During the time of the Moguls, when Akbar the Great was emperor, he had a very good Hindu minister called Atmarama. His son was called Tulsiram and he was extremely fond of the child. When the boy came of age, he had him married to a very pious girl called Mamta Devi. He then left his wife in the care of his son and taking the emperor’s permission, he went to Kashi (Varanasi), in order to mediate on God.
Due to his love for Atmarama, Akbar appointed Tulsiram in his father’s post. Unfortunately, the young man got into some wild company and his whole character changed. He was always seen drinking and gambling and moving with women of low morals. Hearing this, Atmarama came back and tried his best to advise his son, who turned a deaf ear to his father’s exhortations. Atmarama then shifted his whole family from the Mogul capital at Delhi to a small village on the banks of the river Yamuna near the town of Mathura. Tulsiram now turned his passion toward his own wife and spent his whole time in her company, totally neglecting his work as well as his spiritual duties.
His wife kept advising him to return to a normal state of affairs, but the man was so bemused by her beauty that he could think of nothing else but consorting with her. Akbar now sent word asking him to return to the capital as he had some work for him. Tulsiram refused to see the officers who had come to get him. At Mamta’s insistence, he decided to go. When he reached Delhi, he was in a fever of impatience to get back since he was craving for his wife. At last, he asked the emperor to give him leave since he had not bid farewell to his mother and wife when he left. He promised to return very soon. As soon as he got permission, he took a one-horse buggy and started off with all speed to his village even though it was already evening. Very soon the sky darkened and it started to rain. The driver begged him to stop somewhere for the night, but Tulsiram refused to listen to reason and urged him to whip the horse and make it go faster.
The storm did not abate and the poor horse carried on in the face of the bitter wind and rain. At last it just could not go any more and collapsed at the outskirts of the village. Tulsiram cursed the driver and the horse and jumped out of the carriage and ran all the way to his house. His mother was astounded to see him standing at the door all wet and bedraggled at two in the morning. “What’s the matter”? she asked. “Why have you come at this time of the night?” Tulsiram did not even bother to reply to his mother. “Where is my wife?” he demanded. “I must see her immediately.” “She has gone to her own house across the river,” said his mother. Without wasting a moment, Tulsiram ran to the river, which was swollen and rough due to the storm.
There was not a boat or boatman in sight. He was afire with the desire to see his wife and without even thinking of how he was risking his life, he jumped into the swirling waters of the Yamuna and started swimming against the strong current. He found that he was not progressing very well. At that moment, as if in answer to a prayer, he saw a log floating down. He caught hold of it thankfully and was taken across the river. He jumped onto the banks and when he turned around to look at the river, there was a sudden burst of lightning and he saw to his horror that the thing that he had thought was a log was actually a corpse! Without wasting time on unnecessary speculations he dashed to his wife’s house and found the gate locked. The walls were quite high and it was impossible for him to get a foothold to jump over it. He shouted and shouted to her to come and open the gate, but the noise of the thunder and the storm drowned his voice. By this time he was crazed with lust and totally devoid of reason. He went round and round the walls like a crazy man and suddenly spied a thick rope hanging down the wall. He grabbed it and somehow or other managed to scrabble to the top of the wall and jump into the compound. He then went and pounded at the door until he woke the whole household. They were all aghast to see his wild condition and wondered how he had managed to cross the river and climb over the wall. He told them that he had hung onto a log and found a rope on the wall. When they went to inspect the rope they found that it was actually a python! As soon as they reached their bedroom he could contain his lust no longer and grabbed his wife in his arms. She pushed him off in all fury and burst into a tirade of rage and sorrow. “How can you behave like this? Have you lost all sense of decency and decorum? This body for whose sake you have dared to cross this raging river and climb a wall with the help of a snake is only made of flesh and blood and bones and will decay and become old in no time. If you have half the love for God as you have for me, you would have become a realized saint! If you longed for the vision of Rama as much as you craved for my vision, you would have seen him by now. Actually, it is not love that you have for me but lust for this flesh! You are born in a noble family and you have the possibility to become enlightened in this life. Don’t waste this precious life in sexual pleasures. Repeat the name of Rama and attain liberation!”
Tulsiram was stunned when he heard this. Her words made a deep impression on him. It was as if she had given him a blow on his head and something had burst inside. As the dawn appeared in the sky, a light flamed in his head. Without another word, he left the house and went to the city of Kashi to start intense austerities. As much as he had yearned for the sight of his wife, now he yearned to have a sight of his beloved deity Rama. He could not eat or sleep. He went around as one possessed, inquiring for Rama. At last he met someone who told him that the only one who could fulfill his desire was Hanuman. “Where can I meet Hanuman?” he asked. “He is always present wherever the story of Rama is told. The Ramayana is being sung at a certain place right now. You will surely find him there. But remember he will not be in his own form. I have often noticed that a Brahmin dressed in tatters is always present at the discourse. He is the first to come and the last to leave. No one knows who he is or where he lives. I suspect that he is indeed Hanuman. Catch hold of him. Never leave him and he will be able to give you the vision of the Lord.”
