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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Tale of two Vaishnavaites

Innumerable are the names of Lord Vishnu and innumerable are his devotees. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, professions and learning (vidwat). We are about to embark on a spiritual adventure along with two of His famous devotees in Indian history, Bhaktha Kumbhara and Sant Tukaram.

The birth name of Bhaktha Kumbara is unknown, but he was referred to as Gora Kumbhara (The fair-skinned potter). From an early age, he was immersed in the love for his favorite deity, Lord Krishna as Pandarinatha or Vittala or Vithoba (Lord of Pandaripur). Kumbhara lived somewhere in the 13th-14th century in Teredoki Village in Maharashtra. Legend has it that once in a rapturous mood, he squished his own baby son along with the clay used in making pots. Since his wife was of advanced age, as also to re-engage his heart in Samsara (worldlyness), his wife convinced him to marry her own sister. He vowed that even if he slept between the two wives, he would not entertain impure thoughts nor even touch them. But once by mistake, his hands fell over his two wives on either side. In a moment of deep anguish he cut off his two hands, and for some time lived without his hands. Not being able to bear the longing of separation from his deity, he finally implored Lord Krishna to accept his life at His holy feet. Moved by Bhaktha Kumbhara's unflinching devotion, Lord Krishna granted his two hands, and the happiness of regaining the lost son, and another through Kumbhara's second younger wife. Bhaktha Kumbhara lived a long life of selfless service to his community and unparalleled devotion to Lord Krishna.

Sant Tukaram was born and lived most of his life in Dehu, a town close to Pune, Maharshtra. He is slated to have lived between 1608 and 1645. He is considered as a prominent Varkari Sant and spiritual poet of the Bhakti movement. Some scholars consider him as a Kunbi Maratha hailing from the agricultural tillage caste of vaanis. His complete name is Tukarama Bolhoba Aambile. In South India, he is fondly addressed as Bhaktha Tukaram. Tukaram lost his first wife Rakhumabai and had three sons of his second marriage to Jijabai (Avali), namely Santu/Mahadev, Vithoba and Narayan. Tukaram is believed to be the spiritual successor to the mystic Sant Dhyaneshwar, and vehemently opposed the concept of Chatur Varna classification of society. He was also a devotee of his Lord Vithoba like Bhaktha Gumbara. He adorns the illustrious Varkari lineage of Namdeo, Dhyaneshwar, Janabai and Eknath. He has personally sung the praise of Sant Namdeo and about his personal guru Babaji Chaitanya. Tukaram believed that one should chant God's name (Panduranga Vitthal) with love, and not for earning something in exchange for the chant. He urged people to look beyond the transience of worldly affairs, and realize that it is only the unselfish chant of God's name that delivers a person from the misery and suffering of this earthly existence. Tukaram himself realized this after his mother, wife and son passed away and he experienced one suffering after another. When Tukaram became disgusted after all this, God appeared in his dream and suggested that his suffering would end if he chants God's name with love. After this incident, Tukaram began chanting God's name and singing poems called "abhangs", which are replete with meaning and messages about love for God and the transience of worldly affairs. It is believed that a heavenly vehicle arrived to transport him to Vaikuntha, the permanent abode of Lord vishnu. According to certain other hearsay, Sant Tukaram is supposed to have returned twice or thrice to be with his people, bless and guide them. And that his wife Jijabai was engaged in tending to the cows, cleaning the shed, chopping wood and such worldy work that she refused a trip to Vaikuntha, when entreated by her huband to accompany him. Her story is an object lesson to all of us on the stranglehold of samsara from which we must free ourselves in this very life.

Below are snippets from the lives of the two saints brought to life in celluloid. First video is from Bhaktha Kumbhara (Dr. Rajkumar plays the title role), where he explains in the majestic presence of Sant Namdeo and Gyaneshwar, that a human is comprised merely of brain and flesh. Second video is from Sant Tukaram, where he is seen imparting his final words of wisdom to the devotional crowd, before embarking to Vaikuntha to be permanently united with his dear Lord Vishnu:

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