Lives of Indian Saints

  • By Swami Sivananda
  • August 2001

Saints of North India

The saints included in this chapter are Tulsidas, Kabir, The Saintly King Pi Tulsidas, Kabir, The Saintly King Pipa, Narsi Mehta, Dadu, Akha, Milarepa of Tibet, Gorakhnath and Saint Haridas. I have covered Tulsidas, Kabir and Narsi Mehta.


 Tulsidas was born in Rajpur, in the district of Banda in Uttar Pradesh, in Samvat 1589 or 1532 A.D. He was a Sarayuparina Brahmin by birth and is regarded as an incarnation of Valmiki, the author of Ramayana written in Sanskrit. His father’s name was Atmaram Shukla Dube and his mother’s name Hulsi. Tulsidas did not cry at the time of his birth. He was born with all the thirty-two teeth intact. In childhood his name was Tulsiram or Ram Bola.

 Tulsidas’s wife’s name was Buddhimati (Ratnavali). Tulsidas’s son’s name was Tarak. Tulsidas was passionately attached to his wife. He could not bear even a day’s separation from her. One day his wife went to her father’s house without informing her husband. Tulsidas stealthily went to see her at night at his father-in-law’s house. This produced a sense of shame in Buddhimati. She said to Tulsidas, “My body is but a network of flesh and bones. If you would develop for lord Rama even half the love that you have for my filthy body you would certainly cross the ocean of Samsara and attain immortality and eternal bliss”. These words pierced the heart of Tulsidas like an arrow. He did not stay there even for a moment. He abandoned home and became an ascetic. He spent fourteen years in visiting the various sacred places of pilgrimage.

 While returning from answering the call of nature, Tulsidas used to throw the water that was left in his water-pot at the roots of a tree which a spirit was occupying. The spirit was very much pleased with Tulsidas. The spirit said, “O man! Get a boon from me”. Tulsidas replied, “Let me have Darshan of lord Rama”. The spirit said, “Go to the Hanuman temple. There Hanuman comes in the guise of a leper to hear the Ramayan as the first hearer and leaves the place last of all. Get hold of him. He will help you”. Accordingly, Tulsidas met Hanuman, and through His grace, had Darshan or vision of Lord Rama.

 Tulsidas wrote twelve books. The most famous book is his Ramayan-Ram_charit-manas-in Hindi. He wrote this book under the directions of Hanuman. This Ramayan is read and worshipped with great reverence in every Hindu home in Northern India. It is an inspiring book. It contains sweet couplets in beautiful rhyme. Vinaya Patrika is another important book written by Tusidas.

 Some thieves came to Tulsidas’s Ashram to take away his goods. They saw a blue-complexioned guard, with bow and arrow in his hands, keeping watch at the gate. Wherever they moved, the guard followed them. They were frightened. In the morning they asked Tulsidas, “O venerable saint! We saw a young guard with bow and arrow in his hands at the gate of your residence. Who is this man”? Tulsidas remained silent and wept. He came to know that Lord Rama Himself had been taking the trouble to protect his goods. He at once distributed all his wealth among the poor.

 Tulsidas lived in Ayodhya for some time. Then he shifted to Varanasi. One day a murderer came and cried, “For the love of Rama give me alms. I am a murderer”. Tulsi called him to his house gave him sacred food, which had been offered to the lord and declared that the murderer was purified. The Brahmins of Varanasi reproached Tulsidas and said, “How can the sin of a murderer be absolved? How could you eat with him? If the sacred bull of Siva-Nandi-would eat from the hands of the murderer, then only we would accept that he had been purified”. Then the murderer was taken to the temple and the bull ate from his hands. The Brahmins were put to shame.

 Tulsidas once went to Brindavan. He visited a temple. He saw the image of lord Krishna. He said, “How shall I describe The beauty, O Lord! But Tulsi will bow his head only when You take up bow and arrow in Your hands”. The Lord revealed Himself before Tulsidas in the form of Lord Rama with bow and arrows.

 Tulsidas’s blessings brought the dead husband of a poor woman back to life. The Moghul emperor at Delhi came to know of the great miracle done by Tulsidas. He sent for Tulsidas. Tulsidas came to the emperor’s court. The emperor asked the saint to perform some miracle. Tulsidas replied, “I have no superhuman power. I know only the name of Rama”. The emperor put Tulsi in prison and said, “I will release you only if you show me a miracle”. Tulsi then prayed to Hanuman. Countless bands of powerful monkeys entered the royal court. The emperor got frightened and said, “O saint, forgive me. I know your greatness now”. He at once released Tulsi from prison.

