Who Was Tulsi Sahib's Guru? Our One-And-Only Real Clue
By James Bean
The Short Version
It is believed that Sant Tulsi Sahib, the great Saint of Hathras, never mentioned the name of his guru. However, my view is that Sant Tulsi actually did mention the name of his guru on multiple occasions in his various writings and hymns.
In the first part of “Sar Bachan Prose”, Huzur Maharaj provides an introduction to the “Essence of the Teachings of Param Guru Soamiji Maharaj”. It includes Sant Radhasoami Sahib/Soami Ji’s list of India’s greatest Saints including the name of one fairly unknown guru during those days, a contemporary master by the name of Tulsi Sahib:
“The names of some of the perfect and true Sants, Sadhs and Faqirs who manifested themselves during the past seven hundred years are Kabir Saheb, Tulsi Saheb, Jagjiwan Saheb, Garib Das, Paltu Saheb, Guru Nanak, Dadu Saheb, Tulsi Das, Nabhaji, Swami Hari Das, Sur Das and Rai Das. And some of the Muslim names are Shams Tabrez, Maulvi Rumi, Hafiz, Sarmad and Mujaddid Alif Sani. A perusal of their writings would give an idea of their spiritual attainments.” (“Sar Bachan Prose”, Book One, A Summary of the Teachings of Soami Ji Maharaj)
And we know just how significant a reference that turned out to be! “One of these things is not like the others”, or in other words, one of the names on the list is quite different from the rest, in that it’s the name of a contemporary guru, not a classic Sant who lived many decades or centuries earlier. The inclusion of the name Tulsi Sahib on this list is pregnant with meaning. We know that Tulsi Sahib was the guru of Soami Ji Maharaj. Soamiji and his wife Radhaji were part of the Tulsi Sahib Satsang community, as were their families and extended families. Furthermore, after the death of Tulsi Sahib in 1843, Soami Ji became closely affiliated with a spiritual successor of Tulsi Sahib in the Tulsi Sahib community by the name of Maharaj Girdhari Sahib all the way up till his passing in August of 1860, then a few months later Soami Ji officially inaugurated his Radhasoami Satsang in Agra, during February of 1861.
See my article, “Maharaj Girdhari Sahib — The ‘Unknown Guru’ of Radhasoami History”: https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/maharaj-girdhari-sahib-a-spiritual-successor-of-sant-tulsi-sahib-and-friends-with-soami-ji-maharaj-2f8ffcb7d342
The same can be observed with Tulsi Sahib. He too had a similar list of all-time greatest Saints in the history of India, and it also included a name pregnant with meaning “different from all the others”, one relatively obscure contemporary name: Dariya Sahib of Bihar.
“...I have given out the same true secrets which Sants like Kabir Saheb, Dadu Saheb, Rai Das Ji, Dariya Sahib, Guru Nanak, Soor Das Ji, Nabha Ji and Mira Bai have spoken of. They, too, have composed similar hymns describing the bliss of the highest spiritual region, whose glory I also have sung, blessed by the grace and the dust of the holy feet of Sants.” (“Ghat Ramayan”)
Dariya Sahib of Bihar’s name appears in the spiritual discourses and hymns of Tulsi Sahib, serving as our one-and-only real clue about the identity of Tulsi Sahib’s guru.
The Sant Mat We Know — This Path of the Masters — Can Be Traced Back to Dariya Sahib, Tulsi Sahib, and Soami Ji Maharaj
Both Dariya Sahib of Bihar and Tulsi Sahib of Hathras were mystical hardcore reformist voices somewhat critical of the overall direction the older Sant Panths were headed in. Tulsi’s and Dariya’s teachings are practically identical, from the same esoteric school of Sant Mat, to the degree that one can easily say that Tulsi Sahib’s spiritual mission successfully communicated the same noble teachings and Surat Shabd Yoga Meditation on to future generations by way of his several successors, including Sant Girdhari Sahib and Sant Radhasoami Sahib, etc…
Keeping the Path Alive During Kali Yuga
“Sat Purush is the living Lord, and His own son serves as the ladder. That ladder is continued through me, says Dariya. Fakkar Das, Basti Das, and Guna Das are the ladders proceeding from me. Whomsoever they appoint as their successors would also be known as ladders. Thus will my line of succession continue…. Those souls who remain in obedience to these successors, shall cross the Ocean of the world.
