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Three Akhandas by Jotirao Phule

Jotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule
Busts of Jotirao Phule (l) and Savitribai Phule (r)

A brief note on terminology

Jotirao Phule wrote several verses in Marathi which are termed as akhandas. The term akhanda, which literally means unbroken, resonates with and draws inspiration from abhangs, the metrical compositions by Bhakti poets such as Tukaram, yet breaks away from that tradition. Phule’s diction is not poetic, ornate or sophisticated. He employs an outright and poignant language. He uses the poetic genres and meters prevalent in popular culture and not the ones commonly used in Sanskrit or Sanskrit-inspired Marathi literature.

Phule uses the categories of shudras and ati-shudras to mean the low caste and the ‘untouchables’ respectively. He also calls them kshatriyas by which he means those who owned kshetra (the land) in the past or the original inhabitants of the country. He upholds the theory that the Brahmins who were the Aryans hailing from Iran invaded and defeated the original inhabitants of India and constructed a hierarchical social order to sustain their dominance. Therefore he uses the terms Brahmin and Aryan interchangeably.

Phule sought to build a new system challenging the Brahminical order. He believed that none of the religions talks about Universal Truth in the real sense. Satyashodhak Samaj, the society founded by him, aimed to propagate satya dharma (the faith based on Universal Truth).

The following translation of the select verses by Phule is a revised version of the work published in 2014 in Indian Literature, No. 279, Vol. LVIII, No. 1, pp. 10–18. I am thankful to Satish Nene for helping me understand the terms related to agriculture in Phule’s works.


1. Peasant Woman

As the cock crows at the crack of dawn, a shudra woman sits at the grinding stones.
Listening to her boisterous songs [while grinding], her husband wakes up and takes bulls out for grazing.
As the day breaks, she makes cow-dung cakes mixed with straws and carries them in a basket.
The shrewd Aryans call her a kulambin[1]Kulambin means a peasant woman. It also means a female domestic help. The term kunabau (fit and proper to a kunbi) implies rustic, rude, vulgar, plebeian. Thus, kulambin is also a contemptuous term. , but she does not lack talent, says Joti.

As the sun rises, she pats dough into rotis and boils curry on a stove.
When the cooking is over, she proceeds to the fields with [a basket of] food on her head.
She works in the fields with others. She does not dine at home at her leisure.
She donates grains to beggars and the Brahmins. Thus, she provides for the Brahmins [who call themselves deities on the earth], says Joti.

How can a shudra afford to deck her house out! There is no tulsi bed in her courtyard either.
She never coifs her hair, is always sweaty, and hates finery.
She has only one coarse sari. She is content with buttermilk and coarse grains.
She laughs at Brahmin widows and blames the Aryans, says Joti.

She fetches water arduously. She mixes straws with cow-dung.
Tucking pleats [of her sari], she tramples cow-dung and dabs cow-dung-cakes in the sunlight.
Unlike a Brahmin woman, she does not amuse herself by sitting on the swing-bed in the shadows.
The Brahmins call such an industrious woman a kulambin and lord it over others, says Joti.

She takes a big basket full of cow-dung cakes on her head, while carrying her baby on her back.
To earn a living, a shudra mother roams the alleys and lanes hawking cow-dung cakes.
She does not worship idols, unlike a Brahmin woman, who walks arrogantly flaunting her ornaments.
The wicked Aryans call her a kulambin. This is really shameful, says Joti.

She drops arhar[2]A lentil seeds in a seed drill and helps her husband in sowing.
Let there be a gust of wind or heavy rains, she helps her husband out.
She assists him in holding a rope. She plants saplings on the marks.
The deceitful Brahmins call such an industrious woman a kulambin, says Joti.

The kshatriya women starve themselves and mow grass in the fields.
Will she be mindful of feeding her hungry child, when engrossed in work?
She munches on bean-pods if she finds some, and suckles her baby.
She sells the mown hay and contributes to the family income. She shows an example to the Brahmin women, says Joti.

The kshatriya women weed the fields.
They hump the mown weeds and feed them to bullocks.
They carry the rest of the weeds to the market.
The Brahmins call such a toiling woman a kulambin, says Joti.

She helps in harvesting the crops, carries the harvest to the threshing floor and promptly readies the floor.
She stacks baskets of corns near the well, and swiftly rotates the winch.
She breaks off corns, collects the scattered grains, and pounds and crushes them.
The shirker Brahmins call such an industrious woman a kulambin, says Joti.

A Brahmin woman does not spread manure on the fields; on the other hand, she adorns her head with ornaments.
She does not collect cow-dung by running behind the cattle. She does not make cow-dung cakes in the return of wages.
She does not grind grains or clean up houses of the shudras to earn a living.
A Brahmin woman never sweeps the courtyard of a shudra’s house nor does she smear the floor with cow-dung.

A Brahmin woman neither applies fragrant scrub to a shudra woman nor bathes her.
She does not comb her hair. She does not wipe off water from her body. She does not need to wash sarees and blouses [of a shudra woman].
She does not clean up plates with leftovers of a shudra woman or tend shoes in [her] house.
She does not take care of shudra children or kiss them, says Joti.

A Brahmin woman does not work for a shudra. She does not cut the crops in the fields.
She does not carry sheaves of hay to the threshing floor, nor does she break off corns along with them.
She does not carry baskets when grains are picked off. She does not remove chaff of bajra corn with a broom.
She does not work at a shudra’s threshing floor. She never leaves her pomp, says Joti.

A Brahmin woman does not run behind the plough. She does not weed [the fields].
A Brahmin woman does not break clods in the fields. She does not carry manure on her head.
She does not feed the mown hay to the bullocks. She does not carry it to the market.
A Brahmin woman does not do any labour in the fields. She indulges in idle tricks, says Joti.


