Biography of Sant Tukaram Maharaj and his invaluable songs
A great saint who lived only for his God Vitthala. He faced a variety of difficulties with astonishing patience. He refused diamonds and opals offered by Shivaji Maharaj himself. His devotional songs are an invaluable contribution to Marathi’s spiritual literature.
That day the children of the lane were overjoyed. There was plenty of sugarcane. From the field till reaching the house, sugarcanes were distributed by him, one to each child, and he arrived at his house with just one sugarcane.
Immediately, the children chanted, “Daddy has brought sugarcane; daddy has brought sugarcane,” and danced with excitement.
“Your Kindness Is Boundless” Hearing this noise, the wife in the house came out joyfully and asked, “Have you brought sugarcane?” and looking at the sugarcane, said:
“Having gone so far to the field, did you bring only one cane?”
“No. The landlord had given a bundle of sugarcanes. I gave one to each of the children in the lane. The remaining one cane is here.”
“Although children of our house are craving for sugarcane, nobody gave our children even a small piece. But you have given away everything and brought only one to the house. You have no care for the children.” So saying, the wife became angry and in a fit of fury, hit her husband on the back with the sugarcane. “O Panduranga Vitthala, protector of devotees, kindness incarnate! There is no limit to your sympathy for the devotees.
Although I brought only one cane to the house, you converted it into four pieces! – said he joyfully. He gave a piece each to the two children, put one in his wife’s hand, and holding one piece in his hand, began to dance clapping his hands.
Looking at the man, so calm and full of patience, the wife who had beaten him was puzzled.
That figure of patience was Tukaram: a saint who was behaving as if there is more good fortune and pleasure in giving than in receiving. The lady who beat him on the back with sugarcane was his wife Jeejabai. Those who tasted the sugarcane were his children: Kashi and Mahadev.
Pune is a big city in Maharashtra. Dehu is a small village near it. Walking further one finds the hillock of Bhandari. The river Indrayani flows by its side. The temple of Pandharinath is situated on its bank. Vishwambhara Buva and his wife Amoobai were in charge of worship at that temple. In their dynasty, Balhoba and Kanakayi were an ideal couple. Kindness, pity, and compassion found a home in their heart. The long-standing family business was going on briskly.
But this couple had no children. They were more worried about children. At last, the wish of the couple was fulfilled. A male child was born to them. His name was Shahaji. Thereafter in 1608, another son was born. They named him Tukaram. After that, a girl and a boy Kanhoji were born.
Devotee-Clever In Business
Tukaram was a very sharp and shred boy. Through his various activities, he was keeping his parents happy and was hospitable to people visiting the house. Bringing guests and invitees and serving them made him eager and happy.
Tukaram’s radiant eyes, long nose, serene face, and courteous talk attracted everybody. When prayers were sung in the house, boy Tukaram was joining the group of songsters. He had a good voice and sang melodiously. People used to be pleased with this.
Tukaram, who with his father was worshipping God, circumambulating and participating in group singing of the prayer, also knew business methods well. Although engrossed in thoughts of God, he knew the ways of living. He had great respect for the parents. Balhoba, not willing to burden the earlier born Shahaji or the still young Kalhaji, thrust it on the clever Tukaram’s shoulder and became a care-free man.
Tukaram’s generosity, simplicity, and other virtues were inherited from his parents. He was kind to the poor. Hardly has such a virtuous man come to manage the household affairs earlier.
Tukaram, by his efficiency and hard work, improved the business and came to be liked by the customers. From boyhood, he secured a place in the ranks of the big businessmen.
When Tukaram was thirteen years old his marriage to a girl called Rakhamayi was celebrated with great pomp. As Rakhamayi was suffering from asthma, sometime later, a second marriage was performed with Jeejabai belonging to a rich family.
Tukaram had come to know about the conditions of people’s life. Looking at the hard life of the ordinary people, he was grieved. He was thinking of devoting his life to set right, the defects and drawbacks in the people’s life.
