Music of Punjab
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Punjab is a region in South Asia which has a diverse style of music. However, it is musically best-known as the home of bhangra, a lively folk dance that evolved into a popular form of electronic music among overseas Punjabis in the United Kingdom and United States.
- Jhumar a dance which was on the edge of extinctsion, primarily performed by men, is an old folk dance which is becoming more popular thanks to an elderly practitioner who is spearheading its revival in the Punjab.
Punjabi folk music is highly rhythmic, and very diverse. The western region is the home of styles like dhoola and mahiya, while the popular boli style is performed differently across the region. The vocals are another integral part of Punjabi music, as are instruments such as the dhol, tumbi, dhad sarangi, algoza and Ektara.
A glimpse into the lives and culture of the people of Punjab can be gained through the folk idiom of Punjab. There is a great repertoire of music and songs, celebrating birth, daily life and including death; songs of love and separation of dance and rejoicement; of marriage, fulfillment and disappointment. Culturally Punjab can be divided into three main regions, Malwa, Majha and the Doaba. Today Malwa represents the true spirit of Punjabi folk traditions.
The Punjabi fold idiom is so rich, so varied and so very versatile. It is a vast culture of generous, big hearted people which is devoid of any fanaticism and any narrow minded religious ideology. The deeper we delve into the folk music of the land the more difficult it becomes to classify. But, perhaps, we can draw broad divisions for each season for the numerous festive occasion scattered throughout the year have distintive music associated with it.
The Changing Seasons
Not only the music, even the food changes with the seasons. Lohri is the time after which the biting cold of winter begins to taper off. In the olden days, it was more of a community festival, where the birth of a son or the anniversary of the first year of marriage was celebrated all through the village in front of the sacred fire. Songs like 'Sunder mundriye, tera kaun vichara, Dulla Bhathi Wala.' were sung to the beat of virourous clapping. Groups of little children would go singing round the village collecting 'gur' and 'rewari' for themselves. 'Lohri' was preceded by Maagh and the famous Maaghi Da Mela.
'Lohri' was followed by Baisakhi when the Bhangra, was danced by the men of the village, an energetic dance associated with the ripening of crops. The dance manifests the vigour and vitality and exuberance of the people, in anticipation of money coming in after the cutting of a good harvest. For the process of washing and cleaning the grain, of making new clothes, and household items, songs are sung by the women in the family as they work through the night, the 'dhol' or 'Dholik' is not used to avoid disturbing the sleeping men folk of the house.
Then comes the season of the monsoon, or 'sawan' when the married girls return to their parents' homes for a vacation, meet their old friends, wear their colourful Phulkaris, swing under the trees, adorn themselves with 'mhendi patterns', glass bangles and exchange news between singing songs. 'Ni Lia De Mai, Kallean Bagaan Di Mehandi'.
Anytime is a fine Time for Music
No occasion passes without the association of music in Punjab. There are songs which tell about the love of a brother or a sister. Once a marriage is finalized, and preparations of the marriage start in the boy's and girl's family. And then the numerous songs associated with the wedding. On the girls side 'Suhag' is sung, and on the boy's side, while he mounts the mare, 'Sehra' and 'Ghodi' are sung. When the two sides meet 'Sithaniyan' are exchanged. A kind of raunchy humour which makes it easier for both parties to show off their wit with repartee which provides an opportunity to get to know each other. After the Barat is received 'Patal Kaavya' is sung after tea and while the 'Barat' is eating food together.
Right from the moment a woman announces news of a new baby on the way the singing begins. The third month and the fifth month are associated with joyous songs about the impending arrival and then the actual birth brings many more.
Jugni, Sammi are basically songs centering around love, in the Jugni normally the bachelors gather together and sing about their beloved. The Sammi is more a gypsy dance, which is performed as an expression of joy and victory, around the fire at night. Sammi is an imaginary female character of folk poetry, belonging to the Marwar area of Rajasthan who fell in love with the the young prince, and it is around their love story that the music and dance is set to. In the list of happy songs are included, Luddie, Dhamal and of course the Giddha and the Bhangra, which is all set to music, which is typical of Punjab.
