The absorbing tales of the Nayak
Nayakva, a ballad that tells an unlikely hero’s adventures and fascinating life, is a treasure of Bhojpuri literature and music.
Ballads are a staple in folk music. They are long, elaborate stories about larger-than-life characters’ fascinating lives and misadventures. These stories are also often grandiose and talk about the themes of fate and destiny in our lives and how our primal emotions like passion, greed and jealousy drive most of our actions. Nayakva is a ballad in the Bhojpuri language that was popular across Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The same genre is also known by the name Banjarva in Varanasi. It is a rare art form that is now on the decline because the younger generation doesn’t find it all that appealing compared to film and other pop music. The stories are typically narrated across hours and tell the story of Nayak, the protagonist who finds himself in odd and adventurous situations. There is no hero nor a villain, with every character having shades of grey. The characters often get into misunderstandings, and their pride and honour are more important to them than anything else.
It is sung with harmonium and other percussion instruments, with the instrumentalists also joining the lead singer in the chorus. The genre is closely related to other ballad and narration-based folk forms like Aalha and Sorathi. The protagonists from these genres also make appearances in Nayakva, adding to its mythical elements and fantasy.
The story is usually about an unlikely protagonist who finds himself entangled in a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. One such story is about a king who lends money to a merchant. The king warns the merchant not to cheat him, but the merchant is encouraged by his wife to test the king’s trust and forge the accounts. This leads to events that challenge the characters’ honour and pride. They challenge each other to duels and hurl accusations at each other. The themes of revenge, protecting one’s honour and loyalty are the most common in these stories.
53-year-old Amarjit is one of the few Nayakva singers remaining in his region. He belongs to Hathni village, in the Mau district of Uttar Pradesh. It is on the Easternmost edge of the state, and the region’s culture is influenced mainly by the Bhojpuri language. His father was also a Nayakva singer, and he learnt to sing and perform from him. Although he only studied till 8th standard, he is well-versed in Bhojpuri and Hindi languages and performs bhajans and other folk songs in both languages. Nayakva holds a special place for him as it is not only a declining folk form currently but also because it is an excellent achievement in Bhojpuri literature and music.
The group has recorded with some local labels in Azamgarh and has performed all around Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They perform on different occasions like birth, weddings and even death and choose the appropriate stories to narrate for these occasions. Amarjit believes that the secret to being a good performer is correctly recognising the audience’s mood and tuning the music to it accordingly.
In his region, much like elsewhere in North India, the death of a family member is also celebrated, and Amarjit finds this custom to be really amusing. He tailors his songs and performances especially to such death-related ceremonies where he reminds the audience of the importance of familial ties and the importance of remembering the deceased and honouring the lives they have left behind. He is also a farmer by profession but manages to earn decently from music also because he has established himself as a renowned singer of Nayakva.
He hasn’t taught his children, though, as he thinks talent is in-born and his children haven’t yet demonstrated sufficient interest in music. He teaches a few other students in his village instead. Nayakva, much like many other folk forms of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, has few singers left and is on the verge of extinction in the coming years.