Not very much would be known about Bahinabai (1629-1700)
had she not left a verse autobiography that vividly details her life. In
it, she describes the struggles and self-doubt that led her to find refuge
in God. Bahinabai’s father was the brahmin scribe of the village of Devgav,
and after a long while of wishing for a child, Bahini was born to him and
his wife, Janaki. Bahinabai describes herself as a child who didn’t enjoy
playing ordinary games, but who wanted to repeat God’s name and fix her
mind on God. At a young age she developed a great love for the poetry of
Tukaram, and eventually Tukaram came to her in
a dream, placed his hand on her head, and gave her the mantra Rama Krishna
In her writings she describes what happened after she
arose from this dream initiation:
My soul was rocking with joy. With my mind intensely happy,
I went to the Indrayani River. I looked upon the image of Pandurang
when suddenly I felt inspired to be a poetess. I made a namaskar there
to Tukaram, and quickly came back to where we lodged. Says Bahini, “[This
inspiration] came like the tide of the ocean, or like the words of the
God of Thunder in the sky of my heart.”
Bahinabai was now anxious to meet Tukaram in person. However,
her husband, who had always fiercely opposed her devotion to Tukaram, refused
to let her travel to Dehu.
Shortly afterward Bahini’s husband became gravely ill.
At the very brink of death, he repented sincerely for having insulted Tukaram
and Lord Vitthal, and then he miraculously
recovered. At his suggestion, they went together to meet their Master.
“The person of Tukaram, which I’d seen in a dream,” Bahini writes, “now
appeared before me in reality: joy danced in my eyes …. Tukaram took
possession of my heart. Says Bahini, ‘I shook with joy. This joy the wise
know through experience.”‘ She and her husband lived on for many years
in Dehu, where Bahinabai took samadhi at the age of seventy-one . . .
In Maharashtra, Bahinabai is
celebrated as both the ideal bhakta, one who is fully dedicated to God,
and the pativrata, one who dedicates herself to her spouse. In this way,
she reconciles these two scripturally based ideals, and offers the powerful
example of a saint whoin the face of many trials and tribulationssuccessfully
realized God in the midst of her worldly life.
Chaitanya is the all-pervasive
He has come to me in the form of Tukaram,
the merciful one.
Takaram is always in my heart.
He is the subject of my adoration,
both in thought and in deed.
My uplifter of the downtrodden,
My friend of the lowly,
My lord Hari lives in Pandharpur
on the banks of the Bhima River.
With lovely feet He stands on a brick
Charming everyone with His beautiful form.
He wears a garland of jewels around
On His waist there is a cloth of yellow silk.
His forehead is adorned with sandalwood paste,
He wears earings,
And all His body is touched with sacred ash.
The crown on His head, shining with gems,
gives Him a regal glow.
His teeth sparkle with the light of diamonds.
Bahinabai says, “This is the one I hold in my heart.”
Look upon your body as the universe itself
But always stand above as a witness.
but at the same time be beyond everything.
Learn how to accomplish this from the Guru.
Consider a rock as equal to gold
And embrace the supreme state of Brahma.
Consider desire and attachments as an illusion
And live joyfully among the people of the world.
Hold to your own Self wherever you are,
Whether in the city or in the forest.
“The root itself may be hidden
but look at its form
through the eyes of knowledge. “
Now, finally, I will tell everyone:
Keep holy and honor the the feeling
of your heart.
In this age, there are many teachings
You can find them in every house
like common vegetables.
“Only the feeling in your heart will save you.
This is all I have to say. “
the above is excerpted from:
“Honor the True Feeling”
The Poet-Saints of Maharashtra
special issue of Darshan magazine
#80 (November, 1993)
Trans. by Justin E. Abbott
Re-rendered by Jonathan Star
Poona Scottish Mission Industries Co, 1929