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Jñāneśvar

(1275—1296)


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(1275–1296)

A Marathi poet saint, considered to be the founder of the Vārkarī Panth. According to the hagiographies, he came from a high caste, brahmin background, but his father had been cast out of the local community for returning to the householder life after previously becoming a saṃnyāsin. Jñāneśvara was apparently initiated into the Nāth tradition by his elder brother, Nivṛtti(nāth), who was therefore also his guru. Together with their other brother, Sopān, and their sister Muktabāī, they asked to be officially readmitted to their caste status after their parents had died. It was after being rebuffed in this attempt that Jñāneśvara began to acquire a reputation as a miracle worker, and, along with his siblings, devoted himself to Viṣṇu as Viṭhobā, thus initiating the Vārkarī tradition in Maharashtra. He is also said to have associated at this time with the poet saint Nāmdev. His life ended when he practised jīvansamādhi at the age of 22 at Ālaṇḍī, near Pune, where a shrine is dedicated to him. Subsequently, he has become an object of devotion in his own right, and his pālkhī (a decorated chariot carrying his pādukās, the imprint of his feet) plays a major role in the biannual Vārkarī pilgrimage to the image of Viṭhobā at Paṇḍharpur in South Maharashtra.

Jñāneśvara's major influence on both the history of Indian religions and the development of the Marathi language was achieved through the composition of the Jñāneśvarī (also known as Bhāvārtha Dīpikā) (1290)—a version of the Bhagavadgītā embedded in his own extensive verse commentary. This was not only the first vernacular commentary on the Gītā, but would also come to be seen as the most influential work of any kind in Marathi. In addition to stressing its Vaiṣṇava bhakti elements, Jñāneśvara's reading of the text also draws on Advaita Vedānta and the Śaiva Nāth tradition, providing a rich mixture of material for subsequent commentary. A large number of poems and Marathi devotional songs (abhaṅgas) are also attributed to him.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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