“A performance led by faith.”
Just like when you talk about Braj, one immediately associate it with the divine love of Radha-Krishna, the land of Braj is also known for its belief in cows. Here, cows are equally respected and worshipped. After documenting artists from the core of Mathura and Agra, understating and listening to forms like Rasiya, Djikri Bhajan, phaag, and hori, we arrived at a remote village through an off-road driving experience in the district of Hathras. To our utmost surprise, the location where we had to document Prem Kumar Sharma was a Cowshed (Goushala). Initially, we thought it would be difficult to record there as we had no clue how to avoid the sound of the cows during their performance. But we were astonished by the cooperation we got from the villagers and their cows.
Prem Ji is a very down-to-earth person, and his humility was shining through his presence and conversations. We first met during the research trip, and since then, his groundedness has won our hearts. Prem Ji has inherited musical skills and knowledge from his father Shri Asarfi Lal Sharma, who inspired him to take up music as a profession. For formal training, he reached out to Lala Chandomal Ji, to be his Guru.
During the documentation, they performed some unique and rare folk forms of Braj like Bahar, Hathrasi Tadda Rasiya, and Kalanga. It was only after meeting him that we got enlightened about the fact that Braj ki rasiya is different from Hathrasi rasiya. Though it is assumed that rasiya has its origin in Braj, but with time there have been some variations with respect to different regions. How Hathrasi rasiya evolved is still not very well known. It is believed to be a subgenre of Rasiya. Some believe that it emerged during the 20th century. It is an akhara (club) based style, where the performers are involved in Musical poetic duels known as the jawabi kirtan. The first song that they performed was a “Bahar” song that began with a lyrical verse :
“Mere baal sakha dukh paaye hain bhaare,
(Oh my childhood friend you have had your share of problems)
Baal sakha dukh paaye bhaare itt cho naay padhaare”
(Dear friend, why didn’t you come to me earlier when you had so many problems)
As Prem Ji started singing, we could feel the grief and a deep sense of melancholy instantly, such as the impact of his performance that it just wrenched the hearts of everyone who were present there, and many were in tears after that. It took us some time to get over it before heading to his next performance. Prem Sharma and his group have been performing together for a while now. Though none of the members in the group, including Prem Ji, have proper formal musical training but the love for music that they possess in their hearts has bound them together for years now. The group is a good fit of young and old, from Prem Kumar Sharma, 63, who is the eldest, to Navneet Kumar Bharadwaj, 28, which beautifully reflects Prem ji’s intent to carry forward the tradition of passing on their musical talents down to the future generations.
As a group leader, Prem Ji is also responsible for sticking the group together and keeping them motivated towards music as half of the members are into other professions to sustain their livelihood. The group comprises seven members in total. They have Pawan Kumar Rajput, 35, a harmonium expert, equally holds command over Kanjari, a dedicated and devoted musician who never let his vision issue come as a hindrance in his life and musical growth. Navneet Kumar Bhardwaj, 28, plays Dholak, is a self-taught musician. He credits everything to divine grace. He wishes to devote more time to music and aspires to be a well-known musician in the country. Harpal Singh, 52, sings with Prem Sharma giving him company as chorus, whereas Bipin Kumar Sharma, 37, and Om Prakash Nayak, 62, both play important roles in the chorus singing of the group. Salim Baba, 60, a true gentleman, plays an instrument called “Tasha”.
“Music is life, and it does not just calm your ears and minds, but also your soul. It’s so powerful that it relieves you at the time of despair.” After their performance for the documentation, we had a very personal conversation with him over a cup of tea and pakoras made with an extra touch of love and compassion by Prem Ji’s wife. As we moved on with the conversation, Prem Ji got a little emotional when we asked him about the melancholic voice of his, and with teary eyes, he shared some of his tragedies that ended his musical life as he stopped singing for many years.