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Eating Hunger: Selections from the Poems of Tukarama,
trans. J. Nelson Fraser and K.B. Marathe

Poems: Moral Injunctions


Be wise

The country people cover their dead and go on sowing without loss of time; so must you seek your own gain, since a body of flesh is bestowed on you. The grain drawn forth by the hand sprouts sooner than what is left in the bag; thus it is with the welfare of man. We have no authority over time; the wise must solve this riddle. Tuka says, The wise man takes counsel with himself in this mortal world.

The futility of the four stages

It is a student's duty to recite the Vedas; in the second stage a man must perform the six tasks. When he takes to the forest, he seeks separation through union; a sanyasi must renounce his plans. If a man is initiate, know his open secret; he is beyond all caste, religion or family. He who preaches a rule and does not follow it, he is a sinner, as the Vedas say. Tuka says, Every state has its own rules; it is all empty toil that ends in pain.

The safety of lowliness

Humility is a good thing, O God; it avoids all enmity; in a great flood the trees perish, the blades of grass survive. When the waves pass over them, they escape because they are humble. Tuka says, The secret is to clasp his feet; no violence can harm you.

Preserve your body

Lo! the fruit is found within the seed, without any desire of ours. One who seeks in his folly to treat his guide as a pressed laborer, how will he break his fetters? You may call him a senseless madman. Tuka says, Preserve your body to be useful to you in future.

Procure peace

A meal is delightful, if it be eaten in peace, be the food rich or poor; like a fountain playing by art, it is a source of gratification. Let your thoughts be set on God. Tuka says, Then you will procure that peace which all things bestow on such a man.

Controlling anger

A foolish man gets angry with the oil-merchant; to gratify his resentment he eats dry bread. A woman gets vexed with other people; she renounces her husband, she shaves her head, and loses his affection. Another is angry with her neighbors; she leaves her house and the dogs occupy it. A man is worried by fleas, he burns his house; he loses it, but he does not care. A woman is annoyed with lice; she throws off her clothes and shows herself naked to the world. Tuka says, Think of these; keep your true interest in view; do not be shortsighted.

On a festival

We have laid foot cloths on the earth, and the garlanded one walks thereon, imprinting in red hues the tread of his delicate feet. Adore, all of you, the dust of his feet, who made the bridges of stones swim in the water. Make room for him, stand silent in your places; be dumb and utter not a word! Tuka proclaims the season; halls and porches and doors are opened.

Stay awake!

I spoke in the full confidence that some would come to seek their advantage. These are no jesting words, no tricks to please people. For God's sake I toiled to set my words in order. Take no offense, says Tuka, only stay awake!

Be ready

I have come as a messenger to invite all and to take all away with me. Be ready, be ready, I let you know in good time. While the hour is yet distant, there is time to spare. When the blessed moment comes, we stand up fully awake to grace it. If all are united, then something worth praise is accomplished. Tuka says, I wait for the hour with strained attention.

To parents who opposed him

Fathers and mothers complain that their children will not listen when they say: "Don't go into the temple, a goblin carries off people there. There's a preacher there who whispers alluring words into men's ears and brings them to poverty. How can you be our child after that? You will have to go with naked people!" Tuka says, You will go to hell if you listen to their advice.

Who knows how to churn

All know there is butter in sour milk; one who knows how to churn can separate it. In fuel there is fire, but you cannot kindle it without rubbing pieces together. Unless you clean a dirty looking glass, how can you see your face in it? Says Tuka.

The vital thing is the seed

The string is first fastened to a peg and then the kite is sent up to float in the air; when we have security for our money lent, we shall not lose money lent on a bond. Where a seed is sown, a sprout will come up; what you must take care of, the vital thing, is the seed. Tuka says, It is the service of God that keeps me at peace.
Enjoy your work

What avails preaching? It is wasted unless our daily walk agree with it. The name of nectar on the lips is a mockery when a man is tortured by hunger. Though you pound and cook a stone, how will you change its unyielding nature? The bee gathers honey and stores it up for other plunderers. A miser gathers wealth and stores it in the earth; it is all earth with him, whether in his hands or his mouth. The man who enjoys the work he does—at his feet Tuka bows.

