Dalit Sahirs

Arjun Hari Bhalerao

Arjun Hari Bhalerao. The story of his jalsa, which features the ‘Ambedkari Jalsa Tadwalkarancha’ created by him, is a prominent example of how, in the wake of Ambedkar's anti-caste movement, music by Dalits imagined a humanitarian world for us — an idea which was missing in a world where the gruesome practice of untouchability was (and still is) prevalent.

Born on 1 December 1904, Arjun Hari Bhalerao grew up in a family of shahirs. During the 1920s, his uncle Laxman Bhalerao helmed a tamasha troupe which was famous in the region of Usmanabad, Beed and Latur. Wherever this troupe would go, Laxman Bhalerao used to take Arjun with him. Having been exposed to the life of tamasha artists, and subsequently to music, Arjun developed a keen sense of the music that was being produce by Dalits, as well as their lives and struggle. Such was the impact of the powerful narratives of anti-caste jalsas, like the Satyashodhak Jalsa, that he would not pay heed to the dangerous conditions around him.

In 1924, an epidemic of plague had taken its toll on the region he was living in. Even in such a situation, he made sure to be present at the Satyashodhak Jalsa of Ramchandra Ghadge, which possessed undisputed fame during this era. He once mentioned, “Four to five people used to die every day. The image of the light from the flames of the burning bodies, which could be seen from both sides of the river, was depressing. But I was so moved by this jalsa that I would use the light created by the flames of these burning bodies to find my way to it.”

But it was only in 1927 that he realised the jalsa's potential to bring about change in the society. In the same year, he was selected for a teacher’s training program in Pune, and the following year, he was appointed as a teacher in the village of Kasabe Tadawale. This was at the peak of Ambedkar’s movement. In the Tadwale village, a newspaper called Ambedkar’s Janata was being read dedicatedly, because it spoke about the suffering and issues of Dalits — it became their voice. Arjun Hari Bhalerao too was influenced by it, and he started writing as a result. Though he began by writing songs, he realised that the jalsa is a much more effective medium to disseminate Babasaheb Ambedkar's words.

Kasabe Tadwale was the village of many tamasha artists. However, many of them had to move out of the village in order to survive and take up any sort of job that came their way. Hunger was thus an impediment to achieving an anti-caste vision. Bhalerao perhaps realised this. The formation of an Ambedkarite jalsa wasn’t an easy task. He had to first convince artists about the ideas he was intending to perform, and then he had to make sure that practice sessions would be regular. Despite the lack of adequate funds and costumes for performances, Bhalerao was determined to form a jalsa that would spread Ambedkar’s words to the people. But the obstacles he faced weren't just material ones. In 1947, he and members of his jalsa had a close brush with death during a performance in the district of Latur. When Brahmins and Marathas in the region found out that the jalsa was going to be performed, they were ready to attack those who were directly associated with it and those supported it.

In spite of these difficulties, he and his jalsa continued to perform. He explored forms within the jalsa, such as 'wagg', 'gaulan' and farce. Sample one of the earliest 'kawans' he wrote:

Mahne Arjuna gulamgirichi! Hoti bedi annyachi!

Shikvun soda bal! Purana gela tumcha kaal!

(Arjuna talks about slavery! Of the shackles of injustice!

Educate your child ! your past destroyed by Puranas!)

It must be noted that the era when he performed with his jalsa was a time of radical social and cultural change among Dalits — a period when talking about caste injustice and attempts to promote education were nothing short of revolutionary.

Ekmekanchya warkhali! Kiti varsh vaya geli!

Eki nahi tumchi jhali! Jhali re seema!

(Living as inferior and superior! How many years have been destroyed!

We did not unite! This is the limit now)

Despite creating an influential body of work and being one of the shahir-cum-jalsakars who took Ambedkar and his ideas to the most marginalised people across villages, his work is still not known to many today. Dyanewshwar Dhaware, an author of Ambedakari Jalsa Tadwalkarancha succinctly explains the reason behind this. “From the period of Maharaki before the 1940s to the period after the 1960s, social life had been completely changed. Old occupations were abandoned. This community [Dalits], which used to work in the jalsa, was trying to adjust and adapt to the new means of livelihood. During these 20 long years, people who worked in the jalsa itself had begun to forget the times of the jalsa.”

