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Songs of the Soil – Report of the third South Asia Folk Poetry Meet

Geetha Patil                    Video                                    Images 

Bright summer sun, shaded with trees, decorated with flowering bushes and natural beauty was the setting of the third Annual Folk Poetry Meet of the South Asian Poets of New England, that met on Sunday, August 11, 2019 in Lincoln.  Twenty- five poets from various regions of South Asia joined in the celebration.  The day is observed as the annual family picnic day for SAPNE.  Dr Bhagwan Shahany, the eminent neuroscientist and litterateur joined in as the Chief Guest. 

Music, songs, and dances have always been an important aspect in the lives of the people in the Indian subcontinent. India’s rich cultural diversity has greatly contributed to various forms of folk music and literature. Almost every region in India has its own folk music, depicting the way of life and the tradition of the area. Folk music is closely associated with farming, harvesting, grazing livestock, love, nature, family and bereavement. It is a method of public education to the busy working people.  Indian philosophy grew out of India’s folk literature.

After an hour of meet and greet with light snacks, the event began with full swing.  Dr. Bijoy Misra welcomed all poets for coming to the picnic and thanked them for the home-cooked food.  He relayed the recent news of the passing away of Ms. Maria Cusumano of Andover, MA, who was an enthusiastic member of SAPNE.  The congregation stood in silence for a minute honoring the departed. 


In a soulful speech, Dr. Bhagwan Shahany narrated how the melody of a song captured the sentiment expressed in words.  He spoke about the tonality and the rendering of emotion through the voice.  He gave many examples of musical renderings from his personal recollection.  Harmony of neuroscience and literature came together in his talk. 


Chandu Shah, Hansa Dave and Jayant Dave presented a popular Gujarati folk song. The song narrated a simple love story, essaying the love of the king of a small town Morbi in Gujarat. The Thakor Saheb fell for a beautiful woman from the Baniya community. The song depicted how the king rode on his horse and followed the woman when she went to fetch water from the Machchu River. The king Jivoji Thakore praised the woman by admiring many things she was carrying but the woman kept refusing king’s offers by saying he would lose his kingdom!

Rekha Upadhyay presented her folk song on Holi festival that is very playful, with music and dance. The month of Fagun enters with a breeze through the woods and the jungle, passing by the river and ponds, and sliding by the bank. This brings forth a bunch of precious ‘keshudos’ flowers that drip with vivid colors. These flowers are blessed by Radha Rani and Lord Krishna to prepare for Holi colors.  Drummers create a welcoming environment with loud festive music that is to be enjoyed by friends, family, and the community. The goldsmiths are busy creating last minute jewelry for the girls of the community. All around, Holi is a unique and spectacular experience for all. Rang rang rangoli; Mother Earth becomes wet as rang ni rabdi occurs.

Chanchala Priyadarshini sang a Bhojpuri Bidai song, Nimwa Taley Dola Rakh De Musafi, sung during the wedding season. A married daughter living far away at her in-law’s house fondly remembers her mother’s home at the onset of monsoon.  In one stanza she recalls her mom’s farewell hug and in the other her father’s generous gifts. She recollects some lighter moments spent with sister-in-law and brother. She relives nostalgic precious moments by singing them.

R Balachandra  recited a folk poem in Kannada titled, after I wake up in the Morning (ಬೆಳಗಾಗಿ ನಾನೆದ್ದು)  A village woman contemplates after waking up who all should she remember after waking up. Is it the Mother Earth who gives food, or the rivers Kaveri and Kapani who can wash away all her sins?

Bijoy Misra recited a stanza from "Stuti Chntamani" in Odia write by the Adivasi poet Bhima Bhoi of 19th century.  He wanted to emphasize the context conveyed through the vowels in oral recitation. The stanza conveyed the poet's prayer to let the human in him soak the pain in the world because the Creator appeared to be seemingly apathetic to the grief of man.

Amandeep Singh recited few Punjabi tappe, some folk and some written by him. Tappa is a special form of folk song containing only few lines, usually in raag Pahadi.  The style originated in the hilly areas of Punjab, and is popular.

He mentioned that Punjabi folk music is influenced by Sufi poetry. For example:

Kothe te kaana aye

Milna tan Rabb nu aye

Tera piar bahana aye!

