Tukaram: A Brief Biography

- Shreedhar More(1916-2004)

Translated from the Marathi by Vijay Lele


      WHEREAS God’s biography is referred to as ‘nectar supreme’, that of the devotee is called ‘nectar of religion’. Though the saints related and sang stories of the gods so effectively, it is difficult for us to narrate tales of the saints themselves; for they are not what they seem to be and they do not look like what they really are. Besides, as Jnanadev (1275-1296) aptly puts it in Amrutanubhav, our verbal equipment too has its own limitations. If we were to ask them:  Who art thou? Where have thou come from? Where art thou going?  What is thy name?  What is thy form?  --   They will simply reply “Nothing.”

    Despite these limitations we have attempted to present, in brief, the life and work of the great saint-poet, Tukaram (1609-1650).



      ‘Praise be to village Dehu, for Lord Vithoba Himself dwells there’ 

      Village Dehu (‘Dehu Gaon’ in Marathi), near Pune, is considered a blessed place for it was here that Tukaram was born and performed his divine deeds.   Dehu

also wears a halo because it is considered a jagrut sthaan, “an abode of live divinity”, for Lord Vithoba Himself is believed to reside there.  A temple of Lord Vithoba adorns the beautiful bank of the river Indrayani. The Creator of the Universe stands here with his hands resting on his waist. Rakhumai (Rukmini) stands to His left.  Just  opposite  stands


the Holy Fig Tree (ficus religiosa). Garuda (the eagle), the Lord’s vehicle, stands with his hands folded. At the entrance is Lord Vighnaraj (Ganesha). Just outside are Lord Bhairav (Shiva) and Lord Hanuman. To the south is the temple of Lord Hareshwar and close by is the Ballalvan (woods). It is supposed to be the seat of Lord Siddheshwar. Blessed are the inhabitants of this place, they are very fortunate indeed, reciting as they do the name of the Lord God. Thus goes the description of village Dehu at the time Tukaram lived there.

       About hundred years before Tukaram, his ancestor, Vishwambhar, was living at Dehu. The whole family owed its religious allegiance to Lord Vithoba. The Pandharpur wari (pilgrimage) during the holy months of Aashadh and Kartik had been a long tradition in the family of Vishwambhar since his forebears. It was his unwavering and steadfast devotion that compelled, as it were, the Lord to rush from Pandharpur to Dehu just as the exemplary devotion of Pundalik had earlier attracted Him over from Vaikunth to Pandharpur.


It was on Aashadh (fourth month of the Hindu lunar calendar) shudh Dashmi (the tenth day of the bright/waxing moon) the Lord appeared in Vishwambhar’s dream and told him of His existence there and went to retire in a mango grove. The very next morning Vishwambhar went into the grove along with fellow villagers and found the idols of Lord Vithoba and Rakhumai. He then brought those over to his wada (house) and installed them in his place of worship there. People soon came to know of this divine miracle and started coming in droves to pay obeisance. An annual festival soon became a regular feature and a tract of land was bequeathed upon Vishwambhar to  take  care of the festival expenditure.


A pilgrimage would be held on shudh Ekadashi (the 11th day of the bright/waxing moon) of each month.

However, after the demise of Vishwambhar, his sons, Hari and Mukund, showed no religious inclination and turned towards their original vocation: the armed services. They sought royal patronage along with their families and became officers of the royal army of that time. Their mother, Amabai, frowned upon this. The Lord was also displeased with their decision. He once appeared in Amabai’s dream and told her of His unhappiness over the state of affairs. ‘I left Pandharpur and came to Dehu for you, but you chose to leave me and seek royal patronage. This is not fair. You should return to Dehu,’ He said. Amabai spoke to her sons about the Lord’s admonition and tried to persuade them to return to Dehu. The sons, however, paid no heed.

      As fate would have it, the state was soon invaded by an alien power and both the brothers laid down their lives in the ensuing battle with the foe. Mukund’s wife preferred to go sati following her husband’s demise. Hari’s wife was pregnant at the time of his death on the battlefield. Therefore, Amabai returned to Dehu with her. Soon the daughter-in-law was sent to her parents for delivery and Amabai devoted herself to the Lord’s service. Hari’s widow gave birth to a son, who was named Vitthal. Vitthal’s son was Padaji, Padaji’s son Shankar, Shankar’s son Kanhoba and Kanhoba’s son was Bolhoba. Bolhoba had three sons: Savji was the eldest, followed by Tukaram and Kanhoba, the youngest.

      The family in which Tukaram was born was indeed a very pious one.

 ‘Venerable are the families and venerable the land in which God’s disciples are born.’

      Tukaram’s family belonged to the Kshatriya (warrior) caste. His forefathers had embraced martyrdom while fighting the enemy on the battlefield. The family was also very cultured and religious. Worship of Lord Vithoba had been its hallmark for generations together and so was the annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur. The family also had the distinction of being mahajans (money-lenders). It owned farmland engaged in money-lending and trade. The family owned two wadas (houses) at Dehu: one for residence and the other, in the marketplace, for trade and business. It enjoyed the respect of the villagers and also of those living in the immediate environs. They were called kunbis (farming community), because they engaged in agriculture and vanis (trading community) because of trading. However, Tukaram abjured all these, because of which he came to called gosavi (someone like a fakir). Nevertheless, ‘Gosavi’ was never the surname of the family. It was ‘More’ and ‘Gosavi’ was an honorific.

      The vaishya (trader) community had come to be included among the shudras (the lowest in the social scale) about the time of the Bhagawad-geeta and during Jnanadev’s time, the Kshatriyas were also being counted among the shudras. Only two castes (Varna) had remained: the Brahmins and the shudras. Thus Tukaram also came to be called a shudra. 


2. Prevailing Political, Social and Religious Situation