One of these coming days, I’m going to visit the shrine and temple dedicated to the seventeenth century bhakti poet Tukaram. The temple is in the town of Dehu, just outside of Pune.
Tukaram is said to have lived from 1608 to 1649, making him a contemporary of British poets John Donne and John Milton.
He was a “shudra,” a member of the lowest caste in India. Many bhakti poets came from the lower classes and the whole bhakti movement often positioned itself against Brahmin elitism and the whole caste system. Another example of how India and Hinduism are so much more complicated that one might at first think.
Bhakti is a devotional spiritual tradition, first mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, which scholars think was written around 500 to 200 BCE. In the ninth century, CE, a powerful bhakti tradition appeared in south India and spread throughout the subcontinent.
It is arose in many instances from the lower classes and in many forms tends to be anti-caste, anti-authoritarian, non-doctinaire, and iconoclastic. Bhakti often incorporates poetry, music, singing, and dancing in its practices, as well as meditation and study of scriptures. The famous poet Kabir is a good example of an iconoclastic bhakti-poet. Mirabai and Tukaram are others. Famous bhakti teachers include the nineteenth-century Ramakrishna, the twentieth-century Yogananda, Muktananda, Ma Indira Devi, and of living teachers, Mata Amritanandamayi, India’s “hugging saint,” is a good example. Here’s Amma, giving a Western woman a hug.
Because Tukaram was a shudra writing about religion, god, society, etc., he inflamed the rage of the Brahmins. As the story goes,at one point, he was forced by the Brahmin establishment to throw all of his manuscripts in the Indrayani River. They said if he were a true devotee of God, then God would restore them. Tukaram in response undertook a “fast-until-death” praying for the restoration of his work. Thirteen days later, his manuscripts reappeared from the river, unharmed.
Now his poems are read, sung and prayed and danced to, 400 years later,.
Here’s a fun example:
God’s Own Dog: VII
God just loves His dog.
I am no slave
I am His pet.
He’s taught me
To sit by His side
Where He is.
Than to growl
Now and then.
Like a saint.