Sant Namdev is one of the central figures of Bharat's cultural history, especially in the bhakti tradition. In the second half of the thirteenth century, he was born to a religious artisan (tailor/calico-printer) Hindu family in the Marathi-speaking region (modern Maharashtra) of the then Deccan state.
Sant Namdev was born on Kartik Shukla Paksha Ekadashi Vikram Samvat 1327, i.e. 26th October,1270AD in Village Narsi Bamni District Parbhani
(Maharashtra). His father, named Damashet, was a calico printer/tailor and his mother's name was Gonabai. Being tailor by profession, his family got the surname 'Simpi' (tailor). Datasheet ( Pronounced as Dayaseth in Hindi) was a devotee of God Vitthala (Shri Krishna). His wife, Gonayi, was a highly devotional pious lady. Both had spent their life in the service of Vitthala. Dama Shetti, the father of Namdev, had moved to Pandharpur.
Namdev was married to Rajabai, daughter of Govinda Sheti Sadavarte. They had four sons and one daughter.
The Deccan province where Namdev's parents lived was at that time under Muslim rule. The Muslim officers behaved like tyrants. They used to harass the people of other religions. Hindus were divided among themselves. Moreover, the wicked wielded power.
Namdev was born in such times. As he grew up, his remarkable personality unfolded itself. He led a pious life. So everyone respected him. His devotion to Panduranga (Also known as Vitthal/Vithoba/Shri Krishna) was boundless. So much so that many other devotees firmly believed he was the reincarnation of Uddhava, who was a friend and counsellor to Lord Sri Krishna.
Namdev felt it increasingly difficult to take an interest in household affairs and his parents, wife and children, and no amount of persuasion from all those people or his friends successfully brought him back to worldly life. To him, there was only one interest, and that was Lord Vithoba. He spent hour after hour sitting before Vithoba, talking to Him, discussing spiritual matters with Him and doing Bhajan. To Namdev, Vithoba was the beginning and the end of everything.
Meeting with Dnyaneshwar
When Namdev was about twenty years of age, he met the great saint Dnyaneshwar at Pandharpur. Dnyaneshwar was naturally attracted to Namdev as a great devotee of Vithoba. That he might benefit from the company of Namdev, he persuaded Namdev to go with him to all the holy places on pilgrimage. Namdev did not want to go, as that would mean separation from Lord Vithoba of Pandharpur. However, wiser counsel prevailed, and Namdev went on pilgrimage. This was the most important period in the life of Namdev.
Practically from this time, the two great Saints almost never separated till death parted them. The pilgrimage extended to all parts of India and almost all the holy places.
Finding a Guru
Visoba Khechar was one of the disciples of Dnyaneshwar and was living at the time in a village called Avandhya Nagnath. Namdev proceeded to the village immediately and met him after a long effort. Visoba made him realize the great truth that God had permeated the whole universe. Namdev surrendered himself to Visoba gratefully and humbly.
"If you want to be absolutely happy, fill this world with Bhajan and the sacred name of the God(Bhagwan). The Bhagwan is the world itself. Give up all ambitions or desires. Let them take care of themselves. Be content only with the name of Vitṭhal. You need not undergo any hardship or penance in order to go to heaven. Vaikuntha will come to you of itself. Do not be anxious of this life or of your friends or relatives. They are like the illusions of a mirage. One has to spend a short space of time here like the potter's wheel which goes on rotating even after the potter has left. Make the best of it by keeping the name of Vitthal ever in your mind and on your lips and by recognizing Him everywhere and in everyone. This is my experience of life."
After initiation by Visoba, his temple was no longer the small narrow space on the banks of the Chandrabhaga. His God was the omnipotent, infinite being.
His Punjab Stay
Namdev, with other ascetics, visited all parts of the country and arrived in Punjab. Namdev reached Village Ghuman, where Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is situated and resided for over 17 Years. He used to meditate and do Samkirtan in Ghuman.
When Fifth Guru of Sikh Path Guru Arjan dev ji compiled Guru Granth Sahib, he decided to give due recognition to the Saints of Bhakti movement. That is the reason that Guru Granth Sahib contains verses of such Saints. There are 61 stanzas, three hymns written by Namdev, which were included in Guru Granth Sahib.
Disciples and sects
During his time, Nath and Mahanubhav sects were highly prevalent in Maharashtra. Apart from these, the worship of Vithoba of Pandharpur was also very popular. To conduct this worship firmly, Sant Dnyaneshwar gathered all the Saints and laid the foundation of Varkari Sampradaya. The general public performs Vari (yatra, i.e. journey) to Pandharpur for Vitthal Darshan every year on Ashadha and Kartik Ekadashi.
The traditions attribute varying views to Namdev. In north India, Namdev is considered as a nirguna bhakta. In Marathi culture, he is considered a saguna bhakta. This practice is still prevalent today. Those who perform this type of vaari (journey) are called varkari. This sect of Vitthalopasana is called Varkari sect. Namdev is considered a prominent saint of this sect. Even today, Abhangs composed by him are sung with devotion and love all over Maharashtra. Among his famous disciples, the prominent names are Saint Janabai, Saint Vishnuswami, Saint Parisa Bhagwat, Saint Chokhamela, Trilochan etc… He had given them the initiation of Naam-Gyan.According to Namdev, the service of Vitthal, who moves in the form of living beings on this earth, in the service of the true God.
While chanting the name of Vitthal, he merged himself at the feet of Vitthal on Ashada Krishna Trayodashi Samvat 1272. The first step of the entrance of Vitthal temple in Pandharpur is famous as Namdevji's Payari because he took samadhi (trance) at the Mahadwara of Vitthal temple of Pandharpur. There is another view about his final journey that his soul left his body in Ghuman in Punjab.
I worship only God-within,
nothing else, says Namdev.
Rama speaks, Rama alone speaks,
Who can speak without Rama, brother?
The elephant and the ant are one, being both dust.
These are the vessels, many and varied.
The worm and the moth, whatever moves or is still,
everything is filled with Rama
In Guru Granth Sahib
Sabẖ gobinḏ hai sabẖ gobinḏ hai gobinḏ bin nahī koī.(485)
God is everything, God is everything. Without God, there is nothing at all.
Kahā kara▫o jāṯī kah kara▫o pāṯī.
What do I have to do with social status? What do I have to with ancestry?
Rām ko nām japa▫o ḏin rāṯī. ||
Rām binā ko bolai re. || pg 988
Who else speaks, other than the Lord?
I meditate on the Name of the Lord, day and night.
Namdev thus played a role in shaping the religious base for the premodern and modern culture of north India–McGregor, Ronald Stuart (1984), A History of Indian Literature, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag Namdev attracted individuals from diverse classes and castes during community-driven bhajan singing sessions. His companions during worship sessions included Kanhopatra (a dancing girl), Sena (a barber), Savata (a gardener), Chokhamela (an untouchable), Janabai (a maid), Gora (a potter), Narahari (a goldsmith) and Jñāneśvar (also known as Dnyandev, a Brahmin).
Namdev is considered one of the five revered gurus in the Dadupanth tradition within Hindu Dharma, the other four being Dadu, Kabir, Ravidas and Hardas. Dadupanthi Hindus thrived in Rajasthan, creating and compiling Bhakti poems, including one of the largest collections of Namdev's songs.
In fact, the life and views of Namdevji is such an ever-flowing spring of devotional nectar, which has the amazing ability to give purity to humanity while following the Hindu Dharma.