SAMARTH RAMDAS (1608-1681), Maharashtrian saint remembered as the religious preceptor of the Maratha hero Chhatrapati Shivaji (1627-80), was born, in 1608, the son of Suryaji Pant and Ranubai, a Brahman couple of the village of Jamb, near Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. His original name was Narayana. His father died when he was barely seven years old. Educated in Sanskrit according to the tradition of his caste, Ramdas showed strong mystical proclivities even as a child. He left home during his adolescence to Join the Vaisnava center at Pahchvati, near Nasik, where he stayed for 12 years engaged in study, reflection and devotion to Lord Rama.

He spent the next 12 years visiting Hindu centers of pilgrimage across the country. Returning to Maharashtra around 1644, he established himself at the village of Chaphal, in the Satara region on the Western Ghats. Here he built a temple of Rama and Maruti (Hanuman) and founded a math or monastery which exists to the present day. The community of his followers soon expanded taking on the character of a wellmarked sect, the Ramdasi sect, with its own sacred texts and forms of worship.

Samarth (an appellation meaning capable, powerful, mighty) Ramdas` teaching was in the Vai Sriava tradition with Rama as the deity to be adored and worshipped, but he infused his devotionalism with Advaita philosophy and practical morality. He also preached “Maharashtra Dharma,” aggressive defence of Hindu values. It is in this regard especially that his message gained the attention of Shivaji who led the Hindu “national” struggle against the “foreign” rule of the Mughals. It is noteworthy that while Brahman scholars have tended to emphasize Ramdas` influence in shaping Shivaji`s political objectives, Maratha historians argue that the two came in close contact with each other only after Shivaji had fully developed his ideology.

According to Sikh tradition based on an old Punjabi manuscript Panjah Sakhian, Samarth Ramdas met Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) at Srinagar in the Garhval hills. The meeting, corroborated in a Marathi source, Ramdasasvami`s Bakhar, by Hanumantsvami, written in 1793, probably took place in the early 1630`s during Samarth Ramdas` pilgrimage travels in the north and Guru Hargobind`s journey to Nanakmata in the east. It is said that as they came face to face with each other, Guru Hargobind had just returned from a hunting excursion. He was fully armed and rode a horse.

Ramdas expressed his surprise at a successor of the saintly Guru Nanak living in princely style and allowing himself to be addressed as Sachcha Patshah (true king). Guru Hargobind said “internally a hermit and externally a prince. Arms are to protect the poor and destroy the tyrant. Baba Nanak had not renounced the world, but had only renounced maya, i.e. illusion and ego.” “Yeh hamare man bhavati hai (this appeals to my mind), ” said Ramdas. This encounter between Guru Hargobind and Samarth Ramdas is prominently mentioned in modern Sikh historiography. Samarth Ramdas died in 1681.

References :

1. Hanumantsvami, Ramdasa Svami`s Caritra or Bakhar. Bombay, 1910
2. Panjah Sakhian. MS.
3. Satbir Singh, Gur Bhari. Patiala, -1983
4. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983