The Sant that lived and preached philosophy to the masses through his Abhanga, in simple, lucid and yet deeply meaningful language.
The most revered Sant Tukaram was an enlightened, dauntless and rebellious poet. His Abhanga gained such popularity that they came to be associated with the name of Sant 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.
Sant Tukaram was the reincarnation of Sant Namdev. Tukaram was born in a village called Dehu which is about 20kms from Pune. River Indrayani flows through this village. Tukaram was a family man and was running a provision stores which was his hereditary business. He was very pious, he would always chant the name of Vitthal and his heart was always filled with love for Vitthal. He sang all 18 adhyayams (Chapters) of Bhagavad Gita as Abhangs. He would be forever singing the praise of god, having a tambura in his hand. He would open his shop and start singing his abhangs. When ever some one came to the shop and greeted him by saying “Ram Krishna Hari”, he would not take money from them and give them whatever they came to buy for free. He would do this because he felt that who ever chanted “Ram Krishna Hari” was a sadhu and it would not be correct on his part to collect money from them. If some pilgrims passed through his shop singing abhangs, he would leave the shop, start singing and dancing with them and go to Pandhari with them. Thieves and criminals would then get in to his shop and take away all the money and provisions in the store before some neighboring shopkeepers come to the rescue. Tuka was leading his life with full of love and devotion for Vitthal in his heart. Everyone in Dehu knew about him and held him in high esteem.
There was a beautiful lady in Dehu was attracted towards Tukaram. Tuka would usually be singing abhangs with out looking around who is watching him and would sing till dawn. One day, this lady came to the place where Tuka was singing just before dawn and sat down in front of him. When he finished his abhangs, he got up he saw this lady. He looked at her as Rukmani and immediately prostrated to her and asked why she had come without Vitthal. Hearing this, the lady felt ashamed and realized her mistakes. Also just because a saint like Tukaram called her Rakumai, she became a virtuous lady.
Sant Samartha Ramadass and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj were his contemporaries. Sant Ramdass had also herd about him and had asked Shivaji to meet Tukaram if he happens to visit Dehu. As his guru had asked him to meet Tukaram, Shivaji then decided to met Tukaram. Once he met him he understood the greatness of Tukaram and frequently started visiting Tukaram. Shivaji considered Ramadass and Tukaram as his two eyes and would do every move only after consulting and taking blessing from them. One day Shivaji wanted to give some gifts to Tukaram. He took some gold coins in a plate and went to meet Tukaram. Shivaji kept the plate in front of Tukaram and prostrated to him. Immediately Tukaram started shivering, he then got up and ran away. Shivaji could not understand this reaction of Tukaram and he asked the other sishyas sitting there why Tukaram Maharaj did this. They then told him that all these days he has been coming alone and meeting him but now he had brought some gold for him which he dint like and that is why he ran away. Shivaji then said that he had brought it as there were so many sadhus who eat in Tukaram’s house everyday and was worried how he would be able to feed them without money. The sishyas then asked him to go and console Tukaram and bring him back. Shivaji then went to him and apologized for what he did, but again told him that he knew that Tuka was a sadhu and doesn’t go after money but then he said that he was a family man and there were so many sadhus eating with him every day after the bhajans & kirtans and thought this money would be of help to feed the sadhus. Tuka then told Shivaji that if he was worried about him having known him only for a few months now, wouldn’t Vitthal be worried about him as he knew him from the day he was born and for so many births. Shivaji then requested Tukaram to accept his offerings for his happiness. Tuka replied to him that he would not eat cow’s meat to please someone and said that gold was equivalent to cow’s meat for him.
