“ Sant Jnaneshwar ” or “ Jnandev ” was born in the Year 1275 ( on the auspicious day of Krishna Janmashtami ) in “ Apegaon ” village on the bank of River Godavari near “ Paithana ” .. in Maharashtra .. during the reign of the Yadava king Ramadevarava.
The Kingdom enjoyed peace and stability until invasions from the Delhi Sultanate started in Year 1296 AD. Arts and Sciences flourished under the patronage of the Yadava Kings and Maharashtra attracted scholars from all over India.
However, this period also witnessed religious degeneration, sectarianism, superstition and ritualism which involved animal sacrifices to many local deities.
Jnaneshwar’s life-details are preserved in the writings of his contemporary “ Namdev ” and his disciples Satyamalanath and Sachchidanand.
“ Jnaneshwar’s father ”
Jnaneshwar’s father “ Vitthalapant ” was the “ kulkarni ” ( hereditary accountant, usually Brahmin, who maintained land and tax records in villages ) of the village Apegaon on the banks of the Godavari River in Maharashtra, a profession he had inherited from his ancestors.
Jnaneshwar’s father married “ Rakhumabai ”, the daughter of the kulkarni of “ Alandi ”.
Even as a householder, Vitthalapant longed for spiritual learning. His disillusionment with life grew as a result of the death of his father and because he had no children from his marriage. Eventually, with his wife’s consent, he renounced worldly life and left for Varanasi to become a sannyasin.
Vitthalapant was initiated as a sannyasin by his spiritual teacher, “ Ramasharma ”, who was also called “ Ramananda ”.
When Ramasharma discovered that Vitthalapant had left his family behind to become a monk, he instructed Vitthalapant to go back to his wife and perform his duties as a householder.
“ Rakhumabai gave birth to four children ”
After Vitthalapant returned to his wife and settled down in Alandi, Rakhumabai gave birth to four children .. “ Nivruttinath ( 1273 ) ”, “ Jnaneshwar ( 1275 ) ”, “ Sopana ( 1277 ) ” and “ Muktabai ( 1279 ) ”.
Orthodox Brahmins of the day saw a renunciate returning to his life as a householder as heresy ; Vitthalapant and his family were persecuted because of this. Jnaneshwar and his brothers were denied the right to have the sacred thread ceremony, which in Hinduism symbolizes the right to read the Vedas.
The couple was excommunicated from the Brahmin caste as Vitthal had broken the law of accepting Grihasth Ashram after Sanyas Ashram, which was not allowed since the latter was considered the last of the four Ashrams.
Their 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.
“ initiation into Nath Yogi tradition ”
“ Gahaninath ”, a disciple of Gorakh Nath, ( founder Nath Yogi tradition ) had initiated Nivruttinath into the ‘ Nath Yogi ’ tradition.
Jnaneshwar was initiated by his brother Nivruttinath, sometime after the death of their parents. ‘ Nath Yogi ’ sect had introduced the system of Hatha Yoga, which emphasised
on yogic poses and physical fitness. Jnaneshwar learnt and mastered the philosophy and various techniques of kundalini yoga. Sopana and Muktabai were initiated into the tradition by Jnaneshwar himself.
The Pandits of Paithana were struck by the spiritual learning and intellect of the four siblings and awarded them the certificate of purification.
“ ‘ Jnaneshwari ’ – Bhagavad Gita ”
While returning to Alandi from the journey, the children halted at “ Nevase ”, where Jnaneshwar composed “ Jnaneshwari ” in the Year 1290 .. a commentary on Bhagavad Gita which later became a fundamental text of the “ Varkari ” sect. His words were recorded by Sacchidananda, who agreed to become Jnaneshwar’s amanuensis.
“ Jnaneshwari ” was written using the Ovi .. a metre, which was first used to compose women’s songs in Maharashtra, of four lines where the first three or the first and third lines rhyme and the fourth line has a sharp and short ending.
Having experienced the rigidity of the caste system and the dogmatism of scriptural learning, Jnaneshwar was sympathetic towards issues of the common people.
He chose the new vernacular “ Marathi ” language, as opposed to the classical Sanskrit language, as a means of expression so that spiritual learning could reach the masses who weren’t well versed in Sanskrit.
In the 13th century, his works presented a departure from the prevailing socio-cultural ethos, a trend which continued with other bhakti poets across India.
According to tradition, Nivruttinath was not satisfied with the commentary and asked Jnaneshwar to write an independent philosophical work. This work later came to be known as “ Amrutanubhava ”.
“ experiential truth ”
Jnaneshwar believes that reality is selfevident and does not require any proof. It antedates dualistic divisions into knower and known, existence and non-existence, subject and object, knowledge and ignorance.
Jnaneshwar highlights the limitations of the traditional epistemological methods ( pramanas ) used in Indian philosophy. He points out that any perception is validated only by another deeper understanding, while in establishing the rationality of reason, reason itself is transcended.
