- (1608–1649)Maharashtran poet-saintTukaram was a Maharashtran poet-saint, who sang Marathi songs in praise of Vithoba or Vit-thala, a local incarnation of KRISHNA.He appears to have been low-caste in birth, probably SHUDRA. As with many of the poet-saints little is known of him for certain, and most of that is taken from autobiographical snippets found in his verses. The primary hagiographies, the Bhak-tililamrita and the Bhaktavijaya, were both written by one Mahipati. They contain many miraculous events and much information that is probably not factual.Poet-saints sometimes find the corpus of their works expand over the years as others mimic their style and wish to have verses of their own composition appear under the respected name of a saint. This phenomenon is evident in the case of Tukaram. Thus, there is no possibility of issuing a critical edition of Tukaram’s words, though many editions and sets of verses have been attributed to him.The hagiographical biography is as follows: Tukaram is born as an AVATA R of the Mahatrastran saint-poet Namdev at the behest of VISHNU him-self, after his parents, Vaishnavite Bolhoba and Kanakai, sincerely entreat God for a saintly son. When Tukaram reaches manhood, his father gives him responsibility in his business. Because his first wife is feeble, Tukaram’s father arranges a sec-ond for him. Tukaram proves inept at business, as he has otherworldly concerns; when he does have a successful venture he gives away all his profits to a needy BRAHMIN.Tukaram falls into severe poverty and his elder wife starves to death. Then his eldest son dies. At this, Tukaram renounces the world and retires to a mountain to worship Vithoba. There Vithoba reveals himself to him. Tukaram’s second wife continues to serve him as her husband but com-plains bitterly of his otherworldly nature.Tukaram is known for his kindness and caring for all. He feeds the hungry by miracles, he aids a lame woman, he repairs a temple. Gradually, he attracts disciples and gains fame in his worship of Vithoba at Pandharpur. The famous Maratha king Shivaji visits Tukaram, who tells him to return to kingship and not renounce the world. Tukaram performs many miracles, including turning iron into gold. After many visitations, God himself escorts the glorious Tukaram to heaven.Further reading: Justin Abbott, Life of Tukaram (Delhi: Motilal Banasidass, 1980); Ajit Lokhande, Tukarama, His Person and His Religion: A Religio-Historical, Phe-nomenological and Typological Enquiry (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1976); Eleanor Zelliot, “Four Radical Saints of Maharastra,” in Milton Israel and N. K. Wagle, eds., Religion and Society of Mahatrastra. South Asian Papers, No. 1 (Toronto: Centre for South Asian Stud-ies, University of Toronto, 1987); Eleanor Zelliot and Maxine Berntsen, The Experience of Hinduism: Religion in Maharastra (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.