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Celebration Of Great Warkari Saints – Part II (Rangapanchami -A Celebration Of Filial Love)

Aji Barve jhale

Majhe Maher bhetele

Dola dekheli sajjan,

Bhagniwarila shinna

Ichhile Pavalo

Tuka mhane dhanya zhalo

(All is well today

I reached my mother’s house

Saw the one who is good and pious

And all my fatigue left me.

What I asked for, I received

I have attained fulfillment, says Tuka)

The fifth day of holi is celebrated as Rangapanchami, which is the panchami that falls on Krishna Paksha of the month of Phalgun. Rangapanchami, as the name suggests is welcomed in many parts of India with a myriad of colours depicting different shades of a fulfilled life.  But for the Warkaris of Maharashtra, the essence of this festival is unique – they celebrate it as a day of deep, abiding, filial love.  This day is deeply connected to the life and afterlife of one of Maharashtra’s greatest Sants – Sant Tukaramji Maharaj.

Tukaram Maharaj had two daughters who were themselves great devotees of Vithoba and had inherited their father’s saintly qualities. The younger among them was Bhagirathi and she was special as she was bright and extremely devoted to her father. She was a great bhakt too and had inherited the spirituality of her father.  Tukaram Maharaj’s entire life revolved around Vitthal bhakti.  His day would begin with immersion into the world of Vithoba and he would sing bhajans for hours at end. .Little Bhagirathi would also wake up early and frolic around him to fetch things and run small errands for her beloved Baba. She would hand him his Veena and chiplya or castanets, chattering away happily all the time. ‘Baba, shall I fetch your Veena and chiplya?’ ‘Baba do you need your cymbals?’ Sant Maharaj would smile lovingly and indulge her. As he would begin singing bhajans, she would sit on his lap and sing along or fall asleep. He would lovingly pat her on her head and bless her.

Avli, his wife would watch this daily occurrence and complain. ‘You spoil our girls and indulge them too much. One day they shall be married and they will have to become responsible daughters–in-laws and wives.’

‘Don’t worry Avli, everything will happen in good time. When our Vithu is there standing tall behind us, what do we have to worry about? ‘

Hearing this, she would react fiercely. ‘Don’t you mention that Kallya’s (the dark one) name.

He’s responsible for our penury. He leads you to a merry dance and you sing his praises all day. What does He do for us? Does He provide for us? You are bhola – naive. You don’t understand his ways. He doesn’t care for our family. He just loves to hear you sing his praises.’ Simple, rustic Avli’s anger would always be directed at Panduranga and never at her husband whom she worshipped. From all accounts Panduranga loved her abuses as much as he loved Maharaj’s abhangs. Her shouting at Panduranga, shows her total conviction about His existence. She didn’t have to pray, to feel His presence. For her He was there.

‘Do not say this dear Avli. Panduranga is our sakha, our daivat . How can you talk so, about him?’

This and similar conversations were a regular part of their lives.

As it is well known , Tukaram Maharaj would leave for his sanctuary on Bhandarya dongar. On fine day, it was mid morning, mother Avli was grinding wheat and little Bhagirathi, who was barely 5 or 6 years old was helping her, when they heard a loud call from outside their door. ‘Alakh, Alakh...’

Hearing the call, Avli reacted with her customary irritation. ‘These gosavis (mendicants) have become a nuisance. Nothing has been cooked yet. Go Bhagirathi dear and put some pith (wheatflour) in his bowl. He will not leave till we give him something.’

Bhagirathi got up to do her mother’s bidding and took some pith in her tiny hands and ran to the front door dropping some of it as she ran. By the time she reached him, she had spilled most of it and merely dusted her hands in his bowl.

Now a brief about the gosavi who had come to their door begging for alms:  His name was Angad Shah Nanavali. He was famed for his miraculous abilities. Legend has it that his begging bowl could never fill and overflow, no matter how much was poured into it. He had heard of Tukaram Maharaj and had come there full of vanity and arrogance to prove to ‘Tuka’ that he was far superior to him and that he had abilities which ‘Tuka’ could only dream of.

No sooner did little Bhagirathi dust her tiny hands into his bowl, the bowl overflowed with wheat flour and Angad Shah was stunned beyond belief. He looked at the little girl and said ‘Eh Tuka , Eh Tuka,…. Yallah yallah, are you Tuka?’ and fell at her feet. She moved away with a giggle and laughed, ‘Hey I’m not Tuka.’ And then added with great pride, ‘I’m his daughter, Bhagirathi’.

‘Yallah, yallah, if this is his daughter what would he be?’ His arrogance and vanity melted away and he left their doorstep in a daze….

Years passed and the daughters had grown up to marriageable age, according to the norms of those times. Avli was worried and as was normal for her, nagged Maharaj about it. ‘Are you not bothered about our children? Don’t you think we need to look for suitable grooms for our daughters?’ He would smile, but to her eyes he appeared indifferent to their domestic concerns.

