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

Poems: The True and the False

Ferry across the mirage

How could we contrive a ferry across the mirage of the world, to cross to the farther side of it? When children play at shop with coins of broken potsherds, what real loss or gain is made in that business? When girls play at a wedding, does any real relation between them follow? Whatever joy or grief we experience in a dream, when we wake we find it was a false impression. It is false that all are born or dead, or bound or free or suffering, says Tuka.

If a man has two wives...

If a man has two wives, sin dwells in his house; you need not go searching for sin; one who wants it need only visit him. No long reflections on the subject are needed. Where there is falsehood, there is a heap of sin; where men speak the truth, there pleasures come welling up. Tuka says, Profit and loss are not far apart.

To lay aside hatred

To lay aside hatred is the secret of attainment; other rules of renunciation are a waste of words.

Describing cakes

If a man goes on describing cakes and rubbing his hands to show how they are made, he brings spittle into his mouth, but his speech is insipid; it is like unsalted food that has neither taste nor flavor. One who can only talk and has no spirit within him — what is the good of his words? Curses on them! Tuka says, A talkative and loquacious temper is the root of falsehood.

Good and bad cooks

Wheat is the same in kind, but bad cooks spoil it. To know the secret of an art is the great thing, be it much or little, the secret of what to do and where to do it. By honest toil different kinds of grain may be made into different dainties. Tuka says, It is skill that is valuable; words are false and worthless.

Belching will not make a man fat

Before she has borne a child, if a woman performs joyful ceremonies, she is a silly creature practicing nonsense. What is the good of such public display? The mere mention of sugar brings no pleasure. A forced attempt to belch will not make a man fat; he will still look thin and miserable. Tuka says, You talkative men, listen to me; if you have no experience, do not assume the exterior of knowledge.

Dancing with true joy

If you desire nothing, O God, why have you assumed any name? Why do you impart to any one the knowledge of yourself? Is not this proof of fraud on your part? If a man dances before you with true joy, then your true form stands before him. Tuka says, Love is a thing that should not be impaired.

The clouds make the peacocks dance

The sandal tree need not call the other trees together and talk of its own perfume. Its inner quality comes to light through its natural power; it cannot restrain it though it would. The sun need not tell his rays to shine when he would arouse the world. Tuka says, The clouds make the peacocks dance; no one can conceal the truth.

The true saint

Whoever makes himself the friend of the oppressed, recognize him for a true saint, know that God dwells in him. Mild as butter within and without, such is the nature of a good man. He who takes the unprotected to his heart, who shows to his servants and to his own son the same compassion, Tuka says, How often shall I tell you he is the very image of the Divine?

The body as purity and corruption

The body is a storehouse of pain, a chamber of disease, a stinking corner; there is nothing so abominable. The body is noble, a heap of delights; it is the body which has found the way and attained the spirit. The body is a trench of corruption, a snare of illusive desire. Sin has its roots in the body, destruction pervades it. The body is altogether pure, the treasure of treasures; it is the body that breaks the ties of the world, God dwells delighted within it. The body is a creature shaped of ignorance, a mass of evil qualities; misery dwells within it, there is no good quality found there. Give not the body pleasure, neither torture it or forsake it; it is neither good nor bad, says Tuka; turn with ardor to the worship of God.

The body as friend

Diseases are born in the body, yet how could we call them our friends? Simples grow in the forest, yet how could we call them strangers? Tuka says, Such is the body's relation to us, if we make it a friend, it is a friend.

The standards of goodness

One who sells his daughter, his cow or his sermon, he is rightly called a low-caste wretch. The standards of goodness are merits and demerits; God considers not a man's caste. Tuka says, They who do unlawful deeds, these are they who go down into hell.

Hard corn that will not cook

What! does not even a tree bend? A madman forgets who and what he is; the man who bears no fruit by his admonition is like the dry stump of a tree. What! are there not stones that are as mute as sages? Tuka says, You may look on fools as hard corn that will not cook.


The father shows his gold; the brokers settle the price of his daughter; such is the fate of religion in this age; the holy are degraded and the unholy are strong. The twice-born have forgotten their rules; they are turned slanderous and thievish. They conceal their books and marks on their foreheads; they put on trousers and shoes. They sit down on the trestles and harass the people, if food is not given them. They write accounts at bania's shops; they live by dealing in oil and ghee. They become servants of the lowest of men; if they fail in their duties, they get beaten. The Raja oppresses his subjects; the warrior class oppress the wretched. Vaisyas and Sudras are naturally a low race — but what of these? They are all mere show; within they are black, without they are bright. Tuka says, O God, why sleepest thou? I cry unto thee.

