Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SANT - SENA NHAVI [The Blessed Barber]

From Editor’s Desk

Dear Seekers,

Those who are engaged in the devotional service of God have little or no interest in the mundane material life. They do not get attracted to the material activities as they always think about God and God only. Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita “Sarva Dharmaan Parithyajya Maam Ekam Saranam Vraja - Aham Tvaa Sarva Papebhyo Mokshaisyami Ma Sucha” (Chapter 18 Verse 66) i.e. To those who surrender unto Him, He eradicates all the sins committed by them and gives moksha or deliverance and gives the devotees an assurance not to worry. Who else can give a guarantee like this except Sriman Narayana ? But to get that guarantee card the Lord says there is a conditions apply* clause (I think all the marketing people would have read this Sloka in Bhagavad Gita??!!!). Krishna the great marketing guru stresses the word “ekam”.
The word ‘ekam ’ means only and unto Him only i.e. He asks for an unconditional surrender (conditional clause with an unconditional commitment??!!!) to him. What a fine marketing strategy!

Krishna also says in Bhagavad Gita “Svalpam Apy asya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat” [Chap 2.40] i.e. even if one takes few steps in this direction they are protected from the dangerous fear. Since we are in an unending cycle of life and death (Punarapi Jananam, Punarapi Maranam i.e. repeated birth and death as said in Bhaja Govindam ) we don’t have to worry whether we will complete this process in this life itself. There are many evidences that the Lord takes care of His devotees who have surrendered to Him totally. We know Krishna became a Charioteer for the sake of Pandavas but many ofus may not know that He also became a Barber to protect His devotee. The Maha Bhakta Vijayam contains the life history of many such devotees who have experienced the divine blessings of Vittala or Vittobha. In this article we will be seeing the life and times of Sant Sena Nhavi.

Whenever I read Maha Bhaktha Vijayam, I used to interrogate myself whether it is possible in reality to experience such miracles. It then dawned on me that given the level of intensity with which such devotees immerse themselves, IT IS possible to experience miracles like the one which we are going to read and much more. After reading this Bhakta Charitram even if our level of bhakti increases by 0.0001% we can call it is a successful attempt.

Let us all attempt to see the glory of Bhakta Charitram than the gory of Raktha Charitram!

Happy reading & Warm Regards,

A.V. Devan / 9.2.2011 /Chennai


One of the Sants belonging to the Varkari Sampradaya or the movement of Varkari is Sant Sena Nhavi. Before we go any further, we should know what Varkari movement is. ‘Varkari’ in Marathi literally means ‘a Pilgrim’, a Yathri. Varkari Sampradaya is a Vaishnava religious movement geographically associated with the Indian states of Maharashtra and Northern Karnataka. Varkaris worship Vittobha or Vittal, the presiding deity of Pandharpur, regarded as a form of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. Leading the pack of the great Sants of the Varkari movement are Sant Jnaneshwar, Namdev, Ekanath and Tukaram, among the lengthy list of devotees.

As per the Varkari movement, a duty based approach towards life is enjoined on the Varkaris. The emphasis is on moral behavior, strict avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, a vegetarian diet, fasting on Ekadasi day, brahmacharya (celibacy) during bachelorhood, equality and humanity for all, eschewing discrimination based on caste or wealth, daily reading of holy books and Haripath (of Sant Jnanesheshwar) by all varkaris and performing regular Bhajan and Kirtan. Every year Varkaris walk hundreds of miles to the holy town of Pandharpur gathering there on the Aashada Ekadasi Day. Varkaris making the pilgrimage to Pandharpur carry the Palkhis or Palanquins of the Sants from the places of their Samadhi. According to historians Vittal devotees have been embarking on pilgrimages much prior to 13th Century.

Jnaneshwar is the first of a long line of divinely ordained writers and poets whose works are central to the doctrine and practice of the Varkari cult and he is often described as its founder. Namdev (circa. 1270-1350) helped the spread of bhakti movement in the Punjab, where he lived for twenty years.

Some of his poems have found a place in Sikh texts too and he is considered a Sant, a holy man, by Sikhs and Sufis. Eknath (1533-99) spent his life in Paithan, contemplating on Lord Vittala. Besides writing hymns he was the first to translate the Ramayana into Marathi and edited a reliable version of Jnaneshwar's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Sant Tukaram (1608-50) hailed from what is considered as a lowest caste, from Dehu village. He lived there much of his life and though was married and had a family, led a pure ascetic life. He spread the Vitthala bhakti faith through the villages and became the most revered and popular of the Marathi bhakti poets.


Sena Nhavi was a barber by profession who was in the royal services of a Mohamedan King. Very pious and God loving, he was obsessed with Lord Vittala, fondly revered as Panduranga or Vittoba. He used to get up early in the morning, perform his ablutions and only after doing pooja to Lord Vittala would commence his daily occupation and other chores. Sena used to visit the palace and perform his duty whenever called upon by the King. Sena Nhavi was a disciple of Swami Ramananda. He completely engaged himself in the devotional service of Vittala without much attachment to his family.

