SAMARTH RĀMDĀS (1608-1681), Mahārāshṭrian saint remembered as the religious preceptor of the Marāṭhā hero Chhatrapati Shivājī (1627-80), was born, in 1608, the son of Sūryajī Pant and Rānūbāī, a Brāhmaṇ couple of the village of Jāmb, near Auraṅgābād, in Mahārāshṭra. His original name was Nārāyaṇa. His father died when he was barely seven years old. Educated in Sanskrit according to the tradition of his caste, Rāmdās showed strong mystical proclivities even as a child. He left home during his adolescence to join the Vaiṣṇava centre at Pañchvaṭī, near Nāsik, where he stayed for 12 years engaged in study, reflection and devotion to Lord Rāma. He spent the next 12 years visiting Hindu centres of pilgrimage across the country. Returning to Mahārāshṭra around 1644, he established himself at the village of Chāphal, in the Satārā region on the Western Ghaṭs. Here he built a temple of Rāma and Māruti (Hanumān) and founded a maṭh or monastery which exists to the present day. The community of his followers soon expanded taking on the character of a well-marked sect, the Rāmdāsī sect, with its own sacred texts and forms of worship. Samarth (an appellation meaning capable, powerful, mighty) Rāmdās' teaching was in the Vaiṣṇava tradition with Rāma as the deity to be adored and worshipped, but he infused his devotionalism with Advaita philosophy and practical morality. He also preached "Mahārāshṭra Dharma," aggressive defence of Hindu values. It is in this regard especially that his message gained the attention of Shivājī who led the Hindu "national" struggle against the "foreign" rule of the Mughals. It is noteworthy that while Brāhmaṇ scholars have tended to emphasize Rāmdās’ influence in shaping Shivājī's political objectives, Marāṭhā historians argue that the two came in close contact with each other only after Shivājī had fully developed his ideology.
According to Sikh tradition based on an old Punjabi manuscript Pañjāh Sākhīāṅ, Samarth Rāmdās met Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644) at Srīnagar in the Gaṛhvāl hills. 'The meeting, corroborated in a Marāṭhī source, Rāmdāsasvāmī's Bakhar, by Hanumantsvāmī, written in 1793, probably took place in the early 1630's during Samarth Rāmdās 'pilgrimage travels in the north and Gurū Hargobind's journey to Nānakmatā in the east. It is said that as they came face to face with each other, Gurū Hargobind had just returned from a hunting excursion. He was fully armed and rode a horse. Rāmdās expressed his surprise at a successor of the saintly Gurū Nānak living in princely style and allowing himself to be addressed as Sachchā Pātshāh (true king). Gurū Hargobind said "internally a hermit and externally a prince. Arms are to protect the poor and destroy the tyrant. Bābā Nānak had not renounced the world, but had only renounced māyā, i.e. illusion and ego." "Yeh hamāre man bhāvatī hai (this appeals to my mind)," said Rāmdās. This encounter between Gurū Hargobind and Samarth Rāmdās is prominently mentioned in modern Sikh historiography.
Samarth Rāmdās died in 1681.
Paul B. Courtright