Clouds, droughts and other elements of nature recur in Rajasthan’s folk songs

Folk songs inspired by nature has become an integral part of Rajasthan. Photo by Swastik Arora/Pexels

Folk songs inspired by nature has become an integral part of Rajasthan. Photo by Swastik Arora/Pexels

  • In the desert region of Rajasthan, elements of nature, the weather and emotions linked to environmental changes, feature in the state’s folk songs.
  • While the popularity of folk songs has reduced, they are still sung in the rural areas of the state, underlining the people’s close association with the environment.
  • Predictions of drought, rain and other weather patterns are embedded in melodious songs. The songs and other rural and tribal art forms as well display traditional knowledge about the climate.

It’s dawn on a summer day in Sanwata village in the desert state of Rajasthan. Even at this early hour, there are concerns about the rising heat. The desert too, hit by harsh sunlight all day, looks tired and exhausted. As the people sleep, a faint voice from a distance, meanders through the village. Soon, as the rays of the sun touch the village, the residents are up and preparing for their day. They want to complete their important tasks before the sun is scorching and the heat is too much to bear.

Meanwhile, a group of women in traditional attire – ghagra (long pleated skirt), choli (bodice) and odhani (scarf) – walk towards a well to fetch water. A singing voice is heard among the group as well. It belongs to Umaade Kanwar. As she draws water from the well, she sings:

Barso barso oh Inder raja babosa re desh

Thoda toh barso o mhare saasre

Haliyon hanke o beera mhara magra magra me jaaye

Bhaijyo bhaijyo o beera mhara leelodi jowar

Ghora me bhaijyo o meetho baajro

[Hey Lord Indra (lord of rain), let there be rain in my house and in the region where my father lives. Rain will lead to prosperity. There will be ploughing of agricultural land and my brother will go to plough his fields. My brother, you plant green sorghum and in sandy areas, sweet pearl millet.]

The song is sung in anticipation of rain clouds and the hope that the thirst of their land would be quenched soon. Those studying forecasts and data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), perhaps attach no meaning to these songs. But for the women and the residents of the village, singing their traditional folk songs, is what brings the rain, they believe.

When asked about the source of song that was heard at dawn, the women point to one among them, dressed in green. The woman smiles and after much coaxing, she reveals her name – Gudiya Kanwar. When asked about her tune, she narrated four lines of the song to Mongabay-India:

Bajardi ghamad ke peese

Jowan ko hardant

Makiya bairan isdi pisoon

Badal ro gharraat

[Pearl millet and barley are easy to grind. But the manual grinding machine faces trouble in grinding maize. These moving clouds make sounds like thunder.]

Clouds are significant in Rajasthan’s folk songs

Given that the residents of the desert region wait for the rain clouds with much anticipation, there is special importance given to them. There are different songs for different stages of the clouds, right from when they emerge to when they depart.

Ishaq Khan, a local folk singer from the Manganiyar community, sings a song about the onset of monsoon:

Aaj re uttarriye mein haanji dhundhko re

barse monje jaisone ro meh

[Today mist filled clouds could be seen in the sky. Jaisalmer is likely to see downpour.] 

Local literature experts and folk singers claim that in the local language, there are more than 100 synonyms for clouds. Ishaq Khan told Mongabay-India, “Those clouds which bring cold breeze are called kalyayan. Clouds like cotton are called shikhar and scattered clouds are called chitri. A small, lonely cloud is called chunkho and a black cloud with white area in between is called kagolad.”

In addition to clouds, one can find mention of the rains and other seasons as well in the folk songs. With the onset of rains, farmers living in the eastern districts of the state such as Karauli, Sawai Madhopur and Hadoti start ploughing their fields. During this season, farmers sing folk songs which are specially meant for ploughing and helping others.

A woman makes paintings of different animals on the walls of her houses in Rajasthan. Photo by Madhav Sharma/Mongabay
A woman paints animal figures the wall of her house in Rajasthan. This art form is called Mandana. Photo by Madan Meena/Mongabay.

