Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sant Janabai

Janabai was born in a Maharashtra village to a family of the lowest, sudra, caste. When she was a young child, her mother died and her father (shortly before his own death) took her to the city of Pandharpur, where she became a servant in the household of Varkari devotees of Vitthal, an incarnation of Vishnu. A son of the family, Namdeo, became one of the chief Varkari poets, writing in vernacular Marathi and teaching equality of all regardless of caste or gender before God. Janabai cared for the young Namdeo and remained his servant, his dasi, throughout her life. Tradition says that they died on the same day.

Janabai composed over 340 devotional songs, abhangas; they survived by being included in collections of Namdev's own works. Some of Janabai's songs tell of the lives of her fellow Varkari and of the various incarnations of Vishnu, but the most distinctive are those that tell of her personal relationship with the god Vitthal. Janabai seldom speaks of erotic desire for the god (as some of the other bhakta poets do); she more often sees Vitthal as her mother (a view not uncommon among the Varkaris), but also as her fellow-serving maid, and ultimately herself.

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