Science and Folk Music, Brij Mohan Gupta

Brij Mohan Gupta

Deputy Director, Staff Training Institute (Programme)All India Radio, New Delhi-110 009



The aim of science, is to describe the impersonal facts of experiences in verifiable terms as exactly as possible and as completely as possible. The scientific temper makes it possible for one to be the creator and the destroyer. By destroying the obscure, the misleading, the irrelevant and ugly; and creating in its place the clear, the relevant and the appropriate we maintain the universe of science and music and guarantee harmony. Folklore is an important mechanism to maintain the stability of culture of communities. A careful analysis of sound, of folk music, can reveal cultural patterns, social values and national identities. The folk songs in various dialects are related to environmental education, family welfare and astronomical issues. Folklore validates culture and its institutions. It is education in non-literate society. It also helps in maintaining conformity to the accepted patterns of behaviour and in nation building. Folklore reflects inter-caste grudges .There is an urgent need to define the language of folk music to preserve and recreate through computers if we are interested to pass on this information to our future generations. The folk traditions are dwindling and the genetic material is not going to pass on this information to the next generations.


What is music? Music is a painting drawn with invisible lines and colours of sound on the canvas of silence. Music is also defined as emotional and scientific correlation of sound in space and time.


Many centuries ago, Plato, the great philosopher, said “Music is the general principle of human sciences. The Gods have given it to us not only for the delight of the ear but also to establish harmony in the faculties of soul.” Socrates had a definition which was much simpler: Music is “the art that combines the playing of instruments with song and dance.”


Music is a part of our life and thought. It has to be understood and appreciated and criticized in the perspective of our life, thought and philosophy. However, music has evolved as a definite art form during the childhood of civilization in folk music. The agony, ecstasy and anxiety of life, meanderings and fascination of nature, desire and hope for fruitful future, all get its forceful expression in different art forms and folk music in particular.



It is said that all types of classical music have originated from the folk music, which itself is a part of the folklore. The word folklore was used for the first time in 1846 by a British archeologist William John Thomas. (Dictionary of Folklore: Maria Leech). The word folklore is a combination of two words FOLK and LORE. The word FOLK has Anglo-Saxon origin. It has been derived from the word FOLC. In German language the word VOLK is used. The word LORE is a related Anglo-Saxon word LAR meaning to learn.


The Mental World

Folklore includes folk living styles, folk customs, folk belief, medicine, receipes, art, crafts, tools, costumes, music, dance, ballads and songs. It also includes dramas and festivals, rituals, gestures, folk speech, folk tales, legends, myths, proverbs, riddles, poetry, foods, dresses, housing pattern, etc. In fact it is the collective heritage of the community. It is the pulse of the society.


“Folklore is an important mechanism”, says Herskovits a noted folklorist, “to maintain the stability of culture of communities.” Folklore is the mental world of non-literate or formally untrained or unschooled and scientifically unstructured people. Folklore is very important as they are part of memory recollection and reinvention in performance.


Functions of Folklore

Prof. Kwabana N’Ketia, a noted musicologist says that the current studies have demonstrated that a careful analysis of sound, of folk music, can reveal cultural patterns, social values and national identities. Folklore is the product of the community as a whole and not the creation of individuals. Everything, every faith had a function to fulfil, the folklore fulfils the following functions:

  • Folklore validates culture and its institutions.
  • Folklore is education in non-literate society.
  • Folklore helps in maintaining conformity to the accepted patterns of behaviour.
  • Folklore helps in nation building.
  • Folklore reflects inter-caste grudges.


Science and Technology What is Science? Science is nothing but knowledge–an organized, systematic formulated knowledge based on observation, experimentation and induction. Technology, on the other hand, is mechanical art of doing things.


“The aim of science,” says a noted scientist, T. A. Thomson “is to describe the impersonal facts of experiences in verifiable terms as exactly as possible and as completely as possible.”


The scientific temper makes it possible for one to be the creator as well as the destroyer. By destroying the obscure, the misleading, the irrelevant and ugly; and creating in its place the clear, the relevant and the appropriate we maintain the universe of science and music and guarantee harmony.


Rhythm and Rhyme

The effect of rhythm of a poem or music, wrote I. A. Richards, is not due to our perceiving pattern in something outside us, but to our becoming patterned ourselves. Rhythmic periodicity is a fundamental characteristic of life. All automated functions of the body are patterned by rhythmic pulsations: heart beat, respiration, peristalsis, and brain waves are merely the most obvious ones. On the other hand, we do experience a common kind of ‘waking trance’, when we keep repeating a silly phrase to the rhythm of the wheels of the railway carriage, rocking motions accompanying the prayers of ‘Vedic Mantras’ serve the same purpose.


The ‘rhyme’ is a relatively late offspring of ‘rhythm’. Both words are derived from the Greek root, rhutomos. Rhyme is nothing but glorified pun—two string of ideas tied in acoustic knot. Music is basically a sound or ‘nada’ generating particular vibrations which moves through the medium in the atmosphere and affects the human body.


‘Matanga’ (9th-10th century AD) was the earliest writer to define ‘raga’. According to him “raga is that kind of sound composition consisting of melodic movements which has the effect of colouring the hearts of men”. “There are four sources of raga: folk songs, poetry, devotional songs of mystics and compositions of classical musicians. While ‘harmony’ is the characteristic of Western Music, Indian music is pure melody. The general term for melody in India is raga or “ragini”. (Kangra Ragmala—M. S. Randhawa).