Keep your mind awake

When a tradesman's accounts will not fit, he lights a lamp and sits examining them. Even so do you keep your mind awake, for your own true good. Where a man's wealth is buried, there his mind clings. You struggle hard, says Tuka, for perishable wealth.

Speak peace

Are you in need of God? This is an easy means of attaining him. Utter such words as will keep you at peace. Much or little, do good to others, says Tuka.

Piety dwells in the secret rules

We ought to feed the hungry without thinking whether they deserve it; the spirit of piety dwells in its secret rules, they should only be published on due occasion. When we bestow wealth on a daughter's hand, we should enquire into a man's family or a vocation. Tuka says, If we find a man with a store of merit, then we have found the right man.

A good deed

The rich man's table is loaded; the poor man's longing sets him in motion. I will thankfully accept what is given to me; I will go to a lonely place to dine. You need not seek the proper moment for a good deed; an unsought time is the best for it. Tuka says, When my stomach is filled, in dignified speech I will praise God.

Do not end your own life

Do not put an end to your own life; it will soon pass away. He who seeks death is the son of an ass; in very truth we may call him a low wretch. Tuka says, He knows not his own true good who throws away a treasure lodged with him.

Our teachers will support us

If we associate with people we have the advantage of dining with them; what evil things bring us must be learned by experience. Somehow or other let our life benefit those that follow us; our teachers will support us with hands and feet. The generous will not suffer misery around them; they ever pity those that follow them. The good, says Tuka, will earn their fame only by removing the afflictions of the weak.

Profit in the market of life

Listen, all you that have entered the market of life; store up no goods that will bring a loss on you. Consider, all of you, that it is a time to make profit; take the help of those who know how to choose. When a thing is decorated, you cannot tell what it is like inside, when a cloth is tied up you cannot easily open it. It is a mistake, says Tuka, to tie yourself down by paying an earnest; you should take over from hand to hand genuine articles.

The world is a confused wilderness

Brush aside all that clings to you; choose the good path; pass quietly along it, pausing from moment to moment. You see printed on the ground the footprints of those who have gone before you; the world around is a confused wilderness. Mark what has been spent from time to time before you; be an assurance of strength to those that follow you. Tuka says, Deliver to the last goods equal to the sample shown.

Where your words will be valued

He who is truly loved by another finds a home near him; others, though they approach, are still left far away. A cow deserts a full-grown calf, though it be of her own family. The lover alone knows the sweetness of his mistress's love, though others may find pleasure in her company. Tuka says, Speak where your words will be truly valued.

Cooking food backwards

You cannot cook your food backwards; you must follow the rules which have been laid down. You cannot trust the words of a great talker; they are mere chaff, with no taste in them. How can a man gather fruit before he plants a tree? A man who jests about doing so, you may call an idle prattler. How many wretches have been cheated in this way, says Tuka; they imagine that wheat itself tastes like cakes.


We should give food to all creatures, but money only after due consideration of their fitness; for we should only sow seed where it will grow. Otherwise, while intending to do well, we may sin, like one who should fatten a snake on milk, or purchase sorrow for himself by reciting weird spells. The earth is all the same to look at; nevertheless, parts of the soil are rocky, parts gravelly, and parts of black earth. Some are good, some poor, and some middling. Hence, if you wish to do right, you must first discriminate. Tuka says, A choice dish prepared without sugar would have no flavor.

Stroking the snake

Some men are insolent by nature, steeped and dyed in insolence; keep far away from them! Back or front, how can poison end in anything wholesome? Tuka says, My friend, a snake doesn't understand that you are stroking him lovingly.

He chains his own feet

A poor fool is he whose heart is such that he spends his own money to put a chain on his feet. The love of worldly pleasures destroys our life, and ruins our true interests. Deluded men make an enemy of their own body by following the suggestions of its lusts. Tuka says, The lecher ends his days in pain because he gives himself up to pleasure.