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Rediscover Maharashtra’s lesser-known women Bhakti poets

A Pune musician is reviving 700-year-old devotional Warkari poetry that questioned gender- and caste-based hierarchies too.

mumbai Updated: Mar 02, 2018 22:32 IST
Jayati Bhola
Jayati Bhola
Hindustan Times
Bhakti poets,Shruthi Vishwanath,Warkari poets
Shruthi Vishwanath sings the Bhakti poems accompanied by Shruteendra Katagade on the tabla and Yuji Nakagawa on the sarangi.
The Women Warkaris
  • WHERE: Somaiya Centre for Lifelong Learning, 2nd Floor, Somaiya Bhavan (Above Kitabkhana), Fort
  • WHEN: Sunday, March 4; 5pm to 7pm
  • Entry is free

The padar has slipped onto my shoulder. I don’t give a damn I’ll go to the bazar / I’ll take the cymbals in hand, the veena on my shoulder. Who dares to stop me now?

That’s from a poem by Janabai, a prominent saint poet from the Warkari tradition of Bhakti worship.

The Warkaris go on an annual pilgrimage on foot to Pandharpur in Maharashtra, dedicated to the deity Vitthala. Along the way, they sing abhangas, a form of devotional poetry, in his praise. These abhangas date back to the 17th century. Women often sang them while working too.

We’ve all heard of the saints Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar. But the women Warkari poet-saints aren’t often spoken of.

Pune-based musician, Shruthi Vishwanath, 27, is looking to change that, and she will be singing a selection of abhangas by the lesser-known women poets at ‘The Women Warkaris - A presentation of unsung poems of the Santakaviyatris of Maharashtra’ on Sunday.

Vishwanath has been singing abhangas since she was a child. But it was only a few years ago that she began to see how gendered the tradition was. “Women poets are hardly represented,” she says.

“I came across London-based scholar, Jacqui Daukes, who had translated over 150 abhangas by women. And I decided to compose music for these poems and perform them,” Vishwanath says.

She will sing the Bhakti poems accompanied by Shruteendra Katagade on the tabla and Yuji Nakagawa on the sarangi.

“These Bhakti women poets questioned the hierarchies of gender and caste. These still exist in newer forms and so these poems are even more relevant today,” Vishwanath says.

Falguni Desai, organiser of the annual Kabir Festival and trustee of the Sahej foundation that is also organising this event, says that the Warkari tradition is as much spiritual as it is cultural.

“In a time when religious differences are polarised, this kind of spirituality is valuable,” she says. Think of it as an ancient form of feminism. “People can come to celebrate the voices of these women from 700 years ago.”

First Published: Mar 02, 2018 17:06 IST