Maharashtra is a land of many Bhakti poet saint. Sant Tukaram of Dehu is one of the tallest saints among them. He is best known for his Abhangs that are fondly sung in concerts as well as Kirtans.
Since most of their works are primarily available only in Marathi, I have not read them yet. I do listen to Abahngas off and on, purely for their devotional emotion. My search for the translated works of Tukaram ji took me to his village in Dehu.
All I knew about Sant Tukaram was his image carrying an Ektara in his hands, just like Meera Bai who must have been his contemporary. My quest was to know him and his works.
Devotional History of Dehu
Sant Tukaram lived in the first part of 17th CE. Dehu was already known as Sri Kshetra or a sacred place dear to Pandurang Vithal. We know that Pandharpur is the abode of Vishnu in the Swaroop of Vithal where is worshipped with his consort Rakhma. Then, how come Dehu came to be known as sacred.
Dehu is located on the banks of Indrayani River that is associated with the story of arrival of Indra. It is a tributary of the Bhima River on whose banks we find the Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga.
Sant Tukaram is the eighth-generation descendant of Vishambhar Buva who lived in Dehu. He was an ardent devotee of Pandurang and used to visit Pandharpur every Ekadashi or the 11th day of each fortnight. Ekadashi as we know is the day on which all Vishnu devotees fast or at least observe austerities.
As he grew old, it became difficult for him to visit Pandharpur. He turned to Pandurang or Vithoba and sought his guidance. Vithoba appeared in his dream and asked him to look for a place where he would find Tulsi leaves, flowers and Bukka, and dig there. Vishambhar Buva went looking for the three things in the morning.
In the middle of a Mango Orchard, he found the three things. When he dug up the place, he found the Murtis of Vithal and Rakma. Indeed, the Devta has decided to come to the devotee as the latter was incapable of traveling anymore.
The Murtis were formally installed and a temple was built around them, right on the banks of Indrayani river. The Murtis are considered Swayambhu or self-manifested.
Tukaram was born in a prosperous house, and learnt trading and agriculture from his father. He lost is parents early and took on the responsibility of family business. He was very good at it. However, a series of sudden deaths in the family made him detached.
He sat and meditated on Bhangiri hill for 15 days without eating anything. When he came down, he had the glow of a saint. He started composing and singing Abhangs or devotional songs. He was deeply influenced by the works of Sant Dhyaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath and Kabir.
Once after a tiff, he threw all the books of his Abhang in Indrayani River, and sat on a stone by the river, for meditating. He sat without food and water for 13 days. His books floated atop the river without any damage. The same stone is now enshrined in a temple.
It is said that Sant Tukaram, left this world, along with his body while singing kirtan. That is why there is no Samadhi of his anywhere.
Dehu, thus is the place where Sant Tukaram was born and lived all his life.
Dehu is situated close to Pune, just about 30 kms. So, I took a cab and drove down to this small town on the banks of Indrayani River.
Guided by Google, I first reached the relatively new Gatha Mandir. Walking through the stalls selling the sugarcane juice, I entered the premises in all white. On my right was a huge temple.
I wondered if Tukaram ji would have ever lived in such an opulent place. It reminded me of Kabir Chauraha in Varanasi, which was way opulent for the simplicity we see in Kabir’s words.
Climbing the stairs, flanked by two giant elephant figures, I entered the huge octagonal hall. In the middle there is a huge Murti of Sant Tukaram made in Panchdhatu or an alloy of five metals. In a sitting posture, he is seen engrossed in devotion, with Ektara in one hand and Pothi or the manuscript in front of him.
Surrounding him are the chambers with marble walls, with 4145 of his Abhangas written on them. 108 Namavali or names of Sant Tukaram also adorn the walls. In between, there are paintings that depict some of the scenes from his works. The works spread across two floors.
On the first floor there is a temple dedicated to the Ishta of Sant Tukaram – Pandurang Vithal and Rakma Bai. You can walk around and feel the enormity of the work he has left behind.
There are giant panels depicting the different avatars of Vishnu.
A board beautifully describes Gatha Mandir as:
Dana Tirtha of the wealthy
Cultural center for the public
Sacred place for the devotees
Wealth of the Varkaris
Pride of Maharashtra
Essence of India
Guiding Light for everyone
Gurukul, Annapurna Bhavan and Gaushala
Close to the Gatha Mandir, and within its campus is a Sant Tukobaraya Gurukul for students. I did not go inside, but from outside it looked quite modern and well maintained.
Little ahead, there is Matoshri Bahinabai Annapurna Bhavan that serves food to the visiting devotees. You can donate but there is no ticket to eat. On the first floor of this hall is another hall where devotional gatherings take place. A non-stop sankirtan of Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari is broadcasted for the rest of the campus. I always like live Kirtans. Watch this one from Ayodhya.
Little ahead is a Shridhara Goshala or the cowshed, overlooking the river.
You miss the greenery and trees around the main Gatha Mandir, but I believe that it is still a work in progress and trees would come up in time. For more details look at their website.
Vithal Mandir on Banks of Indrayani
Right next to the Gatha Mandir in Dehu, on the banks of Indrayani River is a small but old temple dedicated to Vithal and Rukmini. You need to take the steps down the ghat to reach this temple. Stone pavilions exist around the temple for the pilgrims to sit and relax.
The small temple has Murtis of Vithal- Rakma, old stone Murtis of Ganesh and Hanuman and lots of trees around. There were not many people here. I found it an extremely peaceful place, perfect to sit and meditate or just reflect. The calming water of Indrayani and the gentle gaze of Vithoba make you feel a part of the environment.
A small shop here sells the small souvenir Murtis of Vithal-Rakma, Sant Tukaram and Sant Dhyaneshwar Maharaj.
Jagatguru Sant Sri Tukaram Maharaj Samsthan
This is the main temple that was built by Vishambhar Bhuva, the ancestor of Sant Tukaram. It is a typical Maharashtrian style temple in stone. An arch on the main road tells you the direction of the temple. A Mahadwar with a Murti of Sant Tukaram on top welcomes you into the temple premises.
First thing I saw inside the temple is a small Hanuman temple. Then there is a Ram Mandir. In the middle is a temple, with the Vithoba-Rakma Murti that was received at this spot. The temple is beautiful with lots of carvings. One can assume that it is 200 years older than the times of Sant Tukaram, making it a 15th CE temple.
Stone steps from the temple lead to the river, though the access from here is not open as of now. In the corridor surrounding the temple, you can see panels depicting the life of Sant Tukaram.
Tukaram Maharaj Shila Mandir
This is an important temple on the side of the Vithoba temple. It enshrines the Shila or stone slab on which Tukaram Ji meditated for 13 days. No wonder, it is sacred spot for his devotees.
In the corner, a small temple houses the handwritten manuscript of Tukaram ji’s works.
There is a lamp post or Deepshikha in typical Maharashtrian style and a Tulsi Vrindavan in the temple premises. Beneath a tree, there is a Garuda temple.
In the mandapa, you see the silver Palki. I assume it is the one for Wari Pilgrimage. An ektara is hanging on the wall, but I could not figure out if it indeed belongs to Tukaram ji.
Travel Tips for Visiting Dehu
Dehu is very close to Pune. You can easily do it as a day trip from Pune.
There are basic juice and fruit stalls around temples. I am not sure of good joints. I did not see any.
Entry to all the places is free. You offer what you wish to offer.
Temples are open through the day.
Temples attract huge crowds on Ekadashi and on the day Wari Palki leaves for Pandharpur. So, plan accordingly.