Folk Music of Himachal

The term folk music has a direct connotation to social, cultural and ethnic aspects of any society. It has nothing to do with an alien culture. Outside influences, in essence, are responsible for killing the very spirit of folk, i.e., its, quality, identity and peculiarity.

Folk music grows alongwith the culture as the tree grows on the soil. It has its own identity as well as its pastoral limitations. These limitations, indeed, are basically responsible in conserving and preserving the quality of any pastoral group or society in a specific perspective, time and space.

From the very beginning, including proto-history, man has had an innate urge of satisfying his aesthetic carvings. This he has been doing through various implements, with aesthetic precision, consciousness and feeling. Folk music grows along with the culture as the tree grows on the soil. It has its own identity as well as its pastoral limitations. These limitations, indeed, are basically responsible in conserving and preserving the quality of any pastoral group or society in a specific perspective, time and space.

From the very beginning, including proto-history, man has had an innate urge of satisfying his aesthetic carvings. This he has been doing through various implements, with aesthetic precision, consciousness and feeling.

In the present time, it seems more relevant to talk of ‘folk’ as a culture cut off from corrupting influences of urban living, and as that level of feeling and taste which perpetually follows the mode and pattern of social traits and nature of nativity. But this phenomenon does not perpetuate itself, single track; it also discovers various other dimensions inherent in a given society.

For a man from the country side, who is closer and more sincere to his society, these elements remain reflected in his mode of expression, sense and the sensibility.

Hill culture, all over the world, has some basic elements, common to all. The conditions, in which a Gypsy from Latin America, Spain, Hungary and Central Asia is placed, may be very similar in content, to those of a Gypsy in any other corner of the World. This universal principle of indenticality also holds true for Himachal Pradesh which has more than one nomadic tribes. In order to make this point clear, let me take up the case of’ Chamba Gaddis and the Gujjars who are migratory, having a freerer and a broader attitude towards sexo-gamatic relationships.

The difficult hill topography of Himachal Pradesh, has much to do with the basic human emotion and sentiments, akin to their typical socio-cultural identity. It will be pertinent to mention here rhymes, rhythms and beats of different folk songs, which as a matter of fact are distinctively slow at a higher altitude as compared to the fast one in the lower regions. Let me give an instance of a slow rhythm in a folk piece. The Tãla used here is known as the Nati talaconsisting of 8 matras (beats) and depicting the slow character of the life in the difficult interior valley.

It is apparent that in difficult hill terrains, fast movements are not possible; be it life, or music. Life here goes very slow, aiming at preservation of energy and retentivity of enthusiasm, without getting tiresome. A woman in the hills has to carry big loads on steep mountains and here folk of higher hills believe in going slow in order to conserve energy.

Gujjars, Gaddis and PangwalS of Chamba present some of the best folk out of their romantic sensibility. Their songs are melodious and expressions extremely original. They have to carry their houses on their shoulders from bank to bank and prairie to prairie where any one can hear their echos. Destiny compels them to leave their soil, but the soil holds them back. This great paradox of time and spirit turns their expression into a rhapsody of an agonized soul.

GaddiS are shepherds by profession and are known for their typical dresses, their songs and their dances. The song presented above depicts how a Gaddi girl conveys her message of love to her lover, a Forest Guard, through a Gujjar. This song is very popular amongst Gaddis and also establishes the kind of cordiality existent between the two tribes, i.e. Gaddis and the Gujjars.

Although basic elements of life are similar everywhere, we cannot deny that every folk genosphere has its own qualitative dimensions I which can be rooted back to their antique past. Himachali ballads, for example, are dominated by old epics. The kind of folk we are dealing hereunder IS greatly influenced I by our epics, like Ramayana and Mahabharata. These versions which come across in Himachali epical folk legends do not however follow traditional type of story-telling. The country bard makes his own versions suiting his locale and level of folk taste. In ‘Barlaj’ which is an example of balladry in Himachal, episodes from Ramayana and Mahãbhãrata remain intermixed. The depiction of Sita in a folk version of the Rãmayana from Kulu may appear strange for here Situ is shown as a typical Kulu woman in a Kulluvi setting.

Himachali folk music, among many other things, can broadly be divided into ballads, legends of chivalry besides romantic, ritualistic, religious and the songs sung on the occasion of fairs and festivals.

