Part of the International conference on Maharashtra in September 2021 - Deepra Dandekar, Leibnitz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany
Baba Padmanji (1831-1906) was a firebrand Christian reformer of nineteenth century Bombay Presidency, who wrote the first ever Marathi novel in 1857, describing a woman’s, Yamuna’s travels across various towns in Maharashtra, and through her journey, towards marriage and religious conversion. While 1856 witnessed the passing of the Widows Remarriage Act, Padmanji’s Yamunaparyatan in 1857, functioned as a socio-legal treatise in its support, written in a fictional format that he insisted, was grounded in research. Padmanji supported Vidyasagar, and expressed his own emotive ideas about women’s reform through the metaphor of Yamuna’s journey. Yamuna, a young girl, travels all over Maharashtra with her husband Vinayak, and meets many unhappy widows. She understands their plight, and witnesses myriad immoralities surrounding their sexual exploitation, while advocating relentlessly for their remarriage. Yamuna confronts the urgent need for feminist reform in Bombay Presidency that would liberate women from both Hinduism and the hypocrisy of Hindu reformers—something she imbibes after her own widowhood. Her metaphoric travels hardly end with widowhood, as she goes on to remarry and ultimately convert to Christianity. Padmanji relates Yamuna’s journey, both internal and external, as a story of feminine moral agency, endorsing the true reformer’s need to travel, listen, argue, research, present, and debate ideas, with the larger aim of facilitating self-transformation and social change towards the discovery of true religion. This presentation discusses the layered, non-tangible circulation of Christian reform ideas expressed in Yamunaparyatan, that includes Padmanji’s own journey towards conversion and divorce that propelled him to write; Yamuna’s journey and encounter with widows and reformers alike; her marital journey with Vinayak, Hinduism, and Hindu families that ends disastrously; and finally, her remarriage and conversion to Christianity that metaphorically heralds the journey’s destination.