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Punjab Punjab Culture

Punjab :The Folk Songs and Music

Punjab :The Folk Songs & Music

A folk song is essentially a subjective expression of the emotions walling up from the depths. It borrows its metamorphous and 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 Folk music of Punjab has crossed the borders of not only Punjab but also India and become popular all over the world. There is hardly an event or occasion in the countryside which does not find resonance in the soul of the people. Just as the villagers grow their own food and produce their own raiment’s, they frame folk songs to articulate the wordless passions seething in their hearts. These songs are chastened and polished from generation to generation, and like everything of slow growth, they develop an individuality, which does not lend itself to imitation.
A young maiden of the plains, wrapped up in thoughts of her lover sees a graceful ‘Pipal’ tree and breaks into a song or busy in the fields she begins to hum.

A young farmer returning from his daily labor comes across a group of frolicsome maidens. Twilight has deepened into night and the moon has spread its mantle over the land. He stands spellbound and a song pours out from his beat.
A newly married girl is at the spinning wheal spinning helplessly late in the night. She does not leave off for fear of the mother-in-law and yet she is pinning to run to the arms of her husband waiting for her. She breaks into a song.
The days of carefree childhood have passed and the shadow of inevitable separation from her parents lengthens every day as youth blossoms menacingly. The maiden is conscious of this and so is the mother who sits dressing her hair in silence. The pent-up feelings break at last through a song.

Folk songs are untranslatable. They cannot even be imprisoned in print. They are songs and not word composition and their charm consists solely in the rhythm, the emotional import, and the sweetness of their music. No stage free nature can provide the settings, which they need.
The real spirit of a folk-song rests not only in its text but also tune. The Popular tunes of Puniabi folk-songs ring with the heartthrobs of the simple unsophisticated villagers.

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 refine into symmetrical pattern form the basis of the entire folk music of the Punjab.

There is a wide spread variation in the tunes and melodies of different regions of the Punjab. Boli is popular all over the Punjab. 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 seldom accompanied by 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.

The Punjab is inhabited by people of different sects, religions and cults, which have their own modes of prayer and worship. But since folk poetry belongs to a whole social group, only those songs become popular which are acceptable to the entire community. Religion reflected in the folksongs is religion not of a sect but of the whole community.

Some remnants of nature worship can still be found in Punjabi culture. This worship has found expression in songs. When a Punjabi woman, especially an orthodox one, sees the new moon, she folds her hands and bows to it respectfully and recites folk songs.

Some people in the Punjab still worship trees. The peepal tree is supposed to be the manifestation of Brahma and all gods are believed to be residing in it. The peepal is thus extolled in a folk-song.
Punjabis are very religious. Theirs is the land of the Vedas enriched by the experiences of saints aid sages. Folk-songs abound in eulogies of famous gurus, bhagats and jogis, like Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Gobind Singh, Farid, Namdev, Gopi Chand, Bharthrihari and Puran.

There are devotional folk-songs about Indra, Brahma, Saraswati, Vaishno Devi, Ramehandra and Seeta and many that narrate small, interesting episodes from the life of Krishna. But characteristically these songs are not sectarian. They are sung and enjoyed by all Punjabis, depending upon the suitability of the occasion. There are some folksongs in which Hindu gods and goddesses and Muslim pirs are invoked simultaneously.

Songs for ceremonial occasions have a great cultural significance. They are more an expression of the deeply felt emotions of the community as a whole and not of an individual. These songs are generally sung in groups. They are of great variety, and there are different songs for different occasions; for example, haria, suhag, vatna, ghorian, sithanian and alhanian. The life of a Punjabi is studded with songs. When a baby is born, all women of the family and the neighbourhood get together and sing haria. Some even sing ghorian on the birth of a son because according to Punjabis son is like bridegrooms from birth itself. The child grows in the midst of lullabies. The theme of the lullabies is invariably a mother’s dreams about her son.

The wedding songs are the most interesting and popular ones. When girls come from the husband’s house to the parents to attend the marriage of their brothers, they sing sohile, the subject matter of which is superlative praise for the brother and the parental home. A few days before marriage, women get together daily at night and sing to the accompaniment of the dholaki. The songs sung at the bridegroom’s house are called ghorian and those at the bride’s house suhag. What the mother, sisters and sisters-in-law look forward to at the marriage of a boy of the family is all expressed vividly in ghorian.