Along with the 'Dhol' primarily 'Bolis' are sung, which can be divided into two categories, 'singly boli' and' lengthy boli'. Centering around mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law and other characters from everyday life; the music of these two lively traditions is extremely enervating.
Punjab the Western Gateway to India
Being a frontier state the western entrance to India; war played, all too often, a part in the lives of the people of Punjab. With wrestling being a major traditional sport in the Punjab there were wrestlers living in every village, and while they practiced at the 'Akhara' a musical tradition grew around their practice called 'akhara singing'.
The sixth Guru Hargobind gave patronage to a sect of singers who sang only martial songs. Called ‘Dhadis’, they sang at shrines and festivals, ballads, vars, and about the heroic feats of the Sikhs. Along with the "Dhad" the ‘dhadi’ a sarangi is used, as a musical accompaniment.
The drum plays a very important part in the folk music of Punjab. It provides the basic accompaniment to most folk music. The 'Dhol' and 'Dholik', the male and female drum, had it's own relevant use. The information of an impending attack was communicated by the sound of the 'Dhol', passing information from village to village through a particular beat. The other instruments used in Punjabi folk often vary from one region to the next. The 'toombi', 'algoza', 'chheka', 'chimta', 'kaanto', daphali', dhad' and 'manjira' are some of the popular traditional folk instruments.
There are songs which are related to death. Called 'Siapah', there are different kinds of 'siapah'. Special to individuals, the song of mourning deal with the loss of a brother, sister, mother, father, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and are sung in a particular format.
Music an Intregal Part of Sikhi
As in the the other religions of the Punjab music is deeply connected with the Sikh religion. In fact a glossary of music and Ragas are given at the end of the Guru Granth Sahib, the tradition started with Mardana, who accompanied Guru Nanak on his travels who sang the bani of Guru Nanak with an ‘ektaara’ and the ‘rhubarb’. Classical ragas are used in the ‘shabad kirtan’, gayaki of Punjab.
Star Crossed Trajic Loves
A strong tradition of the ‘kissa sahity’ of Punjab is very much part and parcel of Punjabi folk music. The legends of Heer Ranjha , Sohni Mahiwaal, Sassi Punnu and Puran Bhagat are sung more in a semi classical style. The Punjabi ‘kaffi and kali’ are part of this genre. Related to this is the ‘sufiana kallam’ of Punjab as a result of a strong Sufi tradition in the state. The 'Heer' in particular has a strong sufi base.
Later in the eighteenth and nineteenth century there started in Punjab a strong school of classical music centering around Patiala known today as the Patiala Gharana. The founders of this gahrana were Ustaad Ali Bux and Ustaad Fateh Ali who were great singers in the Patiala Darbar. Their disciples and admirers were numerous. Notable amongst them were Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali and his brother Barkat Ali who brought the Patiala Gharana to the forefront of Khayal gayaki.
And thus started the ‘chau-mukhia’ style, which included dhrupad, khyal thumri and the taraana. Each of these styles too have their particular flavour, the energy and zest of the soil of Punjab. Highly decorated, Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan composed numerous ‘bandishes’ or compositions under the penname of Sabarang. Parallel to this was the growth of a gharana of tabla playing which is also known as the Punjab style, to which Alla Rakha, the great tabla maestro, belongs.
The above writing is only a brief introduction to the broad canvas of Punjab. Every village of Punjab has something typical of the soil. Over the years the success of the green revolution, with large mustard fields, and ‘kanak da sitta’ or the grains of wheat, along with the disco culture has provided a ‘purdah’ or a covering over the varied tradition of folk music of Punjab. For any discerning appreciator of music, Punjab provided enough for every occasion and every season, completely obliterating the statement that Punjab is a land of "agriculture and no culture". Culture lives and thrives in Punjab in spite of its stormy past.
Punjabi folk music is so rich, so varied and so versatile that even a common man feels it's charm. The exuberance and vitality of the people of Punjab is vigorously displayed in their many folk dances. With the drum beat or to the tune of some other instrument of folk music, the energetic feet of the people of Punjab are spontaneously set in motion to give birth to a folk dance - an expression of the soul triumphant, an outburst of emotions. The dances of Punjab are the clear depiction of the vitality and exuberance of the Punjab youth of yesterday and today.
