Narasimha Mehta (Circa 1414–1480)

In spite of the fact that numerous works of note have been composed in “Gujarati”  arlier, it is customary to regard Narasimha Mehta as the Father of Gujarati poetry. This may be due to the fact that many of Narasimha’s poems– the Prabhatiyans (poems to be sung at the dawn of the day) in particular, have been handed down to us from generation to generation, and Narasimha as a bhakta and a poet has all through these centuries been held in very high esteem by every Hindu in Gujarat. The works of pre-Narasimha period have, on the other hand, been discovered comparatively at a later date; and primarily because of their language, their appeal is restricted only to a limited number of students and scholars of old and medieval Gujarati language and literature.

Narasimha himself has written about some important incidents of his life; and his successors like Vishnudas, Vishvanath and Premanand have also written a number of poems on other important events of his life. Narasimha’s life and the miracles associated with it, some of the works attributed to Narasimha, the sudden and unprecedented flare up of the flame of Bhakti in his life, and the difference between the language of his poems which have been extremely popular and the language of his poems which are not so popular: have all been subjects of much controversy for a long time in Gujarat.

As in the case of all Indian saints and men of God, Narasimha’s life is marked with some
miracles, and numerous legends have been woven around it. Without attempting to examine them in this book, for obvious reasons, we can point out some incontrovertible facts:

Narasimha Mehta was born in Talaja, in circa 1414. He was a resident of Junagadh. Losing both his parents at a very young age, he had to be reared up at the house of a cousin. From his young age he loved to meet holy men and ascetics visiting Junagadh on their way to Girnar (a holy mountain) and listen to their bhajans (devotional songs) and religious dis- courses. Because of this and because of his total lack of interest in the affairs of the world, he lost favor with his cousins and other relatives. Disgusted
with the treatment meted out to him and hurt by a mala fide sarcastic remark made by his cousin’s wife, the young Narasimha left the house, repaired to a jungle, came across a
Shiva-linga that had been left neglected for a long time, worshipped it devoutly for a few days and went to Dwarka, where he saw the Rasa Lila. (A dance performed by several pairs of men and women, moving gracefully and rhythmically in a circle in commemoration of the Rasa performed by Shri Krishna and gopis in Gokul, on the bank of the river Jamuna, on the full-moon night of the month Ashvin.)

This Rasa Lila leaves an indelible impression on the mind of the young visionary. It stirs his imagination and a poet is born. Narasimha returned to Junagadh, a changed man. He
marries. But the ways of the world have little attraction for him. He receives in the nick of time sudden assistance from somewhere on the occasion of the marriage of his son Shamal; and once again at the ceremony of the Simantor (A socio-religious function held on the seventh month of the first conception of a lady) of his daughter Kunvarbai. He led a life thoroughly dedicated to his Lord Krishna. He died in Circa 1480.

Works of Narasimha Mehta include Har- mala, Shamalsha-no Vivaha, Govind- Gaman, Surata-Sangram, Sudama- Charitra, Rasa- Sahasrapadi, and Padas of Bala-Lila, Dan-Lila, Vasant, Hindola, and of bhakti, jnana and vairagya. The authorship of several padas attributed to Narasimha is doubtful.

And doubtful also is the authorship of the Har-mala, depicting the event when Krishna
is said to have accepted the challenge the enemies of Narasimha had thrown him
(Narasimha) and given them a proof of Narasimha’s unswerving devotion by decking
his neck with a garland of flowers while he was confined in a solitary cell. It is likely that the padas dealing with the core of the incident are written by Narasimha; the rest are
interpolations.

Govind-Gaman, Surata-Sangram and Sudama-charitra are the three akhyanas composed by Narasimha Mehta. They are, of course, not perfect specimens of the form of a – khya
-na. But the way in which Narasimha has treated the plot borrowed from the Bhagavata
in these compositions, unmistakably gives one a glimpse of an a – khya -na in its initial stage.

Govind-Gaman describes the event when Akrura takes away Govinda (Krishna) from
Gokul to Mathura. The sentiments expressed by the gopis at the very idea of Krishna’s
leaving them and going away are extremely moving.

Surata-Samgram (the battle of Surata) describes in the terms of a battle the love-play
between Krishna and his cowherd male associates on the one side and Radha and her
cowherd female associates on the other.

Sudama-Charitra narrates the incident in which Sudama, a poor Brahmin, goes to seek
financial assistance from Krishna, the king of Dwarka and also a school friend of his.Sudama’s hesitation and his wife’s down-to- earth approach to the problem, which ultimately makes Sudama yield to her, are ably portrayed. Sudama Charitra is the best of these three poems.

