Ananaya Bhaktha of Panduranga Vittal
The state of Maharashtra has produced a galore of ananya Bhakthas of Panduranga Vittal of Pandharpur of whom Sant Ekanath occupies a prominent place, as he was also a scholar and poet who helped the revival of interest in Hindu epics that had declined due to the invasion of idol-hating Muslim rulers. Ekanath was born in a pious Brahmin family at Pratisthan, called Paithan now. His great grandfather was sant Bhanudas who brought back the sacred image of Lord Panduranga from Vijaynagar to Pandharpur. Ekanath was devoted to Vittal, who was their family deity. When his parents passed away at an early age, he came to live with his grandparents. When he was twelve years old his grandfather entrusted him to the care of Janardhan Swami who was a great Yogi and who had an ashram in a forest near Devagiri. Besides philosophy, scriptures and grammar he also learnt the works of Sant Jyaneswar.
He spent there twelve years, taking care of the ashram as well besides learning. One night as he was tallying the accounts for the day he found difference of a paisa in cash on hand. He was searching for the wrong entry and could not locate it even by midnight. When he found it at last, he was so happy that he let out a shout “Found it, Gurunatha.” Janardhan Swami, who was awakened by the shout came to him and asked what did he find. He apologised to the Guru for awakening him and explained that it was the eluding paisa which had kept him awake that long. Janardhan Swami appreciated his sincerity and went to bed. Before going to sleep he prayed to Lord Dattatreya that He should give Darshan to Ekanath and bless him with His Grace. Next day as Ekanath was returning from his bath in Godavari River, Lord Dattatreya appeared before him in his divine form with Vedas and Dharma Devata in attendance as four dogs and bull. Ekanath prostrated before the Lord and Lord blessed him. He did not seek any favour but returned to the ashram and started doing his work as usual without any excitement. Janardhan Swami came and asked him whether anything unusual happened that morning and Ekanath casually narrated that he had the Darshan of Lord Dattatreya while returning from bath. Janardhan Swami was puzzled and asked him how he could be so casual about the Darshan of Lord. Ekanath replied that his Guru was his God and he valued more his Darshan and blessings than anything else. Janardhan Swami was moved and he said that his blessings will be with him all the time. He then asked him to go home, get married and lead a family life.
Ekanath returned to his grandparents, got married and started leading a family life. His wife, a devout woman was a great support to him in his spiritual activities. He would conduct discourses besides performing Bhajans and Kirtans and was also engaged in translating Sanskrit works in Marathi. He also composed several abhangs and sang about saints of Maharashtra like Namdev, Jyaneshwar and Janabai. He wrote a Marathi version of Bhagavatha Purana and Ramayana, which are widely popular in Maharashtra as Ekanath Bhagavatha and Ekanath Ramayana. Besides writing other works in Marathi on Vedanta, Gita etc., he also devoted himself to compiling a correct version Of Dhyaneswari, Jyaneshwar’s treatise on Bhagavat Gita in Marathi. Thus he greatly contributed to revival of Marathi bhakthi literature and interest in epics.
One day as he was reading Bhagavatha, a 12 year old boy came to him and introduced himself as Kandiya Krishna from Dwaraka and wanted to be his sishya and learn from him. Ekanath accepted him as sishya and treated him with love and care as his own son. He not only attended on his Guru but also ran all sorts of errand for Gurumatha as well. One day Ekanath was performing ceremony for his ancestors. Before feeding the Brahmins he gave part of the prepared food to a hungry untouchable. This angered the Brahmins who had come to the ceremony and they left without taking food. Then Ekanath was worried that the ceremony could not be completed. Kandiya Krishnan suggested that he could offer it to holy grass (Darbai) and complete the ceremony. Ekanath started performing rituals invoking ancestors in the holy grass, when Lord Vittal Himself came first and and then ancestors themselves came and blessed him uttering Mantras and left. The intrigued neighbours thought the blessings had been chanted by Ekanath and sishya disguising their voices to fool them.
