Sant Ramdas firmly believed in collectively pursuing martial, political and social activism to rescue the nation’s cultural and moral values from foreign forces, instead of focusing on individual aspirations and spiritual salvation. This made him a rather revolutionary saint, whose teachings are still relevant for the youth.

The guru of Shivaji Maharaj, Sant Ramdas né Ramdas Swami, or simply Ramdas, in his teachings advocated a combination of devotion, meditation and military training. Like many of his contemporaries, he did not believe in pacifism but social, political and martial activism. Even saints and other renunciants, according to him, should not withdraw from society or become indifferent to their environment and surroundings, but positively engage in reforming the lived life of the members of the society actively and, if necessary, even take to violence for its moral transformation.

He preached activism for both the saints and the laity and upheld the view that laziness leads to temporary ephemeral pleasures but hard work leads to perennial happiness. He encouraged the youth to individually and collectively revolt against the prevalent ills in the society, oppressors, aggressors and looters. He cajoled them to exercise regularly and become physically strong, as the weak are incapable of purging the evils from society. He argued that only the strong and those with a fighting spirit would be able to establish the rule of dharma or righteousness. They alone can perform their duty towards society, its culture and values, and gladly accept martyrdom if need be. The aim of the army of such a youth would be to establish a free and independent society, ‘not for narrow selfish individual gains but for upholding the moral and spiritual principles of society’.

These radical teachings were based on his observations of the conditions, lifestyle and mindset of the then Indian society. After attaining his emancipation, Sant Ramdas undertook extensive travels to various pilgrimage centres all over India for twelve years. During these travels he closely studied the social, political and economic conditions of Indians and noticed their utter helplessness in life. He observed that ‘the frequent floods and famines and the attacks by the Muslims whenever they wished, which were actually helped by our own people, had destroyed the society and social life of the people. Everyone was scared and depressed’. From his experiences he realised that there could be no healthy growth and religious upheaval in society until foreign rule persisted.  Based on these experiences he wrote two books, titled Asmani Sultani and Parachakraniroopan, detailing his minute observation of the common man. These are the only two books in the whole of Sant literature in India which describe and record the condition of the people in those times.

It is reported in Panjah Sakhian and Ramdas Swamichi Bakhar that during his travel through the Garhwal hills, he met the sixth of the ten Sikh Gurus, Guru Hargobind Sahib. In his conversation with the Guru, Ramdas asked, “I had heard that you occupy the gaddi (seat) of Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak was a tyagi sadhu, a saint who had renounced the world. You possess arms and keep an army and horses. You allow yourself to be addressed as Sacha Patshah, the true king. What sort of a sadhu are you?” Hargobind replied, “Batan faquiri, zahir amiri, shastar garib ki rakhya, jarwan ki bhakhiya, Baba Nanak sansar nahi tyagya, maya tyagi thi.” In other words, “Internally a hermit and externally a prince; arms for the protection of the poor and destruction of the tyrant; Baba Guru Nanak had not renounced the world but renounced maya (wealth/luxury).” It is claimed that these words of Guru Hargobind earned a spontaneous response from Ramdas who reportedly said, “Yeh hamare man bhavti hai” (This appeals to my mind).

Probably, the above meeting is the reason for Swami Ramdas to highlight the warrior’s role in society. When he finally settled down in Chafal, he engaged himself in the resuscitation of Hindu culture and values which had deteriorated owing to several centuries of foreign rule. To bring together the Hindus and spread his teaching among them, he installed a statue of Lord Ram and started celebrating the festival of Ram Janmotsava (birth of Lord Ram) on Ram Navami. He established temples of Hanuman in towns and villages to convey the importance of exercise to the youth and taught them to get together and fight the enemy.

He firmly believed that whenever the nation is in peril and the cultural, moral and ethical values of its people are in grave danger of extinction, spiritual leaders must put their spiritual aspirations and individual effort of personal salvation on the back burner. Till the time such threats are over, they should direct all their efforts to meet the challenges confronting the nation.

He started Samartha, a sect of sannyasins with high moral character and no personal ambition. These sannyasins had an intense desire to change the prevailing conditions of the society through political and belligerent means. They were first answerable to God, and then to the society or their nation. He argued that “saints were not those who prayed silently but those who with their piety, knowledge and strength would cast aside their aloofness and help people in distress”. He established mathas or holy places for them. These mathas provided an atmosphere which synthesized social work, politics and spirituality for the benefit of the society.

Ramdas worked actively for the equality of all – men and women. He abhorred the distinctions based on caste and creed and vigorously engaged himself in the task of abolishing the fourfold classification. He reprimanded those who opposed the participation of women in religious, social and political work. He chided such men by arguing that everyone came from a woman’s womb and those who did not understand the importance of this were unworthy of being called men. He upheld that respecting the role of women and giving them equal status was good for the growth of a healthy society. According to him, granting women equal status as men is a prerequisite for social development. In the mathas established by him he encouraged the participation of women and offered them positions of authority.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was one of his ardent disciples. Shivaji wanted to leave his kingdom and devote himself fully to the service of Swami Ramadas. Once when Ramadas was on his regular begging sprees Shivaji dropped a letter in Ramdas’s begging bowl giving his kingdom to Samarth Ramdas. However, Ramdas told Shivaji that his duty was not to become a sanyasi but to serve the people, ruling his kingdom according to dharma and protect temples and people from the atrocities of the foreign rulers. He asked Shivaji to rule as his regent, to take the gerua chaddar for his banner and defend its honour with his life. He had to think of himself as a trustee and not as an owner. For his acts of commission and omission he was accountable to God. Shivaji as a faithful disciple took the padukas (slippers) of Samarth Ramdas and kept them on the throne and followed his instructions to the core.

Swami Ramdas had been born as Narayan Suryaji Thosar on the day of Ram Navami in the year 1608 in a Deshastha Rigvedi Brahmin family to Suryajipanta and Ranubai Thosar. On becoming a saint, Narayan was christened Ramdas – the loyal servant of Lord Ram – because of his ardent devotion to Lord Ram. He formulated the beej mantra “Shri Ram Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram” as the mantra for attaining salvation or moksha from the sansar chakra – the wheel of birth and death. He attained samadhi reciting this beej mantra in 1681.

In his magnum opus Dasbodha, of which the last two chapters were completed just two months before Swami Ramdas’ demise, he wrote, “Always be cautious. Have proper judgement to distinguish between a friend and an enemy.  Only after deep thinking in solitude plans must be formulated. Always make continuous efforts. Earlier heroes had many adversities. Always be on the move without getting bored, without losing hope and by making a lot of friendly contacts.” At the end of the book, he ‘candidly asked the readers to study, ponder over, introspect and not just only read the whole of Dasbodha.’ His teachings of being patient and fearless and not losing faith in adverse circumstances have helped generations cope with their existential conditions.

The author is a former professor of philosophy at the University of Delhi.