Was Saint Tukaram murdered?
Saint Tukaram is most revered saint in Varkari sect (devotees of Lord Vitthala) in Maharashtra. His devotional poetry encompasses the humanity and great affection towards suffering masses. It is believed that he didn’t die, but was flown to heavenly abode, Vaikuntha, by a celestial plane sent by Lord Vishnu.
However, lately, among some sections of Maharashtra, propaganda is at helm that Tukaram, instead, was murdered by Brahmanical (Vedic) sect and to hide murder, rumor of his Vaikuntha journey was deliberately spread.
It is fact that Tukaram, being a strong proponent of equality, was not at all favorite among some orthodox Brahmins. There also is a myth that his writing was thrown in the Indrayani River to destroy it forever, but miraculously his written texts remained afloat and thus survived.
Rational thinking does not allow us to accept any miracles happening. However among devotees they not only are popular but believed as truth. The controversy began as Brahmin-hate became a foundation of social movement of Maharashtra, promoted by couple of organizations. Believing in the story of Tukarams journey to heaven by plane, alive, naturally gave rise to the wicked assumption that the Brahmins must have murdered him and later created a myth to suppress the truth.
Let us try to find out what could have happened.
1) There is yet confusion about birth date of Saint Tukaram. Some scholars give dates like 1577, 1602 and 1609. There is quite a huge gap and yet there is no unanimity.
2) There is no doubt that when he died (or flown to Vaikuntha) in the year 1650. If assumed oldest date his age at this time would be 83 and if latest date is considered his age would be 41.
3) His most of the life time was spent at Dehu and Lohgaon, the villages close to Pune city (Maharashtra) thjose used to fall under domain of either Adilshahi or Nijamshahi alternatively till King Shivaji started his attempts to establish his kingdom in 1645.
Before these attempts, Shahaji Raje (father of Shivaji), and later Shivaji was Jagirdar (feudal lord) of the Pune and Supe region. Bing close to Pune, it is quite probable that Dehu and Lohgaon villages were part of their Jagir.
4) Tukaram had become a famous and revered saint in his lifetime. His conflict with orthodox Brahmin, Mambaji, is quite famous. He detested Tukaram for his teachings of equality and the respect he earned from common non-Vedic people. Incidence of attemting to drown Tukara’s writings was at the behest of Mambaji.
5) Still, Bahinabai, a Brahmin woman was his most devoted disciple. Among his famous fourteen cymbal players were four Brahmins, namely Mahadajipant Kulkarni, Rameshvarbhat Bahulkar, Abajipant Lohgaonkar and Malharpant Kulkarni. This shows Tukaram had attracted disciples from all castes.
6) After 1645 Shivaji started his efforts to establish his own kingdom. Though he had to face initial hurdles, like arrest of his father Shahaji Raje, in 1648, he resumed his efforts in 1649 with new enthusiasm.
7) Being so close to Pune city, it is improbable that Shivaji, a just Jagirdar (Mokasdar) and later a King, wouldn’t have heard of Tukaram. Rather there is couple of myths that Shivaji had attended his Kirtana’s and had sought blessings from him. Many scholars state that Tukaram was Shivaji’s Guru.
Whether Guru or not, Shivaji must have known Tukaram, being so famous in his times, and in all probabilities must have met with him. Shivaji had respect for all the saints in his region and around of those times, including Baba Yakut, a Muslim saint and used to meet them occasionally.
8) It is impossible that Tukaram was really flown alive to Vaikuntha, heavenly abode of Vaishnavaits , through a celestial plane. So this possibility, though Varkari sect believes in this, have to be ruled out.
9) The possibility that the orthodox Brahmins of those time conspired to assassinate Tukaram, cannot be ruled out. Many saints have been murdered by Vedic sects as they posed challenge to their supremacy. But let us not forget that the murders didn’t remain a secret. Tukaram’s case is peculiar. There is no mention of his body ever been found anywhere. Rather the texts of his fellow saints and devotees state that in presence of all Tukaram was taken alive to heaven.
10) As described, Tukaram was a famous saint of those times. Had he been murdered it would remain no longer a secret. His sudden disappearance would have become a talk of all giving rise to speculations. Shivaji too would have come across such talks, and whether in his domain or not, would have initiated inquiries. Murdering Tukaram and destroy his remains to enshroud a crime would have been impossible; no matter how cunning were the conspirators.
Rather it would be unwise to imagine murder-theory is in a way injustice with a King like Shivaji, who is known and respected for his just administration.
11. Santaji Teli Jagnade, a contemporary saint, was present at the time of Tukaram’s Vaikuntha Gamana, as written by Jagnade’s son Baloba. Other saints and devotees nowhere mention that Tukaram suddenly disappeared or some evil happened with him. Rather they seem joyous on the event of Tukaram’s heavenly journey and seem to be celebrating it.
12. A Marathgi scholar, Vi. Ka. Rajwade had suggested that the moving dead body of Tukaram in a palanquin to cremation was symbolically taken by Tukaram’s devotees as his live journey through plane to heaven. Such symbolism is not new in Saints tradition.
What we can conclude that there is no possibility that Saint Tukaram was murdered. Globally myths and mysteries and miracles are part of the biographies of the saints in which devotees love to believe. Rather they create the myths to enhance superiority of the saint they believe in.
Tukaram had challenged Vedic tradition, but he was not a man to cause severe enmity with anyone. There is also a myth that later, his staunch opponent Mabaji too had become Tukaram’s disciple. In his circle were people of all castes and religions. Most importantly, there was a King like Shivaji around who wouldn’t have tolerated murder or disappearance of a great saint.
In all it clearly seems Tukaram was not murdered, nor he was taken alive to heavenly abode, Vaikuntha. Rather he must have died naturally and been cremated on shores of the River Indrayani. The conspiracy theory is just an outcome of hatred.