Epitome of the Bhagwat sect, the Saint that lived and preached philosophy to the masses through his Abhanga, in simple, lucid and yet deeply meaningful language
The most revered Saint Tukaram was an enlightened, dauntless and rebellious poet. He carried the Vedanta (traditional knowledge) which was the monopoly of the orthodox Brahmins till then to the commoners through his Abhanga. His Abhanga gained such popularity that they came to be associated with the name of Saint Tukaram. Abhanga became an essential part of every day life in rural India, popular even with illiterate people. Warkari, litterateurs, researchers and common connoisseurs all study and conduct research on this form of literature that is becoming popular day by day.
Vedacha to artha amhasich thava | Itarani wahava bhar matha ||
(Why only you should interpret the Vedas and the others should carry load on their heads?)
This is the question that Tukobarai puts bluntly and with pride to the highbrow Brahmins of those days.
Tuka tari sahaja bole wani | Tyache ghari Vedanta wahe pani ||
(Though Tukoba’s language is very simple, his literature is full of Vedanta and flows just like water)
His Abhanga are full of devotion, knowledge and asceticism. He worships the ultimate Brahman (a concept in Hindu philosophy, meaning unchanging reality) from the depth of his heart as a Monist or Adwaitawadi. His deity was the dark idol of Lord Vitthal standing on ordinary bricks at the Pandharpur temple. It is believed that even the Lord Vithoba, standing on the bricks, comes in person and takes pride in enjoying the devotional Abhanga of Tukoba being sung in such musical tunes!
Amha ghari dhana shabdanchich ratne | Shabdanchich shastre yatna karu ||
(At our home, it is the words that are jewels and we will try to convert our words into weapons!)
In these words he showed his mastery over the language and enlightened the masses in his simple but flowery language. He strongly criticised casteism, explained Adhyatma or philosophy of the Atma or soul and sang in devotion to Lord Vitthal. We can see his poetic brilliance reach beyond country, gender or time.
Vishnumay jaga Waishnawacha dharma | Bhedabheda-bhrama amangala ||
(The philosophy of Adwaita - The universe is one with the only Lord (Vishnu), it is the Religion and all the apparent diversity is only a myth. To discriminate in any way is unholy)
He preached unity and equity as early as in the 17th century. He professed to set aside all divisive tendencies and pride and promoted the principles of equality and unity.
During his time, the Bhagwat religion, a sect in Hinduism was in form, and he was fortunate to be at the pinnacle of the sect. He is engraved in the heart of Maharashtra through his Abhanga which are compiled in a large volume called Tukaramachi Gatha. These Abhanga embrace the ultimate truth. His words have a halo of sanctity in their meaning. It is indelible literature, literature that reflects his own revelations. His language is melodious and lucid and beyond comparison.
Santa Tukaram was born at Dehu in the Pune district in the year 1608 (Shalivahan Shake 1530), on Vasant Panchami, (the 5th day of the first half of the month of Magha as per the Marathi calendar). In 2008, we celebrated his 4th birth centenary (some people believe that he was born in AD 1598 (Shake 1520). He was born in a gentle and cultured family lineage More, having the surname Ambile. The origin of the family line can be traced to Shri VishwambharBua, a devout worshipper of the Lord Vitthal. It was a tradition in the family to visit Pandharpur every year.
His father was Kolhoba and mother, Kanakai. The couple had two other son, Sawaji who was elder to Tukaram and Kanhoba, the younger brother. Sawaji was totally detached and not interested in the family. Therefore, all responsibility of the family fell on Tukoba. Tukoba’s first wife was asthmatic and died early. As per the prevalent practice, he remarried to Jijai (alias Awadi), daughter of Appaji Gulave from Pune.
Tukobarai had a very difficult family life. He encountered a number of adversities. He lost both his parents when he was only 17-18 years old. His elder brother left for pilgrimage, renouncing everything. Tukaram also lost his wife. Around the same time, he had to face the worst famine, during which his elder son, Santu, died of starvation. Most of his livestock also fell prey to the drought. Conditions were so bad that there was no revenue from the land. Tukaram became depressed and lost interest in the worldly concerns. These circumstances strengthened his faith in the Lord Vitthal and he started penance on the Bhandara hill near Dehu. It was during this penance that he attained realisation.
