The Samadhi of Mahatma Surdas at Chandra Sarovar stands foremost among those places in Braj that emanate peacefulness, mystery and spiritual power. It was here that Surdas spent 70 years living here in a simple hut composing verse.
Many facts regarding Surdas’ life are debated, including his birthdate. While the exact dates vary, we know that he lived for much of the 16th century. Historians also debate whether Surdas was blind from childhood or became blind later in life.
Most believe that he met Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhu and became his disciple although some debate this due to the lack of mention of Mahaprabhu in his early poetry and the wide appeal he had (and still has) for people of all sampradayas. Surdasji is thought to have been the head kirtaniya in Srinath temple in Govardhan for many years. Pushti Marg literature emphasises the extreme grace that was showered upon Surdasji by his guru, which gave him the power to compose poems covering every service, every season and every mood of the pastimes of Shri Krishna’s childhood and youth.
Chandra Sarovar is home to several memorials to Surdas. Around the Kund is Surdas’ kuti (hut) and his Samadhi. The place is also known as ‘Sur Kund’, which is not to be confused with ‘Sur Sarovar’, where Surdas resided before coming to Chandra Sarovar. Sur Sarovar is also known as Keetham Lake and is on the NH2, near Agra.
Chandra Sarovar is situated in Parsauli village, near Govardhan. It is said to have originated when the moon got stuck in one spot due to watching Radha Krishna’s Rasa Lila. Historically, the sarovar was used as a water source for Shrinathji. The modern form of the sarovar, which resembles a lotus, was built by Raja Jawahar Singh of Bharatpur. Later it was renovated by Queen Hansia.
Surdas’ poetry has always had universal appeal and now, much of it has been translated into English.
In her review of Sur’s Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition, Sonali Raj writes:
Surdas wrote in Braj Bhasha even though the court language was Persian. His poems were performed outside of the court in fairs and temples; the language frequently reads like everyday speech, and this quality is well-reflected in the English translations: “Mother Yashoda, rest assured— / we’ll both be home in five or seven days, / brother Haladhar and I. / Meantime, now and then, check on my flute, / check on my staff and the horn I blow. / Don’t let Radhika pilfer away / any of my favourite playthings.”
The poems are sometimes playful: “He managed to quaff down a forest fire / but his milk must be cooled before he drinks… He could lift a great mountain, but if he tries to hold / a pail of milk, his arm begins to hurt.” And sometimes the poems are philosophical: “this Lord in cowherd’s clothes / herds cows in a cowherder’s clan, / and that, says Surdas, is the glory described / when the Vedas chant, ‘He is not this, not that.’”
The best known composition of Surdas is Sur Sagar. Many of Surdas’ poems have been lost and it is suspected that some poems that are attributed to him are actually by other poets. It is said that the poems with the seal ‘Sur Shyama’ were written by Srinathji Himself, who, during Surdas’ time, resided on top of Govardhan hill.
There are around 22,000 verses that are attributed to Surdas currently extant. It is said that Surdas penned over 1 lakh verses, of which, the last 25,000 were the direct compositions of Shrinathji Himself. Not only did Surdasji compose the verses, he also put them to music, thereby rendering them in a form more suitable to evoking the moods and pastimes they describe.
Surdas lived and died through poetry and music. According to Pusti Marg literature, Shri Vitthalachaya, the son of Shri Vallabhacharya, asked him one day, “Sur, what are you thinking about?” Surdas then composed his last song: “Khanjan nain roop ras mate, atishay charu chapal aniyare pal pinjara na samate” – Krishna’s beautiful eyes are like Khanjan birds. They are full of rasa, very restless, and slightly reddened due to intoxication. My life can no longer remain engaged in this body.” Saying this, he left his body.