When we visited Walhabai Takankhar’s house in Majalgaon in early April, she could barely remember the songs she sang when the Grindmill Songs Project team first visited her 21 years ago, in 1996. Rotating a grindmill again, she said, might bring back the forgotten melodies.
So her daughter-in-law brought a plateful of wheat grains and reassembled an old grindmill – two stones, one on top of the other, with a stout wooden handle in the middle. Walhabai sat down at the mill, poured in a handful of the grain and started to grind – and with the circular movement, some of the melodies did come back.
Her ovi – or grindmill songs – are featured here, along with songs by Radhabai Borhade. These songs speak of significant events in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s life. When they were recorded in 1996, both Walhabai and Radhabai lived in Bhim Nagar (Radhabai now lives in Savargaon village of the same taluka).
Bhim Nagar is a predominantly Dalit hamlet in Majalgaon, a taluka village. For the Grindmill Songs Project, it has been a wellspring of ovi about Babasaheb Ambedkar, the revered national leader and statesman, voice of the oppressed and the marginalised, and architect of India’s Constitution. To observe his birth anniversary on April 14, PARI is featuring grindmill songs about Dr. Ambedkar and caste issues throughout this month.
In the first audio clip here, Walhabai and Radhabai sing six couplets. The first tells us about Bhimraj drinking water at Aurangabad station from a glass of gold that is cleaned with a silver scrubber. The ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ in the verse symbolise the progress and prosperity that is possible through education – which Babasaheb emphasised.
The second ovi opens with jasmines and chrysanthemums placed in a glass (the flowers indicate beauty), but then an evil eye befalls Bhimraj in college in Aurangabad.
In the third couplet, the performer refers to a golden pen in Bhimraj’s pocket and says that the country has a new salutation – ‘Jai Bhim’. The pen alludes to Dr. Ambedkar’s education and progress as an intellectual.
The fourth verse is about Bhimrao’s arrival and the call going from village to village to enrol every child in school. The reference to an adorned umbrella here is probably a rhyming devise.
In the fifth and sixth ovi, the singer is happy that Babasaheb has come to their home to meet her. She tells the neighbouring women to bring glasses of milk and bowls of sugar to celebrate his arrival and to offer them to her guest, who she thinks of as her brother. The call to the neighbours to bring milk and sugar indicates that the women who composed these songs and sang them were from poor families and such commodities were not easily available in their own homes.
बाई सोन्याचा गिलास, ह्याला चांदीची घासणी
भीमराज पाणी प्याले, औरंगबादच्या ग ठेसणी
जाई शेवंतीचे फूल, काचच्या गिलासात
भिमाला ग झाली दिष्ट, औरंगबादी ग कॉलीजात
बाई सोन्याचा ग पेन, भिमराजाच्या खिशला
भीमराजाच्या खिशला, झाला जयभिम ग देशला
आले आले भीमराज, याच्या छतरीला फूल
गावोगावी गेली हूल, साळामंदी ग घाला मूल
अग शेजारीणी बाई दुध कर पेला पेला
माझ्या घरला पाहुणा भीम माझा ग बंधू आला
अग शेजारीणीबाई साखर करा वाटी वाटी
साखर करा वाटी वाटी भीम आले ग भेटीसाठी
bāī sōnyācā gilāsa hyālā cāndīcī ghāsaṇī
bhīmarāja pāṇī pyālē auraṅgabādacyā ga ṭhēsaṇī
jāī śēvantīce phūla kācacyā gilāsāta
bhimālā ga jhālī diṣṭa auraṅgabādī ga kālījāta
bāī sōnyācā ga pēna bhimarājācyā khiśalā
bhīmarājācyā khiśalā ghālā jayabhima ga dēśalā
ālē ālē bhīmarāja yācyā chatarīlā phūla
gāvōgāvī gēlī hūla sāḷāmandī ga ghālā mūla
aga śējārīṇī bāī dudha kara pēlā pēlā
mājhyā gharalā pāhuṇā bhīma mājhā ga bandhū ālā
aga śējārīṇībāī sākhara karā vāṭī vāṭī
sākhara karā vāṭī vāṭī bhīma ālē ga bhēṭīsāṭhī
O woman, for the golden glass a scrubber of silver
Bhimraj drank water in the station of Aurangabad
Jasmine and chrysanthemum flowers in a glass
When at college in Aurangabad, Bhim came under an evil eye
O woman, there is a golden pen in the pocket of Bhīmrāja
In the pocket of Bhim, the country salutes with ‘Jay Bhim!’