A folk song is essentially a subjective expression of the emotions walling up from the depths. It borrows its metamorphous imagery from the simple things in life. Punjabi folksongs are varied and colorful. Laughter, happiness, pain, sorrow, all form ingredients of these songs. They are simple, charming, and full of the sincerity of emotion, and the purity of feeling.
The entire Punjabi culture, so to speak, is reflected in them.
The Suhag and Vidai Songs
The suhag and vidai songs are intertwined with each other. Love and the loss of love, a meeting and a separation, anticipation and farewell were all an integral part of a girl’s marriage, at least in the traditional context. Most of the vidai songs are sung at the suhag gatherings.
Suhag is that stage in a woman’s life when her husband is alive; a state of marriedness, if you will. This is considered to be a blest and auspicious state, a time of abundance and fruitfulness, emotionally dense with the love and companionship of a mate.
The suhag and vidai songs are a reflection on the passage of time. The end of childhood, the mourning for the past, the nature of our bonds with our parents and siblings, the desire to love and be loved, anticipation and excitement about the changes ahead – all these feelings are expressed. Thoughts and feelings that cannot be put into words easily in ordinary life, are expressed in poetry and song. In each of these songs lies a recognition that one stage of life is coming to an end and another is about to begin, Furthermore these momentous changes must be described, dealt with and finally, celebrated. As the women sing, their own experiences are revived, their feelings stirred. The entire group has a shared memory and as they sing, it is as though they are pouring this shared knowledge and understanding into the young bride.
The suhag songs are sung at the home of the bride during the days prior to the marriage when the house is filled with family and friends. A number of the songs start with a daughter asking her father for a husband or reminding him of his duty to her of finding the ideal match. She describes the kind of husband she would like. She reminds her father of her childhood occupations. She is shy, mischievous, vain, a loving sister, a tearful daughter, an eager bride.
view the article Suhag Songs
Bibi Chandan De Ohle Ohle, Saahdda Chiddiyaan Da Chamba Ve, Ae Mere Baabul Ve Mera Kaaj Racha, Uchhi lammi maaddi, Baabul Nu Maen Aakheya, Gaddo Chaare Thambiyaan, Ni Tu Aangan Aa Pyaari Raadhika, Deyin Ve Baabul Os Ghare, Baabul Ik Mera Kehna Keejiye, Maaye Ni Mera Ajj Muklaava Tor De, Kadd Ni Ammaddi Kuj Sajjeya Sajaaya
Vidaai & its Songs
View the article Vidaai Songs
These are songs which sings during vidaai i.e Post Wedding Rituals or Doli. The Vadaai ritual marks the end of the marriage ceremony. It is a very emotional episode for the bride's family members, friends and relatives as she leaves her parents home and goes to her husband's home to start a new life with new dreams and hopes. It is a new beginning for her as she bids farewell to her parents and goes to build a new life with her husband and his family. She leaves her parent's home with tears of joy and sorrow. The bride's father gives her hand to her husband and tells him to take care and protect her loving daughter.
The ritual of vidaai is marked as one of the most emotional aspect of the wedding festivities. It is the formal departure of the bride from her parents' home. The fun side of the ritual is that the saalis or sister in-laws are gifted with a kalichari, which is a gold or silver ring or sometime cash money for returning the groom's shoes, which were hidden by the sister-in-laws after the marriage ceremony as a joke. As she leaves her house she embraces her friends and family members. As she steps out of the door she throws back five handfuls of rice over her head as a symbol of prosperity and wealth. This custom signifies that she is paying back or retuning whatever her parents have given her in all these years of her stay with them and that may the prosperity flourish in the house she is leaving behind.
When the car starts, the brides brothers and cousins pushes the car a little signifying that they have given her a push ahead as she starts her new life with her husband. After the last car starts, money is thrown on the road to discard the evil. Mostly younger brother or sister accompanies her to her new home to give her moral support. In North India this ceremony is called Vidhai
The real spirit of a folk-song rests not only in its text but also in its tune. The popular tunes of Punjabi folk-songs ring with the heart-throbs of the simple, unsophisticated villagers. These melodies, characteristic of their deeply-felt emotions are absolutely in tune with their mode of living.
