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The story of Sant Janabai

An image found in Hindu temples shows a god and woman grinding together at a mill. This is the revered Hindu sant (holy person) called Janabai.

Janabai was a low-caste maidservant and poet. There are various versions of her story, but according to one of these she was taken as a five-year-old child to the temple of the god Vitthal or Vithoba in the city of Pandharpur, the centre of religious devotion for the Varkari Hindu tradition. She refused to leave, telling her parents that although they loved her, they would in time have to give her away in marriage, and instead she wished to remain in the temple and devote herself to God.

The temple of Vithoba in Pandharpur. Parag Mahalley / CC BY-SA (

Janabai was then taken in by the poet Namdev as his maid. Namdev (c 1270 – c 1350) is a poet revered in both the Varkari tradition and in Sikhism (some of his poems are included in the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib). Janabai was also a poet, and is said to have composed over 300 hymns to the god Vitthal. The deity was said to have appeared to her and helped her with her daily tasks – her songs described him as her fellow serving maid. They are usually shown grinding at the mill together.

Here are some examples of her poems:

Let me undergo as many births in this world as You please, but grant that my desires are fulfilled. They are that I see Pandharpur and serve Namdev in every birth. I do not mind if I am a bird or a swine, a dog or a cat, but my conditions are that in each of these lives, I must see Pandharpur and serve Namdev. This is the ambition of Namdev’s maid.

Give me only this girl, O Hari [supreme deity], that I shall always sing Your sacred Name. Fulfil my only desire that You will accept my humble homage and service. This is all that I desire. Have mercy on me and fulfil my desires. I want to concentrate my eyes and mind on You and have Your Name on my lips. For this the maid Jani falls at Your feet.