Bhaktajana Vatsale

Come O Vitthal, for the love of your devotee! Flled with mercy, O Panduranga, with a complexion like a rain cloud heavy with water, wearing yellow clothing come and give us salvation, O King Keshava. Namadev says you are the creator of the universe, the One who lives in the milky ocean, O Mother of the world!

NamdevThere has been a tradition to sing Marathi Abhangas as minor pieces towards the end of  Carnatic Music concerts. Even the celebrated vocalists  M.S.Subbulakshmi and M.L.Vasanthakumari have done so. This trend has seen a bit of a revival in recent times with artists such as Aruna Sairam, Ranjani & Gayathri and O.S.Arun becoming well known for their Abhangas.  An Abhanga is a form of devotional poetry written in Marathi, most in praise of Lord Krishna in the form of Vitthala or Vithoba.  The saints who wrote and sang them belonged to the Varkari movement, a Bhakti movement in Maharashtra which was popular between 13th and 18th centuries.

My song choice today is by the poet-saint Namdev. Though I had heard of him, I was not familiar with his life story. Hoping that it would interest you, I have decided to write a synopsis of his life story as I educate myself.

Namdev was born in 1270 AD to a family of tailors in a little village in Maharashtra. Soon the family moved to Pandharpur where there was a temple of Vitthala. From early childhood he showed extraordinary devotion to Vitthala to an extent that he neglected everything else. In his mind, Vitthala was his friend and playmate.

Being rather one-track about his devotion to Vitthala, Namdev paid no attention to his studies or to learning his trade under his father, which caused much distress to his ageing parents and later to his wife. As was the custom in those times, he was married at a young age (11) to Rajai  who joined this family in their life of extreme poverty. They were to have five children together.

When Namdev was about 21, he met Saint Jnanadev and his companions, a meeting which was to change his life.  Made to realise that his vision of God was still limited, his friends advised him to take a Guru. He took initiation under Visobha Khechar and under him learnt to expand his devotion from Vitthoba to the universal Brahman. He then travelled widely in India, singing songs to spread Bhakti. He is said to have spent 20 years in Punjab with such a wide following that the Sikhs look at him as their own. He then came back to Padharpur and spent the rest of his life spreading his message by means of his Abhangas. He died in 1350 aged 80.

Namdev left behind a body of work in the form of Abhangas of which about 2500 are known. 61 of them are included in the holy book of the Sikhs – the Guru Granth Sahib; these are hymns on the Nirguna Brahman (God without attributes) as opposed to his many Abhangas on Vitthala.

In my song choice of today, Namdev pleads to Vitthala to ‘Come, for the love of your devotee’….’come and give salvation’.  For lyrics and translation see footnote. To present the song, I have chosen a simple rendition filled with Bhakti-bhava by O.S.Arun, sung in raga Brindavana Saranga. To know more about this raga, click here. Click here to listen.

Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Marathi

In Devanagri script:

येई वो विठ्ठले भक्तजन वत्सले
करुणा कल्लोळे पाण्डुरङ्गे
सजल जलद घन पीताम्बर परिधान
येई उध्धरणे केशीराजे
नामा म्हणे तू विश्वाची जननी
क्षिराब्धि निवासिनी जगदम्बे


yEI vO viTTalE bhaktajana vatsalE
karuNA kalloLE pAnDurangE
sajala jalada ghana pItAmbara paridhAna
yEI udhdharaNE keshIrAjE
nAmA mhaNE tu vishvAchI jananI
kshirabdhI nivAsinI jagadambE

Translation :

Come O Vitthal, for the love of your devotee
filled with mercy, O Panduranga
(with complexion like) a rain cloud heavy with water, wearing yellow clothing
come and give us salvation, O King Keshava
Namadev says you are the creator of the universe
One who lives in the milky ocean, O Mother of the world


Filed under Abhanga, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Marathi, Namdev, O.S.Arun

17 responses to “Bhaktajana Vatsale

  1. Ramesh

    Oh; I had no idea of the background of Namdev and am much informed now. What a prodigious output and its quite likely that some of his compositions are lost because in those days they were largely passed on orally. For somebody from outside the region to be so feted in Sikhism, is very unique.

    Yeas abhangs have become quite popular in Carnatic concerts. Its nice to see the very stiff Carnatic tradition bend to allow outside influences. Ranjani & Gayathri particularly do abhangs very well.

    • Hi Ramesh, I was also struck by the prodigious output but the lyrics of the abhanga I featured is very simple isn’t it? The next time I am in India I would like to get myself a book of his best works with translations, I’ll be interested to know whether he wrote more complex poetry. And yes, agreed about R & G, they sing their abhangas very well!

  2. Filmbuff

    Yep i second that. I have heard RJ live twice in Sydney. Both times their abhangs were great. Aruna Sairam’s abhang was also good. In the recent swaralaya concert in June, OS Arun’s Abhang was the crowning glory of a 2 hr interesting concert featuring a variety of compositions – purists /traditionalists may say that it was not pure classical carnatic concert but i found it refreshing and a good change as we were listening to pure carnatic concerts on all the 3 days.

