Smt. Meera S. Sashital (nee Savkur) was born in Udupi (S. Kanara) in 1930. She was brought up by her uncle Dr. Savkur Sundar Rao who was the Head of the Filariasis Research Department of the Tropical School of Medicine Kolkatta and Aunt Smt. Shantibai Savkur.
Smt. Sashital was educated in Kolkatta and graduated form Calcutta University with Philosophy (Hons.) She also did sangeet visharad through Bengal Music College affiliated to Bhatkhande Music College of Lucknow.
Later she shifted to her parents in Mumbai when she completed her M.A. with sociology through Bombay University while doing service. This she owes much to her broadminded parents who were very liberal. Due to her lover for classical and Semi-classical Music, she managed to find time to learn under Ustad Niaz Ahmed khan for two Years.
Due to her flair writing she started freelance writing from 1955 contributing to various newspapers and Magazines. Since the last three years she has been contributing articles every week to Spectrum the supplement of the Sunday free press journal and sometimes to the times of India.
The Bhavan has published her earlier work gems from mythology and it was well received by the public.
By any reckoning this is an extraordinary collection of articles on some of the best known and much loved saints the world over. Though the focus is largely on the saints of India Meera Sashital has something to say about St Francis Xavier and Francis of Assisi as well. One may cavil over the inclusion of the prophet Mohammad Zoroaster and Jesus in this lengthy list considering that their influence goes far beyond saintliness Mohammad is a prophet Jesus is worshipped as the son of God and Zoroaster is the founder of religion. One would imagine that they belong to a wholly different category.
But then the question arises who is saint? The standard dictionary meaning is not necessarily very helpful. A saint is described as one of certain persons of exceptional holiness of life formally recognized by the Christian Church as having attained an exalted position in heaven and as being entitled to veneration on earth. To be a Christian saint he has to be formally canonized. To many mother Teresa may be a saint but to be described as one that stature has to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and to be recognized a whole procedure has to be followed. Is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi a Saint? He has been called a mahatma a noble soul. A saint may be a noble soul but a noble soul is not necessarily a saint at least in the widely accepted sense of the term. But here we get into epistemological difficulties. What is the difference between a saint in the western sense of the term and a Sant in Sanskritic and Indian terms? Sankara were philosophers in the highest sense of the terms. But do they fall into the category of saints? Basava was a social reformer a man of outstanding qualities and deep commitment. A man who cared for the lowly and the lost. And a philosopher besides how would he compare with say Nivratti or Muktabai or for the matter Mirabai and Jnandev?
We are walking here on thin ice. Should one perform miracles to be called a saint? What miracles did Samarth Ramdas perform? Or Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa? Guru Gobind Singh was as much a warrior as he was a religious leader. When such questions are raised we come across a blank wall.
To be a saint one suspects one does not have to be a thinker or philosopher one has only to be good a person totally devoted to god and unremittingly caring towards fellow human beings. Saintliness has nothing to do with philosophy as it has to do with character. Nobody would call Kari Marx or Betrand to be called one? And what about the Buddha? And yet and yet philosopher can be saints too in their devotion to god and their love for their fellowmen. So Sankara Madhava, Rumania, Basava, Nanak can all be included in that category.
What Meera Sashital has done is to choose seventy seven saints for her study. Of these thirteen are women saints and they include Vasuki, Tadagai, Vandi, Andal, Avvai, Rabia, Alagi, of Thanjavur, Muktabai, Janabai Kanhopatra, Mirabai, Sakhubai and Bahinabai.
The choice is wide and catholic the style simple and reader friendly and endearing. The author is introducing the saints to us as human beings one can relate to. She does not go into philosophic details but seeks to convey what each saint stands for. Nor does she sit on judgement on them. How can one judge saints when a saint is beyond judgement?
In an age when our time is taken up with mundane matters when life’s aim seems to be bereft of vision when sycophancy is mistaken for devotion it is refreshing to come across a book that introduces us to real saints who in their own way have enriched out lives. Meera Sashital has done a lot of research and painstaking study. In her writing the saints come out alive. This work is sure to endear itself to one and all young and old for taking us done the passage of time to acquaint us with the great and the good in language felicitous and sentiments endearing and noble. We own the author a deep sense of gratitude for having undertaken so worthily a task with such apparent devotion. A Rosary of Saints is exactly what it is reading it is like remembering the lord by his many names.
In Bhagavadgita Lord Krishna has said Arjuna whenever there is decline of righteousness and unrighteousness is in the ascendant they I body myself forth for establishing Dharma. Similarly saints also are born to spread establishing righteousness and love among humanity. Saints are not confined to only one region. They are present in different states and lands and move form one place to another to deliver their message of god and their preaching. Through their medium of devotional songs, Abhangs, Vachanas, hymns poems and Kirtans they lead to national integration.
The questions may arise who is a Saint. A saint is a devotee of god and one who has had God-realization. He is pure in heart devoid of just greed egoism and anger. He is full of tolerance righteousness universal love and attained spiritual knowledge and wisdom. A man may be virtuous and good natured. We can call him only a saintly man but not a saint because a true saint is far above a common man.