But one day he returned home with a smile and announced to Avli that he had arranged the marriage of their daughters.  She was surprised but gratified. ‘Who? Which family? Did you inquire properly?’

‘It is a family from the village nextdoor to our Dehu. They have two good sons of marriageable age.  The family is pious and prosperous. Our two girls will be married to the two brothers. They will be happy there. Don’t you worry.’ In fact this family revered Tukaram Maharaj and considered it their purva janmache sukrut (good deeds from their past life) that Maharaj’s daughters were to be a part of their family. In this way, Maharaj and Avli got their daughters married. Panduranga saw to it that they did not lack anything. He was always there when they needed them. It was just that Maharaj never asked for anything.

The day of Phalgun Beej dawned and Tukaram Maharaj attained Sadeh Vaikuntha (attaining Vaikuntha in bodily form). Bhagirathi was oblivious to what had happened in Dehu.

Everyday a flowerwoman used to sell flowers in the village where Bhagirathi lived. Everyday without fail, Bhagirathi would run to seek her out and the first question would be, ‘Mallinbai (flowerwoman) how’s Baba?’ Followed by, ‘Did you attend his Kirtan? What did he say in his last Kirtan? Which abhanga did he speak on? How are my dear parents?’ There would be a barrage of questions which mallinbai would answer laughingly. As it so happened, mallinbai did not leave her house for two days after the Vaikunth Gaman of Tukaram Maharaj. She was immersed in sorrow, as was the entire village. Time seemed to have stood still here. On the third day, mallinbai couldn’t afford to lose her business or how would she survive? So she left her house and walked slowly, listlessly to Bhagirathi’s village with her basket of flowers and garlands. They too seemed to have wilted. Bhagirathi had been waiting anxiously for her, wondering where she was – thirsting for news of her father. This daily bulletin about her beloved guru and Baba was what helped her to live her life with contentment and equanimity. It was the ground she walked on, and the oxygen she survived on. For her, he was her world, her reason to be.

Those days news travelled slowly. Nobody in the village had left their homes or gone about their daily routine. Dehu village seemed to have fallen in a strange stupor. Therefore news of the Vaikuntha Gaman of their father, had not reached his daughters. Avli was too distraught to think straight.

The minute she saw her, Bhagirathi ran towards mallinbai and asked her the one question she dreaded the most. ‘How’s Baba mallinbai?’ At this, mallinbai covered her face with her saree pallu and would not answer. Her face contorted and silent tears fell from her eyes. Seeing this, Bhagirathi feared the worst and kept asking, till mallinbai finally had to tell her. ‘He has left us my dear, for his final journey, his maha nirwana‘, she sobbed. Hearing this, Bhagirathi fell to the ground in anguish. In fact the very ground under her feet had shaken. She went into a deep state of shock. She felt bereft, abandoned. Her world came crashing down around her. ‘This is not be true’, she kept saying. ‘How could he go without meeting me?’ and started naam japa, ‘Tukaram, Tukaram, Tukaram, Tukaram……’ Her husband and in-laws ran towards her, trying to calm her. They all were great devotees of her father too and were devastated, but didn’t know how to console her. She was in a trance like state and kept doing the japa of his name. Those surrounding her, looked on, helplessly. Each one tried to console and comfort her, but in vain. A few hours passed in this way.

Tukaram Maharaj had said his goodbyes and invited many of his devotees and his wife to go with him. It is beyond us to say why he was in a hurry to leave this world. But in all this, he certainly felt a pang that he had not met his beloved Bhagirathi. He was other worldly and had not desired aihik sukha. If he ever wanted those worldly pleasures, he could have had them any number of times in his life. Shivaji Maharaj had once sent trays full of gems and jewels to his house and had acknowledged him as his adhyatmic guru (spiritual teacher). But though he did not desire aihik sukha, and wanted only that much, which would feed his family, he was never indifferent to them. His love for his wife and children shone through his behavior whenever he was among them. In fact, he has set an example, like all other Warkari sants of an ideal, loving grihasti. Therefore not wishing his daughter a final goodbye or preparing her for the worst was something that left in him a pang of regret. Great bhakta as she was, she would have happily lived and served her beloved father all her life but she had agreed to get married, only because her father had asked her to.

Legend has it that her father heard her cries in Vaikuntha, and realised that what he feared had happened. He was the one, who when wishing his final goodbye to Avli, had advised her against moha maya or attachments. But he was the one now who felt so much pain when he thought of Bhagirathi.  That was one strong attachment he couldn’t break away from. This very normal, human vulnerability endears our saints so much to us. Such was his love for her, that he then did the most adbhut, most unusual, and the most remarkable thing ever heard of. He decided to appear to her, for her sake.

