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Yogesh Kumar Negi

Yogesh Kumar Negi: ‘Himachali Folk Music’

Changing Socio-Cultural pattern from Monarchy to Globalisation in Himachal Pradesh: A critical Appraisal to Popular Himachali Folk Music Narrating Women’s Suffering and Existing Identity in Patriarchal Structure

This paper presents thesis for discussion on the issue concerning the journey of Himalayan life from monarchy to present age which is hardly highlighted. In the present age of globalisation, when the consciousness is growing for human rights, our social structure is passing through many ups and downs. Despite the growing concern for human rights across the country, the faith in authoritative patriarchal structure is not declining rather seeking renewed patterns. Himachal Pradesh had been a state where monarchy and patriarchal supremacy was exercised simultaneously. Hence, the vernacular folk literature including music and cultural myths as representative tool comes into forefront portraying the existed conditions. In the present day, women’s marginality and their suppression is an irrefutable matter of concern. Therefore, these changing patterns of societal structure and shifting pattern from patriarchy is investigated through the selected Pahari folk music. Social customs are integral part of human knowledge, observed through different rituals and traditions developed through the ages. Thus, these voluntary actions make distinction among diverse regions and reveal the unique social consciousness of particular time and age. ‘Rul Kul’, a Himachali folksong in which lyricist Karnail Rana has brought into knowledge the incident which gives vivid description of region under monarchy. These oral traditions have their own significance and, can necessarily reveal controlling nature of system where women are not depicted as enjoying the liberty as men. Karnail Rana narrates the incident of a Himalayan region especially the kingdom of Vijaynagar (a fictional name of region in Himachal Pradesh), met a natural disaster. Due to which the King dreamt of a goddess Rul Kul, who promised him to end the drought in his kingdom but for that, he was asked for the sacrifice of his son. Fearing to loose royal descendency, he refused to give his son for sacrificial ceremony. Goddess asked for a cat but the mythical discourse of ‘going into hell’ holds him back. He even did not donate the broom of his house, anxious to loose laxami (wealth) of the house. Last of all, the king agreed to sacrifice his daughter-in-law as a last resort for bringing water to the thirsty land. King orders his men to send for his daughter-in-law who was in her parental home. The lyrics, “Sutte wo raane ho raati, supna je poya, Rulh diya Kulha ho bayen lei wo leni, adhi adhi rati ho raane hukam je ferya, rulah diya kulha ho jatra, jayin wo reiyaan”. (The king got the dream of Rulkul deity as a consequence he does not waste a fraction of second and at the midnight only obeys the goddess’s instruction and orders to take a religious journey towards the temple of Rulkul deity) . Thus, the daughter-in-law sacrifice her life for the sake of social cause but here the situation becomes ironical when only women are seen as the sacrificial goats. Similarly, Varsha Katoch in the song ‘Dhoban’ has interpreted the legacy that king had enjoyed in monarchy. This song narrates the incident happened with a Dhoban [washerwoman] who was abducted by a king. She narrates “pahliyaan pouriyan utri ho Raje gitue di mari ae . . . dujeeyan pouriyan utri ho Raje baahan fad lei ae mein teri so” (when Dhoban was stepping down towards the water resource, king teases her by throwing a stone and then the king grabs her hand). Despite the barbarous behaviour of king, Dhoban was unable to resist the normative discourse by challenging the supreme authority and she find it difficult to protect herself. They were vulnerable to get trapped in monarchical conspiracy. Further it is ironical to see that in both the situations women’s lives are put to an end by the members of the same gender as narrated in ‘Dhoban’ and ‘Rul Kul’.

The next selected song ‘Neeru Chali Ghumadi’, a modern Pahari song composed by Thakur Das Rathi, consists of some lyrics indicating women’s image within the patriarchal structure. It interrogates women’s condition in the contemporary era when they are demanding equal rights to that of men. Her life and beauty is interpreted through a male centred discourse and her identity is constructed not by herself but through an ‘androcentric’ culture (Gilman, 1911, p. 7). Undoubtedly, women are being modernised and have an access to compete but are not free from patriarchal gaze. So is the case with Neeru, a modern woman wearing fashionable cloths and walking freely, but her identity and mind set is described as ignorant about her destination. Men are seen criticising her when she chooses to ride in a car instead of buses etc. The lyrics “Manali Bhejni, jaai puji Banjara . . . saare tobe poochhde haal kya hai tumhara” (Instead of her going to Manali she reached Banjar unknowingly) describe women as ignorant of her future. Now the question arises, whether women are really feebleminded and half-witted or only are represented partially? Certainly, her identity is misrepresented under the surveillance of phallocentric discourse. The issue is not only of Himachali society but also the society as a whole where atmosphere is created commodifying women’s body. While dealing with issue one can refer to a prominent feminist and humanist Taslima Nasreen who strongly questions the male controlling system in her book entitled No Country for Women (2010) as;