Series of Difficulties
Beautiful wife, handsome income, constant work, beloved of the people-thus, there was no shortcoming in Tukaram’s life. But amidst his busy life, never did he overlook remembering God.
Shortly there was a big storm in his life. The parents unexpectedly passed away. At the same time brother Shahaji became an ascetic and went on pilgrimage. After that, the sister-in-law died, Tukaram felt as if an ulcer in the body had been branded. The same year there was a terrible famine on that accounting business and industry became dull. Earth became fallow. Cattle perished. There was clamor everywhere.
In Tukaram’s life, despair and deep sighs were to appear. The amounts due to him were not received. There was intense pressure to pay his debts. On account of this, the few articles in the house were sold. At that time the first wife Rakhamayi and her child died for want of food.
Thus numerous difficulties and losses followed one another and fell on him. On account of this, his mind became unbalanced. He lost interest in his family. He surrendered himself to his venerable God Vitthala. In his hearts, Vitthala’s beauty and love flourished and spread their influence around.
At the House Jeejabai who had grown up in immense wealth and comfort became dismayed by this misfortune. However, she made up her mind and got the help and co-operation of near relations. She inspired Tukaram, who was clever in business, to resume business.
Once Jeejabai herself bought some chilies, put them on an ox and sent Tukaram to the neighboring village for selling it. Tukaram put down the consignment in the market, tied the ox to a nearby tree and became immersed in contemplation of Panduranga. Meanwhile, the customers appeared and sought the price of chilies.
“You are sure to know the prevailing price in the town, take the chilies at that price.” On knowing this opinion of the ascetic they fought with one another, everyone wishing to purchase it. They weighed as they pleased and began taking away the chilies. Of those who took the chilies, some paid for it, some failed to pay. On hearing this a few good people of the village came forward, recovered the amount and paid it to the ascetic businessman.
When he was returning from the market, on the way, a few unscrupulous persons, on coming to know that he had money, gave him a brass bracelet describing it as made of gold and plundered the available money.
Looking at the husband who brought home a brass bracelet, Jeejabai became sad. She began sobbing with grief. The debt remained unpaid.
There was no money for the next day’s business.
She began worrying. What next?
“If You Make Up Your Mind ….” Even then, Tukaram was unperturbed and continued praying. Jeejabai went to him and spoke to him harshly: “Yesterday I got money with great difficulty and gave it to you. You wasted it all. In the future, you cannot turn out any work. Let us go begging. You are already having a Tamboora (read more on musical instruments here). I will clap at the concert. Let Kashi and Mahadeva accompany us.” Tukaram was never losing his patience under any circumstances.
Even now, “what are you saying! What has happened to us to make us beg? Wait for a little. God will set right everything”, he said.
“It is the same God who is deceiving you. It is your Vitthala who is setting fire to your business proficiency, cleverness and your wisdom capable of earning handsome money. How wrongly you are acting! Think it over once. The hunger of the children is unsatisfied. Stand firmly on the earth and pray to God. If you work hard there will be no dearth of food, clothes, prayer, worship, and service to the guests. If you wanted to be roaming about singing the praise of God, then why did you marry me?”
“When marrying I was not aware of this. If I was aware, I would not have married. Your father did not give you in marriage looking at me. He has considered my wealth and given. Now I have lost my wealth. You may go,” said Tukaram.
“My father might have given me considering your wealth. I am not sorry for the loss of that wealth. You never keep this in your mind and, everything will be set right,” said Jeejabai.
Jeejabai again borrowed money from the lender. She purchased salt out of that money and sent her husband in the company of efficient businessmen. In the company of businessmen, Tukaram put the salt on an ox and went out to seek business. The business was brisk that day.
A large amount of money was received. After concluding business in the market place he was on his way home. On the way, he saw a poor Brahmin who, unable to repay his debts, had been arrested by the bailiff and was struggling.
This struck Tukaram with intense pity. He paid off the amounts due to the bailiff, spoke words of comfort, pacified and sent the Brahmin home.
