From the Jacket
It is generally accepted that the Tukaram was born in 1608, and ascended bodily into heaven in 1649. The present book is an English translation of the chapters 25 to 40 of the Bhaktililamrita of Mahipati. Mahipati gives us vivid pictures of the life of Tukaram which is full of human interest, full of food for the moralist, full of suggestions for the idealist, and to every one an inspiration to a better and nobler life.
The life of Tukaram, as portrayed by Mahipati in the Bhaktalilamrita chapters 25 to 40, presents many difficult problems for the historian, but for one who can lay aside these problems, and can let his imagination accept the vivid picture Mahipati gives us, undisturbed by questions of fact or legend, the life of Tukaram is full of human interest, full of food for the moralist, full of suggestions for the idealist, and to every one an inspiration to a better and nobler life.
Historical problems.—As generally accepted Tukaram was born in 1608, and ascended bodily into heaven in 1649. Mahipati wrote his account of Tukaram in 1774, or 125 years after Tukaram’s disappearance. Now Mahipati does not give the slightest hint either in the Bhaktalilamrita, or in the Bhaktavijaya, written 12 years earlier, as to where he obtained his information regarding Tukaram’s life. It is easy enough to make conjectures, as many do, but for the true historian all evidence is lacking. One hundred and twenty-five years give ample time for legends to grow around an honoured name, but whether fact or legend, we do not know Mahipati’s source of information, Did he have access to books that have disappeared? Did he visit Dehu, where Tukaram’s; descendants were living, and gather local traditions? Did he to some extent draw on his own imagination to supply a natural setting to some of Tukaram’s autobiographical abhangs? [Verses]. These questionings are partially answered by the fact that books were produced by the laborious efforts of copying by hand. There were not many copies of any book. We know that some have entirely disappeared. We can conjecture that Mahipati’s original source has been lost. We do- know that Mahipati had a considerable library, and that he used books that contained the lives of saints, as for example, his use of Keshavsvami’s life of Eknath, and of Namdev’s account of Dnyanadev, and other saints, but we do not, know, whether Mahipati had before him some written, but now lost, source. The account of Tukaram in the Bhakta- vijaya, written in 1762, has suggestive similarities and dissimilarities from his Bhaktalilamrita account. Did he depend on his memory? That might explain minor discrepancies, but it also contains incidents not found in the Bhaktalilamrita. In conclusion, we do not know Mahipati’s sources of information, nor their historical value.
The abhangs of Tukaram contain some of an auto- biographical nature, and correspond with Mahipati’s account. It has been conjectured, therefore, that some of Mahipati’s stories may have been imaginary, so as to provide a natural setting to the contents of those abhangs, the general fact being supplied by Tukaram and the details by Mahipati. But the historian meets with a very serious difficulty here, arising from uncertainties connected with the text of Tukaram’s abhangs. Tukaram did not sit down, and write a book of poems, and issue it under his signature. If tradition can be trusted, he spent much of his time, day and night, in the performance of kirtans, or services of song, in the praise of God, or on any theme which he wished to impress on his hearers. His thoughts flowed in words that took the form of a metre called the abhang, and as they were spoken, they were recorded by his close companions, Santaji Teli Jaganade, Gangadhar Maval, and Rameshvar Bhat. A very old manuscript still exists- among the descendants of Santaji Teli at Chakan, which claims to be in Santaji’s handwriting, and bears every evidence of an age that makes this claim quite probable, In this manuscript there are 1323 abhangs, and it is to be presumed that this collection would contain all the abhangs that in Santaji’s life time were considered the abhangs of Tukaram. But there are other and later collections of abhangs that bear Tukaram’s name, that number more than four thousand, and the suspicion has weight that many of these are by other authors, who by adding the characteristic words, "Tuka mhane," (Tuka says), at the end of their abhangs, have been able to find a place for them among the real abhangs of Tukaram. There are many such collections, all differing more or less; and the printed texts, of which there have been many, have followed whims of the publishers, and not the laws of textual criticism.- The result is a confusion of texts, which destroys the historic value of the abhangs. We cannot know what abhangs are really Tukaram’s, and what belong to later times. No abhang can be depended upon absolutely as words that fell from Tukaram’s lips. If Mahipati used any of these abhangs that are not Tukaram’s, their authority is of little value. If these additions are late, and founded on Mahipati’s account, they have no historic value. But the text and its problems, give the historian much darkness and very little light.