As Babasaheb Ambedkar once suggested, even ideas die if there is no one to spread them. Arjun Hari Bhalerao died on 17 February 1992. If one examines the conditions he grew up and lived in, the music he created and the anti-caste movement he led, it can be said without a doubt that he will always remain a hero, regardless of the extent of his reach. He used music not just to entertain, but also to educate.
Adarsh Shinde

In writing about Adarsh Shinde, Maitreya describes how this third-generation singer carries forward the tradition of his grandfather’s Shinde Shahi repertoire of Dalit music, while also carving a niche for himself in the community through his renditions of Bheem Geete.

Trained in classical music, Shinde’s career kicked off with an album he sang for alongside his father and uncle, and soon, he began singing for Marathi and Hindi films. Maitreya writes of Shinde’s Bheem Geete that talk about the emancipation of Dalits, of the greatness of Babasaheb Ambedkar. He pursued Geete as a moral responsibility rather than a source of livelihood.

In a very short span of time, he managed to earn a name for himself in the Dalit community, and more specifically in the sphere of Bhim Geete. One song by him is extremely popular among the youth and is played every year in Dalit bastis across Maharashtra on 6 December and 14 April:

Navhat Milat Potala/

Aata Kami Nahi Notala/

Majhya Bhimachi Punyayi/

Angathi Sonaychi Botala

(There was scarcity of food/

now there is no scarcity of money/

because of Bhima’s efforts/

I wear the gold ring on my finger.)

All images: Artwork by Satwick Gade
(Courtsey : First Post)
B Kashinand

B Kashinand spent a lot of time with Nagorao Patankar, writes Maitreya — days which would impact the songs and poems he would go on to write. At a time when Dalit artists were denied access to technology, Kashinand’s songs were recorded by cassette companies, and he continued to work silently, away from the spotlight and from public recognition.

His belief in creating a Prabuddha Bharat (enlightened India) was reflected in his songs, his dream of an egalitarian, caste-less society. Kashinand’s work married the facts about Dalit identity and oppression with the larger idea of the exploitation of people across the world.

B Kashinand belongs to that generation of artists whose ideological inspiration and influence was Ambedkar’s thoughts, which was deeply embedded in their music, thereby shaping the country’s discourse.

Though he was originally from Amaravati, he came to Nagpur with his mother when he was a child. In this city, Ambedkar's movement had a profound impact on him and convinced his mother that education has the power to change their lives. When he was seven or eight, he learnt the Marathi alphabet and did not receive any schooling beyond it, in terms of learning in the traditional sense. He lived in Pandharabodi, Nagpur until his death in 2014.

He spent a substantial amount of time in the presence of shahir Nagorao Patankar, who was also from Nagpur. Patankar’s company would leave an impact on the songs and poems he would go on to write. Patankar also sang some of the songs which he had written.

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Bhimrao Kardak

Born in 1904 in the small village Kasabe Kunabe in Nashik, Bhimrao Kardak would go on to become one of the first shahirs. He identified himself as a practitioner of Ambedkari jalsa, a radically changed form of the erstwhile tamasha. Of Kardak’s legacy, Maitreya writes that the jalsa was the musically rendered cultural assertion of Ambedkar’s movement, which had by then begun to take root in the political and social domain.

The year was 1937. At Kasarwadi Dadar (in then Bombay), a meeting was held to discuss the upcoming Indian provincial elections. Bhimrao Kardak and his troupe of shahirs were part of this meeting, as was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Kardak and his troupe took to the stage and sang:

“Haa Paisa Deyil Dhoka, Haran Karel Tumchya Manuskiche

Maara Paisawar Ek Laath; Babasahebanna Dya Mat

Niwadun Aana Asemblit, Jay-Jay Gajwa Ambedkari

(This money will deceive you; it will destroy your humanity

Kick on this money; vote for Babasaheb

Elect him to Assembly; roar and echo Ambedkari victory)”

Ambedkar was thrilled. He walked up on stage and profusely thanked Kardak, saying: “What else can I add? (The) jalsa has said all of it. Ten of my meetings and gatherings are equal to one jalsa by Kardak and his troupe.”
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Kadubai Kharat

Kadubai Kharat, an artist from Aurangabad, has recently risen as a powerful voice who delivers poignant messages about the past of the anti-caste movement and its challenging present.

