Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Memory Music: Songs from Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal

Bathers at Sangam, Allahabad

I was born in the south but for me home is Uttar Pradesh. 

U.P as we called it was this massive state that laid across the lap of north India like a cow on a busy road. I identified U.P with history, holy places like Varanasi, pretty uninspiring landscapes and the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. It was poor, the people quaint and folksy. It didn't have the glamour of a Rajasthan or the money of Gujarat or the lushness of Bengal.  It just was. Pretty ordinary really.  

But because it had so many people (we used to quote the figure that if U.P had been its own country it would have the 11th largest population in the world) and so many politicians (Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Shastri, just to name three of the early Prime Ministers of India) I think we U.P walas puffed out our chests a bit more than we had the right to. U.P may have been the Cow Belt of India but don't forget, cows are holy in India!

I went to a boarding school in a hill station called Mussoorie and spent my winter holidays in the holy and historic town of Allahabad.  Travelling between those two towns and elsewhere in the state was something that never bored me. Rather I was always VERY eager to hop on a train or bus and see what U.P would offer up.

Too many tales. Too many half remembered ones. 

But one of my favourite activities during the winter holidays was exploring Allahabad on my Robin Hood cycle. Many times I wound up at the wide river flats of the Ganges (Ganga) where at any given time and day devout Hindu devotees could be found doing puja and bathing in the murky water.  Most of the activity was around a place called the Sangam, where the Ganga and Yamuna, north India's two mighty streams, come together in a swirl of brown and blue.  A third river, they say, invisible but more powerful than the others, named the Saraswati, bubbles up from underground. And to bathe at this triveni (three waters) is auspicious. When the planets are aligned just so (usually in the January or February) to bathe in the Sangam is to wipe many lives of sins from the soul. Once every 12 years the astrology and astronomy come together and upwards of 20,000,000 people visit Allahabad and the Sangam to earn extra blessings and salvation. At those times Allahabad is host to the largest congregation of humanity anywhere in the world.

Astrologers flags, Allahabad

The flat lands by the river (sometimes mud, sometimes hard cracked clay) were a mini cosmos with all manner of activity (secular, holy, criminal and silly) going on all the time.  Pandits (priests) and astrologers flew their flags like holy advertisements to attract the troubled and curious. Restaurants cooked up sizzling pakoras and samosas. 

V.P. Singh, one of India's many Allahabadi Prime Ministers

Political parties had stalls shouting the virtues of their candidates. Beggars by the score sat patiently in long rows collecting the small coins tossed their way by the millions of pilgrims.

Music was everywhere. Bhajans, folk songs, political songs and love songs. 

Tonight's collection by the wonderful little company Beats of India features some of these songs from the great expansive, hard to nail down but essential state of Uttar Pradesh. I heard all of these sounds (if not the songs themselves) many times down by the Sangam, but also on the trains, buses and bazars of the State.


Track Listing:
01 Dihe ke Manavan (Devi)
02 Baba Nimiya Ka (Var Khojai)
03 Sada Bhavani Dahini (Chhapeli)
04 Gangoli Haat Ma (Chhapeli)
05 Baajat Aave Paijaniya (Hori)
06 Hamke Jai de Naiharva (Dhobiya)
07 Janata Party (Geet)
08 More Pichvara (Geet)
09 Jhir Mir Bahela Bayar (Jantsar)
10 Ke Tohra Sang Jai (Nirgun)


Apurva Bahadur said...

Thank you Ajnabi. Up with UP - a state that thinks that it is a country. Apurva from Pune, India - who is also has origins in UP.

Fawad Zakariya said...

Ajnabi Sahib, nice write up. I have only been to UP once for a couple of days and only along its western edge: a bus ride from Delhi to Dehra Dun (which is no longer even in UP I understand). But the music of UP is close to my heart. Thanks for sharing.

El Tortuga said...

i wanna thank you once more, not only for this one. I've been wondering arround in your place, picking here and there so many nice things. from soul, war, aretha, to india, pakistan,shankar,rabi shergin,zarin daruwala(great!) africa,s.e.rogie,the angolan stuff... i quite enjoy the multi coloured kinda thing you share in here.
thanx a lot man!

ajnabi said...

Zakriya sahib, what were you doing in Dehra Dun? I went to school in Mussoorie.

ajnabi said...

Apurva...totally agree...up with UP!

ajnabi said...

El Tortuga, you are kind and more than welcome.

Mandeep said...

Great Blog buddy, thanks for sharing these wonderful gems. If it is ok with you, I would like to share with others. Keep it up and thanks again. Looking forward to more releases.