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Punjabi Folk Traditions

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Although not purely related to Gurmat Sangeet - this article contains important elements of Sikh Kirtan traditions and mentions of famous exponants.

Dr Alka Pande

Punjabi Folk Music and Dance

Mangat Ram lives in Chandigarh. This medium height, red cheeked, gray eyed, septugenarian with snowy white hair peeping out of his rakishly tied, white turban, belongs to a traditional family of ‘dhol’ players. He was born in Pakistan, and had his initial training in Pakistan itself, and is one of the few surviving dhol players who knows a number of ‘bolis’ which form the repertoire of the `dholi’.

The dhol has a come a long way in the changing trends of musical following and audience preferences in the past century. The story of Mangat Ram is an embodiment of the genesis of the dhol and its usage in Punjab over the years. When Mangat Ram was a young boy learning from his grandfather in Pakistan, he had made it his passion to be able to play the dhol for long durations with a repertoire comprising a large variety of beats. Son of Ganda Ram and grandson of Malli Ram, he is a contemporary of the ace dhol player, Ghugi. His brother, Prem Chand and his nephews Naseeb and Seva Ram, as well as his son, Des Raj and grandson, Dev Raj are well known, popular dholis who have represented Punjab at various national and international forums. He learnt under the tutelage of the truly traditionalist players who considered purity of form and adherence to the authentic beats of great consequence. His entire clan, for five generations, seems to have imbided the dhol playing techniques in the Guru Shishya Parampara right from his grandfather to the grandsons, who are representing India at various forums and stages abroad. Today they command premium rates in terms of cash and kind.

Garibu lives in Morinda, he too is illiterate. Inspite of a government ban on the catching of snakes, he continues to keep his snakes for he knows no other way of life. Like Mangat Ram’s dhol, the been has been in his family for generations but unlike Mangat Ram it will end with him. His grandson, Prem, has already changed his occupation. He has opted out from the traditional craft. “There is no respect in the traditional form of livelihood anymore. People are not the same. They regard the nath jogi as a beggar. Tired of this disrespectful existence I decided to take up dealing in garbage and waste material. My father and uncles know the ways of our people. I have not tried to learn. My grandfather and family gave permission to pursue this line of work because there was no other alternative”, says Garibu’s grandson .

Garibu has a collection of cobras, anacondas, vipers, pythons and kraits. He says that whenever his tribe catches a snake they promise to keep the snake only for a limited period. The snake is asked to help them earn a living and would be well taken care of. The snake is usually set free on the promised day or on the following ‘nagapanchami.’

He is the living heritage of the been sapera tradition, and with him dies the traditional tunes unless they are documented immediately for his children have already opted out for alternate occupations. Sharief Idu one of the most prominent Sufi Dhahdi Singers who lives in Mani Majra does not even have money to repair his ‘jutti’ which is an essential part of his traditional ensemble. His wife works as a midwife for the government for a ridiculous sum of Rs. 50 a month.

The algoza of Fakir Mohammed and his ilk is another folk musical instrument that is going to be lost to posterity due to disuse. Fakir Mohammed is one of the few who is financially able to eke out a living since he is using his expertise for political propaganda. The ‘taasha’ or ‘dhaama’ the folk tabla played with sticks which provided the rhythmic accompaniment for folk performances has one serious practitioner in Gamdoor Sikander at Khanna, who perhaps the last of the performers.

Traditional instruments like the Narsingha and the Nagara are also rarely heard. The ceremonious procession of the Holy Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib to and from the Akal Takht every morning and evening is preceded by the Narsingha’s s shrill call and the thunderous beat of the nagaras. These instruments are also being preserved by the ‘nihang’ sect of the Sikhs, who use them for their own ceremonial and ritual practises.

It is the direct result of development, particularly the Green Revolution in the 1960’s in Punjab which led to the coinage of the phrase that Punjab is a land of agriculture and no culture. Punjab by no means lags behind in the cultural arena. Till Independence, in a United Punjab, an extremely rich and varied mosaic of folk traditions prevailed. After partition, certain areas like Lahore, Sindh, and Multan which were the repositories and custodians of the cultural ethos of the State, took away some of our great masters, and traditional performers who now form the fabric of the cultural canvas of Pakistan.

For the last fifteen years while working as a music and dance critic for the local papers I realised that there existed in Punjab an extremely strong and vibrant tradition of folk music and dance. With these two performance oriented traditions, the accompaniments too had their own role and place in society and these were the folk instruments.

Through empirical research in the field I have managed to document 76 folk instruments typical to Punjab. These instruments are also a living statement of the continuous cultural contiguity from the West to the East.