Suhag is the echo of a young Punjabi girl’s feelings. It draws attention to the young girl’s hopes, dreams and joys of life. In Punjabi villages a young girl has no say in the choice of her husband. It is the parents who make the selection. The girl’s feelings in the matter are sung of in many of the suhags.

Devin ve babla us ghare (Send me only to such a house, 0 father),
This song is an expression of a Punjabi girl’s desire to go into a family where the mother-in-law is good and virtuous. The father-in-law holds an esteemed position, where the mother-in- law has many sons and is always busy celebrating marriages, where there are many buffaloes and such abundance or milk that the girl will always be busy churning curd and making butter.

When the marriage party arrives at the bride’s house, songs are sung, which are doggerels full of wit and sarcasm. Sometimes women find them a handy medium to point out the weak points of the, bridegroom’s party or of any particular member of it. These songs are packed with pungent wit but are accepted in good humor.
Similarly, expressive songs are sung on many other occasions connected with marriage. When the bridegroom is led into the bride’s house before the wedding is solemnized, he has to recite chhand. This is a test of the boy’s ability to speak intelligently, and also of his ready wit.

Songs are sung at the departure of the Doli. This is the time of separation. The girl has a heavy heart since she has to bid farewell to her parents and parental home; at the same time there is a subdued thrill at the prospect of her going to her husband’s house. The Doli songs are very touching.

Sada chirian da chamba ve, babal assan ud jana.
Sadi lammi udari ve, babal kehre des jana.
Tere mehlan de vich vich ve, babal dola nahin langda.
Ik it puta devan, dhiye ghar ja apne.
Tera baghan de vich vich ve, babal charkha kaun katte?
Merian kattan potrian, dhiye ghar ja apne.
Mera chhuta kasida ve, babal das kaun kade?
Merian kadhan potrian, dhiye ghar ja apne.
Mera chhuta kasida ve, badal das kaun kade?
Merian kadhan potrian, dhiye ghar ja apne.
Ours is a flock of sparrows, dear father,
We’ll fly away
On a long, long flight,
We know not to which land we shall go.
Through your mansion’s door, dear father,
The doli won’t pass.
I’ll have a tali tree uprooted,
Go, for that is your home, O daughter.
In your mansion, dear father,
Who will do the spinning?
My Grand daughters will spin.
You go to your home, O daughter.
There is my left over embroidery ;
Who will finish it, father?
My grand daughters will do it, O daughter,
You must depart, for that is your home.

When the girl goes to the house of her in-laws, the mother-in- law performs certain ceremonies. Songs are sung on this occasion too.
In the Punjab there are set tunes even for typical dirges. Alhahni and Vain belong to this category. The content, besides an assortment of rhythmic wailing cries, 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. Vain and alhania are songs for mourning. They are poignant songs, which help to release the pent-up emotions of the bereaved persons by stressing the pain of the departed soul.
Songs related to Fairs, Festivials, Important Days, Seasonal, Gods & Godesses are also included in this category. These songs are sung on occasions like birth of Son, naming ceremonies, Basant, Teeyan, Rakhari, Holi, Basakhi, Songs of Sati, Hanuman.

Punjabis are very religious. Theirs is the land of the Vedas enriched by the experiences of saints aid sages. Folk-songs abound in eulogies of famous gurus, bhagats and jogis, like Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Gobind Singh, Farid, Namdev, Gopi Chand, Bharthrihari and Puran.

There are devotional folk-songs about Indra, Brahma, Saraswati, Vaishno Devi, Ramehandra and Seeta and many that narrate small, interesting episodes from the life of Krishna. But characteristically these songs are not sectarian. They are sung and enjoyed by all Punjabis, depending upon the suitability of the occasion. There are some folksongs in which Hindu gods and goddesses and Muslim pirs are invoked simultaneously.

Love lyrics comprise the best part of Punjabi folklore. The songs of this category express the ecstasy of union as also the pangs of separation. These are mostly related to famous love stories like Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal. Sassi, Pannu, Mirza Sahiban. Other songs in this category are Mahiya, Tappe, Boliyan, Jindya, Dhola, Kafiyan, Saddan, Birhade.