“How long will this line of succession continue? Kindly relate it to us in your own words, asks Fakkar Das. ‘Listen mindfully, 0 Fakkar Das, I explain this to you, says Dariya:
‘As long as the discipline of the Sound Current
is preserved unadulterated,
The line of succession will truly continue.
But when it is mixed with outer rituals
and display of external garbs,
My Sound Current will part company.
My Divine essence will depart,
And the souls will go into the mouth of Kal.
I shall then come to this world,
And shall proclaim the teaching
of the Sound Current again.
Proclaiming the teaching,
I shall found the line of succession.
And emancipating the souls,
I shall take them to my Abode….
For aeons I have been coming,
And imparting the teaching
of the true Sound Current.’”
(Bhajan of Sant Dariya Sahib)
Now For The Long Version
The Ratnagar Rao Theory or Doctrine
In Sikh legend there are several stories about Guru Gobind Singh surviving his assassination at Nanded and living a secret life unknown to his disciples from that point forward, in some accounts for a few years, and in others he is portrayed as living many decades to a super old age of well over a century. For instance, the Namdhari version says Guru Gobind Singh lived to be one hundred and forty six years old! In each of these highly hailographical stories someone is named as being the spiritual successor of Guru Gobind Singh, thus inventing a connecting link between the Tenth Sikh Guru to one of several sects or institutions. The specific details, dates, locations, and named spiritual successors vary from one account to another, and each of these is highly contested and disputed by historians. The Ratnagar Rao version is another variation on this theme.
The Ratnagar Rao theory is the belief that Guru Gobind Singh did not die on October 7th, 1708, in Nanded, India after all, but allowing everyone to believe he had passed on, in reality he lived a secret life incognito, traveling widely from the Himalayas in the north to the Deccan in southern India. As this apocryphal story goes, eventually the Tenth Sikh Guru acquired a student by the name of Ratnagar Rao or Ratanrav, and at some point made him his spiritual successor. The belief is this hypothetical Sant Ratnagar Rao would have initiated a student by the name of Sham Rao or Shyamrav, eventually making him his spiritual successor, and this Shyamrav came to be known as Tulsi Sahib, who moved to Hathras.
Several “IF’s in a Row Would Have to Be So to Get Ra-OOO
Many “IF’s” are above: IF Guru Gobind Singh lived on after his assassination, faking his own death….. IF there was someone by the name of Ratnagar Rao who was a historic person that really existed….. IF this Ratnagar Rao was a disciple and successor of the Tenth Sikh Guru…. IF someone by the name of Ratnagar Rao was a Sant and eventually appointed Shayamrav as his successor….. IF Sham Rao of Peshwa royal court fame in Pune and Tulsi Sahib are the same person, the one who relocated to Hathras….
The name Ratnagar Rao in connection with Tulsi Sahib seems to first appear in written form only recently in history, since the late 1950's or early 60's in the teachings or satsang talks of Kirpal Singh. Professor Agam Prasad Mathur, one of India’s top historians, discusses this in his book, “Radhasoami Faith, A Historical Study”, published in Agra. “Tracing the background of the formative influences on the Radhasoami Faith, Shri Kirpal Singh links up the history of spiritual heritage with last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. He holds that Guru Gobind Singh traveled far and wide and went to Poona in Maharashtra and brought in his fold many a member of the Peshwa family. He presumes, but without any historical basis, that Sham Rao, the elder brother of Baji Rao Peshwa must have come into contact with Ratnagar Rao, a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh and ultimately Sham Rao settled at Hathras and came to be known as Tulsi Saheb. But this statement is not historically true. Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708. The same year Sahu, son of Shivaji, became king of Maharashtra and appointed Balaji Vishwanath as the first Peshwa in 1713. Baji Rao I became Peshwa in 1720 and he was the eldest son of his father (Balaji Vishwanath).”
Let me say that, if any evidence turns up showing there really was indeed a Sant Ratnagar Rao somewhere in Indian history, I would be happy to recant and share that information, posting any Shabds or Banis from him online. I am also quite fond of the Sikh scriptures. If there ever was a proven or reasonable direct link between the Sikh Gurus and Tulsi Sahib by way of a Ratnagar Rao, that would be fine by me. Ultimately, all Masters are one. My interest here is in the facts of history, not a dogmatic faith-based history where one is compelled to agree with a set of doctrines based on blind faith. Thus far, I find no record of there ever being a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh or a Sant from India by the name of Ratnagar Rao.