14. DAMROO with long handle



17. DUFF big

18. DHAD


20. DHOL



23. DO TAARA / TOOMBA [Meera Bai type]

24. DOOGEE *













37. KAEL *

38. KAULAE *









47. NAGARA / NAGADA [large]

48. NAGARI / NAGADI [small]



51. NARD / NAD / NAL [dholaki like]




55. PITALIYA / BAEND VAJA [trumpet]













68. TAMOOR / TAMBOOR [side drum







75. VANJLI *


Instruments like the Chamuta, Jalli, Kael, Kaulae, Nadi Tarang, Sundari, Thaara, Turtari, Vanjali and Nafiri are instruments mentioned in the field but there is little information to authenticate the style and means of their construction or manner of being played .

There are about 23 instruments which are languishing today.

The Vanishing Instruments

As part of the field studies I identified some vanishing instruments through information transferred by word of mouth, and through references in the field and found that there are some instruments which are not even available for placing in the museums.

1. Chajj sota: An indigenous folk instrument used by the womenfolk during gidda performances. Comprising a winnow or chajj and a stout stick or sota. The rhytm is created by beating the chajj with the sota.

2. Sariya Saaz: Used by rural performers to add rhythm while singing at the shrine of the Guga Pir. Comprises a metal rod bent in the shape of a triangle and struck with a thinner striker. Another variation is a longer rod bent into a hook at one end and struck rhythmically with a U-shaped striker. The resonance is controlled by pressing and releasing the rod in the palm of the hand that is holding it.

3. Suthra Shahi Danda – Kadae: Used by Sufis. It comprises the wearing of four to six or even more kadae or metallic rings on the arm of the player. These rings are periodically struck with a metal staff or danda carried in the palm of the same hand that is wearing the kadae. The tone may vary depending on the material and diameter of the kadae.

4. Dhamaal or Babiha: The wandering Sufis held this staff with a large sized ghungroo attached to one end. They used to attract attention of passers by and seek alms by periodically hitting the ground with the dhamaal. It also added rhythm to the chants they were mouthing regularly.

5. Danda Sota of the Nachars: The nachars, dancers and impersonators accompanied marriage processions to entertain the baraatis. They used the danda sota comprising a knobbly three-feet length of stout wood that was placed on the ground and the nachchar [enacting the male] danced around it, hitting it with a small plain wooden stick or sotta. The danda was usually embellished with ghungroos to add to the music.

6. Chutki: Used by nachars and bhands, the chutki comprises two wooden or metallic strips held between the fingers. The fingers are moved in a manner that the two strips strike one another and emit sound at regular intervals.

7. Esraj: Used in Folk performances and in Gurmatt sangeet, this string instrument is akin to the sarangi while its width is like the sitar. Unlike the sitar, however, it has a skin covering its resonance box. In appearance, playing technique and origin it is like the dilruba. It is played with a bow or gaz.

8. Taus: Used in Gurmatt sangeet, the string instrument is played with a bow. The artiste’s skill lies in placing the instrument to rest on the peacock feet while the neck is arranged in the crook of the arm.

9. Sarinda: Used in Gurmatt sangeet, it was invented by Guru Amardas as the sarangi was not thought to be fit to be played in religious assemblies. The instrument is made entirely of a gourd or kadoo and wood. It has an oval, hollow form beneath and a strip of wood across on which the wires are strung. It is placed in the same position as the sarangi and is played with a bow.

10. Rabab: An instrument of strings and wires the rabab was a favourite with Mardana, the chosen disciple of Guru Nanak Devji. The instrument is made of wood with skin stretched over the lower portion or the sound box. There are two groups of wires stretched on the frame, one below the other. The surface has four wires and seven taraps or those stretched below. It is played with a triangular piece of wood and the notes are created by pressing the wires.

11. King or Kinkri: Common among the sadhus, wandering bards and jogis the instrument is made up of a long staff that has a kadu attached on one or both sides. The instrument was held at chest level and played with one hand supporting the instrument and the other plucking the strings. The instrument could also be kept in the lap.

12. Chhikara or Chotara: Popularly used by the clan of Yamla Jat, the instrument has four strings which are gently pulled continuously starting with the first string or pancham and ending with the mandran, using the forefinger of the right hand. It is played with a bow held in the other hand.

13. Bugdu, Bugchu or Buchku: Used by the snake charmers and mendicants, the bugdu is a single note string instrument. It is made up of a specially shaped gourd or a hollowed out bark. It may have skin stretched at one end with a thick cord piercing its centre. A knob of wood, cloth or stone is tied to the other end of the string. This is held in the palm of the same hand that holds the bugdu in the crook of the arm. The taut string then is then plucked with the fingers of the other hand or with a striker to produce a single note hum.

14. Singhi: Played by the Shiv bhagats and the Gorakh panthi jogis. This wind instrument is made of copper and is sigmoid in shape. The size may vary. A lot of energy, breath control and expertise is required to control its notes.

