At a time when literacy was very limited, the propagators of the newly found sect in Vraj decided to emanate the main principles of Pushti Marg by way of reciting anecdotal stories from the lives of great devotees.
Shri Hariraiji was one of the greatest of these "story tellers" and along with other learned members of the sect, they compiled two sets of stories - one set for the Vaishnavs who were converted by Shrimad Vallabhacharyaji himself and another set for the Vaishnavs converted by Shri Vitthalnathji (Gusaiji).
The first set comprises of 84 Vaishnavs and various anecdotal stories from the lives of devotees who were converted at the time of Shri Vallabh.
The second set has 252 Vaishnavs and their life experiences with-in Pushti Marg of vaishnavs converted at the time of Shri Gusaiji.
As these stories reflect on the "best of the best", it follows that Shri Mahaprabhu and Shri Gusaiji had many more devotees than those mentioned in the Varta Sahitya. By the time the anthology was being compiled (about 3rd- 4th generation from the time of Shri Vallabh), many of the devotees were no longer alive and so the evidence from their lives is often second-hand at best. The number of Vaishnavs commented upon in the first anthology reflects this time differentials.
The number of devotees in the second anthology reflects the fact that many of Shri Gosaiji's deciples were still alive or had relatives who could recount the spiritual experiences of their family members. As many of these people were geographically closer to Vraj / Gokul, they were able to get a greater mention than the Vaishnavs who lived far away.
As these stories were compiled much after the event, a lot of allegories and "meaning" has been added to the stories to make them as effective a medium for teaching as possible. The number of stories added to each set was also governed by this desire to have a deeper, more spiritual meaning to them. Hence, the 84 Vaishnavs of Shri Vallabh corresponds to the "84 kosh" (kosh is a measure of distance) pilgrims travel around Vraj.
The 252 Vaishnavs of Shri Gosaiji are exactly 3 times as many as in Shri Vallabh's anthology. Where as Shri Vallabh's disciples were considered to be beyond the three gunas (nature - viz pure, materialistic and bad/ lazy), Shri Gosaiji's disciples were supposed to comprise of all three gunas. Hence, 84 vartas of Shri Gosaiji's deciples belong to his "Satvic" students, 84 to "Rajasi" and 84 to "Tamasi" students, making the grand total of 252 vartas.
Each Varta and each Vaishnav is suppose to have a previous incarnation(s) in the "time before time". This is normally related along with the reason for their fall from grace (hence birth on this earth) and how they regained the divine grace by meeting up with their divine mentor. Each Vaishnav is also considered to be a part of the divine/ spiritual body of Shri Vallabh, and this is also sometimes related as - so and so Vaishnav was the "eye" of the great Guru etc... All these tools helped to teach / communicate the core message of the sect.
Varta Sahitya was devised as a tool for teaching the lay devotees and hence it was written in colloquial language of the time - Vrajbhasha. As this method of teaching evolved and spread to other parts of the country, the Varta Sahitya was translated in the regional languages of the devotees being taught.
The Varta Sahitya is a great historical document of the life and times of Shri Vallabh, Gosaiji and his children. It is also an interesting insight into the social fabric of medieval north India. Lives of men and women in these vartas explore the spiritual, economical and social realities of the times. It is amazing to comapre our lives with our ancestors, 500 years on !!!!!
© Bhagwat Shah
Some of the Vartas, translated into colloquial english.
Some Vartas in Gujarati
Return to the central courtyard of the Haveli