The hypocrite

If a man has a wife and child dying of hunger and gives himself out publicly as a great man, what could he show people if he took them home? He would have to creep away ashamed. Tuka says, We can tell a fellow like that; worldly people may be deceived but not we.

The evils of the Sakta

In a region where an ass of a Sakta dwells, there is a heap of sins. He has blown good conduct to the winds, and bidden the senses rage unchecked. If he conceives a passion for a woman, he repeats her name with fierce incantations. He is a drinker of spirits, a low wretch; his mind is a pit of uncleanliness. He is not ashamed, for all his beard, to sing the praises of a harlot. Tuka says, The cursed woman will take him to herself at last.

The religious imposter

If you have any doubts when you utter his name, you do not know his nature. Listen while I tell you of him with absolute faith; eat joyfully what you have in your houses. One may carry the basket, the prayer beads and the marks of his sect, yet he is an imposter who deceives mankind. He extends his hand, for he has not renounced all; he shows people a stone and worships wealth himself. He soils his body with ashes and idly boasts himself the strongest man alive. He suffers desire to lay hands on his neck to bind him. It comes and swallows him up. What comfort is there in ashes, in lying face downwards with uplifted legs? Such a one brings pain and grief on himself; he falls into hell, yet in his folly he will not run away from it. He has learnt to vociferate loud cries, and collect a crowd of women and children. He fouls his body and demands small coins; but all his efforts are wasted. To show people that he is the strongest man alive he stands up and takes a plank and breaks it, he rubs his knees and elbows and pretends he has hurt himself. They wear themselves out by these worthless tricks; they shave their head for a pretense; unholy deceit lurks in their hearts; they pollute their bodies and gain nothing by it. Do not play any tricks with this dust and noise; take the fragrant powder of civet and sandal. You will enjoy the sweet odor along with others; grandeur that is paid for is a worse disgrace. By tricks like these men have brought pain on themselves, without winning either wisdom or power. They are smitten on their backs; their faces are darkened by shame, yet their tongue waters for lustful pleasures. Listen to what I, Tuka, tell you: break away from these tricks; learn none of them. Come, let us eat first to fill our hungry stomachs; when we are satisfied, we will think of outward graces.

Tuka knows

Call clay perfume and sell it where you find it saleable. But this is a place where things are tested; true faith can tell the real from the spurious. A woman who seeks to feign pregnancy stuffs herself with rags. Tuka knows what class a thing belongs to, whether it is solid or coated over.

Tell him your secret thoughts

We cannot reach this God by hypocritical words, you must tell him in all sincerity your secret thoughts. He, the source of joy, whom you must approach, knows the smallest thing that keeps you from him. Tuka says, If you seek your own profit, purify your mind.

The desirable person

A man who has no reason to be ashamed, who is honored wherever he goes, whose spoken words take effect, who leaves no debts unpaid, who returns loans to those who lent them, Tuka says, Such a man for his qualities is esteemed a desirable person.

On motes and grain

A mote is too large for the eye, small as it is. As you cleanse your eye of it, even so purify your mind; let no pollution cling to it. No man can feel to another's child as he feels to his own. Tuka says, The pure grain you harvest will correspond to your desire for a crop.

Fault-finders and saints

A base mind looks out for trifling faults; it gives pain to the good. They do things in their own ways; they follow their own trade to their heart's content. Compassion is the saints' capital; they expend their speech in doing good to others. Tuka says, Each man finishes his journey in his own way.

The money goes in trickery

While a man is living, perhaps no one offers him food when he is hungry; when he is dead, a gift of cakes is made to him. This too is a delusion; 'tis the heir who eats what he cooks himself. An offering to an idol is a pretense; the money spent goes all in trickery. Tuka says, Since mankind are so densely foolish, I cannot help them.

The lazy preacher

If a man stands up to preach and spares his energy, who is there that can measure his guilt? In this field the sinner is a better man if he enters it not; what is the good of the shirker in battle? As for one who sits at a preaching and talks of other matters, cursed be his chatter, it is downright hell.

I brought thee nothing

I practiced neither meditation nor penance, I used no violence to my mind, I laid no restraints on it. Standing where I was I cried to thee, to rescue me in my strait. I brought and offered thee no water; by meditation alone I served thee; what I spent was spent alone. Says Tuka, My generous master accepted it all in sincerity.

Scorch, burn and bleed

We are not like physicians, hungry after money, ready to give any one any sort of herb. We will not ruin our patients by unwholesome diet; what would be the use of friendliness or deference that led to this? Tuka says, We will scorch and burn and bleed them, for that will give them relief afterwards.

The wicked man

At a preaching, he sleeps all the time; when talk about women is going on, he keeps himself awake. Tuka says, Do not be angry with him; who can help his own nature?