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The ballads of JUGNI

Why the feisty woman character of a century-old folk song still inspires Punjabi musicians.

Written by Jaskiran Kapoor | Mumbai |
April 15, 2011 8:14:08 pm

Why the feisty woman character of a century-old folk song still inspires Punjabi musicians.

In 1906,two village bards from Amritsar,Bishna and Manda,packed their bags and decided to follow the trail of the “jubilee” torch,which was being taken across Punjab and the rest of India to mark 50 years of Queen Victoria’s coronation. Wherever they travelled,they sang about the people they met,the lands they saw and the experiences they had. But the word “jubilee” sat awkwardly on their tongue,and they mispronounced it as “jugni”. The songs they sung were also about Jugni,a woman as sparkling as the firefly,who would not stay home and look after her family,but travel the world alone and unafraid. Jugni has since turned up in thousands of Punjabi folk songs,in rhymes for children and Sufi qawwalis and Hindi film hits,the most recent being Mika’s Jugni naughty nakhre vali in Tanu Weds Manu.

In Pakistan,Jugni music is still blaring from car stereos,especially after it got a pop-rock makeover in Arif Lohar’s version on Coke Studio,a TV series in Pakistan — Alif Allah chambey di booti is a song that went viral,with four million online hits,and is a rage on both sides of the border. Lohar is the son of Alam Lohar,the legendary singer who first popularised jugnis in 1965. For this song,Lohar rewrote a jugni made famous by his father by weaving it with a song by 16th century Sufi saint Hazrat Sultan Bahu. “Wherever it goes,this character (Jugni) has a point of view. My father used to say that Jugni rooh di aawaaz,khuraak hai. It’s neither male nor female,it’s a spirit,our inner voice that connects with the divine,” he says.

Lohar might claim a spiritual cast for Jugni but that is among the many interpretations that it inspires. For Chandigarh-based documentary filmmaker GS Chani,it’s the common man’s poetry. “One doesn’t need to be a gyani (a wise man) to know it,even a child can understand it,” he says. The rhymes he heard growing up were about the many feats of feisty Jugni on her travelathon. “Jugni is also a woman,and that too a traveller who comments on the world she sees. At the time of the birth of this song,this was barred for women. So it is liberating,ahead of its time,” says musicologist Dr Madan Gopal Singh,who has written and translated the recent Punjabi hit,Jugni jugan jugantar,sung by Jasbir Jassi.

In all the songs,Jugni takes her liberty seriously. She has a mind of her own,and is unafraid to pick up a fight or take on people. In the ‘Sixties,she was the fashion di matwali,who drove a Fiat and played tennis with the boys,wore Western clothes and kept her men on their toes.

In Bollywood,Laxmikant-Pyarelal were the first to compose a jugni for the 1978 film Aahutee. More recent versions include Aisa des hai mera from Veer Zaara,Superchor and Haan main jugni da sajna from Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. “The moment you hear a jugni,the pageantry of Punjab comes to life right before your eyes,” says composer Anu Malik. Music director Sneha Khanwalkar travelled to the interiors of Punjab to research jugni music for Oye Lucky!… . “For the people of Punjab,Jugni means different things…a girl,the torch of revolution,or life itself,” says Khanwalkar.

Jugni,the rebel,has also cropped up in songs of protest. Writer Karamjit Singh Aujla,who is a proponent of the theory that jugni music was born with Bishna’s and Manda’s journeys,says that as the bards travelled across the country,they saw the oppression of the British and sung about it. Their critique did not go down well,and legend has it that the British had them killed soon after.

It’s the spirit that Rabbi Shergill channels in his version which talks of violence in Kashmir: Jugni jaa wadi Kashmir/Jithe roz maran das vee/ Soni behnaa te sone veer (Jugni goes to Kashmir/Where every day scores die /Brothers and sisters both). On his travels to Kashmir,Delhi and Mumbai,he says he behaved like Jugni,“by looking at things from an outsider’s perspective.”

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