Alandi – Home to a Marathi Saint

Situated on the banks of the sacred Indrayani river 22km north of Pune, Alandi is a famous pilgrimage site that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It is here that the 13th century Marathi saint, yogi, poet and philosopher, Dnyaneshwar Maharaj, undertook sanjeevan samadhi. Alandi makes for a pleasant day excursion out of Pune, and although my visit here was almost a decade ago long before I started this blog, I thought it was worth documenting this town so closely linked to a Marathi Saint.

Dnyaneshwar’s story begins with his father, Vithalpant, who although married to his wife Rukminibai, was somewhat detached from worldly matters and decided to travel to Varanasi. There he met his guru, Ramanandswami, who accepted him as a disciple unaware that he was in fact married. Upon being accepted as a disciple, Ramanandswami gave him the name Chaitanyashram.

Having stayed at Alandi during his pilgrimage trip to Rameshwar, Guru Ramanandswami came to learn that Chaitanyashram was in fact married, and immediately ordered him to return to his home village and establish a family. Chaitanyashram (now Vithalpant again) honoured his guru’s orders and returned to Alandi, spending much of his time reading and studying the Vedas and Shastras.

Over the course of the next few years Vithalpant and Rukminibai had four children; Nivruttinath (1273 CE), Dnyaneshwar (1275 CE), Sopana (1277 CE) and Muktabai (1279 CE). All four children became great spiritual leaders in the future. Under the guidence of his guru Nivruttinath and with encouragement from his elder brother, Dnyaneshwar embarked on a life of spirituality.

Dnyaneshwar is said to have performed many miracles during his lifetime, including making a male buffalo to speak out Vedas, and even riding a wall with his siblings as it flew in the air towards the mystical yogi Changdev Maharaj.

He is however most remembered for writing the Dnyaneshwari, also known as the Bhavartha Deepika. In the 13th century only a few people in Maharashtra knew Samskritam or Sanskrit, and so the vast majority of society didn’t understand the religious books written in the Sanskrit language. At the age of just 15 years old, Dnyaneshwar took the bold step of writing a commentary on the Sanskrit Bhagwat Gita using the common language of the local people, Marathi.

Written in 1290 C.E, Dnyaneshwari (Marathi: ज्ञानेश्वरी, Jñānēśvarī), also referred to as Jnanesvari, Jnaneshwari or Bhavartha Deepika, is the oldest surviving literary work in the Marathi language and is an important text for the Varkari tradition of Hinduism. Although the original manuscript has been lost, a copy exists from 1843 CE with 609 surviving pages consisting of 9 lines per page. The full text amounts to about 9,000 verses.

In the short number of years that followed, Dnyaneshwar and his friend Namadev embarked on a number of pilgrimages to various holy centers across India, where they initiated many people into the Varkari sect. On their return to Pandharpur, Dnyaneshwar and Namadev were honored with a feast in which it is said many contemporary saints such as “Goroba the potter, Sanvata the gardener, Chokhoba the untouchable and Parisa Bhagwat the Brahmin” participated. After the feast, Dnyaneshwar desired to go into sanjeevan samadhi, a practice to voluntarily leave one’s mortal body after entering into a deep meditative state, as practiced in Ashtanga Yoga of ancient India. Preparations were made at Alandi, where shortly afterwards he entered into sanjeevan samadhi. He was just 22 years old, his samadhi lies in the Siddhesvara Temple complex in Alandi.

The above is of course a very high level overview of this Marathi saint. Wikipedia offers a far more indepth study which you can read here, and no doubt there are countless other resources out there.

As is so often the case, I come to learn more about a place long after I have visited it. My encounter with Alandi was at the very start of my love affair with India, at a time when I wasn’t quite so immersed in photography or the history of the country. Much has changed since then, so perhaps one day soon I will be able to make a return visit.

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Categories: Alandi, India, Maharashtra

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