Tulsidas was a Hindu poet-saint counted amongst the greatest poets in Hindi, Indian, and world literature. He was renowned for his devotion to Lord Rama and is best known as the author of the epic ‘Ramcharitmanas’, a retelling of the Sanskrit ‘Ramayana’ based on Rama's life in the vernacular Awadhi. He is also considered to be the composer of the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ in praise of Hanuman, an ardent devotee of Rama. Tulsidas was believed to be reincarnation of the saint Valmiki who was the composer of the original ‘Ramayana’. A prolific writer and the composer of numerous popular works, Tulsidas, however, gave only a few facts about his own life in his works. Whatever is known about him is primarily known from the ‘Bhaktamal’ composed by his contemporary Nabhadas, and a commentary on ‘Bhaktamal’ titled ‘Bhaktirasbodhini’ composed by Priyadas. There are many legends surrounding the birth and early life of Tulsidas and he is believed to have met Hanuman, and through his grace, had a vision of Lord Rama. The Sankatmochan Temple dedicated to Hanuman in Varanasi is said to stand at the place where he had the sight of Hanuman. Tulsidas was a much acclaimed poet and the impact of his works continues to reflect in the art, culture and society in India.
According to some sources, he got married as a young man and was passionately devoted to his wife. He was so attached to her that he could not live without her for even a single day. One day his wife went to her father’s house when Tulsidas was outside. Not finding her at home on his return, he became distressed and swam across the Yamuna River in the night to meet his wife.
His wife was disgusted by his behavior and remarked that if Tulsidas was even half as devoted to God as he was attached to her, he would have been redeemed. Her words struck his heart and he renounced family life immediately and became an ascetic.
He then travelled across India, meeting saints and meditating. He is believed to have visited Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri, Rameshwaram, and the Himalayas among others though he spent most of his time at Varanasi, Prayag, Ayodhya, and Chitrakoot.
Tulsidas was a prolific writer and composed several works. Modern scholars attest that he wrote at least six major works and six minor works, the best known of which is the ‘Ramcharitmanas’. The other works include ‘Ramlala Nahachhu’, ‘Barvai Ramayan’, ‘Parvati Mangal’, ‘Dohavali’, ‘Vairagya Sandipani’ and ‘Vinaya Patrika’. The devotional hymn, ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ is also attributed to him.
Tulsidas had hinted in many of his works that he had a face to face meeting with Hanuman, an ardent devotee of Rama. He also founded the Sankatmochan Temple dedicated to Hanuman in Varanasi, which is believed to stand at the place where he had the sight of Hanuman.
According to Tulsidas, Hanuman blessed him and enabled him to achieve a darshan (vision) of Lord Rama. The poet in the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ also mentioned about having the visions of Shiva and Parvati in both dream and awakened states.
Tulsidas’ best known work is the ‘Ramcharitmanas’, an epic poem in Awadhi dialect of Hindi which consists of seven parts or Kāndas. Considered a retelling of the Valmiki Ramayana, the text is credited to have made available the story of Rama to the common masses in a language they could understand easily as opposed to the Sanskrit versions which only scholars could understand. The ‘Ramcharitmanas’ is considered a masterpiece of vernacular renaissance and it is believed to represent a challenge to the dominance of high-class Brahmanical Sanskrit.
The details surrounding the birth and early life of Tulsidas are obscure. There is difference of opinion among biographers regarding the year of birth of Tulsidas though the year 1497 appears in most current-day biographies.
His parents were Hulsi and Atmaram Dubey. Several sources claim that Tulsidas was a Saryupareen Brahmin of the Parashar Gotra (lineage) while others state that he was a Kanyakubja or Sanadhya Brahmin. He is believed to have been born in Rajapur (Chitrakoot).
There are several legends surrounding his birth. It is said that he was in his mother’s womb for 12 months and was born with 32 teeth in his mouth. He did not cry at the time of his birth but uttered the word “Rama” instead because of which he was named “Rambola”.
He was born at an inauspicious time according to astrologers and therefore his parents abandoned him when he was a small baby. His mother’s servant Chuniya took the child with her and raised him for five and a half years after which she died.
Left all alone, Rambola was then adopted by Narharidas, a Vaishnava ascetic of Ramananda's monastic order, who renamed him Tulsidas. Narharidas narrated the ‘Ramayana’ to the young boy several times and before long Tulsidas became an ardent devotee of god Rama.
He then went to Varanasi where he studied Sanskrit grammar, four Vedas, six Vedangas, Jyotisha and the six schools of Hindu philosophy from Guru Shesha Sanatana, a renowned scholar on literature and philosophy. His studies continued for 15-16 years following which he returned to Rajapur.
Some sources state that he was married to Ratnavali, the daughter of Dinbandhu Pathak, a Brahmin of the Bharadwaja Gotra. They had a son named Tarak who died as a toddler. Once deeply attached to his wife, he renounced family life to become an ascetic.
However some other historians maintain that Tulsidas was a bachelor and a Sadhu from childhood.
Tulsidas suffered from ill health during his later years and died in the Shraavan (July–August) month of the year 1623 CE. Historians have differing opinions regarding the exact date of his death.