In the same road another Brahmin met Tukaram and humbly asked: “You venerable saint, my son’s “Upanayana’ (sacred thread-ceremony, more on Sandhyavandanam here) is being celebrated at home. Please help me for this celebration.” Instantly Tukaram gave the balance of amount available with him and said: “Celebrate your son’s thread-ceremony.” Jeejabai came to know of the occurrence. Furiously she was waiting for her husband’s return.
Tukaram, instead of returning home, sat on the Bhamanata hillock in contemplation of God.
Kanhoji heard of his brother giving money as a gift to the Brahmin he earned and hiding in fear of the sister-in-law, and was greatly distressed. “Truly, my brother, the great man, was not born to run a family. He is a great man born to cleanse earthly life.
We are unnecessarily harassing him. If we continue to trouble him, it would amount to our troubling the righteousness of Bhagavata (read more on Srikrishna here). “Thinking thus, he went in search of his brother. He was overjoyed at finding his brother a little further on the Bhamanata hillock, sitting in contemplation of God.
“Dear brother, the righteousness of Bhagavata has to prosper by your service. You are born only for righteous work. In the future, you must work for righteousness. I will look after the household work to the best of my ability. Give me my part of the accounts and records of the business. I will look after the disposition of the part of the money coming to your share. Thus he expressed his opinion.
The brother took his part of the property. Tukaram tied well the documents relating to his property, threw them into the Indrayani river and went to the hillock Bhandari.
In Search Of the Husband
Despite a vigorous search, Tukaram could not be traced. “It was wrong on my part to have behaved so harshly with my husband by talking sarcastically. I hurt his feelings,” Jeejabai began to feel.
That day, remembering the husband, she cooked food. She served food to Kashi and Mahadeva. She made a food packet for her husband, filled the eater cast from Tatrani and went on her way to Bhandari hillock. Stones and thorns did not deter her.
While she was thinking of the way her future life would shape and walking along, a thorn broke in Jeejabai’s foot. The thorn stuck in the sole. O! she cried and collapsed on the ground. More than the pain caused by the thorn, the likely hunger of her husband distressed her.
Somehow, limping and dragging her feet, she began to walk. The pain increased. The sorrow doubled.
On the way, an old man came from the opposite direction. Looking at the sad-faced and limping Jeejabai he said: “Madam, has a thorn entered your foot?” “Yes, sir, a thorn has stuck”, said she.
Instantly, like a person acquainted with her for a long time, the stranger put Jeejabai’s foot on his thigh saying “The thorn has struck deeply”, held the thorn and pulled it out. Jeejabai did not mind blood flowing freely from the foot. She was eager to get along. “Sir, what is your name?” she asked. That old man said: “Vittoo”.
As soon as she heard the sound “Vittoo” Jeejabai became angry. Without waiting for a minute, not even looking at his face, she left the place. She went through a slope in the mountain from where the sound “Panduranga, Panduranga” was heard and there saw her husband. His face which was like a tender bud blossomed into a smile.
“You, godly man, is it right for you to abandon us and live in this hillock?” asked Jeejabai humbly. Tukaram, who was immersed in meditation, woke up.’ “How did you come here?” he asked in surprise.
“Is it not that only a woman can feel that it is like to search for her husband? Only a woman knows the meaning of what I am saying.”
“What a statement with a hidden meaning!
Truly today, you are like a teacher. Panduranga himself should have brought out these words from your mouth. In future I will search for the husband of my heart, thinking of him as my real husband.’
“It is that Panduranga who has churned your simple, virtuous mind, putting an end to all your activities, wrecking the family, and pushed you to a life of poverty. He has given a chance to people to say that Tukaram has lost all his property and he became a lunatic. Still, you are thinking of that bad Panduranga.”
“Needlessly, don’t curse my God.”
“You are my God. I have no liking for that wretched Vitthala who misled an innocent man like you, separating us and putting you in trouble. It is he who upset our peaceful family life.” Saying so, Jeejabai began to cry. Controlling the pressing grief, she said, “You have not eaten food for four or five days. Wash your hands. I have brought food. Please eat.” She opened the food packet, served food to her husband and herself.
Together they both ate to their satisfaction. Both happily reached home.
