Shahir and Shahiri Kavane

(Marathi Ballad Singers and their Poetry - The Powada)

"Vidnyaan Shahir" Prabhakar Jamkhedkar and
Shahir Vasantrai Nanivadekar



powada (masculine, singular), powade (plural) (syn. pawada, pawad). Etymology: pra + vad (Sanskrit root) > pravaad > pravaad > pawad > powada. 'Pawad' literally means to say something at the top of your voice, loudly, to stress a point. The first record of the word 'pawad' appears in Dnyaneshwari, the first treatise in Marathi. In ancient Marathi the word is used with different meanings, such as strength, valor, praise, expansion, and desire. Powade are equivalent to the western ballad.


The origin of Shahiri is as ancient as Marathi culture. Not only that the Shahiri literature is called "The Dawn of Marathi poetry."

The word 'Shahir' is purely a Marathi word. Some scholars are of the opinion the word Shahir is derived from Arabic. Referring to Urdu-Marathi Shabd Kosh by Shripad Joshi, word “sha i r” appears on page 418 (1st edition). The meaning of the word is Kavi or Shahir. Shri M. V. Dhond, the author of "Marathi Lavani," 2nd edition, July 1988, says, "Shahir, tamasha, kalgi-tura – words were in use 2-3 hundred years prior to the regime Muslims in Maharashtra."

We suggest an interesting origin of the word 'Shahir.' We believe it originates from the Sanskrit word "swair." The marathi dictionary gives the meaning of the word as "self-willed," and the same meaning is found in the Sanskrit dictionary by V. S. Apte.

Powada's Place in Marathi Literature

Marathi poetry is broadly divided into three categories:

  1. Sant Kavi (Saint poets)
  2. Pant Kavi (Learned poets), and
  3. Tant Kavi - Shahir Kavi (Ballad poets)

All the three exhibit distinguishing features of their own. Saint poets are attracted towards devotional path, Pant poets towards intellectual path while Tant Kavi (Shahir Kavi) concern themselves with active worldly life - opposite of 'Nivrutti' (abstaining from worldly life). Powade are ballads, so are written by ballad poets, or tant kavi.

Powade in the Historical Record

We can see three broad periods in the history of powade:

Prior to Shivaji's ascent to the throne, during the Yadav period, there was a mention of 'Bhativ Kavane' in Dnyaneshwari (17.294.97). Bhativ Kavane is supposed to be a form of powade. There are 2-3 more references in Dnyaneshwari (3.5.163 and 2.0.10). Powada during Dnyaneshwari period was in the form of a song in praise of gods – 'nivrutti muktabai changvev gadha| haricha pavada zeltati'. Originally, shahirs performed at open places or grounds in front of local temples. The seeds of the classical form of powade that flourished during Shivaji were sown during this time.

Shahiri literature began during the reign of the great Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (1630-1680 A.D.) The literature developed further during the Peshwa period, but declined with their downfall. After the decline it took rebirth in the form of modern Marathi poetry. The classical Marathi ballad continues to contribute significantly to Marathi culture.

The oldest powada still available is "Afazal Khanacha Vadh" (The Killing of Afzal Khan) by Shahir Agindas alias Adnyandas. Judging by the well-knit of composition and style of the ballad, we can safely assume that the art of 'Shahiri' had developed considerably at the time it was written.

From the 1st period only 3-4 powade are available.

  1. Afzal Khan Vadh by Addnyandas [PDF]
  2. Tanaji Malusara by Tulsidas [PDF]
  3. Vaijapurcha poawada - only a line – author unknown, and
  4. Baji Pasalkar by Yamaji.

From Shahu period about 5-6 powade are available. There are about 150 powade from the Peshwai period. From the British period, one can come across about another 150 powade. Subsequent to 1947, it is difficult to assess the exact number of powade, but as a conservative estimate, the number may exceed 1000. Similar is the case of Shahir. During Shivaji period there were three known shahir; Adnyandas, Tulsidas, and Yamaji Bhaskar. During Peshwa person the number goes up to 25, notable amongst them being Ram Joshi, Honaji Bala, Prabhakar, Prashram, Sagan Bhau, Anant Phandi, Gangu Haibati, Lahri Mukunda and Bala Bahiru etc.

For example Dr. S. V. Gokhale brought to notice one of the earliest published powada, by Rao Barve in Dnyanprakash of 14.41856. The subject matter expressing anger against British is laudable in those days. In the year 1869 Mahatma Jyoti Govindrao Phule wrote a pawada on Shivaji (Shivajicha Pawada).

It is interesting to note that the British took an interest in preserving powade. A notable example is that of Harry Arbothnot Acworth. He along with Shankar Tukaram Shaligram published "Itihas prasiddha purushanche va striyanche powade" (Powade of Illustrious Historically Famous Men and Women) in 1891 . With the encouragement of Acworth, Govind Ballal Shitut, and Balkrishna Atmaram Gupte subsequently published books on powade. Mr. Yashwant Narsinmh Kelkar published three volumes of powade, thus rendering an important service to the promotion of powade. Maharashtra should be grateful to these Gondhalis and powade collectors. Gondhalis saved history while the powade collectors saved oral tradition in print form.

Shahiri literature created immense interest in a few scholars like Shripad Mahadev Varde, M. N. Sahasrabuddhe, M. V. Dhond, and others. Varde published a series of articles in a popular Marathi periodical 'Vividhvrutta'. They were subsequently published as a collection in the book "Marathi Kavitecha Ushhahkal - Kinva Marathi Shahir." M. N. Sahsrabuddhe published a book entitled "Marathi Shahiri Vangmay" in the decade of 1950 based on a lecture series delivered by him at Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh. M. V. Dhond was outstanding in presenting new information on the subject of Marathi Lawani. All the above scholarly articles added vital information to the literature of powade.

In addition, individual shahir published numerous powade books and other poetry for the benefit of masses. These were cheaply priced hence reached large number of admirers. Prior to 1947, more than two dozen shahir were recognized.

List of Powade Singers

Last updated 200310211350.