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!
There 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
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