Jnaneshwar even cautions against reliance on scriptural testimony, which is accepted as a valid source of knowledge by philosophers of Vedanta and Mîmânsâ schools of philosophy. Scriptural validity .. to him .. stems from its congruence with experiential truth and not vice versa .. Guru and God as virtues.
Jnaneshwar’s moral philosophy comes out in his exposition of the 13th chapter of Bhagavad Gita, in his commentary on the book “ Jnaneshwari ”. He considers humility .. non-injury in action, thought and words ; forbearance in the face of adversity; dispassion towards sensory pleasures ; purity of heart and mind; love of solitude and devotion towards one’s Guru and God as virtues; and their corresponding moral opposites as vices.
A (slightly) pessimistic view of one’s life is considered as a necessary condition for spiritual growth in “ Jnaneshwari ”. Jnaneshwar writes that saints do not perceive distinctions and are humble because they identify all objects, animate or inanimate, with their own Self.
“ devotion to Guru ”
“ Devotion to Guru ” occupies an important place throughout the commentary. Many of its chapters begin with an invocation to his “ Guru Nivruttinath ”, who is eulogised by Jnaneshwar as the person who helped him “ cross the ocean of existence ”.
Divine heritage comprises fearlessness, which comes from a belief in unity of all objects; charity ; sacrifice, which comes from performing one’s duties and compassion in addition to virtues already enumerated .. while demonic heritage consists of six vices .. ignorance, anger, arrogance, hypocrisy, harshness and pride.
“ Karma Yogi ”
The doctrine of Karma Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita is resurrected in Jnaneshwari and its utility as a means of achieving actionlessness through action and in establishing a harmony between the two is examined.
In the fourth chapter, the ideal karma yogi’s actions are compared to the apparent movement of the Sun, which while appearing to rise and set is actually stationary.
Similarly, a “ Karma Yogi ”, though appears to act, doesn’t really act. Performance of one’s duties, acting without egoism, renunciation of the fruits of one’s actions and offering one’s actions to God are four ways which .. according to Jnaneshwar .. result in actionlessness and Self-realization.
“ the world .. not an illusion ”
Jnaneshwar’s metaphysical conclusion that the world is a manifestation of the divine .. and not an illusion .. also creates an ethical framework which rejects renunciation and recommends performing one’s duties and actions in the spirit of worship.
Traditional Indian scriptures see “ Rta ”, a Hindu theological term similar to dharma, as a natural law that governs both the cosmos and human society.
Performance of one’s duties to uphold social institutions, such as marriage and family, thus becomes imperative, and duty overrides individual freedom.
Jnaneshwar is in agreement with tradition; he believes that divine order and moral order are one and the same and are inherent in the universe itself.
Jnaneshwar, therefore, recommends that all social institutions be protected and preserved in their totality. However, when it comes to the institution of caste, his approach becomes more humanitarian and he advocates spiritual egalitarianism.
The values of Universal Brotherhood and compassion espoused in his works came from his interactions with the devotional Vitthala sect, a tradition which was already in existence during Jnaneshwar’s time.
“ meeting Namdev – Abhangas ”
After Jnaneshwar had written “ Amrutanubhav ”, the siblings visited Pandharpur where they met “ Namdev ”, who became a close friend of Jnaneshwar.
“ Jnaneshwar ” and “ Namdev ” embarked on a pilgrimage to various holy centres across India where they initiated many people into the Varkari sect.
Jnaneshwar’s devotional compositions called “ Abhangas ” are believed to have beenformulated during this period. On their return to Pandharpur, Jnaneshwar and Namdev were honoured with a feast in which, according to Bahirat, many contemporary saints such as .. “ Goroba ” the potter .. “ Sanvata ” the gardener .. “ Chokhoba ” the untouchable and “ Parisa Bhagwat ” the Brahmin, participated.
“ sanjeevan samadhi ”
After the feast, Jnaneshwar desired to enter into “ sanjeevan samadhi ”, a practice to sum up the life after entering into a deep meditative state. Preparations for the Sanjeevan Samadhi were made by Namdev’s sons.
Regarding “ Sanjeevan Samadhi ”, Jnaneshwar himself has emphatically talked about relation between higher awareness and light or pure energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation.
At the age of 21 on 13th day of the dark half of the Kartik month of the Hindu Calendar, in “ Alandi ” .. Jnaneshwar .. then was twenty one year old entered into sanjeevan samadhi.
His samadhi lies in the Siddheswara Temple complex in Alandi. Namdev and other bystanders grieved his passing. According to tradition, Jnaneshwar was brought back to life to meet Namdev when the latter prayed to Vithoba for his return.
Dallmayr writes that this testifies to the immortality of genuine friendship and companionship of noble and loving hearts.
“ Varkari Tradition ”
Many “ Varkari ” devotees believe that Jnaneshwar is still alive. They opposed a plan by archaeologists to insert a thin fiber optic camera into the chamber more than forty years ago.