This volume brings to light the phenomenon of religious voices from the lowest orders of Indian society: Nandanar and Tirupan Alvar in the south; Chokhamela and his entire family in Marathi territory; and, most famous of all, Ravidas in the north. Each saint was born an Untouchable and that fact is essential part of his and her life and song.
The essays and the texts allow comparison of the thoughts of the saints and also their reception in their language areas. The southern saints are remembered by just one song, but almost countless legends tell of their lives, and Nandanar is still almost a living symbol of the triumph of piety. There are hundreds of songs by Chokha, his wife Soyrabai and their unhappy son Karmamela, Chokha's sister and her husband, and some have fame far beyond their own stories, but these saint-poets are no longer important in the Dalit movement.
Ravidas is famous not only in the northern India Hindu world but is also an important figure in the Sikh religion and, as Rohidas, is the guiding light of devout Chamarkar bhaktas from Maharashtra.
Scholars of each language area have contributed their expertise in the essays; in addition, bhakti texts and legends add local flavour. The mixture of bhakti texts and contemporary comment results in an unusual and lively discussion of an important facet of Indian religious life.
Eleanor Zelliot was a scholar of the Ambedkar movement in all its historic, social and cultural facets and also works in the field of medieval bhakti as a historian. She wrote some eighty articles in these fields, some of which are gathered in From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement (New Delhi: Manohar, 1992, 3rd edn. 2001). She has also written introductions for Vasant Moon's Growing Up Untouchable, translated by Gail Omvedt (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), and Detlef Kantowsky's Buddhists in India Today, translated by Hans-Georg Tuerstig (New Delhi: Manohar, 2003).
Rohini Mokashi -Punekar taught at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Assam. Her book of translations, On the Threshold: Songs of Chokhamela was published in 2002. She has also published several papers in the areas of postcolonial and cultural studies.
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