No one to this day has satisfactorily
solved all the questions that crop up in regard to Tukaram's
poetry- questions, for instance, as to what was the total
number of Abhangs that he wrote, how many of them are
available at present, whether some of the Abhangs that
bear the name of Tuka are not really the work of some
other person of that name, and so on. "
Most biographers seem to believe that the four thousand
and a half Abhangs that are found published in a volume
called the' Traditional Collection' are all that Tukaram
ever wrote, and that everything else must be taken to
be spurious! Evidently it has never struck these people
that a rapid versifier who could even talk in verse at
all times of the day, could have produced no more than
such a small quantity during his long career of thirty
to forty years. Of course, if all the manuscripts, whether
written by Tukaram himself or by his disciples during
his life-time, were available today, the question about
the quantity would never arise at all. But even as it
is, what we know already about Tukaram's compositions
is enough to prove that he must have composed more Abhangs
than are to be found in the 'Traditional Collection'.
One of the fourteen cymbal-players of Tukaram, Santaji
Teli Jagnade, wrote down several Abhangs of Tukaram; these
have been preserved by Santaji's descendants; and out
of them, 1,200 were published without the slightest change,
in book form, by the late Mr. V. L. Bhave. These latter
contain a large number which are not to be found in the'
Traditional Collection' at all! This in itself is sufficient
to indicate that Tukaram must have composed a great deal
more than four thousand and a half Abhangs.
In 1889 A.D. the late Mr. Tukaram Tatya Padwal, having,
with the most commendable zeal and devotion instituted
a search from village to village, published a volume containing
8,441 Abhangs, i.e. about four thousand more than those
given in the' Traditional Collection', bearing the name'
Tuka'. Not all of these new ones, however, belong to Tukaram
proper, a remark that is equally true of the old collection,
for there were other 'Tukas' such as Tuka Brahmanand of
Satara, a contemporary of the great saint. Again some
of the Abhangs, wrongly supposed to bear the name ' Tuke
' really bear the expression' Tukaya Bandhu', meaning
'Tuka's Brother', a title used for his own Abhangs by
the great Tukaram's brother Kanhoba. In spite of this,
however, there still remain hundreds of genuine Abhangs
of Tukaram, scattered all over Maharashtra waiting to
see the light of day.
The present form of the language of Tukaram's poetry
does not appear to be the original one. Several Abhangs
written in Tukaram's own hand are in the possession of
the present descendant of Tukaram, viz. Narayan Buwa alias
Babasheb Vighu Buwa Gosavi, Inamdar of Dehu. The form
of the language therein differs considerably from that
of the Abhangs printed in the traditional collection,
but is the same as that found in the manuscripts written
by Tukaram's cymbal-player Santaji Teli Jagnade. In this
original form, the words are not split up, but run into
each other; the dental' I ' appears through out as lingual'
I'. The end of the Abhang quarter is marked not by a vertical
line, but by a couple of vertical, dots; and finally,
not much attention is given to the distinction of short
and long vowels. In short, Tukaram himself wrote in his
rustic fashion, but, later on Rameshwar Bhatt or some
other disciple of Tukaram must have given it the form
that is found in the' traditional collection '.
The popularity of Tukaram's poetry has never abated in
the least to this day, no bhajan possible without it,
and there can be no kirtan but must begin with it and
end with it-with the Abhang 'Grant just this, 0 Lord'
! Several lines of his have become household words! No
other Marathi poet, medieval or modern, has ever had such
universal allegiance. Even the British Government in India
did him the unique honour of publishing his works officially.
The Bombay Government more than sixty years ago, spent
Rs. 24,000 in getting a compilation of Tukaram's Abhangs
edited by the Late Mr. Shankar Pandurang Pandit. This
was the first authoritative collection of Tukaram's Abhangs.