Maitreya says that to understand her works, one must study them through the lens of historical materialism. Her music has a language of its own, while being seeped in the social and political ideology of the Ambedkarite movement.

Living in extreme penury, Kharat sings songs about Ambedkar’s philosophy, earning her a few pennies and some grain. Nonetheless she continues to play her iktara, perform her songs, and fortify the anti-caste movement.

Kadubai Kharat, an artist residing in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, has recently become a sensation on social media platforms due to her voice, in which she sings songs about Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Videos of her singing songs on the iktara have been shared by hundreds of thousands of people. Comments under her videos are genuine responses, often filled with emotion. Her strong, sharp and melodious voice holds together the past of the anti-caste movement and its challenging present.
Courtesy : First Post
Krishnarao Sable
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Shahir Krishnarao Sable
Born 3 September 1923
PasarniWaiSatara, India
Died 20 March 2015 (aged 91)
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Nationality Indian

Occupation Folk artist, Singer, playwright, actor
Children Devdatta Sable (Son)
Charusheela Sable (Daughter)
Vasundhara Sable (Daughter)
Yashodhara Sable (Daughter)
Parent(s) Ganpatrao Sable
Awards Padma Shri Award 1998
Musical career
Years active 1947–2015

Krishnarao Ganpatrao Sable, popularly known as Shahir Sable (3 September 1923 – 20 March 2015), was a Marathi language folk artist from Maharashtra, India. He was an accomplished singer, writer, playwright, performer and Loknatya (Folk theater) producer-director.

Early life

Shahir Sable was born in a small village called Pasarni, in the Wai taluka of district Satara to Ganpatrao Sable in 1923. He learned to play the flute in childhood. After finishing his primary schooling in Pasarni, he moved to his maternal uncle's place in AmalnerJalgaon, where he studied till 7th grade and soon left school. At Amalner, he became close to Sane Guruji and spent time with Sane Guruji during the freedom struggle. With his shahiri, he started contributing to the struggle. He also started "Jagruti Shahir Mandal" during that time.

Famous works

Maharashtrachi Lokadhara (Folk dances of Maharashtra) – Maharashtrachi Lokadhara had performed all over India as a renowned troupe formed by Shahir Sable showcasing all native dance forms of Maharashtra. He gave rebirth to some of the old traditions of folk like Lavani, Balyanruttya, Kolinruttya, Gondhalinruttya, Manglagaur, Vaghyamurali, Vasudeo, Dhangar etc.


Adhi Ganala Rani Aan Na]
Are Krishna Are Kanha
Athshe Khidkya Navshe Daara
Garjaa Maharashtra Majha
Hay Pavlay Dev Majha Malhari
Jezurichya Khanderaya
Maharashtra Jai Maharashtra Jai
Navra Nako Ga Bai
Run Zun Vaajantri
Sahyadricha Sinha Garjato
Ved Lagale
Ya Go Dandyavarna Boltoy


Andhala Daltay – Shahir Sable staged this farcical play highlighting the sorry plight of the Marathi speaking residents of Mumbai. The lore has it that the play was so impactful that it led to the formation of the Shivsena, a political party safeguarding the rights of the native Marathi populace.


His son Devdatta Sable is a famous Marathi music composer with famous songs like "Hi Chaal Turu Turu" and "Manaachyaa Dhundit" and his grandson Shivadarshan Sable aka Shibu Sable, the son of Devdatta Sable is a noted film director and producer who directed Marathi movies like Ajab Lagnachi Gajab Gosht, Canvas and Rang Mananche. He also produced and directed Marathi dramas Parampara.com and Mii and Tee. He is a producer of the Marathi Psycho thriller drama Talyat-Malyat.

His daughter Charusheela Sable is a Marathi actress.

