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Biography of Sant Tukaram

Sant Tukaram (c.1608-c.1650), also Shri Tukaram, and colloquially referred to as "Tuka", was a seventeenth century Marathi poet Sant of India, related to the Bhakti movement of Maharashtra. Tukaram, was a devotee of Vitthal (a form of Lord Krishna), the supreme God in Vaishnavism. He is especially revered by the Varkari community.

Tukaram is widely recognized as the climactic point of the Bhagawat tradition which began with Namdev

Most of the information on the sants of Maharashtra comes from the biographies written by Mahipati in the 1700s, called Bhaktivijaya and Bhaktililamrit. Scholars assign various dates to Tukaram's birth; the most frequently assigned dates are 1568, 1577, 1608 and 1598 AD. There is lesser dispute that he died in 1650 AD. He was born in Dehu, very close to modern Pune city in Maharashtra. His father was a small trader or peddler and he was barely literate all his life. His family were successful grain sellers .

Tukaram lost his first wife, Rakhumabai, during a famine. Though it is alleged by some that she died of starvation, that is unlikely because Tukaram came from a wealthy landlord and money-lender family. His second wife was Jijabai (also called Avali). He had three sons, named Santu or Mahadev, Vithoba and Narayana. Narayana was considerably younger than Mahadev and Vithoba, and was a great bhakta like his father.

After his father died, Tukaram waived loans that poor owed to him. He is said to have destroyed the loan records. Tukaram followed a high spiritual standard in his kirtans (discourses mixed with spiritual poetry). Tukaram's spirituality was not mythical but grounded in the reality of day-to-day existence. It was focussed on the actual behaviour of a person and his inner mental peace. His teachings were simple and effective. He constantly emphasized that orthodox religion, like the study of the Vedas, was just a formality; the real expression of religion was love and affection in actual life. His teaching encompassed a wide array of issues and even highlighted the importance of nature and the ecosystem in our lives.

Tukaram wrote in a special verse form called the abhanga, a run on couplet with three and a half feet with the first three rhyming. In the use of this poetic device he was unrivalled, and others have practically left it alone after him in a tacit acknowledgment that nothing more can be done with it. As was the tradition, he also added his signature, Tuka Mhane or "Tuka Says", at the end of each verse.

Typical of the Varkari sampradaya, samaj seva (service to the community) and hari sankirtan (group worship through music) were the Way. Tukaram made it his call to work for a group enlightenment rather than just for himself.

Basic Tenets of His Message

The Mantra Gita, a translation of the Bhagavad Gita in the abhanga form is ascribed to Tukaram. It is an interpretation of the Gita from a Bhakti perspective. Another work ascribe to him is the Ghata, a collection of 4,500 abhangas.

  • Make God the Center of your life. Walk the Path of Love. Serve mankind, and thus see God in all.
  • Cast away your clothes of traditions that you have inherited, for often those can restrain you from growing in the Love of God.
  • Tukaram did not favour elaborate rituals, displays of asceticism or preoccupation with austerities. He would say, "even dogs come in saffron colour and bears have matted fur. If living in caves is being spiritual then rats who inhabit caves must be doing sadhana (or, spiritual practice)."
  • He was opposed to the acquiring of siddhis (or spiritual attainments) as these were obstructions to authentic sadhana.
  • Faith in Nature was crucial to sadhana. He believed that He who facilitates the milk from the breast for the infant and the One who permits the bursting of foliage from the branches will certainly take care of me.
  • Most important of all was the Privilege of being a Bhakta and to exercise in life, nama japa. He would say that even God does not know the value of His Name. Even God is not aware of the power of His Name. How can He be? The lotus cannot smell its own fragrance, only the bee can. The cow knows not the sweetness of its milk, only the calf can. The oyster knows not the value of its pearl, only the jeweler can.

Final days

There is disagreement about Tukaram's final day. Some say that he informed his wife early in the day about going to Vaikuntha (the Divine Abode). His wife laughed at him. He went up the hillock and waited for Vithoba. By that time, news had spread around Dehu and people had gathered around the hillock, waiting for the Divine event. From eyewitness accounts, a large vehicle emerged from the skies and Vithoba emerged from the flying plane. Eyewitnesses rushed to Tukaram's home and informed his wife that Tukaram was on his way to Vaikuntha, the Abode of God. His wife ran toward the hills, only to see him take off in the Viman (Flying plane). To this day, devotees gather at the hillock and sing his praises. However, Starr forwards the opinion that he was probably murdered because of his successful reformist activity that had rocked the establishment and by getting rid of his body, they were able to spread the rumour that he had gone to heaven in a heavenly chariot

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