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Kabir Das and Rama Dasu
Vasu Reddy from Chicago
ANR has been a part of the Telugu and Indian Cinema all of its history excepting the first 20 years of its existence. His many performances continue in the memory of Telugu moviegoers more than a generation after he stopped being a hero on screen. While watching Sree Rama Dasu movie, the role ANR played of Kabir Das was an emotional inspiration. I searched the Internet to figure out the real connection in life of Sree Rama Dasu and Kabir Das, and could not find any situational or coincidental history that ties them together. In reality they could have been 200 years apart in their lifetime, and have no physical contact. With the exception of devotion to Lord Ram within them, perhaps there was no connection with each other. They also come from different parts of India, and assuming the significance of distances with travel and difficulties of language there was no connection between them. My research was limited to just browsing the many references to see the connection between the two men who were both quite devotionally inspirational in their words and deeds.
The current depiction of Rama Dasu on silver screen presented the relationship between Kabir Das and Rama Dasu beautifully, with Kabir playing the role of Guru to Rama Dasu and even naming him Rama Dasu from Gopanna. Despite the historical reality of them never existing at the same time, the current depiction is wonderful to watch on screen. If you simply ignore the facts or did not know the facts about each of these great saints, you would for every minute enjoy the relationship portrayed on screen by real life father (ANR) and son (Nagarjuna). Many times in the movie tears are easy to come as the display of devotion to Lord Rama is simply inescapable. People of all faiths will associate the pure devotion to the name of Lord Rama. Kabir Das and Rama Dasu are of different religions and take the name of Lord Rama, while showing faithfulness to each of their own ways of life. My imagination did not recollect the historical anomaly of them never being alive at the same time, but simply the drama of them being together in praise of Lord Rama.
Grown men and women seldom have time to reminisce on their childhood memories of God’s stories, but mine are always with me. My maternal grandparents and their family come from a small town called Kovilakunta in Kurnool District, and they continue to live in the same home with my mom’s second brother still lives there. He and my Mom both have Rama in their names. A couple of years ago when I went to see him, I also went to see the little temple my grandparents built in the village for Lord Rama. It’s a little temple and still very small just behind my grand parents home, and still visited by the folks around the place. It gave me great pleasure to visit the temple my folks built, and my uncle was happy that I remembered to ask and visit our Temple. The Chicago Rama Temple was built not just with money but a great deal of work done by our people (www.ramatemple.org), and I was an enthusiastic volunteer for the Rama Temple built in Lemont. For some reasons beyond what I can comprehend being a part of building a Temple is a great association, and being a part of a Rama Temple is filled with great emotions than that of any other religious devotion.
In watching the fictional story of Kabir Das and Rama Dasu at the same historical time frame in the movie Sree Rama Dasu, delivers tremendous watching pleasure to moviegoers. Watching the great saints together and the connection drawn between them is wonderful fiction. No one in the theater really would believe that the two men never existed in the same time and never met and may never have had any association. I am not even sure if the theatergoers even realize or should even realize the impact of these two saints together? It seemed perfectly natural for me to believe even for a short time that the movie lasted, that they we meant to be together in the praise of Lord Rama.
Kancharla Gopanna popularly known as Bhakta Rama Dasu in the year 1630 AD constructed Bhadrachalarama temple. He was born to Linganna Murthy and Kamamba in Nelakondapalli village of Khammamett Taluk in 17th century (1630 AD). As Tasildar he was discharging his official duties earnestly and collecting revenues due to Nawabs in continuation of daily preaches - Chanting of 'Ramanama' and the feeding the poor at his house. Rama Dasu who heard the news that the villagers of palvoncha paragana were proceeding to witness Jatara at Bhadrachalam, he too out of curiosity visited Bhadrachalam. When he found the deities in an amazing appearance, Rama Dasu then asked the villagers to contribute liberally for the construction of the temple. The villagers in response appealed him to spend the revenue collections for the construction of the temple with a promise to repay the amount after harvesting the crops. As such Rama Dasu constructed the temple with an amount of Rs 6 Lakhs collected from the land revenues with out the permission of the Nizam Nawab.
When temple reached to nearing completion, he had a problem of fixing 'Sudarshana Chakra' at the crest of the main temple. He deeply distressed and fell into sleep. On the same night, Lord Rama in his dream asked him to have a holy dip in river Godavari where he will find that - accordingly. On the next day morning Gopanna did so and found holy Sudarshana Chakra in the river with out much difficulty. He presumed that Sudarshana Chakra itself was shaped up with the divine power of his beloved God Rama. Soon after the construction, his miseries started. He was dismissed from service for mis-utilisation of revenue for constructing the temple and was kept in jail for 12 long years in Golconda Fort and was tortured. Unable to withstand the miseries, Rama Dasu implored Lord Rama to relieve him by singing many praising and emotional songs, which got popularized from the stanzas of 'Dasaradhi Sathakam ' and 'Keertanas' of Bhakta Rama Dasu.
