Savitra Ubhe and others sing eight ovi about grain being ground while an anguished sister dwells on a quarrel with her brother as life goes on around her

Brother and sister are quarrelling in the fields
Sister has tears in her eyes, brother’s mind is filled with worry

In this first ovi , the singer remembers a sister’s quarrel with her brother. Only the fields and the wilderness around them are a witness to it. Is this a silly fight between playmates from their childhood days? Or is it a tussle in their adulthood over worldly matters like ownership of the family farmland? The sister’s eyes well up with tears; she knows that if the brother sees her tears, he will worry for her.

Savitra Ubhe, Tara Ubhe and Mukta Ubhe from Khadakwadi hamlet of Mulshi taluka , Pune, sing in their powerful voices eight ovi in this instalment of the Grindmill Songs Project. They begin with the galaa , a tune that is usually composed by the singers themselves but sometimes borrowed from the traditional musical forms like lavani, gaulan or abhang . It is often a hum that precedes the singing of the actual ovi , but sometimes it can also become, as in this case, a refrain, that follows each line of the song. The three-line verse expresses a sister’s anguish over a quarrel with her brother and sets the tone for the entire cluster of couplets:

Now, instantly
Take the flowers from his hands
Let him go empty-handed

When her brother brings flowers to pacify her, she sulks and tells her friends to take the flowers and to let him go empty-handed. It seems she is not even going to speak to him. But it could also be that she has nothing to give in return. The lines hint at an undercurrent of her deepest realisation: “What do I have? I have nothing while you have everything.” The sweet affection between a sister and brother is conflicted over the socio-economic disparity between men and women in our patriarchal society.

PHOTO • Courtesy:
PHOTO • Courtesy:

Archival photos of women sitting together and grinding grain in the stone mill, taken by the original GSP team

From the second to the eighth, every ovi begins with the words “the grinding is over” – it seems like repeating this while continuing to work at it would make the difficult daily chore easier. The woman at the grindmill puts a cover over it, and tells us that the sun and the moon will guard this essential possession.

As the work gets on, she spots her son at the doorstep and her words, “he has arrived, like a tiger,” denote her pride in him. She goes on grinding with her “golden hands,” signifying the prosperity she brings while working on the stone mill that belongs to her fortunate family.

The sifting pan where she keeps the freshly ground flour is almost full when she notices her son putting a spot of abir , the black vermillion powder, on his forehead, just above the sandal paste he has already applied there. This is a tradition among the devotees of Lord Vitthal of Pandharpur. Her son now resembles the towering image of Lord Vitthal himself and as if it were the god’s blessings on her family, she can see a kewda , the fragrant screw-pine flower, in her sifting pan.

When the grinding comes to an end, the singer feels Goddess Lakshmi’s presence over her grindmill. Once again, this signifies a divine blessing for the prosperity of her family. She notices her brother-in-law, Saravana, at their doorstep and pulls the end of her sari from her shoulders over her head. It is a custom that is still practiced among women in many communities of Maharashtra. The gesture is also a mark of respectability of women, especially among married women.

Until the end of the eight couplets, the refrain continues as the sister dwells on the anguish over the quarrel with her brother.

Listen to the eight ovi sung by Savitra Ubhe, Tara Ubhe and Mukta Ubhe

बाई बहीण भावंडाचा, यांचा झगडा रानवनी
बाई बहिणीच्या डोळा पाणी, बंधु चिंतावला मनी

असं सरीलं दळयाण, जात्या ठेविते झाकयण
जात्या ठेविते झाकयण, चांद सुरव्या राखयण

असं सरीलं दळयाण, सूप सारुनी आला दारी
असा बाळ ना माझा, आला वाघाची याची स्वारी

असं सरीलं दळयाण, माझ्या सोन्याच्या हातायानी
माझ्या सोन्याच्या हातायानी, भाग्यवंताच्या जात्यायानी

सरीलं दळयाण, आलं सुपाच्या बांधावरी
आता ना माझा राघु, अबीर लेतो गंधावरी

असं सरीलं दळयाण, माझ्या सुपात केवयडा
असा पंढरीचा विठू, माझ्या बाळाच्या येवयढा

असं सरीलं दळयाण, पदर घेयाचा माथ्यावरी
अशी लक्ष्मीबया आली, माझ्या भरल्या जात्यावरी

