Vrindavan, 2016.05.24 (Acharya Das, Entangled Voices): Many contemporary Vaisnavas will instantly identify the person in this image as Sri Rupa Gosvami, one of the principal disciples of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, and one of the most influential theologians of the Caitanya tradition. It has been used widely in print and online publications as a painting of Sri Rupa, and has been the inspiration of many contemporary depictions of him (like this one). It was also obviously the model of the murti [see featured image] that has, in rather recent years, been placed on top of his tomb (samadhi) in the Radha Damodara temple in Vrindavan.
But is this really a picture of Rupa Gosvami?
The above painting is a depiction of a gathering of Sufis, in Ajmer at the tomb of Mu’in ad-Din Chishti, a Sufi saint who was instrumental in spreading Sufism in India. It was painted between 1650-1655, probably in the atelier of Dara Shikoh, son of the emperor Shahjahan. In the top of the painting, there is a row of Sufi saints some of which are identified as great Sufi masters of the past, including Mu’in ad-Din Chishti himself (centre, wearing a red cloak and holding a book), looking on while contemporary Sufis dance themselves into ecstasy in the centre of the painting. (Note also the two very European looking men in the top left corner!).
But the most interesting part is the bottom of the painting, where twelve figures are seated. They are influential Hindu saints, and are all identified in Persian. The first nine, from left to right, are: Ravidas, Pipa, Namdev, Sena, Kamal (Kabir’s son), “Aughar” (a general name for an uninitiated Nath ascetic), Kabir, Pir Muchhandar (the Panjabi name/form of Matsyendranath), and Gorakh.
And then we come to the crouched figure many might immediately identify as Rupa Gosvami. The figure is identified as Chadrup or Jadrup. After Jadrup is Lal Swami or Babalal das Vairagi, a teacher of Dara Shikhoh. Of the last figure’s name only the title “Swami” is legible; this could be Chitan Swami, Lal Swami’s guru.
Who is Jadrup? He was a Hindu ascetic from Ujjain, whom both Akbar and his son Jahangir liked. Akbar met him, and, according to Jahangir, always remembered the meeting fondly. Jadrup is listed (among nearly only Muslim teachers) in the Ain-i-Akbar as one of the contemporary sages who “understand the mysteries of the heart” and who “pay less attention to the external world, but in the light of their hearts have acquired vast knowledge.” Jahangir took a special liking to Jadrup, and visited him often. He is often mentioned in Jahangir’s memoirs. Below are a few passages about him from the Jahangir-nama bout the emperor’s meetings with this ascetic.
March 1616-March 1617
It has been repeatedly heard that near the town of Ujjain an ascetic sannyasi named Jadrup Ashram had been living for several years in an out-of-the-way spot in the country far from civilisation, where he worshipped the true deity. I very much desired to meet him and had wanted to summon him and see him while I was in Agra, but in view of the trouble it would have caused him I didn’t do it. Now that we were in the vicinity, I got out of the boat and went an eight of akos on foot to visit him.
The place he had chosen for his abode was a pit dug out in the middle of a hill. The entrance was shaped like a mihrab, one ell tall and ten girihs [1 girih is about 2 inches] in width. The distance from the entrance to the hole in which he sat was two ell three girihs high from the ground to the roof. The hole that gave entrance to his sitting place was five and a half girihs tall and three and a half girihs wide. A skinny person would have great difficulty getting in. The length and width of the pit were the same. He had neither mat nor straw strewn underfoot as other dervishes do. He spends his time alone in that dark, narrow hole. In winter and cold weather, although he is absolutely naked and has no clothing except a piece of rag with which he covers himself in front and behind, he never lights a fire. As Mulla Rumi says, speaking in the idiom of dervishes: “Our clothing is the heat of the sun by day, and moonlight is our pillow and quilt by night.”
Twice a day he goes to make ablutions in the river nearby, and once a day he goes into Ujjain, enters the houses of only three Brahmins out of the seven married persons with children he has chosen and in whose asceticism and contentment he has confidence, takes in his hand like a beggar five morsels of food they have prepared for themselves, and swallows them without chewing lest he derive any enjoyment from the taste–this provided no calamity has occurred in any of the three houses, no birth has taken place, and there be no menstruating women. This is how he lives.
He desires no intercourse with people, but since he has acquired a great reputation, people go to see him. He is not devoid of learning and has studied well the science of Vedanta, which is the science of Sufism.
I held conversation with him for six gharis [i.e. 144 minutes], and he had such good things to say that he made a great impression on me. He also liked my company. When my exalted father had conquered the fortress of Asir and the province of Khandesh and was on his way back to Agra, he also paid him a visit in this place and often mentioned it with fondness.
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