Come To Watch the Field
That day saint Tukaram rose early in the morning, bathed and completed worshipped and singing in praise of God. He gave a gracious gift to Kashi and Mahadeva. “Today I will seek work somewhere,” said he. Hearing such gracious words from her husband, Jeejabai was overjoyed.
While he was walking along the street, Salomala, a bard singing songs in Praise of God, saw him and said mockingly: “what Tukaji, you wrecked your family and became a person seeking alms. You made your wife and sons, beggars.
Now, putting on the garb of a saint, where are you going? On hearing this, without minding what was said, Tukaram replied, nowhere in particular. I am seeking a job.”
“You destroyed your happy family you did not take note of the misery of your children. You neglected Jeejabai who contracted debts running your family. You know nothing of your own family, who can employ you? Go begging; beggary is the only suitable employment for you.”
When he heard the word ‘beg’, Tukaram suddenly lost his temper. At once his eyes were filled with teats. “Panduranga, Panduranga,” he said and closed his ears.
A man named Jnanoba, on hearing these words said: “Come, Tukaram. There is a great God who looks after everybody. Tomorrow I am proceeding to Alandi village. Look after my field till my return.” He then showed him the field. Simultaneously he plucked juicy sugarcane and said,
“Give it to the children, return in the afternoon to guard the field,’ and sent him.
Result Of Guarding The Field
That evening saint Tukaram came to guard the field of Jnanoba. He looked across the whole field once. Throughout the field, the corns were ripe and ready for harvesting. Whichever way he looked, in every direction the green was turning grey. The ear of corn had wrinkled and the corn was about to ripen. Looking at this Tukaram said:
“All these are due to the price of Panduranga.
Out of one seed, how much corn has grown!
Everything is filled by Panduranga. Everything is his gracious gift.” Saying so he became absorbed in meditation.
Salomalo saw saint Tukaram who was absorbed in meditation. Thinking that it was the proper time for putting him to trouble, he drove the stray cattle of the town to the field and bolted. Saint Tukaram did not regain consciousness. The field was wholly destroyed.
Jnanoba returned from the village. On hearing that his field had been destroyed he became grief-stricken. He also became angry with Tukaram. At that time Salomalo came and said: “What, Jnanoba, did you go to the field and have a look?” Jnanoba hung his head in grief and was silent. Again Salomalo said: “ I told you in advance no to entrust guarding the field to such a careless fellow. Eat the fruit of your action.
Not only that, I am not going to give up a single grain of corn you have to give me as my portion.
From where are you going to get it? Let us see” and thus nagged him.
Salomalo abused Tukaram and dragged him to the village headman to seek justice. For the offense of having spoiled Jnanoba’s field, Tukaram was directed to make over his house to Jnanoba. Necessary documents were prepared for the purpose.
The Grain which reached the house
An uncommon incident occurred at that time, say devotees. Jnanoba gathered the remaining stalks and ears of corn shedding tears. “Everything is the play of Panduranga; he is our Savior,” said he and consoled himself. Amid this hope and despair, he cut the stalks, bundled them, prepared a field and threshed the bundle. Thinking of Panduranga he made a heap.
There was no limit to Jnanoba’s joy. Setting apart the quantity due to Salomalo, keeping his portion, he carted the rest to Tukaram’s house. Touching Tukaram’s feet out of respect, he humbly said: “Your greatness is immense. Not knowing your helpful attitude, I a stupid person caused you mental anguish, by forcing you to makeover your house. Pardon, my offense. This heap of corn, which is more than anticipated, rightly belongs to you.”
“Jnanoba, God Vitthala, pleased by your devotion, has granted a suitable return, according to your effort. I have no part in this. Turn around the carts and take the grain to your home.”
“Respectable Tukaram, once at least look at the row of carts. This is your heap of corn. I have come here to offer you what is rightly yours.’
“The grain above expectation is not mine as it is not yours,” said Tukaram.
Instantly an idea struck Jnanoba. Reserving the heap for the restoration of the Panduranga temple which had been built eight generations earlier, keeping one bag in Tukaram’s house, he transported the remaining bags to the temple.