The Brahmins met in the Brahmin Samaj and prohibited any contact with him until he does pariharam for this act of feeding an untouchable with food meant for ancestors and then faking completion of the ritual. Ekanath met and pleaded with them that for annadhanam there is no caste discretion and that hunger has no caste. Since they did not relent he agreed to do pariharam. They drew up a big list of land, cows, gold and silver for gifting. He agreed and started the sankalpam for the ritual. At that time a leper came there asking for Ekanath. When the Brahmins asked him to go away, the leper told he should see him urgently as he had been told by Lord Triambakeswar in his dream that Ekanath alone can perform prayachittam for his sins that had brought about the disease. Kandiya Krishnan who was listening to this took him to Ekanath overruling their protests. The leper wanted to do Padapuja to Ekanath and take the Padatheertham. First Ekanath refused and then when the leper repeated it was Lord Siva’s command, he agreed. The leper then performed the Padapuja and drank the water that was used to wash the feet and to the surprise of all assembled the leprosy vanished and he became normal. Kandiya Krishnan looked at the Brahmins and asked whether they stll insisted on pariharam. They apologised to Ekanath for not realising his greatness and said it would amount to blasphemy to insist on pariharam and left.
Soon after this a Brahmin came to Ekanath looking for Krishnan. Ekanath asked him to wait and continued reading Bhagavatham, which is his daily routine. Shortly after, Krishnan came with a vessel of water collected from Godavari and went straight inside without glancing at the Brahmin. The Brahmin too took no notice of him. This intrigued Ekanath and he asked the Brahmin how he knew Krishnan. The Brahmin then narrated that wherever he went and worshipped he had been blessed with the Darshan of the Lord of the temple. When he went to Dwaraka, he did not have the Darshan. So he fasted in the temple. After 12 days of fasting he had a dream in which Lord Krishna told him that he was at Ekanath’s house and so he had come to have his Darshan. As he was finishing his words Ekanath rushed inside looking for Kandiya Krishnan, but he had disappeared leaving the vessel of water in the kitchen. Ekanath realized it was Lord Krishna who had been serving him and cried his heart out that he could not recognize Him and remembering what all Lord did for him went into a trance. The Brahmin visitor stayed back as sishya of Ekanath.
Ekanath had a gentle nature and could not be provoked at all. In fact this became a cause of wager among a group of gamblers in Paithan. One of them wagered that he will make Ekanath get angry. The next morning as Ekanath was returning from his bath in Godavari, he waited for him on the way and as Ekanath came near he spit the pan he was chewing on Ekanath, while the other gamblers were watching from a distance. Ekanath just looked up and then without a word went back to the river, took bath again and came back. Again the gambler spat on Ekanath and again Ekanath returned to the river without a word. This cycle was getting repeated a few times when the gambler got frustrated and shouted at him whether he had no self-respect at all. Ekanath calmly replied that if he reacted, his mind would get dirty and that dirt cannot be washed off as the dirt on his body. The gambler was overcome with guilt and remorse and he fell at his feet and sought his forgiveness saying he did it for a wager foolishly. Ekanath felt sorry for him stating that he would have faked anger if he had known about the wager and thanked him for making him take bath a number of times in the holy river, which he would not have done normally any day.
Ekanath blended his ananya bhakthi for Lord with Advaitic vision of oneness of all living beings, human or animal. His attitude to untouchables we saw early. He also preached against its practice. One day he was sitting under a tree and opening a packet of chapathis. A dog which was nearby snatched the packet and ran away holding the packet in the mouth. Ekanath started running after it while onlookers shouted at him in vain to let it go as they would provide him with alternate chapathis. He ran and caught hold of the dog and grabbed the packet from its mouth. Onlooker’s derision turned into admiration as he lovingly circled its neck and fed the dog the chapathis, now spreading them with the ghee which he was carrying separately while at the same time admonishing it gently for trying to eat dry chapathis, that would choke its throat. Another time when he was returning from a pilgrimage to Benares carrying Ganga Jal, he unminding the protests of others in the group fed a donkey dying of thirst with the Ganga Jal, gently caressing it.