Rāmānanda Āchārya


1. Rāmānanda

Rāmānanda (circa 14-15th century) was a 14th-century Vaiṣṇava devotional poet saint, in the Ganges river region of northern India. The Hindu tradition recognizes him as the founder of the Rāmānandi Saṁpradāya, the largest monastic Hindu ascetic community in modern times.

Born in a Brahman family, Rāmānanda for the most part of his life lived in the holy city of Varanasi:

His year of birth or death are uncertain, but historical evidence suggests he was one of the earliest Saints and a pioneering figure of the Bhakti movement as it rapidly grew in North India, sometime between the 14th and mid-15th century during the period of Islamic rule.

Tradition asserts that Rāmānanda developed his philosophy and devotional themes inspired by the South Indian Vedanta philosopher Rāmānuja;

however evidence also suggests that Rāmānanda was influenced by Nāth Panthi ascetics of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy.

An early social reformer, Rāmānanda accepted disciples without discriminating anyone by gender, class, caste or religion (he accepted Muslims):

Traditional scholarship holds that his disciples included later Bhakti movement poet-Saints such as Kabīr, Ravidas, Bhagat Pipa and others; however some postmodern scholars have questioned some of this spiritual lineage while others have supported this lineage with historical evidence.

His verse is mentioned in the Sikh scripture Ādi Granth.

Rāmānanda was known for composing his works and discussing spiritual themes in vernacular Hindi, stating that this makes knowledge accessible to the masses.

2. Biography

Little is known with certainty about the life of Rāmānanda, including year of birth and death. His biography has been derived from mentions of him in secondary literature and inconsistent hagiographies.

The most accepted version holds that Rāmānanda was born in a Yādava family, about mid-14th-century, and died about mid-15th-century.

Although few people hold him to be of Southern origin, there's no evidence to support such a claim. In fact, all genuinely Indian sources agree that Rāmānanda was born at Prayāga.

Also, the fact that he was stated to be a Kanyakubja Brahmin tells about his North Indian roots.

According to the medieval era Bhaktamāl text by Nabhadās, Rāmānanda studied under Rāghavānanda, a guru (teacher) in Vedanta-based Vaḍakalai (northern, Rāma-avatar) school of Vaiṣṇavism:

It was Rāmānanda's teacher, Rāghavānanda, who came from the South, and after much wandering had settled at Benares. There, and not in the South, he had Rāmānanda as his disciple.

Other scholars state that Rāmānanda's education started in Ādi Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedanta School, before he met Rāghavānanda and began his studies in Rāmānuja's Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedanta School.

3. Literary works

Rāmānanda is credited as the author of many devotional poems, but like most Bhakti movement poets, whether he actually was the author of these poems is unclear.

Two treatises in Hindi, Jñāna-Līla and Yoga-Cintāmaṇi are also attributed to Rāmānanda, as are the Sanskrit works Vaiṣṇava Mata Bhajabhāskara and Rāmārcana paddhati.

However, poems found in the original and well-preserved manuscripts of Sikhi and handwritten Nagari-pracarini Sabhā are considered authentic and highlight the Nirguṇa (attribute-less God) stream of thought in Rāmānanda.

4. Philosophy

Rāmānanda developed his philosophy and devotional themes inspired by the south Indian Vedanta philosopher Rāmānuja, however evidence also suggests that Rāmānanda was influenced by Nāth Panthi ascetics of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy.

Some scholars believe Rāmānanda's teachings were "an attempt towards a synthesis between Advaita Vedanta and Vaiṣṇava bhakti".

The same link can be found in the 15th-century text of Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa, but there is no historical proof that Rāmānanda's teachings inspired that text.

Some say that Rāmānanda's complex theological background in 2 distinct Hindu philosophies explains why he accepted both Saguṇa Brahman and Nirguṇa Brahman, or God with attributes and God without attributes respectively.

The Rāmānanda’s literature that is considered authentic suggests a milestone development in metaphysical principles of the Bhakti movement:

Rāmānanda asserts that austerity and penances through asceticism are meaningless, if an individual does not realize Hari (Vishnu) as their inner self.

He criticizes fasting and rituals, stating that the mechanics are not important, and that these are useless if the individual does not take the opportunity to reflect and introspect on the nature of Brahman (Supreme Being).

Rāmānanda states that mechanical reading of a sacred text has no benefit, if the person fails to understand what the text is trying to communicate.

5. Legacy

Rāmānanda is often honoured as the founder of Sant-Paramparā (literally, the tradition of bhakti Saints) in North India.

His efforts, in a time when Ganges river plains of North India was under Islamic rule, helped revive and refocus Hindus to a personalized, direct devotional form of Rāma worship,

his liberalism and focus on the devotee's commitment rather than birth or gender set a precedent that attracted people to spirituality from various walks of life, and his use of vernacular language instead of Sanskrit for spiritual ideas made sharing and reflection easier for the masses.

6. 12 disciples of Rāmānanda

12 influential disciples of Rāmānanda included 10 men and 2 women poet-Saints.
According to Bhaktamāl, these were:

Men scholars:

1. Anantānanda 2. Sursurānanda 3. Sukhanand 4. Naraharidāsa 5. Bhavanand 6. Bhagat Pipa 7. Kabīr 8. Sen 9. Dhanna 10. Ravidas

Women scholars:

1. Sursuri 2. Padyawati

Postmodern scholars have questioned some of the above guru-disciple lineage while others have supported this lineage with historical evidence.

7. Largest ascetic community

Rāmānanda is the founder of the eponymous Rāmānandi Saṁpradāya (Śrī Rāmāvats or Śrī Saṁpradāya). This is the largest ascetic community in India, and their members are known as Rāmānandīs or Vairāgīs.

They are known for their self-imposed highly disciplined, austere, structured and simple lifestyle.

8. Social reforms

Rāmānanda was an influential social reformer of Northern India:

He championed the pursuit of knowledge and direct devotional spirituality, and did not discriminate based on birth family, gender or religion.

Don't ask a sadhu his caste, ask him about knowledge instead.
— Rāmānanda, 14th century,

9. Swami Rāmānanda’s poem

One poem of Svāmī Rāmānanda, originally written in Hindi, is a response to an invitation to go to a temple, and the answer states there is no need to visit a temple because God is within a person, all pervasive in everything and everyone.

Where should I go?
I am happy at home.
My heart will not go with me,
My mind has become crippled.

One day, a desire welled up in my mind,
I ground up sandalwood, along with several fragrant oils.
I went to the temple, to worship Him there,
Then my Guru showed me Brahman Ultimate Reality, God, within my heart.

Wherever I go, I find only water and stones,
But Brahman is in everything.
I have searched through all the Vedas and the Purāṇas,
You go there, only if Brahman were not here.

I am a sacrifice to You, O True Guru.
You have dispelled all my confusion and doubt.
Rāmānanda’s Lord is the all-pervading Brahman,
The word of the Guru ends millions of karma.

— Rāmānanda in Rāg Basant, Ādi Granth 1995