The Nizam Nawab Tanishah, the then ruler of Nizam's territory became a devotee of Lord Rama who realized the devotion spirit of Rama Dasu after his imprisonment and took over the charge of temple administration. This resembles the communal harmony amongst the Hindus and Muslims.
The Nizam Nawab, Tanishah realized Rama Dasu's devotional spirit and dedication towards Lord Rama, when Lord Rama and Laxmana repaid 6 lakhs Mohurs exposing themselves as Ramoji and Laxmoji, the servants of Bhakta Rama Dasu to get release of their devotee from the imprisonment. Thanisha gave voucher to these divine looking persons who approached him at his house during late night. Then they kept the voucher under the pillow of Gopanna where he was jailed. Tanishah who woke up on the very next day morning realized that those divine looking persons were none other than Lord Rama and Laxmana and made arrangements to get release of Gopanna and prayed to forgive him by placing all the Gold Mohurs received last night at the feet of Gopanna. But, he refused to take back those mohurs except two as a mark of divine significance, and these two coins can still be seen in Bhadrachalam Temple.
Influenced by the majesty of Lord Rama, Golconda Ruler Tanishah earmarked the income derived from the said Palwoncha paragana which came to Rs 20,000 and odd for the maintenance of the temple which was continued during Nizam's reign and offering Pearls on the occasion of kalyana mahotsavam (Sri Rama Navami) to Deities on an elephant through a specially sent messenger. That procedure of sending pearls to the Deities is still followed by present state Government and continued to offer during Sri Rama Navami Festival.
Tumu Narsimha Dasa, Tahasildar of Palwoncha paragana, along with his associate Varada Ramadasa came here from Guntur and took over charge of Bhadrachalarama temple after Rama Dasu made inscripted the performance of Nitya Poojas and sevas right from early morning "Suprabhata Seva" till night "Pavalimpu Seva" before closure of the temple as "Silaasaasanaalu" on these two pillars. This inscription gave details of daily dittam and daily rituals also.
Saint Kabir Das (Kabir, Arabic for "great", dasa, Sanskrit for "slave" or "servant"), is widely acknowledged as one of the great personality of the Bhakti movement in North India. He was, as is widely acknowledged, born in year 1398 AD (71 years before Guru Nanak). Kabirpanthis (followers of Kabir) say that he lived up to the age of 120 years and give date of his death as 1518, but relying on the research of Hazari Prasad Trivedi, a British Scholar Charlotte Vaudenville is inclined to lend credence to these dates and has proven that 1448 is probably the correct date of Saint Kabir's demise.
He is one of the medieval Indian saints of Bhakti and Sufi movement whose compositions figure in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. From among all of them, Kabir's contribution is the largest, 227 Padas in 17 ragas and 237 slokas. Under each raga or musical mode marking a section of the Holy Book, Kabir's hymns appear at the head of Bhagat Bani, a generic name for the works of contributors other than the Gurus. The presence of a substantial amount of Kabir's verse in the Sikh Scripture and chronologically he being the predecessor of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith, led some Western scholars to describe him as the forerunner of Sikhism. Some have even called him the preceptor of Guru Nanak There is, however, ample evidence to prove that Guru Nanak and Kabir had ever met their periods of time in fact do not coincide. Kabir's compositions do figure in what are known as Goindval Pothis, anthologies of the hymns of the Gurus along with those of some of the Bhaktas prepared in the time of Guru Amar Das, Nanak III. They were included in the Guru Granth Sahib as well. But this happened much later when Guru Arjan, fifth in spiritual line from the Founder, compiled the Holy Book. Besides his own works and those of his four predecessors, he entered in it hymns of some saints and mystics both Hindu and Muslim, Kabir was one of them.
Kabir Das lived in the fifteenth century after Christ, which was a time of great political upheaval in India. As is true of many contemporary religious teachers, very little reliable information concerning Kabir's life is available, though there is no dearth of legend gathering around him. Kabir's life was centered around Kashi, also called Banaras (Varanasi). Legend has it that he was actually the son of a Brahmin widow who abandoned him and that he was found by a Muslim weaver named Niru, who adopted the boy and taught him the weaver's trade. It is not clear whether he ever married, but tradition gives him a wife named Loi and two children. His caste was that of Julaha and from his sayings his caste's hereditary occupation of weaving. On the basis of modern research, it seems probable that Kabir belonged to a family of non-celibate yogis converted, not long before and to a considerable degree superficially to Islam. From the writings of Kabir it seems that his knowledge of Islam was slight, rather in his poetical utterances (Bani) a wealth of Hathayoga terminology and a thought structure which bears obvious resemblance to Nath Yogis. Nath Yogis in addition to the yogic conception that all truth is experimental, i.e. to be realized within the body with the aid of psycho-physical practices, concentration, control of breathing and thus making the body incorruptible and the yogis immortal.
