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Durable Link to this BlogWednesday, October 13, 2010

Sant Janabai (13th Century)

Originally belonging to Karnataka, Vithoba or Lord Vitthal of Pandharpur, was adored and worshipped throughout Maharashtra by 11th century and drew crowds. One day during Kartik (October-November) Damaset, a tailor form distant Parbhani village came to Pandharpur on annual visit to have blessings of Vitthal. He found a lonely girl, weeping and sitting on the step of the temple. It was getting dark, and Damaset asked the girl why she was crying and whether she had lost her way. He found out that she was an orphan, and walked all the way to Pandharpur to find shelter at Mother Pandhari"s place! Damaset took pity on her and brought her home. The young girl Jani, became a member of his pious house hold.

Jani started doing everyday household chores and grew with other youngsters of the family. Dama"s son, Namdev who later became a celebrated saint, was one of them. There used to be daily Bhajan in Dama"s household. Jani participated in-group singing. She was uttering Vitthal"s name, all the time she was busy.

Namdev had resolved to compose a big number of Abhangs (devotional hymns) in between his vocation as a tailor. He realized that the task was too huge for a single person. He tried to avail help of all his family members by distributing composing of Abhangs among them. Jani was also asked to compose. Very soon she excelled in this new task as well.

By now, Jani or Janabai was full-fledged servant in Namdev"s household. She sang and composed while doing household chores. She would wake up early in the morning and grind Jower (millet) to prepare rotis for the big household. One day Namdev"s mother heard some other female voice talking and humming from the corner of the hut where Jani was sitting as usual singing and grinding all alone. The mother peeped in and saw another woman helping Jani to grind the "mound" of Jowar. But soon the woman disappeared, though Jani continued talking and singing to her.

On being questioned about the other woman Jani replied that she was "Vithabai" who came everyday and helped her with all the chores! Namdev"s mother who was also a Vitthal devotee, realized that Lord Vithoba or Vitthal helped Jani all the time, in the guise of a woman, whom Jani addressed as Vithabai.

Another legend relates that Lord Vitthal, once did not accept naivedya (food-offering) at Namdev"s house-hold. On that day, Jani had gone to prepare cow-dung cakes (for fuel) and was not present at the puja time. Namdev, realized the reason for Lord"s non acceptance of food. Jani was sent for. She offered the food which the Lord partook readily. Everybody was happy.

Janabai seems to have composed innumerable lyrics about Vithoba"s glory. But only three hundred of them have survived, some are thought to be interpolations. But her compositions are popular and have found place in daily Bhajans of Varkaris. Through never-ending house-hold chores only, Janabai attained God-realisation, and became a saint. Work was Vitthal-worship for her.

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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