 Tulsi left his mortal coil and entered the Abode of Immortality and Eternal Bliss in 1623 A.D. at the age of ninety one at Asighat in Varanasi.


Kabir was born in 1440 A.D. The probable date of his death is 1519 A.D. as mentioned in Kabir Ka Santi. Kabir died at Maghar near Gorakhpur. He was found lying as a child in the take called Lahar Talao near Kashi on a leaf of lotus. Here he was found by niru, a childless Mohammedan weaver who was going with his wife Nima to attend a function in a neighboring village. They took compassion on the forsaken baby. They took him to their home and there they brought him up as their own child. A Kazi was called in to give the child a name. The Kazi told Niru that the child was a demon and should be killed immediately. A miracle happened. The knife was plunged into the heart of the child. No drop of blood came out. Kabir uttered a verse, which made them understand that he was not ordinary flesh and blood. Then the name ‘Kabir’ was given to the child. The word ‘Kabir’ means ‘great’ in the Arabic language.

Kabir seems to have been of Hindu parentage, though adopted and brought up as a Mohammedan. It is said that he was born of a Brahmin girl-widow, who, to hide her shame, left the child in the lake. But in a stanza, Kabir denies his own conception in a womb. He says that he was not born nor did he dwell in a womb (vide page 122, Vol. VI, of Macauliff’s Sikh Religion). Kabir grew up without food. His adopted parents became very anxious about him. Then he began to drink the milk of a calf that yielded milk daily in a miraculous manner.

The life of Kabir is shrouded in mystery. We know nothing of his early training and career. What has been discovered in the way of his biographical details is very little Beyond the facts that he was a weaver, born of poverty-stricken parents, that he lived at Kashi during the reign of Sikander Lodi, that he was a disciple of the great religious reformer Ramananda, and that he himself was the Guru of a number of distinguished disciples, we know positively nothing about Kabir.

From his early boyhood, Kabir was very much religiously inclined. He was of a reflective disposition. He had very often his mystic moods. Even in his childhood he engaged himself in discussions about god with Sadhus. He received and served Sadhus and Sannyasins with intense devotion and faith. Though his foster-father got him married, Kabir was not attached to home and family. He used to roam about the holy city of Kashi. He earned his livelihood from the loom.

He was loved by Hindus and Muslims alike. He was not of one religion or of one nation. He was the prophet of universal brotherhood. He did not observe the rules of caste. He recognized the higher harmony of Hinduism and Islam. He realized the truth that religion, spirituality, love, devotion, faith and divine life were the monopoly of no one religion, but were common to all religions. Kabir’s religion was a religion of simplicity. His motto was love. His means of salvation was devotion to God and God alone. Kabir’s home was the universe, his brother was mankind and his great father was the Father in Heaven. Kabir did not renounce the world in order to devote himself to the practice of severe austerities and meditation. He was a dynamic Yogi. He worked at the loom, and at the same time, his mind was ever fixed on God.

Kabir was an exponent of Nirguna Bhakti. He had supreme love for all. He was exceedingly kind and compassionate. He was fearless. He never asked anybody to follow him. He roamed about the country singing his songs. He condemned all formalities and ritualism. He made a vehement criticism of conventions. He was a social revolutionary. He also endeavored strenuously for the social, moral and spiritual uplift of the people. That is the reason why he still lives in the heart of all people.

Kabir was a great propagandist in his own way. He tried his level best to bring about concord and harmony among the diversity existing around him. His poetry was full of criticism of the Mullahs and the priests. Kabir not only preached, but lived the life of unity of men and creeds. He used his songs as weapons against the Mullahs and the priests. He did not spare words in the wars he waged against Muslim and Hindu orthodoxy. Kabir was a powerful saint with Self-realization that lent him the authority to
live and preach the Truth without fear or restraint.

Kabir, the poet-saint of Kashi, is one of the most interesting personalities in the history of Indian mysticism. He was an illustrious philosopher-poet. He was a skilled musician and a poet as well. He was a prophet. His songs are wonderful. They are the spontaneous expressions of his spiritual experience and his love. Kabir used homely metaphors in his songs. He sang his religion in popular verse. His verses are repeated, even today, in almost every household in Uttar pradesh and Punjab. Kabir’s doctrines are soul stirring and magnanimous. Some of Kabir’s poems are very mystic.

