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13th century Marathi bhakti poetess who addressed Lord Vitthal in feminine form

Counterview Desk
Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), a US-based rights group, in its "Voices of Love" video series, has featured an enlightening exploration of Janabai, a revered medieval Indian saint-poet, who, quite like Mirabai of Rajasthan, is known for her profound contributions to the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra.
Janabai's Marathi poetry uniquely mirrors the life of a marginalized woman in both secular and spiritual realms, deeply entrenched in the Varkari tradition of Western India, says HfHR blog attached with a video.


Janabai's life and poetry offer a fascinating glimpse into the Bhakti movement, particularly in the context of marginalized communities in medieval India. Born in the village of Gangakhed in Maharashtra around the 13th century, Janabai belonged to the Matang community, which was marginalized under the traditional caste system. She became a servant in the household of Damasheti in Pandharpur, the father of the renowned Bhakti saint Namdev.
In this environment, Janabai was deeply influenced by the religious and spiritual milieu around her, developing an ardent devotion to Lord Vitthal, a form of Lord Krishna venerated in the Warkari tradition. This devotion is reflected in her poetry, which expresses a deep spiritual longing and an intimate connection with the divine.
Janabai's poetry is also marked by its emphasis on social justice and equality. She often critiqued the caste system and the societal norms that marginalized communities like hers. Her works are characterized by a blend of simplicity and profundity, resonating with the common people while conveying complex spiritual and social messages.
Her relationship with Namdev is also significant. As a servant in his father's household, Janabai would have had close interactions with Namdev, and this is reflected in some of her poetry where she addresses him affectionately. Namdev's influence is evident in her work, as both shared a deep devotion to Vitthal and a commitment to social reform.
Janabai's Marathi poetry uniquely mirrors the life of a woman in both secular and spiritual realms, deeply entrenched in the Varkari tradition of Western India. Her work seamlessly blends daily, domestic experiences with her deep devotion to Lord Vitthal of Pandharpur. 
Janabai's work captures the nuances of a socially marginalized woman's life, both secular and spiritual
She often represented herself as a servant or 'dasi' in the household of the saint Namdev, and her poems frequently mention doing household work. This representation as a 'dasi' is significant, as the term has a dual meaning, referring to both a servant and a philosopher or sage. In her case, it indicates a scholarly aspect often overlooked due to the dominant interpretation of 'dasi' as merely a servant. 
Janabai's innovative portrayal of the divine, particularly her feminization of Lord Vitthal as 'Vithabai', underscores the intimate and reciprocal bond between the devotee and the deity. Her work captures the nuances of a socially marginalized woman's life, both secular and spiritual. Janabai's poetry, deeply rooted in the Varkari tradition of the Marathi-language area of Western India, is characterized by its focus on devotion to Lord Vitthal of Pandharpur and its reflection of the lives of the saint-poets who praised him. 
Janabai's poetry also includes unique representations of the divine, with a notable instance being her addressing Lord Vitthal in a feminine form as 'Vithabai' or 'Vithai'. This approach demonstrates a reciprocal relationship between the devotee and the deity, where the divine is not only a figure of worship but also a participant in the devotee's daily life. Her influence extends beyond her poetry, as Janabai's legacy is kept alive through the women's oral tradition in Maharashtra, where her songs are sung during daily activities in temples and educational institutions in Maharashtra.



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