12.3.2 JNANESHVAR (1275 - 1296)
JnAneSvar was a great poetic genius and mystic saint of the Maharashtra region. He established the Bhagavata tradition in Maharashtra. His famous commentary in Marathi on the Gita is the most elaborate ever written. He also composed a series of short poems (Abhangas) in praise of the Lord of Pandharpur. His bhakti is pure and serene like the love of husband and wife, of Krishna and Rukmini.
The life-story of JnAneSvar is the most miraculous among all the biographies in historical memory. JnAneSvar’s father Vittalpant changed over to Sannyasa-Ashrama even before JnAneSvar was born. The Guru who initiated Vittalpant in Sannyasa at Varanasi came to Alandi (known as AlakApuri near modern Pune) on a pilgrimage and accidentally met JnAneSvar’s wife Rukminibai. A conversation with her proved to him that Vittalpant’s statement about nobody being alive to care for him was not the truth. So he took Rukminibai to Varanasi, and convinced Vittalpant to get back to a householder’s life with Rukmini at Alandi. In fact he said that this was his order as a Guru and that made Vittalpant obey him. But back at Alandi the local Brahmins would not accept this arrangement because according to them a brahmin cannot return from Sannyas to a householder status. So the couple lived away from the village almost as an outcaste. In due time they had three sons – Nivrittideva, JnAnadeva and Sopanadeva -- and one daughter, by name Muktabhai. JnaneSvar’s biography in Bhaktavijayam says these three sons were respectively the manifestations of Shiva, Vishnu and BrahmA and the girl Muktabhai was the Avatara of Mother Goddess Herself.
It so happened when Nivrittideva was six years old he came under the influence of a Yogi who taught him Yoga as well as Brahma-JnAna. Nivrittideva in his turn taught JnAnadeva, who in turn taught it all to his younger brother and sister. But the parents did not know about this spiritual development of their divine offsprings. When the eldest son was eight, the parents requested the Brahmins of Alandi to perform the Upanayanam ceremony for their sons. The Brahmins refused on the same account for which they had earlier refused him admittance into the village. The helpless parents dropped the matter there and went over to Varanasi where they ended their lives. When the children asked the brahmins of Alandi as to what their fate was now, they demanded a certification from the Brahmin community in the larger town of Paiton (‘pratishTaan’) on the banks of Godavari. The boys went there along with their sister and asked for help. When help was not forthcoming, the eldest boy Nivrittidev asked for a final solution for them to reach Salvation. The brahmins said they should keep going with the full conviction that everything and every living being is God Himself. On hearing this, JnAnadev said to his brother, “Well, brother, this is sufficient for us; this will lead us to Moksha”. The Brahmins were greatly surprised to hear this from this little boy, they asked for his name, and learning that it was ‘JnAnadev’ wondered how he got this great Vedantic name. And one of the brahmins said: ‘What is there in a name? Even the buffalo grazing yonder might be given this name, but that would not beget it spiritual wisdom on that account!’. And JnAnadev replied: “Why doubt? The Sat-cid-Ananda Atman that is in me is also in that buffalo. So where is the difference?” The Brahmins were irked by this Vedantic talk of the little boy. “Would that buffalo speak like you?” provoked one brahmin. Lo and behold! Right in their presence JnAnadev made the buffalo spotlessly recite portions of Rigveda, Sama Veda and Yajurveda.
Some more miracles happened and that was how the Brahmins of PratishTaan were more than convinced that these boys were already spiritually blessed and so they did not need to have any more certification of their brahminhood.
On the way back to Alandi JnAnadev started explaining the Gita to those who walked with him along. Thus arose the monumental commentary called ‘JnAneSvarI’. And the practice of ‘nagara-sankIrtan’, that is, walking along while singing Bhajans of Names of God, also started then.