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Shanta Shelke – Marathi Literary Ganges

Yesterday was the beginning of the birth centenary of a legendary Marathi poetess Shanta Shelke. A decade ago, I had written an article about her in Marathi. On this occasion, I would like to introduce you all through an English translation of the same article.

Shanta Shelke – Marathi Literary Ganges

During my morning walk, a piece of paper landed on my body over a breeze. With a simple curiosity about the text on that paper, I glanced at it and halted immediately. Piece of paper was an old one. They were a few lines of a very sweet poem. Poem from my childhood. It was a piece of paper from an old Marathi Textbook and the poem was Shanta Shelke’s “लाडकी बाहुली”. Suddenly after a long gap of so many years, I was seeing those lines. I sat on the bench and read the whole poem. Followed by this, I started recollecting so many poems and songs written by her. As if I was witnessing a concert of songs and poems penned by her in the music hall of my mind. I returned home after finishing my morning walk and that amazing mind concert and now I am writing this article.

I remember, I was introduced to Shanta Shelke in school through our Marathi textbooks called Balabharati. There are only a few poems from my school days which touched my heart even though they were taught dryly. Shantabai’s poems always have a place amongst those poems. For all children, she is like Shanta Aaji (grandma) who writes sweet small poems, rhymes, etc. Infact, I was totally unaware that I already knew her writings even before learning those poems in school. Lot of my childhood favorite kids songs like, किलबिल किलबिल पक्षी बोलती, विहीणबाई विहीणबाई, are penned by her. I learnt this fact much later in my life. However, we were formally introduced to the name of Shanta Shelke in this way. However, it always felt that she’s pampering us through her poems and songs.

As I grew up, I stopped learning Marathi as a set subject in the curriculum and with that, lost the touch with prescribed poems. However, the poems which touched my heart, I kept reading them again and again. I read the poetry collections of all those poets. Shanta Shelke was still close to my heart. Varsha and Rupasi are the two of her poetry collections which are my favorites. Sometimes, I listen to one of my favorite songs aired on the radio which turns out to be written by her. She penned numerous lovesongs, solos and duets, which are dear to young hearts. Her folk koli songs area equally hit just like her devotional songs like “मागे उभा मंगेश पुढे उभा मंगेश”. She wrote  songs for two musicals composed by Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki. “काटा रुते कुणाला” written is a Ghazal form still rule the hearts of music lovers. She wrote many lavanis like “रेशमाच्या रेघांनी”, “नाव सांग सांग सांग नाव सांग” and upbeat modern songs like “बांबूच्या वनात”.

Just like poetry, she is equally masterful of prose. You can’t put her book down until you finish it. Gulmohor, Kaveri, Basari are few of her famous short story collections while Odh (ओढ), Dharma (धर्म) are famous novels. Her autobiography written with the title of धूळपाटी is very fascinating. You will connect to her short articles compiled under titles like “पावसाआधीचा पाऊस” (Rain before rain), “आनंदाचे झाड” (Tree of happiness) and “वडीलधारी माणसे” (Elderly people). She also translated literature from many languages. It wasn’t just a way to earn. She took it as a way to learn languages. Most famous of her translations are collection of Haikus with title पाण्यावरच्या पाकळ्या (Petals on water) and  Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women under title of “चौघीजणी”. She even translated the immortal Sanskrit literary masterpiece Meghadoot of Kalidasa into Marathi.

She was honoured with many awards for her literary service. She received Ga. Di. Ma. Puraskar in 1996 while Government of India awarded for her lyrics writing for the film भुजंग. “मागे उभा मंगेश, पुढे उभा मंगेश” gave her Soor Singar Award. In 2001, Yashawantrao Chavhan Pratishtan honoured her with a lifetime achievement award.

It won’t be wrong if you call Shantabai a Literary Ganges as she has created a vast volume of literature. It is believed that Bhagiraath brought the Ganges to Earth from the heavens for the wellbeing of humans. But it seems heavens were in need of Ganges now and hence, some Bhagirath from those higher planes came in a form of cancer and took this Literary Ganges back to heaven on 6th June 2002. However, Shantabai is still with us in the form of her writings and will remain forever.


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