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12.2.1 : NAMDEV
Namdev (1270-1350) (?) is said to be a reincarnation (avatAra) of Uddhava of the purANas. Uddhava was one of the closest friends of Lord Krishna and at the same time a foremost devotee of the Lord. The 24 chapters in the eleventh skanda of SrImad-bhAgavatam which constitute the uddhava-gItA is what the Lord spoke to Uddhava. It is one of the most authentic expositions next only to the bhagavad-gItA itself, of Hindu philosophy straight from the horse’s mouth. When Krishna was taking leave of Uddhava to leave his mortal coil, Uddhava refused to part with Him. But Krishna prevailed upon him to take things as they come and to go for badarikASrama for doing penance till the end of his life -- which he did.
The exact dates of Namdev are not known. We do not even know whether there have been two Namdevs who have been mixed up in the chronology. The stories about Namdev relate to any time between the 12th and 14th centuries. Originally a tailor by profession, Namdev spent his life propagating the bhakti movement in Maharashtra, composing abhangs both in Marathi and Hindi. In one version of his biography, we are told that as a youth he was a reputed spendthrift and a sluggard. He fell in with a gang of thieves, killed and robbed people until he came under the influence of a saint (perhaps Jnaneswar) who turned him from his evil life and the idolatry of his ancestral faith, to the devotion of Vithoba of Pandarpur. Here is another legend about him. As a child, in the absence of his parents who were away at Varanasi, he offered food to the family idols and prayed that they partake of the food. He took his parent’s instructions literally and insisted that he would not take the food until the idol did so. Lo and behold, the idol appeared before him in flesh and blood and partook of the food. This was a daily event until the parents returned from their pilgrimage and would not believe it had happened.
But all biographies affirm that he was a great universalist. He condemned caste, polytheism and idolatry and pleaded first for service to mankind and, secondly, dedicating oneself to God. What is needed, according to him, is constant prayer. Prayer can work miracles. Namdev was a great saint as well as a great poet. His family consisted of more than a dozen members. All of them turned poets. The vow of Namdev to compose a hundred crore (a crore is 10 million) abhangs was more than fulfilled by all of them, particularly by his attendant Janabai. The abhangs show genuine marks of rare beauty, sweet melody, naivity. direct appeal and spontaneous depth of feeling. The all-absorbing devotion exuded by even the thousand or so abhangs that had survived, is unbeatable. Namdev made vigorous and propagandic tours in the cause of the bhAgavata dharma. His enchanting kIrtanas carried his fame far and wide in his own days. He had the privilege of being quoted in the Granthsaheb of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Namdev belonged to a galaxy of poet-saints who came from different castes and whose lyrical outbursts are very popular throughout the length and breadth of the Maharashtra region. These were Gora, the potter, Sena, the barber, Samvata the gardener, Chokha, the outcaste, Narahari, the goldsmith and Joga the oilman.