The gender story

Alisha Shinde
Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Vithu Mazha, a performance project which brings the best of the unsung women sant-poets of Maharashtra, will be held at TIFA Working Studios on Saturday

Every year, in June-July, after sowing the crop, peasants from Maharashtra set out on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur, via Alandi and Dehu. On a stipulated day, they accompany the palkhis of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram and begin their 21 day pilgrimage to meet their ‘mauli’, Lord Vithoba. Unlike other religious festivals, in which popular cinema music rules the roost, the Warkaris sing hymns, bhajans and abhangs penned by the saints belonging to the warkari sect — Sant Dnyaneshwar, Sant Tukaram, Sant Namdev and Sant Eknath. There are women saints too — Janabai being the foremost, whose writings highlighted the social issues of their time. 

Celebrating the writings of these women poets including Janabai, Aubai, Kanhopatra, Soyrabai and Gonabai, five city-based artists will be interpreting their works through new compositions, translations and performances. The programme titled, Vithu Mazha will be held at TIFA Working Studios on March 3. 

Shruti Vishwanath, Shruteendra Katagade, Yuji Nakagaawa, Vandana Khare and Shrenik Mutha are the participating artists. Vishwanath, who will be presenting and performing the interpretations, says, “The songs of Warkari sants are sung till date. But the poetry of women sant-poets have been neglected over the years. It is through their Bhakti poetries that we learn how the women have gone beyond the boundaries of traditions.” 

“The poems and abhangs were radical for the time they were based in. The poems spoke about feminism even before the term got rooted in popular culture. Perhaps that’s the reason why these abhangs never became ‘famous’,” she adds.  

The music composer and educator strongly believes that these abhangs are still relevant, because of their inherent nature to take on new meanings. “The term bhakti is a loaded one. I am looking at this living tradition from the point of view of gender representation. That’s the crux of Vithu Mazha,” explains Vishwanath. The project has been supported by India Foundation for the Arts under the Arts Practice Programme.

“The bhakti movement was an attempt to liberate people from societal shackles. The poets of this era were not afraid to call out discrimination and talk about issues like under representation of women in society,” she added. 

Shrenik Mutha, who is also a part of Vithu Mazha, and has translated the poetries, says, “What I have learnt from the project is to understand the importance of words and language; understanding the parallels and to be able to re-imagine the connection between the two.” 

Five artists will be reinterpreting the poetries and abhangs of women saints. The programme titled Vithu Mazha will be held at TIFA Working Studios, Sadhu Vaswani Road, Pune at 6 pm on March 3

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