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Sant Tukaram

Shri Tukaram or Tukoba (1609-1650) was a seventeenth century saint, who constantly sang the praises of Lord Vitthala, or Krishna in what is today western India. It was the constant singing about God which led Tukaram to compose the 5,000 abhangs for which he is most famous. The abhangs are unique in the world of literature and are often called poems, but they don’t have the artful imagery associated with poems. The abhangs express Tuka’s feelings (whether elation or frustration) and philosophical outlook. While they are focused on God, many of them include brief mentions of events in Tukaram’s life, which make them somewhat autobiographical.

In his life, he patiently faced many difficulties but was steadfast in his devotion. At one point, his disciple, Shivaji Maharaj offered him diamonds and opals, but they were refused as they would become an impediment to his devotion.

Tukaram’s writings had pervasive influence on Marathi language, culture, literature, and spirituality. His followers say that his devotional accomplishments are so colossal that to describe them, many future generation of translators and commentators will have their pens occupied for centuries to come. In a sense, Tukaram is a saint-poet who belongs more to the future than to a specific historically bound past.

Tukaram was born in Dehu, a lively village on the banks of the holy river Indrayani, in approximately 1608 to two well-to-do devotees, of Lord Vithala: Bolhoba and his wife, Kanakai. Dehu, near modern day Pune. He was one of three brothers.

During the time of Saint Tukaram, Muslims reigned in southern India and were constantly at war with each other. The rulers enjoyed the privileges of stolen royalty while their warriors plundered villages.

In spite of the difficult political situation, Shri Tukaram’s childhood was spent in comfort and luxury. His troubles started with the illness of his father, due to which he had to start supporting his family at the tender age of thirteen.

Soon after Shri Tukaram’s parents died, severe drought and famine struck his village during which his wife and son died of starvation. These relentless hardships convinced Tukaram of the temporary nature of earthly pursuits. In a mood of quiet prayer, he climbed Bhamgiri Mountain to seek solace from the Lord. Although attacked by the snakes and wild animals, he was determined to stay there until he had found the eternal truth. After fifteen days of seclusion, fervent prayer and calls for his Lord’s attention, Shri Tukaram received Lord Vitthala’s audience. Pleased by Tukaram’s bhakti, Lord Vitthala bestowed upon him the eternal truth and love of Godhead.

Shri Tukaram states in his abhangas that he received the guru mantra containing the holy names of Krishna, Ram and Hari—names of God in the Maha Mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama hare. (Hare is the vocative form of both Haraa and Hari).

Tukaram has revealed through his renowned devotional writings that he received his Mantra through the medium of a dream from a divine personality he called “Raghava Chaitanya, Keshava Chaitanya.” Scholars and historians cite evidence that Saint Tukaram had some mystical connection with Chaitanya Mahaaprabhu. Gauriya Vaishnavas (followers of Lord Chaitanya) believe that Shri Chaitanya Mahaaprabhu initiated Shri Tukaram by way of this transcendental dream. Sheila Prabhupada writes in his introduction to Shrimad Bhagwatam: “Saint Tukaram, after initiation by the Lord, over flooded the whole of Maharashtra province with Sankirtana movement, and the transcendental flow is still rolling on in the southwestern part of the great Indian peninsula”.

As Tukaram’s meditation on Lord Vitthala became increasingly more profound, he began writing and reciting verses called abhangas, which encapsulated the essence of ancient shrutis and shashtras. As Sheila Prabhupada writes in the foreword to Songs of Vaishnavas Acharyas, “Songs composed by Acharyas are not ordinary songs. When chanted by pure Vaishnavas, who follow the rules and regulations of Vaishnavas character, they are actually effective in awakening the Krishna Consciousness dormant in every living entity.

Saint Tukaram continuously sang the Lord’s praises in his mother tongue of Marathi, composing over 5000 abhangas. Many of these are reflections of events in his life, which make them somewhat autobiographical. However, there is an unmistakable clear focus of Lord Panduranga (Vitthala), Lord of Pandharpur.

Shri Tukaram regularly went on Sankirtana pilgrimage from Dehu to Pandharpur, along with thousands of his followers. Along the way he would stop and enlighten the crowds, which would increase from village to village. Always crying out to the Lord with his loving abhangas, Tukaram used his bhakti poetry to encourage every one to take up a God centered life.

