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Abhanga – Meter – Devotional Songs in Marathi

Abhanga is a term denoting a meter, a devotional song and a figure of speech in Marathi literary and devotional compositions. It is a meter specific to Marathi devotional songs. The compositions employing this meter are also called abhangas.

It must be noted here that Abhanga also denotes a posture in dance.

In early Marathi literature, two meters were popular with the saints points, they were ovi and Abhanga.

The two meters have developed from the Prakrta meter saipadi or ardha-saipadi.
Mukundaraja, the author of Viveka-Sindhu, and Jnaneshwara, the author of Jnaneshwari or Bhavartha Dipika, have mostly adopted the ovi meter.

The difference between the two meters is marginal, as both of them have sprung from the same Prakrta meter.

 Sanskrit works like Manasollasa and Sangita Ratnakara have defined ovi.

Ovi, however, has its origin in folk songs, in which the lilt or cadence is important.

Abhanga is mainly based on tala (timing). In the poems of Marathi saints like Dasopanta, both the meters ovi and abhanga are almost identical.

Abhanga became popular because it could effectively convey the thoughts of the saints in a musical style.

Abhanga by its mellifluous oral transmission and didactic appeal has attracted the people of Maharashtra over the centuries.

Hari kathas or kirtanas (devotional singing), which have maintained their enchanting nature till this day are generally full of abhangas of Dnyaneshwar, Namdev and Tukaram.
Tukaram’s Abhang Gatha is regularly studied and sung in Maharashtra, mostly in the Varkari sect. Abhangas have enthralled society by their exposition of divine and human morals.

For the last seven hundred years or so, abhangas have been very popular among the devotees of saints after Jnaneshwar, who offered their votive songs in the form of abhangas.

Among the well known saints are Sopana, Gora Kumbha, Savata Mali, Kanhoba and Niloba (among men) and Muktabai, Janabai, Kanthopatra and Bahinabai (among women).

All these saints exhort the people to follow the path of devotion to Lord Vitthala, who showers his compassion on the suffering of devotees and gives them permanent place in heaven.

Saints have been fascinated by Vithala’s particular pose at Pandharpur.

The original simple ovi became endowed with rhythm and then emerged as abhanga in the works of innumerable saints of Maharashtra. Though abhanga is used mostly by the poets of the Mahanubhav sect, it was used on a wider canvas by Namdeva.

A few examples of Abhangas

Chokhamela describes Vithala in his abhanga as follows:

The charm of the divine face is extraordinary. It is smeared with must powder. Lord Vitthal is standing on a brick. He has put on the Vaijayanti (necklace made of five gems set together) garland and has applied sandal paste. There is a musk-mark on the forehead. Chokha says – He is the life of my life. On seeing him, I forget mind and body.

Another example of a Abhanga which eulogizes Lord Vitthal:

Surrender myself to Him completely, who has reduced the worldly bonds to naught. Lord Vithala is (like) mother, father, companion and a solace to us. Keep your mind on His feet. He is the Reality. He is the lamp of knowledge. He is like my father. He is delight incarnate. Nama says – Even the breeze of His company easily leads one to the other end of the worldly ocean.”

He is an Abhanga of Tukaram Maharaj in which he says that he has no dread of mundane life, as Lord Vitthal is enshrined in his heart:

O, the Lord of Pandhari (Pandharpur), how can there be worry about birth and death to those who have surrendered themselves to your sacred name which is vivifying like nectar! When such a discus-bearer (Vishnu) is with you, how can there be fear? O, Lord, your divine figure is lodged in my heart. How can worldly thoughts enter there? Tuka says – when your name protect us, even the vicious Kali age remains subdued at our feet.”

In another abhanga, Tukaram condemns hypocrisy and pleads for devotion to the Lord:

The simhastha festival has come, which has gladdened the priests and barbers. There are evils and evils only in their hearts, but subsequently, they are particular in getting the heads shaved. But tell me frankly, has any radical change taken place? Where is the proof of the sins being washed away? The vices, verily , are there as before, Tukarama says without sincere devotion, everything else is only a wasteful fatigue.

Source - Encyclopedia of Hinduism - Volume 1 - page 1 and 2.