The rhythm and beat of Punjabi folk music is simple. The rhythmic patterns are determined by the day-to-day activities of the villagers, the sound of the grinding stone, the drone of the spinning wheel, the creaking of the Persian wheel, the beat of the horse's hooves etc. These rhythms refined into symmetrical patterns form the basis of the entire folk music of the Punjab.
There is a widespread variation in the tunes and melodies prevalent in the different regions of the state. The folk tunes prevalent in the east of the undivided Punjab are different from those popular in the west. In the west specially on the plains of the Sindh Sagar Doab certain folk forms like Mahiya and Dhoola were very popular. Boli is popular all over the Punjab, though the eastern mode of performing it is different from the western one. Even in one area the same song is sung differently by different groups. This element of flexibility in Punjabi folk music adds a lot of variety to it.
Punjabi folk music is primarily vocal in character and is accompanied by instruments. It comes so spontaneously to the villager that when he is ploughing or digging his fields, driving his cart or walking homeward alone he just bursts into song in a full-throated ecstasy. When women get together and ply the spinning-wheel they sing alone, in twos and threes or in chorus. They need no instruments. But for songs which are sung on special occasions, the use of instruments is essential, particularly the dholak. The dholak is very popular with the Punjabis and is used on all occasions of social and festive significance. Innumerable memories are associated with its sound because all gaiety and celebrations of the family include the dholak as the basic and essential instrument. Sometimes if a dholak is not available, people improvise one, out of an earthen pitcher which they put upside down and strike with a stone to keep the beat. This improvisation is quite popular with young women who sometimes prefer it to the drum and achieve real perfection in it. Dholak has helped to preserve some of the most valuable traditional songs.
In the evenings, professional singers enliven village platforms. Bhatts and Dhadis entertain the audiences till very late in the night and keep men and women of all ages absolutely spell-bound with their ballads. These roving minstrels are sometimes accompanied by instrumentalists who carry folk instruments like an Algoza, an Iktara and a Dhad Sarangi who by playing them add charm to the recitals.
There is an abundance of heroic, devotional and romantic tales in Punjabi folklore. Tales of Puran Bhagat, Gopi Chand and Hakeekat Rai belong to the devotional type whereas Raja Rasalu, Sucha Singh Surma and Jeuna Mor belong to the heroic category. Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Mirza Shahiban and Sohni Mahiwaal are popular as tales of romance. These sentimental tales are always sung in typical strains. For every tale, the popular tune is different.
Mirza Shahiban is sung in long wistful notes and the tune is known as Sad (call). It is a mournful tune and the singer generally puts one hand on his ear and makes gestures with the other while he sings.The tune used for Heer Ranjha is different form the one used for Puran Bhagat. The notes of Sindhu Bhairava raag can be traced in Heer Ranjha while Puran Bhagat is sung in the musical notes of Asavari and Mand. Sohni Mahiwal and Yusaf Zulaikhan are sung in Bhairavi raag but the tunes are different.
Mahiya, Dhola and Boli are the popular folk tunes prevalent in the Punjab. Today Mahiya is sung all over the Punjab. A triplet of Mahiya is called Tappa because it throbs with the heart-beat of the singers. Mahiya comprising triplets has its own special structure. The first line contains a pen-picture, a description or an illustration but sometimes it has no special meaning or relevance. The real substance is contained in the second and third lines. These two lines are very expressive and overflow with the most deeply felt longings of the people. They are very effective because they are deeply-felt emotions put into words. Every Tappa is an entity in itself.
Dhola is highly lyrical and sentimental in character and its chief contents are love and beauty. Dhola has a variety of forms.
The Pothohari Dhola is rather condensed in form. Each stanza consists of five lines which can be further sub-divided into two parts of three and two lines. The first two lines of the first part rhyme with each other while the third one is left loose. The second part which is a couplet, intensifies and polishes up the meaning of the first three lines. This couplet is a sustained part of the first three lines. This couplet is liberally used independently by the singers of Dhola.
Dhola prevalent in Sandalbar has no fixed form, and its tune is different from that popular in Pothohar. The rhythm is different and it keeps changing according to the variety of emotions portrayed. Singers themselves are the folk poets of these songs.