Tuka used to sing abhangs everyday and a lot of Sadhus and baghavathas would come to listen and participate in this. Whoever came for the kirtans went back with heart filled with love and affection towards Vitthobha. There was a person by name Rameshwara Bhatt in Dehu. He was well versed in the sastras and was preaching about Dharma sastras. No one came to his preaching’s but everyone went to Tukaram’s kirtans. Seeing this he was angry and said that Tuka was a Vysya and that he has not read the sastras and was blabbering something in the local language Marathi and was spoiling all residents in the city with his abhangs. Bhatt also said that he was a Brahman and had read all the sastras and knew more than what Tuka knew about the sastras. He then said that in his discourse he was saying what the rishis had written earlier, but Tuka was writing his own poems and singing that to the public. When Tukaram came to know what Rameshwara Bhatt was feeling about him, he felt that Bhatt may be correct as he is a very learned person. He never even got angry with him but went to him prostrated to him and asked him if he had done some mistakes in his abhangs. Bhatt then asked him who he was to advice others and asked him if he had studied the sastras and puranas and why he was saying something on his own. Bhatt then told him that Tuka was doing a great sin by doing all this and said that he was also making others commit sin by listening to it. Tuka then told Bhatt with tears that he dint know that he was committing a sin by doing all this and told him that he would do whatever Bhatt asks him to do as he was the most learned man in the city. Bhatt then asked him not to compose or sing any more abhangs and also asked him to throw all his compositions. Tuka then came back to his house took all his compositions tied it in a silk cloth and was thinking what mistake he had done in those compositions and his eyes were filled with tears. He then felt that Bhatt who was a scholar would not lie and that he should immediately destroy it. He then took the bundle to river Indrayani and again had a look at his compositions; he saw that he had written only about the beauty of Vitthal, Nama mahima, Guru mahima, Ekadasi mahima, Prahalada, Dhruva and other bhakthas. He then felt that Vitthal was living in every abhang composed by him and how he would throw him in the river Indrayani. He was sitting under a tree near the banks of Indrayani and looking at his compositions with tears. These were his only proud possessions. He then felt that having promised Bhatt that he would destroy it he threw his compositions that were tied in a cloth in to the river. The abhangs which were his only possession had now gone with the flood in the river. He now couldn’t sing any more abhangs as Bhatt had asked him not to sing and he knew nothing other than singing the praise of Pandurang. He was crying and sitting under the tree. His wife and children came in search of him and asked him to come back home. He would only say “Panduranga Panduranga” with his eyes full of tears. He felt like he has lost everything in his life as he now could not sing the praise of Vitthal. The next morning when the priest went to open Vitthobha’s temple in Dehu, he saw a bundle on Vitthal’s head. The priest rushed in to remove it and the bundle was wet. He opened it to see what was inside and it had all the songs that Tuka had thrown in to the river. They took the bag and came running to Tuka to show it to him. Tuka was chanting the name of Vitthal and still sitting in the bank of the river. They then gave it to him and Tuka asked why they had taken it from the river. The priest then told him that when they opened the temple for suprabatham, they found this in Vitthal’s head. Hearing this Tuka was happy and understood that Vitthal has recognized his poems and that there were no mistakes in it. Rameshwar Bhatt on hearing this leela of Vitthal, came running to Tuka, and asked him to forgive him and also praised him that he was a mahatma. Tuka then said that Bhatt was a Brahman and had also learnt the sastras and that he should not ask him to forgive him. Tuka also said that this was Panduranga’s leela to show to the world that he is happy with my abhangs and that there was no fault with Bhatt. After this incident Tukaram’s abhangs became very famous and many people started singing his songs and his collection of abhangs came to be known a Vaishnava Veda.
One day as usual his shop was looted by miscreants as he had left it open and left with a group of pilgrims to Pandharpur. His wife then gave him some jewels and asked him to mortgage the same to get stocks for his provision stores. He mortgaged the jewels collected the money and was returning home. On the way he saw some group of beggars singing about Vitthal and distributed the money to them and returned home. He would never bother about running his business and family and did not understand this materialistic world. He would forever be chanting, singing and dancing with tears in his eyes and Vitthobha in his heart. His wife knew about his character and knew he would not be able to bring money to run the family. The next day his wife Jijabai left home in the morning as she had agreed to do some household job in her locality. Tuka seeing her going out in morning asked her where she was going. She then told him that there was no money left at home and that she had to feed the children and had agreed to do some household work to feed them. Hearing this Tuka felt bad and asked her to stay at home and said that he would now go for some work and get her money to run the family. He then set out to ask for a job. Whenever he would enter any house the head of the house would prostrate to him, welcome him, ask him to be seated and ask him how they could be of service to him. This was because everyone knew that Tukaram was a great saint and had very high regards for him. When he asked them for a job they would ask him to take whatever he wants for free and not embarrass them by working for them as they considered him as Pandurang himself. This was not agreeable with Tuka and would not take anything from anyone for free. Tuka now understood that it would be difficult for him to get a job in Dehu and decided to go to some other neighboring village in search of a job. He came across an old man who had a big field and asked him for a job. The man on seeing Tuka liked him and asked him what work he would be able to do. Tuka said that he would do any work that he wanted him to