A much-loved shepherd is the focus of these devotional songs sung by women working the grindmill in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district
With a list of 19 names, PARI went in search of the women who had sung for the original Grindmill Songs Project (GSP) team over two decades ago in Kolhapur’s Metage village. The presence of the team with cameras in hand interested the young and old here.
We asked a woman sitting at the door of her house if she knew of those who had once sung for a group from Pune. "Yes," she said, “we sang jatyavarchya ovya [grindmill songs]. I was one of the singers.”
We were thrilled to have met one of our listed performers, Sona Bharmal. Sona, who was in her 60s, informed us that Laxmi Dawari was the only other performer who was still living in Metage.
It was 2018, and some like singer Bayana Kamble had passed away in the years since they had sung for GSP. “My mother and her friend, Sakhubai Kamble were famous singers,” Ashok Kamble, Bayana’s son told us. “They would sing together while they worked in the sugarcane fields.”
This village in Kagal taluka is popularly called Balumamache Metage – Balu uncle’s Metage. The title belongs to Balumama, a shepherd from decades ago still revered by locals, and with a temple to his name. The stone edifice of the structure is flanked by two sculptures of rams. A popular place as Balumama’s legacy endures and has captured the imagination of younger generations too.
Before sowing, farmers in Metage would wait for Balumama to bring his sheep to their lands to graze, the women in the village told us. While ovine droppings work as organic manure and give a good harvest, the farmers believed that wherever Balumama's flock grazed, those farms would enjoy a bounteous harvest that season.
Born as Balappa in Karnataka in October 1892, Balumama grew to the status of a saint. He died on September 4, 1966 in Adamapur village in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. His legacy lives on with books in Marathi, television serials and even popular films in Marathi and Kannada.
When PARI visited Balumamache Metage again in 2018, more than 10 women gathered to sing for us. A few were among the first 19 women performers that the original GSP team had met two decades ago.
The women sang folk songs of several genres and happily obliged with grindmill songs. They found a stone mill, cleaned it and affixed a wooden stick in the hole at the upper part of the mill, which was then worshipped with kumkum and haldi (vermillion and turmeric powders).
Lighting a lamp, the women folded their hands in prayer and began singing.
Soon the tempo of their music picked up pace and their voices synchronised with each other. The lead singer, Sulabai Jadhav, sang and others followed in this set of eight ovi which PARI recorded.
“My first song, O woman, is for my God, Jyotiba,” the singers began. This first couplet honours Jyotiba, a deity believed to be Lord Shiva in a temple in Kolhapur. The singer offers him a double string of pearls as a sacred thread.
The next three ovi are about the legendary Balumama who too is “like a God.”
At midnight, when the moon hides behind the clouds, Balumama bestows upon the farmers a “heap of pearls” – a bumper harvest in the fields.As the song proceeds, the singer tells us that she is grinding jowar and rice to make ambil (porridge). Balumama is well built, a pailwan (wrestler). He is fair and fond of drinking milk. Balumama’s fair skin, the song implies, is perhaps from the milk he drinks as ordinarily the sun would darken the skin of any shepherd working long hours herding animals outdoors.
The four songs at the end of the sequence reveal the singer’s piety. It narrates that the singer has sent an invitation to Goddess Ambika to grace her home. She admires Pandhari or the city of Pandharpur, which is the home of Lord Vitthal and Rukmini. “Rukmini lives and reigns there, in their long-lasting kingdom,” the woman sings as the grindmill turns.
The singer adds that there are so many tulsi (holy basil) plants in Pandharpur that “my Lord Vitthal cannot move his chariot.”
The last ovi expresses Lord Vitthal’s fondness for his devotees. The singer speaks of Namdev, the famous Bhakti poet-saint, who is an ardent devotee of Lord Vitthal. When Namdev is blessed with a son, Vitthal himself organises the traditional naming ceremony for the baby on the twelfth day after birth.
Listen to these songs by women from Balumamache Metage village of Maharashtra.