Kabir’s works are mostly collections of songs composed in the various meters of old Hindi. There are seventy-two works. The most important and famous works are: the KabirBijak, the Suknidhan, Sabdas, Sakhis, Rekhtas, Mangal, Vasant and holi Agams The Kabir Bijak is the great authority on all religious matters and doctrines of the Kabir-panthis.
 Kabir’s language is very simple. His style is beautiful His expression of ideas is very bold. His poetic composition is most natural. Each couplet is pregnant with deep significance. The similies and metaphors are most appropriate. Other characteristic features are depth of feeling and directness of speech. The expressions have emanated straight from Kabir’s heart. Kabir’s skill in compressing a world of sense in a simple couplet is marvelous and unrivalled. His sayings are unparalleled. His poems are soul-stirring and inspiring. There is depth of thought and penetrative insight.

Saying of Kabir (excerpts)
1. If you have no devotion to God, you will not gain anything by pilgrimage. You may roam over the country and yet your heart will be impure. The man who has gone to Varanasi to see Lord Viswanath, but has not destroyed hypocrisy, lust and greed and has no devotion, will gain nothing.
2. The diamond appraiser only can know the value of the diamond Kabir says: only he who has developed devotion can attain god.
3. Have no faith in this perishable body. Remember the Lord by all your breaths; that is the only way to salvation.
4. ‘Virtue’ abides where there is compassion, ‘vice’ where there is greed; ‘death’ where there is wrath, and the lord Himself where there is forgiveness.
5. Have patience; everything comes out in time. The gardener waters the plant daily, but it bears fruit only in season.
6. There is no greater evil than a bad word; it burns everything into ashes. A kind word is, on the contrary, like rain that falls in nectar-like torrents.
7. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today, nor till the evening what you can do this very moment; for you know not when death may overtake you, upsetting all your plans.
8. He alone is the hero who has all the five senses at his command. He who has no such control never approaches the Lord.
9. Just as sugar toys are made of sugar and sugar exists in all of them, even so, the whole universe exists in Brahman and Brahman in it.


 Narsi Mehta belonged to a vadanagar Nagar-Brahmin family of Junagarh in Kathiawar, Gujarat. He was born of a very poor family. From his very boyhood he had great devotion to Lord Krishna. He lived with his brother. All the time he kept singing songs on Krishna and Gopi Lila and dancing in ecstasy. As he did not care a bit for any of the household matters and as he did not earn anything, his brother’s wife taunted and till-treated him. Narsi Mehta never entertained any idea of earning his livelihood. He had the firm conviction that Lord Krishna would provide him with all his wants. This was due to his previous Samskaras. He was of a happy-go-lucky nature. He did Tapasya at Gopinath, situated on the seaside. He had the Darshan of Lord Krishna through the grace of Lord Siva. He came back to his house and got married. He had a son by name Shyamaldass and a daughter by name Kunwarbai.

 Narsi Mehta was a contemporary of Mira Bai. He had Sakhya Bhav. He would address Lord Krishna in terms of equality. He was a simple-minded, frank Bhakta. He saw Lord Krishna everywhere and in everything. He had Para Bhakti and cosmic consciousness. He composed a poem ‘Hari Mala’ it is said that his daughter’s marriage was conducted by Lord Krishna Himself with great pomp and eclat. Though Narsi Mehta was very poor, rich marriage-presents given to Kunwarbai’s mother-in-law greatly astonished all.

 After the death of his wife and son, Narsi became free. He began devoting all his time to worship and singing of Bhajans. He became an Ativarnashrami. He broke down all caste rules and observances. He held Kirtan everywhere, even in the house of sweepers and men of inferior caste. The other Nagar-Brahmins hated Narsi and also outcasted him. They refused to admit him in one of their feasts. Another miracle happened now. A Dom or a man of inferior caste was found by the side of each Brahmin. The haughty Nagar-Brahmins were cowed down. They began to show respect to Narsi. They openly admitted and declared that Narsi Mehta was a great Bhakta.

 The world has not produced a Bhakta greater than Narsi in this Yuga. Narsi’s devotion was of a unique nature. He has pointed out to the world the true path of devotion. That is the reason why he still lives in our hearts, why his inspiring song “Vaishnava Janatho Thene Kahiye” that gives a fine description of a true Vaishnava, is sung even today by all the Bhaktas.

 Glory to Narsi! Glory to Hari! Glory to His Name!

Receive Site Updates