Taka? life as portrayed.-Divesting ourselves of the troublesome questions of historicity, and not caring whether Mahipati gives us facts or legends, we become prepared to enjoy the portrayal of life that appeals to our sympathy, because so human, that calls us to moral and spiritual ideals, to some of which we may take exception, but which takes us out of the realm of the low and the mean, and into the realm of the pure and the noble, and for which his final end seems so fitting, a chariot of light from Heaven taking him bodily away, as belonging more to Heaven than to earth.
A word to the reader.—To the Western reader, un- familiar with Indian life, thought, and literature, this translation may contain much that will not be understood. There are allusions to social customs, religious rites, Puranik stories and the like that need explanation to be appreciated. The religious point of view will puzzle many. It would be possible to help the reader by extended foot— notes, but it has seemed better to me to confine myself to being a translator, and letting my readers seek elsewhere the answer to their questionings, if their curiosity is sufficiently keen. I may say, however, that the more they read of these translations, and the more they use the Glossary in the Appendix, the more familiar they will become with Indian life and thought, history and legends.
Naturally a translation has less attraction than the original. But unfortunately Mahipati’s readers are few. `Western readers of my translation will meet with much they cannot understand. Never having lived in India, they cannot picture the scenes so vividly told by Mahipati. They cannot see the life in the little village of Dehu, identical with the life that still exists in the town, and on the bank of the Indrayani that flows by the town, still sacred for `the washing away of sins, as well as bodily Filth. They cannot see Tuka, the singing Gosavi, with his cymbals in his hands, singing God’s names as he walks the streets of the little town, or along the path leading to his retreat in the mountain of Bhamgiri. The temple of Vithoba, the idol within, the nightly kirtans in the temple precincts, Tuka leading with his cymbals marking time, and he himself sometimes dancing in ecstasy, are familiar scenes to those whose language is Marathi, but unfamiliar to most of those who read this translation. The danger of misunderstanding Tuka is a real one therefore, and this word of caution will not be in vain, if readers, unfamiliar with Indian life and thought, are careful not to judge too hastily.
Tuka’s asceticism may perhaps be misunderstood. Tuka became an ascetic, not because he saw in asceticism a way to some spiritual advantage, but because he made God so central in his thought that he lost all interest in his body. He became a Videhi, that is, one so absorbed in his thought of God, `that he had no time or thought or desire to supply bodily needs. He ate when food was given him, he slept when Nature compelled it. His body functioned in its natural way, but he took no interest in it. His thought centered only on God. While this ascetic life seemed ideal for himself, and for those who like him were drawn into it through an inspiration that seemed outside of themselves, it does not appear that Tuka urged it as an ideal life for all. On the contrary, if there is truth in Mahipati’s story of King Shivaji’s visit to this saint, and his determination to give up the kingly life, and Tuka’s reminding him of the teaching of the Bhagavadgita, that every caste had its special duties to be performed, and that it was his duty to remain a king, with his kingly duties. If this story is true, it gives us Tuka’s principle, that all men may be called to a higher life, but few only chosen for such a life as he lived, indifferent to bodily needs, and God his central, and only thought.
Another point, which the Western reader may be depended upon to misunderstand, is Tuka’s Theology. This misunderstanding arises partly from the fact that some of the most important philosophic terms have no exact equivalents in English, and other important words, have an English word equivalent etymologically, but that English word does not have the same content as the Sanskrit or Marathi term. The translation of Maya, as illusion, is an example of confusing inaccuracy. God is spoken of as both sayun: and nirgun, as used by Tukaram.
Another fruitful source of misunderstanding is the Westerners’ misconception of Hindu idolatry and polytheism. Vishnu, Krishna, Ram and Vithoba, for example, seem so many separate, independent gods, and the stone images which represent them in their temples seem but little removed from the fetishism of savage people. And yet India’s best thinkers, her deeply philosophic minds, and her noblest saints, like Eknath, Tukaram and Ramdas, have been enthusiastic idolators, without a suspicion in their minds, that such worship could be called a sign of mental weakness, or moral degeneracy. It is not necessary to agree with India’s best thinkers, her moralists or religious teachers, but these 1nen are worthy of respect, and should be listened to with respect, and without the pride that can see truth only in one’s own knowledge.