Tulsiram went daily to the discourse and observed the old Brahmin carefully. However, every time he tried to follow him, he found that the old man disappeared instantly. However, nothing could deter his urgency to meet Rama. The same determination that compelled him to risk his life in order to reach the side of his beloved on that stormy night was now directed to meeting the divine beloved! One day he jumped and caught hold of the Brahmin’s dhoti (cloth worn by men) that was around his waist and tied his hand to it. The old man ran very fast into the dense forest and very soon Tulsiram could not keep up with his speed. But he hung on to the cloth and was dragged over the rough ground until he was torn and bleeding. All the while he kept repeating the mantra of Rama. He was determined never to let him go until his wish was fulfilled. At last the Brahmin stopped. Tulsiram grabbed hold of his feet and said. “My Lord, I know who you are. I will not let you go until you give me a vision of Rama!” Anjaneya now took his own form and raised him up and said, “Indeed, I am pleased with your devotion. You shall have a vision of the Lord tomorrow!” Thus saying, he vanished.
Tulsiram returned to his abode and spent the night in ecstasy thinking of the joy in store for him in the morning. The next day he cleaned his whole hut and compound and waited anxiously for his Lord to come. However, the only ones who came were two hunters dressed in green and mounted on horseback. That evening he went to the Brahmin and cried loud and long, for he had not got the vision that had been promised. Hanuman replied, “He did come, but you did not recognize him, for he was dressed as a common hunter! But fear not, tomorrow evening he will give you the darshan you are longing for.” The local people heard about this and many were present in Tulsiram’s courtyard. The shades of night were falling, and the yard was filled with people all chanting, “Rama! Rama!” Suddenly all of them were thrilled to see Rama approaching with Lakshmana and Sita on either side. Tulsiram fell at Rama’s feet and was unable to get up. Rama lifted him up tenderly and told him,“ My son, your love alone has brought me here. You are truly blessed. From now on you shall be known as Tulsidas. It is your duty to write the story of the Ramayana in simple language that the common people can understand.” Tulsidas was astounded, “My Lord!” he said. “I am totally incapable of writing on such a great subject. All I know is to chant your name. How can I fulfill your command?” Rama looked lovingly at him and said, “Fear not. You will be given guidance by Hanuman, who is not only erudite but also filled with devotion. He has been a living witness to the story of my life. He is the best person to guide you.” Thus it happened that Tulsidas started writing the Ramayana in the common man’s language, Awadhi, which was a dialect of Hindi. It was written in the year AD 1575. When Valmiki wrote his Ramayana, India was at the peak of its cultural refinement, while Tulsidas produced his work at a time when there was a widespread degradation in moral values. There was rivalry between different faiths and sects. Through the story of Rama, Tulsidas sought to acquaint the masses with all that was best in the Hindu scriptures and to bring about synthesis and concordance among the various schools of religious thought. In North India, it gained instant popularity among laborers, peasants, and householders alike. It came to be known as the Ramacharitamanas.
Many miracles were attributed to Tulsidas. Hearing about these, the Mogul emperor Akbar sent for him and asked him to perform a miracle for him. Tulsidas replied, “I am only a humble servant of Rama. He alone is the worker of miracles.” “Show me your Rama, then,” said the emperor. Tulsidas remained silent. The emperor became angry at his silence and ordered him to be put in jail. It is said that
Tulsidas composed the Hanuman Chalisa when he was in prison at Fatepur Sikri, which was Akbar’s fortress at the time. During those forty days when he was composing the verses, he prayed to Hanuman to save him from this predicament. At the end of the forty days, the whole of the emperor’s fort was swarming with monkeys. They clawed people, tore their clothes, entered houses, and destroyed gardens. At last the emperor realized that this must be the work of the man he had thrown in jail. He ran to him and fell at his feet, begging him to order the monkeys to go away.
Tulsidas prayed to Hanuman and immediately the monkeys vanished, but he told the emperor, “You should leave this spot and take up your residence at some other place, for this is Rama’s abode and no one should stay here except the monkeys.” Hearing this, the emperor is said to have changed the location of his fortress. Tulsidas died in the year 1624. Two copies of his Ramayana, written in his own handwriting, are said to be in existence. One is preserved at Rajpur, and the other is in the temple of Sita-Rama, which he himself had constructed at Kashi. Although many of the Sanskrit pundits of his time attacked him for having lowered the dignity of his subject by clothing it in vulgar vernacular, the fact remains that his book is found everywhere from the court to the cottage and is read or heard and appreciated by every class of the Hindu community, high and low, rich and poor, young and old.
Excerpt from Hanuman – The devotion and power of the Monkey God by Vanamali