Sant Dnyāneshwar / Sant Jñāneshwar (1275-1296) was a 13th century marathi saint, poet, philosopher and a yogi of Nath tradition. His works "Bhavartha deepika teeka" [a commentary on Bhagvat Geeta], popularly known as "Dnyaneshwari", and "Amrutanubhav" are considered to be the milestones in marathi literature. The "Vaishnav Sampraday" or the "Vitthal Sampraday" of pandharpur, Maharashtra, India considers "Dnyaneshwar" as its pioneer/spiritual leader/teacher [Guru] and "Dnyaneshwari" as its "Dharmagrantha" [religious/holy book]. Dnyaneshwar entered into "Sanjeevan Samadhi" at the age of 21 in Alandi, Maharashtra.
Life of his parents
Dnyaneshwar was the second of four children of Vitthal Govind Kulkarni and Rukmini, a pious couple from the village Apegaon near Paithan in Maharashtra on the banks of River Godavari.
Vitthal studied Vedas and became well versed in them at a very young age in accordance with the brahmin tradition in those days. He set out on pilgrimages in young age in the "search of god". During his visit to Alandi about 30 km from Pune, he met shridharpant [Sidhopant], a local yejurvedi brahmin, who was very much impressed with him. Shridharpant persuaded reluctant vitthal to marry his daughter Rukmini. Vitthal was much more interested in the "search of god" than marrying and settling down. But, shridharpant finally succeeded in arranging his daughter's marriage with vitthal.
After marriage Vitthal stayed in Alandi for some time but due to his lack of interest in family life he tried very hard to convince his wife to grant him the permission to leave "grihasthashram" and to enter into "sanyasashram" that is to become a "sanyasi". After getting the permission from reluctant rukmini; vitthal went to varanasi [kashi] in uttar pradesh, India. There he met " ramananda swamy / shripad yati / shripad swamy" and requested to initiate him into the "sanyasashram". Vitthal managed to persuade ramananda swamy primarily by lying about his past [especially about his marriage]. ramananda swamy finally accepted vitthal as his student and initiated him into the sanyasashram.
Tradition says that ramananda swamy himself later set out on a pilgrimage to southern india and came to alandi where he happened to see rukmini to whom he granted the boon "ashta putra saubhagyavati bhava" [may you be blessed with 8 sons]. After being blessed by the holy man rukmini broke down and told ramananda swamy about her past. After listening carefully he was convinced that his student vitthal was the husband of rukmini who abandoned her without performing his duties in the "grihastashram". So he returned to kashi and enquired with vitthal about his past again. After knowing the truth he ordered vitthal to return home and to his family.
Vitthal returned to his wife in alandi. The couple was exocommunicated from "Brahmin" cast as vitthal had broken the law of accepting grihasthashram after sanyasashram which, was not allowed since the latter was considered the last of the four ashrams. Four children were born to the couple: Nivrutti in 1273, Dnyandev (Dnyaneshwar) in 1275, Sopan in 1277 and daughter Mukta in 1279. According to some scholars their birth years are 1268, 1271, 1274, 1277 respectively.
His early life
Vitthal tried a lot to persuade the brahmins to accept his children into the caste but he failed. The brahmins in paithan ordered vitthal and rukmini to wilfully end their lives as a punishment. They accepted the punishment. Mean while the couple set out on a pilgrimage with their children to tryambakeshwar near nashik, maharashtra where their elder son nivrutti [at the age of 10] was initiated in to the Nath tradition [Nath panth / cult] by gahininath. Nivrutti later became the teacher of dnyaneshwar [at the age of 8], sopan, mukta and initiated them in to the Nath tradition.
It is believed that later vitthal and rukmini ended their lives by jumping into the waters at prayag where the river Ganga meets Yamuna hoping that their children will be accepted into the society at least after their death.
The orphaned children somehow grew up begging for dry alms from sympathetic people which they would cook and eat. In the course of time they too approached the brahmin community of Paithan to accept them in society after whatever purification rites were necessary but the brahmin community refused. According to some scholars the children were purified by the brahmins on the condition of observing celibacy. But, the authority of the documents [especially the so called "shuddhi patra"] provided itself is disputed. The children stayed in paithan for a couple of years after their famous argument with the brahmins earned them fame and respect from the society due to their righteousness, virtue, intelligence, knowledge and politeness.
Dnyaneshwari and Amrutanubhav
About this time Nivrutinath, instructed Dnyaneshwar to write a commentary on Bhagwat Gita. The children moved to Nevase, a village in AhmedNagar district where Dnyaneshwar began his literary work. He used to give a discourse on Dnyaneshwari to selected audiance including his elder brother and teacher, nivruttinath. There must be few notable personalities in the audience like his contemporary saint namdev and many others from nath tradition. It is believed that Dnyaneshwari was written down by Sacchidananandbaba during such discourses by dnyaneshwar. By the time the commentary was complete dnyaneshwar was only 15 years old.
"Bhavartha deepika Teeka" or the Dnyaneshwari is cosidered to be one of the master pieces in marathi literature. It is composed in a metre called "Ovi". It constitutes 18 chapters. The book reflects the outstanding intelligence of dnyaneshwar, his understanding of the subject, command not only on marathi but also on sanskrit language at such a small age. The composition of such a book at the age of 15 could be considered as a miracle. Truly Dnyaneshwar was born poet and philosopher.
Dnyaneshwar was determined to "liberate" the "divine knowledge" locked in the "sanskrit language" unaccessible to common people and restricted only to "3 varnas" i.e. brahmin, kshatriya and vaishya and not to the shudras. He wanted to bring that knowledge in "prakrit" i.e. in marathi and make it available to every one. He was very much confident that he would write in marathi in as good or better manner than sanskrit. And he fulfills this promise made to the audience in dnyaneshwari.
The language of the book is so beautiful and appealing that one should read at least one verse [ovi] that too in marathi. It would not be inappropriate to suggest readers to learn marathi just to read the works of dnyaneshwar especially the dnyaneshwari.
Dnyaneshwar penned Amrutanubhav some time after he completed dnyaneshwari. Amrutanubhav is an independent work of dnyaneshwar. It is quite complicated and difficult to understand and therefore finds fewer readers compared to dnyaneshwari. It constitutes 10 chapters and 806 verses [ovi]. The basis of this book is "advaita siddhanta" [non dualism]. The seventh chapter is the biggest one [295 verses] and is considered to be the most important amongst the ten chapters. This book is considered as one of the gems of marathi literature.
Apart from Dnyaneshwari and Amrutanubhav works like "changdev paasashti" [a collection of 65 verses [ovi] addressed to an allegedly 1400 years old yogi named changdev], Haripath and around 1000 "abhanga" are attributed to Dnyaneshwar. Out of around 1000 abhangas, authorship of many is disputed mainly due to the differences in writing style.