Surdas was born blind to poor parents. As a child he was a victim of neglect and abuse among his three brothers, as a result of his impairment. Despite his poor start in life, he eventually came to be known as Sant Surdas.
The child was known as Sur because his parents and neighbours forgot his name. His journey from such misery to being the famous Sant Surdas, to whom even emperor Akbar paid homage, is truly awe-inspiring.
Surdas was born in Siri village near Delhi in 1478 A.D. Being blind, the world including his parents, was unkind to him.
When he asked his father to teach him to read and write like his brothers, he was shunned because he was blind. His mother got angry with him when he came to her for sympathy after being teased by his playmates.
In this miserable state, Surdas one day heard a group of singers passing by his house, he realised the joy music could give him, and promised himself he would learn how to sing.
After a few days, another group of singers passed by and Surdas, at the tender age of six, followed them.
However, the group was not pleased with the idea of being burdened with the blind boy and abandoned him at a lake where they rested for the night. Surdas was now truly alone.
The young boy had a natural instinct to survive and by the age of 14 he had developed a keen sixth sense and was known as the miracle boy. He soon came to the notice of all the villagers and even the landlord, whose lost son he helped locate with his gift.
On hearing about his powers, people came from all over to give Surdas their offerings and consult him on issues such as when to travel or start a project. He was also given a string instrument to accompany his singing. Some of the people who travelled to see him became his disciples. They wrote down the songs he composed, loved him and served him to best of their abilities.
One night, Surdas dreamt of Lord Krishna and people praising Him through bhajans. Surdas woke up and was convinced that Krishna was calling to him. The next morning he departed to Vrindavan against the wishes of his disciples.
On his journey many people wanted to listen to him sing and have him stay with them. They respected him, honoured him and fed him. Surdas kept moving saying that he was a travelling monk and could not stay in one place.
Surdas then had the good fortune of meeting the great-learned Saint Swami Balabhachari who was going to Vrindavan. This was one of the turning points in the life of Surdas. Balabhachari was famous for his writings about Lord Krishna. While Surdas was making arrangements to cross the river to meet Balabhachari, Balabhachari himself arrived at Surdas’s residence. Surdas was overwhelmed with joy. Upon his request, Surdas sang a Bhajan about Krishna. Balabhachari requested Surdas to dedicate his life to the praise of Lord Krishna.
Balabhachari stayed with Surdas for a few days and taught him about Krishna’s scriptures. Then he initiated Surdas to his own religious order. Surdas went to Vrindavan with his Guru, Balabhachari. Balabhachari appointed Surdas as the chief singer of Srinath temple in Govardhan.
After that there was no stopping him. Surdas attained a mystical union with Lord Krishna and from then on he could bring before his mind/eyes any episode of the life of Lord Krishna he chose which he then rendered into verse almost as if an eyewitness report.
Surdas’s reputation as a singer and a devotee spread far and wide. One day in the court of the mogul emperor Akbar the court singer Tansen sang one of Surdas’s songs. Akbar was charmed. Tansen admitted that the tune and the lyrics were of Surdas, the blind devotee of Lord Krishna.
Akbar being a broad-minded muslim invited Surdas to his court. Surdas declined saying that he only sang in the court of his beloved Krishna. On hearing this Akbar came to Surdas and listened to his prayer songs in the temple. He then moved to Vraj or Braja Bhoomi the traditional locale of the childhood of Lord Krishna and never moved from there until his death in 1583.
His work consists primarily of three major compilations, the Sur-Saravali, the Sahitya-Lahiri and the Sur-Sagar. In all these three volumes, we see a harmonious blend of emotion, devotion, imagination, aesthetic narration, innovative poetic forms with a strong lyrical element and, of course, fine music.
His physical impairment was never an obstacle but the sole reason for his becoming Sant Surdas.