Tuka Says

While browsing through books and video clips on 17th century poet Tukaram,students,artists and professionals discover facets of his life at Open Space

Written by Prajakta Hebbar | Pune | Published: August 20, 2013 1:18 am

During the wari,a couple of months ago,many pilgrims walked through Pune chanting verses by 17th century poet,Tukaram. The devotees chanted verses like,“Sundar te dhyaan ubhe vitewari…” in unison,and the words of the poet and social commentator of his times,resonated as the crowd crossed the Lakdi Pul (bridge) over Mutha river.

On Saturday,however,the group of Tukaram enthusiasts that gathered at the Open Space premises in Koregaon Park,were neither warkaris nor were they seeking spiritual guidance. The walls were decorated with artwork dedicated to Tukaram and his words and for the audience’s reference,books and couplets on the subject,were passed around.

The group comprised economists,students,artists and professionals from all walks of life. The event,organised by Innishari — an organisation that creates theme-based artwork — and Open Space,focused on discussing and discovering various facets of the saint’s life. “We are yet to make up our mind as to whether Tukaram can be put into simplistic labels such as a saint,spiritual leader,writer or a poet. He was all of the above,” said Abhay Tilak,director of the Indian School of Political Economy,a kirtankar and an expert on Tukaram,as he discussed the evolution of Tukaram.

Referring to the modern perception that saints,mythological texts and similar teachings are obsolete for any other use than that of spirituality,Sadanand More,professor at Pune University’s department of philosophy,and a direct descendant of Tukaram,said,“Tukaram had a straight-forward allegorical take on the problems of his time. The context may have changed slightly,but the philosophies are still relevant.”

Identifying him as arguably the first modern poet in Marathi literature,Tilak said,“Tukaram was saint Dnyaneshwar’s successor. He denied caste hierarchy and attacked almost every form of myth existing in Hindu society during his time.”

The discussion,which was peppered with video clips from the 1936-film Sant Tukaram,drifted towards the origins of various modern schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). Recounting a story about Tukaram,Tilak said,“After a famine in which Tukaram lost his family and fortune,he tried to get the villagers back to their feet by offering them grain in exchange for their help in the

restoration of an old temple. This can be termed as the original MNREGA scheme. ”More also quoted the example of Tukaram’s iconic couplet,“Je ka raanjle gaanjle”. “The verse,which essentially talks about the qualities of sainthood,explains that the true saint is one who embraces the poor. Doesn’t that definition fit well for politicians as well,” he asked.

But what if Tukaram had been born in modern times? Would he have chosen to become a political leader,a social activist,a writer or an educator? Addressing this abstract question with a smile,Tilak said,“He would definitely have been a social reformer. It would have been inevitable.” More,however,added that Tukaram would have been a writer.

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