When Goswami Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas in the sixteenth
century, he chose to convey his spiritual message using the story
from Maharishi Valmiki’s Ramayana, an engrossing tale and one of
the greatest epics of all time. It describes how the Lord took birth
in human form as Ram, grew up as a prince and married Sita. The
epic then recounts how Ram was exiled to the forest, where Sita
was kidnapped by Ravan, and then tells of Ram’s search for Sita
and battle with Ravan and his demon army to rescue her.
Since Tulsidas chose to retell the Ramayana in beautiful verse
using the language of northern India at that time, his Ramcharit-
manas gripped the minds of the people and remains one of the
most treasured works of India.
Radha Soami Satsang Beas has already published a book on
the Ramcharitmanas called The Teachings of Goswami Tulsidas
by Dr K.N. Upadhyaya. This book provides a comprehensive
exploration into the deep and and often hidden mystical aspects
of Tulsidas’s teachings. But since Tulsidas presented his teachings
through the medium of a powerful story, we decided to publish a
new book that presents Tulsidas’s teachings interwoven into the tale
of the Ramayana just as Tulsidas did to make his message accessible
to readers today. In this new book, entitled Ramcharitmanas: Love
and Devotion, the story has been summarized for ease of reading.
The book presents the most significant spiritual teachings of the
story as quotations given both in English and Tulsidas’s original
The Ramcharitmanas is a narration by Lord Shiva in answer to
a question from his wife Parvati.
The Ramcharitmanas portrays the response to this apparent
contradiction. The deeds and teachings of Ram are narrated, and
the unfathomable splendour of the Lord in mortal form — a being
both fully human and perfectly divine — is portrayed. As different
characters in the story express their confusion about who Ram really
is, Tulsidas makes it clear that he is the Supreme Lord, the One
"who is without attributes, indivisible, infinite, without beginning
or end ... the incomparable One who is without equal’.
Tulsidas then explains that the Lord takes on a human form
"for his devotees. He submits himself to their will and for their sake
assumes a human form and plays many roles." As the embodiment
of profound love and compassion, Ram inspires intense devotion,
and the interplay of the beloved Ram and his devotees is one of
the most beautiful accounts of all devotional literature.
The epic is a complex tale, so to help orient the reader as the plot
unfolds, each section of this book begins with a short introduction.
Boxed commentaries are also included to explain and reinforce
the important spiritual messages in the work in the context of
present-day experience. A section at the end of the book gives
brief background information on the authors and books quoted
in the commentaries.
Since there are a number of Indian terms and a wide cast of
characters in the epic, a glossary has also been provided to explain
the terms and give information about the characters. A subject
index is also included.
Radha Soami Satsang Beas aims to support seekers of spiritual
truth, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or culture. Just as this
timeless epic was enlivened by Tulsidas and made relevant for
the people of his time, we hope that Ramcharitmanas: Love and
Devotion will inspire and enrich the understanding and devotional
practice of readers today.
Goswami Tulsidas is considered one of India’s greatest poets and
mystics, and his magnum opus, the Ramcharitmanas, is one of
the most beloved works of Indian literature. The Ramcharitmanas
relates the ancient story of Ram, a great saga of good overcoming
evil, of virtue, honour and the divine romance between the Lord
and his souls. In telling this tale, Tulsidas also conveys the essence
of the Hindu scriptures and the teachings of the saints. Further, he
uses a beautiful form of poetry, the chaupai, a four-syllabled metre
that does not have an equivalent in English. The combination of
the form — the melodious metred rhythm of the chaupai — and
the content leads to a masterpiece of Indian literature: a riveting
tale of a God-hero and an inspiring guide to the bhakti marg, the
path of devotion.
The earliest known work telling the story of Ram is the Ramayana,
the famous Sanskrit epic by Valmiki." In this work, Valmiki presents
Ram as a noble human who is the epitome of dharma — cosmic
order, religious duty and moral responsibility. In Valmiki’s version
Ram is an ideal man, a great hero and warrior, who incarnates to
battle evil and eliminate the menace of the demon-king Ravan.
Ram is also an incarnation of Lord Vishnu,‘ but Valmiki’s focus is
primarily on Ram as a perfect human being.
Ram’s story was subsequently retold by a number of authors,
each in his own style and language and with different spiritual -
imports. Tulsidas’s story presents Ram not only as a perfect human,
a paragon of virtue, a role model and a great warrior, but also as the
Supreme Being himself. Throughout the Ramcharitmanas Tulsidas
reminds us that while it is easy to idolize Ram as a perfect human
being, one must not forget that in fact he is the Lord himself, who
is "desireless, formless and nameless". As Tulsidas explains.
Tulsidas depicts Ram playing various roles — he is an ideal son,
brother, friend, disciple, husband and guide. In every role Ram
upholds the high principles of dharma and morality with love,
compassion and understanding. He also undergoes the same ups
and downs that human beings experience and exhibits the emo-
tions of pain and joy that we feel. This is why the Ramcharitmanas
has such a wide following. Indian scriptures and literature tell of
other incarnations who have come to earth and battled evil. But
as the classical scholar Shankarnarayana notes: "In none of them
had god to share the joys and sorrows of the mortal kind.... (Ram)
was pre-eminent over all the rest, for in (his incarnation) alone we
meet a suffering God, who suffering man can understand."
Tulsidas broke with tradition, composing his work in Avadhi,
a dialect of Hindi that was the language of the common people,
rather than Sanskrit, the language of the priestly and elite classes.
It was a bold move. Historically Sanskrit had been the de-facto
language of Hindu religious books or interpretations of the scrip-
tures. But Sanskrit was a language the common person did not
understand, and it was this audience that Tulsidas wanted to reach.
As S.P. Bahadur’ says: "Tulsidas brought Divinity from the august
precincts of temples of learning to the simple homes of common
men, presenting dharma as a way of life instead of only a theology."
Who was this saint who could communicate the high and subtle
teachings of the bhakti path in a way that touched the hearts and
captured the imaginations of people from all levels of society, from
the peasant to the pundit?
Tulsidas was born around the year 1532 CE in Rajapur in the
Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is said that right from birth he
would often repeat the name of Ram, so people began to call him
‘Rambola’ (an utterer of the word Ram). When he found his guru
(believed to be Narhari Das), his guru changed his name from
Rambola to Tulsidas.
His guru was a disciple of Swami Anantananda, who was a
disciple of Swami Ramananda. Among Ramanandas prominent dis-
ciples and their subsequent successors were Anantananda, Narhari,
Kabir, Ravidas, Pipa, Mirabai and others. Thus Tulsidas stands
among these great poet-saints who gave such exquisite expression
to the way of bhakti in the generations after Ramananda.
Tulsidas frequently heard the enchanting story of Ram at his
guru's feet and developed a deep understanding of its underlying
spiritual essence. It is thought that he lived with his guru for about
fifteen years, deeply immersed in learning the scriptures, various
systems of philosophy and the practice of bhakti.
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