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Melody of Punjab

On the lesser known genres in Punjabi music that have catered to music lovers, with their meaningful lyrics and melodious tunes, over the years

Melody of Punjab
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Na main bheth mazhab da paaya, ne main aadam haava jaaya
Na main apna naan dharaya. Na vich baitthan, na vich bhaun
Bulleh, ki jaana main kaun
(Secrets of the religion, I have not known. From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name, I assume, not in stillness, nor in move.
Bulleh! To me I am not known)
The 2004 musical composition from Bulla ki jaana main kaun by Rabbi Shergill became an instant hit across the nation. Apart from soulful melody, the philosophical words rendered from the verses of Sufi Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah connected well with the young and old alike. With the song still being famous among non-Punjabi speakers, it highlighted the popularity of Punjabi music. Among various factors that resulted in the popularity of the song, one significant aspect was that it was not a usual Punjabi song many listeners connected to at that time.

The Punjabi music that has carved out a niche for itself in the form of loud energetic dance tunes continues to maintain its popularity and represent Punjabi music worldwide. The pop influence which started in late '90s has today given way to Punjabi rap and provided the nation with stars like Yo Yo Honey Singh and Baadshah. Besides the traditional and jovial form of Balle-Balle, Punjabi music continues to cast its spell among its listeners. Critics, however, feel that for long Punjabi music has delved on themes like materialism, masculinity, pride of identity and the famous Patiala peg in its songs. While Punjabi rap and its loud energetic beats continue to be among the top choices on dance floors and during wedding parties, other dimensions in Punjabi music have much more to offer. Though loud and energetic Punjabi music may be the order of the day, there is also soulful Sufism and also evergreen Punjabi folk on display.

Hailed as land of saints, it was in the land of five rivers where Sufism originated in the mid thirteenth century. Started on lines of religious practice, Sufism soon came out of its religious mould and became popular with all communities in Punjab. The saints who propagated Sufism worked at the grassroots, communicated with the ordinary Punjabis and provided them with an effective platform to express themselves. While saints like Bu Ali Qalandhar, Bahaddin Zakaria, Jalauddin Bukhari who were exponents of Sufi music as a form of religious practice, saints like Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid and Mian Mir made Sufism more inclusive.

In the book, 'Punjab: A history from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten', author Rajmohan Gandhi stated about Sufism, "The grassroot co–existence celebrated by Sufis was backed philosophically by the doctrine wahadat-ul-wajud (unity of being). Espoused by several, though not all Sufis, the doctrine seemed akin to the Hindu concept of Advaita (non duality)." Sufism was enhanced further as it was adopted by the new religion, Sikhism that emanated from Punjab. Even as Punjab continued to be attacked by invaders, the popularity of Sufism never reduced and the saints who propagated this form of music had their ardent followers. While the style may have changed, Punjabi Sufism has been able to survive in the

While the style may have changed, Punjabi Sufism has been able to survive in the twenty first century India and has often been repackaged as popular Bollywood music. Jyoti Nooran and Sultan Nooran better known as Nooran sisters, along with a host of other singers from Punjab, today, are carrying forward the rich legacy of Punjabi Sufism in the country.

While the style may have changed, Punjabi Sufism has been able to survive in the twenty first century India and has often been repackaged as popular Bollywood music. Jyoti Nooran and Sultan Nooran better known as Nooran sisters, along with a host of other singers from Punjab, today, are carrying forward the rich legacy of Punjabi Sufism in the country.

While Sufism was still popular, in mid 1700's folk music found its way in. In 1766, Waris Shah composed the most popular folk tale of Punjab, 'Heer Ranjha'. Though not considered to be his own creation, it definitely was one of the most popular ones.

