Hinduism Eknāth
by
Jon Keune
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0188

Introduction

Eknāth (Ekanāth, Ekanātha) was a Brahmin saint-poet and vernacular intellectual who lived in mainly in the town of Paiṭhaṇ (known in ancient times as Pratiṣṭhāna), in what is now the state of Maharashtra, where the main language is Marathi. His birth and death dates are uncertain, but scholars commonly observe 1533 and 1599. Eknāth is one of the four major poet-saints of the Vārkarī tradition, which is the largest devotional or bhakti tradition in Maharashtra. His compositions, along with those of Jñāndev, Nāmdev, and Tukārām, make up the Vārkarī poetic canon. Of the four, Eknāth is usually acknowledged to be the most scholarly, which is visible in his philosophical compositions and reflected in stories of him teaching multi-caste audiences and debating Brahmin opponents. Orphaned as an infant, Eknāth was raised by his grandparents, and at age twelve he became the dutiful disciple of a local holy man, Janārdana, who worked in some capacity for the Nizam Shahi sultanate, as many Marathi-speaking Brahmins did in other Deccan sultanates. Janārdana’s employment and the identity of his guru (identified as the god Dattātreya in hagiographies, who appeared in Muslim garb) have generated much discussion. After graduating from Janārdana’s tutelage, Eknāth made a pilgrimage to major sites along the Gangā River and, at Janārdana’s command, got married and settled in Paiṭhaṇ, where he lived for most of his life. After marriage, he apparently had no other occupation than to be a popular author, teacher, and kīrtan performer. Vārkarīs view Eknāth as the perfect example of how to integrate devotion to God with life as a householder. Eknāth’s compositions include Marathi commentarial renderings of parts of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Rāmāyaṇa, several philosophical treatises on bhakti and nondualism, and a diverse set of several thousand short bhakti poems (known as his Gāthā). Within the Gāthā, his metaphorical drama-poems (bhārūḍs) are especially well known to Marathi speakers and scholars. The two major earliest hagiographies of Eknāth depict him somewhat differently, although they are consistent in presenting his conflict-free marriage and his frequent disputes with fellow Brahmins about the relevance of caste hierarchy for bhakti practitioners. Stories of Eknāth interacting with so-called Untouchables became central in modern depictions of his life in theater and film. Eknāth is still celebrated in Paiṭhaṇ on the day that he is remembered to have been born and died (called Eknāth Ṣaṣṭhī), and a palanquin (pālkhī) led by his descendants makes the annual pilgrimage (vārī) to Paṇḍharpūr in June/July.

General Overviews

The earliest Marathi overview of Eknāth’s life written in the Western style of historical biography is Sahasrabuddhe 1883, which was summarized in English in Ganguli 1896 and probably Shri Ekanath (1935). Bhāgvat 1979 introduced Eknāth in order to make a social statement about contemporary caste behavior and is the outlier among early biographies for doing so. Pāṅgārkar 2003 (first published 1910) incorporated novel research and became the standard biography of Eknāth, despite an attempt by Ājgāvkar 1925 to succeed it. The most influential English presentation of Eknāth’s life and compositions is Abbott and Godbole 2000 (first published 1927), which incorporated and commented on Marathi scholarship up to that date. Subsequent publications, including Kulkarni 1966, mainly repeat information from these early works. Tagare 1993 incorporated an important hagiography (Jagadānanda-nandan 1948, cited under Hagiographies: Primary Sources) into his short overview. Keune 2012 is the most recent critical overview of Eknāth’s life and works.

  • Abbott, Justin E., and Narhar R. Godbole. The Life of Eknath: Sri Eknath Charitra. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.

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    Originally published in 1927, this book was part of the Poet-Saints of Maharashtra Series, led by the Congregationalist missionary Justin Abbott and Poona-based pandit Narhar Godbole, to introduce English readers to the Marathi poet-saints. The majority of the book is a translation of a section on Eknāth in the Vārkarī hagiographer Mahīpati’s Bhaktalīlāmṛt (1776). Abbott offers thirty pages of his own critical comments on sources of information and Eknāth’s compositions. Reprints after 1981 include another short introduction by G. V. Tagare.

  • Ājgāvkar, Jagannāth Raghunāth. Mahārāṣṭra Kavi Caritra: Śrī Eknāth Mahārāj Yāñceṁ Caritra. Mumbai: Keśav Bhikājī Ḍhevaḷe, 1925.