Narasimha has written hundreds of padas in Rasa- sahasrapadi and Shringara-mala
etc. He has also written padas on themes dealing with the birth of Krishna, and his numerous childhood pranks in his Dan-Lila (collecting something like a tax from the Gopis taking curds etc. to Mathura) and Rasa-Lila. Besides these, Narasimha has written padas dealing with jnana, bhakti and vairagya.

There was hardly a house of a Hindu in Gujarat which, for decades, did not resound
with the singing of Narasimha’s Prabhatiyans at day-break. Padas of Bala-lila, beginning with the lines “Get away from these waters, my child, my lord will wake up”, “Awake, my Jadava, awake my cowherd Krishna, who but you will lead these herds of cows to the grazing grounds” and padas of jnana, bhakti and vairagya, beginning with the lines like, “Do thou behold there, who is He who has been roaming in the sky, chanting incessantly. ‘It is I.’ ‘It is 1’!”. “The world disappears the moment I wake up; in sleep do I see visions of vivid pleasures”. “A true vaisnava (man of God) is he who melts at other’s pain”: or innumerable lines like, “The Sachchidananda is at his playful best and swings in a cradle of gold” belong to the immortal treasure of Gujarati poetry.

Narasimha is a true bhakta; and a genuine subjective poet. There is an unmistakable ring
of sincerity in whatever he says. He has, at the touch of his magic wand, turned philosophy into poetry and many of his padas of jnana and vairagya bear the stamp of a master. But he excels in his padas of bhakti, which to him, is an end in itself, and which is a “rare and unique thing in this world; certainly not to be had even in the Brahma-Loka, (the Supreme Celestial World).”

Kanhad De Prabandha (1456) by Padmanabh is a historical poem. Like Ranamalla Chhanda, it also extols the courage and heroism of a Rajput king against the Muslims.It is a long poem in four parts. Madhava, the minister of Karan Vaghela, the last Rajput king
of Gujarat, in order to seek revenge for a personal grievance against his master, goes to
Delhi and invites Ala-Ud-din KhiIji to come and conquer Gujarat. Kahanad De, the king of
Zalor, refuses safe passage through his territory to Khilji’s army led by Ala-Ud-din’s lieutenant Alaf Khan.

Alaf Khan proceeds to Gujarat by another route; invades it and inflicts a crushing defeat
on it. On his return he turns on to Zalor. But Kahanad De proves to be more than a match
for him, and routs his army. After some time, Ala-Ud-din himself invades Zalor, cuts off
Zalor’s water supply by polluting the water in the lake at the guarding fort of Samiyana with the blood of slaughtered COWS; and surrounds Zalor. The Rajputs refuse to surrender. Years roll by. But finally, after 12 years, not through the means of any particular act of bravery on his part but through the betrayal of a faithless menial, Ala-Ud-din enters the fort by a secret passage. A terrible battle ensues, in which Kahanad De is killed.

Ala-Ud-din’s daughter Piroja is madly in love with Kahanad De’s son Viram De, who, of
course, does not even want to see her face, much less to reciprocate her love. So strong is
his aversion to Muslims that, as the poet narrates, when after his death on the battle-
field, Viram De’s head is brought on a platter to Piroja, the head turns away, refusing to see her. Broken hearted Piroja jumps into the river  Jamuna and drowns herself.

The poet gives graphic descriptions of the rout of the Muslims, the Johar ( Self-
immolation by Rajput ladies jumping into a burning pyre, when the Rajputs depart for the final encounter with the enemies with a grim determination to do or die) and the acts of bravery and heroism of Kahanad De, his brother Mal De, his son Viram De and other
Rajputs. With a voice charged with emotion, he denounces Madhava, a Hindu, who for a
personal reason, brought ruin and devastation on his country by inviting the enemies of
Hinduism; and reproaches Somanatha, the Lord Shiva, who silently suffered his Linga being taken away by the Muslims: “Padmanabh puts it to you, O Somaiya!, where did you leave your trident?”

1. We mention an often quoted episode in the sacred life of the great Bhakta Sri Narasimha Mehta by different saints across the country. After the marriage of her daughter Kunvarbai was settled and she was being decorated as a bride, poor Narasimha had no money or ornaments to put on her daughter and left it to the mercy of his Lord Shri Krishna and Smt. Radha Rani. After the process of decorating the bride was over and she came out of the room, Narasimha Mehta was greatly astonished to find her daughter bedecked with valuable gold ornaments and jewellery. When asked, she replied that Srimati Radha Rani herself came to me and decorated me with these beautiful and invaluable jeweler. This reminds us of Lord Sri Krishna’s never failing
promise.

One who without any miss or second thought constantly worships Me, I ensure and carry with me his Yoga (‹FXçF– make available what he has not achieved)and Kshema (áFW¤F – protect what ever he has so far achieved).We offer our reverential pranams at the
Lotus Feet of the Great Bhakta of Lord Sri rishna and Radha Rani.

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