Spirituality and Mythology

When a husband took his wife too seriously: The story of Tulsidas

One sentence from his beloved wife and Tulsidas left her forever to become a poet and devotee. How we cope with being let down by our partners defines our character and resilience

Striving for love at any cost

On a stormy (and, as it turns out, symbolic) night in the month of Shravan, a rain lashed, lovelorn Tulsidas stood on the banks of the Ganga. He simply had to get across. He yearned to be with his wife Ratnavali, who was visiting her family. But with the river in that condition, no boatman would ferry him across.

“Go home,” he was advised. But home is where the heart is, and his heart was with his beloved young wife.

As he stood there, drenched and pondering, a dead body floated by. Current passion clearly has scant regard for the departed, so Tulsidas, craving union with his wife, used the stiffened cadaver to row himself across the swollen waters.

Surprised to see him, Ratnavali asked how he had even got there.

“On a dead body,” her loving young husband answered.

“If only you loved Ram as much as you love this body of mine, mere flesh and bones!” Ratna murmured.

Suddenly the raging storm was a mere breeze compared to the storm within him. The taunt had found its mark. At one fell swoop, it decimated the carnal man to give rise to the unwavering devotee.

Tulsidas turned and walked away, never to return.

He went on to write a considerable amount of devotional poetry, the Ramcharitmanas being the most famous of them all. What became of Ratnavali, we don’t know. But the flashpoint between the couple became Tulsidas’s moment of epiphany and he was transported to his true calling.

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