do. The old man then asked him to take care of his field for the next two months from birds and other animals from destroying the crops. There was an elevated area in the middle of the field for him to be seated and asked Tuka to sit there and take care of the field. Tuka then said that he had to go home and give some money or grains to his family for them to take care of themselves. The old man then gave him some grains and asked him to give it to his family and return for work. Tuka promptly delivered the same in his house and came back to the field and sat there. Whenever a sparrow or a cow came to destroy the field Tuka would look at it as Pandurangan and not a sparrow or a cow. He did not realize that he had to scare them away and protect the corn field. He would forever be lost in singing abhangs. The old man was happy that he had kept an honest person to take care of his farm and was busy with other work. After two months the old man came to see the farm but was very angry when he found that all his crops have been destroyed. He saw that Tuka was still standing on the elevated floor and dancing and singing the praise of Vitthal not knowing what was happening in the field. The old man asked him why he did this when he was asked to take care of the farm and said that this act of him has resulted in a very big loss for him. Tuka then told him that he dint know what happened and apologized to the old man. The old man told him that he had lost about Rs.2000 because of his carelessness and asked him to repay the same. Tuka then told him that he dint have that kind of money and would not have come for a job if he had the same. The old man then said that if he doesn’t pay this money he would take him to the king for justice. Tuka then begged him not to take him to the king but punish him directly and would agree to whatever punishment the old man gives. This was because the king was Shivaji who was his disciple and Tuka dint want to go there as Shivaji would pay the old man on his behalf. The old man then told him that it is of no use for him to punish him and that he only wants his money back. Tuka dint know what to do and said “Panduranga” with tears filled in his eyes. Hearing this, the old man got wild and asked him why he was saying Panduranga as if he was Tukaram Maharaj. Tuka then told him that he was only Tukaram. Hearing this the old man prostrated to him and apologized to him for scolding him and told him that his farm was now blessed with the dust from his feet and that was enough for him to get a better yield next time. Tuka on hearing this started crying and chanted the name of Vitthal. The old man then gave him a load of sugarcane and asked him to take it with him. He asked him to sell the sugarcane and take home the money. Tuka took the sugarcane and was returning home. Jijabai heard about this and was happy that her husband had finally earned something and is returning home. She then asked him to go to the market directly, sell the same and also gave him a list of provisions to be bought. On the way when he saw the temple he got down to have a darshan of Vitthal. There were some children playing there and every kid in Dehu knew him. When they saw him with a load of sugarcane they went to him and asked him if they could take one. Seeing the kids asking for the sugarcane he distributed all the sugarcane to the kids and started singing and dancing with them. All the children were now chanting “Panduranga Hari, Vasudeva Hari, Rama Krishna Hari” Tuka then went in to the temple had a darshan of Vitthal and then came back to realize that he dint have anything with him now and that Jija would be angry with him now. He then went home empty handed. Jija on seeing him back home asked him if he had sold the sugarcane and got the money. He then told her that he had distributed it to the children near the temple. Jija was very angry and asked him why he dint think about his children and started scolding him. He then said that there was one last sugarcane left in the cart and gave it to her. On hearing this Jija became very angry and took the sugarcane and beat him on his back. The sugarcane broke in to two. Tuka then smiled and told Jija that Vitthal had broken the sugarcane in to two equal halves using her hands and his back so that both get an equal share. Hearing this Jija dint know how to react and stood still for a moment. Jija then thought the whole of Dehu considers him to be a saint, Shivaji Maharaj comes for advice, Pandurang speaks to him directly, but in spite of she being his wife why did I not understand him and think only about worldly affairs. She then apologized to him and prostrated to him.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
One Ekadashi day, Tuka was performing kirtans and Shivaji was listening to it with love. In the meantime Muslim soldiers heard about the whereabouts of Shivaji and a big troop of 2000 soldiers came to arrest him. They surrounded the house in which bhajans were performed and dint let anyone go in or come out of the house. Shivajis informers came and whispered about the situation to him. Hearing this Shivaji was worried and one of his bodyguards asked Tukaram if they could leave now. Tukaram then told him that no one should leave till the kirtan is over. Hearing this Shivaji sat down and continued to listen to the abhangs. He thought to himself that none other than Vitthal can save him now and if he doesn’t, he would be fortunate to die on an ekadasi day listening to abhangs and in the company of sadhus and saints. One of the Muslim spies came into the house to check if Shivaji was there and couldn’t find him. He went back to his commander and told him that he couldn’t recognize which one of them was Shivaji. On hearing this, the commander told him to get in and kill as many people as possible and that way they would definitely kill Shivaji. Vitthal immediately took the form of Shivaji and came out of the house on a horse. He then started riding his horse. The soldiers who saw this started chasing him but no one was able to catch him. The army was chasing him for several hours and finally they had travelled to a jungle about 40 miles trying to catch Vitthal who looked like Shivaji. Vitthal suddenly disappeared and the soldiers blamed one another for not being able to catch Shivaji. The commander just could not understand how an army of 2000 soldiers could not catch one person. Vitthal then came and whispered to Tuka on what had happened and asked him to continue his abhangs without any fear.