Heer Ranjha, Sassi ,Punnu, Mirza Sahiban, and Sohni Mahiwal are particularly popular as tales of romance, and many eminent poets like Waris Shah and Hashim have narrated them in verse form. These sentimental tales are always sung in typical strains. For every tale the popular tune is different.
Mirza Sahiban is sung in long wistful notes; 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. This sad tale has been sung in many styles.
The tune used for Heer Ranjha is different from the one used for Puran Bhagat. The notes of Sindhu Bhairava can be traced in Heer Ranjha, while Puran Bhagat is sung in the musical notes of Asavari and Mand. Sohni Mahiwal is sung in Bhairavi, as also Yusuf Zulaikhan, but the tunes are different.

Although there are various folk tunes prevalent in the Punjab, Mahiya, Dhola and Boli are more popular than the rest.
As popular as Boli is Mahiya, which presents an expressive picture of the torments of separation and the thrills of reunion. Dhola like Mahlya is an appealing storehouse of the softest sentiments.

Mahiya, which originally became prevalent in the area now in western Pakistan, especially Pothobar, is today sung all over the Punjab. In almost all parts of Pothohar before the Punjab was divided, one came across people singing Mahiya while at work, especially the farmers toiling in their fields. A triplet of Mahiya is called tappa because it throbs with the heart-beat of the singers. The word, Mahiya originates from the word Mahi, both meaning the lover, because of the legendary lover Ranjha who was called Mahi (tender of buffaloes) as he looked after the herd of cattle owned by Heer’s father. The word Mahi has now come to be permanently associated with this amorous relationship. Mahiya in substance is that form of folk verse in which the lover is addressed in the most touching expressions of love and pathos.

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, since it is there only to maintain the rhyming pattern. 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. Because they are deeply-felt emotions put into words, they are very effective. Every tappa is an entity in itself.

Do kapre sile hoe ne,
Bahron bhaven rusdhe an, vichon dil tan mile hoe ne.
Two pieces of cloth are stiched into one,
Though we sulk and fume without,
Within we two are one.

Dhola, an equally popular form of folk music, is highly lyrical and sentimental in character, love and beauty being its chief contents. Dhola has a variety of forms, those prevalent in Pothohar being quite different from those popular with the tribes of Sandalbar.

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, respectively. 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. Although this couplet is a sustained part of the first three lines, in a way it is quite self-contained. The singers of Dhola liberally use this couplet even independently. The rhythm keeps changing according to the variety of emotions portrayed. Singers themselves are the folk poets of these songs. When they sing with a hand on the ear in a long lifting refrain, there is such depth of feeling in the voice that it sounds like the moan of a love-sick soul or the heart-rending song of a damsel torn apart from her lover.

Dhola ve dhola hai dhola, hai dhola
Aja doven nachiye, hai dhola
Rut mastani, hai dhola.
Badi divani, hai dhola.

Boli is the most popular form of folk music of the eastern Punjab. It is generally in one line, a kind of couplet, and is the most miniature form of folk-song, in vogue. Boli, however, is very deep, effective and interesting in its impact. It has the brevity of a proverb, the appeal of Mahiya and sweetness all its own. It expresses a variety of emotions. In form, a Boli may, however, 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-songs.

Lorian, Kikli, Thal etc. Loris or lullabies, a class apart, are sung in different tunes but the tempo is invariably slow. Every tune, whatever its text, tends to create a droning, dreamy atmosphere which leads the child into the alleys 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 like “0, 0, 0,” or “Ec, Ec, Ee”, are hummed.

A woman’s sentiments are deftly woven into the fine fabric of the folk-songs of the Punjab. The main supposition at the back of these songs is that a woman has two lives and two minds, one for her parents and the other for her in-laws. She draws strength from both families. In her new home after marriage, she leans on the husband, whereas in the parental home her attention is concentrated more on the brother than anyone else. In all her childhood games, she idealizes her brother, and after marriage, on all occasions of family celebrations, her brother brings her home from her husband’s house. A Punjabi girl almost worships her brother. She is proud of him and custom has taught her to look forward to his visits, because on all festive occasions it is the brother who brings gifts to her house. Though she would like to show an extravagant hospitality towards her visiting brother, the inhibitions of the joint family stand in her way. She is afraid of the taunts of her mother-in-law.

