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Tulsīdās

TULSĪDĀS

TULSĪDĀS , late medieval Indian poet whose plays and other works have had great influence on Hindu devotionalism, especially in communities that make Rāma the focus of worship. Despite his great popularity, or perhaps because of it, very little accurate information is available about the life of Tulsīdās. There is abundant material about him in the form of hagiographies and oral legends, but these legitimize his saintly life and the holy nature of his literary works rather than record the actual events of the biography.

While there is disagreement as to the date of Tulsī's birth, his death is generally agreed to have occurred in 1623. The traditionally accepted date of his birth is 1503, which would mean that he lived for 120 years. This is logical from the point of view of his hagiographers, because the full life span of a sinless human being is believed to be 120 years. Modern scholars consider that he was born probably in 1532 to a brahman family in an eastern Hindi-speaking area. In his Kavitāvali, Tulsī writes that he was born to a very poor family and that his father and mother did not welcome his birth. It is believed that he was born under an unfortunate conjunction of planets, which meant that for astrological reasons his parents had to abandon him.

Tulsī says that in his childhood his mind was always on Rāma, but that he later fell into the ways of the world. Sometime during his life Tulsī went to Banaras, where he lived until his death.

In 1574 Tulsī began the composition of his most renowned work, the Rāmcaritmānas, or The Holy Lake of the Deeds of Rāma. Tulsī became famous through this work, and he himself remarks in his Kavitāvali that "the world even likens me to the great sage Vālmīki." In addition to the Rāmcaritmānas and the Kavitāvali, at least ten other works can be ascribed to Tulsī with certainty. Chief among them are Vinay-patrika, Dohāvali, and Gītāvali.

As a poet, Tulsīdas combines the grandeur and the majesty of Sanskrit with the lyrical grace and power of Vraj (or Braj) Bhāā, a dialect of Hindi. A master of alliteration and rhythm, Tulsī also shows great restraint in his use of words, blending the epic and the lyric styles. His choice of dialect and style was not in conformity with the scholarly standards of his time. Tulsī describes himself as prākrit kavi ("uncultivated poet"), and from a scholarly viewpoint his language was grāmya of the village, uncultured. Yet because of its poetic excellence, Rāmcaritmānas was the most revered of all Hindi texts both by scholars and by ordinary people.

The greatest achievement of Tulsī lies in making the popular devotional style acceptable to the orthodox Hindu community and the philosophical interpretations of the high culture accessible to ordinary people. His reinterpretation of the Rāmāyaa, based on the Sanskrit Adhyātma-Rāmāyaa and Bhusundi-Rāmāyaa, revolutionized the nature of the epic and transformed it into a popular devotional poem.

See Also

Bhakti; Hindi Religious Traditions; Poetry, article on Indian Religious Poetry; Rāmāyaa.

Bibliography

Hill, W. Douglas P., trans. The Holy Lake of the Acts of Rāma (1952). Reprint, Oxford, 1971.

McGregor, Ronald S. Hindi Literature from Its Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century. Wiesbaden, 1984.

Tulsī Das. Kavitāvali. Translated and with a critical introduction by Raymond Allchin. London, 1964.

New Sources

Lutgendorf, Philip. The Life of a Text: Performing the Ramcaritmanas of Tulsidas. Berkeley, 1991.

Velcheru Narayana Rao (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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