Nepal | May 22, 2019

Monsoon melodies steeped in folk culture

Jessica Rai
Photo: THT

Photo: THT

For many, monsoon is their favourite season. They find it beautiful and romantic. On the other hand, the continuous downpour is a nightmare for some. On a musical vein, the rains is also an inspiration for amazing pieces of music for many that soothes hearts and souls.

Drenched in tunes
We have the tradition of ropain (rice plantation) in the country during the monsoon season. Nepal is an agricultural country and people depend on the rains for rice plantation. However, working in the fields can become boring. So, what could be a better way than humming some tunes as you toil?

Ram Krishna Duwal. Photo: THT

Ram Krishna Duwal. Photo: THT

“Only planting paddy can be boring. Life is also about laughing, playing and joking and having fun. And so, songs were included in the plantation process to add liveliness to the toil,” shares singer and academician Ram Krishna Duwal.

“Such songs not only give us energy but this folk tradition puts light to how our society and our folk life are, showcasing how the whole plantation is done.”

These songs are related to folk traditions, folk classical traditions, folk culture, folk society and the whole society. Instruments do not accompany these songs as “it is not possible when one is working in the fields and it can obstruct work”.

In Hindustani classical music, there are a lot of raagas dedicated to the monsoon season. “There are 4,840 raagas in Hindustani Classical Music and there are more than 15 raagas for the monsoon. The popular  monsoon raagas include Desh raaga, Tilak Kamod raaga, Khamaj raaga, Megh Malhar,” points out Hindustani classical musician Gurudev Kamat.

In fact, there are numerous raagas for different seasons. What makes these raagas different from each other are the lyrics which are about the rains. And “they sound melodious” comparatively.

Expressing thru’ words

Photo: THT

Photo: THT

Rain and monsoon have been a great subject for poets, painters and musicians. From albums to films, monsoon numbers have been hits. When it comes to Nepali folk tradition, people are not behind where such songs are related with rice plantation. In the Newari tradition, people sing different songs for different stages of the plantation.

We start the seeds before we plant the young paddy plants in the muddy fields. As per Duwal, there is a song for this — Pwarjha where you germinate seeds. Sharing the story, he says, “The sun is shining and mother-in-law is thinking, ‘We won’t be able to plant rice in Asaar if we don’t sow rice seeds now.’ And she tells her new daughter-in-law to sow seeds through a song…”

Pwarjha is the song between sasu (mother-in-law) and buhari (daughter-in-law) and is sung in Jestha.

After a few weeks, in Asaar the seeds have grown into young plants and are ready to be sowed. This is when ‘Cinaja’ is sung during ropain. Cinaja is “the song of Asaar” and it is sung only in the month of Asaar. Pointing out the ropain scene, Duwal says, “Everyone who is engaged in ropain sing Cinaja. The song says, ‘It is raining heavily. But people are engrossed planting despite the rain…’”

Singing about “growth of paddy plants, weeding, working under the scorching sun…”, Tukajha is sung in Shrawan. The song is between a husband and wife.

paddy-planting-ropainThese songs have been transmitted orally and are sung even today. As per Duwal, such compositions date back to 720 Nepal Sambat where poet Keshav Udas has penned a Cinaja.

Monsoon melodies are not only limited to Newari culture but it is found in other communities in west and east as well in their languages.

Meanwhile, Duwal learnt these tunes in his childhood. “Thirty-forty years ago when we were children, there was no television. We used to sing them and dance to these tunes and have fun,” he shares adding, “When we were taught Dafa (Newari art of music and dance) in our toles, we were taught such tunes in traditional clubs. Learning them and singing those tunes, that is how we learnt those tunes.”

Touching raagas
The monsoon raagas moisten the soul of many and Kamat is one of them. Of these raagas, he expresses, “Performing all the raagas that I know is not as satisfying as I want it to be as it is while performing the monsoon raagas.” As per him, they sound even more beautiful when they are performed in the right season. But when an artiste performs on stage, time or season do not count to perform these raagas which have time and season.

Gurudev Kamat

Gurudev Kamat. Photo: THT

As a performer, Kamat likes to perform Desh and Tilak Kamod raagas and performs them regularly onstage. “I like all the raagas but I have a command on these two raagas. They are also popular raagas. It is more easy and fun to perform the raagas that you know very well,” he adds.

Moreover, monsoon raagas have been a base for many Hindi songs. Aawoge Jab Tum Sajna which is in Tilak Kamod is one of them, while Soona Soona of Sonu Nigam is based on Desh raaga.

Monsoon raagas are not only related to the rainy season with words but legends have it that Megh Malhar is ascribed to bring rain when it is performed. As per Kamat, it goes back to the palace of king Akbar. Tansen was one of the singers in his palace. The king loved the singer while others were jealous and planned to get rid of him. They went to the king and asked him to let Tansen sing Deepak raaga. The king agreed and ordered Tansen to perform the raaga. At first Tansen declined as the result would be bad, but he accepted the king’s order. As he sang, the temperature increased and his body was on fire. The heat soared so high that his daughter Swaraswati, who was in their house nearby felt it. She realised that her father was singing Deepak raaga and she started to sing Megh Malhar. It brought rain and her father was saved.

A version of this article appears in print on July 19, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.

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