बाई पहिली माझी ओवी, जोतिबाला माझ्या देव त्या गं,
माझ्या देव त्या जोतिबाला, जानव्याला मोती दुहेरी गं
बाई मध्यान्ही रातरीत, घेरं घेतो
चांद ढगात गं
आणि देवराची बाळू मामा वारं देतो रास मोत्याची गं,
बाई जुंधळं तांदूळ गं, आंबलीला मी
का दळितो गं
माझा चिदाजी बाळूमामा गं, मध्यान्नीला ते चोखंल गं
कोण झोपिलं गोरं पान, माझा
आकडी दुधाचा गं, पैलवान, आकडी दुधाचा गं
बाई धाडली मूळ चिठी आंबिकाला,
माझ्या देव त्या गं
आंबिकाला, माझ्या देव त्या गं
बाई पंढरी बांधियली, पायिरी चढ-सखल
राही रुख्मिण राज करी, लावुयिनी चौदा चौकटी गं,
बाई पंढरपुरामंदी, तुळशी
बागा गल्लो-गल्लीला गं,
माझ्या विठ्ठल देवाजीचा, रथ फिराया नाही जागा गं
बाई पंढरपुरामंदी, आराईस गल्लो-गल्लीला
नामदेवाला झाला ल्योक, बाराईस घाली विठ्ठल गं
ल्योक, बाराईस घाली विठ्ठल गं
bā'ī pahīlī mājhī ōvī jōtībālā mājhyā dēva
mājhyā dēva tyā jōtībālā jānavhālā mōtī dūhērī ga
ā'ni dēvarācī bāḷū māmā vāraṁ dētō rāsa mōtyācī gaṁbā'ī jōndhaḷā tāndūḷa gaṁ āmbalī lā mī kā daḷitō gaṁ
mājhā cidājī bāḷūmāmā gaṁ madhyānnīlā te chōkhalā gaṁkōṇa jhōpilā gōraṁ pānaṁ mājhā cidājī bāḷūmāmā
ākaḍī dudhācā ga pailavāna ākaḍī dudhācā gaṁ
bā'ī dhāḍali mūḷā ciṭhī āmbikālā mājhyā
dēva tyā gaṁ
āmbikālā mājhyā dēva tyā gaṁ
bā'ī paṇḍharī bāndhiyalī payirī
rāhī rukhmiṇī rāja karī lāvūniyā caudā caukaṭī gaṁ
mājhyā viṭhṭhala dēvājīcā ratha phirāyā gaṁ nāhī jāgā gaṁ
bā'ī paṇḍharapūramandhī ārā'īsa ghālū
nāma dēvālā jhālā lōka bārā'īsa ghāli viṭhṭhala gaṁ
My first song, O woman, is for my God,
A double string of pearls for his sacred thread
Like a god, Balumama gives a heap of pearls [a good harvest]I grind jowar and rice to make porridge
At noon, my Balumama is in a state of pure blissWho is this fair person sleeping, it is blissful Balumama
He is a wrestler, fond of milk, yes, he likes [to drink] milkO woman, send an invitation to my goddess
To my goddess, my AmbikaO woman, Pandhari was built on an uneven land
Rukmini lives and reigns there, in their long-lasting kingdom*How many gardens of tulasi have been planted in Pandharpur
My God’s, Vitthal’s chariot has no place to moveO woman, in Pandharpur, all lanes are decorated
Vitthal is hosting the
naming ceremony of Namdev’s new born son
Note: *In this ovi , the singer uses the term chauda chaukati / chaukadi or fourteen chaukadi to describe the reign of Vitthal and Rukmini in Pandharpur. It denotes a kingdom that lasts for a very long time. One chaukadi refers to the number of years that constitutes one cycle of the ages of Krit, Treta, Dwapar and Kaliyug, according to Hindu scriptures. The term has been used in literary texts including in a poem by the Bhakti poet-saint Tukaram.
Performers/ Singers: Sunita Jadhav, Sona Bharmal, Laxmi Dawari, Sulabai Jadhav, Gitanjali Dawari, Hemal Bharmal, Darkubai Mane, Muktabai Tambekar, Anubai Mane, Suman Satvekar
Village: Balumamache Metage
Date: These songs were recorded and the photographs were taken on May 17, 2018
Poster: Sinchita Maji
Read about the original Grindmill Songs Project founded by Hema Rairkar and Guy Poitevin.