Tukaram gave away as a charity, the grain kept in his house without leaving even a grain behind.
Poor people, destitute, blind people and lame persons got the grain and began shouting:
“Pundarika Varada, Hari Vitthhala”, in praise of God.
The grace of Guru, Composition of Songs
Saint Tukaram now felt that he should not live amid people. He went to a cave situated west of the hillock Bhandari and began contemplation. Besides, he began to study the songs composed by Jnaneshwar, Namadeva, and Ekanatha and such great saints. By this study, his inner self began to have solace. His mind blossomed like a flower. Songs began to dance on his tongue.
Yet, the inner grief was making him languish.
He had still not been granted the grace of the teacher. On account of this, Tukaram’s heart was agitated.
Thus being greatly disturbed and muttering, one night he went to sleep. While sleeping Pandharinatha himself appeared, caressed him and said: “Tukaram, do not grieve. You will be initiated by Baba Chaitanya.” Accordingly, Baba Chaitanya blessed saint Tukaram at an auspicious moment on Thursday, the tenth day of the month of Magha. The same day, from his inner self, came out the songs of piety. The treasury of the Marathi language was enriched.
Spark Of Jealousy
Uttering some incoherent words, binding a charm, laying the ghosts and having these activities as a means for eking out a living in these ways was Mumbaji living and were considered an ascetic. Another such ascetic was Salomalo who had grown fat by singing songs and poems and getting a handsome income. Both these people disliked saint Tukaram intensely although he was living a simple and virtuous life.
Both these jointly approached Dharmadhikari Rameshwara Bhat and complained. Rameshwar Bhat was foolish enough to be moved by their incitement and came forward to raise a storm in Tukaram’s life.
Early next morning before sunrise Rameshwara Bhat came to Dehu village. Immediately he sent for the village head man and said; “ I have come here to enquire about Tukaram.”
“About what?” the village headman asked.
“What, headman, is it not foreboding of the end of the earth, if non-Brahmins read the Vedas, compose prayers songs and preach morality?
If the activities of Tukaram continue like this, it will be the end of virtue. I have come here to restore morality. Get that non-Brahmin Tukaram.
The headman got Tukaram. Tukaram made obeisance to Dharmadhikari Rameswara Bhat.
“Fie on your obeisance and your prayers songs! Is there any place where non-Brahmins read Vedas, compose songs of prayer and preach to people? I have pardoned you for having committed mistakes so far in ignorance. Don’t do such things in the future,” thus thundered Dharmadhikari.
“Panduranga himself has ordered me to complete some incomplete songs composed by saint Namadeva. If you do not approve I will stop it.”
“Stop it, stop it.”
If so, what should I do with the poems completed so far?”
“Bundle them up and throw them into Indrayani river,’ was the harsh order of Rameshwara Bhat.
“His Property Will Be Returned To Him”
Following Dharmadhikari’s order, Tukaram bundled the palm leaf manuscripts of the songs composed by him and immersed it in the Indrayani River. He was in anguish. He could not attain peace of mind despite all his efforts. “Why did God make me serve him in this useless manner?
Whatever he makes me die, I have offered to him what was his. In the future, I have nothing to worry about,’ thought he and single-mindedly meditating he sat on a rock on the bank of Indrayani river, like another rock placed on it.
The devotees say that an extraordinary thing occurred at that time.
When twelve days had passed thus, Lord Panduranga presented himself, appeared in a dream and said: “At dawn tomorrow the songs you have drowned in the Indrayani river will come floating.
Don’t worry.” They say that on the thirteenth day at sunrise, copies of the songs came floating one over the other.
Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj came to know that in his kingdom there was a famous saint, a person free from all wordily desires. Immediately he sent some ministers, public men, and royal entourage to bring him in a procession with umbrella and fans, and seated on a chariot.
The town was filled with joy. Jeejabai was overjoyed. “What more are we likely to need in the future! We have the patronage of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Goddess Sarvamangala did not let us down finally. “So saying, she went inside the house, lit the lamp and prostrated.