असं सरीलं दळयाण, खांद्याचा पदर डोईवरी मी घेतयला
दीर माझ्या तू सरवणा गं, उंबऱ्यावरती मी देखियला


आत्ताच्या आत्ता
याच्या हातीची फुलं घ्या गं
याला रिकामा जाऊ द्या गं

bai bahīṇa bhāvaṇḍācā yāñcā jhagaḍā rāṇīvaṇī
bai bahiṇīcyā ḍōḷā pāṇī bandu cintāvalā manī

asa sarīla daḷayāṇa jātyā ṭhēvītē jhākaṇa
jātyā ṭhēvītē jhākaṇa cānda survyā rākhaṇa

asa sarīla daḷayāṇa sup saruyīnī āla dārī
asa bāḷānāyācī mājhyā ālī svārī

asa sarīla daḷāyāṇa mājhyā sōnyācyā hātāyānī
mājhyā sōnyācyā hātāyānī bhāgyavantācyā jātyāyāṇī

sarīla daḷayāṇa āla supācyā bāndhāvarī
ātānā mājhā rāghu abīra lētō gandhāvarī

asa sarīla daḷāyāṇa mājhyā supāta kēvayaḍā
asa paṇḍharīcā viṭhū mājhyā bāḷācyā yēvayaḍhā

asa sarīla daḷayāṇa padara ghēyācā māthyāvarī
aśī lakṣmībāī ālī mājhyā bharalyā jātyāvarī

asa sarīla daḷāyāṇa khāndyācā padāyāra ḍōīvarī ghētayālā
dīra mājhyā tū saravaṇā tulā umbaryāvarī dēkhīyīlā

āttācyā āttā
yācyā hātīcī phulaṁ ghyā gaṁ
yālā rikāmā jā'ū dyā gaṁ

Brother and sister are quarrelling in the fields
Sister has tears in her eyes, brother’s mind is filled with worry

My grinding is over, I cover the grindmill
I cover the grindmill, the sun and the moon are guarding it

Grinding is over, I cleaned and [he] came near the door
Here is my son who has arrived, like a tiger

My grinding is over, I did it with my golden hands
I did it with my golden hands on the grindmill of a fortunate, prosperous family

Grinding is over, the flour has filled the sifting pan up to the brim
Now my raghu , my son, applies abir above the spot of sandal wood paste [on the forehead]

Grinding is over, kewda flower in my sifting fan
Vithu from Pandhari is as big as my son

My grinding is over, I take the end of my sari over my head
Goddess Lakshmi has come to my grindmill with flour overflowing

Grinding is over, I take the end of my sari from the shoulder over my head
Saravana, my brother-in-law, I saw you on the threshold

The refrain
Now, instantly
Take the flowers from his hands
Let him go back empty-handed

PHOTO • Courtesy: Savitrabai Ubhe
PHOTO • Patrick Faucher
PHOTO • Samyukta Shastri

Savitra Ubhe, Tara Ubhe and Mukta Ubhe

Performers/Singers : Savitra Ubhe, Tara Ubhe, Mukta Ubhe

Hamlet : Khadakwadi

Village : Kolavade

Taluka : Mulshi

District : Pune

Caste : Maratha

Date : The songs were recorded on June 1, 1996

Poster: Urja

Listen to Savitra Ubhe sing about the daily grinding of grain to flour.

Read about the original Grindmill Songs Project founded by Hema Rairkar and Guy Poitevin.

Namita Waikar is a writer, translator and Managing Editor at the People's Archive of Rural India. She is the author of the novel 'The Long March', published in 2018.

Other stories by Namita Waikar

PARI Grindmill Songs Project Team: Asha Ogale (translation); Bernard Bel (digitisation, database design, development and maintenance); Jitendra Maid (transcription, translation assistance); Namita Waikar (project lead and curation); Rajani Khaladkar (data entry).

Other stories by PARI GSP Team