His son-in-law Ajit Vachani was a famous Indian film and television actor who married Charusheela Sable
His grandson is the noted Marathi film director Kedar Shinde.
His grandson Shibu Sable’s short-film debut “Special Dish”, which was directed and produced by him, bagged two awards (Best Film and Best Direction) at the Pune Short Film Festival and was selected to be screened in Berlin at the Indo-German Film Week and was also acquired by 'Pocket Films' as well as Disney+Hotstar.
"Mishti Doi" a short film co-written and directed by Shibu Sable, was an award-winning short film that bagged the Best Film and Best Production award at the 'Global India International Film Festival 2020' as well as the Second Best Director at the Pune Short Film Festival 2020 and was also acquired by 'Pocket Films' as well as Disney+Hotstar.
Shibu Sable's recent directorial venture ‘MONYA', a short film bagged awards for 'Best Direction' at the ‘Gully International Film Festival’ and the ‘Cochin International Film Festival’ and has won and been nominated at various other film festivals this year, including the Special Jury Mention at the ‘11th Dadasaheb Phalke Awards-2021’.
He recently directed 8 digital ads for Reliance Digital with Saie Tamhankar

Awards and recognition
Padma Shri Award – India's fourth highest civilian honour
1988: Shahir Amar Sheikh Puraskar
1990: President, 70th Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Natya Sammelan, Mumbai
1990: President, Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Shahir Parishad, Mumbai
1990: Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar
1994: Sant Namdev Puraskar
1997: Satara Bhushan Puraskar
1997: Shahir Patthe Bapurao Puraskar
1997: Maharashtra Rajya Gaurav Puraskar
1998: Shri Krishnarao Ganpatrao Sable has been awarded Padma Shri award (India's fourth highest civilian honour) for his dedication in the field of arts in 1998.
2001: Best Singer award from Maharashtra State Govt.
2002: P Sawlaram Puraskar
2002: Shahir Pharande puraskar
2005: Maharashra Bhushan award by Maharashtra Times
2006: Maharashtra Ratna puraskar
2012: Lokshahir Vittal Umap Mrudgandh Lifetime Achievement award


He died in his residence in Mumbai on 20 March 2015 at the age of 91.
Lokshahir Anna Bhau Sathe

In this account of the work of Lokshahir Anna Bhau Sathe, Maitreya describes how the poet’s shahiri became a lens through which the masses, who were otherwise prohibited from reading and writing, could view their own subordination and get a sense of anticipated liberation from the caste system.

He describes Sathe's poetry as the sound that became instrumental in deconstructing Brahminical myths, highlighting the oppression prevalent even in posh, urban, so-called educated spaces in the city of Mumbai, and embodied the pain of Dalits who migrated from the villages to the cities, in search of a life of dignity.

According to Sharad Patil, a noted scholar of the Marx-Phule-Ambedkar schools of thought, “Fakira is the best novel by Anna Bhau Sathe. To show that the cactus-like boundary line between the colonies of Mahar-Mangs (untouchables) including Fakira, and Kulkarni-Patil (Savarnas) was that of the class system instead of caste system, is the responsibility imposed on this communist Mang writer. During the time of Fakira, certainly, the caste system was much stronger than the class system in villages in Maharashtra. But, since it was imposed on the mind of Anna Bhau that the suffering of an untouchable peasant is equal to suffering of the touchable peasant in terms of its class, unsurprisingly, his talent was unable to trace the source of caste-class sufferings.”
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Nagorao Patankar

What Nagorao Patankar’s shahiri captured was not only the ideology of Ambedkar, but also a struggle for identity and the tenets of Buddhism that placed human beings, rather than caste, at the centre of the social sphere. He debunked the notion, Maitreya notes, that intellect and academic rigour were defined by one's education and went on to teach numerous artists.

His songs were a manifestation of the idea that where caste acts as a barrier towards accessibility and ability, Dalit shahiri can be the instrument that gives identity and history to a community whose culture was long appropriated by the Brahminical classes.