As the retinue of the Maharaj approached his house Tukaram was surprised. “How highly has the Chatrapati honored by sending his retinue to the house of an ascetic like me! The maharaja’s magnanimity, piety and aid are noble.” When he was thinking, the ministers arrived, placed excellent clothing at his feet and invited him to the place.
The ascetic smiled and said: “Why does an ascetic need a bungalow of these clothes? Please take them and return them to the Maharaja.”
“Wait, wait; you should not reject wealth which has come to your doorstep. Honorable ministers are giving those clothes,” said Jeejabai coming forward.
“By beggary or gifts from the people our poverty will not end. Only if Lord Vitthala himself grants it, will we be satisfied. Don’t aspire for this,” said he. The ascetic blessed and said: “Gentlemen, return these gifts and books of songs to the Maharaja and convey my thanks.” Shivaji Maharaj read the songs sent with Tukaram’s blessings and was overjoyed. He kept them on his head and danced with joy. “Today I am blessed my country is blessed,” so saying, he went to meet that great saint.
Without any previous intimation, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj came to meet the saint. He prostrated at the feet of the great renounce, devotee, philanthropist Tukaram and requested: “By accepting the small gift of this devotee, you must please bless him.”
Because of the diamonds, opals, pearls, gems, numerous types of clothing put in gold vessels and offered to him, Jeejabai’s mind began to be excited. She felt like running forward and grabbing them. Meanwhile, Tukaram said: “O! Maharaj, of what use are these diamonds and opals to a poor ascetic? If they are held in the Maharaja’s treasury, the poor will benefit. The kingdom will prosper. People will become righteous.” With great respect Shivaji Maharaja Prayed:
“For your worshipping God at least take four villages as a present. This is my humble offering.” Maharaj, do not worry about me. Poor mendicants may live somehow. Decaying Hindu morality, the growth of India and salvation have to be your concern. This is the wish of Lord Vitthala also.
Achieve it. This is the gift I seek.” On hearing these words of Tukaram the Maharaja’s inner renunciation glowed. The affairs of the state were unwanted. He wished to attain his object by serving the ascetic.
On hearing Shivaji Maharaja’s intention, Tukaram said: “Duty is better than penance. Failure to do one’s duty results in loss of what life stands for now or after death. Therefore continue your rule of the kingdom more actively,” said the solemnly.
To Tukaram who remained him of his duty, Shivaji bowed and said, “Let me have your kind blessings. I will go to my palace today not as a king but as a servant of the people.”
Saint Tukaram through his life had to face numerous difficulties and losses, and many obstacles, without ever dreaming of his happiness, and worked hard to the good of the people. By his immoral voice, he sowed the seeds of devotion in the people’s heart, simplified the foundation of morality and conveyed it to the people. Several people were moved by the pious songs composed by him and became his disciples. His songs were on the lips of the learned and the ordinary people. They became a valuable heritage of the disciples.
Tukaram wished to end his mortal activities. Sri Hari also granted his wish. One day Tukaram told his disciples: “My mortal activities have come to an end. I am leaving. Live happily. Serve others. Take care of innocent Jeejabai,” and blessed them. He came home and asked Jeejabai: “I am on my way to heaven. I will take you. Will you come along?” She said: “how can I leave behind the children and family members and cattle and calves and come with you?’
Tukaram went into the Indrayani river as if he was about to take a bath and went forward.
Once he entered the river he was not visible again. They say that within a few minutes his rug, the cymbals in his hand and the Tamboora fell. The citizens bowed in reverence saying that Tukaram bodily went to heaven.
Tukaram died in about 1650. He was then 42 years old.
The following is one of his pious songs: Krishna is my mother, Krishna is my father, and Krishna is my relation – so Say Tukaram.
The meaning of another song is:
“Today I saw the feet of Vitthala. The fruit of enormous virtue. The saints protected me. This is a time of good fortune; a day of good fortune.
So said Tukaram.”
Vanquishing all desires, the great man Tukaram set apart his life for Vitthala, with an unblemished mind.
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