Before that, the late Mr. Madhav Chandroba Dukle had a
considerable number of them lithographed and published
through his periodical (Sarva-Sangraha' (" the All
Since the Government compilation, there have appeared
about twenty-five editions of Tukaram's Abhangs during
the last sixty years published by various publishers,
the total number of their copies amounting to well-nigh
a hundred thousand. Most of these, however, are mere reprints
of other collections. The late Mr. Fraser of the Indian
Education Department, and the late Mr. Marathe .of the
Bombay Judicial Service jointly published an English translation
of a number of Abhangs through the Christian Literature
Society. A few Abhangs have been rendered into modern
Marathi prose by the' Tukaram Society' of Poona. The late
Vishnu-buwa Jog of Poona, at prominent Varkari, published
a collection also, with a modern Marathi prose rendering.
'A necklace of the Abhang jewels of Tukaram' by the late
Mr. Shantaram Anant Desai, Professor of Philosophy at
the Holkar College, lndore, deserves perusal. An excellent
essay, not now available, was written by the late Mr.
Balkrishna Malhar Hans, a man of great critical acumen.
The late Mr. D. G. Vaidya, Editor of the Prarthana Samaj's
official weekly organ Subodh Patrika, used to publish
in that paper, from time to time, a fine dissertation
on some of the Abhangs. These dissertations he afterwards
collected and reprinted in the volume of his writings
published a few years ago.
To review and assess the worth of the poetry of Tukaram
would be the height of presumption for any but his compeers
like Jnanadev, Namdev, Ekanath, and other saints. The
poetry having bubbled forth from the deepest recesses
of the saint's heart cannot be easily valued by an ordinary
mortal. The saint's expression of his ideas is unsparingly
outspoken, yet overflowing with love. One critic may regard
the language used in certain places as ' harsh', another
may point to his outspokenness in certain places as 'indecent',
a third may object that certain words he has used are
'vulgar'. But these critics must never lose sight of the
all-important fact that the mental attitude of the saint
in respect of every single word uttered or written by
him was one that was described in the words:
"Drowning themselves are these folk-I cannot bear
Just as a father, in his anxiety for the welfare of his
son, would cajole or threaten or even beat him on occasions,
all with a view to bringing him to his senses, even so
Tukaram, with his heart pining for the welfare of humanity,
used different language to suit different situations,
all with a view to bringing mankind to its senses. True
it is that on occasions he has made use of some 'vulgar'
words, but that is partly because, like most other poets
of those days, he was innocent of the modern ideas of
politeness, and partly because, as already mentioned,
he was not a 'litterateur '. He was a villager living
in a village, and his language is a reflection of the
village life of his day. When even such, avowed scholar-poets
as Mukteshwar, Vaman, and Moropant could not avoid an
occasional use of an indecent word, what wonder if an
out-and-out villager like Tukaram used a few? "In
the heat of sermonizing," says the late Mr. N. C.
Kelkar, the doyen of present-day Marathi litterateurs,
in his critical essay on 'The Problem of Obscene Literature',
"when the preacher forgets himself in his talk, it
is possible that the excited state of his mind may let
slip an unapproved or jarring word from his lips; but
the sense of sacredness there, both of the man and his
subject, is so strong that it completely overpowers the
sentiment of indecency! But the preacher can have this
benefit only in proportion to his status ". Tukaram's
spiritual status was undoubtedly high; so the sentiment
of obscenity was entirely absent.
As literature, Tukaram's poetry is wholly spiritual and
introspective and can well be compared and contrasted
with the poetry it bears the closest resemblance. The
poetical merit of Jnanadev's work, especially in respect
of the Jnaneshwari, is very high, its language also is
highly' urbane', that is to say, courteous and elegant.
Even when he wants to thrash, Jnanadev does so with a
silken string of delicate words, so that the lashes, far
from causing smarting pain, only produce a tickling sensation.