15. Tooti or Shehnai: Played in the temples and at marriages. It is a wind instrument comprising a tube made of dark, close-grained, black wood gradually widening at an end which has a metal bell shaped fixture attached to it. It has seven holes and a funnel shaped posterior from which emerge the notes. The funnel is made of copper and is about four fingers long. On the mouth is a fine membrane of tad patre or kansae and is placed after wetting it in milk.

16. Shankh: The conch shell is a wind instrument played in temples, to herald victory and is blown at the death of an elder. It is a species of shell with a hard outer casing and a fine inner casing. It is used to produce a drone and resonance, which may be altered according to the breath control of the player.

17. Pitaliya or vaja or Moohala vaja: Used in traditional baraats or marriage processions. It is a brass or steel and brass tubular pipe with the mouth end widened out in the form of a funnel. The lead in the orchaestra plays upon it. The pitaliya trumpet played the longest with the most expansive repertoire in any marriage orchaestra.

18. Narsingha: The large, sigmoid trumpet made of copper and brass is four to six feet in length. It is made up of two or three separate tubular pieces fitted together just before playing. It arches outwards and has a wider opening at the end opposite to the mouthpiece. The player blows into the trumpet emitting a forceful continued note akin to the sound of an elephant trumpeting. The religious houses both Sikh and Hindu were observed to use the narsingha.

19. Nagphani: A smaller trumpet, the instrument is shaped like the hood of a snake. It may even have a red tongue attached to the end opposite the mouthpiece. The naqqals and mirasis, to herald the birth of a male child in the household, blew on this instrument.

20. Nal or Nad: Made up of bone, horn, shell or hollowed out wood, this wind instrument is flute like, but outwardly curved. It is used to emit a continuous horn-like sound as a backdrop to the other instruments. The long drone is similar to the call of the shankh. It is said to be used by the pastoralists or gadariyae.

21. Tasha: Made of hollowed wooden body with a skin membrane covering its mouth, it is played upon with two sticks. The tasha may be played singly or in pairs. Played by the mirasis, the instrument is played at the entrances of houses where there is a celebration like the birth of a son or the wedding of a son. The tashas are also played at the dargahs of Pirs. It is almost always played along with the dhol.

22. Tabla tarang: A combine of 17 tablas, the arrangement is difficult to tune and play upon and very few could. There is only one known exponent for this form of music today.

23. Kharchaam: This large single-faced drum, made from wood and covered with the skin of a donkey had a deep resonance. It was played to scare of enemies and to announce rejoicement in the royal households.

Ethnographic Portrayal

The musical instruments have been studied in the context of their social, cultural, ethnic, religious, political and overall ethnographic environment. The humane factor in this milieu is thus of great significance. The related aspects of the folk forms viz., the dance, song and rich oral traditions form a veritable backdrop against which the true cultural heritage of Punjab and its folk performers stands out. This was a large step in the documentation process of the folk musical instruments and was unique, as this form of documentation had not been attempted before simply because of the large amount of detailed, extensive and incisive scrutiny it involved. This needs further probing. Many of the aspects of this rich oral tradition may in effect be lost if they are not preserved and documented in a concerted manner. The first to be studied in this regard were the literary compositions and their content. Some form of documentation of these oral traditions was intiated and carried out in the colonial times by the British Administrator turned researcher R.C. Temple in his Legends of Punjab, left much to be desired as the obvious handicap of comprehension, cultural ethos and the inevitable language blocks have dogged the interpretations since the very beginning.

Even today no traditional wedding or festivity in Punjab can ever be complete without the sound and resonance of the dhol. The vibrant rhythmic dhol in many ways is symbolic of the equally vibrant spirit of the people of the State. The sound of the dhol is dominating the world of contemporary International music trends. The traditional dholi is doing brisk business, commanding his own price. But what development has done is that at one end the dholi is living a more up market life but on the other hand he is also loosing out on the richness of the beats and sounds. With the changing social patterns, the breakdown of community life, the advent of the electronic media in the rural area, rural life has undergone a sea change. The village akhaaras do not have dangal and kushti with the same frequency as two decades ago. Thus the young dholi does not get a chance to play those beats on his dhol. Since most of traditional folk is based on the oral tradition, no traditional performer ever has a written text, it is simply learnt in the Guru-Shishya tradition, memorised, and ends with the individual unless he has passed it on to his Shaagird.

The festivals and fairs, the utsavs and traditional forms of entertainment have been replaced either by television or have gradually petered off. The melas are slowly loosing their lustre, less and less people are participating in them- this is directly affecting the folk performer creating a dent in his source of livelihood.

