The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 32

BY: SUN STAFF - 13.3 2019

A Ramanandi
Hand-colored Etching by B. Solvyns, c. 1799


A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

One of the outlying royal courts in Akbar's realm was established in the Galta valley, about 10 miles outside of Jaipur city. The valley of Galta is only 3 km. from the western edge of Jaipur, but the road into the valley winds around a 10-km path. Galta is home to a number of ancient temples situated around a sacred tank, with a Surya temple on the crest of the main hill. A cobbled road leads down a zigzag path to the main temple complex on the valley floor, commonly known as Galta-ji Temple.

As we mentioned in yesterday's segment, some historians conclude that Akbar left his royal capital at Agra due to a shortage of water in the area. Likewise, water may have been one of the elements that attracted him to establish a court at Galta. The area is famous for a large freshwater spring that seeps through the rocks, turning what would otherwise be a dry valley into a Rajasthani oasis.

The Jaipur region surrounding Galta was also well known during the Mughal era as being a center of weapons production, and this could have been what attracted Akbar's court to the valley. Several forts in the area, like the Jaigarh and Nahargarh Forts, today offer museum displays of the weaponry that was produced in the area for both Mughal and Rajput warriors. 

Galta-ji Temple

Galta, or Golta, as it was known during Akbar's time, was famous not only for its fresh water and weaponry, but also as one of the prominent spiritual centers in northwest India. In the 16th century, Galta became an important northern center for the Ramanujacaryas, and it was here that our Gaudiya Vaisnava acarya, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana, gave his Sri Govinda Bhasya to the assembly of Ramanandi scholars in 1718 A.D. This event took place right around the epoch of the Mughal empire's decline in Rajasthan.

Before exploring further the traces of Mughal influence on spiritual communities residing in Galta when Emperor Akbar established a court there, let us first consider the relationship between the Ramanandi's and the Ramanuja line.

The Ramanandis were followers of the saint Ramananda, who lived in Varanasi during the 14th century. Ramananda inspired several well known devotees like Tulsidas and Kabir. Srila Prabhupada mentions the Ramanandis in his purport to Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya lila 9.11:

"As far as the Sri Vaisnavas are concerned, beginning with Ramanujacarya, they also worshiped Deities of Sita-Rama. Sita-Rama Deities are also being worshiped in Tirupati and other places. From the Sri Ramanuja-sampradaya there is another branch known as Ramanandi or Ramat, and the followers of that branch also worship Deities of Sita-Rama very rigidly. The Ramanuja-sampradaya Vaisnavas prefer the worship of Lord Ramacandra to that of Radha-Krsna."

The Ramanandi cult is described by some as having departed from the traditional Laksmi Vaisnava Sampradaya of Sri Ramanuja, in much the same way as the Swaminarayanas, when the followers assigned God-like status to their founder, thus rejecting the parent sampradaya. Sri Vallabhacarya is similarly mentioned in some descriptions of the Siva Sampradaya branches.

The Ramanandis are also considered to belong to the Sant Mat movement, whose early members included the bhakti poets Kabir and Ravidas, both of whom were initiated by Ramananda in the mid-15th century.