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JANABAI (1298-1350)

Janabai was a member of the Varkari sect of poets and saints. This sect was one of the most influential in central Maharashtra and was opposed to caste distinctions and social inequities. As with many other luminaries of the sect, like Tukaram and Jnaneshwar, Janabai belonged to a low caste. At the age of seven she was given into domestic bondage as a dasi in the house of the father of the famous saint Namdev. Namdev too spoke out on behalf of the downtrodden and the oppressed, and fought against the unjust treatment of lower castes by high caste rulers. Yet, in his father’s house Janabai still had to work long hours at gruelling domestic tasks. Her poems capture the sense of the drudgery of her life and her resentment at the restrictions she lived under. In one of her poems she imagines herself taking to the open road, a woman singer laughing of the restrictions of patriarchy; in others she imagines the god Vithoba as her invisible assistant, her companion in her menial routine. Some lines from a poem of hers:

Won over by devotion
The Lord does lowly chores!
Says Jani to Vithoba,
How shall I pay your debt?
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