For the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar on April 14, and as a part of PARI’s Grindmill Songs Project, this month we will feature couplets on Dr. Ambedkar and caste issues. In the first of this series, Radhabai Borhade of Savargaon sings five ovi on Buddha, Bhimrao, dhamma, sangha and Ramabai

Exactly 21 years separate the audio and video clips featured here. The ovi that Radha Borhade sings were recorded on April 2, 1996.  Coincidentally on the same date, April 2 this year, we visited her again and filmed her while singing.

Radhabai, now around 70, could not remember the songs she sang two decades ago, but the melodies came back to her when we recited a few couplets. She was sure she would remember more if she read the transcripts of her songs from 1996, and says she will then sing them all again. (She had learned to read and write at an adult literacy class in the village).

Watch video: Radhabai sings a grindmill song recollected from the past

In 1997, Radhabai lived in Bhim Nagar basti of Majalgaon village. She now lives in Savargaon village in the same taluka in Beed district, and runs a small grocery shop. She has four daughters; all of them are married.

In Majalgaon, she lived with her husband Khandu Borhade. They worked as agricultural labourers; Radhabai’s task was to do the weeding. At times, she would winnow or clean grain in the Mondha market, sometimes she worked as a cleaner and sweeper in the larger village houses.

But as she and her husband aged, work became scarce. So, 12 years ago, they moved to Savargaon to live with Khandu’s brother and his family, and set up a small grocery shop. Both the brothers have since died and Radhabai lives with her sister-in-law and her son, Rajubai and Madhukar.

Bhim Nagar hamlet in Majalgaon, a taluka village, has a predominantly Dalit population. 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 will feature grindmill songs about Dr. Ambedkar and caste issues throughout this month.

Sitting outside their home in Savargaon village: Radhabai with her sister in law Rajubai (first from left), her daughter Lalitabai Khalge , and Rajubai's son Madhukar

In the first of this series, Radha Borhade sings five couplets, each on a different theme. The first ovi is dedicated to Lord Buddha, who, the song tells us, brought Buddhism into this world for the welfare of Dalits, to help them remove the stigma of untouchability.

The second ovi is for Bhimrao Ambedkar, who inspired Dalits and guided them in ways to counter caste-based oppression.

The third couplet is dedicated to the Buddhist religion and way of life. The singer tells us that this dhamma (religion or dharma) will protect and safeguard the world.

In the fourth verse, the singer pays homage to the sangha , the community of Buddhist monks. She vows to follow the principles of panchsheel , the five basic elements of good conduct that can prevent causing harm to others.

Radha Borhade dedicates the fifth ovi to Ramabai Ambedkar. She worships  Bhimrao Ambedkar’s wife, and says she was a revered mother who lived among the Dalits.

पयली माझी ववी ग, भगवान बुध्दाला
दलिताच्या हितासाठी, बुध्द धम्म काढला

दुसरी माझी ववी ग, बाबा भिमरायाला
दलिताच्या कुळात, हिरा ग जलमला

तिसरी माझी ववी ग, धम्माला नमन
बुध्द धम्म मोठा करील, जगाचे पालण

चौथी माझी ववी ग, संघाला वाहीन
पंचशील तत्वाचे, करीन पालन

पाचवी माझी ववी ग, रमाबाई पुंजीनं
धन्य धन्य मावली, गेली एक होवून

payalī mājhī vavī ga, bhagavāna budhdālā
dalitācyā hitāsāṭhī, budhda dhamma kāḍhalā

dusarī mājhī vavī ga, bābā bhimarāyālā
dalitācyā kuḷāta, hirā ga jalamalā

tisarī mājhī vavī ga, dhammālā namana
budhda dhamma na mōṭhā karīla, jagācē pālaṇa

cauthī mājhī vavī ga, saṅghālā vāhīna
pañcaśīla tatvācē, karīna pālana

pācavī mājhī vavī ga, ramābāī puṇjīna
dhanya dhanya māvalī, gēlī ēka hōvūna

My first song is for Lord Buddha
He brought Buddha dhamma for the welfare of Dalits

My second song is to Baba Bhimraya
A diamond is born of Dalit lineage

My third song pays homage to the dhamma
The great Buddha dhamma will safeguard the world

I shall offer my fourth song to the sangha
I shall follow the principles of panchsheel

My fifth verse is to worship Ramabai
Respected,  blessed mother, who lived among us

PHOTO • Samyukta Shastri

Performer/Singer: Radha Borhade

Village: Majalgaon

Hamlet: Bhim Nagar

Taluka: Majalgaon

District: Beed

Gender: Female

Children: 4 daughters

Caste: Nav Bauddha (Neo Buddhist)

Date: These details were recorded on April 2, 1996

Poster: Aditya Dipankar, Shreya Katyayini and Sinchita Maji

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
Photos and Video : Samyukta Shastri

Samyukta Shastri is an independent journalist, designer and entrepreneur. She is a trustee of the CounterMediaTrust that runs PARI, and was Content Coordinator at PARI till June 2019.

Other stories by Samyukta Shastri
Editor and Series Editor : Sharmila Joshi

Sharmila Joshi is former Executive Editor, People's Archive of Rural India, and a writer and occasional teacher.

Other stories by Sharmila Joshi