Lekurache hita jaane mauliche chitta

Aisa kallwallyachi jati kari labhavina preeti

(A mother knows what is best for her child

Parental love is such that they love without any expectations)

He got up then, to fulfill this one unfinished business and travelled back to earth again. ‘This one last bond’, he thought, ‘One last Karma I have to do’.

Bhagirathi lay on the ground doing her japa continuously while her helpless relatives surrounded her. Then suddenly she opened her eyes and perked up her ears as if to hear more closely and to everyone’s surprise said, ‘I can hear his Veena. That cannot be anyone but him.’ She sat up with one quick movement as she spoke. Suddenly energy was surging inside her and hope writ large on her face. She turned to her husband. ‘Can’t you hear his gentle footsteps?’ Her husband looked at her with pity. ‘Her brain is addled’ he thought. ‘Panduranga tuch vachav re (Oh Panduranga! please save us),’ he thought.

She heard his voice call out to her and she got up and ran out the door towards him. Her husband and family were awestruck. They thought she had either lost her mind or was hallucinating. They could not see him. Only she could. Only a true bhakta has the ability to see and envision some things beyond the dimensions of ordinary nashivantas or mortals. She clung to him and wept. He comforted her as only he could. She held his hand and led him into their house. She looked at her father with her soul in her eyes. ‘Where were you?’ she asked. ‘Why did you leave us?’ He looked at her and said ‘Who told you I had gone somewhere? Am I not sitting here in front of you?’

‘Yes Baba.’ Then recollecting herself, she asked him what he would like to have. ‘Will you have some milk Baba. You hardly ever visit me. Won’t you have something?’ she urged. ‘No my dear. I will not have anything. I have gone to a place where I do not have anything.’ Seeing her tear up again he said firmly.

‘Now listen my child, you are not going to agitate yourself and call for me again like this, is that clear? ‘

She was his wise and loving daughter and she had a ready answer, ‘If you do not make me feel that you are not there, I will not call for you and trouble you. Please see that you will never make me feel that you are not there.’ He smiled at her only the way a father can smile at his daughter, and told her, ‘My blessings are always with you dear. You will never again feel that I am not there. My presence will surround you and protect you from every sorrow,’ he added lovingly. His blessings transformed her instantly.

‘Karil to kay nohe Maharaj.’

(One cannot know what He is capable of doing)

She was a different person now, from the one she had been just a few moments ago. Her face shone.

Her family stood around her, mute spectators. They could only hear the one-sided conversation. They were totally bewildered. Devotees and pious people though they were, this was an experience wholly beyond their ken.

Na bhooto na bhavishyati

(Something that has never occurred or will never happen again)

So saying the great Tuka left, leaving Bhagirathi happy and her family bewildered but happy to see her in a more normal state among them.

He appears only to them who call him from their heart. Bhagirathi was one such. For the Warkaris, their Vitthal and their Saints are one and the same. Two sides of the same coin. If one does enough naam japa and asks for them, they will always respond to one’s call.

Strange are the ways of great souls. Tuka, who seemed so asansaari or other worldly to people, was a very loving father, who rushed back to earth from Vaikuntha for the sake of his beloved daughter. Since gender issues have taken centre stage in the past decades, it is a timely reminder to us, that he rushed back for a daughter, not a son. It says a lot about how he didn’t distinguish between the genders. As a loving husband, Tukaram Maharaj also sets a great example. Avli was a feisty woman and though loving and good, she had a mind of her own. And in spite of facing so many trials and tribulations, she understood the strange ways and the genius of her husband. Maharaj never tried to impose on her or change her. He knew how good she was. He was also aware of the challenges she faced and he allowed her to have her outbursts and respected her for what she was. In fact their shared respect for each other, though they were such opposing personalities, is an example even our present contemporary world will find difficult to emulate.

All the Warkari Sants were kind and compassionate – as fathers, husbands, sons, brothers or sisters, they shared deep filial bonds. And that is the reason they appeal so much to ordinary nashivant mortals like us. Sant wangmay or Saint Literature, dwells on the pavitra or sacred and gahan or profound as well as the sarvasadharan or ordinary and the niras or prosaic in good measure. In this way, it elevates us as well as binds us to vastav or reality. That is why an ordinary looking Warkari is never really ordinary. He is steeped in bhakti and is deeply adhyatmic or spiritual. He reads the Sant Wangmay regularly and lives his humdrum existence with honesty and morality.

Sant Tukaram Maharaj descended from Vaikunta just to console and give a sense of closure to his beloved daughter, who wouldn’t come to terms with the fact that she will never see or hear her beloved baba again.  Since then, this day of Rangpanchami is celebrated by the Warkaris as a day when their divine Sant who attained Sadeh Vaikuntha Gaman took on his body once again for the sake of his putri and his most ardent devotee.

To be continued…

Warkari Saints

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