Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Beautiful Spiritual Poetry From Janabai, A woman saint from medieval Maharashtra

I was reading about Bhagat Namdev and came across really beautiful poetry from a female saint of his time, Janabai. On this blogpost I am sharing 5 Poems by Janabai that were translated really well by Sarah Sellergren. I really enjoyed these and hope you will too ...
Background on Janabai

Janābāi was a Marāthi religious poetess in the Hindu tradition in India, who was born likely in the seventh or the eighth decade of the 13th century. According to folklore, she died in 1350.

Janabai was born in Gangākhed, Mahārāshtra to a couple with first names rand and Karand. Under the caste system which rigidly existed in India, the couple belonged to the lowest caste. After her mother died, her father took her to Pandharpur.[1] Since her childhood, Janabai worked as a maidservant in the household of Dāmāsheti, who lived in Pandharpur and who was the father of the prominent Marathi religious poet Nāmdev. Janabai was likely a little older than Namdev, and attended to him for many years.

Pandharpur has high religious significance especially among Marathi-speaking Hindus. Janabai's employers, Damasheti and his wife, Gonāi, were very religious. Through the influence of the religious environment around her and her innate inclination, Janabai was all along an ardent devotee of Lord Vitthal, and she was also gifted with poetic talent. Though she never had any formal schooling, she thus composed many high-quality religious verses of the abhang (अभंग) form. Fortunately, some of her compositions got preserved along with those of Namdev. Authorship of about 300 abhang is traditionally attributed to Janabai. However, researchers believe that quite a few of them were in fact compositions of some other writers.

Along with Dnyāneshwar, Nāmdev, Eknāth, and Tukaram, Janabai has a revered place in the minds of Marathi-speaking Hindus who belong especially to the wārakari (वारकरी) sect in Maharashtra. In accord with a tradition in India of assigning the epithet sant (संत) to persons regarded as thoroughly saintly, all of the above religious figures including Janabai are commonly attributed that epithet in Maharashtra. Thus, Janabai is routinely referred to as Sant Janabai (संत जनाबाई).




Catching the thief

I caught the thief of Pandhari
by tying a rope around his neck.

I made my heart the prison cell
and locked him up inside.

I bound him firmly with the Word,
I fettered his holy feet,

I thrashed him, whipped him
with the word so'ham
while Vitthal complained bitterly.

Sorry, O Lord,
says Jani,
by my life I will not let you go.


Cast off all shame

Cast off all shame,
and sell yourself
in the marketplace;
then alone
can you hope
to reach the Lord.

Cymbals in hand,
a veena upon my shoulder,
I go about;
who dares to stop me?

The pallav of my sari
falls away (A scandal!);
yet will I enter
the crowded marketplace
without a thought.

Jani says, My Lord,
I have become a slut
to reach Your home.

Divinity

What I eat is divine
What I drink is divine
My bed is also divine
The divine is here, and it is there
There is nothing empty of divine
Jani says -- Vithabai has filled
everything from the inside out

How will I repay your debt?

Jani has had enough of samsara,
but how will I repay my debt?

You leave your greatness behind you
to grind and pound with me.

O Lord you become a woman
washing me and my soiled clothes,

proudly you carry the water
and gather dung with your own two hands.

O Lord, I want
a place at your feet,
says Jani, Namdev's dasi.


Acceptance

If the Ganga flows to the ocean
and the ocean turns her away,
tell me, O Vitthal,
who would hear her complaint?

Can the river reject its fish?
Can the mother spurn her child?

Jan says,
Lord,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.