Kandhamal, February 1, 2021: Purnamasi Jani a tribal mystic and septuagenarian from 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.
Purnamasi Jani A tribal mystic:
She has done a lot of work to spread social harmony, education, removal of superstitions, improvement of living conditions among the tribal people of Odisha mainly in Kandhamal, Boudh, Kalahandi, and undivided Koraput District.
Born on January 1, 1936, in the Village Dalapada of Khajuripada Block in Kandhamal District of Odisha in a Kui tribal family, Ms. Jani has been awarded Padma Shri for her distinguished contribution to art.
From 1969, she started her mission of development for tribal people in the Khajuripada block and gradually extended to other parts.
She was married to Nilakantha Jani of Charipada village of Kandhamal at an early age and lost her six children in ten years of marriage.
She has never been to school and does not know how to read and write, other than reciting poems in the Kui dialect. Locals see her as a healer, whose songs are a balm to the soul. The gifted Jani, known locally as Tadisaru Bai, has been awarded the Padma Shri this year.
Evolution of the tribal mystic, Purnamasi Jani
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 10 years of marriage.
“Distressed over the loss of children, she along with her 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 Dr Banoj Kumar Ray, a pediatrician, and disciple of Jani.
Villagers and other people surrounded her during this prayer called Bhajan Samaroha and wrote her songs.
Gradually she was invited by different villages, blocks, cultural committees, mathas, temples for prayer.
People of Kandhamal call her Tadisaru Bai. In the Kui language, a tribal spoken language of Kandhamal, Tadi means mountain, Saru means top and Bai means sage. Tadisaru Bai means sage of the mountain peak.
Extraordinary Tadisaru Bai
Jani has been conferred with 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.
Of the 50,000 songs composed by the tribal mystic, more than 15,000 have been recorded and written by disciples as 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. As with most mystics, 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.
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 Kantara village in Odisha’s Jajpur district.
He will be honoured with Padma Shri for his work in children’s education for over seven decades. Prusty continues to teach children irrespective of their financial background.
Jani joins the clan of talented but lesser-known artists of Odisha like Haldar Nag (Padma Shri 2016) and Jitendra Haripal (Padma Shri 2017) who have been recognized by the centre for their contributions to keeping the art forms and local dialects alive.
While little is known about her, some efforts were made in the past decades to compile her poems. While Premanand Mohapatra published a compilation of her poems. A teacher of Phulbani College Biswaranjan too shed some light on Tadisaru Bai’s life and her verses.
Her verses were also published by Abhay Singh in a literary journal Sachitra Vijaya. After the news of the Padma Awards broke out, wishes have started pouring in from all sections of society and Ministers too.
But, will the award bring any change in the life of artists like Tadi Sarubai who are rooted in their land? This remains a question to ponder.