Nagorao Patankar had a great deal to teach people; he was among the shahirs to illustrate the social, cultural and psychological mutations taking place in society and also within individuals. The Buddhist conversions by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had had a huge impact on the lives of those who witnessed it and followed suit. The conversion to Buddhism brought back the human being as the centrality of social life. Nagorao Patankar wrote:

Sada Satya Margi Pawale Padavi

Swahtala Swathachi Mahatti Kalawi

Dwesh Bhav Lobh Kaam Krodh Maya

Tujhiya Krupene Saree Jalawi

(The feet should always tread on the path of truth

One should know the significance of oneself

Hatred, greed, lust, anger, delusion

All should vanish with your efforts)
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Prakash Patankar

Maitreya writes that apart from marking the beginning of anti-caste music in India, Ambedkarite shahiri was also an important means of freeing music and art from Brahminical hegemony. Prakash Patankar’s legacy in this context is thus an illustration of how music becomes a driving force of change.

The poet furthered the legacy left behind by his father, Nagorao Patankar, keeping Ambedkar’s philosophy at its roots, performing and singing again and again to impress upon people the message of abolishing exploitation, using music as a channel to speak of suffering, and emboldening the community to seek absolute and complete freedom.

Born into a family of shahirs, Pakash Patankar’s life illustrates how music that is against irrationality and prejudice, when projected through those that are historically exploited, becomes the epitome of change.

Mashalwalya N Shivraja

Mashal Pudhe Dav

Kalya Ratitun Jayach Aahe rr

Lai dur Majhya Bhimach Gao

(Oh, N Shivraja, a torch bearer

Show the torch further

We have to walk through dark night

Far is the home of my Bhima)

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Prahlad Shinde

For Prahlad Shinde, music from an early age was associated with grief: his parents would sing kirtans (devotional songs) on the streets to earn their daily bread and Shinde would accompany them.

So when Dalit shahiri and music became a viable career in entertainment, Shinde not only sang multiple verses about the Ambedkarite movement but also recorded folk and devotional songs, as a means of securing a livelihood.

Maitreya brings forth this duality in Shinde’s music:

The question of recognition and dignity had always been central to the lives of Dalits. Singing songs of Brahminical aesthetics brought Prahlad Shinde money and fame. But the “recognition” came from Ambedkarite masses.

The Ambedkarite masses — sizeable consumers of literature — consumed music as well. The advent of technology in the Indian music market made music producers (members of upper castes) meet this demand on a large scale. Prahlad Shinde made his choice: He sang (other) songs when struggling with hunger and poverty, but he also sang the songs of Ambedkarite/anti-caste movement.

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Shahir Krishnarao Sable
Krishnarao Ganpatrao Sable popularly known as Shahir Sable was a Marathi language folk artist from Maharashtra, India.


Shahir Sable was born in a small village called Pasarni, in the Wai taluka of district Satara to Shri Ganpatrao Sable in 1923.


After getting primary schooling at birthplace, he was moved to his maternal uncle to Amalner where he studied till 7th.


He also starting playing flute in the childhood. He left the school soon. At Amalner, he was very close to Sane Guruji.

He spend lot of his time with Sane Guruji during freedom struggle.

With his shahiri, he started making contribution in the struggle. He also started "Jagruti Shahir Mandal" during that time.

He is a producer of Marathi Psycho thriller drama ″Talyat-Malyat″. 1984: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award He died in his residence at Mumbai on 20th Match 2015 at the age of 94.

1984: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 1988: Shahir Amar Sheikh Puraskar 1990: President, 70th Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Natya Sammelan, Mumbai 1990: President, Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Shahir Parishad, Mumbai 1990: Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar 1994: Sant Namdev Puraskar 1997: Satara Bhushan Puraskar 1997: Shahir Patthe Bapurao Puraskar 1997: Maharashtra Rajya Gaurav Puraskar 1998: Shri Krishnarao Ganpatrao Sable has been awarded Padma Shri award (India"s fourth highest civilian honour) for his dedication in the field of Arts in 1998. 2001: Best Singer award from Maharashtra State Government 2002: P Sawlaram Puraskar 2002: Shahir Pharande puraskar 2005: Maharashra Bhushan award by Maharashtra Times 2006: Maharashtra Ratna puraskar 2012: Lokshahir Vittal Umap Mrudgandh Lifetime Achievement award.

