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Cheema Ram and Group

JOURNEY OF MUSIC FROM FAR DISTANT LANDS…

 

As an artist, your biggest tool is your effort. Your dedication to your music and talent. Having cultivated a liking for devotional folk music since childhood, this young, yet extremely talented singer has so much depth and breadth to his music that one could go on forever about it.

Cheema Ram comes from a village near the Pakistan border. Though their village has a school, the paucity of resources for him and his companions was evident since childhood. He says he was brought up in a peaceful environment but the constant possibility of skirmishes in the nearby border area added little to the equilibrium of their daily lives. Nevertheless, nothing could deter his desire to learn music. The inspiration which he drew from other singers around him as well as listening to their cassettes in leisure time eventually enabled him to improve his skills as a musician. He went on to win many competitions in his village and outside. He beams with pride when he tells us about Bijirad Music competition where his team was declared best amongst 12 other teams. Today like any other talented artist,  he dreams of becoming a famous devotional folk musician.

Megh (Meghwal) of Rajasthan are known for their expertise in bhajan recitation. By tradition, they are invited by other Hindu families to commence celebrations and auspicious events. They supplement their earnings by taking up secondary occupations like farming, weaving, working at construction sites etc. Cheema Ram’s music largely consists of bhajans about deities like Jagdamba, Shakti Ma, then there are those inspired by Meerabai and Kabir. ‘Gadi satgur ke naam ki’ is his favourite song and he loves singing it at events and ‘Satsangs’. He explains that the recitation sheds light on the Guru-Shishya Parampara that has been the very essence of our country since ages.

pal pal teri umar jaasi

(Every second, you are ageing)

bharti palak tero jug jaasi 

(With every blink of the eye, the years will go)

raama gharhi palak….

ek vaar manva satsang karle

(Oh human, for once, take the name of God with others)

janam chaurasi jooni kat jassi

(Your several lives will be spent in eternal happiness)

chaal sakhi sat sangat chaal

(Come friend, let us go to the ‘Satsang’)

As he takes his seat amongst his four fellow group members, he looks calm, composed and focused. He dons the veena, an instrument that has been given immense importance in Indian history and literature, like a professional.

Although group members are forced to take up jobs at construction sites to make ends meet, they make sure to practice and improve their skills daily. Commitment and consistency are the keys to acquiring an exceptional skill and Cheema Ram seems to be leading by example in this case.

 gaoaa jaaya belaya kamavedin raat 

(The shepherd works day and night, takes the cows and their calves for grazing)

buddha karke bhejiya dayalu bhagvan

(And he ages gracefully, leading a simple and meaningful life, oh merciful God!)

saavra teri maaya ka

(Dear Lord, there is no measure)

payo nahi paar

(of your miracles!)

‘To find a way to happiness, you have to find a teacher that will take you there’ is an old adage. In Cheema Ram’s case, he did not have to go far and wide in search of a mentor. His father, acknowledging his acumen in music, supported him and his dreams. His wish is to see his son doing well in the field of music. And those who have seen him perform know fully well that Cheema Ram is capable enough to make this dream a reality.

Today, his group gets shows locally from relatives in and around his small village. Apart from that, they have performed previously in Mumbai during Navaratras and also in Jodhpur. Having never been recorded before, they say that the initiative taken by Anahad has boosted their morale. And for a talented group like them, it will not be wrong to say that the road ahead seems full of possibilities.

When asked about other groups and the competition they face, he immediately replies that there can never be any animosity among the various groups for they are all the torchbearers of a tradition. He likes to sit with artists from different groups as they perform. Helping and motivating each other is a way of life. ‘Though devotional music is an acquired taste, I’d like to do what I can to help it reach more people’. Indeed Cheema Ram’s style is the perfect amalgamation of devotedness and folksy.

Shridhar and Group

RECITING POWER OF FOLK MUSIC 

 

“Music is the easiest method of meditation. Whoever can let himself dissolve into music has no need to seek anything else to dissolve into.” – Osho

Shridhar is from an almost medieval village named Bhadresh, Barmer seems to share and live by similar sentiments. He is 48 years old and belongs to the Meghwal community of Rajasthan. True to what Meghwals are known for, Shridhar with his group aspires to popularize devotional folk music throughout India.

