Saint Dnyaneshwar was a 13th century Marathi saint, poet, philosopher and a yogi of the Nath sect. His works Dnyaneshwari, which is a commentary on Bhagvad Gita, and Amrutanubhav, another compilation of compostions, are considered to be milestones in Marathi literature.
Dnyaneshwar was the second of four children of Vitthal Govind Kulkarni and Rukmini, a religious couple from the village Apegaon on the banks of River Godavari near Paithan in Maharashtra. Four children were born to the couple; Nivrutti in 1273, Dnyaneshwar was born at midnight on the eighth day of the waning moon in the Hindu month of Shravan in 1275, Sopan, in 1277 and Mukta in 1279. According to some scholars their birth years are 1268, 1271, 1274, 1277 respectively. Their grandparents were Govindpant and Meerabai.
Vitthal had abandoned his wife and had wandered in search of becoming a Sanyasi but in order to fulfil his duty toward his wife, his teacher Ramanand Swami ordered Vitthal to return home to his family. Vitthal settled down in Alankapuri also known as Alandi. The couple was excommunicated from the Brahmin caste as Vitthal had broken the law of accepting GrihasthAshram after SanyasAshram, which was not allowed since the latter was considered the last of the four Ashrams. His four children too were ostracized from the society. It is believed that later Vitthal and Rukmini ended their lives by jumping into the waters at Prayag where the river Ganga meets Yamuna hoping that their children would be accepted into the society after their death. Now, Nivrutti, their elder brother was like a parent to the three younger children.
Dnyaneshwar learnt and mastered the philosophy and various techniques of kundalini yoga, which is considered as the speciality of Nath cult, from Nivrutti. The children moved to Nevase, a village in Ahmednagar district where Dnyaneshwar began his literary work. Nivrutti instructed Dnyaneshwar to write a commentary on Bhagvad Gita. He used to give a discourse on Dnyaneshwari to select audiences. There were a few notable personalities in the audience like his contemporary saint Sant Namdev and many others from the Nath tradition. It is believed that SacchidananandBaba wrote Dnyaneshwari during such discourses by Dnyaneshwar. This is also known as Bhavartha Deepika. Through the medium of Dnyaneshwari, the divine knowledge trapped in Sanskrit was translated in the common man ‘s Prakrit language and was made available to everyone.
The Dnyaneshwari is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Marathi literature. It is composed in a meter called Ovi. It constitutes of 18 chapters. The book reflects the outstanding intelligence of Dnyaneshwar, his understanding of the subject, and his command not only over Marathi but also over Sanskrit language at such a young age. Acharya Vinoba Bhave feels that Marathi literature minus Dnyaneshwari equals zero, while Saint Namdev states that at least one ovi should be read in a lifetime from a literary work as great as this.
Dnyaneshwar penned his book Amrutanubhav sometime after he completed Dnyaneshwari. It is quite complicated as compared to Dnyaneshwari. It constitutes 10 chapters and 806 Ovis. The basis of this book is Advaita Siddhanta (non dualism). This book is one of the most highly respected books in Marathi literature.
Apart from Dnyaneshwari and Amrutanubhav, Dnyaneshwar also wrote Changdev Paasashti. It is said that Changdev was a great Yogi who lived for fourteen hundred years but he was proud and had a big ego. Dnyaneshwar wrote a collection of 65 Ovi addressed to Changdev. Dnyaneshwar also wrote Haripath, which has 28 Abhanga. It stresses the importance of chanting of God’s name as a path to salvation. The society at that time was very unjust toward Dnyaneshwar and his siblings but a mention or response toward this attitude never entered in any of Dnyaneshwar’s writings.
Dnyaneshwar was the unofficial leader of the contemporary saints like Saint Namdev, Saint Gora Kumbhar, Saint Sawata Mali, Saint Narhari Sonar and Saint Chokha Mela.
After composing Amritanubhava, Dnyaneshwar went to on a pilgrimage along with Namdev and other saints of his time. After completing their visits to the holy places, Dnyaneshwar felt that the mission of his life was over. He therefore, expressed his intention to take live Samadhi. Dnyaneshwar entered into Sanjeevan Samadhi, a yogic path to salvation at the age of 21 at Alandi on the banks of River Indrayani. After Dnyaneshwar took the Samadhi, his siblings also decided to end their existence in this world and within a year's time they too reached the ends of their lives.