Though not many are aware of this, Kirpal Singh himself described the Ratnagar Rao theory as a bit up-in-the-air and tenuous at best, not a clear-cut established history that links Tulsi Sahib to Ratnagar Rao or to the Sikh Gurus. It was his noble attempt to sort through apocryphal tales and miracle stories about Tulsi Sahib, desiring to address an obscure chapter of Indian history. Kirpal Singh said: “History is generally written later on, when nobody any longer knows. I tell you, I was going to write about Tulsi, a great Saint from the East. I wanted to find out His lineage, in connection with the life of Baba Jaimal Singh I wrote. I could not find it. He was the eldest brother Who was to succeed to the throne of the Hulkar family. He left the scene, became a recluse, and later on turned out to be a Saint. And the second brother sat on the throne. I tried to find out whether his name was Sham Rao Hulkar, but his name was also not given in history. What was I to do?” (from a talk given at Tustin, California, December 18th, 1963, also republished in the December 1976 issue of “Sat Sandesh”. See the RuhaniSatsangUSA website.)
Perhaps for this reason, in my view, Darshan Singh in his book, “Streams of Nectar”, did not include any mention of Ratnagar Rao in the chapter dedicated to Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras. (That’s a great book about the lives of many Saints of the past.)
Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar (pictured above) and Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras (pictured below) had a similar appearance: the bare-chested yogi sitting in the lotus position with a puffy beard. Not always, but sometimes spiritual successors adopt a similar appearance and clothing as their Master. Of course there’s no hard-and-fast rule about this, and it is the soul and inward state of enlightenment that matters, not appearances, but nevertheless it’s common for there to be styles and customs unique to certain regions, satsangs and time periods. Shri Surswami had a similar appearance as Sant Tulsi Sahib later in life, wearing his blanket or patchwork quilt of many colors. (Compare the icon images of both Tulsi Sahib (older) and Shri Surswami at the end of this article.) Some of the Agra Radhasoami Masters had a distinctive “kingly” or majestic appearance. The one contemporary Sant Satguru that Sant Tulsi Sahib mentioned in his writings was Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar — our one-and-only real clue.
So, if it wasn’t Ratnagar Rao, who then could have been Tulsi Sahib’s Real Guru?
There are a couple of very important quotes that should be included here.
1) “No information is available as to when Tulsi Sahib met a Master. Nor is it known whether he was initiated into the path of the Sound Current (Surat Shabd Yoga) while he was still a prince, or later, when leaving everything, he adopted an itinerant life. He does not give the name of his Master in his writings.” (J.R. Puri and V.K. Sethi, “Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras”)
2) This is an interesting quote also found in the book, “Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras”: “Although there is no direct indication on whom Tulsi Sahib’s master may have been, there has been some pointed discussion on the question. Pandit Pandurang Sharma, a Marathi scholar, in the June 1931 issue of “Vividh Gyan Vistar” writes, ‘[Tulsi Sahib] was initiated by a guru in the town of Hathras, and under the instructions of his Guru in the town of Hathras did intensive meditation.’”
What We DO Know
Tulsi was born in 1763 and passed on in 1843. He would have been in his teens when Dariya Sahib of Bihar was still alive — old enough to have perhaps received initiation from Dariya Sahib of Bihar or one of his representatives, in other words.
(Note: In Sant Mat history there was another Dariya: Dariya Sahib of Marwar, who passed on in 1758.)
Early in his life Tulsi did extensive travelling around India. In the book, “Tulsi Sahib — Saint of Hathras”, it states: “Tulsi Sahib’s works include words and expressions of Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian ….. Marathi …. he has freely used words of Braj, Avadhi, Rajasthani (Marwari), Gujrati, Punjabi and Maithili, which leads one to conclude that, like many other Saints, he must have travelled widely in U.P., Rajasthan, Gujrat, Punjab and Bihar.”
How could Panch Naam initiation come to Tulsi Sahib by way of Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikh line of Gurus if one of the Five Names is missing?
What Sant Mat Master or spiritual path did Tulsi Sahib receive initiation from? This “pre-Tulsi Sahib Sant Mat path”, if you will, would have used a rare sacred text called the “Anurag Sagar” (Kabir’s Ocean of Love according to Sant Dharam Das), since Tulsi Sahib did. One of their spiritual practices was the repetition (simran) of the Five Names (the Panch Naam mantra). ALL FIVE names were part of their mystical vocabulary. However, all five of the names are not found in the “Adi Granth” and Sikh tradition. One of the names is missing, so how could Panch Naam initiation come to Tulsi Sahib by way of Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikh line of Gurus?