He was born into a family of singers who has been reciting devotional songs for more than three generations now. His singing style too is inspired by his grandfather and father who he says has been a source of motivation throughout his career. With no proper training institutes and almost negligible assistance, his chances of taking up music as a profession were thin. But the paucity of resources could not make him give up his passion. He started by listening to others in Satsangs. Curious as most children are, he would ask elders in his family and society to explain the meaning of the verses. “ I would write down songs with their meanings and try to take in all the values that they imparted. This was essential to connect with my art. Once I got the clarity I could then sing them in my own style.”

Devotional songs or bhajans are sung in specific ragas. A musical note or raga has its own distinct effect and is related specifically to a mood or time of the day. The sacred hymns are sung in adoration of a God. Most of the bhajans recited by Shridhar and his group members are about local deities like Ramdev and saints and seers like Ravidas, Surdas and Meerabai. However, God-realization is not the only aim of singing bhajans. It offers other advantages too. Bhajans and prayers awaken positive vibrations in oneself and in the environment. Bhajans and prayers remove the feeling of animosity or envy that one might have and replaces it with contentment. Through prayer, the devotee begins contemplating. When one sings bhajans and reiterates divine qualities, these qualities take root in the heart, creating an awakening in real life.

harak-harak gun gaya

Let us sing with joy and enthusiasm, the tales of the miracles of God

re vaalena baadava

Wise Guru, you are most welcome, to enlighten us

harak-harak jass gaavaa

And sing with joy and enthusiasm, the tales of the miracles of God

re vaalena baadava

Wise Guru, you are most welcome, to enlighten us

As he takes his seat among his fellow group members, he looks rejuvenated. He starts to sing and the scorching heat of the desert can no longer disturb his equilibrium, it is almost like a saint meditating. Bagga Ram seated beside him, though much older, shows no signs of fatigue himself. Instead, he says that music especially devotional music is a great energizer. With his manjira in his hands, he is a perfect figure of dedication and submission to God. For him, it is a way of expressing gratitude for everything that God has blessed them with.

Shridhar, however, is uncertain about the future. As he tries to introduce his kids to folk music, he has to face a dilemma. His children, despite having the talent and interest to be folk musicians after him, are dissuaded by the lack of opportunities in the music industry where young people today prefer Western beats over the rhythms and tune of ancient couplets and verses. Shridhar with his group has himself been called for a recording for the first time. “Unlike those folk musicians who have thrived under royal patronage, we have to hustle more. But as long as there is hope for the survival of our art form, we will continue singing.”

aaj humare guru aangan aaya

Our Guru has come to our home today

aaj humare guru aangan aaya

Our Guru has come to our home today

ayasohe mann bhaya

The arrival of the Guru fills my heart with happiness

re vaalena baddava aaya

My Guru, my lord, I welcome you wholeheartedly

Shridhar and his group get to perform in about 10-15 events in their village in a month. Their charges per event vary according to the financial condition of their patrons and hosts and there are times when they readily perform for free. When asked why he says that God is the only giver, they have faith in him and their music that they will fare well in the long run and get recognition.

He wants to build a culture where people are able to identify themselves with their traditions. One should not be forced to take up a profession in folk music. They should show interest on their own and should be eager to understand and adopt the values that make them who they are. It is important for everyone to know their roots because If you do not know where you are coming from you will never appreciate where you are going.

Mota Ram and Group

Colourful Shades of Music

 

It is yet another blistering hot day in the town of Barmer, not far from the border with Pakistan. Mota Ram and his group members can be seen adjusting and tuning their instruments as they get ready to enthral their listeners with their music that has a unique flair of Rajasthan. Almost all of India’s cultural inheritance, since the Vedic era, believes that folk music transforms not only the artists but also its audience.

Folk music has been close to nature; more so because the Indian subcontinent always enjoyed abundant riches showered by Mother Nature and held her in awe. As a result, Prayers were composed. Over time they became an integral part of all rituals.

