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Surdas was a 15th-century blind saint, poet and musician, known for his devotional songs dedicated to Lord Krishna. Surdas is said to have written and composed a hundred thousand songs in his magnum opus the 'Sur Sagar' (Ocean of Melody), out of which only about 8,000 are extant. He is considered a saguna bhakti poet and so also known as Sant Surdas, a name which literally means the "servant of melody". His most famous work was charan kamal bando hari rai
There is some disagreement regarding the exact birth date of Surdas, some scholars believing it to be 1478 AD, with others claiming it to be 1479 AD. It is the same in the case of the year of his death; it is considered to be either 1581 AD or 1584 AD. According to the limited authentic life history of Surdas, it is said that he was born in 1478/79 in the village of Runakta,Mathura although some say it was Runkta near Agra. He started praising Lord Krishna when he was young. Surdas was born blind and because of this, he was neglected by his family. As a result, he left his home at the age of six. He lived in Braj (or Bhraj), near Mathura.
Surdas attains fame
Surdas' lilting music and fine poetry attracted much praise. As his fame spread far and wide, the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542–1605) became his patron. Surdas spent the last years of his life in Braj, and lived on the donations which he received in return for his bhajan singing and lecturing on religious topics, until he died in CE 1584.
Surdas also attained fame for his purity of devotion towards Lord Krishna. In one incident, Surdas falls into a well and is rescued by Lord Krishna when he calls him for help. Radha asks Krishna why he helped Surdas, to which Krishna replies it is for Surdas' devotion. Krishna also warns Radha not to go near him. She, however, does go near him, but Surdas, recognizing the divine sounds, pulls her anklets off. Radha tells him who she is but Surdas refuses to return her anklets stating that he cannot believe her as he is blind. Krishna gives Surdas vision and allows him to ask for a boon. Surdas returns the anklets saying he has already got what he wanted (the blessings of Krishna) and asks Krishna to make him blind again as he does not want to see anything else in the world after seeing Krishna. Radha is moved by his devotion and Krishna grants his wish by making him blind again thus giving him everlasting fame.
Poetical works of Surdas
Surdas was called the sun in the sky of Hindi literature. He is best known for his composition 'Sursagar'. This famous collection is said to have originally contained 100,000 songs; however, only 8,000 remain today. These songs present a vivid description of the childhood of Krishna.
Although Surdas is known for his greatest work — the Sur Sagar — he also composed Sur-Saravali (which is based on the theory of genesis and the festival of Holi), and Sahitya-Lahiri, devotional lyrics dedicated to the Supreme Absolute. It is as if Surdas attained a mystical union with Lord Krishna, which enabled him to compose the verse about Krishna's romance with Radha almost like an eyewitness. Surdas' verse is also credited with lifting the literary value of the Hindi language, transforming it from a crude to a pleasing tongue.
A Lyric by Surdas: 'The Deeds Of Kanha'
- There is no end to the deeds of Kanha:
- true to his promise, he tended the cows in Gokula;
- Lord of the gods and compassionate to his devotees, as poor
- he came as Nrisingha
- and tore apart Hiranyakashipa.
- When Bali spread his dominion
- over the three worlds,
- he begged three paces of land from him
- to uphold the majesty of the gods,
- and stepped over his entire domain:
- here too he rescued the captive elephant.
- Countless such deeds figure in the Vedas and the Puranas,
- hearing which Suradasa
- humbly bows before that Lord.
On Bhakti Movement
The philosophy of Surdas is a reflection of the times. He was very much immersed in the Bhakti movement that was sweeping North India. This movement represented a grass roots spiritual empowerment of the masses. The corresponding spiritual movement of the masses happened in South India in the seventh century A.D., and also in central and northern India in the 14th-17th centuries.
On the status of Brij Bhasha
Surdas' poetry was a dialect of Hindi language, Brij Bhasha, until then considered to be a very plebeian language, as the prevalent literary languages were either Persian or Sanskrit. The works of Surdas immediately raised the status of Brij Bhasha from a crude language to that of a literary language of great repute.