Boli is the most popular form of folk music of the eastern Punjab. It is the most miniature form of folk-song. Boli is very deep, effective and interesting in its impact. It expresses a variety of emotions. A Boli may vary from one line to four, five or even more lines. The two famous folk-dances of the Punjab, Bhangra and Giddha are danced to the accompaniment of this form of folk-song.
Loris or lullabies are sung in different tunes but the tempo is invariably slow. Every tune tends to create a droning, dreamy atmosphere which leads the child into the arms of sleep. Its rhyme scheme is crisp and brief and takes the form of an address. At the end of each rhyming arrangement, plain and simple syllabic sounds are hummed.
In the Punjab there are set tunes for typical dirges. Alahni and Vain belong to this category. The content is a sad and philosophic commentary on the transience of life. Mourning songs are generally sung as slow, dragging chants, punctuated by shrill and wailing cries.
Ab means "water" and by extension, "river"; punj means "five". Punjab is the land of five rivers, namely the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutluj, all westward-flowing tributaries of the mighty Indus. For more than a thousand years the area known as Punjab stretched from the Indus basin in the west to the edge of the Yamuna basin in the east with the Himalayas, including the Jammu region, forming the northern boundary and the deserts of Sind and Rajasthan on the south. The ancient sites of Harappa, Taxila, Multan and Kurukshetra fell within its boundaries. The partition of 1947 took away West Punjab and the partition of 1966 took away Punjab's southern reaches.
Western Punjab-essentially the valley of the Indus, comprising the areas of Lahore, Lyallpur, Montgomery, Jhang, Multan and parts of Sind is considered the well-spring of folk forms. After Partition, East Punjab has continued to evolve independently of its western Islamic relative. In fact, it is fair to say that united Punjab's Muslim element remains a very active 'ghost" in the folklore and performances of modern Hindu/Sikh Indian Punjab.
In classical music, the Patiala school or gharana is the best known and most influential, it takes its name from the royal court of Patiala. However, Patiala is not the only classical gharana of Punjab. Hoshiarpur is known for the gharanas of Sham Chaurasi and Talwandi; a gharana was associated with the royal houses of Kapurthala and Kasur (now in Pakistan). The Punjab baaz of tabla has its roots in the court of Lahore. All these gharanas have been nourished through nationally famous events such as the century-old Harballabh Festival at Jalandhar.
In I947, following Partition, East Punjab was left with four regions, namely:
Do (two) and ab (river) the tract of land between the two rivers the Beas and the Sutluj. It includes the districts of Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr, Kapurthala, and parts of Fazilka, Jalandar and Gurdaspur and is a cultural buffer zone where the influences of Majha and Malwa mingle. Maize was traditionally the main crop although in recent decades the farmers have taken to the cultivation of wheat, sunflower and other cash crops. The high pitched twang of the toombi resonates in the Doab. Its dialect is distinct and so is its cultural identity which draws heavily on the aboriginal roots of Punjab. The Doabias are adventurous and have migrated all over the world.
This region includes the northernmost districts of Punjab from the Beas northward to the valley of the Ravi, roughly the districts of Amritsar and parts of Gurdaspur and Fazilka. In contrast to Malwa, Majha is the cradle of Sikhism and by extension, Gurmatt Sangeet. Dhadhis, vaar poetry, bhangra and akhara ke bol are typical of this region.
The southernmost area of present day East Punjab, lies between the Sutluj and the Ghaggar rivers and encompasses the districts of Patiala, Ludhiana, Ropar, Ferozepur, Bhatinda, Mansa, Sangrur, and Faridkot. Until the coming of the canals about 50 years ago this was a sparsely populated, semi arid or even desert landscape. It was known as a jangal da ilaqa, wilderness area, where the land could at best produce bajra, millet, jowar, barely and channa a variety of lentil. Land-holdings were large, feudalism had a strong grip resulting in a low level of social mobility and the level of banditry was high. The people of Malwa are regarded as hot-blooded, prone to violence and high emotion. At the same time, Malwa has been the epicentre of folk music and cultural traditions. The ubiquitous giddha-a fixture at nearly every social event-provides impetus to a combination of folk poetry and dance. Giddha takes two forms, both rooted in Malwa: they are the babeeyan de giddha or Malwai giddha (performed by men) and the Malwain giddha (performed by women). In bolis, tappe, Jat/Brahniin songs, kavishri and kissa, lyrics reveal regional variations in imagery.
