Gyaneshwar (1271 – 1296)
Gyaneshwar was born in 1271 in Alandi, a small village near the Godavari River. His ancestors were from Pethan. His father, Vitthalpant, was unable to handle married life (as he was an ascetic with a holy disposition) and deserted the family for Benaras, where he sought refuge. However, Vitthalpant’s guru, Ramanand Swami found out about his family life. Vitthalpant was sent back home, where three additional children were born to his family. All four children became great spiritual leaders. Both parents passed away by the time Gyaneshwar was 16 years old.
Gyaneshwar was a very talented person; he was enlightened, AND he was a yoga master, a spiritual leader, poet, and an intellectual. Gyaneshwar was initiated by his older brother, Nivrittinath. The latter was initiated by a Nath, hence the ending of his name. Nivrittinath’s guru was Gahinanath. The relationship between the guru and the two boys was such that Nivrittinath would go to his guru’s cave for one or two days per week, and for the rest of the week, Nivrittinath would teach his younger brother, eventually initiating him.
The two brothers were very different. Nivrittinath was like a yogi, very focused on his sadhana in an austere manner. He was strict with himself, a very disciplined practitioner. Gyaneshwar, on the other hand was more of the devotional kind, an emotional person. He love to sing devotional songs and love to listen to the stories of devas and devis. Unlike his brother, the only discipline he had was seeing everything around him as manifestations of Krishna.
Running through this family as a thread were difficult times as a result of Vitthalpant’s decision to abandon his wife as a young householder and shortly after losing his status as a Brahmin. This led to difficulties for the father in finding work, and when the parents passed away, the children found themselves alone and a burder, yet unable to get work because the village treated them as outcasts.
The children had to go to Paithan to obtain a letter of certification that they were Brahmins, so that they could be freed of the consequences of the decisions of their father and be able to find work and move on with their lives. It was during the meeting with the pandits for the letter of certification that Gyaneshwar’s true state of being was revealed to them through his understanding of the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam.
Afterwards, the children set out for Nasik, where they would start over with their new lives. On the way, they stopped at the ashram of Swami Satchidananda, which was at Nevasa. There, they found the Swami very sick with a fever. They took great care of him to bring him back to health. Meanwhile, Nivrittinath and Gyaneshwar went into Nasik to find work, but either there was a lack of work, or the Pandits were suspicious of them, given their family background.
Swami Satchidananda offered them to live there, as he was getting older, and they needed a place to live, teach, cook food for passerbys. They took up on the offer, which lasted for six wonderful years. During that time, there were visitors from the nearby villages who brought with them gifts of food supplies, which was enough to sustain the ashram and its visitors, and they came away with spiritual knowledge and a sense of calm. The ashram was also a place where the siblings were free to pursue their sadhana In their own ways and elevate themselves as spiritual beings.
When Gyaneshwar taught, he used the Bhavagad Gita as the text for helping people meet their spiritual needs. Because of the importance of a concise text of only a few hundred shlokas (verses), Gyaneshwar translated the text into Marathi. He was 19 years old when he wrote the jnaneshwari, which gives an insight into his state of full self-realization at that time.
Many people followed Gyaneshwar because of his knowledge and his feat of performing miracles. Reviving a dead person was one example. However, he was not one to write about these miracles he performed.
It was during the times of the Muslim invasions that Gyaneshwar felt that his end in this life was coming near. He had planned out his samadhi, which his younger sister did not want to see happen. He had made it clear that he had done everything he was to do. His followers had accompanied him to Alandi, where a small rectangular structure was built. It faced the Siddheshvara temple. Gyaneshvar had attained samadhi there in December of 1296.
There are several writings about Gyaneshwar. The most famous ones are the Gyaneshwari and the Amritanubhava, the former his translation of the Bhagavad Gita, and the latter expounding on different aspects of spirituality: Shiva and Shakti; the requirements of speech; knowledge and ignorance (and the refutation of such); existence, consciousness, and bliss; inefficacy of the word; etc.
Featured Image Credit – http://www.freepressjournal.in/mind-matters/sant-dnyaneshwar/397993