The first biographer and auto-biographer in Marathi and the foremost proponent of Bhagawad-Dharma who propagated the religion right up to Punjab
Saint Namdev, a contemporary saint-poet of Saint Dnyaneshwar, is considered a prominent religious poet of Maharashtra. He was one the earliest writers who wrote in the Marathi language. He is the foremost proponent of the Bhagwad-Dharma who reached beyond Maharashtra, right into Punjab. He also wrote some hymns in Hindi and Punjabi. His depth of devotion and talent in delivering Kirtan was of such a high standard that it is said even the Lord Pandurang swayed to his tune. Despite being a proponent of the Warkari sect, Saint Namdev established religious unity across the country.
Saint Namdeo was born in the year 1270 in the village of Narasi-Bamani, now located in the Hingoli District in Maharashtra. He was born to a tailor named Damasheti Relekar and his wife Gonai. Yadusheth, his ancestor in the seventh generation, was a devotee of Bhagawad-Dharma. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Pandharpur, where the prominent temple of Lord Vitthal (also called Vithoba) is located. Saint Namdev’s spent the better part of his life, spanning eighty years, at Pandharpur. His parents were devotees of Vithoba.
Namdev showed little interest in the family profession. Even as a child his devotion to Lord Vitthal was extraordinary - his sole occupation was to spend day and night in devotion to Vithoba. His devotion was so sincere that sometimes he would consider Vithoba to be his dearest brother or his play mate. According to a legend, when Namdev was five years old, his mother once gave him some food offerings for Vithoba and asked him to give it to Vithoba in the Pandharpur temple. Namdev took the offerings and placed it before Vithoba's idol in the temple, asking Vithoba to accept the offerings. When he saw that his request was not being met, he told Vithoba that he would kill himself if Vithoba continued to ignore the offerings. Vithoba then appeared before him and ate the offerings in response to the utter devotion of young Namdev.
At the age of eleven, Namdev was married to Rajai. Namdev and Rajai had four sons namely Nara, Vitha, Gonda, Mahada and a daughter called Limbai. His elder sister Aubai also lived with them. There were in all fifteen people in the household.
The year 1291 was a turning point in his life at the age of twenty-one when he met Saint Dnyaneshwar. Several records in various saint literatures have been found to the following event -
Once, all the Saints like Dnyaneshwar, Nivruttinath, Sopandev, Muktabai, Namdeo, Chokhamela, Visoba Khechar, etc had congregated at Saint Goroba’s house in Terdhoki. As instructed by Saint Dnyaneshwar, Saint Goroba tapped each saint’s pot (head) to find out who was spiritually mature. The reference to the pot being tapped is because Saint Goroba was a potter and him being selected for the test shows his own spiritually maturity. On testing Saint Namdev, Saint Goroba expressed his opinion that Namdev was still immature, which was backed by Saint Muktabai. Miffed by this, Namdev complained to the Lord himself. But the Lord advised him to accept the guidance of Visoba Khechar and Namdev acquired a Guru.
He accepted Visoba Khechar as his ultimate Guru, through whom he actually saw the form of God.
His Kirtan have references to many holy books. This shows that he was well read and a great scholar. His Kirtan were so effective that it is said –
Namdev Kirtan kari, pudhe nache dev Panduranga
(Namdev delivers his kirtan, in front of him dances the Lord Pandurang)
His goal in life was –
Nachu Kirtanache rangi, Dnyandeep lavu jagi
(Will dance to the tune of Kirtan, light the lamp of knowledge the world over)
Namdev travelled through many parts of India, reciting his religious poems. In difficult times, he played the difficult role of uniting the people of Maharashtra spiritually. He is said to have lived for more than twenty years in the village of Ghuman in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab. The Sikh brethren in Punjab consider him one of their own, singing praises of him as Namdev Baba. Bahordas, Laddha, VishnuSwami and Keshav Kaladhari were his disciples in Punjab. He composed around 125 Abhanga in Hindi. Sixty-one of these came to be included in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib as Namdevjiki Mukhbani (The holy songs of Namdev). There is an amazing similarity between the ShabdaKirtan of Punjab and the Warkari Kirtan of Maharashtra. A memorial in Ghuman, Punjab commemorates him. Temples in his memory have also built in Rajasthan by the Sikh.
In his early fifties, Namdev settled down at Pandharpur where he gathered around himself a group of devotees. His Abhanga became very popular and people thronged to listen to his Kirtan. Approximately 2500 of Namdev's Abhanga have been collected in NamdevVaachi Gatha. The book also includes the long autobiographical poem Teerthaavali, talking about his travels in the company of Saint Dnyaneshwar. This poem makes him the first auto-biographer in Marathi literature. He has also written a biography on Saint Dnyaneshwar through Aadi, Samadhi and Teerthavali, which makes him the first Marathi biographer. He continued to propagate the Bhagawad-Dharma for 50 years after the death of Saint Dnyaneshwar. Saint Namdev is regarded to have had a significant influence on Saint Tukaram.
He died in July, 1350 at the age of 80 in Pandharpur at the feet of the Lord at Pandharpur. He preferred to be a stepping stone at the temple in Pandharpur so that he would be forever blessed by the touch of innumerable saints and devotees stepping on him into the temple.