Tragedy remains the basic human situation described in most of Himachali folk. Melodies from Chamba give us an insight into the folk life in feudal times. People, are generally very docile and simple, but at times when any chieftain commits excesses, they speak out their resentment through their songs. A few of them also give an optimistic view of life and evidence of values attached to it. There were certain rulers, who upholding the highest values of human morality, became immortal heroes and heroines. Such is the story of a queen, a spouse to Raja Shail Verman, who rules the little State of Chamba some time in the 8th century A.D.

The legend nanates that there was an actue shortage of water in the Capital and all efforts to dig out water from Naun-Panihar, a water source nearby, went futile. Then one day it so happened that the queen herself saw a dream. She had a forecast that if and when any person of the Royal Family scarified his or her life for the cause, water would gush out. The queen, who had great love for her people offered to lay purpose. The laying down brought water but at the cost of the queen’s life. The day on which the queen died is celebrated in the shape of a night festival known as ‘Sukrat’ which falls in the month of Chaitra every year.

The notes of this particular song set to Raga Tilak Kamod reflect the mood and element of irony with magnetism and pathos. The composition, in essence, is a paradox of human situation. The people are happy over their achievement on one hand, while on the other, they feel for their departed queen.

The gist of the song is:

0’ queen, how shall we take the soothing water which caused you to lay down your life,

Better it was, if you could remain alive and we quenching our thirst by having only a glimpse of your serene eyes.

Chamba is a cradle of folk-lores, a treasure of legends and an abode of some of the best romances ever sung in the folk history of the world. It has influenced the entire Bhadarvaha valley and has had considerable influences even over Pakistani folk music, in the twin valleys of Chenab and Ravi.

The folk songs of Himachal Pradesh violate established orthodox institutions and retaliate, while striving for freedom and uninhibited love. Some of the examples, such as, Rupnu Puhal, Phulmoo Ranjhoo, Kunju Chanchlo. Mian Manglotua, Mere Chanda, Suni Bhunku, etc. are noteworthy. I would like to quote a few lines which give an insight into the nature of social inter-relationship existent in this part of the Himalayas.

Apart from these, many other song-types are also sung in different parts of Himachal Pradesh. The most important among them being Kunjri, Malhar, Chaita, Jhuri, Nati etc. The songs depict pain agbny and basic curiosities of the people. The concept of Vipralambha-Nayika (A woman whose husband is away which we come across in Chaita, Kunjri and Malhar is parallel to the concept which we find in Bhojpuri Rajasthani, Gujarati or any other folk music.

Like other Näyikas in latter medieval period, Himachali Nayika also feels the impact of the seasons. The following Chhinj Geet of Bilaspur elaborates the unbearable situation in which the Nayika is placed.

The excerpts of these Chhinj songs are rendered hereunder:-

0’ love neither I sit in your courtyard, nor on the threshold of your house, even then the people are bent upon defaming me. Not knowing what to do, I am out of my wits.

Mohana is yet another pathetic tale of irony which speaks of human values and sacrifice without any reward. It is said that about 70 or 80 years ago there was a boy named Mohana whose brother was a personal attendant of the Raja of Bilaspur. The brother of Mohana had Committed a murder but thought, that he would never be prosecuted because the Raja favoured him. But things however went otherwise People were not with him, and when they complained to the Raja about his misdeeds, the Raja proceeded with the enquiry. Now seeing that he would be prosecuted, he exploited his younger brother Mohana to take on himself the responsibility of the crime. Mohana was young totally vulnerable. Moreover, his brother was a married man and had him understand that if he, the brother, remained out of the dispute; he could by virtue of his better influence in the Royal spheres, save Mohana from capital Punishment. The juries and the Raja persuaded Mohana to speak out the truth about the mystery of the murder in vain. Mohana stuck to the promise given to his brother, and consequently was hung. After his death the people started singing his tale which is known as Mohana. The song is in Bilaspuri dialect.

Folk songs of Himachal Pradesh are reflective of its rich cultural heritage and its glorious past. They tell us of a very rich culture existent in the lap of the mid-Himalayas in various periods of our History and so far as the concept of man goes, the folk music of Himachal Pradesh has been greatly concerned with the society to which it has ever remained committed. Its conception of man, with all its typicalities, is a concept which promises the existence of man a respectable position against all adversities.

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