Sen, Ramprasad

(c. 1718–c. 1780)
   Bengali poet-saint and Kali devotee
   Ramprasad Sen, who is often referred to by his first name alone, was a beloved Bengali poet-saint, whose songs are known to every Bengali.
   As for many of the poet-saints of India the details of his life are intermixed with myth. Simi-larly, as with KABIR, his name and fame impelled other writers to compose many beautiful verses in homage to his works, particularly his collec-tion of songs known as Padabali. His other major attributed works are Bidyasundar, Kalikirttan, and Krishnakirttan.
   Ramprasad was probably born to a higher-caste Vaidya family of traditional physicians, possibly BRAHMINS. He was educated in SANSKRIT and in Persian in addition to Bengali. He is said to have lived in the village of Kumarhatt, also known as Halishore, on the banks of the GANGES not far from Calcutta (Kolkata). It seems certain that he was patronized by the contemporary king, Maha-raja Krishnachandra Ray Bahadur.
   Ramprasad started out as a clerk for a wealthy household in or near Calcutta. It is said that he was constantly distracted from his duties by thoughts of the GODDESS DURGA or KALI. Legend says that one of his employers, upon seeing his beautiful verses to the goddess in his account books, told him to cease being an accountant and offered him a salary simply to continue compos-ing devotional verse.
   Legend also says that when Ramprasad was a little over 60 years old, he announced that on the day when the goddess was going to be immersed in the Ganges (either Kali or Durga Puja day), he also would be immersed with the Divine Mother. It is said that he slowly descended into the river, singing some of his farewell songs. He died sing-ing a song to the goddess Tara.
   In one of the amazing stories associated with Ramprasad he accompanied the maharajah on a journey on the Ganges. As usual he was sing-ing his devotional songs. The Muslim ruler of the area happened to overhear the song and was enchanted by it. The ruler requested Ramprasad to sing for him so Ramprasad sang a song in Mus-lim style. The Nawab, the Muslim ruler, was not pleased and asked him to sing a song to Kali. The Muslim was moved to tears and offered patron-age and high rank to Ramprasad, who declined them.
   Most importantly Ramprasad is a central fig-ure in the revival of Shaktism (see SHAKTA) or goddess worship in late 18th-century Bengal. His works typically show him drunk or mad with the goddess, and he cannot live without her. His work shows strong TANTRIC influence.
   Ramprasad’s poems to the goddess see her as a daughter, as a fierce wife of SHIVA, as the Divine Mother, and as his own mother. His sentiment in regard to her is very close to that of another famous Bengali, RAMAKRISHNA.
   Further reading: Lex Hixon, Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlighten-ment (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1994); Malcolm McLean, Devoted to the Goddess: The Life and Work of Ramprasad (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998); J. McDaniel, Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal (Chicago: University of Chi-cago Press, 1989).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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