There is a corn stalk on the roof

I want to be one with the divine

Your love is only an excuse!

Prem Nagar presented a folk song from Rajasthan: म्हारो हेलो सुणोजी रामापीर (Mharo Helo Suno Rama Peer) devoted to Ram Dev who was a son of Ajamil (king) and Meinadev (queen). Fondly remembered as Ramdev peer (पीर बाबा, elderly person) , he was symbolized beyond religion and was considered as a spiritual guide. This song entrenched in Bhakti with Bhajan and Sufi flavor, characterized villagers with simple needs of peace and solace, whoever gave was well respected.

Preetpal Singh’s satirical Punjabi poem talked about difference between living in India and living in USA. He narrated mishaps happening between the waking up habits of Indian parents in the early morning and their American born kids waking up habits in the noon time. His song laced with humor made everyone laugh.  He also made a funny interpretation of DAMARU, the percussion type folk instrument.  

Mir Fazlul Karim recited a poem composed by him where he reminisced in walking and watching the nature and dived into pleasant memories of his past. The recollections felt like a ballad to him.  The lonely poet continued moving forward to reach the pleasant past in his imagination.

Geetha Patil presented a folk song in Kannada. In “Channappa Chenna Gowda” the composer relates the human body to an earthen pot made by a potter. He tells the listeners, how to handle this pot while carrying it through different paths of life that are sometimes not smooth. Occasionally, on our journey of life, we have to bend to get in, go through the narrow roads, and come across bumps, and experience jerks and jolts. In such situations, if the pot gets hit by a tree, thorn, or rock it will break into pieces. The poem is authored by Shri Shishunala Sharif Sahib, recognized as the first Muslim poet in Kannada literature who composed of Tatvapada (philosophic songs).

Parmit Singh recited two Bhojpuri songs. The first one “गोरी के जवनियाँ” was written by his father late Shri Dhurandhar Singh during his college days. In the song, he described the beauty of a village girl. Her beauty mesmerized even the old people in the area and everyone in the district talked about her beauty. Her long hairs resembled like the wire in the musical instrument “Veena”.  The poet himself was attracted to her beauty in the similar way that sage Vishwamitra fell for Menaka in Hindu mythology. 

The second song “जोबनवा बेकार होता ”written by Parmit Singh, narrated the feeling of a newly married bride in her parent’s house during her first visit after marriage. She wrote a letter to her husband explaining her current situations. She wrote that she wanted to have her own family, to be with him and did not want to stay at her parent’s house any more. She was not well treated by her sister in law and other relatives. As soon as she realized that her future was with her husband, she expressed her desire to be with her husband.

Amit Khare presented his poem on Rani Durgawati in the form of Alha poetry which was used by story tellers in Bundelkhand region to speak about biographies of brave fighters who fought to protect the motherland from invaders. He wrote Alha for Rani Durgavati who fought against Mughals between1562 to 1564 and finally died in Jabalpur Madhya Pradesh in her last battle to fight for the freedom. 

Neena Wahi wrote her poem following Waris Shah’s Heer. Waris Shah described the beauty of Heer and her pain together in a beautiful manner. It was inspiring, but a sad love story. In her poem she wrote that today's Heer is beautiful intelligent and strong. She will not cry but fight for her rights like Durga and Kali but not embrace defeat and sorrow.

Sanjeev Tripathi recited a poem in Bhojpuri by Bhartendu Harishchandra.  In this poem, poet tried to express desires of a traditional Indian woman to come out of bonds of traditions and to go along with modern way of living, be educated, travel around the world and be at par with British women. The poet used Bhojpuri slangs to express wishes of woman.

Anjali Khare and her son Aradhye Khare finished the program with devotional songs from Hindu tradition.

Sanjeev Tripathi helped with the logistics for the event.  Chandu Shah helped with the P/A system and took the pictures.  Leo Rousseau captured the event on video.  The video would be posted in SAPNE website.  Neena Wahi and Preetpal Singh coordinated food and Bhavani Venkineni helped in the kitchen.

SAPNE, the South Asian Poets on New England is composed of about a hundred poets, was formed in 2008.  It continues the tradition of India Poetry Reading initiated at Harvard University in 1997.  More information on SAPNE is at  SAPNE operates as sister organization to India Discovery Center.

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