Not so Tukaram. He has, as it were, a leather strap ready
to lay on the backs of people. This difference was natural
in away, for while Jnanadev was primarily an author, Tukaram
was an out and out preacher, admonishing people face to
face! The case of Ekanath was rather different. He was
both an author and a preacher, and his language in his
moral poems is not as gentle as in his other works. Tukaram's
poetry, however, has one important peculiarity: when it
comes to the invoking of Shri Pandurang, its harshness
disappears, and it is all a smooth-flowing stream of sweetness
and love! Not that Tukaram, on occasions, .did not dare
to 'quarrel' with Pandurang Himself, but the words that
he uses there are so ingenious that they were calculated
to provoke in the Deity not anger but only a smile! Tukaram's
similes are very expressive and sweet. His language, though
somewhat rustic, is both striking and effective. It is
apparently very simple, but the meaning of some of the
Abhangs is not easy to grasp. The variety of abhangs adds
to the difficulty still further.
Tukaram firmly believed that his verse was not his own,
that his mouth was merely a vehicle for Shri Pandurang's
utterance. He has expressed this sentiment in several
of his Abhangs, but nowhere as beautifully as in the following:
The power of speech is not one's own;
God's the friend-the 'speech is His!
What is a maina to sing sweet tunes!
Else is the Master who makes it sing!
Who, poor me, to speak wise words?
It is that World's supporter has made me speak.
Who, says Tuka, His art can guage?
He even makes the lame walk without legs!
Tukaram's Abhangs, barring a few incidental ones, can
be roughly classified under the following topics:-
.1. The Puranas (Mythology);
2. Lives of Saints;
3. Panegyric of Shri Pandurang;
4. Laudatory description of Pandharpur;
5. Autobiography and self-scrutiny;
6. Moral instruction;
7. Personal explanation;
9. In defence of his Religious Principles and
10. Bharud (Mixed).
Besides the Abhangs, Tukaram has a considerable quantity
of other verse in a variety of forms, such as Shlok, Arati
and Gaulani. He has some verse in Hindi also.
The essence of Tukaram's teaching is "Repeat Hari's
Name". Along with this, however, he gives an important
warning that "Whosoever takes the matra (a strong
medicine administered in minute particles) of Vithal,
must observe the dietary ". And it is the dietary
viz. good conduct, kindness to all living creatures, non-killing,
beneficence, acknowledgment of Universal God, etc. that
is all in all. Without that dietary the matra can never
prove effective, warns Tukaram.
Tukaram lays great stress on pilgrimage to Pandharpur
and worship of Pandurang, yet that is not the essence
of his teaching. That essence is embodied in such Abhangs
"(Realizing) the immanence of Vishnu is the religion
of Vishnu's devotees. ...".
"The secret of the Almighty's worship is not to bear
ill-will towards any living being. ...".
"The saint is he who befriends the wearied and oppressed:
in the company of such saints God resides. ..."
"Wherever dwells peace, God's company is there. ...
His sense of oneness is not limited to mankind, but is
wide enough to embrace the whole living and sentient world,
as is evidenced by the use of the word' being', instead
of 'man' in the first of these Abhangs.
Though Tukaram was not a great scholar like Jnanadev,
Ekanath, Vaman and others, his reading of books and observation
of men and things was, for his time, considerable indeed,
as shown by his writings. His formal education had never
gone beyond reading and writing; yet, once his mind had
turned towards spiritual life, he made large additions
to his knowledge by reading several Marathi works on Puranas
and philosophy, by getting a number of Sanskrit books
explained to him, and by attending performances of kirtan
and reading of Puranas. The Jnaneshwari and the Bhagwat
of Ekanath formed the solid basis of his poetry. The profundity
of his knowledge of the world and of human nature can
easily be gauged from the hundreds of topics that he has
dealt with, as occasion demanded, in his Abhangs. They
give a good deal of information regarding the state of
society, religion and country prevailing at the time.
Even as mere poetical compositions, his Abhangs rank
high. He never made any conscious attempt at composing
in strict conformity with the canons of the science of
poetics. But his feelings were so powerful that verses
composed by him under their influence would automatically
become the highest kind of genuine poetry.