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Surdas (Sant Kavi 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 saint and so also known as Sant Surdas, a name which literally means the "slave of melody".
The time of Surdas's birth and death are uncertain and suggest that he lived over a hundred years, which make the facts even murkier. Some say, he was born blind in 1479 in Siri village near Delhi, India. Many others believe, Surdas was born in Braj, a holy place in northern Indian district of Mathura, associated with the exploits of Lord Krishna. His family was too poor to take good care of him, which led the blind boy to leave home at the age of 6 to join a wondering group of religious musicians. According to one legend, one night he dreamt of Krishna, who asked him to go to Vrindavan, and dedicate his life to the praise of the Lord.
Surdas's Guru - Shri Vallabharacharya
A chance meeting with the Saint Vallabharacharya at Gau Ghat by the Yamuna river in his teens transformed Surdas's life. Shri Vallabhacharya taught Surdas lessons in Hindu philosophy and meditation and put him in the path of spirituality. Since Surdas could recite the entire Srimad Bhagavatam and was musically inclined, his guru advised him to sing the 'Bhagavad Lila' - devotional lyrical ballads in praise of Lord Krishna and Radha. Surdas lived in Vrindavan with his guru, who initiated him to his own religious order, and later appointed him as the resident singer at Srinath temple in Govardhan.
Surdas Attains Fame
Surdas' lilting music and fine poetry attracted many laurels. 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, the place of his birth and lived on the donations, which he received in return of his bhajan singing and lecturing on religious topics, until he died in c. 1586.
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 for which Krishna says its for his devotion. Krishna also warns Radha not to go near him. She however goes near him but Surdas, recognizing the divine sounds, pulls her anklets. 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 allows him to ask for a boon. Surdas returns the anklets says 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.
The Poetical Works of Surdas
Although Surdas is known for his greatest work - theSur Sagar, he also wrote Sur-Saravali, which is based on the theory of genesis and the festival of Holi, andSahitya-Lahiri, devotional lyrics dedicated to the Supreme Absolute. As if Surdas attained a mystical union with Lord Krishna, which enabled him to compose the verse about Krishna's romance with Radha almost as he was an eyewitness. Surdas' verse is also credited as one that lifted the literary value of the Hindi language, transforming it from a crude to a pleasing tongue.
A Lyric by Surdas: 'The Deeds Of Krishna'
There is no end to the deeds of Krishna: true to his promise, he tended the cows in Gokula; Lord of the gods and compassionate to his devotees, 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.
Surdas was called the sun in the sky of Hindi literature. He is best known for collection of his composition 'Sursagar'. This famous collection is originally said to contain 100,000 songs, however, only 8000 remained today. These songs present vivid description of childhood Lilas of lord Krishna.
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 first millennium A.D. but also started in17age.
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.
Due to the training he received from his guru Vallabhacharya, Surdas 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 rather than of merging in Him, which seems an extension of the belief of earlier saints like Kabir Das.
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.