Lahore Lal Meena is a farmer in Bamanwas village in the Sawai Madhopur district of the state. For such occasions, Meena said the common folk song, the locals recite is:

Haan re…Kaali-peele ghata uthe…ambar mein bijdi kadke re…chalan khetan mein, hadjota uth ja tadke re…”

Meena explains the meaning of these lines: “Farmers, while sitting on the platform in their village, with the visible signs of rains, are telling each other about the black and yellow colours of the sky. There is also lightning. We have to wake up early and go to the fields for ploughing. Although farms are not manually ploughed, tractors do these jobs now. But our ancestors, keeping in mind the importance of ploughing and the importance of cooperation for such tasks framed these folk songs. We try to incite the same emotions by singing these songs,” Meena told Mongabay-India.

Folk songs to encourage cooperation in farming

In Marwar, women farmers sing folk songs called Hariyalo as they plough and sow seeds. One woman starts the song and others soon jump in. The folk songs sung by the male farmers while farming, are called Bhanat.

Bhikha Khan is a folk singer from Dediriyar village in Barmer district. Khan believes that folk songs like Bhanat and Hariyalo have helped people in maintaining harmony and sticking to farming. He told Mongabay-India, “In Rajasthan we witness lesser rainfall. When it rains well, it becomes tough for a single person to plough their land. Then people sing Laah, Bhanat or Bhaiya folk songs while they help each other. This helps in sharing the burden and reduces the time spent on farms.”

Bhika Khan said that during the rainy season there are a lot of popular folk songs based on romance and separation. In Bikaner and Shekhawati regions of Rajasthan, women during the rainy season sing Pipli songs. In the Jalore region in the state people sing Jero folk songs.

Mat bao mhara paraniya jeero 

Yo jeero jeev ro bairi re

Mat bao mhara paraniya jee ro

[O husband. Do not sow cumin. This is a painstaking task, and the majority of the burden is put on the women. That is why this is my enemy.]

Jaisalmer-based environmentalist Parth Jagani told Mongabay-India, “During Chaumasa (four months starting around July) the whole rural society gets busy. In India, Chaumasa is a festival and festivities have their own tasks. The maximum burden of this falls on the women. In the folk songs of western Rajasthan, special emphasis has been given to the woes of women during this period.”

Nature is prevalent in all forms of tribal culture in Rajasthan. Hariram Meena, an expert on tribal culture, told Mongabay-India, “Among the tribals, you can see their special attention and concern towards ecology starting from the Indus Valley Civilisation till now. The Mahua tree symbolises the Bhil tribal community. The traditional symbol of Meenas is man-fish. In their folk songs also, there are mentions of flora and fauna, wildlife, weather and predictions of weather.”

The pain of separation in Rajasthani folk songs

Separation or virah – which could be due to migration to other places in search of better employment opportunities or forced by weather conditions – is a recurrent theme in some types of Rajasthani folk songs such as Kurjan, Pipili, Jhorawa, Mamul, Kaga, Lawni and Suwita.

“Kurjan e ranyo bhanwar..”, a popular folk song talks about a migratory bird, crane (kurjan), requesting it to deliver messages to a dear one. With the onset of winters, women try this to persuade their husbands to not go to other places for work.

Dhola mat jao ji

Syala ma

Kaap raha ch dharti ambar

Chalanga undala ma


Mera pa cha rahyo ch luniyo

Gaar galadkati hori

Taap taap k garam ho rahya

Gawa ma chora chori


[Due to the intense cold, the earth and sky are shivering. Due to heavy mist, a salt-like layer has developed on the farm. The floor is very cool. Children of the village are using bonfire to keep themselves warm. I also have put wood, straw, grass and others on fire. Clothes to be worn by the family members have also been used. Despite all these, my efforts seemed to have proven futile.] 

Natural disasters too have found a place in the local folk songs here. There is a proverb in Rajasthan, “Maagh maas jo pade na seet, meha nahi janiyon meet” which means that if there is no cold in the month of Magha, there are chances of drought next year. Drought is not alien to Rajasthan. A lot of poets and writers have written about the drought of 1899 in Rajasthan. In local use, this 1899 drought is referred to as “chappaniya akal”.

Oh mharo chapanhiyo kaal

Fero mat aj bholi duniya mein

Bajre ri roti gawar kee faldi

Mil jaye toh wah hi bhali

[Oh my drought. Now do not come to the land of the innocent people because even getting cluster bean pods with millet chapatis becomes tough during drought.]

Similarly, in western Rajasthan there is a proverb related to drought.

Pag pungal dhad Kotra, bahan Badmer

Aawat-jaawat Jodhpur, dhawon Jaisalmer

This means that the legs of drought permanently lie in Bikaner, head at Kotra and hands in Barmer. It also goes through Jodhpur, but Jaisalmer is the home to drought.