To understand the Theology of Tukaram or any of the Maratha saints, one should not begin with idolatrous worship and work backward, but should begin with that philosophy that for centuries has dominated Hindu thought. Its basis is an absolute Monism. This whole universe, every thing included, consists of one substance. For convenience of talking about it, it may be called Brahma, or otherwise named, but no human words can be used in describing it, for nothing is known of it. But on this monistic basis Hindu Theology begins. God, a personal being, omniscient, omnipotent, and good, is a form in which the one Substance exists. God is the creator of the forms in which the one Substance exists. There is but one God. Thus the strictest monotheism stands as the basis of Hindu Theology. But God being one of the various forms in which this universe consists, it is assumed that He can be described, and He has been described by philosophers, and poets, and teachers. In the description of Him the most important is that He manifests Himself in different forms, and hence come such manifestations of. His personality, as Brahmadev, God functioning as Creator; Vishnu, God functioning as the life of all things; and Shiva, God in the decay and death of all things. But these Manifestations have also appeared in diverse times, and in diverse manners as avatars for special purposes, each with a name to distinguish one from another. All these manifestations and avatars are thus of God-Supreme. Hinduism stands, therefore, for the strictest Monotheism, but admitting many manifestations and avatars, with their special characteristics to suit the occasion for their appearance.
The history of idolatry is not clear, but to God-fearing Hindus it has seemed a way of natural approach to God. It has never been considered the only way. The manas puja, or the direct mental worship, has always been given a higher place, and idolatry has been considered a lower step to lead to a higher, but the stone or metal image of some supposed manifestation of an avatar, in its setting in a temple sacred to that manifestation, has been and is to- day an inspiration to the worship of God. The rationality of idolatry can be easily attacked, and it can be placed on exhibition with other superstitions, but it cannot be denied that God-fearing Hindus have found spiritual satisfaction in their worship of God through an idol. Eknath, and Tukaram, and Ramdas are typical examples of loving devotion expressed through idolatry. As we have remarked, idolatry is not the only conception or worship that India has evolved, and the future may show a trend to the higher forms, with idolatry. Left for the most ignorant. Tukaram’s abhangs belong to the past untouched by any breath of modern criticism. And they must be so understood in all judgments formed concerning them.
Tuka, as he calls himself, and as Mahipati calls him, was not a learned man. He never went to school. His father taught him the little that he knew. He did not know Sanskrit. He must have found great difficulty in understanding the works of Dnyanadev, and Eknath, in their antique Marathi forms, when he retired with his books to his mountain retreat, to read and study them. He was not at first aware that he was a poet by his very nature. His caste, as Shudra, was comparatively low, and no inspiration came to him from that source, nor from the Brahmans of his acquaintance, to whom he was accustomed -to bow. As Hindu social laws demanded. Tuka’s growth was like the growth of a tree, from seed to full stature, on some retired spot, unassisted except by the very laws of his own being. Forced at first by hard necessity he was a petty grocer in a little village, successful, because of his ` natural ability and honesty, but his heart was not in his business, He wanted God in his soul, and all earthly things, money and property he counted •as dung. Naturally he failed in business, and then came a period of adjustment to his now complete indifference to earthly things, and the unsympathetic attitude of his sharp tongued wife, and scorning neighbours. He had no religious teacher. He had no one to guide him in his moral life, or in his relations to men in general. No human teacher taught him not to return evil for evil. No one taught him that a soft answer turneth away wrath, but to what pages can one turn to find such a life elsewhere in his actual ministering to the human needs about him? Mahipati pictures him helping the sick, carrying the burdens of the weary, giving water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, going on errands for the lame. Even animals came in for his kind thought. He watched for such as needed water or food. Even in this he met with no sympathy from his wife, and little from his neighbours. Tuka had to walk alone. His teacher was no other than the Spirit within him. This brings us to the latter half of his life, in which God is his all in all. God was his food and his drink. The world was nothing to him. God was his center. His poetic inspiration came unexpectedly to him, but once in its grasp he thought and spoke only in abhangs. No one taught him the art of poetry. His words flowed out of a heart full of overflowing love of God, and good will to men.
It is not surprising that tradition has described his end as different from that of others. A chariot of light from Heaven to take his body as well as his soul has seemed to tradition as the fitting end for such a life. When Tuka was accosted on street or path with, the question, "Where are you going?" His invariable answer is said to have been, "I am on my way to the city of Heaven." And tradition has given him the triumphant passage from earth to heaven in a chariot of light, with celestial beings viewing the scene with delight, and showering flowers upon the departing saint.
A word in regard to my translation. While the Marathi of Mahipati yields readily to an English translation on the whole, his abundant use of idioms introduces difficulties of two kinds. One is to understand his idioms, and the other to find an adequate English expression for them. I wish, therefore, to express my sincere thanks to Pandit Narhar R. Godbole for his careful criticisms and suggestions which enable me to overcome these difficulties.
Dr. Wilbur S. Deming of Satara has given of his valuable time in seeing the Stotramala, and this Life of Tukaram through the latter stages of the Press. I owe him my sincere thanks.
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