Bhimraj has arrived, a flower adorns his umbrella
In every village the call echoed: ‘Put children in school!’
O, my neighbour, please bring milk in a glass
My brother Bhim has come as a guest to my house
O, my neighbour, please bring sugar in a bowl
Bring sugar in a bowl, Bhim has come to meet me
In the second audio clip, Radhabai sings five ovi. The first verse says Ramabai’s parents’ home is beyond Delhi, and then refers to blue clothes being gifted to Bhimrao. (Note: Ramabai was Dr. Ambedkar’s first wife. And the colour blue is associated with Dalit or Bahujan identity, and with people who revere Dr. Ambedkar).
In the second ovi, the singer asks what can be seen in Delhi that is blue in colour. The performer then answers the question herself – Ramabai is wearing a blue Paithani sari and standing next to Bhimrao.
The third ovi is about a photograph of the couple and how Ramabai brings beauty while standing next to Bhimrao. The fourth couplet is about Bhim meeting all the Dalits in Delhi.
The four and eight glass jars in the third and fourth song are probably used for rhyming. In the fifth verse, the singer says she had a dream. And what did she see in her dream? She saw Bhim in the court in Delhi, writing the Constitution of India.
दिल्लीच्या पलीकड, रमाबाईच माहेर
बाई निळ्या कपड्याचा, चढ भिमाला ग आहेर
बाई दिल्ली शहरामंदी काय दिसत नीळ
रमा नेसली पैठणी उभी भीमाच्या ग जवळ
बाई दिल्ली शहरामंदी, काचच्या बरण्या चार
अशी शोभा देती बाई, रमा भीमाच्या फोटुवर
बाई दिल्ली शहरामंदी काचच्या बरण्या आट
माझ्या भीम ग राजान दिली दलिगताल भेट
मला सपन पडल, सपनात आल काई
बाई दिल्ली दरबारात, भीम माझा ग घटना लेही
dillīcyā palīkaḍa ramābāīca māhēra
bāī niḷyā kapaḍyācā caḍha bhimālā ga āhēra
bāī dillī śaharāmandī kāya disata nīḷa
ramā nēsalī paiṭhaṇī ubhī bhīmācyā ga javaḷa
bāī dillī śaharāmandī kācacyā baraṇyā cāra
aśī śōbhā dētī bāī ramā bhīmācyā phōṭuvara
bāī dillī śaharāmandī kācacyā baraṇyā āṭa
mājhyā bhīma ga rājāna dilī daligatāla bhēṭa
malā sapana paḍala sapanāta āla kāī
bāī dillī darabārāta bhīma mājhā ga ghaṭanā lēhī
Beyond Delhi, the house of Ramabai’s mother
O woman, a gift of blue clothes is offered to Bhim
What do you see that is blue in Delhi city?
Rama is wearing a Paithani sari and standing next to Bhim
In the city of Delhi, there are four glass jars
Ramabai adds beauty to the photo along with Bhima
In the city of Delhi, there are eight glass jars
My king Bhim went and visited the Dalits
I had a dream, what did I dream about?
O woman, my Bhim wrote the Constitution in the Delhi court
Performers/Singers: Walha Takankhar, Radha Borhade
Hamlet: Bhim Nagar
Caste: Nav Bauddha (Neo-Buddhist)
Date: These songs were recorded on April 2, 1996. The video was filmed when we re-visited Majalgaon on April 2, 2017 and met the singers.
Photos: Namita Waikar and Samyukta Shastri
Poster: Shreya Katyayini