Shri Tukaram’s public discourses focused on offering one’s daily life as service to the Lord. Tukaram worked for the enlightenment of the society and emphasized Sankirtana, chanting of the Lord holy names, rather than ritualistic observances or the mechanical study of the Vedas. Singing, dancing, Saint Tukaram and the crowds he drew would happily walk over two hundred kilometers to Pandharpur.

Shrila Prabhupada writes, “Tukaram Aachaarya became very famous in Maharashtra province and he spread the Sankirtana movement all over the province. The Sankirtana party belonging to Tukaram is still very popular in Bombay and throughout the province of Maharashtra, resembling the Gauriyaa Vaishnav Sankirtana parties in chanting of the holy name of the Lord, accompanied by Mridanga and Karataalas”.

Shri Tukaram states in his Abhangas that he received the guru mantra containing the holy names of Krishna, Ram and Hari—names of God in the Maha Mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama hare. (Hare is the vocative form of both Haraa and Hari).

Tukaraam has revealed through his renowned devotional writings that he received his Mantra through the medium of a dream from a divine personality he called “Raghava Chaitanya, Keshava Chaitanya.” Scholars and historians cite evidence that Saint Tukaram had some mystical connection with Chaitanya Mahaaprabhu. Gauriya Vaishnavas (followers of Lord Chaitanya) believe that Shri Chaitanya Mahaaprabhu initiated Shri Tukaram by way of this transcendental dream. Shrila Prabhupada writes in his introduction to Shrimad Bhagwatam: “Saint Tukaram, after initiation by the Lord, overflooded the whole of Maharashtra province with Sankirtana movement, and the transcendental flow is still rolling on in the southwestern part of the great Indian peninsula”.

As Tukaram’s meditation on Lord Vitthala became increasingly more profound, he began writing and reciting verses called abhangas, which encapsulated the essence of ancient shrutis and shaashtraas. As Shrila Prabhupada writes in the foreword to Songs of Vaishnav Acharyas, “Songs composed by acharyas are not ordinary songs. When chanted by pure Vaishnavas, who follow the rules and regulations of Vaishanava character, they are actually effective in awakening the Krishna Consciousness dormant in every living entity.

Saint Tukaram continuously sang the Lord’s praises in his mother tongue of Marathi, composing over 5000 abhangas. Many of these are reflections of events in his life, which make them somewhat autobiographical. However, there is an unmistakable clear focus of Lord Pandurang (Vitthala), Lord of Pandharpur.

Shri Tukaram regularly went on Sankirtana pilgrimage from Dehu to Pandharpur, along with thousands of his followers. Along the way he would stop and enlighten the crowds, which would increase from village to village. Always crying out to the Lord with his loving abhaNgas, Tukaram used his Bhakti poetry to encourage every one to take up a God centered life.

Shri Tukaram’s public discourses focused on offering one’s daily life as service to the Lord. Tukaram worked for the enlightenment of the society and emphasized Sankirtana, chanting of the Lord holy names, rather than ritualistic observances or the mechanical study of the Vedas. Singing, dancing, Saint Tukaram and the crowds he drew would happily walk over two hundred kilometers to PanDharpur.

Shrila Prabhupada writes, “Tukaram Aachaarya became very famous in Maharashtra province and he spread the Sankirtana movement all over the province. The Sankirtana party belonging to Tukaram is still very popular in Bombay and throughout the province of Maharashtra, resembling the GauRiyaa Vaishnav Sankirtana parties in chanting of the holy name of the Lord, accompanied by Mridanga and Karataalas”.

Saint Tukaram knew and taught that a human being can never attain happiness if there is no place for God. He wrote, “ Look at my experience. I made God my own and He gave me the answers to my questions whenever and wherever I put them to Him.”

Saint Tukaram was several centuries ahead of his time. With utmost compassion, he anticipated the spiritual anguish of modern man. He would invoke divine love within his audiences, immersing them in deep emotions for God.

Several events in Saint Tukaram’s life deeply affected his spiritual writings and teachings. One incident involved a scholar named Rameshwar Bhatta, who was surprised to find the essence of the Bhagwat Gita being presented in the Marathi language with such eloquence. The envious scholar believed that Tukaram’s birth as a non Brahmana disqualified him from elucidating the essence of the Vedas. Tukaram responded: “You might think these are my verses, but no, this is not my own language. Nor is it my own skill; it is God who makes me talk. It was Lord Vitthobaa Himself who ordered me to versify.”