Some of the more prominent and popular ‘kissas’ sung by the Punjabi folk performers are

1. Mirza - Sahiban: According to R.C. Temple’s Legends of Punjab [Vol-3], the story of Mirza and Sahiban has been sung by the Jats of Jalandhar district since long. Tracing its origin he says that it is a very “celebrated tale in the Jhang and Montgomery districts. It Is the story of the unrequited love of Mirza and Sahiba who fall victim to family feuds.

2. Heer - Ranjha: It is a popular kissa. It was first written by Damodar also created his version of the Heer by giving it a spiritualistic turn. It is believed that the Dasam Granth was edited in the 1696 and some mention may have been in the version where Heer was believed to be an apsara who had been ostracised from the heavens and it was prophesied that Inder would go and help her attain salvation. This is given in the couplet: “Ranjha bhayo souraesh tahee bhayee Menaka Heer”. During Damodar’s time a version of the Heer Ranjha kissa was written in Persian and is considered the oldest. It was written by Hayat Khan Baaki. It is a love story again of the unrequited love of Ranjha for Heer. Heer is married unwillingly and takes her life while Ranjha, who had given up family and home for her also gives up his life.

3. Sassi - Punnoo: [This version is taken from the documentation by R.C Temple: 1963: pp24-37]. The bardic version of the folktale Sassi and Punnu belongs properly to the Sindh and Southern Baluchistan region. It is the literary Panjabi version of the tale by the poet Hasham Shah. It consists of 126 stanzas or quatrains. It is the story of Sassi, of royal birth but brought up by a washerman. She falls in love with Punnu and manages to entice him from his kingdom. He is spirited away by his father’s men. Sassi sets out in search only to be lost in the desert where she dies. Her spirit calls out to Punnu, who, enthralled by it, follows Sassi to her desert grave.

4. Raja Rasalu: This is a popular legend or folk tale common among the folk singers. The main characters of the story are: Raja Rasalu, Mehta, Chattar Mamola, Pehraedar [guard], Chandni, tota, Darban [gate-keeper], Rani, and the Diva [lamp]. It is the story of the devotion of a wife to her husband and the trust a spouse has for another. The king sets out to test the wife and finds her to be an honourable woman.

5. Keema Malki: It is a romance set in the times of Akbar. Malki was the daughter of Rai Mubarak who was a prominent member of the high society of Garh Mughlana or Sind. Malki’s uncle wanted to marry her off to Akbar while her father had promised her to Keema of Takhat Hazara who was the son of the nephew of Ranjha. Keema had to spend some time in jail but later Akbar released him and they were married and led a happy life.

6. Malookan: This is the story of Malookan, a young bride whose husband has gone in search of livelihood and fortunes. The beautiful Malookaan has a cruel and greedy mother-in-law who wants her son to marry again. Just when she receives news that her son is returning home, the mother-in-law dresses up Malookaan in all her finery and then poisons her through trickery. Then she tries to entice her son to marry again and gain more wealth through the dowry the new bride would bring. The son is so distraught at losing his beautiful bride, he admonishes his mother for her greed and commits suicide.

7.Shahni Kaulaan: It is a popular folk tale connected with the legend of Raja Rasalu. Sir Richard Temple in his `Legends of Punjab’ has detailed it under the name `Seel dayee’, it is also famous in the Dhani Potohaar areas [now in Pakistan] as the story of Chanani Devi and in the Malwa it is referred to as the katha of Shani Kaulaan. The central theme of this legend is the testing of the truth. [Detailed story is given above and has been presented with slight variations in various parts of Punjab].

8.Shiri Farhaad: It is an Iranian tale that had become a part of the Punjabi literary scene by the time of Amir Khusrau. About 4-5 centuries latter when Hashim Shah picked up this tale and converted it to the Punjabi form it underwent some transformation. The story written by him goes that Farhaad was the grandson of Adil Shah Nausheirwa and the son of Shah Hormouse. He had left his home after an altercation with his father and during his wanderings he came across Shiri and fell in love with her. Then when he helped out a neighbouring state. the ruler gave the hand of his daughter Miriam in marriage. Farhaad had a son called Shiriviar. Later however, he married Shiri. But in a fit of jealously, Shiri got Miriam and her son thrown into the dungeon. Later Shah Rom got him released. The son then got rid of Farhaad and wanted to live with Shiri who, disappointed in love, committed suicide by taking poison.

9.Suchha Singh Surma: It is a popular folk legend sung in the Malwa region. The legend is a portrayal of the feudal lifestyle of Punjab and the many disputes that spring up on the topics of land, women and wealth [zar, jouroo, zameen]. In connection with this legend the presentations of two authors, viz, Daulat Ram and Babu Razab Ali enjoy wide popularity.