2. The Hymns of the Prime Truth

Oh Prime Truth, may you be victorious.
We shall discover the Creator by virtue of your power. [Refrain]

As the twice born [Brahmins] conquered the country,
they condemned the original inhabitants
and forbade their education.
[The original inhabitants] were subordinated to them.

The Aryans treated the shudras like dogs,
called themselves the deities on the earth
and made the latter worship their feet.
They were egoistic and cheated the ignorant masses.
They did not have a guilty conscience.

The Brahmins gobble plentiful food at the feasts,
surpassing vampires.

The nasty Brahmins ask for alms in the name of the deceased,
but they themselves eat [the food].
They do not let the toiling shudras,
orphans, the visually impaired and the disabled dine before them.

When the Truth rises, the Vedic lore vanishes!
It all appears deceptive.

Oh Truth, upon listening to your greatness
puranas are ashamed.

On seeing you, the imposters are stunned
and hang their heads in shame.

When you bestow your kindness on the ignorant masses
the Brahmins shiver with fear.

Oh Truth, know that you are the ocean of mercy.
You relieved us of the bondage of Brahminism.

We understood the right path with your favour
and started serving our parents.

***

Let us venerate the Sovereign Truth,
which is an embodiment of splendidly pure lustre
which is sought by those who desire emancipation.
It attracts our mind to work.

The Truth has waned among the people.
Nobody understands the Good.
Numerous religions were created [by the elite] in their own interest.

While discovering the essence of the Truth,
we reached the latent secret.
We are fed up with the deceptive religions.
We gave up the inferior deeds.

Always remember God.
Follow the path of Truth.
Give up the deceptive religions.
Embrace the virtue of fraternity.

Do not be filled up with conceit.
Do not disregard the depressed.
Do not pretend to be chaste and holy.
Do not be swollen with pride.

Destroy misery and agony.
Venerate the king Bali.[3]Phule reinterpreted the myth of Bali, the king who donated his lands to Vamana—the Brahmin incarnation of Vishnu. The king Bali is an exemplar created by him which reminds the low castes of their … Continue reading
Maintain your family
with your own labours.

Always speak the Truth.
Give up the shrewd faiths.
By educating the depressed,
make the Brahmins embarrassed.

Serve the shudra masses.
Offer yourself to God.
Joti bows down to God
by annihilating false belief.


3. Lessons of the Truth

The Brahmins, who boast of their purity, consume meat and liquor in the company of the British, but disapprove of Mangs for doing the same.
They take bribes while administering justice, and sweep the unjust things under the carpet.
They kiss a yavani [Muslim] woman with pleasure, but they consider Mahars lowly.
Thus the Aryans who disdain the world should be shunned altogether, says Joti.

The God Viththala, who is said to have created all the creatures, is but made up of stone!
The entire Pandharpur [the shrine to him] was fooled in this manner.
[A devotee of Viththala] meditates upon the idol of Viththala, and dances to the rhythm of the music like a ballerina.
He hums and plays fugadi [a women’s sport] shamelessly along with women.
The credulous devotees are preached that this would bring bliss, says Joti.

The Aryans allege that the humankind was born of the limbs of the God Brahma—just like a scorpion!
If the Vedic texts are examined, Vishnu and Brahma wither away, imagination wanes and the Truth stays.
Some of the shudras were liberated from the chains; they attained humanhood and became happy.
Why you waste your energy in speaking and revealing the Truth here in vain, asks Joti.

[The shudras] wail out loud with devotion, and gratify the Brahmins for befriending them.
The shudras are enslaved with enticement; the Brahmins are bestowed the lordship.
Do not befriend the Brahmins now; they cheat ultimately, for sure.
It is well-known that they are the fountainheads of vices and tremendous fabrication, says Joti.

The Brahmins dine with the British; but consider the shudras as defiled.
They ask the ignorant shudras to join the National Congress. Please compare them with the British.
There would be assemblies, preaching and riots, where the shudras would be killed and the Brahmins would enjoy.
The real king is he who provides the security. Please save the ignorant shudras, oh king, says Joti.

Make the National Congress inclusive of all religions and then let the Aryans face it.
Their ancestors composed fabricated stories and magic spells of Vedas with enmity.
The shudras and mlenchhas [the Muslims] were tortured a lot. The Brahmins are incendiary.
Make them the followers of the Truth, and make the world happy, says Joti.

The Aryans consider that caste discrimination is fine. They attack mlenchchas [the Muslims] for their own gains.
The Aryans believe that they all are superior by birth; and offend the rest of the world.
They discriminated on the basis of religion in their own interests. They exploit the shudras under the guise of religion.
Tell the Aryans, the Christians as well as the Muslims [about the Truth]. There shall be no discrimination, says Joti.

Madhura Damle is an assistant professor of Political Science at the Presidency University, Kolkata.

Sources:

Kir, Dhananjay, S. G. Malshe and Y. D. Phadke, eds. Mahatma Phule Samagra Vanmay. Mumbai: Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya ani Sanskriti Mandal, 2006.

Molesworth, J. T., Dictinary, Marathi and English. Bombay: Bomaby Education Soceity’s Press, 1857.

Notes

1 Kulambin means a peasant woman. It also means a female domestic help. The term kunabau (fit and proper to a kunbi) implies rustic, rude, vulgar, plebeian. Thus, kulambin is also a contemptuous term.
2 A lentil
3 Phule reinterpreted the myth of Bali, the king who donated his lands to Vamana—the Brahmin incarnation of Vishnu. The king Bali is an exemplar created by him which reminds the low castes of their better past as well as their betrayal by the Brahmins.

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