Uma Shankar and his group come from Mahoba District in UP, historically an important place and the capital of the Chandela kings who ruled Bundelkhand in the medieval period. Here, they perform Aalha, a narration-based folk music that tells the story of Bundeli warriors Alha and Udhal, who fought on behalf of king Parmal against the invading armies of Prithviraj Chauhan.
The tales are filled with mythologized anecdotes to pay homage to the bravery and courage displayed by the warriors and an ode to all the other warriors who lived and fought for Bundelkhand. The songs celebrate the sacrifice of the martyrs for the building of the nation. The genre is also an ode to Bundelkhand, praising its many places of historical importance – from Jhansi to Chitrakoot to Fatehpur – and the important people who lived there. Written in the chaste Bundeli language, Alha is the definitive folk music of the region.
Uma Shankar’s troupe has been performing for about 25 years now and has made appearances in Doordarshan and Akashvani as well. The Aalha they perform tells not only the story of the warriors but also includes verses praising Bundelkhand and giving the audience a sense of life in the region and its history. Uma Shankar enjoys improvising his lines and sings them in his distinctive deep voice that adds to the glory and pride the songs talk about.