10.Sohni-Mahiwaal: It was believed that Sohni had golden hued hair and was thus called Sohni. It is believed that the story is based on an ancient Greek tale which was modified to a large extent to fit in with the local idiom. In the Dasam Granth this romance has not been dealt with completely so that not much can be said with great accuracy about the root and antecedents of this tale. In the Dasam Granth only one episode is highlighted where the sister-in-law of Sohni places an unbaked earthen pot instead of her regular baked pot to cross the river. She begins to drown when the pot gives way and her screams attract Mahiwal who had been waiting for her on the other bank. The river is in spate and Mahiwal unmindful of the danger jumps in. Both of them are drowned.

11.Saifal Malook: It is the story of a legendary Egyptian king who was in love with Badiya Jamaal. It was popularised by Mia Mohammad Baksh. This tale has been given the atmosphere of a historical giving the impression to many that it is more than a legend and maybe an actual episode in history. Saif means a sword and Malook is the plural form of Malik meaning Badshah. It is the story of the young man names Saifal Malok who sets out with a lavish caravan to look for his lady love – Badiya Jamaal. He finally gets her after coming through many adventures with his friends.

12.Sohna and Jaeni: The couple Sohna and Jaeni were from the Gujrat region and loved each other dearly. Some kavishers have written down certain episodes from their romance although no major composition has come to light. Maybe this is one reason why this form is not too popular. Khash Ali, Jalal and Bakshi Isayee have made major contributions to this tale. Sohna was born in the village Chak Abdullah in the home of Abdullah. One day while hunting he came to a dera of jogis where the head was Samarnath. The daughter of Samarnath was very beautiful. Sohna falls in love with her. Her father is against the match despite much persuasion. Finally the two run away to Sohna’s home and get married.

13. Dulendi and Akal: This is an old parable recited by the bards in some regions of Punjab. It is believed that in `Satyug’ there was a fight between Raja Satyasang and the demon Deeraghdard. The clash of their weapons emitted flames which gave rise to the maiden called Dulehdaei. This maiden could not find a life partner of her choice and undertook severe penance in appeal to Goddess Durga who blessed her with a husband like Akal. That night Akal appeared in her dreams and told her that only if she killed the demon Sarasvirayae, she could become his consort. After this Dulhaedaei fought a severe battle with the demon till she was absolutely exhausted. Then she evoked Mahakaal to come to her support who came down and fought and managed tio vanquish the demon and his entire army. “Pun rachhas da kata seesa” [Rahaee Ram]. The entire composition is in the choupayee format.

None of these ‘kissas’ are available to us in a formal written text, since they are being carried forward in the little tradition. Besides these compositions which form the background of most renditions in the folk repertoire, there are innumerable songs, poetic compositions called `kavits’ and the on-the-spot compositions of `kavishers’ in praise of an individual or an event. There are also a large number of gathas or kathas that form the essential components of the folk performers collection.

Traditionally there are some specified folk communities like the mirasis, naqqals, bhands, nachaars kavishers and baazigars who have carried on the task of cultural propagation through word of mouth, memorised records of events of history, legends and mythical references of the society for centuries.These performing communities have a distinctive identity and give glimpses of the indigenous lifestyles of the rural dwellers of Punjab in its remote niches and dales.

Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, gave patronage to a sect of singers who sang only martial songs. They were called Dhadis. These dhadhis are the singers of a particular form of composition called the `waars’. Till date the dhadhi is singing secular waars commemorating the bravery and valorous deeds of legendary heroes, religious and socio-political events of history that fire the enthusiasm of young and old alike as well as the sacrifices made by the participants in the struggle or India’s Independence. The style of singing has a rare dignity and grandeur that evokes deep stirrings in the hearts of the listeners. Highly charged emotionally, these waars are another form of preserving the history of the people of Punjab. They conjure up images of the past as few other performances can.

In the course of our data collection we documented the various communities that were the human repositories of the literary and oral traditions. We studied the actual folk communities that were the culture bearers and were carrying on the traditions of their forefathers. These are:

Some prominent folk performing communities of Punjab as listed by Ibbetson and some collected from the field.

1. Dhadhi: The Dhadhi is musician, singer or panegyrist. The Dhad is a kind of tambour. According to the Derajat, however, the Dhadi only chants and never plays any instrument. The Dhadh is used more as a filler between reitations of legends and songs by these performers.

2. Dom

A bard or mistrel. They are identical with the Dom or Domb, whose name means minstrel in Balochi.

3. Jogi:

The jogi is considered a devotee or a performer of `jog’ or the yoga system of philosophy, established by Patanjali, taught the means whereby the human soul might attain complete union with the Supreme Being. They are found in all parts of the state.

4. Kalandar: Qalandari

The kalander of the Arabian Nights is properly a holy Muhammadan ascetic who abandons the world and wanders about with shaven head and beard. But the word is generally used in the Punjab for monkey-man.

