Author: Anant Pai
Arvind Mandrekar/Luis M Fernandes
Editor(s): Anant Pai
Publisher: India Book House
ISBN/UPC (if available): 817508et. Al
1. Adi Shankara
Shankara’s life may be compared to a brief and brilliant flash of lightning that lit up many areas of darkness in the life of man. He had an intellect that probed fearlessly, a mind that questioned constantly and a heart that felt deeply. Out of these God-given gifts, in thirty-two years of tireless seeking, arose a great system of philosophy, Advaita and an inspiring body of devotional literature.
Shankara raveled throughout India, preaching that the Self or Brahman is one-undivided and imperishable. The rest is Maya or Illusion. We are told of his historic debate wit the sage, Mandana Mishra, when the latter withdrew defeated. Legend also tells of an even greater confrontation. Shankara, the learned Brahman, bowed to the superior wisdom of a lowly outcaste, accepting him as a Guru, He established several Maths to spread his philosophy. Then, as now, the disruptive forces of religion, race, caste and language threatened to weaken the fabric of the one nation that is India. Now, as then, the teachings of a man like Shankara, who believed in the One Undivided Self, can serve to awaken our country to a sense of unity.
2. GURU NANAK
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was born in a critical period of Indian history. On the one hand, the people were divided into castes, sects and factions; on the other, the Muslim rulers perpetrated atrocities on the Hindus and the weaker sections of society. The masses in their hardships and miseries cried for a saviour. Nanak came as god’s messenger in the common man’s hour of dire need.
He was revered alike by Hindus and Muslims. His life is an inspiring example of the practice of truth, love and humility.
3. Tales of Sai Baba
Nobody knows for certain when Sai Baba was born or who his parents were, or what his real name was. He arrived one day in 1872 at Shirdi in Maharashtra. He was dressed like a fakir (Muslim ascetic) and lived in a dilapidated mosque-but spoke of a Hindu guru, whom he called Venkusa. He seemed to be well acquainted with the Hindu scriptures, but at the same time was heard to quote from the Quran.
Sai Baba died in 1918. Even during his lifetime he had become famous, and now, after his death, Shirdi (where he had lived for almost half a century) has become a place of pilgrimage where hundreds of devotees congregate every year.
The tales in this Amar Chitra Katha are based on reports from Sai Baba’s devotees.
4. Sri Ramakrishna
Mahatma Gandhi, in his preface to Life of Sri Ramakrishna, says, “The life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is a life of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face to face.
In his Life of Ramakrishna, the French thinker Romain Rolland introduces Sri Ramakrishna as The consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people.
In Sri Ramakrishna we can see today what Bertrand Russell demands of modern men, namely, the flowering of knowledge into wisdom, without which, as he expresses it, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow.
5. Soordas – The Blind Bard Who Sang about Lord Krishna
Soordas, the blind bard of Brij, occupies a very eminent position in Hindu literature. He is considered the Valmiki of Brij (a dialect of Hindi), not only because he was the first poet to write in that dialect, but also because his works have an epic stature.
Soordas was not only a poet, but also a great composer. His songs became so popular that even during his lifetime, he had become a legend. If Brij is understood today from Rajasthan and Punjab in the West to Assam in the East, the credit goes almost entirely to Soordas songs. That many of his songs are included even in the Granth Sahab, the holy book of the Sikhs, is adequate testimony to their popularity.
The affection of Yashoda and the gopis, the cowherd-girls of Brij, for Krishna; the intense love of Radha for Krishna and the dalliance of the latter with the gopis formed the theme of most of his songs.
Kalidasa, the greatest poet of classical Sanskrit, is known only through his writings. His works tell us that he was probably a brahmin and a devotee of Shiva. Apart from this, there is no clue to his personal life. Even the names of his parents are not known, nor is the place of his birth. The mystery surrounding him has given rise to incredible legends about him which are current even today. Our script is based on one of these legends.