There was a village called Chinchwadi near Pune. (It is now called Chinchwad) People from that village would very often invite Tukaram to perform his sankirtans and he would go there and sing his abhangs. Often his bhajans used to go on till dawn. One day when Tukaram was in Chinchwadi a Brahman who gives discourses on Ramayan came to that village seeing if he could have his discourse there. He was doing this to collect money for his daughter’s marriage. When the Brahman entered the village he saw that everyone went to have their bath only by around 8am, he thought that this may not be a good place as they were all very lazy and went to have a bath only by 8am. When he enquired with the villagers they told him that Tukaram was here and that he would perform kirtans till about 4 or 5 in the morning and they would then return home and sleep for some time and then go for their usual work. They also told him that his bhajans have been happening for about a month. Hearing this, the old man knew that no one would be interested in his discourse and left the village. One of the villagers then came and informed about this to Tukaram. Hearing this Tuka went to the Brahman and prostrated to him and said that he should stay in this village and say Ramayan and that he would also sit with the villagers and listen to him. The Brahman was happy and came with Tukaram. Once the villagers knew that Tukaram was going to listen to his discourse all the villagers came for the same. The Brahman agreed to give a detailed discourse of Ramayan for forty five days. There was a miser in that village and he alone would not come for the discourse, he also asked his wife not to go for the discourse but she wouldn’t listen. This was because the miser knew that the villagers would come to him asking contributions for the discourse when it gets completed. Knowing this he left the village a few days before it got over to avoid them. On the last day the organizers started collecting money and went to the miser’s house for collection. When they went there his wife said that he had gone to a nearby village on some work. They then asked her for some contribution and she said that he had locked every thing and gone. As the organizers wouldn’t leave without collecting some thing from them, she gave them an old leaking vessel that was used to wash their legs. That evening there was a big function and all the donations were being given to the Brahman through Tukaram. After giving the entire gifts the organizers who wanted to make fun of the miser, said that the miser had given a golden vessel and handed it over to Tukaram. The miser’s wife who was listening to this felt bad and was thinking that she would definitely have given a golden vessel to the Brahman if her husband had permited her. When Tukaram received it the vessel really turned in to a golden vessel. Tuka knew what was in her heart and made this change. The lady was very happy on seeing this. The Brahman happily collected all the gifts from the villagers and went back to complete his daughters marriage. Tukaram also returned to Dehu.
One day when Tuka came home Jija was performing Lakshmi Pooja at home. He asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was doing pooja for Rukmani. He then asked her what the occasion today was and why she was suddenly doing this. Jija then told him that some astrologer had told her that if she does this pooja, she would get more wealth. Tuka then told her that whatever wealth is needed for their family, Vitthal would give it to them and she need not do all this for gaining wealth. Jija then told him that he was praying Vitthal and that she was praying Rukmani his wife and there is nothing wrong with it. Tuka then told her that what she was doing was kamyartha bhakthi (praying god and expecting something in return) and that one should not do that. She dint listen to him and continued with her poojas. After a few weeks she suddenly got some money. She bought new clothes for the kids and herself, got back the jewels that were mortgaged. That day when Tuka came for lunch he saw the changes at home and asked her what had happened. She then told him that she had reaped the benefits of doing Lakshmi Pooja and went in to bring food for him. On hearing this Tuka went out without even having his food. Jija thought that he would be angry and return in the night. It was 3 days and he still dint return. She knew that he would go to Pandharpur very often without informing her and thought that he would have gone there. She waited for a few weeks and then it was more than a month now and Jija really started worrying. She then decided to go to Pandhari and started her journey. Pandharpur is almost about 300kms from Dehu. She searched for him there and couldn’t find him. She then asked the other sadhus there if they had seen him. They said that they have not seen him in Pandhari for more than a month now. Jijabai was really worried now and dint know what to do. She then went inside the temple prayed to Vitthal and spend the night in the temple and go back to Dehu the next morning. That night Vitthal came in her dream and told her that Tukaram was in Dehu and also showed her the hill where he was sitting and singing his abhangs. He also told her that he has not been having food from the time he left home. The next day morning Jija left for Dehu, climbed up the hill to the place where Tukaram was seated. (We can even today see this place in Dehu) She found him seated on the stone, and found that he was very weak with beard grown over his face. His voice still had the same energy and was loudly singing the praise of god. She folded her hands and stood in front of him with tears in her eyes. When Tuka finished his abhang, he saw Jija standing there and asked her why she had come there. He also said that he now wanted to be isolated from the world and wanted to sing about Vitthal. Jija asked him how she and her children would live. Tuka then told her that, now that she does Lakshmi Pooja, she has the money to run the family and does not need him any more. Jija then burst in to tears and told him that it was Tuka who was more important for her than the jewels and the money. Tuka then asked her to distribute all the wealth to the poor and asked her to come back to him as earlier. She then went back home did the same and came back to Tuka. Tuka then sang some abhangs to advice her. He then came back with her to their house.
Sant 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 sants 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!)
One day Tukaram called all his disciples and told them that he will be going to vaikuntam on a particular day and asked them to meet him on that day. That day all his disciples had assembled on the banks of Indrayani and were singing bhajans. Vitthal had sent his Garudaviman and Tukaram boarded the same with his body and the whole village saw him going to vaikuntam.