5. Kuka:

A sect of the Sikhs founded by Balak Singh, an Arora by caste, of Hazro in Attock. Ram Singh, a carpenter of Bhaini Ala in Ludhiana took up his teachings, where he built an extensive `dera’. He preached that he was himself an incarnation of Guru Govind Singh and prophesied the speedy overthrow of the British power. His followers were called kukas or shouters. The dera is located at Baeni Saab about 22 kilometres from Ludhiana.

6. Kumhar:

The kumhar or as is more often called in Punjab the Ghumiar is the potter and brick burner of the country. Many of the musicians and singers interviewed in Punjab for this study gave their caste to be `Prajapat’ or kumhar. They were all exponents of the traditional instruments while one or two were vocalists.

7. Mahtam / Matam / Behrupia:

It is a caste of obscure and composite origin. They are found spread across the Punjab from Dera Ghazi Khan to Lahore.

8. Malang:

A non-descript sect said to be the followers of one Jaman Jatti, who in turn was a follower of Zinda Shah Madar, so that the Malangs are commonly looked on as a branch of the Madaris.

9. Mirasi:

The mirasi form one of those large heterogeneous bodies, varying in status, occupation and doubtless in origin as well, which are conventionally called castes in the Punjab though they correspond to no definition, actual or potential, of the `caste’.

The Mirasi is more than a geneologist; he is also a musician and minstrel; and most of the men who play the musical instruments of the Punjab are either Mirasis, Jogis or faqirs. Moreover there are grades even among Mirasis. The social position of the Mirasi depends on several factors, his function, his origin and his means. The various groups of the mirasis are as follows:

1. The Rai Mirasis: Mirasis of the Jats in Jind. In Hoshiarpur they claim to be Hindu Bhats. They are poets and compose kabits. They are genealogists. They are styled as Rai “on account of their slow and majestic manner of speech.

2. Mir Mirasis: they are panegyrists. The term is applied to any mirasi out of courtesy. In Ludhiana they are the ones who taking a jhanda [a pole with a pennon] in hand recite verses in honour of their priest Lakhdata or Sakhi Sultan of Baghdad. In Lahore they are said to be educated men who compose panegyrics. They recite eulogies in Persian and Arabic and are known as madah khwan.

3. Dhadi: they play the dhadh and sing the deeds of heroes dead and gone. Their women however do not sing and dance before the ladies of their patrons like other Mirasi women. The Dhadhis again have mirasis of their own called the Bhatia who only take dues from the dhadhis.

4. Kalawant : they are mirasis possessed of skill [kala]. They sing and play on the tambourine and are described as mirasis of the Rajputs. They especially affect the dhurpat mode in music.

5. Kharala or Khariala: these mirasis rank below the real mirasis because their ancestors married women of other castes. Other mirasis do not intermarry with them. They are story-tellers and musicians, playing the tabla and sarangi. In Gurgaon the Karhala appear to be called Karhai or Jahangirta. They play and compose and sing ballads of chivalry.

6. Kumachis: they are the highest of the mirasis as they serve Brahmans. According to another account they were themselves Bari Brahmans.

7. Mir Mangs: are mirasis of the mirasis, keeping their pedigrees and taking alms from them alone. In gurdaspur they appear to be called Mir Malang. In Gurgaon the mirasis’ mirasi is called Dum and the Mirasi of the bhangi is called a Kannas mirasi.

8. Naqarchis: are mirasis who play the naqara or big drum at wedings and at the tombs of Muhammadan saints.

9. Rababis: they are mirasis who are so called because they play the rabab. They trace their descent from Bhai Mardana who used to play the rabab for Guru Nanak. They are sikhs and recite shabads from the Guru Granth Sahib. They play the rabab before a Sikh’s bier when it is being carried out to the burning ground but they bury their own dead.

10. Nat:

The Nat is a typical gipsy caste of the Punjab. It is possible that there may be properly some distinction between the Nat and the Bazigar; but the two words are synonymous in general parlance. Some are herbalists and some are musicians but the drum is said to be the only instrument they can play.

11. Nath:

Originally a title or possibly a degree of the Jogi order. The word means `lord’ or `master’.

12. Sapela / Sapera / Sipada:

Snake catcher or charmer. The Sapelas or Sampelas claim to be an offshoot of the Jogis.

