Though unlettered, Tadisaru Bai sings in Sanskrit, Odia and Kui, tackling social issues and superstitions
Purnamasi Jani, a septuagenarian tribal spiritual leader in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, has had no formal education, yet she is credited with having composed over 50,000 devotional songs in Kui, Odia and Sanskrit.
The gifted Ms. Jani, known locally as Tadisaru Bai, has been awarded the Padma Shri this year.
Of the 50,000 songs composed by the tribal mystic, more than 15,000 have been recorded and written by disciples as Ms. Jani does not know how to write. Six books based on her songs have been published by her disciples. A couple of researchers have earned their doctoral degrees for work on her songs.
Ms. Jani’s evolution from a Kondh tribal girl in a village in Kandhamal to a well-known mystic singer is the stuff of legends. Born in 1944 in Dalapada village, she was married very early. Malnutrition and early pregnancies however resulted in her losing six children in ten years of marriage.
“Distressed over the loss of children, she along with husband had turned to tribal deities. In May 1969, she climbed the holy hill, Tadisaru. After meditation there, she was blessed with divine powers. She is illiterate and can only speak in Kui — a tribal language — and barely speaks Odia. But she can sing in Odia, Kui and Sanskrit,” said Banoj Kumar Ray, a pediatrician and disciple of Ms. Jani.
Ms Jani was conferred the Odisha Sahitya Academy award for poetry in 2006, the South Odisha literature award in 2008 and felicitated by numerous organisations for her extraordinary gift.
As with most mystics, Ms. Jani’s songs are spontaneous compositions when she is in a trance. Her songs speak of devotion as well as social conditions and have a wide following among the tribal communities of Kandhamal and adjoining districts.
Ms. Jani used her songs to eliminate superstition and other social issues such as alcoholism, child marriage and animal sacrifice.
Dr. Ray said, “Her influence on tribal society is huge. There are many instances of tribal youths shunning violence and liquor under her influence. Her role in establishing social harmony during riots between tribals and Christians in Kandhamal in 2008 is well documented.”
Also on the honours list this year is 98-year-old Nanda Prusty, from Kantira village in Odisha’s Jajpur district. He will be honoured with Padma Shri for his work in children’s education for over seven decades. Mr. Prusty continues to teach children irrespective of their financial background.
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