Mota Ram was born in a small village of Barmer named Bishala. Like most folk musicians of Rajasthan, he had an early start in the field of folk music. However, his journey was not an easy one. As a child he faced difficulties in adapting to various instruments. He recalls how even synchronizing a simple instrument like manjira with the rhythm would get awkward for him. Interest in music and his curiosity kept him steadfast, and with practice he got better to the point where he now has mastery over playing multiple instruments. Elders in his family triggered his interest in music. Encouraged by them he would go and attend small events in his community and at times also participate. It has been over sixteen years since he developed his interest in music into a livelihood.

Belonging to the Meghwal community, he sings devotional folk songs or bhajans. To him, singing bhajans is a way to tread the path to righteousness. They impart joy and provide respite to the mind. But he firmly believes that to gain the most out of bhajans or devotional songs one must cultivate the right attitude. One must know and accept in his mind that all our power comes from God. Prayers born of positive thoughts create positive vibrations. The kind of vibrations that prayer radiates depends on the kind of thoughts of the person praying. In all, it can be argued that it is a practical way of maintaining harmony in society.

A common theme in his songs is that of Guru-Shishya Parampara. In India Guru-Shishya Parampara or the relationship between teacher and his student is more than just a mere way of transmitting knowledge. A life itself is shared, a whole range of values and perception and an unswerving vision is transmitted. The essence of this relationship is love. Moreover, hard work and dedication are important parameters in this relationship.

Mota Ram also talks about the relationship that the Meghwal community of singers shares with their patrons. Meghwals also known as Rikhiya are the most beloved devotees of Lord Ramdev. According to the legend, it is believed that because they are dear to Lord Ramdev, he has blessed them with perpetual prosperity and abundance. This is the reason why people invite them to their events to commence all important occasions. If the disciple is happy, God will be elated.

He readily admits that despite the abundance of talented singers and an elite patronage, the situation of Rajasthani folk music is direr. They believe authentic music can survive if a large-enough audience is made aware of it. “The music is good. There are enough people to sustain it, but we need to make those people aware of it.”

Taazaram and Group

THE VALOUR OF PABU JI RATHOD

 

A tale of the bravery of the famous legend Pabuji Rathod, presented by the old and the young, in the form of music and dance is an altogether different caravan. Taaza Ram belongs to the Bheel community which is widely comprised of bow men of Rajasthan or the tribals of Mewar. He plays a unique indigenous instrument Raavan-hatta, which he designs and carves on his own with coconut shells and horse hair. This instrument and ‘Pabuji ki Phad’ are the USPs of the Bheel community.

padhaaro jagdamba maata

Goddess Jagdamba, we request you to come

Jogmaya aale

Godess Jogmaaya, come and bless us!

pukaare apko bhopaa

The Bhopa summons you

Jogmaya aale

Godess Jogmaaya, come and bless us!

With a myriad of folk deities being worshipped as a ritual of narrating Pabuji ki Phad, every composition calls to praise and invoke different Gods and Goddesses. The most striking feature of the cult of Pabuji is its principal ritual. Singer-priests (bhopos) of Pābūjī perform a liturgical epic telling of the life, death, and avenging of their hero-god; these performances take place at night, typically in front of a paṛ, a long narrative cloth-painting simultaneously depicting the events of the story and serving as a portable temple to the deity.

The team discovered Lalla Ram Ji just out of sheer coincidence while heading to Bishala. He is an old and impoverished folk musician and belongs to a very poor household in the village. Lalla Ram lives with his wife and children grandchildren has learnt this unique art form from his father and uncle.

He has been performing this ritual for the past thirty-four years. Rajput people invite them for performing on auspicious occasions and even as a means of entertainment. Lalla Ram and his group also give performances on jaagrans. Taaza Ram Ji also works as a farmer and is sometimes compelled to do labour work as well at the time offseason. The season time is a couple of months of July, August. As a child, he was greatly fascinated by the bravery and valour of Pabuji Rathod. It is a renowned legend that Pabuji’s head was cut off when he had gone to rescue the cows from the invaders, but even then he had not stopped fighting. So he decided to carry forward his family heritage of recital of ‘Pabuji ki Phad’. He was also enchanted by the musical melodies produced by Raavan-hatta. So he came to know about a famous Raava-hatta player named Ruparam from Bhadka village. He then learnt to present this religious art form from his Guruji. He also made sure that his children learn to perform this art form.