13. Sufi:

A class of Muhammadan free-thinkers, mystics or pantheists: one who uses nothing intoxicating. Punjabi dictionary, p-1072. The term is derived from the Arabic word suf or wool but it is probably a corruption of the Greek sophos or wise. It is usually said that the Sufi orders are 14 in number. These are:

The Ajmi founded by, or named after, Khwaja Habib Ajmi, the Ayazi from Khwaja Fuzail, son of Ayaz, whose shrine is at Kufa, the Adhami, from Khwaja Ibrahim Khan, whose shrine is at Baghdad, the Chishti, the Hubairi, the Kazruni, the Tusi, the Suharwardi, the Firdusi from S. Najm-ud-Din Firdos, the Karkhi, the Qadiri, the Siqti, the Naqshbandi and the Zaidi

Suthra Shahi:

It is an order of Sikh devotees. There was a faqir by the name suthra who was famous for his attitude of ridiculing life. According to Bhai Kahan Singh [Mahaan Kosh, p-159], Suthra Shah was born in Samvat 1672 at Barampur near Baramullah in the house Nanda the Khatri.

Mohammadan suthras carry a danda [staff] with which they strike their iron bracelets [churis]. It is believed that non-Mohammadan suthras have two dandas out of which one danda was given by Guru Hargobind Sahib and the other smaller one by Durga Devi. The Mohammadans do not worship the Devi and thus have only one danda with which they strike their metal kadas or bracelets.

Survival of These Communities:

The impact of development has brought about a sweeping change in the ordained patronage that provided sustenance to the performers of folk musical instruments. Today both are on the borderline of survival. Living on the edge of this culture-livelihood nexus are the guga marhi performers, the naqqual and nachchaars, the behrupias, the jangams and the nath jogis.

The advent of the electronic media in the remotest villages of Punjab has wrought many changes. Most of the Mirasis who have had to give up their traditional professions have become rickshaw pullers, daily wage earners and construction labour. Theatre Director, Neelam Man Singh is helping a group of the naqquals in the region to preserve their cultural identity. She is using them in a contemporary way in her theatre and dance productions – giving much sought relief to the otherwise languishing community. But in this usage, they are still unable to preserve their traditional purity.

A study of the folk instruments is not possible without taking into account the songs and dances of Punjab These renditions give an ethnographic idea of the rich cultural canvas that is the epitomisation of the folk cultural traditions of Punjab. To give a range of the data set only some of the representive forms are mentioned below. It would be too unweildy, however, to give a detailed and precise reference here.

[A] SONGS FROM BIRTH TO DEATH are sung at all occasions beginning from the moment when a woman concieves to the dirges or `allhouniyaan’ sung at funerals. The songs may be `vaars’; `souhallae’ sung in praise of divine grace. There may be the songs sung as lullabies or `loriyaan’ and the childhood `bujhartaan’. Then there is also the large and versatile range of songs sung at weddings or `gaonn’. The tone, rhythm and lyrics of these songs are largely dependent on the side of the marriage party for which they are to be sung. One may be attending i.e., the bride’s side and may hear a lot of teasing songs or `sitthniyaan’ targeted at the groom’s side. There may also be a lot of emotional songs called `suhaags’ symbolising the separation of the bride from her home. The songs for the groom’s side may be jocular and full of gaiety. The family and friends celebrate the event by rejoicing and this is depicted in the songs or `ghoriyaan’ sung on this side.

. SONGS OF OCCUPATION AND LEISURE besides revelling in the events of life the songs of Punjab have livened up the occupational tasks of women and men since centuries. The `charkha’, `kaseeda’, `challa’, and the `lammae geet’ are all variations of the songs sung by womenfolk. They often sat under large shady trees through the long summer afternoons busy with their work of spinning, embroidery or merely indulging in household chores. In the fields, the men had the algoza or toombi performer entertaining them as they toiled on the fields, while ploughing, sowing, weeding, transplanting, hoeing and harvesting. After the harvests, of course, there were many evenings of entertainment as the farmer took his yield to the market and obtained its price. These folk songs are often sung as accompaniment to the folk dances of the state,. Besides the very common bhangra and gidda of Punjab there are several other dance forms.

Punjabi Folk Dances

The folk dances of Punjab are colourful, vigorous and lively dances done amidst the loud clamour and resonance of its folk musical instruments. The range of instruments used in these dance forms is wide and varied. They may comprise various combinations of the dholaki, chimta, kato, ghungroo, douroo, dhad, chutki, jhallar, kainsiyan, ghara, gadva, kaulae, gharial and talliyaan. The data for this was collected from the field informants as well as the Punjabi Mahakosh. Some of the popular dances of Punjab are:

1. Sammi: Danced by the women during the onset of the rainy season.

2. Jhumar: It is a folk dance having women dancing around in circles on the beat of the dholaki and songs sung by them as well as a group of singers nearby.

3. Thalochiya: It is a dance of men and women welcoming the rains.

4. Pathaniya: It is a dance of men who move around in circles and dance to the vigorous beat of the dhol. They wear colourful scarves on their wrists.

