An introduction: Maharashtra’s tradition of ‘shahiri’ is several centuries old. In the last few decades of the 18th century, under the influence of Mahatma Phule’s Satyashodhak Samaj, it was transformed into a musical weapon of the masses, against the caste system. By the 1930s, the ‘Satyashodhaki jalsa’ was in decline, but a powerful new force had emerged in its place: ‘Ambedkari jalsa’. Ambedkari jalsa represented the teachings and philosophy of Dr BR Ambedkar in oral form, accompanied by songs. Over a journey that is close to completing a century, many Ambedkarite shahirs have helped hone shahiri as an anti-caste tool. This series on Maharashtra’s shahirs explores the lives and work of 15 greats.
This is part nine of the series.
— Art by Satwick Gade
Ranciere says, “I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respects parts and positions within it.”
The ‘sensible’ which Ranciere explains throughout his arguments can also possibly be understood through music, if we use music as methodology and not theory. Attali in his impressive book Noise argues that ‘music isn’t naïve’. And if it isn’t naïve, then we must know it is political and that its ‘Sensible’, which has an impact on the everyday life of society, must be explored, inquired about, resisted when it is oppressive, and critically looked at.
Like everything in India, music has also become a medium for the shrewd propaganda of corrupted ideologies. Music and the industry that makes it in India is dominated by Brahminical
preoccupations, and most of the subjects of this music are imaginary, mythical, and steeped in patriarchy. Conflicts within caste-society are completely missing. Music produced from a Brahminical location would certainly not use it as a way to bring about equality in society.
On the other hand, music produced by those castes, who have been and continue to be historically suppressed and pushed out of the public imagination, certainly challenges the hegemony of Brahminical ‘Sensibles’ — embodied by their music, which irrationally shapes the mind and conscience of the people. This is why when a person from an ‘oppressed’ background presents democratic, egalitarian Sensibles through their music by portraying life as they have experienced it, it is made sure that they do not become a dominant force in the public imagination, that they do not shape the perceptions of people. Nevertheless, the music produced by Dalits whose ideological locus was Ambedkarism — often rejected, objected to, or avoided entirely by the mainstream — has been remained powerful when and if it was heard.
The power of this music lies in its ability to not just communicate with the listener, but to converse with them too.
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.