Anna Bhau Sathe
Shahir Uttam Mule

Born in Buldhana into the Beldar caste, a chance meeting with Babasaheb Ambedkar at the age of 19 left an everlasting impact on Uttam Mule, writes Maitreya. When the poet witnessed in Nagpur Ambedkar’s denunciation of his caste and his conversion into the Buddhist faith, he chose to remain in the city forever.

Mule’s songs reveal the impact this one act against the caste system had on his mind. He noticed that dishonesty was used as a weapon to preserve Brahminical hegemony. This account highlights the brilliance of the poet who, as is the case with many artists, continued to remain unrecognised for the longest time, in spite of his vast contribution to the repertoire of Dalit music.

In the days when the audio cassette was the only means through which one could listen to recorded music, there were barely any cultural programs at Buddha Vihara in my basti in Nagpur where the songs, ‘Buddha Gautam Ka Sandesh Jag Ko Sunaye’ and ‘Ye Buddha Ki Dharati, Yudd Na Chaye, Chaye Aman Parasti’ were not played.

Despite the limited resources available in the cultural domain, and before the spread of ‘technology’, our festivities were made complete and meaningful by these songs. I remember waking up to bright and sunny mornings on 14 October and 6 December every year, and listening to these songs which were sung in a high-pitched voice and played on a loudspeaker fixed at the dome of the Buddha Vihara.

These two remarkable and enchanting songs were by Uttam Mule, a poet, composer, and singer. He remains distinct because he made Ambedkar and the Buddha both the imagery and the philosophical base of his literature, and more specifically, his music.

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Sambhaji Bhagat

One of the most well-known voices in the anti-caste movement, Sambhaji Bhagat’s work enabled people to understand the complexities of the caste structures and oppression they suffered in a simplified manner.

He listened to Dalit shahirs growing up, and perhaps that was why he embraced music as a tool to bring about change, explains Maitreya. Throughout his career, Bhagat wrote several powadas, bharuds, songs and plays which consistently embodied the message of an egalitarian India, where every individual has equal access to all basic rights and liberties.

The Marathi play Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla, which has received an excellent response — full houses across the year — was originally conceptualised by him. He also wrote the songs and composed the music for it. The play is historic, because it is a retelling of the original story of Shivaji, which was appropriated by right-wing political outfits in Maharashtra.

As a departure from what previous Ambedkari shahirs had done in their careers, he also wrote songs and sang them for a Marathi movie, Nagrik. He was instrumental in the making of the movie Court, which won a National Film Award in 2015. Though the story is told from an upper caste location, the fact that he and his music in the movie stand for the anti-caste movement is still evident.
Courtesy : First Post
Shahir Vitthal Umap
— Art by Satwick Gade

Shahir Vitthal Umap rescued some of the old genres in the Shahiri tradition

Having known him through his songs, powadas, bharuds and acting, I was thrilled to view his body of work through the lens of cultural transition and theoretical elevation of the anti-caste movement in the field of culture and literature. Through his highly creative body of work, Shahir Vitthal Umap almost rescued some of the old genres in the Shahiri tradition and tirelessly performed them to keep them alive. More importantly, with his songs, he captured the richness of a culture which was once despised as 'low'; he touched that which was ‘untouchable’ in the cultural domain. His Koligeet (song of Kolis) “Ye Dada Aavar Ye” is one of the most prominent examples which bought him fame as well as the love of a global audience. For his contribution to the world of shahiri and music, he was awarded the first prize at the International Folk Music and Art Festival at Cork, Ireland.

Born in (then) Bombay in 1931, Vitthal Umap had picked up songs/shahiri as his life very early — he must have been 7-8 years old at the time. He continued to sing and perform till 2010; in fact, he collapsed and passed away while on stage, during a performance at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur. For almost 70 years, Vithal Umap sang for the people, sang of their joys and pain, keeping Ambedkar’s anti-caste ideology at the centre of his art. His was an unparalleled life that contributed to the rich quality of literature in the discipline of Ambedkarite shahiri.