From then onwards, his life was solely given to express consistent, unending and infinite faith and devotion to lord Vitthal, not only from his heart but also by his words, his actions and literature. The annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur and worship the idol of Lord Vitthal became his only important ritual. This was his dictum which shows the importance of Pandharpur and lord Vitthal in his life:
Pandharichi wari ahe mazya ghari | Anik na kari teerth wrata ||
(I do not need to visit other sites of pilgrimage when my whole family has the tradition of going to Pandharpur)
Saint Tukaram was also a scholar of the scriptures like Vedas and Bhagwad-Geeta, Bhagwat, Dnyaneshwari and Purana. His compositions are in simple, chaste Marathi. His self-knowledge based on the hard test of renunciation is very clearly evident from his Abhangawani (the language of Abhanga). In his compositions, he praises virtuous saints and bluntly criticizes heretics and hypocritical persons. He describes formulae to live life with the ultimate truth in mind. Even a single line in his Abhanga is full of deep meaning. For example,
Je ka ranjale ganjale | Tyansi mhane jo apule ||
Tochi Sadhu olakhawa | Deo tethechi janawa ||
(Revere a person as God, who loves the harassed and poor people as his own kin!)
Santanchiye gavi premacha sukal | Nahi talamal, dukkhaKlesh ||
(Where the saints live there is only love and no place for hate and jealousy)
Tuka mhane tochi santa | Soshi jagache aghata ||
(Tuka says the person who suffers at the hands of evil people without complains is the true saint)
Mahpure Jhade jati | Tethe lavale wachati ||
(Big trees are destroyed in huge floods but bushes and small weeds survive)
Aisi kalawalyachi jati | Kari labhawin preeti |
(Empathetic people love for the sake of love and not for material gain)
Sukha pahata jawapade | Dukkha parwata ewadhe ||
(Happiness is as small or as little as a grain of barley while sorrow or unhappiness is as big as a large mountain)
Shuddha beejapoti | Phale rasala gomati ||
(A good quality seed produces sweet and beautiful fruits; similarly good thoughts produce good deeds)
He was also a nature lover and aware of the dependence and relationship of the plants and animals with the mankind. This is evident from the following Abhanga.
Wruksh walli amha sagesoyare | Pakshihi susware gata kiti ||
(The trees and climbers and creepers of the nature are our friends and close relatives, listen to the birds singing sweet tunes)
These thoughts of Tukoba have percolated so deeply in the masses through his Abhanga that people often quote them spontaneously during daily affairs. Many verses have become quotes in Marathi. In the lifespan of only 41 years he composed almost 5000 Abhanga. He spent every moment remembering the Lord Vitthal.
Amhi jato amuchya gava |
Amucha rama-rama ghywa |
(I go to my abode – Good bye!)
He departed to his heavenly abode. That was on the second day after full moon of the Phalgun month in 1571 as per the shake calendar (AD 1649).
The poet Vaman Pandit says about him:
Jayachi wade purna Vedanta wani | Mhanawe kase ho taya lagi wani ||
Parabramharupi asa jo Tukawa | Tayache tuki kon duja tukawa ||
(Who will call him a grocer from whose lips pour out the Vedanta!
Who can be greater a saint than Saint Tukaram, who is one with the Universe?)
In 1936, the Prabhat Film Company produced a feature film on the life of Saint Tukaram. It is believed to be one of the top feature films in the world. In this film, the role of Saint Tukaram was played by Vishnupant Paganis. Vishnupant studied the life and literature of Tukaram and became so emotionally involved with the role that he transformed himself into the character he was performing for the rest of his life, believing himself to be Tukaram.
The film itself is an excellent introduction to the life and work of the Saint. More information can also be found on the website www.turakam.com