Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Do Not Call Anything, Anything

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Do Not Call Anything, Anything

Article excerpt

Translated (from Ahirani) and introduced by Rohini Shukla

Bahinabai Choudhari (1880-1951) was born in an agrarian village called Asoda in northern Maharashtra. She was a devotee of Vitthal - beloved God of the Varkari tradition, initiated by Saint Dnyaneshwar in the thirteenth century. To the present day, a special practice of the Varkari tradition is the vaari - devotees from across Maharashtra walk together for days, from their native villages to Pandharpur, Vitthal's spiritual abode. They sing and dance to songs in praise of Vitthal, engendering a rich oral and performative tradition.

Bound by her family and farms, Bahinabai did not partake in the vaaris. Instead, she composed and sang couplets called ovyaa, as she toiled in the fields and the kitchen along with fellow women. To be sure, there is hardly a kitchen in Maharashtra, not enriched by her ovyaa; they are known for their simplicity, light-hearted humour, aphorisms about nature, rhythm and, of course, their magical ability to comfort endlessly labouring farmers and home makers.

This ovi is translated from an exhaustive collection of Bahinabai's ovyaa, titled Bahinayichi Gaani, published by Suchitra Prakaashan in 2012. We are indebted to Sopandev, Bahinabai's son, who scripted her ovyaa and published them posthumously; and also the many women who have kept this oral tradition alive.


Do not call it a boll

that blooms without cotton;

do not call it a mouth

that doesn't chant Hari's name. …

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