But Rameshwar Bhatta was not convinced of Shri Tukaram’s purity of heart. Backed by a local militia, he ordered Tukaram to sink his verses in the sacred river Indrayani. Laughing and humiliating Shri Tukaram in public, Raameshwar announced to the crowd that if these devotional works were the outcome of divine order, then Lord Vitthal Himself would save the books form being destroyed.

Tukaram collected all his abhanga books, tied in a heavy stone to the bundle and with full faith tossed his entire collection of bhakti writings into the Indrayani River. One night, thirteen days later, Lord Vitthala, dressed as a child visited Saint Tukaram. The Lord told him that He had been safeguarding the books underwater and that they would resurface the next day.

Some followers of Shri Tukaram received similar divine messages. Word spread and next day a large crowd gathered on the banks of the Indrayani. To the crowd’s astonishment and Raameshwar Bhatta’s dismay, the books were floating on the surface.

With exhuberant excitement and enthusiasm, people retrieved the sacred books-which were completely dry-and respectfully returned them to Saint Tukaram. His abhaNgas were protected by Lord Vitthal Himself, Tukaaram was free to preach and so he continued with his devotional discourses and Kirtana.

Shri Tukaram’s reputation eventually reached King Shivaji, who sent a messenger bearing valuable gifts, such as lamps, horses and gems. Tukaram politely refused the gifts and responded to the King with four of his abhangas. In one of the verses, Shri Tukaram complained to King Shivaji: “You seem to provide me exactly the things that do not interest me.” King Shivaji was astounded by Saint Tukaram’s attitude of renunciation. So later, the King decided to travel to Lohgaon, near Dehu, to see Shri Tukaram and seek his saintly association and advice. When the King presented more gifts, Tukaram said, “What use is this treasure to me; I want only Lord VItthobaa. Your gesture shows your generosity but to me these gifts are like pebbles.” Shri Tukaram politely asked King Shivaji to recite the names of God and become servant of Lord Vitthobaa.

Saint Tukaram’s passing was remarkable. During the night before he left this world, the saintly devotee prepared for his departure by chanting the holy names without stop.

He extended an invitation to his family, friends and followers who had gathered there: “I am going to Vaikuntha. Come along with me.”

It is said that after Tukaram announced his imminent departure, Shri GaruDa landed on the bank of the Indrayani to carry him to the spiritual world.

No one understood Tukaram’s invitation. He affectionately embraced his fourteen intimate followers and his surviving son named, Mahadev ViTthobaa.

They all came forward and paid their final respects to Shri Tukaram, who then cast a look at his second wife, Jijabai and said to all, “Bid farewell to me now and return home. Its high time I responded to Vitthobaa’s call in Vaikuntha. Vitthobaa has been waiting for quite some time now. Its time for me to leave and I beseech all for their blessings. Vitthoba has come through for me at the end and Tuka will now disappear.”

Shri Tukaram peacefully proceeded to board Garuda. The huge celestial bird flew to the spiritual sky, leaving behind a scene of hundreds of weeping and grieving devotees. He left this material world in his self same body, singing the holy names of the Lord, just as Dhruva Maharaj had done in a previous age.

Anecdotes
Tukaraam finds Employment

Whenever Tukaraam returned home his wife used to offer water to wash his feet. But, one evening his wife was not at home when he returned. When she came home after some half-an-hour he asked her, “Where have you been?” She said hesitatingly, “The children at home have to be fed. You are unable to attend to the family needs. Therefore, I earn through cleaning the dishes in few houses.” The shocked Tukaraam said to her in an apologizing tone, “From tomorrow do not go anywhere. I will try to get some job and earn something for the family.” He went to some houses in the village to ask for some work. But, the moment he entered a house he was welcomed with honor and affection. They washed his feet and offered something to eat. When he told them the purpose of his visit they were aghast. They said, “Swami! You are a great Sadhu. How can we make you work for us? It is verily a sin. We will provide you with all your needs but do not say that you wish to work for us” But, Tukaraam would not accept a single paise or grain from anyone. Since every one knew him in the village he went to the next colony where none had seen him. There he managed to get the job of guarding a field.

