Subscription Subscription
Home > News > Opinion News > Article > Festival of fools

Festival of fools

Updated on: 31 March,2024 08:10 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sumedha Raikar Mhatre |

From Samarth Ramdas to Tukaram, the writings of Maharashtra’s saint-poets succinctly sum up a moorkh’s timeless traits. These portrayals assume special relevance as April Fools’ Day approaches

Festival of fools

Illustrations/Uday Mohite

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre A former Supreme Court judge once said that 90 per cent of Indians were idiots who could easily be incited in the name of religion. Having commented on the lack of reasoning in the Indian psyche, he later apologised for his “harsh” remark and retracted it after backlash.

Many centuries before this remark, and quite unlike the judge, Maharashtra’s saint-poets called out the fools of their times rather candidly. Without mincing their words, these wise men and women outlined the many characteristics and idiosyncrasies of fools—words that continue to be insightful on this April Fools’ Day.

This columnist revisits some timeless, quotable definitions of fools in public and private spheres, especially the ones articulated by Samarth Ramdas with academic rigour. His iconic treatise Dasbodh (1654) houses various tribes of fools, classified into three distinct categories—Moorkhlakshan, Kuvidyalakshan and Padhatmoorkh.

The first category features silly individuals who are identified in most moral science guides of the world as people who have bad hygiene habits, and unkempt teeth, eyes, and feet. Daytime sleepers (“divasa zakile dole”) are fools, as are those who eat while walking (“marge jaay khat khat”), or put off taking medicines and ignore dietary restrictions in times of illness (“aushadh ne ghe ason vetha”). They rub shoulders with lazy simpletons with a tendency to overeat, who are also devoid of discernment.

Moorkhlakshan harshly critiques people who don’t conduct themselves well in public—be it laughing loudly, or mocking people around them. In this context, the loud revellers in many religious festivals (across faiths), who are intolerant of others’ right to peace and harmony, fit perfectly. Such fools can be slotted with sadists who seek pleasure in someone else’s pain. Moorkhlakshan describes them as dangerous company. 

There’s also an emphasis on smooth talkers for whom handing out a hard sell is a way of life. Samarth Ramdas casts aspersions on fools who talk nonsense (“jyache mukhi bhund ubhund”) and those who boast despite modest contributions (“kari thode bole phar”).   

In Kuvidyalakshan, the nincompoop has worse attributes which are a recipe for disaster. A short-tempered, irritable and argumentative nerd is captured in a beautiful, alliterative rhyme: “Spardha khatpat aani chatpat, tarhe zatpat aani vatvat/ sada khatpat aani latpat/ param vetha kuvidya.” I am reminded of many competitive, boastful present-day fools operating with ferocity on social media. These I-know-better fools spoil any occasion by the sheer overestimation of their existence. 

Samarth Ramdas terms Padhatmoorkhs as being the most superior fools, because these are individuals who know better, but can’t do better. For instance, the nit-picker who is on a fault-finding mission, or the acid-tongued all-knowing soul who studies “sakal vidya” but cannot touch or soothe people’s hearts (“jayacheni shabde man modey”) or offer a solution to the needy. Those who are high achievers and assume a larger-than-life advisor/seer role (“bhavishya sango laage jagi”) are also foolish, in a sense, because they claim way too much authority and control. 
Padhatmoorkhs are sharp in matters of academics, but lack social skills. They don’t lend themselves to others in their lives. Often, these fools are in a rush to pass judgements. “Samool granth pahilyavin/ ugach thevi jo dushan” translates to “the one who finds faults without having read the book”. This description applies perfectly to armchair commentators who freely troll writers, artists and performers without actually engaging with their work. Many a public debate and row of our times could have been averted if agenda-driven padhatmoorkhs hadn’t jumped on populist bandwagons!  

A similar threat to society within the padhatmoorkh category is the “vakta adhikarevin”, an orator who creates social unrest by raising issues or stirring controversies they don’t have a grasp over. It doesn’t take a social scientist to count the number of occasions in the last few decades when irresponsible, insensitive public speakers have sparked riots and communal discord.  

Interestingly, Saint Tukaram (Samarth Ramdas’ contemporary) also warns against the ‘knowledge’ held by fools. “Gavharache dnyan avagha rajogun,” he wrote, which translates to “A fool’s knowledge leads to a path of bodily pleasures.” The saint warns against a fool’s inner desire to decimate the learned soul, without realising how it lowers the bar and goes against the good of society. 

It is interesting that while both saints are followed by people on opposing sides of the social spectrum in contemporary Maharashtra, their definitions of a fool are similar. In Tukaram Gatha, a moorkh is the one who brags without reason (“kelyavin parakram sange”); Dasbodh highlights a similar personality trait, of fools who heaps praises on the undeserving (“kirtivin stuti kari”). Saint Namdev describes a moorkh of another hue, who boasts of their father’s achievements rather than their own, as an all-access pass to a good life (“vadilanchi kirti bhog sange”). These fools are anti-social elements, because they discourage genuine workers and achievers in workplace environments. They are not team players.

Saint Eknath also calls out the windbag who mouths his or her lists of accomplishments (“swamukhe kirti”), while adding another layer to the fool’s armour. He describes the dehabhimani, who takes immense pride in physical attributes. In present times, this quality manifests in the showing off of tresses, triceps, nail art, or skin glow!  

Saint Dnyaneshwar, the 13th-century poet-philosopher who influenced a number of saints in the generations after him, defines the moorkh as someone who doesn’t prepare or think things through before an important task. The saint says the moorkh hopes to swim through the ocean by tying a millstone around his neck, and then meets an early death (“Bandhoniya shila pohu jata Sindhu”). The analogy reminds this columnist of those who invite fatal accidents through their demonstrated foolishness—drunken drivers and bravado-filled explorers who don’t heed safety instructions.

The common man in India perennially feels cheated and fooled by the powers-that-be. Be it election season or everyday governance, the citizen is at a loss for solutions. Every political outfit uses enticing language to fool the voter with promises of acche din to come. The year 2024 is one of many elections in India; only time will tell if voters allow themselves to be fooled again by election rhetoric and hyperbole. Will they question every party’s grand manifesto—promising the creation of two crore jobs, allowances for the unemployed, issuance of free railway passes for senior citizens, and so on? If we, the people, repeat our follies even in the 76th year of Independence, don’t we qualify as padhatmoorkhs who don’t learn from their mistakes?

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of the sub-text. You can reach her at

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!

Register for FREE
to continue reading !

This is not a paywall.
However, your registration helps us understand your preferences better and enables us to provide insightful and credible journalism for all our readers.

Mid-Day Web Stories

Mid-Day Web Stories

This website uses cookie or similar technologies, to enhance your browsing experience and provide personalised recommendations. By continuing to use our website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. OK