“Notes of surrender and reverance.”
About 23 km from Mathura is Govardhan, a place with many legends associated with it. The most known legend, where Krishna is lifting the Govardhan hill, to protect the villagers defeating the ego of demigod, Indra, who threatened to bring in a flood if he is not worshipped. It is a very sacred pilgrimage site. Many people come here to do the Parikrama, as a mark of remembrance to Lord Krishna.
To set the location, we reached Kusum Sarovar in Govardhan. Surrounded by lush green forests, dotted with vibrant flowers, Kusum Sarovar is a serene spot. According to popular belief, Lord Krishna and his Gopis met at this pond. It’s said that Goddess Radha would come here under the pretext of collecting flowers for her friends but would secretly meet with Lord Krishna and have playful conversations.
It has been quite a journey, as we were moving ahead with this documentation. It felt more grounded as we were swaying to the breeze that carries the melodies of Radha-Krishna in Braj. The artist whom we are meeting here was multi-talented and generous, Jwala Prasad, a humble soul to the core. He is originally from Doora in Agra, but he chose to be at Govardhan for the documentation.
Jwala Prasad is a very veteran artist of this region. Apart from being an amazingly talented singer, he is an equally good flute player and a percussionist. He is also responsible for nurturing many renowned musicians from this region. Jwala Ji is very respected and admired for his sincerity and commitment towards folk music, and we could feel it during his performance. Jwala Ji is a highly acclaimed AIR artist, who believes that music is closely associated with our culture. He says, “Music is keeping us rooted to our traditions and cultures, and folk music is the pulse of it.” Jwala Prasad draws all his inspiration from his mother, Chandu Devi, also an AIR artist. She not just motivated Jwala Prasad but was also instrumental in getting Satoshi Devi, Jwala Prasad’s wife, and daughters to take up music seriously, who eventually became the core members of Jwala Prasad’s musical group.
His group included his wife Santosi Devi, 50, an A grade artist from AIR, Agra, she gives all the credits to her husband, who also happens to be her guru, for all her achievements. Her voice added so much pathos and vulnerability to their performance that one could feel the melancholy in the air. She supports Jwala Ji perfectly in the chorus. Another member of this group is Rita Saikya, who is also the daughter of Jwala Prasad Ji, her vocal harmonies in the chorus compliment her parent’s singing meticulously.
Their extensive repertoire of traditional Braj tunes is punctuated by songs, many of their compositions beautifully carrying the essence of the land. Jwala Ji’s group was unique, as they mostly performed their own composed songs. Another crucial member of the group is Suresh Chand, a very charming person in his late 50’s, who carried a sweet in the entire performance. He backs up the vocals and harmonium. He and Jwala have been friends for a long time now. They started their musical journey together and have helped one another in their musical endeavours with utmost care and compassion.
Their music is a beautiful blend of traditional folk and classical music, melancholic melodies and intuitive interplay merge to unique effect, creating a soundscape that absorbs you into it immediately. The location decided for the performance of Jwala Prasad, was in a forest just next to Kusum Sarovar. We reached the place and were welcomed by a troop of monkeys. Initially, we were a little sceptical of doing the documentation there, as we did not know how to avoid the sound of the monkeys, and we also had to take care of our equipment. But to our surprise, the moment Jwala Prasad and his group started singing, the troop of monkeys went into a trance. That was indeed a special moment, of how music can connect with nature and its creatures.
Jwala Prasad and his group performed a wide range of songs, they started with a Devi bhajan, praising the strength of the goddess and asking for her blessings, followed by their own composition. The third song was a hindola geet, a song that was sung for Krishna, while gopis rocked him on decorated swings. The last song was again a self-composed melody, where they shared the story of Lord Ram’s marriage with Sita. Their music showcases their instrumental music, in a very dynamic way. They had to be careful while writing their songs that it does not dilute the aesthetics of the folk music, Braj.