All five of the Panch Naam Mantras or Five Names are to be found part of the vocabulary of the Dharam Das/Kabir line of Masters. See the document: “Kar Nainon Didar Mahal Men Piara Hai”, the Great Poem of Kabir about the Ascension of the Soul (“See Your Beloved Lord in the Temple of Your Own Body”). Here it is in two translations: https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/great-poem-of-kabir-about-the-ascension-of-the-soul-called-kar-nainon-didar-mahal-men-piara-hai-db2b0fcdc644
The People of the Anurag Sagar (Dharam Das/Kabir/Dariya Sahib Line of Masters)
Having the understanding that “Sant Dharam Das is the primary spiritual successor of Kabir” is another central teaching. These are all hallmarks of this group, “the People of the Anurag Sagar”, as I like to call them, this “pre-Tulsi Sahib Sant Mat path”. They existed in India PRIOR to the time of Tulsi Sahib. Since these elements became part of Tulsi Sahib’s teaching — his Sant Mat — most likely he learned of them at the feet of his spiritual Master. As professor Mark Juergensmeyer points out in his book, “Radhasoami Reality”, the Anugar Sagar is not part of the Sikh world. Historically, prior to the time of Tulsi Sahib and Radhasoami, the Anurag Sagar was only used by the Dharamdasi branch of Kabir Panth, a Kabir-related line of Masters.
For more on the Sant Dariya Sahib/Kabir Panth/Dharam Das Connection, see: “Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar, a Towering Figure in Sant Mat History”: https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/e6d1c283be6b
Tulsi Sahib’s List and Soami Ji Maharaj’s List of All-Time Great Saints
Dariya Sahib and Tulsi were contemporaries, for a time, alive at the same time. Dariya Sahib was the only living Master that Tulsi mentioned in his writings, on his list of some of the greatest Saints in the history of India. Dariya Sahib of Bihar is mentioned many times in the writings of Tulsi Sahib. Perhaps this suggests a direct association between Dariya and Tulsi Sahib. After all, Soami Ji Maharaj had a similar list. On his list of all-time great Saints only one name was that of someone who had been contemporary with him, and that was Tulsi Sahib. And we know that, in that case, the mentioning of Tulsi Sahib was quite a significant clue, since Tulsi Sahib was the family Guru. Soami Ji and his family were all followers and initiates of Tulsi Sahib, and part of the Hathras Satsang. Thus, a similar list of Gurus with one conspicuous name being that of a contemporary Master might be a major piece of evidence staring right at us.
Soami Ji Maharaj’s List of All-Time Great Saints
“The names of some of the perfect and true Sants, Sadhs and Faqirs who manifested themselves during the past seven hundred years are Kabir Saheb, TULSI SAHEB*, Jagjiwan Saheb, Garib Das, Paltu Saheb, Guru Nanak, Dadu Saheb, Tulsi Das, Nabhaji, Swami Hari Das, Sur Das and Rai Das. And some of the Muslim names are Shams Tabrez, Maulvi Rumi, Hafiz, Sarmad and Mujaddid Alif Sani. A perusal of their writings would give an idea of their spiritual attainments.” (“Sar Bachan Prose”, Book One, A Summary of the Teachings of Soami Ji Maharaj)
*Tulsi Sahib and Soami Ji were contemporaries, for a time, alive at the same time.
Tulsi Sahib’s List of All-Time Great Saints — Our One-And-Only Real Clue
“Listen, O Phool Das, I have given out the same true secrets which Sants like Kabir Saheb, Dadu Saheb, Rai Das Ji, DARIYA SAHIB*, Guru Nanak, Soor Das Ji, Nabha Ji and Mira Bai have spoken of. They, too, have composed similar hymns describing the bliss of the highest spiritual region, whose glory I also have sung, blessed by the grace and the dust of the holy feet of Sants.” (“Ghat Ramayan”)
*Dariya Sahib and Tulsi were contemporaries, for a time, alive at the same time.
My opinion remains, that the Unknown Guru of Tulsi Sahib likely was Sant Dariya, a successor of Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar like Sant Tika Das, or a related Satguru connecting somewhere along the way back to Sant Dharam Das and the Dharamdasi branch of Kabir Panth. (See the Guru Lineage Chart below illustrating the connection by to Sant Dharam Das.) In any case, the only contemporary spiritual Master Tulsi Sahib actually names in his writings is Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar, which for me is a very significant clue, the only real clue we have from his writings.
Also see: “Sant Dariya Sahib of Bihar, a Towering Figure in Sant Mat History”: https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/e6d1c283be6b