel to Badrikashram in Garhwal. Though no details of this travel have been mentioned in the book. Even in his small travels, Tulsidas Ji comes across as a Fakir, who moves as soon as he wants to and wherever he is driven to travel. His journey of writing Ramcharitmanas at various places that are associated with Sri Ram as well as Varanasi is interesting to know.
Dr. Singh has endearingly captured the process of making Ramcharitmanas. The sequence of writing different sections, his emotions as he wrote them. The addition of the last section of Uttar Kanda after the description of Ram Rajya is to bring together the different ideologies that were dividing the society.
I had an emotional moment while reading this book when I read about the first visit of Tulsidas Ji to Ram Janambhumi temple in Ayodhya. This is where he took a Sankalp to bring back Ram in the public consciousness. I had a similar moment when I first visited the Ram Janambhumi. I have mentioned this in my book – Lotus In The Stone. It was Déjà vu. I had re-lived the moment that Tulsidas Ji lived a few centuries ago. My belief that the Ram Janambhumi has the power to change your life just got reinforced.
I wish I could hear the Ramkatha from Tulsidas Ji. The book reminded me of the contributions of Tulsidas Ji like establishing Ram Leela as a tradition or setting up Ram temples in Kashi. I did not know he received the title of Goswami when he headed the Lolark Mutt in Kashi. A free soul like him of course could not hold it for too long. He gave it up for his small Kuti. His friendship with Todar Mal and Gangaram astrologer is interesting to read about. I discovered that one of his works is on astrology. Now I need to find that. We all know his Prashanavali that is a part of Ramcharitmanas.
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A very touching life and a very well-written biography. I wish and hope this book gets translated into English and other Indian languages. So that more people can read it. If you have read the works of Tulsidas, you would enjoy reading this biography.