We are passing through the picturesque Tillari forest area in Maharashtra. We were to meet women residing in the hamlets that border the forest area and are home to pastoralists, to discuss their health issues. On our way to Chandgad, a town in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, I see a woman in her fifties tending to her four goats and sitting happily under a tree by the road, holding a book.

This unusual sight on a cloudy afternoon in May brings our car to a stop, and we walk back towards her: Rekha Ramesh Chandgad, is a spirited devotee of Vithoba, a deity revered by many communities in Maharashtra and Karnataka. As we start interacting with her, she sings to us one of saint Namdev’s abhangs (bhajans), chanting the name of Vithoba. Namdev is a saint-poet from Maharashtra and revered in Punjab. An exponent of waarkari panth , his abhangs are known for the expressions of bhakti tradition which promoted worship without rituals, challenging the religious hierarchies. Rekhatai is a follower of Bhakti movement.

Known as wari , devotees from all corners of the state walk in troupes during ashadh (June/July) and kaartik (October-November, after Diwali), singing devotional songs and poems of saints such as Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram and Namdev. Every year, Rekhatai diligently joins the devotees walk to Pandharpur temple in Solapur district of Maharashtra.

“My children say, ‘don't tend to the goats. Sit happily at home’. But I like to sit here and take Vithoba's name and sing these bhajans. Time just flies. Man anandane bharun yeta [It fills me with immense joy],” says Rekhatai, as she longs to join the kaartik wari after Diwali.

Watch the video: Tending goats, singing songs

Medha Kale

Medha Kale is based in Pune and has worked in the field of women and health. She is the Translations Editor, Marathi, at the People’s Archive of Rural India.

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Text Editor : S. Senthalir

S. Senthalir is Senior Editor at People's Archive of Rural India and a 2020 PARI Fellow. She reports on the intersection of gender, caste and labour. Senthalir is a 2023 fellow of the Chevening South Asia Journalism Programme at University of Westminster.

Other stories by S. Senthalir