Sahaj Prakash: The Brightness of Simplicity adds a new voice to the small number of Indian women devotional poets available in English.
Born in 1725, Sahajo Bai was a disciple of the great Delhi teacher, Charandas. In accordance with her name which suggests "the essence of simplicity", her poetry is marked by a natural style and direct emotional expression. Its major themes are human experience, service of the guru, and the company of the holy ones. As the American scholar Daniel Gold has written: "Sahajo's guru-devotion is legendary". The poetry delicately hints at the complexity of the relationship between the young woman devotee and her powerful Master.
HARRY AVELING and SUDHA JOSHI have also translated The Last Morning Star, discourses by Osho Rajneesh on the poetry of Daya Bai, Sahajo's sister-disciple. Mrs. Sudha Joshi M.A. (Agra) has recently retired as Head of the Hindi Program, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Harry Aveliobe rng Ph.D. (National University of Singapore), also of La Trobe University, served as Visiting Associate Professor of English in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland (College Park) during 1999.
This book is intended to introduce the work of the now relatively unknown Hindi devotional poet Sahajo Bai to readers of Indian literature and those interested in Hinduism through the provision of a con-temporary translation of her major work Sahaj Prakash. The original text is also given for comparative purposes.
Sahajo was a leading disciple of Charandas, one of the great Hindu spiritual masters of eighteenth century Delhi. Her very name suggests -.simplicity", "ease", and "naturalness". In accordance with these char-acteristics, the poetry she wrote is marked by its simplicity of style and its directness of emotional expression. Osho Rajneesh, whose discourses focused new attention on Sahajo Bai's poetry during the 1970s, has described her as "a very ordinary, simple-hearted woman", with no pre-tensions to literary or philosophical greatness. Rajneesh spoke on her work, however, because he believed that "she was awakened". He com-mented: "Just her wakening is valuable, everything else is not worth a penny. However great a scholar you may be, if you are sleeping you are 31 no use. And even if you know nothing but you wake up, then all rowing has happened" (Osho 1998: 70).
It is our hope that this book will enable the work of this devotion-al woman poet to be better known and appreciated within India and Ibroad, and that readers will use the book in many different ways, acaiernic and creative, as seems most appropriate to them.
Charandas The major topic of Sahaj Prakash is Sahajo Bai's devotion for her guru, Charandas (his full religious name was Ram Charandas, "the servant of 1-he feet of Rama"). The American scholar Daniel Gold, author of a Dior study to which we are much indebted, The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in North Indian Tradition (1987), has stated that "Sahajo's guru devotion is, indeed, legendary". Gold notes that besides "reflecting intellectually on the transformative power of the guru", Sahajo also "treats ;tactical problems of guru-devotion at length: obeying the guru's orders, -eying them, and grasping 'the guru's word"' (Gold 1987: 82). Charandas provides a succinct autobiographical sketch of his own in his work known as the Inanaswarodaya: Ranjit Singh was born in 1703 CE at Dehra, near Alwar in Rajasthan. His caste status is ambiguous. Although he acknowledged membership of the "Dhusar" merchant caste, he has often been referred to as a "Bhargava" as well. This caste claims descent from Bhrigu, the Vedic seer. Ranjit could also have been considered, therefore, as an "ambiva-lently pure" Brahmin (Gold 1987: 68). When the boy was about five years old, his father is said to have died. Muralidhar apparently had the habit of going off into the forest to meditate. As Gold simply notes: "one day he never came back" (1987: 68). The father may have suffered an accident. Alternatively, he may have impetuously decided to join up with a group of wandering ascetics. There is, of course, no way we can tell. In either case, as a consequence, Ranj it's mother, Kunjo Rani, moved to Delhi to join her parents who had recently settled there. Charandas spent the greater part of the rest of his life in Delhi, when he was not touring. His mother presumably lived in the precincts of his temple too and is praised several times in Sahajo's poetry.
Despite Muralidhar's early disappearance, the influence of his example was decisive for his son. As a teenager, Ranjit himself for several years often went outside the city where he lived, to meditate and seek initiation to the ascetic life. At nineteen, Ranjit became a disciple of the individual Sahajo describes in the first poem in this volume as "grandfather Shukdeva ji". In Poem 83 (these numbers have been added to the text for ease of reference), she spells out the full lineage of disciple succession to which she claimed allegiance:
The names of the lineage have potentially multiple references. Videha may have been a human renunciant but the name is also the name of the Vedic king who is sometimes called Janaka. Sahajo describes him in Poem 80 as the founder of Sankhya philosophy. Shukdeva may well have been an ordinary mendicant. W. Crooke (1896: 202) refers to "Baba Sukhdeva Das, a fairs of high religious attainments", who initiated Charandas at Shukra Tal near Muzaffamagar. Drawing on the Swarodaya, and incidently casting an. interesting light on one aspect of Charandas's name, G.A. Grierson (1910: 366) describes how:
the saint took the lame youth on his shoulders and after carrying him some distance, initiated him as a disciple, teaching him the Rama-mantra, or initiatory formula of the Rama worshippers and instructed him in faith in God (Hari-bhakti) and knowledge of the Supreme (Brahma-jnana).
The description of the initiation marks it as being "the traditional Hindu style of a proper Vaishnava initiation" (Gold 1987: 72).
Charandas himself believed that Shukdev was far more than a mere human sadhu. He identified his preceptor with the divine Shukdeva, the perpetually youthful son of Vyasa, who had divided the Vedas, recited the Mahabharata and composed the Upanishads. Capable of manifesting himself at different times in history, Shukdev had appeared to the child Ranjit while he was still in Dehra, and then in his adolescence pointed him to Shukra Tal, the place of his future ini-tiation, and the same place where Shukdev had originally explained the Mahabahrata to King Pariksit (Gold 1987: 72). There was a further sociological and religious significance to this conjunction of master and disciple. As Gold (1987: 69) explains: "For Charandas to affirm Shukdev the son of Vyasa to be his guru ... is to affirm his links as a Bhargava to the Mahabharata and ultimately to the Veda. In Shukdev, Charandas finds a direct link to the origins of the Hindu tradition through an appealing and unsullied source". (The psychological links of an abandoned son finding a spiritual father in the wilderness where his own father had disappeared are also worth some consideration.)
Following this initiation, Charandas practised various forms of yoga for fourteen years, including Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga and sankhya yoga. Gold (1987: 72) describes this as -a long period of non-Vaishnava ascesis". However, the nature of his initiation, and the reference to the regular practice of bhakti yoga, throw some doubt onto this assertion. It should especially be noted that these practices accord very closely with the statement by Krishna in the Shrimad Bhagavatam that there are "only three ways of liberation laid down by me ... knowledge, yoga and devotion" (A.C. Bhaktivedanta 1976: 122). This threefold combination occurs frequently in Sahajo's Poetry as her summary of his teachings and practice. It would, there- fore, be fitting reward for his devotion to Hari that, some time in middle life, while visiting the holy land of Vraj Charandas was granted a vision of the Lord Krishna, as well as a further revelation of shukdev. These visions were considered by his biographers to be major events in his life.
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