Next to the brother it is the mother who is remembered most by the Punjabi girl for she is the sharer of her daughter’s sorrows. A mother having borne much the same sort of suffering in her own life can understand her daughter’s predicament best. The daughter comes to her and talks freely about the injustice and cruelty which she receives at the hands of her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law .

In her husband’s home she is afraid of the mother-in-law’s conventional tyranny. If the mother-in-law is good, life becomes a heaven, but what happens more often is that the cruel mother-in-law makes life a hell for her. She taunts her over small things, passes scathing remarks on her parents, brothers and sisters, and irritates her so much that her heart is filled with hatred for her. This dislike for the mother-in-law is expressed in many folk-songs of the Punjab.

Women seldom sit idle in the Punjab. When they are free from household chores, they bring out their spinning wheels and sit out in the open under a tree. Women of all ages and from all houses of the locality sit together and spin, and as they spin they sing. This is a common sight in the villages. Sometimes on a winter night they all assemble at someone’s house and keep spinning and singing throughout the night. These spinning sessions are called trinjan. The day session is known as Chiri Chirunga (sparrows big and small) and the night session is called Rat Katni (spinning at night). Sometimes there are spinning competitions among young girls with a chain of songs in the background. Spinning is seldom independent of the song. Spinning goes on accompanied by spontaneous, unrestrained music.
Trinjan songs cover all aspects of life particularly the long cherished dreams of a woman, her aspirations, fears, love longings and tuggings at the heart. These songs combined with the drone of the spinning wheel create an enchanting atmosphere. There are endless profusion of the songs of the spinning wheel which are as varied and colorful as the flowers in the full blown garden. But the most are those which give expression to the feelings of the youth. This is how a newly wed who is happy in the love of her hubby sings;

Har charkhe de gere
Yad awen toon mitra

During these sessions life long friendships are are formed and the girls who are married in far off places remember such meetings with nostalgic cravings;

Nit nit vagde rahn ge pani,
Nit patan te mela,
Bachpan nit jawani bansi,
Te nit katan da mela,
Par jo pani aj patano langda,
Oh pher na aonda bhalke,
Beri da poor Trianjan dian koorian,
Pher na bethan ral ke.
Streams flow from day to day
And folks at ferries meet,
After childhood is youth
And Trianjan must repeat.
But waters gone ahead
Their backward flow restrain,
Boat crews and Trianjan girls,
Shall never meet again.

The festival of Teeyan is an occasion for all married girls to visit their parents for a few days, and thus enjoy again the carefree days of their childhood. They run to the swings on the peepal trees. It is fascinating to see the earth all round becoming green again, the welcome drops of rain falling, and the youthful girls in colourful dresses. The girls sing songs and dance Giddlia. Songs of Teeyan mostly speak of love, and are highly charged with emotion.
The peepal tree becomes the centre of attraction when the girls swing on the ropes thrown on the tree and the song goes

“Dhan bhag mera”, peepal akhe;
“Kurian ne pingan paaian”.
Sawan vich kurian ne
Pinghan asman Charhian.
“How blessed am I”, says peepal
“That the girls have hung rope-swings on me”
In the month of Sawan
Girls have swung their swings sky-high

Considering that for centuries the Punjabis had to bear the brunt of foreign attacks, some folk-songs have a historical significance and reflect the attitude of the entire community towards certain events. The Punjab has been a frontier province and Punjabis have always suffered from the aftereffects of foreign invasions. Every invasion brought plunder, rape and arson in its wake. There is a song which gives a heart-rending description of the cruelty of a marauder who forcibly carries away a beautiful young lady. Her husband, father and brother, in spite of their earnest efforts, fail to rescue her, and the brave girl, instead of falling prey to that brute’s passion, burns herself to death. The entire poignant tale is contained in a ballad.
The invasions of Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali created terror among the people of the Punjab. There are some songs expressing their indignation towards them. When the long enslaved Indians started their fight for freedom from the British yoke, the offended masters let loose upon them a bell of spiteful cruelty. Some folk-songs refer to these movements of rebellion in the Punjab.


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