Authorship and Generative Embodiment in Bahiṇāī’s Songs

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Shukla, Rohini
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Bahiṇāī Caudharī (1880-1951) was an ardent devotee of Viṭṭhal, the god worshipped by Vārkarīs. Her son Sopāndev was puzzled when he learnt that she repudiated village kīrtans, performances primarily in praise of Viṭṭhal, at the age of sixty. When he asked her for an explanation she said, “No, no, I don’t want to attend kīrtans anymore. They keep saying the same things! Tukā mhaṇe, Nāmā mhaṇe. Has god given them nothing of their own to say?” There is a sense of frustration in Bahiṇāī’s response. Despite the larger tradition of literary stalwarts like Tukārām and Nāmdev in the Vārkarī fold, kīrtankārs of her time seem uninspired, having had nothing of their own to say. This essay explores how Bahiṇāī reinvented bhakti outside the prevailing framework of kīrtan, through a genre now eponymously remembered as Bahiṇāīcī gāṇī (songs) or Bahiṇāīcā ovyā. In the first section, I elaborate on the centrality of repetition in performing bhakti. In the sections that follow, I argue that a critique of both kīrtan and writing as modes of devotional expression is implicit in Bahiṇāī’s oeuvre. Firstly, writing is considered incompatible with the mobile life circumstances of pastoral Maharashtra, and secondly, ovī is preferred to kīrtan for it enables encountering Viṭṭhal through coevally performing and labouring bodies. This critique thus foregrounds different models of embodiment as conditions of devotional expression. Authorship in ovī performance is predicated on what I term the generative model of embodiment. To Bahiṇāī’s credit, this model relates authorship to the bhakta’s body differently from how kīrtan and writing do.
Bahiṇāī Caudharī, Maharashtra, bhakti, kirtan