Jnaneshwara

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From Saints, Sufis and Yogis

Jnaneshwara (c.1275-1296) was the first, and some say the greatest, of the saints in the Maratha Varkari tradition. Also known as Jnanadeva. [the variant names are based on three Sanskrit words: Jnana meaning knowledge, -ishvar used in the sense of lord, and deva, god. The Marathi can also be transcribed in western (roman) script as Dnyan, thus Dynaneshwara; also Gyan in Hindi, thus Gyaneshvara, or Gyandeo. Additionally, the ending –vara can be transcribed as –wara, thus Jnaneshwara.]

Born in 1275 in his mother’s village, Alandi, near Pune, this young saint achieved much in his short life taking his samadhi in 1296. He received his Kundalini awakening from his brother Nivritti, who had earlier received his awakening from a Nath yogi, Gahininath.

It is Jnaneshwara who provides a detailed description of the awakening of the Kundalini in the language of the ordinary people (Marathi) in the sixth chapter of the Jnaneshwari. After several centuries of handwritten manuscript copying, this sixth chapter had been removed from the text by the Brahmin pundits. Acting on a dream, the later Marathi saint, Eknath, revised the text to re-include the controversial sixth chapter and its description of Kundalini awakening.

The contemporary Nath yogi and British academic, James Mallinson, is of the view that the combination of yogic teachings (ascribed to Gorakh) and vedantic discourse to be found in the Jnaneshwari is similar to that found in two early texts associated with the Naths, the Vivekamartanda and the Goraksasataka. Both texts are ascribed to Gorakh and are likely to have originated from Maharashtra and date to the thirteenth century.

In the epilogue to the Jnaneshwari, known as the Pasayadan, Jnaneshwara desires mass-realisation for the entire world and the rebirth of the saints who will give their blessings (realisation) to the whole world.

Let universal friendship reign among all beings. Let the darkness of evil disappear. Let the sun of true religion rise in this world. Let all beings obtain what they desire.

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi has indicated that this is a description of the Sahaja yogis in modern times. (1994-1002, 1994-1009).

In his Amritanubhava (Experience of the Ambrosia), Jnaneshwara attempted to describe the beauty of the Sahaja state, that oneness with the Divine. The Changadeva Pasashti, Jnaneshwara's sixty-five verse letter to the great siddhi yogi, Changadeva, is often published with the Amritanubhava.

Jnaneshvara is best known to Maharashtrians through his abhangas. These are devotional lyrics in which the innermost feelings of the heart are expressed, particularly in relation of the soul to God. There are some 1100 abhangas credited to him, of which one tenth are translated by P.V.Bobde in his Garland of Divine Flowers (1987). There is also the Haripath, a sequence of some twenty-seven four-line verses of the abhanga type.

There are two texts attributed to Jnaneshwara on Nath yogic themes: the Lakhota (‘Sealed Letter’) and the Yoghapar Abhangamala (a collection of abhangas on yoga). There is also the Anusthanapath (‘Litany of Observances’), a group of yoga-related songs in the Jnandev Gath that are probably by later writers in the Varkari tradition.

Shri Mataji has observed that "to understand Jnaneshwara, I would say, first you must have your self realization. Otherwise you can never understand him." (1996-1125)

Jnaneshvara had two brothers, Nivrittinath and Sopandev, and a sister, Muktabai.


Bibliography: Jnaneshwari, translated by M.R.Yardi (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2nd ed., 1995) [1] ; Jnaneshvari, translated from the Marathi by V.G.Pradhan; edited by H.M.Lambert (London: Allen and Unwin, 1967; Bombay: Blackie and Son, 1978; Albany: SUNY Press, 1987); Sri Jnanadeva's Bhavartha Dipika, otherwise known as Jnaneshwari, translated from Marathi by R.K.Bhagwat (Madras: Samata Books, 1979); Jnaneshwar's Gita: a rendering of the Jnaneshwari by Swami Kripananda (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989) Sri Jnanadeva's Amritanubhava, with Changadeva Pasashti, translated from Marathi by R.K.Bhagwat (Madras: Samata Books, 1985) Garland of divine flowers: selected lyrics of Saint Jnanesvara, [translated by] P.B.Bobde (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987); B.P.Bhahirat, The philosophy of Jnanadeva (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1956); Hemant V.Inamdar and Dinkar K.Peshpande, An introduction to Saint Poet Dnyaneshwar and his Dnyaneshwari (Pune: Mansanman Prakashan, 1999); S.V.Dandekar, Dnyanadeo (New Delhi: Maharashtra Information Centre, 1985); Catharina Kiehnle, Jnandev Studies, vols. I and II: Songs on Yoga: Teaching of the Maharastrian Naths; vol. III: The Conservative Vaisnava: Anonymous Songs of the Jnandev Gatha (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1998. 3v in 2); James Mallinson, ‘Nath Sampradaya’ in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Religions, vol.3 (Leiden: Brill, 2011) [2] ; James Mallinson, ‘Hathayoga’s philosophy: a fortuitous union of non-dualities’ [2012 – submitted to Journal of Indian Philosophy] [3] ; R.D.Ranade, Mysticism in Maharashtra (Poona, 1933; reprinted Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988), chapters 2-5; P.Y.Deshpande, Jnanadeva (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2nd ed., 1982)