Kalidasa is the author of several great Sanskrit poetical works (or Mahakavyas) and plays for which he is justly famous-Raghuvamsha, Kumarasambhava, Meghaduta, Ritusmhara, Abhijnana Shakuntala, Vikramorvashiya and Malavika-Agnimitra.
These reveal that Kalidasa was a lover of nature and his descriptions suggest that he must have traveled widely. His poetry has the freshness and beauty of a mountain stream. He portrays women with tenderness. He exhibits a special love for Ujjayini in his writings and he probably knew it well.
Scholars are agreed that though all Kalidasa’s works have the stamp of genius, his play Abhijnana Shakuntala must be rated as his greatest work. Kalidasa today is regarded as one of the immortals of world literature taking his place beside Shakespeare and Goethe.
The Ramayana, written in Sanskrit by Valmiki is considered to be the Adikavya, the first ever poem. Tulsidas rendered it into Hindi in the sixteenth century.
Tulsidas hailed from a poor family of Rajapur in Uttar Pradesh. He was orphaned soon after this birth and even his foster-mother died when he was barely seven years old. When he was married, he became deeply attached to his wife, Ratna. She was the first person in his life whom he could call his own.
One day not finding her at home on his return, he became extremely restless and rushed to his father-in-law’s house in the dead of the night, braving heavy rains and a storm.
But Ratna rebuked him and said, Had you loved Rama as intensively as you do this bundle of flesh and bones, you would have overcome all mortal fears. This was the turning point in his life.
The story as narrated in this book is mostly based on legends.
8. Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore played a significant role in bringing about a new awakening in India in the latter half of the nineteenth century. His life and creative work provided the then Indian society with a purpose, direction and a programme. The impact of his personality transcended his native Bengal and came to be felt not only in other parts of India but also abroad.
Tagore was a genius with a many-sided personality. He was a poet, novelist, dramatist, musician, short-story writer, teacher, painter, educationist, philosopher and humanist. Shri Khanolkar, his biographer, describes his life as a long dream of colour and music, of beauty and heavenly genius, such as this world had never known before.
He has the unique distinction of being the only poet to have two of his songs-Jana Gana Mana and Amar Sonar Bangla-Adopted as the national anthems of two countries – India and Bangladesh respectively. Shanti-Niketan Stands to this day as a living monument to the Gurudev. He composed over 4,000 songs. His compositions have come to be known as Rabindra Sangeet.
There is no dearth of mystics in India. But among them Mirabai is unique. She was born a princess and in marriage became a queen. But the kingdom she chose was the one of Krishna. Not for a moment did she swerve from her purpose. Hers was the immutable faith in Krishna. Uncharitable relatives and uncomprehending friends were no hindrance in her devotion. She had given herself up to Krishna. She belonged to him completely.
The lyrics that poured out of her, sing the praises of Krishna. The sincerity and sweetness of the songs made them popular all over the land and they remain a rich heritage of mystic poetry in India. The story of Mira, as narrated in this book, is based on legends about her and not on historical facts.
Be not the slaves of tradition; fear not to walk upon new paths, if these bring you nearer to God who is the Truth. So said Kabir, a great Indian mystic, teacher and poet of the fifteenth century.
Popular belief has it that Kabir was born of a Brahmin widow who cast him away near Laher Tank at Varanasi. The followers of Kabir hold that he descended from heaven and was found in a lotus in Laher Tank by a Muslim couple. Kabir has proclaimed himself in his poems to be a weaver’s son.
There are may legends woven around Kabir’s life. We have taken those which are most popularly known and accepted. Kabir’s intense dislike for religious customs, the caste system, idol worship and orthodoxy made him many enemies; he was a revolutionary saint believing in one God and in his hundred and odd years of life, he tried to bring Hindus and Muslims together in his own way.
His songs had simplicity and rhythmic charm. They contained truths which had universal appeal. They are sung, to this day, throughout the country.