Pabuji Ki Phad is a religious scroll painting of folk deities, which is used for a musical rendition of the only surviving ancient traditional folk art form, Phad painting in the world of the epic of Pabuji, the Rathod Rajput chief. Bhopas of Pabusar are the bards and also priests who are the traditional narrators of this art form. In villages of Rajasthan, Pabuji was considered an ascetic and hence his blessings were sought for veterinary services provided by his disciples, the Bhopas. This art form is popular in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Pabuji is also known as “the Ascetic Deity of Sand Desert”.

The three basic features associated with this art form are: the epic story of Pabuji, the Rathod chief of Rajasthan in the 14th century, who is extolled as an incarnation of Hindu God, and worshipped by the Rabari tribals of Rajasthan; the Phad or Par, which is a long scroll painting (or sewn) made on cloth, with the martial heroics of Pabuji richly displayed for worship; and the bard priests, known as the Bhopas (who belong to the cult of Pabhuji) of the nomadic tribe of Nayakas and specialists in narrating the story of the Pabuji in their sartorial best through the medium of the Phads used as a portable temple, all over the desert lands of the Thar in Rajasthan.

In villages of Rajasthan, Pabuji was considered an ascetic and hence his blessings were sought for veterinary services provided by his disciples, the Bhopas.

The chanted narration is in colloquial Rajasthani dialect. Bhopa is the main singer (narrator) who does it with an accompaniment of a musical instrument, called the ravanhattha (a desert zither or a spike fiddle with eighteen strings but without frets), which he crafts by himself.

Punmaram and Group

INSTRUMENTAL EUPHORIA: SOLITUDE OF THE RHYTHMS OF PAAVA

 

In our quest to explore the folk melodies of Rajasthan, we were overwhelmed to discover the hidden gems from a variety of communities, with each group exhibiting a unique flair in the realm of folk music. This venture took us a grinding twenty miles away from Barmer, to a remote village called Bishala. Fortunately, Lord Indra was kind enough that day, and we were welcomed with grey clouds and a cool breeze in the midst of the desert. Parched hills surrounding us on one side, and on the other, sheep grazing dry grass which seemed like green spots on a brown canvas. What a sight it was! In the middle of this aesthetic frame sat a 85-year-old man on a string cot, his eyes sparkling with fulfilment as he looked at his beloved instrument paava.

It was remarkable to see Punma Ram play paava with such ease since usually, a man his age surrenders to the inevitable loss of youth, but Punma Ram, looking so peaceful, made us all bounce along with his transitions in breaths seeming no less than that of a roller coaster. Listening to the tunes of his paava, one is catapulted back in time and can envision Punma Ram as a kid, wandering around with the shepherds and their flock, swinging to the euphonious chimes of paava and rejoicing about the simple gifts of life.

Paava, also referred to as Alghoza, is a pair of wind instruments made of wood. It is widely played by the Punjabi, Sindhi, Kutchi, Rajasthani and Baloch folk musicians. It consists of two inter-joined beak flutes: one for melody, and the second one for drone. A continuous flow of air is required as the player blows into the two flutes simultaneously. The quick grasping of breath on each beat creates a buoyant, swinging rhythm. This wooden instrument initially consisted of two flute pipes of the same length but over time, one of them was shortened for sound purposes. The instrument can be scaled to any tune using beeswax.

Punma Ram was born and brought up in Bishala and was barely 10 years old when he learnt to play paava from the shepherds. When he was a child, the shepherds in his village used to play this instrument while taking the sheep for grazing outside. Punma Ram was deeply influenced by this wind instrument and developed a great deal of interest in it. Gradually, he started mastering the art of playing hit, and now it has been embedded into his subconscious mind. He humbly stated that everytime he holds paava, he is unaware of the music that follows. While some tunes are from the bygone years of his adolescence, some spontaneously come to his mind at the moment.

He carves the wood for making his paava himself, using Sheesham or sometimes Rohida tree. The finishing touch is usually given by a professional who sits in the main village. Punma Ram feels that carving one’s own instrument is not an easy thing, it usually takes forty to fifty days to make an unfinished pair of paava. Often, tourists have asked Punma Ram to teach them to play but only a handful of them have patiently stuck to learning it, because of the difficulty encountered in doing so. Punma Ram and Padma Ram have never performed outside Bishala, they only perform in the neighbourhood for marriage occasions or other festivities. The pure and authentic art of paava playing still survives untouched, but the world is unaware of its soothing rhythms.