Saints are the custodians of the highest divine wisdom spiritual values and yogic powers. They are godly men who have renounced every bit of worldly pleasures and sacrificed their lives for the sake of humanity. They perceive god in all and love all living beings. They have no enemies for finally the very enemies who tired to harm them have fallen at their feet and become their disciples. God always sees the truth and in this kingdom there is always triumph of good over evil. Their complete surrender and renunciation stern faith and immersion in god, god cannot but help rushing to save them form their troubles.
Saints make no distinction of caste and creed. Despite opposition saint eknath accepted the invitation of a Mahar or an untouchable and had food in his house. Saints have themselves been born in different castes. In religion there is no discrimination regarding the birth of the saints. We have gora the potter, Raidas the cobbler kabir the weaver, Savata the gardener, Narahari the goldsmith, Choka the untouchable, Tukaram a shopkeeper, Janabai the maid, Sena the barber, Kanhopatra the dancing girl and many numerous others.
India rich with its heritage of religion and philosophy has been a treasure house of saints too. Each region of India has produced great saints who have made their names immortal and left footprints on the periods of our religious heritage. Maharshtra is renowned for famous saints like Jnyaneshwar, Namdec, Eknath, Swami Ramdas, Tukaram to name a few. From Bengal we have Ramkrishna Paramhauns and Ramprasad. Vidyapati of Mithila Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, Bulleh Shah South outshines with saints like Tyagaraja, Purandara Das, Kanak Das and Thiruvalluvar. Form north we have tulsidas, Kabir, Narsi Mehta, Dadu, Gorakhanth and others. There have been women saints too like Mira Bai, Sakhubai Muktabai, Rabia, Vasuki, Andal and others hailing form different parts of India.
Among the various illustrious saints there have been authors of philosophical works and founders of different schools of cults and religion. Shankaracharya Ramanuja and Madhvacharya were great thinkers and had their own viewpoints on Vedanta. They were all enlightened souls. Generally religion and philosophy overlap and blend together so that all the great philosophers have been divine saints and seers too. To the Christians Jesus is the son of god Zoroaster was the great prophet of Iran messenger of Ahura Mazda and founder of the Zoroastrian religion Mohammed the prophet the founder of Islam and Koran. How could they ever rise to such religious pinnacle unless they had the qualities of saintliness in them?
Saint is one who has attained supreme knowledge and become one with the Eternal. Due to his holy conduct exemplary life of universal love and spiritual preaching’s people become devotees of him and felt initiated as disciples. He is not canonized as a saint it is not like a University degree where he is certified. Jnyaneshwar and his family were ostracized and were denied the right of even the Brahmin’s sacred thread ceremony but the learned priests and authorities could not prevent him from becoming the greatest saint of Maharshtra. A saint becomes a saint when he worships god becomes one with the infinite either through Karma Yoga humanitarian service or Jyan Yoga. He is not made a saint. Wisdom and self realization is not the monopoly of the high minded priests or pontiffs.
We usually expect saints to perform miracles. But saints refrain from doing so unless it is inevitable. By their yogic powers they have even brought back to life dead persons. Many a time it is due to god’s intervention grace and help that miracles have rescued and saved the saints from disgrace difficulties and false allegations. Some have miraculously even merged with god as in the case of Sant Sakhu and Andal. Miracles are god’s benedictions on Saints which leave the onlookers amazed. It is the firm faith and belief in him that compels that superhuman power to rush to the saint’s aid. But as Guru Nanak said he was no wonder-worker and that the only miracle he had was the name of the lord.
Saints by their greatness have inspired people. They never believed in rituals sacrifices and fastidious religious ceremonies. Neither did saints say that one should retire to the forest and lead a life of recluse to attain god. Gora Kumbhar Tukaram and countless other like Thiruvalluvar and Vasuki leading householder’s life had attained god.
Again some saints followed Shaivism some Vaishnavism Sufism, Virasaivism, mysticism etc. some worshipped god in Nirguna way some in Saguna i.e. with form but the sum total of their teachings and their experiences told us that there was only one infinite supreme god or reality which was called by many names and all the diverse path led us to the same ultimate goal. Guru Nanak had said truth is above everything else and above truth is truthful living. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna they are like big steamships which not only cross the ocean themselves but carry many passengers to the other shore.
With my efforts I have tried in a simple way to bring to the readers the lives of the Saints which will enrich our lives and lead us on to the path of good conduct and god. Going through the string of lives of these great saints will be like telling one’s rosary beads which gives consolation and helps to penetrate within oneself. I hope I have succeeded in my humble efforts to some extent atleast.
I have dedicated my book Rosary of saints to late Shri S. Ramakrishna erstwhile executive secretary and director general, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan who had always inspired me with his talks on philosophy at the very first sight of this manuscript with overwhelming joy he had remarked yes it is a Rosary indeed! And was very eager to publish it at his earliest he himself was truly a saintly person.
My thanks are due to Mr. M.V. Kamath for his excellent foreword to this book. I have always acknowledged him as my Guru ever since 1955 when as editor of free press Bulletin he had published my first article and man can achieve anything and set me on the path of freelance writing since then there was no looking back.
I would also like to thank the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and its executive secretary and director general Shri Dhiru S. Mehta for the keen interest they took to produce such a book worthy of inclusion in the widely acclaimed book University series of the Bhavan.
Last but not the least I am grateful and indebted to my generous husband who has spared no efforts in helping me to get this book published.
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