Sant Tukaram (1608–1645) remains a revered and iconic figure in the spiritual history of India. His life and teachings have left an indelible mark on the cultural and religious landscape of Maharashtra and beyond.
Sant Tukaram’s life was not only a journey of deep devotion and profound poetry but also an influential force in shaping the course of history and the destiny of an emerging nation.
Here, we explore some lesser-known aspects of his life and his profound impact. Let’s delve deeper into the life and influence of this extraordinary Bhakti Saint.
Early Life and Background
Born in the idyllic town of Dehu, located near Pune in Maharashtra, Sant Tukaram’s early life was marked by simplicity and humility. While his given name was Tukaram Vhilhoba Aambile, it was seldom used, as he was widely recognized by the honorific title “sant” which reflects his profoundly saintly nature.
Throughout Maharashtra, he is affectionately known as Sant Tukaram, while in the southern regions of India, he is referred to as Bhakta Tukaram.
Scholars have debated the exact year of Sant Tukaram’s birth, with estimates ranging from 1602 to 1639 CE. However, there is a relative consensus regarding the year of his passing, which is widely accepted as 1650 CE.
Tukaram’s personal life bore the weight of tragedy early on, as his first wife, Rakhumabai, passed away in her youth in 1602. He subsequently married Jijabai, also known as Avali, and the couple was blessed with three sons: Santu or Mahadev, Vithoba, and Narayan.
A Modern Poet of Marathi
Dilip Purushottam Chitre, a distinguished Marathi scholar, revered Tukaram as the first modern poet of Marathi literature.
Chitre’s assertion was grounded in Tukaram’s courageous stance against the prevailing caste hierarchy within Hinduism and his bold critique of the associated rituals.
Tukaram’s writings represent a poignant call for spiritual awakening and societal reform, with verses that continue to resonate through the ages.
Devotion to God Vitthala
Central to Sant Tukaram’s life and spiritual journey was his unwavering devotion to God Vitthala, a cherished form of Lord Krishna.
This deep, unshakable connection with Vitthala became the focal point of his teachings and the wellspring of his profound poetry. Tukaram’s verses are a symphony of love for the divine and an impassioned plea for genuine and wholehearted devotion to God.
The Bhakti Tradition
Sant Tukaram stands as the zenith of the Bhagabata Hindu tradition, a sacred legacy believed to have commenced in Maharashtra with the luminous presence of Saint Namdev.
Sant Tukaram is best known as a prominent figure in the Varkari sect, a sect rooted in devotion to Lord Vithoba, a form of Lord Krishna. He left an indelible mark by practicing a community-oriented form of worship through devotional songs known as abhangas and kirtans.
This approach laid the foundation for the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra, which emphasized personal, devotional connection with the divine over rigid rituals.
Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Janabai, Eknath, and Tukaram are particularly cherished within the Varkari sect of Maharashtra. Their teachings emphasize the supremacy of love, devotion, and a deep spiritual connection over and above ritualistic practices.
Tukaram’s spiritual journey was greatly enriched by his Guru, Saint Namdev, a fact well-documented in one of his abhangas. In this devotional poetry, Tukaram narrates a divine encounter where Namdev bestows knowledge upon him, appearing alongside Lord Vitthal in a dream.
Tukaram also reverently refers to his sadguru, his spiritual guide, as ‘Babaji Chaitanya,’ underscoring the profound influence of these spiritual connections on his life’s journey.
Sant Tukaram’s legacy is an enduring testament to the power of faith, devotion, and the courage to challenge societal norms in pursuit of higher spiritual ideals. His teachings continue to inspire and guide spiritual seekers, transcending time and culture.
Tukaram’s life exemplifies the transformative potential of deep devotion, compassion, and the willingness to challenge the established order in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. His legacy is a radiant beacon for all who seek a path of love, devotion, and self-realization.
As we reflect upon the life of Sant Tukaram, we find not only a saint and poet but a profound spiritual guide whose teachings continue to resonate with the hearts and souls of those on their own spiritual journeys.
His life, teachings, and devotion serve as a timeless source of inspiration for all who seek a deeper connection with the divine.
A Catalyst in Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Life
Sant Tukaram’s influence extended beyond the spiritual realm, touching even the lives of political leaders. Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire, held Sant Tukaram in high regard.
He acknowledged that it was the presence of saints like Tukaram that had sustained India as a nation for thousands of years. He recognized the synergy between spiritual development and the preservation of cultural heritage even in a rapidly changing world.
This profound influence of Sant Tukaram on a legendary figure like Shivaji underscores the saint’s profound impact on the socio-cultural fabric of his time.
Personal Tragedies and Deepening Devotion
Saint Tukaram was a great devotee of Vitthal i.e. Vishnu. He had faith in the Vaishnav cult of Hinduism. Sant Tukaram’s life was marked by personal hardship. His first wife and son succumbed to famine, a devastating reality during the period of widespread scarcity around 1630.
This profound loss left an enduring impact on him and deepened his devotion to Abhang. Though he remarried, the bitterness of his experiences lingered. Subsequently, he spent much of his life composing Bhaktipadas and singing kirtans, channeling his sorrows into spiritual expression.
A Critic of Society’s Ills
Sant Tukaram’s spiritual verses were not confined to expressions of devotion alone. He fearlessly addressed the social issues and moral ills of his time through his poetry. His critiques were not always well-received, and he faced opposition from influential segments of society.
Nevertheless, his more than four thousand Bhaktipadas continue to be a treasure trove of wisdom and spiritual insight. His impact was so profound that in 1994, Dilip Chitre received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his English translation of Tukaram’s Bhaktipadas, a testament to the enduring relevance of his words.
Tukaram Temple at Dehu
Following his passing, a rock temple was constructed at Dehu, his birthplace. Although not formally developed as a temple, it stands as a tribute to the saint. This stone masonry structure with 36 peaks houses a statue of Saint Tukaram, a place where devotees can pay their respects and feel his enduring presence.
Sant Tukaram’s life was a confluence of devotion, poetry, and a fearless stance against societal wrongs. His influence reached beyond religious boundaries, touching the hearts of leaders and ordinary people alike.
His profound teachings continue to inspire and guide those on their own spiritual journey, reflecting the enduring power of faith, compassion, and the courage to challenge the status quo for a higher spiritual purpose.