Yesterday, after stumbling upon two lovely poems by Tukaram, I went looking for more. And discovered PoemHunter.com !
Among several others, there was this one that begged a follow up post.
Argue no more about it,
Man’s crude and foolish mind, and that alone,
Has taught this tale of many gods:
It is a lie:
For God is One,
And unto Him, The One,
My soul shall sing its praise
As we humans continue to wage wars in the name of religion, and people are dying across the world as I write, I thought rather sadly that things hadn’t changed much since the 17th Century or since ever.
Little is known of the life of Tukaram, who was born in 1608 in the village of Dehu on the banks of the River Indrayani in Maharashtra.
He belonged to a family of land holding peasants. Having lost his parents at a very young agar and then his wife and children to a devastating famine, Tukaram lost interest in the life of a householder. Though he did not quite forsake his family, he was ultimately reduced to bankruptcy and poverty.
In the meantime, Tukaram, a devotee of Lord Vitthal ( Vishnu), turned to composing abhangs or spiritual poems. He is said to have been visited in a dream by Namdeo, a great poet- saint of the the thirteenth century, and Lord Vitthal himself and was apparently asked to compose abhangs.
In doing so, Tukaram, who belonged to a lower caste, incurred the wrath of Brahmins: not only had he dared to impose upon the prerogatives of the Brahmins, who believed themselves to be the only true custodians, interpreters and spokesmen of religion,but he had compounded the offence by writing in Marathi rather than Sanskrit.
According to legend, the local Brahmins compelled Tukaram to throw the manuscripts of his poems into the river, saying that if he were a true devotee of God, the manuscripts would reappear. Tukaram then started a fast-unto-death, invoking the name of the Lord and after thirteen days of his fast, the manuscripts of his poems re-appeared.
Seeing this, some of his critics turned into his followers; and over the course of the few remaining years of his life, Tukaram acquired a reputation as a saint. In the forty-eighth year of his life, in 1649, Tukaram disappeared.
It is not known how many poems Tukaram composed, but the most frequently used Marathi edition of his poetry, first published in 1873 brings together 4,607 poems. The only nearly complete translation of Tukaram into English, entitled The Collected Tukaram, was attempted by J. Nelson Fraser and K.B Marathe and published in 1909. A more recent translation of a selection of Tukaram’s poetry by Dilip Chitre, titled Tuka Says was published in 1991. For the full article check out Manas by Vinay Lal.
Tukaram, is arguably the greatest poet in the Marathi language. Tukaram’s genius partly lies in his ability to transform the external world into its spiritual analogue. Tukaram’s stature in Marathi literature is comparable to that of Shakespeare in English or Goethe in German. There is no other Marathi writer who has so deeply and widely influenced Marathi literary culture since. – Dilip Chitre