    Vithoba temple in Pandarpur Maharashtra is awesome Suja. I love to listen to Namdev’s abhangs on Vithoba

    • O.S.Arun is known for his bhajans and abhangas, so I am sure his concert was much appreciated. I tend to like the traditional concert but am happy to hear some light numbers at the end. Oh so you have been to the Vitthoba temple in Padarpur? After teaching myself all about Namdev, I really want to go and visit the temple one day…

      • Filmbuff

        I too like traditional carnatic concerts – as i said it was a 3 day fest so OS Arun’s program was not only a bit different but equally enjoyable. Please do visit Pandharpur if you get a chance on your next trip to India!

  3. i never knew there was so much to music just than hearing it and enjoying it. Frankly speaking apart from the history, everything went above my head as far as music techniclaites is concerned. I have known this Abhang and enjoy it whenever its played But you Suja, have opened my eyes by providing so much information. There are more gems in bhakti sampraday and I would love to hear more of them straight from your blog… Cheers.. 😉

    • Thank you Mayur for visiting my site. I am happy that you found it an interesting read. Though I do concentrate on Carnatic Music (I am assuming that it may not not be to your interest :), I do make forays into other forms every now and then as I enjoy variety. I hope you will continue to find some others posts to your interest. In the meanwhile, I made a quick visit to your site and will definitely return to admire your photographs in leisure, that being another hobby of mine 🙂 Cheers. Suja

  4. Hi Suja, I know this is not the correct place to write, bcoz this is a different post. Though I would like to share you something that I found on net. Today morning I was particularly not feeling well, was upset about something. And it is these times I listen to ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. But today I got stumbled upon this ‘We Will Survive’
    This is a comic version of the original song sung by Gloria. But still I found this version amusing and heart warming. I felt goose bumps all over my body while listening to this. This duos and amazing musicians made my day. Ever head of music used as a healing, well it did to me today.

    I m really not good in knowing music technicalities. But I think I can understand good music and bad music.

    I felt like writing what I felt today in my regular blog, but couldn’t able to. My words failed short for my limitations. I m better off as a photographer. 🙂

    But can you check this for me and can tell me why I felt the way I felt today?


    • Hi Mayur, what an impossible task you set me 🙂 The way a piece of music makes you feel is a function of so many things which others can never know! Our brain triggers emotional responses to external stimuli (ie. music in this case) just like poor Pavlov’s dog had physiological responses to food! Our own memories and experiences are the ones most responsible for our reaction to music. It is true that certain sounds ARE intrinsically sad – for example, the interval between C Major and E Flat is acknowledged to be sad, while in Carnatic Music also, the note G2 in a raga (if Sa is C Major, then G2 will be E Flat) gives a sad mood to the raga. I believe that in studies in speech patterns in US showed that people include that sound interval when conveying sadness in speech as well. But which came first? Is the mood hard-wired to the sound, is that why we use it in speech as well? Or do we feel the sadness in music because we recognise it from speech? Is it not culture dependent? I don’t know, I am just a very ordinary, inexpert and amateur appreciator of music, these questions are quite beyond me 🙂 The piece of music you posted sounded funny and joyful to me, and I admired the skills of the musicians but it triggered no emotions in me as it did for you. However I am glad for you that you had such a nice emotional response 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

      • Well, thanks Suja. That does explain. I was going through an emotional turmoil and maybe that’s why. But even now I m feeling better, still that violin playing feels like somebody piercing deep inside my heart.

        I also showed this video to everyone around me, and they were also not that responsive as I was. 😦

        Anyways that does not stop me from showing it to everyone.. 🙂 thanks a million.

  5. jchicago

    I agree that it is always exciting to hear new songs and new genres of songs in the thukudas section. I love all the abhangs that I’ve heard Ranjini-Gayathri sing. It struck me as I was reading your story of Namdev that great contributions to society seem to come at a huge personal cost. Seems true of so many great people….

    • Hi J, what you say is true..and much as his poetry is inspiring today, I was thinking of Namdev’s wife while I was writing the story and thinking that I would have been much frustrated with a husband who waffled on about Bhakti and Nirguna Brahman and disappeared for years on pilgrimages while my children were starving!! 🙂 I am a slave to the lower-levels of Maslow’s Pyramid of needs 🙂

      • walkfit

        Today was a day when I was thinking or in my awareness was Namdev saint and wife that I shared your writeup.

      • The saint wandered through India and now he wanders through the minds of those who remember him! Thanks for the comment.
        Cheers. Suja

  6. Balaji

    I’m a Varakari Student…disciple of Shri Tukaram Ganapathi Maharaj,Kadayanallur..
    I’m happy for this abhang of Sant Shiromani Namdev Maharaj..!!!!
    Great Work 🙂

  7. Balaji

    I request you people to visit this website

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