Author and historian Raj Mohan Gandhi in his book on Punjab's history cites, "Heer was turned to, and clung to as distinct from violence itself, spread to every corner of Punjab. While Heer's long lament to which Waris had given eloquent tongue, found an echo in the heart of many Punjabis, domination and consequent exile – two of the threads that run through Heer – were part of the daily experience of many Punjabis, whether Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. They responded to a passionate, sensitive and resourceful Punjabi girl like Heer who stood up to patriarchs and bigots. In this period there were Muslim poets besides Waris who wrote

They responded to a passionate, sensitive and resourceful Punjabi girl like Heer who stood up to patriarchs and bigots. In this period there were Muslim poets besides Waris who wrote kissas or stories in the genre of Heer. Even if these other kissas did not attain equal fame, they are still widely recited."

Diversity of landscapes, pride of communities in their folk music and using the fold art for raking up relevant issues through impactful lyrics have enabled Punjabi folk music to survive even today. While richness in their music contributed a great deal towards enhancing Punjabiyat, the division of Punjab during partition is often considered to be one major factor in stalling the impact of Punjabi songs. While in West Punjab, more credence was given to Urdu than Punjabi, in East Punjab, many artists shifted to other genres.

"Punjabiyat for me is completeness. There is a need for the new generation to be aware of the rich past of Punjab. When there is awareness of the rich legacy of Punjab, Punjabiyat will develop holistically. Punjab is not only the land of valour but it is also a land of creative expression," says Kishwar Desai Chairperson of Partition museum project.

"There is richness of literature, music and thoughts of the ancestors of Punjab. Today, if we associate Punjabi music with only rap, pop and bhangra, it will be sheer injustice to the rich legacy which has been there for ages. In my view while the young may be drawing inspiration from this new dimension of Punjabi music, the old still look out to the traditional forms," adds Desai.

Though commercialisation is cited to be one of the reasons in the lack of holistic development of Punjabi music, experts also highlight that how a bigger creative platform resulted in innovation in Punjabi music. "Like other forms of Indian music, Punjab too has a rich folk music culture. The most famous folk tale from Punjab which many of us know is 'Heer Ranjha'. There are music compositions based on the theme of Heer Ranjha.

As more artistes ventured into films, Punjabi music became popular in the Hindi films. Initially, to begin with, most of the musicians incorporated traditional forms of Punjabi music in the Hindi films and this was one of the most innovative phases of Punjabi music. Various music composers starting from Husnlal Bhagatram to OP Nayyar have made immense contribution to progress of Punjabi music in the Hindi film industry" says Pankaj Rag, a music historian. "The role of Punjabi Pilu or poets towards the progress of Punjabi music is also noteworthy. Lyrics and poetry have always played an important role in Punjabi music. While Punjabi rap may have become extremely popular, songs like 'Ambarsariya' in film Fukrey and recently Phillauri have included some aspects of Punjabi folk music in modern form," added Rag.

"Music is a very important form of expression in Punjabi culture. Most of the artists want to make their mark through music. Every Punjabi singer who wants to sustain for a longer period of time goes through a rigorous schedule for being perfect in the art of music. For artists who have survived for a longer period of time, they did not only pay heed to soulful music but also impactful words," says singer Jassi Jasraj. "What you see is the popular demand of crowd but to imagine this to be the only form of Punjabi music is not right. You can see a lot of variety in the forms of Sufi, bhajans, kirtans and qawwalis. Artists like Kanwar Singh Grewal and Satinder Sartaj have made a name for themselves through Punjabi Sufi music," added Jasraj.

"I believe it's because Punjab has so many stories to tell, what the land has been through historically and emotionally, Punjabis have always been known for expressing their emotions and art is the most beautiful way to do so," said Sonam Kalra a Punjabi Sufi musician. "There are so many incredible voices from Punjab who have impacted me - poets like Baba Bulleh Shah who wrote the most incredible poetry of equality, love and acceptance, Amrita Pritam who wrote on Partition, Hansraj Hans who sings with such purity and carries the Sufi tradition forward so beautifully... the list is endless," added Kalra.

Punjabi culture may boast of stalwarts like Amrita Pritam, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, KL Saigal, Noor Jehan, Gurdaas Maan, Lal Chand Surinder Kaur and Mohammad Rafi. With new Punjabi artists in fray, the challenge will not only be to provide something new to the listeners but also maintain the richness of Punjabiyat.
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