Tukaraam was happy to have secured this kind of a job, which posed no block to his Namasankirtan. He happily said to his employer, “I will take good care of your field.”

He sat on the wooden platform that had been placed on a tree and singing the Name of the Lord watched over the field. Soon he lost himself in the thought of Bhagavan. Birds, goats and cows entered the field. To Tukaraam every one of them seemed to be Panduranga. He said, “Oh! Panduranga! Come! Come! Have a feast. Eat to your fill. All are verily yours!” All of them had a great day and that evening when the owner came to the field he was aghast to find everything lost. The whole field was in havoc. The furious man caught hold of Tukaraam and shook him up. He shouted angrily, “What have you done? I asked you to guard my field from animals and birds. I have lost everything. You have to make up for the loss.” Tukkaram, who was now out of his trance, realized what had happened and deeply regretted the negligence on his part. He said, “Sir! I have nothing with me to pay you. If I did, I would not have sought this job from you. I am sorry for what has happened.” The employer said, “Well! Let us go to the king and ask for justice.” The horrified Tukaraam said, “No! Let us not go to the king.” Tukaraam was not afraid of the king. Shivaji was his disciple and if they went to him this good man who had offered employment to him would have to face the wrath of the king. He wished to avoid this situation. He, therefore, said to him, “You may beat me as much as you want for the wrong done.”

The employer tied up Tukaraam to a tree and slashed him with a whip. Tukaraam exclaimed, “Vittala!” The angry employer barked, “Are you the great Tukaraam that you call out ‘Vittala’?” Tukaraam said, “I am Tukkaram.” The employer was horrified to learn that it was the great Sadhu Tukaraam whom he had employed and had now tied to a pole and whipped. He fell at Tukkaram’s feet and pleaded, “Master! What a great sin I have committed. Please say that you have forgiven me; otherwise my whole family and the generations before and after me will stand cursed for my misdeed.” Tukaraam hugged him and said, “You have not done any wrong.” The man said, “Your Lotus Feet have touched this field. What has been lost now will soon be gained in hundred folds. I have nothing to worry on this account.” He then filled a cartload of sugarcane from another field of his and offered it to Tukkaram.

Riding the cart of sugarcane Tukaraam reached home. He said to his wife, “I have earned a cartload of sugarcane today.” She said, “What can we do with this sugarcane? Please take them to the market and sell them so that we can buy food for our children.” Tukaram turned the cart towards the market. Children are fond of sugarcane. Tukaram had hardly gone a few yards when children came rushing to the cart singing loudly, “Ramakrishna Hari! Vittala! Panduranga!” The Name of the Lord was enough to distribute the sugarcane to the children. With just one sugarcane left in the cart, Tukaram returned home. Tukaram’s wife asked him, “Have all sugarcane been sold out? Where is the money? Let us buy food for our children.” Tukaraam said to her, “Oh! No! I have not sold them in the market. Children came running to the cart singing the Lord’s Name. I could not help distributing it to the children who joyously cried out the Lord’s Name.”

His wife could take it no more. She lost her temper. She was deeply distraught that her children had to go without food for another day. She picked up the last sugarcane in the cart and beat Tukkaram’s back with it. The sugarcane split into two halves. Tukaraam smilingly pointed out to her, “See! How great Bhagavan is! He has used your hand and my back to split the sugarcane into two equal halves so that we do not quarrel over our share.” Coming back to her senses, his wife fell at his feet and said with tears, “How can you smile even at this moment. Don’t you feel angry? How is it that you do not lose your temper at any point of time? What have I done in my anger? Please forgive me.” Tukaraam consoled her. He said to her, “How happy is our life! Everyday, every moment we enjoy the Name of the Lord. Sadhus visit our home frequently. There is Nama sankirtan every day.”

Saint Tukaram knew and taught that a human being can never attain happiness if there is no place for God. He wrote, “ Look at my experience. I made God my own and He gave me the answers to my questions whenever and wherever I put them to Him.”

Saint Tukaram was several centuries ahead of his time. With utmost compassion, he anticipated the spiritual anguish of modern man. He would invoke divine love within his audiences, immersing them in deep emotions for God. 

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