The whole world is busy about women’s body. There is no end of variations of their clothes and jewellery. There is almost a war cry . . . keep your body in perfect shape and lustre. But why? And for whom? . . . For whose satisfaction they do all this? . . . Women are a commodity in this patriarchal society . . . should appear them exactly the way that arouses the men. (Nasreen, 2010, p. 22)

The phallocentric discourses lead to persistence of hierarchies where also the lower caste women were doubly marginalised. Thus, Dalit deprivation was another issue concerning the Indian untouchables who have been exploited for centuries and even the discrimination is still continue. The term is derived from the ‘Sanskrit word ‘dal’ meaning, to crack, to open and to split’ (A.S.Sujatha, 2013, p. 22) which is also a Marathi word for the people who have been marginalised by the people from high social status. A Marathi social reformer Mahatma Jyotirao Phule practiced the term in modern use in connection with the suppressed people. As in the case of ‘Dhoban’ one finds that women were suppressed by another women for the sake of advocating caste hierarchy. But, this caste consciousness takes another turn when people belonging to lower castes start accepting their subordinate position. In Dhoban, the lyrics delineated the people belonging to upper caste who feel no trouble while luring and making physical relations with lower caste women. As they complete their appetite, they castigate the womanhood and she again becomes an untouchable. Dhoban resists the advances of the king by referring to her being an untouchable. Ironically the king forgets the caste boundaries which earlier prevented him not to deal with the people of lower status. “Chhaddi diyaan Rajeya bahin jo, ho meri jaat kamini ho mein teri sou” (Oh raja please don’t hold my arms, my caste is worse). Dhoban protests before the king by saying that not to touch her because of her belonging to lower caste. A prominent Marxist thinker, Louis Althusser conceptualised how the dominant social discourse interpellates the humans through ideological apparatuses. In his essay “Ideology Interpellates Individual as Subjects”, he asserts “Ideology has always- already interpellated, an individual is always already a subject, even before he is born, is nevertheless is plain reality” (Althusser, p. 106). Hence, the accepting subordination of themselves in prevailing caste and class dominant society is justified within Althussarian study.

While dealing with gender inequality in Himachal Pradesh it is studied that women marginalisation has remained regrettably the common grievance of our societal structure. This gender based discrimination is not only due to single factor but also widened by economic inequality and religious affiliation etc. R. K. Bakshi in his book Challenges of Women Empowerment (2012) observed the five major components of gender equality that are rights, opportunities, value, situation and outcome and then agency. ‘Rul Kul’ contains the lyrics which explicitly indicate women’s subordinate position for instance; “Sourey jo milneeyaan nuaan hor bateriyaan, mapeyaan jo dhi neiyon milnee”. It is realistically observed through the song that the in-laws can have many daughters-in-law but parents can never find another daughter. Certainly, for parents the place for daughter is important but on the other side it is narrated that her life is not considered as important as their own. Her perpetual marginalisation can be studied from the lines “Ajj mat jaandi wo meriye jetheeye dheeye, mangalbar ho bairi karda hunda”, (The parents of the daughter-in-law pleads her not to leave the parental house on Tuesday, as it is considered a bad omen) represented the situation when even parents agreed to send her towards destruction. Parents only detain her for the time being and just for their own well-being instead of protecting her life. Hence, despite his denial to goddess’s demand for his son, the cat and broom he agreed to replace a woman. Because the women were being treated as subordinate to that of men as if their values, desires, and individuality were not the matter of concern. Thus, women are not simply defined by male culture but their gender identity is invented by an androcentric culture, as Simone De Beauvoir’s book title refers as “second sex” (Beauvoir, 1949).

Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, known for her cultural and critical theories, has always challenged the legacy of supreme social and political authority in the way readers engage with literature and culture. Her views often focus on the people who are typically marginalized by dominant western culture, including immigrant, working class, women and other subaltern population. The oppressor hear the voice of subaltern only when they speak the language of an oppressor and this is how the voice of subaltern is unheard. In the same way, the queen depicted in the song ‘Dhoban’, is as an unconscious supporter of male dominant authority. Karnail Singh Rana has composed “Likheya parwana wo soure nuaan jo bhejeya, rulha diya kulha jaatre jayee wo reiyeaan. Dheeye diye loyee wo goreyaa kagaj padhyaa nain te chham chham roi wo peiyaan” (The kings writes a letter to her daughter-in-law and explains about his promise he had made to deity for the sacrifice of her life. The moment daughter-in-law reads the letter in the light of a lamp she starts crying.). Thus, the lyrics in Rul Kul comprised the voiceless condition of women when a daughter-in-law is asked to sacrifice her life. Instead of protesting and opposing the order of king, she gets entrapped in the controlling social structure where it was obligatory for subaltern people to adopt the language, behaviour, culture, thought, and reasoning of dominant power. Queen in the folksong ‘Dhoban’ is also a product of such a ruling environment and she acts and behaves against her female counterpart, she neither speaks nor stands against victimisation of Dhoban rather holds the dominant position and poisons her.

Similarly, the commodification of women is represented in ‘Neeru Chali Ghumadi’, demonstrating women’s condition of Himachal Pradesh in twenty first century. She is certainly portrayed as an educated and fashionable one but ironically she is not given her voice to express herself. Her individuality is appreciated on account of boys’ presence around her and their teasing and chasing. It becomes more ridiculous when Neeru is mocked rather than questioning the male activity. The lyrics “Aage Neeru chaladi maye chaladi peechhe college saara, Chhoru kere ghayal maye Ghayal khabar chhapi akhbaara” (When Neeru walks on the road, a number of college boys are mesmerised and follow her) presents the prevailing behavioural insensitivity and vain surveillance of women. Undoubtedly, the various educational programs for women empowerment are started since the country gained independence. However, equal status, opportunities, and values for women are not achieved. After critically analysing the above mentioned lines of Himachali songs, it is analysed that women are even commodified under the guise of modernisation. Unlike ‘Rul Kul’ and ‘Dhoban’, Thakur Das Rathi has shown some essential changes in his songs highlighting the modern economic and social change. Earlier, the women were not allowed to go out of their houses. They were subjected to only household activities. But, now the notion has somewhat changed as women are able to fashion themselves according to prevailing culture and can move to different places as Rathi narrates, “Neeru chali ghumadi maye ghumadi chali kullu bajara . . . hathe lendi parsa maye parsa note rakhedi karara”, (Neeru is walking in the market of kullu carrying the new currency notes) narrates some improved situation of Neeru. Keeping some money with her, she can move wherever she wants to. These fundamental changes are brought into society with passage of time.

While comparatively analysing the selected lyrics of Pahari songs which narrates the condition of women in pre modern and present age of society. It is studied that the modernisation of this globalised era is partially introduced between all sections of society. Women are always expected to modify herself according to men’s preferences but simultaneously men’s consciousness is not expected to get modernised or changed. When the world is being interconnected, Himalayan region is also influenced by globalization and facing vast changes in society. To some extent, women have become economically independent as observed in Rathi’s narration which is evident to some essential changes in women’s condition. Thus, with the help of these vernacular songs, it is comparatively studied that regional cultural practices are typical production of prevailing ideology of society. Whichever the human ideology is dominant in particular period, it somehow creates its own cultural pattern. Hence, every culture reveals its significant history and prevalent social beliefs and practices through different genres where oral literature is also capable of reflecting individual and collective consciousness of Himalayan societal structure. While concluding the study it is scrutinised that the women of pre-independent India were undoubtedly living under multiple hierarchies. However, a little improvement has been ensured in women’s condition in Himachal Pradesh but, regrettably it is also studied that woman of present era and her identity is still being defined and represented under the surveillance of patriarchal discourse or patriarchal ideology.


  • Althussar, L. (2006). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation). In A. Sharma, & A. Gupta, The Anthropology of State: A Reader (p. 92). USA: Blackwell Publishing.
  • A S Sujatha, D M. (2013). Caste Violence and Dalit Deprivation. New Delhi: ALP Books.
  • Bakshi, R K. (2012). Challenges of Women Empowerment. New Delhi: Altar Publishing House.
  • Beauvoir, S D. (1949). The Second Sex. London: Vintage Books London.
  • Gilman, C P. (1911). The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture. USA: Charlton Co.
  • Khubchandani, M L. (1992). Tribal Identity: A Language and Communication Perspective. New Delhi: Indian Institute of Advanced Study Shimla.
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  • Nasreen, T. (2010). No Country for Women. New Delhi: Vitasta Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
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