Editor’s note: In India, the monsoon nurtures and devastates; it brings life, and sometimes death; it frightens — and bewitches; it is both anticipated and dreaded; longed for and wished away. It is also inextricably linked with the culture of India. The rains have inspired poets, writers, musicians, artists to create some of their most compelling works. The folk music tradition has been particularly inspired by the monsoon — be it in the North, South, East or West, there’s bound to be a folk song (or several) that speaks of the rain and what it represents. In this series, based on conversations with folk musicians and experts, we examine #MonsoonMusic.
In part 1 — Punjab.See more from the series here.
Grey clouds amass over green fields. Raindrops begin to splatter — in ones and twos, at first — then increasing steadily in frequency until the downpour is in earnest. The earth soaks up the torrent until her thirst is quenched; then the water flows swiftly away, carried into many rivers and streams. The monsoon has come to Punjab.
The land of the bhangra and giddha celebrates ‘Teeyan’ (Teej) in the month of Sawan. For an agrarian economy, the rains are essential — for a good crop, and as a symbol of fecundity. Is it any wonder then, that the season is celebrated in Punjab — through festivals, rituals and of course, song?
The folk music tradition of Punjab includes several songs dedicated to the rains; most of these are composed and sung by women. Traditionally, married women were sent back to their parents’ homes during Sawan. The separation was thought to ignite passion amid the lovelorn couples. So the songs sung during Sawan didn’t just celebrate the beauty of the season, or the rhythm of the falling raindrops — they also expressed the longing for one’s lover, and pent-up anguish against the in-laws. Once in their parents’ home, the women would reminisce over shared memories with the friends of their childhood, while also swapping anecdotes about their married lives.
In an agrarian economy, the rains are a symbol of fecundity
They would also sing of being reunited with their siblings, only to be separated again when they returned to their marital home. “Sawan veer ikkatthiyan kare, Bhadon chandri vichhode paave (The month of Sawan is blessed because it unites us with our brothers, but the cursed Bhadon separates us again),” state the lyrics of one particular song for the monsoon, depicting the women’s mixed feelings towards this time in their lives.
The women developed their own melodies — usually simple and rhythmic, easily sung by a group — and expressed their feelings through songs. Swings would be tied to the branches of trees, and the women would gather here, to sing their songs and dance during the month of Sawan. The songs are rendered in traditional boliyan, accompanied by the giddha dance.