In addition to the former region of Punjab, there is the submontane belt lying along the Himalayas. Kangra, Chamba and smaller valleys stretching back into the Himalayas now in Himachal Pradesh, which plays an important role in the evolution of Punjab's folk music; are home to shepherds-players of algoza and flute-a deeply romantic people whose delicate women inspired traditional painters. We see them as raginis and nayakas in Pahari miniatures. The hills are also the setting for ballads such as Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Pumu, Sohni-Mahiwal, Mirza-Sahiban and many other tales of tragic love.
Each of these regions are linguistically and culturally distinct and they each have their own musical forms. The musical instruments of these regions are similar to the musical instruments of Rajasthan and Gujarat and even some instruments of Iran and Central Asia but the style of playing and the compositions created with them have a unique flavour.
The folk instruments that accompany performances are played with subtle nuances recognised by those familiar with the corpus of the region's folk music. The vitality, wholesomeness and purity of the people of Punjab are ingrained in the melodies and rhythms of the instruments. But more than anything else, it is the dialect that distinguishes the folk music of various regions.
Punjab's most significant export is her people: the adventurous Punjabis have fanned out all over India and beyond to every country of the globe where they have struggled and prospered. But however far away they wander in search of a livelihood, they retain strong bonds with family and friends left behind in Punjab. This, and the media revolution that has put satellite television in the most remote areas, explains the high level of cultural and musical awareness seen even in dusty villages. Moreover, recording technology has also become easily available. Punjab's capital city, Chandigarh, boasts six (at the last count) recording studios and Ludhiana has as many. This is a very mixed blessing.
The studios have flooded Punjab with cassettes of "folk music', replacing the strains of authentic folk instruments with the renditions of the octopads and synthesisers. Actual folk musical instruments and their exponents are vanishing. Along with this, promotion and marketing are doing their bit of damage. Agents are a "showbiz" fact of life and traditional performers often get a costly lesson in their ways. The touts with their shady contracts fleece the gullible folk performer mercilessly but if the performer is already poverty-stricken and making a desperate bid for survival, he is more than likely to accept whatever is doled out as if his talent were of no value.
At the same time, those who are in fact not even mediocre are projected-often very successfully-as folk performers. Putting on a surgeon's coat does not make a man a surgeon; grinning from behind a dafla on a cassette cover does not make him a folk singer.
Thanks to the advent of the electronic media, entertainment is available at the push of a button. The tenacious hold of the electronic media on the youth of Punjab is evident from the tremendous popularity enjoyed by the small screen idols like Apache Indian, Malkit Singh, Daler Mehendi and Sukhvinder. There is also the escalating number of those experimenting with the folk motif and merging it with the foot-thumping beats to create the disco-bhangra, Punjabi Pop and Punjabi-rap.
While the true propagators of the folk forms languish in the villages, the patrons are lavishing adulation on those who are obviously borrowing and blending a concoction of the folk and the modern conceptualisations of what is being served as "Punjabi music". The hype and commercialisation of the music market may be inevitable but it is certainly not pretty.
At the turn of the century, folk performers of United Punjab enjoyed the patronage of the great princely states, and to some extent the British overlords. Some of the British administrators were also scholars and documented the people and their culture. No serious student of Punjab can ignore R.C. Temple's Legends of Punjab, or Sir Denzil Ibbetsons' three volume compilation, A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. Even today the old State Gazetteers are the bedrock of serious research. However, it must be remembered that the authors of these monumental works were not fluent in Punjabi and so one must expect to find serious lacunae in comprehension and transliteration.
Cultural continuity, in the sense of the perpetuation of cultural traits from generation to generation for centuries, holds within it a contradiction. It transforms the main essence through the ages till the contemporary components are a spectacularly convoluted form of what the original might have been. In contrast, the paradox is that nothing really changes-the stories are the same, the myths are similar and the legends are undying. This continuity has been maintained through the rich oral traditions of a people especially through the group that has been specially ordained by society to perpetuate this heritage.
Since the transmission of the folk tradition is through the traditional guru-shishya parampara, documentation and systematic compilation of lyrics and literature does not form part of the system.