Sri Sathya Sai Narrates: The Story of Samarth Ramdas

Samarth Ramdas (AD 1608-1681)

In a place called Baadar in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, a son was born to a couple highly devoted to God. He was named Narayana. He grew up as a naughty boy, neglecting his studies and quarrelling with other children. At the age of 8 years, he lost his father. His mother Ramaa Devi found it difficult to control her mischievous and delinquent son. Her relatives and neighbours advised her to get him married so that he might realise his responsibilities and change for the better. 

Although the boy was only 13 years old and too young for marriage, his mother yielded to the persuasions of others and arranged for his marriage. At the time of the wedding, a screen of thick cloth was held in-between the bride and bridegroom, according to the prevailing custom, and the Purohits (priests) removed the curtain to hand over the Mangala Sutram (the sacred thread of wedlock) to the bridegroom for him to tie it round the bride's neck. Lo and behold! The bridegroom had disappeared behind the curtain, without anybody's notice. A thorough search was made to trace him out, but in vain. So, the marriage could not be performed. 

The boy Narayana, who had escaped from the marriage hall, ultimately reached a place called Nasik near the source of the sacred river Godavari. He stayed there for some time and then moved to a nearby mountain called ‘Chitrakoota’ which is considered holy, because Lord Rama lived there for nearly 12 years. There he selected an exquisitely beautiful spot by name ‘Panchavati’. The boy was enraptured by the grandeur of the scenery of the place, and its sanctity associated with the stay of Lord Rama there during his exile, sent thrills of ecstasy in Narayana. He was always immersed in the contemplation of Lord Rama. 

What was the cause for the naughty boy turning into a pious young man? Apart from the fact that his latent good Samskaras (accumulated tendencies) were aroused by the sudden shock of the prospect of being saddled with the heavy responsibilities of married life, the boy, during his journey to Nasik, entered a famous Hanuman temple en route, and wholeheartedly prayed to the deity to bless him with all the noble qualities for which Hanuman was renowned. And he had an indication of his prayer being answered by way of gentle movement of the idol transmitting spiritual vibrations in the direction of the boy. 
After 12 years of intense penance at Panchavati, Narayana gained the three-fold realisation of Lord Rama, as did Hanuman, namely, when he had body consciousness, he was the servant and Rama, the Master (Dvaita or dualism); when he was conscious of his being a Jeeva (individual soul) he was a part of Rama (Vishishta Advaita – qualified non-dualism) and when he was aware of his being the Atma, he and Rama were one (Advaita or non-dualism). 

After this realisation, he returned to Nasik from Panchavati. While there, he came to know that the country was in the grip of a severe famine. Then he began to reflect that to spend his time thinking of only his own liberation, when all his countrymen were suffering due to famine, amounted to extreme selfishness. So, he coined the slogan, “Dil Mein Ram, Haath Mein Kaam” (Rama in the heart, and work in the hand), and entered the arena of social service with all his energy and zeal, giving to himself and his band of dedicated workers mottos such as: “Manava Seva (service to man) is Madhava Seva (service to God)” and “Grama Seva (service to the villages) is Rama Seva (service to Rama)”. He filled the tank of his heart with the holy water of Rama Nama (Rama's name) which flowed through the tap of his hands to quench the thirst of the multitudes of his countrymen. 

Proceeding thus from village to village, doing social work, coupled with chanting of Rama Nama, Narayana finally reached Rameshwaram at the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. From there he went to the pilgrim centres of Tirupati (where he had the Darshan of Lord Venkateshwara) and Hampi (where he worshipped Lord Virupaksha). Ultimately he returned to Nasik. 
Shivaji Maharaj with Sant Tukaram
On the way to Nasik, he saw Sant Tukaram, who was singing the glories of Rama so melodiously that a large number of people including Shivaji, the ruler of Maharashtra, were attracted to him. As Shivaji listened to Tukaram, and told him about his decision to give up his kingdom and to devote himself fully and whole-heartedly to the pursuit of the spiritual path, Tukaram admonished Shivaji for his narrow-minded view of spirituality and exhorted him to consider duty as God and work as worship. Thereupon Shivaji prayed to Tukaram to give him initiation. Tukaram declined saying, “Ramdas is your Guru, not I. So you have to receive initiation only from him”. Rather disappointed, Shivaji returned to his capital. 
Chhatrapati Shivaji and Samarth Ramdas
When Shivaji came to know that Narayana alias Ramdas was in Nasik, he sent his ministers and other high dignitaries to invite Ramdas to the royal court with a band of music and other traditional honours befitting a highly distinguished personage. When Ramdas arrived, the King received him with due honours and reverence, arranged for his stay in the palace itself, and after washing his feet, he sprinkled the holy water on his own head and submitted to him in all humility: “O Revered Master! From this moment this kingdom belongs to you; and I too, am yours.” Thereupon Ramdas replied, “My son, I am an ascetic who has renounced everything. I have neither the right nor the desire for your limited kingdom. God's kingdom is unlimited. The goal of my life is to help everyone to reach that unlimited kingdom of God. So I don't want this kingdom of yours. I am now coronating you as the ruler of this kingdom which you have offered to me. From now onward, you will be king with a difference. You should consider that the kingdom really belongs to God and that you are only His instrument or trustee administering the kingdom on His behalf.” 
Shivaji Maharaj with Samarth Ramdas and Sant Tukaram
Since Ramdas had the extraordinary capacity to do many great things, he came to be known as Samartha Ramdas, the appellation ‘Samartha’ meaning a man of versatile skills. There is an episode in his life which describes the context in which the title of ‘Samartha’ was conferred on him. He used to dress himself and move about like Kodandapani (Rama armed with his bow and arrows). 