Bhakti movement was started by Hindu saints while Sufi mysticism by Muslim saints in medieval India (1200-1700). Kabir immensely contributed to the Bhakti Movement and is considered a pioneer of Bhakti along with Ravidas, Farid, and Namdev. His concept of love as a path of suffering may possibly indicate, in some measure, a debt to the Sufis. These and other elements from Nath tradition, bhakti and Sufism, Kabir combined with his own mystical nature and produced synthesis which is the distinctive religion of Kabir. Tradition tells us that Swami Ramanand was his Guru (a teacher).
In fifteenth century, Banaras was the seat of Brahmin orthodoxy and their learning center. Brahmins had strong hold on all the spheres of life in this city. Thus Kabir belonging to a low caste of Julaha had to go through immense tough time of preaching his ideology. Kabir and his followers would gather at one place in the city and meditate. Brahmins ridiculed him for preaching to prostitutes and other low castes. Kabir satirically denounced Brahmins and thus won hearts of people around him. There is no doubt that single most famous important person from the city of Banaras today is none other than Saint Kabir.
Kabir through his couplets not only reformed the mindset of common villagers and low caste people but give them self confidence to question Brahmins. It was 100 years after him that Tulsidas broke the hegemony of Brahmins by writing Ram Charitra Manas, a poem of Ramayana at Benaras which went against the tradition of Brahmins. Kabir was in fact first person to go against Brahmins and be so successful. Benaras was devastated by an attack by a Muslim invader Tamur Lang or "Tamur the lame" during his time. Kabir also denounced mullahs and their rituals of bowing towards kaba five times a day. Because of open condemnation of established and popular religions, Kabir became an object of the wrath of both Hindus and Muslims in and around Benaras. Kabir traveled in and around Banaras to preach his beliefs.
Kabir Das believed in self-surrender and God's bhakti. The Kabirpanthis follow a light of singing the praises of God, prayers and a simple and pure life of devotion. Kabir recommends ceaseless singing of God's praises. He virtually suggests withdrawal from the world. He is against all ritualistic and ascetic methods as means to salvation. It is true that Kabir refers to some yogic terms in describing the meditation and mystic methods of the yogis. But, there is no ground to suggest that he himself recommends the yogic path. In fact, far from recommending yoga, he is quite strong in condemning ascetic or yogic methods, and says that yogis, in their meditations, become prey to Maya. The point will, however be considered further while comparing Radical Bhakti with Nathism.
The moral tone is quite strong in Kabir's hymns. "Kabir deck thyself with garments of love. Love them is given honor whose body and soul speak the truth." "The ruby of goodness is greater than all the mines of rubies, all the wealth of three worlds resides in the goodness of heart. When the wealth of contentment is won, all other wealth is as dust." "Where there is mercy, there is strength, where there is forgiveness there is He." "The man who is kind and practices righteousness, who remains passive in the affairs of the world, who considers creatures of the world as his own self, he attains the immortal Being; the true God is ever with him. Kabir suggests inward worship and remembrance of God. For him, true worship is only inwards. Put on the rosary inward. By counting beads, the world will be full of light. He clearly suggests moral discrimination between good and bad deeds.
It is not surprising that Kabir's satire was brought to bear not simply on the vices and weaknesses of men but reached through and beyond them to the very system themselves. It was the authority of Vedas and Quran that more than the authority of Brahmin or Qazi which Kabir attacked. He rebelled against the pretension of resolving by the means of books or by way of authority, the mystery of human conditions and the problem of liberation (Moksha). He spent his last 40 days living in a place where it was believed that if you die you will be born as a donkey in next life.
Kabir Das was a firm advocate of ahimsa. His doctrine extends even to the non-destruction of flowers. Among the fifty commandments laid down for the followers of Kabir, vegetarianism is one of them. For Kabir, moral life involves adherence to ahimsa.
In common with all monastic, ascetic or otherworldly sects, Kabir Das does not think well of women. There is almost a tirade against them in the hymns of Kabir. Woman is characterized as "a black cobra', the pit of hell and the refuse of the world." She is considered to be a hurdle in the path of the spiritual progress of man. He spoke, "woman ruins everything when she comes near a man; devotion, salvation and divine knowledge no longer enter his soul." His views, about woman are also evident from all his vehement attacks against Maya. Almost everywhere he links Maya to a woman who is out to entice and entrap man, and destroy his spiritual life. Such views about woman from a married person are, indeed, quite uncommon. The cosmological views of Kabir give a clear clue to his worldview. He finds Niranjana to be the creator of the world; Maya or woman, and this woman stands between man and God and she is there to entice man away from God.
Kabir Das composed no systematic treatise rather his work consists of many short didactic poems, often expressed in terse vigorous language in the form of poetry. Besides his work recorded in 1604 A.D. in Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev, Nanak V, and preserved inviolate since, two other collections exist - Kabir Granthavali, and Bijak. In his poems, he was quick to tell the illustrations of moral and spiritual truth in the incidents of everyday life, and many of his similes and metaphors are very striking.
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