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    Ājgāvkar self-consciously attempts to succeed Pāṅgārkar as the foremost scholar of the Marathi poet-saints (see Pāṅgārkar 2003), by freely offering his critical opinions on the historicity of compositions and hagiographical sources. He conducted no novel research, as Pāṅgārkar did, and thus offers little that is new. Ājgāvkar includes references to Eknāth by minor poets in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mainly concerned with literary impact, Ājgāvkar shows no interest in Eknāth as a social actor.

  • Bhāgvat, Rājārām Rāmkṛṣṇa. “Eknāthāñce Caritra.” In Rājārāmśāstrī Bhāgvat Yāñce Nivaḍak Sāhitya—Lekhasaṅgraha 4. Edited by Durgā Bhāgvat, 73–112. Pune, India: Varadā, 1979.

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    A professor at St. Xavier’s College in Bombay, Bhāgvat was a free thinker with social reformist inclinations. Originally published in 1890, this thirty-nine-page article summarizes Mahīpati’s presentation of Eknāth’s life in his Bhaktalīlāmṛt, focusing on Eknāth’s conduct with Untouchables and disagreement with Brahmin orthodoxy. Bhāgvat argued that Eknāth is a model that modern Brahmins ought to follow in inter-caste relations.

  • Ganguli, Deenanath. “Eknath: A Religious Teacher of the Deccan.” Calcutta Review 53 (1896): 268–283.

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    The earliest English overview of Eknāth, basically summarizing Sahasrabuddhe 1883.

  • Keune, Jon. “Eknāth.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 4. Edited by Knut Jacobsen, 218–226. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

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    A concise scholarly article that draws on Marathi and English sources, assessing the state of scholarship on Eknāth’s life, compositions, and legacy in various sectors of Maharashtrian society.

  • Kulkarni, Shridhar Ranganath. Saint Eknath. Delhi: Maharashtra Information Centre, 1966.

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    This short book, written in a popular vein, was part of an effort from the Maharashtra state government to publicize the works and lives of Marathi authors to a non-Marathi-reading audience, shortly after the state had come into existence along linguistic borders.

  • Pāṅgārkar, Lakṣmaṇ Rāmcandra. Eknāth Caritra: Caritra āṇi Vāṅmay Darśan. Pune, India: Varadā Buks, 2003.

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    Originally published in 1910. Pāṅgārkar was a scholar-practitioner who published on the Vārkarī poet-saints, supplementing hagiographical sources with his own extensive independent research. After weighing competing claims and evidence, Pāṅgārkar proposed the dates of Eknāth’s birth and death as 1533 and 1599, which are now widely accepted. Pāṅgārkar differs from Bhāgvat 1979 in viewing Eknāth as mainly a spiritual teacher rather than as a social critic of caste hierarchy.

  • Ranade, R. D. Mysticism in Maharashtra. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982.

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    In this classic text of literary history and comparative mysticism, the author draws on excerpts of Eknāth’s compositions to portray him (in chapters 10–13) as a figure who brought sophisticated Hindu philosophy down to the level of the common listener. Originally published in 1933.

  • Sahasrabuddhe, Dhoṇḍo Bāḷkṛṣṇa. Paiṭhaṇ Yethīl Prasiddha Sādhu, Kavi Va Tatvavette Śrī Eknāth Mahārāj Yāñceṁ Caritra. Mumbai: Nirṇayasāgara Press, 1883.

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    A secondary schoolteacher by profession, Sahasrabuddhe witnessed the introduction of Western-style biography as a genre into Marathi literature and applied it to Marathi poet-saints. His main source of information was Mahīpati’s Bhaktalīlāmṛt, from which he summarized a set of spiritual lessons.

  • Shri Ekanath: A Sketch of His Life and Teachings. Madras: G. A. Natesan, 1935.

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    The sources of this anonymous, popular portrayal of Eknāth’s life appear to have been Sahasrabuddhe 1883, Ganguli 1896, or perhaps a Tamil translation of Mahīpati’s Bhaktalīlāmṛt. Originally published in 1918.

  • Tagare, G. V. Eknath. Makers of Indian Literature. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1993.

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    This short book by a Maharashtrian Sanskrit scholar draws critically on Abbott and Godbole 2000 and supplements it with further notes on Eknāth’s compositions and a hagiographical source (Jagadānanda-nandan 1948, cited under Hagiographies: Primary Sources) that was unknown to Abbott.

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