Advocacy for the preservation of Indian folk music



September 24, 2022

Traditional folk songs are an integral part of Indian culture. In fact, the earliest recordings of Indian folk songs date back to 1500 BC and are mentioned in Vedic literature. Folk music and folklore were used as a means of celebration and expression of joy and became part of the social environment. Folk songs are also revered not only to entertain, but also as a means of passing vital information from one generation to the next.

While the state of Uttar Pradesh has a strong and diverse tradition of folk songs and dances, especially the village of Chithara, in Dadri there are up to 193 folk songs with accents from all communities, ranging from Aarti and Bhajan (devotional songs), Geet (songs sung on special occasions), Kissa (historical stories), Ragini (the local form of poetry and spoken words) and more.

This was discovered by a group of researchers from Shiv Nadar University during their research for a biodiversity documentation program on campus. Some villagers recalled the names of plants or their uses through songs they had learned.

The flip side, as the team discovered, was that the younger generation using gadgets, technology and instant entertainment had almost forgotten about these tunes. The team, led by Dr. Jyoti Kumar Sharma of Shiv Nadar University, helped villagers document folklore and songs for present and future generations so that this culture is not lost forever.

The process was not easy, however, as there was some resistance to sharing song lyrics. When the village chief (Gram Pradhan) connected the University team with the villager who knew these songs, he was initially unwilling to share them, but with continued conversation, he later shared a notebook with some rough notes of the songs.

Using this as a basis, the University team began work on preserving these songs in both audiovisual and book form. The book titled Folk Songs of Chithara Village in Upper Doab Region of Uttar Pradesh, India was also launched both in physical form and with digital access. The book also contains audio of the folk songs on a USB stick and the team has now documented around 300 songs.

The living heritage of songs, although intangible, is an important aspect of a country’s cultural domain and this project has provided an impetus to have a positive impact on its preservation. More importantly, it is also a model for similar projects that can help preserve other aspects of India’s cultural diversity.

Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta


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