Genesis of the Ramayan
According to Priyadasa’s Bhaktirasabodhini, written in 1712, Tulasidas was in the habit of visiting the woods outside Varanasi for his morning ablutions. He would put the remaining water in the roots of a tree which was inhabited by a ghost that was debarred from access to water sources. The grateful ghost wished to bless Tulasidas by granting his wish. The saint expressed a desire to have the darshan of Ram and his brother, Lakshman. This was not possible without Hanumanji’s help. The ghost told Tulasidas, “You go and listen to the Ramayan in the Ramji Mandir. An aged Brahmin regularly comes there. He is Maruti (Hanumanji). He is the first to come and the last to go. He has a staff in his hand and a cap on his head. He wears an old garment.’’ After this elaborate description, Tulasidas had little difficulty in recognizing Hanumanji. But the old Brahmin devotee refused to admit that he was the famous Ram bhakta, Hanuman. Tulasidas’s persistence won the day. The poet was asked to go to Chitrakuta for Ram’s darshan because Ram and Lakshman often visited the place. They indeed came on horseback. At first, Tulasidas failed to recognize them.
It is said that after Tulasidas had the darshan of his beloved Ram, Hanumanji asked him to narrate the exploits of the prince of Ayodhya. This was the genesis of his Ramayan. Like Hanumanji, Tulasidas practiced dasya bhakti – total surrender to God.
Tulasidas faced opposition from the traditional scholars for propagating Ramkatha (discourses on Ram) in a vernacular tongue, in this case the Vraj dialect, instead of Sanskrit. Their fears have come true, since Valmiki’s classic in Sanskrit has been pushed to the background. Once, before such a situation had arisen, it is said that Valmiki himself had this fear and tried to sabotage Hanumanji’s effort when he tried to inscribe the story of Ramachandra on the rocks. According to tradition, Rishi Valmiki himself had wanted Tulasidas to write Ram’s exploits in Vraj, so that ordinary people, not versed in Sanskrit, could follow. This, it is claimed, was done to expiate for the sin in thwarting Hanumanji’s efforts.
It took more than two years for the poet to compose the Ramayan, a task he began in 1572 CE. Although he stuck to the main theme of Valmiki, Tulasidas had introduced several new stories in his version. Ramcharit Manas is not merely a narrative of Ram’s exploits. It is pertinent to observe here that Shri Ram had spent 10 of his 14 years of exile in Dandakaranya (parts of modern-day Chhatisgharh and other areas in the surrounding states). So, it is not merely about a war between Ram and Ravan. That came later and the prelude was no less exciting.
Like other saints, Tulasidas is also famous for miracles which he was forced to perform. He was merely interested in worshipping Ram and promoting his worship. Once, Akbar insisted that the saint should show him manifest Ram. Following Tulasidas’s helplessness to oblige, the emperor forcibly detained him at Fatehpur Sikri. The devotee appealed to Hanumanji, who sent his companions to the fort and they began to wreak havoc. The monkeys targeted the wicked and those drunk with power and wealth. The followers of Hanuman emptied the granaries by distributing the grain to the poor and needy. Mischievously, they snatched the clothes of women who were bathing in the river. Akbar was told that all this was a result of his harassing a devotee of Bhagwan Ram. When approached, Tulasidas said that Akbar wanted to see Bhagwan Ram who would soon be approaching at the head of a vast army of monkeys. The king had had enough of ‘Ram darshan’; he pleaded with the saint to call back the monkey army. Soon the monkeys vanished as speedily as they had appeared and Tulasidas was set free. Thereafter, he stayed there for a year promoting the worship of Ram.
Miracle at Krishna Mandir
Once, Tulasidas visited Mathura and Vrindavan. While at Vrindavan, the mahant of a Krishna mandir told Tulasidas that he who bows to a deity other than his chosen deity would be considered a fool. The poet was equal to the occasion and composed a couplet: “O Lord! How shall I explain today’s splendour, for you appear auspicious. Tulasidas will bow down his head when you take the bow and arrows in your hands.”
As soon as he recited these lines, the deity gave up the flute and adorned himself with a bow and arrow. This shows Tulasidas’s intense devotion to his chosen deity, despite the fact that Ram and Krishna are both considered avatars of Narayan.
Tulasi Ghat in the pilgrim town of Varanasi is named after him. Tulasidas lived a major portion of his life in Varanasi and passed away at the Assi Ghat. It is believed that the Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir, founded by the saint-poet, stands exactly at the spot where he had the darshan of Hanumanji.