Surdas being disciple of guru Vallabhacharya was a proponent of the Shuddhadvaita school of Vaishnavism (also known as Pushti Marg). This philosophy is based upon the spiritual metaphor of the Radha-Krishna Rasleela (The celestial dance between Radha and Lord Krishna). It propagates the path of Grace of God through spirit of pure love and service, rather than of merging in Him as Brahma.
Foremost amongst the Ashta-chhaap
Eight Disciples of the Master-Teacher Vallabhacharya are called the Ashta-chhaap, meaning, eight reprints (of the Master). Surdas is considered to be the foremost among them.
प्रभू मोरे अवगुण चित न धरो। समदरसी है नाम तिहारो चाहो तो पार करो।|
एक लोहा पूजा में राखत एक रहत ब्याध घर परो| पारस गुण अवगुण नहिं चितवत कंचन करत खरो||
एक नदिया एक नाल कहावत मैलो ही नीर भरो| जब दौ मिलकर एक बरन भई सुरसरी नाम परो||
एक जीव एक ब्रह्म कहावे सूर श्याम झगरो| अब की बेर मोंहे पार उतारो नहिं पन जात टरो||
prabhu more avagun chit n dharo |
samadarasi hai naam tihaaro chaahe to paara karo ||
ek lohaa pujaa mem raakhat ek ghar badhik paro |
paaras gun avagun nahim chitavata kamcan karat kharo ||
ek nadiyaa ek naal kahaavat mailo hi neer bharo |
jab dou milakar ek baran bhai surasari naam paro ||
ek jiv ek brahma kahaave sur shyaam jhagaro |
ab k ber moMhe paar utaaro nahim pan jaat Taro ||
Lord, heed not my faults!
You are known as he who sees as all equal,
At will you can take me across the ocean of existence.
One iron is used in worship, another in butcher's steel;
The philosopher's stone counts not merit or fault
But turns both to purest gold.
One is called "river", another a "rivulet" filled with murky water;
When they merge they become of one colour and are known
As "Sursari"(Ganges), river of gods.
The soul and the Supreme are given different names,
But all is one in Sur's Shyam.
This time, take me across, or give up your vow to be saviour!
अखियाँ हरि दर्शन की प्यासी।
देखो चाहत कमल नयन को, निस दिन रहत उदासी॥
केसर तिलक मोतिन की माला, वृंदावन के वासी।
नेहा लगाए त्यागी गये तृण सम, डारि गये गल फाँसी॥
काहु के मन की कोऊ का जाने, लोगन के मन हाँसी।
सूरदास प्रभु तुम्हरे दरस बिन लेहों करवत कासी॥
akhiyaa~M hari darshan kI pyaasI |
dekho chaahat kamala nayan ko, nis din rahat udaasI ||
kesar tilak motin kI maalaa, vrindaavan ke vaasI |
nehaa lagaae tyaagI gaye tRuN sam, Daari gaye gal phaa~MsI ||
kaahu ke man kI koU kaa jaane, logan ke man haa~MsI |
sUradaas prabhu tumhare daras bin lehoM karavat kaashI ||
Our eyes thirst for a vision of Hari;
They long to see the lotus-eyed one,
Grieving for him day and night.
Wearing a saffron tilak and pearl garland
And dwelling in Vrindavan,
He gave us his love, then cast us aside like a blade of grass,
Throwing a noose around our necks.
No one knows what is in another's mind,
There is laughter in people's hearts;
But Lord of Surdas, without a vision of you
we would give up our very lives.
- Surdas at Kavita Kosh (Hindi)
- Works of Surdas at oldpoetry
- Surdas Poems in Hindi
- Sur's Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition, Surdas, edited by Kenneth E. Bryant, translated by John Stratton Hawley, Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard University Press (January 2015), hardcover, 1072 pages ISBN 9780674427778