Poet-Saints of Pandharpur (1): Tukaram

Poet-Saints of Pandharpur (1): Tukaram

To arrange words
In some order
Is not the same thing
As the inner poise
That’s poetry.

The truth of poetry
Is the truth
Of being.
It’s an experience
Of truth.

No ornaments
A crucible.
Fire reveals
Only molten

Says Tuka
We are here
To reveal.
We do not waste

– Sant Tukaram

29 June this year is Ashadhi Ekadashi, also called Devshayani Ekadashi. It is an important Ekadashi in many respects. From this day, Lord Vishnu enters yoga nidra on his serpent Adi Shesha for 4 months (period called Chaturmas). The legend goes that during this time, Lord Vishnu visits Bali in paatala loka in accordance with Bali’s wish when Lord Vishnu granted him a boon. 

Ashadhi Ekadashi is popularly associated with Pandharpur in Solapur, Maharashtra because it is the last day of a bi-annual 21 day pilgrimage by bhaktas, primarily of the Varakari tradition (a Vaishnava tradition originating in Maharashtra and northern Karnataka). Varakari comes from the words vari meaning to undertake a pilgrimage and kari referring to the one who undertakes it. Ashadhi Ekadashi also marks the last day of the famous Rath Yatra of the Lord Jaggannath temple in Puri, Odissa.

Pandharpur is an important centre of devotion to Krishna with the main temple being the Vithoba or the Vitthala Rukmini (Rakhumai) temple where Krishna is worshipped in the form of Panduranga or Vitthala.

The Lord’s form with hands on hips and standing on a stone, is connected with the story of Pundalika who kept the Lord (who had come to give him darshan) waiting while he finished serving his aged parents.

Pandharpur has been home to a number of great saints like Jnaneshwar, Namdev, Chokhamela, Eknath and Tukaram between the 12th – 17th centuries. Let’s look here at one of them – the beloved poet-saint Tukaram

Sant Tukaram was born around the end of the 16th or start of the 17th century in Pune, Maharashtra. He lost his parents while still a teenager and witnessed much poverty and hardship in his life including losing his first wife and child in a famine. His second wife was Jijabai or Avali, who would notoriously nag him and disliked his incessant singing of bhajans and praying and chanting.

Tukaram continued his family’s tradition of devotion to Panduranga and composed over 5,000 short poems or abhangas that convey his inner realisations and state.

He speaks, for instance, of his love for Panduranga: 

Thou art more kind than mother dear,
More soothing than the rays of moon
Thy love an ever flowing tide,
Sinks deeper than a common stream
I know of none that equals Thee –
Thou best of all immortal Gods
I wave my name above Thy head,
And part it at thy holy feet.
Ah! Sweeter than sweetest things,
And mightier than all the elements,
Thou rulest O’er the Universe,
And seest that it goes all right,
In silence do I lay my head
upon thy feet , and pray “Forgive”

Like other bhakti saints and poets, he shares of his intimate relationship with the Divine. In one abhanga, he reveals that his writing of poetry was instigated by a dream in which the Lord Panduranga and the poet-saint Namdev appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to stop wasting him and to write poems for the Lord.

If Only you would
Give me refuge O Lord
To stay at your feet
In a line of saints.

I’ve already left behind
The world I loved.
Don’t stand still:
It’s your move now.

My caste is low;
My origins humble.
A little help from you
Will go a long way.

Thanks to Namdeo
You visited me
In a dream that left me


Sant Tukaram has a way with words, like all the bhakti saints. They used the local language (in Tukaram’s case, Marathi); the words used by them were simple, the poems, unpretentious and carrying in them a ring of the Truth. With the sheer volume of verses that most of them wrote, it seems that words literally poured from them – as Tuka says:

Words are the only Jewels I possess
Words are the only Clothes that I wear
Words are the only food That sustains my life
Words are the only wealth I distribute among people
Says Tuka Witness the Word He is God
I worship Him With my words


And yet, these words of the saints emerged from their Silence and merged back into it:

Where does one begin with you?
O Lord, you have no opening line
It’s so hard to get you started.

Everything I tried went wrong.
You’ve used up all my faculties.

What I just said vanished in the sky
And I’ve fallen on the ground again.

Says Tuka my mind is stunned:
I can’t find a word to say.


One of the stories from his life goes that Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj who considered Tukaram to be his guru (as also Samartha Ramdas), visited Tukaram at his temple. Somehow Shivaji’s enemies were informed of this and approached the temple. Hearing of the approaching enemy, Shivaji’s men who had accompanied him, informed him and advised him to leave quickly. But as Tukaram had told Shivaji to stay for bhajans, he could not go against his guru’s words and decided to stay, much to the consternation of his men. When Tukaram also learned of the impending danger to Shivaji’s life, he prayed to Vitthala and a miraculous incident unfolded. The enemy troops outside saw the figure of Shivaji appear from the temple on his horse and as they began to follow him, the figure led them to a forest and disappeared. This was only a hallucination that they witnessed while Shivaji actually remained in the temple and escaped safely by the Grace of his guru and Vitthala.

Sant Tukaram, like the other great devotees has been inspiring millions on the path of devotion, to this day, transferring over some of the Divine Love with which he was overflowing, through his abhangas to other lovers of the Lord.

A glimpse of Sant Tukaram’s times and abhangas:

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