Monday, November 19, 2007

Dogri Pahari Folk Songs

In one of his shorter poems Sri Aurobindo has a memorable line – "all music is only the sound of His laughter." There is indeed a certain divine quality in music that is found in no other form of artistic expression, and this is true alike of the rich majesty of classical music as also the lyrical quality of folk music the world over. India particularly, with its wide spectrum of language and tradition, has a rich store of folk music to which every region has made its contribution. This music expresses in a simple and direct manner the joys and sorrows, the triumph and tragedy, the shadow and sunlight, of rural India, and folk songs often tell us more about the essential life and character of a people than many solemn and ponderous tomes written by scholars.

The Dogra-Pahari people of North India, who inhabit a wide belt stretching from Poonch in the west to Simla in the east, have for centuries been famous for their valour and martial endowments. They also have a unique artistic tradition, reflected in the exquisite Pahari paintings, which are the pride of collectors and museums the world over. In addition, though perhaps somewhat less well known, there is the rich reservoir of Dogra-Pahari folk songs which have great beauty and charm.

Life for the Dogra-Pahari people has never been easy. Although the land they inhabit is rich in forests, wealth and hydroelectric potential, these resources have barely begun to be exploited. The mainstay of the people, therefore, has traditionally been either agriculture or service in the armed forces. The latter necessitates the young men having to venture forth at an early age, leaving behind them their near and dear ones. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the songs speak of the anguish of separation. Romance has a tinge of sadness, and love is all Democrat, poignant for the inevitability of prolonged absence. This is well expressed in one of the songs which I (Karan Singh) have translated thus:

Hark, the chakors call to each other through the
moonlit night,
see how the separated lovers pine for each other!
In the day-time they laugh and play amongst themselves,
but such is their fate
that wicked night intervenes and separates them;
they sigh all through the long night
and call loudly to each other, but in vain.
Only the sufferer can really know
the true nature of his suffering,
no one else can fully appreciate another’s pain;
seeing the plight of the chakors
Samailpuri warns everyone
not to fall into the torment of love.

The theme of separation runs through this song also:

The clouds tempestuous gather overhead
and the cold rain-drops begin to fall,
but alas, my beloved comes not to me!
The bulbuls chatter in the flowering garden,
and from the distant hill-tops
reverberates the call of the beautiful peacocks,
high above the papiha is in ecstasy
and from the bushes the chakor,
and the cold rain-drops begin to fall,
but alas, my beloved comes not to me!

The thunder rumbles, filling the sky with sound,
and in the trees the noisy birds twitter and sing,
the simple villagers carelessly leave their homes unattended
and thieves have a field-day,
but alas, my beloved, the thief of my heart,
comes not to me!

The fabric of life is a mixture of joy and sorrow, and the Dogri folk songs reflect the innate joyousness and gaiety of the Pahari people despite the difficulties that they have to face. The following song tells of a bangle-seller who displays his wares on the village street:

The bangle-seller from Bathri comes –
with a basket full of bangles on his head;
he roams through the cobbled streets
and looks upon the beauty and grace of the bride.

Life is a patchwork of shadow and sunlight;
tread carefully and with understanding;
otherwise, like the hilly streamlet in summer
and the fallen branch of the tree,
your happiness and beauty will wither away.

Hearing the sound of a motor-car
the simple inhabitants of Chamba
began to wail and lament.

At long last the marriage feast is over,
the bride in body is delivered to her spouse
but her heart and love have been shattered;
on one fair hand she wears the auspicious wedding bangles
but on the other there is the bracelet of her beloved.

A popular folk song from Chamba describes a newly-wed bride who tastes the inexpressible joy of new love:

Gori is happy
in the snowy ranges of Chamba,
the rain falls in torrents
and her shawl is drenched.,

Gori’s snow-white teeth
are like a necklace of champak flowers,
she has gone to live in Chamba
but my heart remains sad here without her.

From the ranges of Chamba
sound the cheerful naubats,
and from Jammu
the beat of the nagara drums;
in every home are lovely girls,
adorned with auspicious, forehead marks, Gori is happy
in the snowy ranges of Chamba.

There is also a deeply religious facet of Dogra-Pahari life, and many of the songs are devotional in character. These include popular songs describing the various months of the year, such as this one which covers six months of the traditional Hindu calendar and is sung by women in the evenings when they light little earthen lamps and walk around the sacred tulsi plant:

'Rim-jhim’, 'Rim-jhim' falls the rain upon her bed, and she stands outside her houselistening entranced to the flute of Krishna.

Comes the month of Chaitra
and the garden overflows with flowers,
she gets up before the break of dawn
and picks them for her beloved.

Comes the month of Vaisakha
and the branches are loaded with flowers,
and the fragrance of the blossoms
fills the countryside.

Comes the month of Jyeshtha
and the hot sun scorches,
my heart thirsts for your love
like fishes for water.

Comes the month of Asharh
and the mountain streamlets swell to gushing torrents;
those alone who have meditated on Him
will cross safely the broad stream of life.

Comes the month of Shrawana
and the maidens dress in red
and shed their perfume in all directions.

Comes the month of Bhadra
and the nights are deep and dark,
those alone who have worshipped the sacred tulsi plant
will cross safely the broad ocean of Existence.

In common with the tradition that runs through the lower Himalayas, the Dogras are worshippers of the Goddess. This song is in praise of Jwalamukhi, the goddess of the flames, whose shrine in Kangra attracts lakhs of pilgrims every year;

O Mother Jwala, dwelling amidst the mountains,
fulfil our innermost desires.
A bright red garment adorns Your body
and on Your forehead is the yellow saffron mark,
the five-hued shawl covers Your head,
its edges shimmering, with golden embroidery,
O Mother Jwala, dwelling amidst the mountains,
fulfil our innermost desires.

From all comers of the earth, O Mother,
pilgrims come and sing Thy praises
having bowed before Thy holy self
all their cravings are satisfied,
0 Mother Jwala, dwelling amidst the mountains,
fulfil our innermost desires.

Bramha, the Creator, recites the Vedas before Thee
and Shankara meditates upon Thee amidst the mountains;
the devotee who sings Thy praises
is granted by Thee his heart's desire,
0 Mother Jwala, dwelling amidst the mountains,
fulfil our innermost desires.

The musical accompaniment to these songs is simple, consisting usually of a drum (dholaki) and often a flute. The tunes, however, are rich in beauty and variety, with all the freshness of the clear mountain air, and the charm of a sparkling hill stream. No one who has heard them can easily forget the lilting beauty of the Dogra-Pahari songs, which represent a brilliant facet of our rich folk-music heritage.