Once when he was walking along the banks of the Godavari in this dress, some Brahmins who were taking bath there questioned him whether he belonged to the community of Koyas (hunters belonging to a hill tribe were called Koyas). Ramdas told them that he was Ramdas (a servant of Rama) and not a Koya. Thereupon, they questioned him why he was dressed and equipped with bow and arrows like Rama if he was only a servant of Rama. They heckled him saying, “What is the use of merely trying to imitate Kodandapani in appearance only? Are you capable of wielding the bow and arrows as Rama did?” Just then a bird was flying fast at a great height across the sky above their heads. The Brahmins pointed the bird to Ramdas and asked him whether he could shoot that bird. With Rama's name on his lips, Ramdas immediately aimed an arrow at the flying bird and brought it down right in front of the Brahmins. Seeing the dead bird, the Brahmins accused Ramdas saying, “There is no harmony of thought, word and deed in you and therefore you are a Duratma (a wicked person); you chant Rama's name and at the same time you have committed the sin of killing an innocent bird, to show off your skill”. When Ramdas replied that he shot the bird at their instance only, they remonstrated, saying, “If we ask you to eat grass, will you do so? Don't you have your own independent thinking or discrimination?” Then Ramdas gently replied, “Sirs, past is past. Kindly tell me what I should do now?”

They asked him to repent for his sin. Ramdas promptly closed his eyes and prayed to God wholeheartedly, repenting for his sin and asking for His forgiveness. Then he opened his eyes and pointed out to the Brahmins that the dead bird had not regained life, in spite of his repentance. The Brahmins said reprovingly, “What a madcap you are! Repentance cannot undo what you have done; but its purpose is to enable you to make up your mind not to repeat such misdeeds in future”. “That is no repentance in my humble view”, countered Ramdas, “God and His name are so powerful that if we pray sincerely, His grace will bring the bird back to life”. So saying, he picked up the dead bird, hugged it to his bosom, and with tears flowing down his cheeks, he wholeheartedly prayed, “O Rama, if I have been chanting Your name with all my mind, heart and soul and if it is a fact that I have killed this bird out of ignorance and not with an intent to kill, may Your grace either revive this dead bird, or take away my life also along with that of the bird”. As he concluded his prayer, the bird fluttered in his hands. Then he opened his eyes, thanked the Almighty and released the bird into the sky. Astonished at this miracle, the Brahmins exclaimed in one voice, “Revered sir, forgive us for not recognising your greatness. Since you have the capacity to kill a flying bird with a single arrow, and also the capacity to revive the dead bird, you will hereafter be known by the worthy name of 'Samartha Ramdas’.” 
Lord Vitthala at Pandharpur
After this, Ramdas visited Pandharipuram where he was an eye-witness to the ideal way in which a man by name Pundareeka served his parents as veritable Gods, making Lord Panduranga Himself wait in front of his house standing on a pair of bricks, till he completed his service to his parents. 

Then he visited Shivaji and gave him three things as mementos to guide him in his royal duties – one, a coconut to remind him that just as our intention in buying a coconut is to consume the white kernel inside, so also the purpose of owning and administering the kingdom is that the King himself should lead a Satvic life and also to ensure that the Satvic quality prevails in his kingdom; second, a handful of earth to remind the King and through him his subjects, about the sanctity of Bharat, their motherland; third, a pair of bricks to symbolise that just as bricks are used to construct houses for the safety of the inmates, the King should use his powers to protect the people and promote their welfare and progress. 

At this time the memory of Pundareeka's devoted service to his parents at Pandharipuram was revived in Ramdas’ mind and he hastened back home with the idea of serving his aged mother. When he reached home, his old mother could not recognise him, particularly because of his long beard and strange dress. He told her that he was her son, Narayana, who was popularly known as Samartha Ramdas. Thereupon, his mother exclaimed ecstatically, “O my dear son, I have been hearing so much about Samartha Ramdas and have been eager to see him for a long time. But I never knew that it is the popular name of my son, Narayana. I am proud of you and thank the Lord for making me the mother of such a great one. My life is fulfilled.” So saying she breathed her last on her son's lap. Ramdas duly performed the obsequies of his mother. Shortly thereafter, he heard about Shivaji's death in A.D 1680 (just six years after he was coronated by Ramdas in A.D 1674). He went to the King's capital, installed Shivaji's son as the king and blessed him so that he might rule the kingdom, following the footsteps of his noble father.

Source: Samarth Ramdas, Discousre 27, My Dear Students Volume 2, Divine Discourse on March 19, 1993 at Trayee Brindavan 

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