Punma Ram along with his nephew Padma Ram are the only two paava players left in the region of and around Barmer. This is alarming because none of their descendants has learnt this dying art. Their children have taken up jobs in small sectors and find comfort in their own lives. They have no interest in learning this art, primarily because it is cumbersome to learn, and requires selfless devotion to pursue it.

Punma Ram’s only child is his daughter, who has married off years ago and is settled in a neighbouring village. She seldom visits him. Punma Ram now lives alone in a thatched hut with almost no amenities of any sort. But his priceless art makes his entire settlement rich with soothing harmonious melodies.

 

Kishan Kumar and Group

SPIRITUALITY IN MUSIC

 

Music is regarded as one of the triumphs of human creativity. Plato once said that music “is a more potent instrument than any other form of education”. Good music has the power to affect you academically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. One is left with little doubt about this when he listens to Kishan Kumar. Kishan Kumar’s music is akin to magic.

50 years old and coming from a village named Matya Ka Tala in Barmer, Kishan Kumar belongs to the Meghwal community. He sings Bhajans with exemplary perfection. Being the eldest person in his family he is like the storehouse of all the songs and melodies that have been in their family.

Saamre ka naam re hazaar

The Lord has thousand names

kaise likhu kekuptari

By which name should I call you?

koi kahn kanha ji

Some call him Kanha Ji

koi kahe kisan ji

Some call him ‘Kishan’ Ji

koi kahe nand heera laal

Some call him ‘Nand heera laal’

kaise likhu kekuptari

Almighty, how should I call you?

Each bhajan he sings is a way for him to know God better. The themes of his bhajans range from contemplative to hopeful, triumphant to struggling, but all are meant to create a connection between him and God. He learnt music from his guru Dhori Mina. One can easily see his dedication to his art and the effort he has put into it when he recalls how he used to learn music as a child. ‘My guru gave me a book. Though I am not very educated, I would sit for hours and make myself learn those verses written in the book and practice them over and over again’ he reminisces. At the age of 12, his interest developed in music by going to the Satsangs and other events, some of which lasted all night. He listened keenly to the singers and tried memorizing their songs, imbibing their values and today at the age of 50, he even composes a few bhajans about Lord Ramdev and sings them in his own way. He wishes to inspire others to take his legacy of music forward, enabling the transfer of knowledge and tradition from one generation to another.

Kishan Kumar’s group consist of 6-7 members. Strikingly what makes them different is the fact that unlike other Meghwal groups in the region, his group is a consolidation of artists from other communities. They make use of a variety of instruments in their songs like veena, ghara, janja and thali. He plays the veena with the proficiency of a well-trained musician. Another element of their performance that makes them stand out is the Thali Nritya, a dance executed with thali (plates) held in hand, which this group performs. Such is the aura of the entire performance that it can easily pull crowds in. Together with his group Kishan Kumar has performed in villages like Chotan, Djorimana, Bijriyad and in temples in Barmer. Even if the desire to perform for a larger audience in states other than Rajasthan still seems far-fetched, nonetheless lack of opportunities do not discourage them. However, he still feels that their contribution to their land and culture needs to be valued more. He is confident that if given a chance people will understand the power and value of their music and will be able to connect to it.

chhoti chhoti gayiyan chhote chhote gwaal 

Amongst small cows and little shepherds

chhoto so mero madan gopal 

There is, my beloved little Krishna

As he begins to sing with others he does not mind the scorching weather nor complains about anything. One can see him go into a trance as he shuts his eyes and gets totally involved in what he is singing. As far as the listeners are concerned, they seem charged up.

He tells that every group has its own speciality, his only contempt, however, is for those who sing devotional songs but do not connect to the divine power spiritually. He has an understanding that many people take up this profession to meet their materialistic demands. He believes that this depreciates their talent.

We humans are equal. But even when we are built equal, our minds are different. Different minds have different strengths. For Kishan Kumar, strength lies in focusing on his music and he uses the gift he has been given to inspire people.  For him, his music is a doorway to enlightenment and he wishes that people would derive a greater sense of purpose from it.