With the threat of drought, people hold on to the hope of rain.  They predict the rains and their intensity based on the winds. Kamal Singh Dawada, is someone who does that. He narrates a rhyme:

Rohini barse mrig tapey, kuch kuch adra jaye

Kahe ghag sune gaghini, svaan bhat nahi khaye

[If it rains in Rohini nakshatra (around third week of May), is hot in the fifth lunar mansion and normal rains during Ardra nakshatra (around last week of June to first week of July), there will be so much of production of paddy that even dogs would be bored of eating rice.]

Harbinger of good news 

Nature is deep-rooted not only in the popular folk songs of Rajasthan, but also in local proverbs. One such proverb is, Aato bhato nae ghi ghado, chuti maatiya naar, itre sugnae sanchron, toh na dekhe ghar baar which means, that while going to the farm, if a farmer listens to a golden sparrow on his right and a monkey on his left, this is believed to be good news.

Jitendra Sharma is an expert on the local artforms in Hadoti, an area in Rajasthan which comprises Kota Bundi and Bara. He tells Mongabay-India, “These folk songs inspire humans to live with nature. Not only in Hadoti alone but in the entire Rajasthan, situations like local weather and its impact and others have been well described in these folk songs. Although the use of such folk songs has declined overall, they are still popular in the rural areas of the state.”

A man in Rajasthan takes a herd of sheep to walk in nearby areas. Photo by-Madhav Mishra
A man in Rajasthan herds his sheep. Photo by Madhav Sharma/Mongabay.

In the Sambhag and Bangad regions of Bikaner, for example, there is a reference to rains that fall during winter. A popular folk proverb goes:

Teeba-techri, tomat maati, madhra madhra dhora

Leela ghoda, laal kaathi, upar gabru gora

Maawat ri je sut baithjyae, bhar bhar lyawe bora

[The sand dunes, a mixture of fertile sand and fine soil, a handsome youth sitting on a horse at a height with a blue and green flaunting attire. If winter rains fall on rabi crops (wheat, mustard and others), there would be bags full of money that people can take home.] 

By the end of Falgun (March), crops have been cut. As soon as the crops are cut people become fearful of the coming days. Talking about the fear of summer, Barmer-based poet Deepsingh Bhati writes:

Chaitar vaishakha vajae jakhan, tarvar shakhan, tarsawe

Tan taap tapawe, lu lapkawe, jaith jalawe, jarkawe

[During the Chaith and Baishakh (months in Hindi calendar) months when there are dusty storms, the branches of trees too become dry. During Jeth months due to intense heat and heat waves bodies of humans too start to dry.] 

In the Hadoti region, women make heaps of cow dung cakes, known as  bitaura and use wheat and other cereals to make the figures of peacock, cat, tiger and plants. This is a popular art form locally known as Mandana. While making the figures on the walls of her house, a famous Hadoti Mandana folk singer is recites some verses of a local song:

Sasura ji barawe taal-talaita

Saas lagawe hariya baagh

Baja re rasiya algoja

Jeth lagawe magre mogro

Are jithani sinche re fulwaar

Baja re rasiya algoja

Nandoi uthawe kala Ka gla

Dewar nachawe mor piiaye

Toh daurani ki koyal pukar

Baja re rasiya algoja

[My beloved, please play algoja (a musical instrument) as my father-in-law is filling up a pond. My mother-in-law has made a green garden in her house. My brother-in-law has planted jasmine on the ridge of the farmland and his wife has made a garden. That’s why my beloved let’s play algoja. My sister-in-law is pushing crows away from the garden and my younger brother-in-law is dancing with a peacock and his wife is calling us cuckoo. So, play algoja.] 

Madan Meena, an expert on the local culture of Hadoti, told Mongabay-India, “Weather and nature find special places in the folk songs and folk arts of the local communities here. This could be seen in their everyday lives. In Hadoti, Mandana art is very close to nature. During the making of Mandana, a lot of folk songs are also recited. These folk songs mention marriage, weather, flora and fauna and others. With the change of times, the trend has got a setback. Thus, we need to preserve the art form.”

This story was first published in Mongabay Hindi.

Banner image: Folk songs inspired by nature has become an integral part of Rajasthan. Photo by Swastik Arora/Pexels

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