Once seeing a group of Varkaris on their way to Pandharpur, Sena Nhavi invited them to his house. The Varkaris trooped in him and started performing Bhajan and Kirtan in his house. Sena also joined them merrily and started dancing with great frenzy. He was so immersed in the divine act that he totally forgot to go to the King’s Palace to perform his daily duty. Some of the courtiers who were jealous of Sena complained to the King that Sena has not turned up for his duty at the Palace engaged as he is, in devotion to Krishna. The King on hearing this got furious and ordered his guards to arrest Sena Nhavi and bring him to the Court immediately.

At the same time, Vittala, the all pervading, omnipotent and omnipresent God, took the form of Sena Nhavi and reached the King’s Palace, simply overcome by sheer mercy to protect His devotee,. Upon seeing (Vittala, in the guise of) Sena Nhavi, the King became sober and ordered him to carry on with his daily duty. Vittala in the form of Sena Nhavi promptly performed all the services required of a Barber, to the King. The King somehow felt something pleasantly inexplicable, mesmerized as he was by the services of Sena Nhavi. While the King was lost in a trance and continued to feel thrilled as if he was in heaven, Vittala miraculously disappeared from the scene. But the King had still not come out completely from the blissful feeling thanks to the miraculous touch of Vittala. Enjoying the feeling, the King reached his court.

Almost at the same time the guards brought the hand cuffed Sena Nhavi and produced him before the King. Seeing Sena Nhavi - who had only moments ago given him the greatest experience - in fetters, the King immediately ordered the guards to release him. He was still under the impact of Vittala and embraced Sena Nhavi and expressed his deep gratitude to him. But Sena, oblivious to the divine leela of Vitala, promptly requested for pardon as he could not come on time for his duty. The King wondered why at all was there a need to pardon him as he had came to the palace and performed his duty in an exemplary manner. He even declared that the day’s service was much better than any of the earlier days ! Sena Nhavi then realized that it was none other than Lord Vittala Himself who had come to protect him in the garb of a barber. He promptly confessed that he could not make it to the palace that morning as he was immersed in the devotion of Vittala forgetting his imperial duty and informed the King that it was Lord Vittala who had come.

The King repented for ordering his guards to hand cuff Sena and realizing the true Bhakti of Sena Nahavi, fell at his feet and asked him for pardon. Sena Nhavi then told that the King was more blessed than him since he was physically touched and stroked by the Lord. And he was overwhelmed with emotion as it was he who had made Vittala take the form of a Barber.

Later the enraptured Sena Nhavi left the palace, shifted to Phandarpur with his family and did the job of a Barber to all the Varkaris.

The Lord says, in Srimad Bhagavatham :

“Naa aham vasami vaikunte, Naa yogi hridaye, Ravau,
Madh Baktha Yathra Gayanthi Thathra thishtami Narada”

meaning “I don’t reside in Vaikuntam, neither stay in a Yogi’s heart nor in the Surya mandala,, but I dwell with my devotees who sing my names and glories.”
Since Sena Nhavi was always immersed in Prema Bhakti, the God came took his form and came down to help him.

Let us all for a moment, delve upon the sublime Prema Bhakthi of Sena Nhavi and mull over the divine episode. We shall certainly develop Prema Bhakthi towards Lord Vittala !

Jai Jai Vittala!
Jai Hari Vittala !

Haripath - Sant Gnyaneshwar
नित्य सत्यामित हरिपाठ ज्यासी । कळिकाळी त्यासी न पाहे दृष्टी ॥ १ ॥
रामकृष्ण उच्चार अनंतराशी तप । पापाचे कळप पळती पुढे ॥ २ ॥
हरि हरि हरि मंत्र हा शिवाचा । म्हणती जे वाचा तया मोक्ष ॥ ३ ॥
ज्ञानदेवा पाठ नारायण नाम । पाविजे उत्तम निजस्थान ॥ ४ ॥


nitya satya mita haripaaTha jyaasii . kaLikaaLa tyaasii na paahe dR^ishhTii 1
raamakRishhNa uchaara anantaraashii tapa . paapaache kaLapa paLatii puDe 2
hari hari hari mantra haa shivaachaa . mhaNatii je vaachaa tayaa moksha 3
GYaanadevaa paaTha naaraayaNa naama . paavije uttama nija sthaana 4


The evils of the present age (Kali kala) will not even glance at you, if you chant fervently and unceasingly the name of Hari .
The chanting of His name is the highest penance; all your sins will fly away.
Lord Shiva also chants the mantra, "Hari , Hari , Hari!" and whoever chants it will attain liberation.
Jnanadev says: I am always chanting The name of the Lord; and that is how I have realized my Self, the only real place of supreme inner peace.


Major Sri V. Venkata Narayanan for making necessary corrections, adding valuable inputs and making this article embellish.

Master A. Vijay Krishna who gave the idea to write this article about “Sant Sena Nhavi”.


Vaishnava Samhita – Sri Sri Krishna Premi (Anna)
Varkari – Wikipedia

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