5. Kikli: Women participate in pairs for this form of dance while singing songs specially meant for this dance form. They clasp hands and go round and round.

6. Jalli: This is a dance of women who play-act episodes of rural life.

7. Dandkada: This is a vigorous dance of women who beat stout stafs on the ground as they dance around in circles.

8. Gidda: Dance of women. They sing out couplets depicting episodes in the rural household and life.

9. Bhangra: Men participate in this dance form. They dance to the beat of the dhol and use several other instruments.

10. Luddi: It is a dance form of the womenfolk. Special songs are sung for it.

11. Malwai gidda: Also called the Babeyaan the Gidda. Men who enact scenes from rural life dance it.

12. Baghi: This dance form commemorates the Independence struggle and the role of Punjabis. Only men participate in this dance form.

13. Guga dance: This is a dance form of men whereby they commemorate the miracles of the Guga Pir.

14. Heebo: A form of singing and dancing session with typical heebo songs.

15. Hullae hularae: A dance form of women where they celebrate the birth of a child.

16. Haemdi: A dance form of womenfolk celebrating the birth of a male child.

Traditionally these dances were often performed by the rural youth during festivals. The trend these days, however, is to train groups or dance troupes to represent schools, colleges and other institutions. Competitions are held. The various teams are adjudged and awarded prizes. This trend, however, has resulted in a depletion of the authentic cultural content of the performances. Many innovations of dress and ornamentation, traditional motifs and dance steps as well as the beats to which each form of dance is set along with its lyrical composition have been played around with impunity. The real forms are gradually being lost. This was observed during the course of the documentation carried out in the field.

Secular Traditions of Folk Music in Punjab

Our empirical research brought out the following observations as concerns the secular traditions of music in Punjab. It comprised four traditional components. These were: Gurmat Kirtan; Qawwali, Sufiana Kalaam and the Bhakti tradition.

These instruments have fallen to gradual disuse and ultimately have been ignored by the performer and the population. Only vague references were made to some of them in the empirical field situation.

Many others among these instruments are those which are gradually receding to the realm of mere memory are the string instruments which were a large part of the Gurmatt Kirtan traditions and are known as the `tanti saaz’. The beautiful taus, sarinda, taar shehnai, rabab and dilruba occupied pride of place among them. Bhai Amrik Singh Raagi from Jalandhar , an expert player of the ‘taus’ was a regular practitioner of the instrument using it for his performances in the state and abroad . Advancing age and cumbersome carriage of the instrument has restricted him from playing the ‘taus’.Zakhmi is another practitioner of the ‘taus’, he has in his family a 150 year old ‘taus’, we have also identitfied a rabab player in Batala. Anyone who can play the dilruba can play all these string instruments. Bhai Balbir Singh Raagi the only exponent of the table taraang has not been able to find a skilful student whom he can teach the nuances of the fine tuning of 17 tablas and playing the raagmala on them.

These instruments are being preserved in the`deras’ or centres of spiritual learning at Bhaeni Saab and Gurdwara Gur Prakash at Javaddi Kalan in Ludhiana. The spiritual heads of these deras are inclined towards preservation of the rich cultural heritage and encourage the young followers to take up training in the playing of instruments of their choice. These deras invite masters of the field to hold training camps and encourage the talented ones to prolonged exposure in the chosen area. An example of this is Pinki, the renowned tabla exponent who plays on the classical Punjabi `attae wala dhamma’ and has performed in a number of concerts all over the world. These deras also hold a number of competitions and annual festivals to give a chance to the many talented young enthusiasts to develop their skills in the use of traditional `saaz’.

Industrialisation and agricultural development , has provided enormous purchasing power to the common man in the villages of Punjab. Television in almost every home has brought about a revolution in the cultural inputs and traditions. The entire complex of the performing arts, 7theatre, folk performances and religious renditions are gravely affected resulting in a transformation. Development has reduced the artist to a mere labourer, --- the unequal fruits of development. Punjabi folk is now represented by Sukhbir and Daler Mehndi who use the folk motif within ‘modern’ parameters. These are the disco lights amidst the swaying mustard fields of Punjab.Hans Raj Hans who started with traditional Sufi Kalam has switched over to Punjabi pop beamed by the satellite through private channels. “To survive I have changed everything. I now dance with exaggerated head movements, I have changed my garb from the traditional black ‘choga’ of the sufis to the flambuoyant attire of the disco performer.”

Punjabi folk survives, but what development has done is that it has transformed the spirit entirely. . Where are our baazigars, bhands, mirasis, naqquals, nachchars, tamki walleh, nobatwalleh, dhadhis? Languishing, leaving their traditional occupations, leaving a way of life, and turning into menial daily wagers. Development has reduced the folk artist to a mere labourer, --- the unequal fruits of development.

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