Tulsidas is one of the stars of the Bhakti Movement in India. Born in 1532 AD at Rajpur, Banda District in present day Uttar Pradesh to Atmaram Shukla Dube and Hulsi, he hailed from the Saryuparina Brahmin community. The parents died when Tulsidas was young and he was brought up by Narahari Ananda, a holy man of Kasi. The meeting took place at Sukar Khet. His sacred thread ceremony was conducted by this sage and he was made to study the Vedas and scriptures for 15 years under Seshanatha Swami. Emerging as a Sanskrit pundit, Tulsidas was married off to Ratnavali.
He was greatly attached to his wife who was however a realised soul. When she had gone to her father?s place, Tulsidas, unable to bear the pangs of separation went to her house at night and climbed into her room through a window. His wife reproached him for this and said that if he only showed half the love he had for her to Lord Rama, his life would be a lot happier. Tulsidas woke up to the truth and giving up worldly life for good became an ascetic. He wandered far and wide, visiting many holy spots and finally realised true bliss.
Remembering the tales of Rama?s exploits that had been first imparted to him by his Guru Narahari Ananda, Tulsidas took to writing the Ramayana in Avdhi dialect. Though he was a Sanskrit scholar, he decided to write the epic in the language of daily use so that people could understand the true import of the work. The Ramacharitmanas or the Lake of Rama?s Story is constructed in the form of couplets called Chaupai. The work is considered an object of worship in many homes. An interesting feature is that many of its verses are brought into everyday speech as proverbs and phrases.
Another popular work of this composer is the Hanuman Chalisa, a set of forty verses which is recited by people as prayer to the God who pulverises obstacles. Though this is not poetically a great work, its piety has ensured its popularity.
There are besides at least eleven other works of Tulsidas which are less well known. The Dohavali is a set of 573 verses set in doha and srotha verses. These are also repeated in another work titled the Ram Sat Sai which has seven hundred verses in all. The Kabitta Ramayan or Kavitavali is a set of verses divided into seven cantos like the Ramayana. This work is set in Kavitta, Ghanakshari, Chaupai and Savaiya metres and aims at establishing the glory of Rama?s character. The Gitavali, which is also set in seven parts is meant to be sung and describes the softer side of Rama?s character. The Vinay Patrika is a beautiful work set in 279 verses all of which are in the form of petitions. The first 43 are addressed to lesser beings in Rama?s court and the remaining are addressed to Rama himself. The Vairagya Sandipani is a smaller work which describes the attributes of a truly holy personage.
Tulsidas?s fame spread far and wide during his lifetime and he is set to have been visited by the Emperor Akbar to seek his blessings. It is also believed that the saint poetess Meera was in correspondence with Tulsidas. He passed away in 1623 in Kasi.
The works of Tulsidas have always remained in vogue but it is to an Englishman, FS Growse of the Indian Civil Service that we owe the first and most comprehensive English translation. This was in the 1890s. Since then, there have been several versions that have come out.
The Tulsi Manas Mandir in Varanasi completed in 1964 stands as a tribute to the saint and his immortal work ? the Ramcharitmanas.