Poet, scholar and writer Mahendra Gaikwad illustrated the legacy of Vitthal Umap in the book Dalit Shahiri, writing: the “songs and folk songs [of Umap] have brought prosperous days to the Marathi literature of shahiri. His songs recorded in 1963 have gained so much popularity. Folk songs like, ‘Ye Dada Avar Ye’ or ‘Fu Bai Fu Fugadi Fu’ and other Koli songs, gan and gaulan were hummed by so many Marathi people. Vitthal Gangaram Umap's name should be mentioned with significance when it comes to the conscientised people in Maharashtra through shahiri [sic]. Through his shahiri, Umap has exposed the neurotic inequality within the orthodox Hindu tradition and convinced people with the truth. Vitthal Umap analyses the material and real conditions within society. Through his art of shahiri, he preserves humanistic values.”

Seeing society changing over 70 years, while preserving shahiri — the music of the anti-caste movement — was the work of a genius whose prime concern was to provide music to the neglected aspects of life, found at the Brahminical margins of culture. Vitthal Umap was this genius. Through his music, Umap infused new enthusiasm in the world of shahiri by touching on the small aspects of life. Today, the anti-caste movement and its music is going through a phase in which a lot of skeptical mutations are taking place thanks to the presence of technology. Technology seems to dissolve the existence of the essentials of shahiri, in terms of its instrumentalism and the forms as well as it effects.

Vitthal Umap infused new enthusiasm in the world of shahiri by touching on the small aspects of life

Homi K Bhabha said, “When historical visibility has faded, when the present tense of testimony loses its power to arrest, then the displacements of memory and the indirections of art offer us the image of our psychic survival.” The struggles of the anti-caste movement started with resurrecting and rewriting history, amid circumstances such that Dalits were not allowed to write their history. Shahiri as an anti-caste music, at this juncture, has become a resurrection as well as a revival of Dalits’ identity in history — if not in its pages, then surely in its music. Vitthal Umap’s contribution to the world of shahiri can only can only be heard and felt if not read. Because his music, more than throbbing in your blood, goes to your mind; it becomes a thought.

Vilas Ghogare

Maitreya writes that in order to understand the inextricable relationship between shahiri and the Ambedkarite movement, it becomes crucial to study the work of Vilas Ghogare who would use his iktara to sing of those parts of the society that were neglected by the Brahmins.

A search for a livelihood took him to the city of Mumbai, where he found work as a vegetable vendor, a saree artisan and a labourer at a rubber stump factory. He would continue to sing at social and religious gatherings. When he began writing his own songs, they reflected his vision and understanding of labour in the context of politics, as well as the life of the workers that he had observed in Mumbai.

On 11 July 1997, many Dalits were killed at Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai after the desecration of a statue of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. In broad daylight, SRPF soldiers fired at these Dalits. Vilas visited Ramabai Nagar for four days after this incident, and saw the aftermath of these killings.

Perhaps he couldn’t bear to see the rise of inhumanity and caste cruelty in society. On 15 July 1997, he committed suicide at his home. But before hanging himself, he wrote on one wall of his home, with blue ink: Ambedkari Ekta Jindabad (Hail Ambedkarite Unity). He died, but his songs, which became a documentation of the struggle and triumph of Dalits, continue to live on.

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Wamandada Kardak

Wamandada Kardak, a poet and singer born in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, sang with such zeal of the anti-caste movements of Buddha, Kabir, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar that he reformed the minds of hundreds of people, enabling them to understand the caste system and changing forever their perspective towards life and society.

Maitreya throws light on the profound social messaging embedded in Wamandada’s writing, a body of work marked by immaculate vocabulary, ‘effervescent’ metaphors, seeped in historical context.

A considerable amount of his writing, as some scholars estimate, is still left unpublished. But if one were to look at those songs and poems which are available today and study them through the lens of literary theories and frameworks, one will be forced to confess that translating his literature into a foreign language — in this case English — is much too difficult. He created many images and metaphors which were hitherto unheard of in the domain of literature, and of course, in music.

How did Wamandada Kardak, who was barely educated in the academic sense, manage to create such a rich and impactful body of work? He seems to offer an answer to this question:

“Bhimvani padali majhya kaani
Tich tharali majhi gaani”

“(The voice of Bhima Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar echoed in my ears

That has become my songs)”