Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saint on earth.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Sant Tukaram has always fascinated me. As a child, I saw V Shantaram's eponymous movie. I don't remember being too impressed by it at the time. My latter-day interest in Tukaram prompted me recently to read Mahipati's Tukaram, a part of his Bhaktalilamrita. Its English rendering by Dr Justin Edwards Abbott, an American scholar who lived in India in the early twentieth century and contributed to the development of Marathi literature in his own way, retains the flavour of the original. It reminded me of the pothis my mother used to read, Shivalilamrita being one of them, particularly the eleventh chapter on Mondays. I'm not sure if what I read is historically accurate. What struck me, though, was that Tukaram as an enlightened person insisted on possessing nothing. There are repeated instances in the story I read of Tukaram inviting brahmins, mendicants and poor people to "loot" his home. This reminded me of what I had written earlier: In researching it, I had come across informed opinion that enlightenment ought to change a person for the better. Also, there is the Simony angle to the practice of sainthood, I reckon. Mahipati's account of Tukaram qua an avatar of Namdeo explicitly states that his protagonist was almost violently opposed to the Advaita way to enlightenment. He was all for bhakti. In other words, total devotion. This was a bit bewildering in that I could not imagine a gentle soul like him opposing any idea vigorously - especially if it had the sanction of the Vedas. The other puzzling bit is that, while all along Tukaram seems to be drifting away from his wife Avali who is cross with him for giving his total devotion to Vithoba and neglecting his family, at the time of his ascent to Vaikuntha, Vishnu's heavenly abode, he sends a message to her to join him. She, however, sends back a message that she is in the fifth month of pregnancy and cannot join him. How did it happen?