Folk songs are very important with reference to classical music. Although, most of the folk songs are not based on classical ragas, it may not be fair to say that they are devoid of ragas. In many of the folk songs Tal Kaharva, Tal Khemta and Tal Jat are being used. In Tal Jat there are 14 Matras while in Khemta only 6 Matras are used. On the other hand in Tal Kaharva 4 Matras are used. In almost all the folk songs portions of four ‘Thats’ are used. They are—Vilaval, Khamaz, Kafi and Bhairav.


Music Therapy

Music therapy is a scientific method of effective cures of diseases through the power of music. It restores, maintains and improves emotional and psychological well being.

Some studies show it can lower blood pressure, basal metabolism and respiration rates, thus lessening physiological responses to stress. Other studies suggest music may help increase production of endorphins (natural pain relievers) and S-IgA (Salivary immunoglobulin-A). S-IgA speeds healing, reduces the danger of infection and controls heart rates.


Music therapy is proving especially effective in three main areas:

  • Pain, anxiety and depression: It has been found that during the delivery of a child the pain of the mother is reduced if relaxing jazz music is played.
  • Mental, emotional and physical handicaps: Music therapy is also useful in case of mental retardation, autism, and severe-to-moderate learning abilities.
  • Neurological disorders: Music therapy is very useful for the patients suffering neurological disorders. The positive results have been noticed in the patients who cannot talk or move. In some of the cases the patients who lost their voices were able to sing and dance again.


Hindustani classical music considers ragas as depicting specific moods. Raga kafi, for example, evokes a humid, cool, soothing and deep mood while Raga Pooriya Dhanashri evokes sweet, deep, heavy, cloudy and stable state of mind. Raga Mishra Mand has a very pleasing, refreshing, light and sweet touch while Raga Bageshwari arouses a feeling of darkness, stability, depth and calmness.


Dr. Balaji Tambe has proved that Raga Bhupali and Todi give tremendous relief to patients of high blood pressure. On the other hand, Raga Malkauns and Raga Asawari help to cure low blood pressure. Similarly, Raga Chandrakauns is considered very helpful for certain heart ailments. For patients of insomnia and sleep disorders Raga Bihag and Bahar have excellent effects. It is therefore, very essential to study the effects of folk music of different parts of the country on the health of the people.

Environment and Folk Songs

The folk songs have depicted a number of plants available in their vicinity. The ritual songs, seasonal songs, romantic songs, caste songs and the action songs include different types of ‘plants’ and their description. For instance, a house wife may weep keeping a leaf of Tulasi and sing:


Tulasi ki Patiya ei hatawa men na

Ham khat bani kiriya sunahu piya na

Mor dosh kuchhu na ham sach kahi na

Piya Tulasi ka patiya ei hatawa men na.


In another folk song a lady is comparing her husband with Anar:


Hari hari sainyan anare ke phool

Dekhat nik lage a hari


In one of the Kashmiri folk song a plant himself is personifying and making request to save it.


Bali gam tashok bag vasnastaya,

Astay astaya nov bahar aao.

Cheri kur fariyad bar sahibstaya,

Suli hai aapas cheer vyom naav,

Grisyastis yam bakar nyand kalastaya,

Astaya astaya nov bahar aao.


A Garhwali folk song illustrates the seasonal variation in a very beautiful way:


Aai gain ritu baundi, dayan jaiso phero,

Uba deshi uba jata, uda desinuda.

Mauli gail anaman, bhanti phool dale,

Phooli gain banu manje gwaril–burans.

Jhapnyali dali ya ghooghooti ghoorali,

Ucchi dandi-kandiyon hilans barali.

Dauri gadanyo ya melwadi bolali.

Gyon jaun sari hari bhari hoin,

Dandoo ya ghoorali gwairoo ki.

Chhoti nauni nauna delyo phool chadala,

Gon-gon dhol bajala barat ka,

Jaunka hola bhag, u saujdya pali.


In a Maithili folk song the conservation of plants has been given the most importance:


Aha nahin katoon, nahin katoon

Neemak Ei gachh aachhi.

Kehen jhoom rahal, jhoom rahal

Neemak Ei gachh aachhi.


In Malayalam folk songs along with the paddy and rice the description of coconut and beetal nut have been given:


Nellelam katru kuniyum paruvittal

Nellinte mutil permavum kawa


Dyre T. has given a lucid account about the folklore of plants. A similar account of folklore of birds and beasts of India has been given by Fitzpatrick W (J. Bom. Nat. Hist. Society, Vol. XXVIII, 1921-22).


The Life Cycle

The scientists study the life cycles of various animals and plants through minute observations. They have noted that all the living beings including homosapiens passes through certain phases to complete their life cycles. The life cycle of a butterfly is having four distinct stages–eggs, caterpillar, pupa and adult butterfly. In case of man the social scientists have found four stages—childhood, youth, adult and old age. In our Vedas also there is description of Balyavastha, Grihast Ashram, Vanprasth and Sanyas.


If we study the folk songs of any part of the country it will be noted that they depict the entire life cycle of the people living in that area. A noted anthropologist Elvin V. has written in the Introduction of Folk songs of Maikal Hills that “if you want to know the story of my life then listen to my (Karma) songs.”


Hindu culture believes in 16 ‘sanskar’ during the entire life. However, only six are very prevalent. They are Child birth, Mundan, Yagyopavit, Marriage, Departure (Gavana) and Death.


Folk songs related to child birth are popularly known as ‘Sohar’ or ‘Mangal’. The main topics covered in these songs may be classified in four categories in Braj region—Janti ke geet, chhathi ke geet, jag mohan lugara and taga. The naming ceremony is another important occasion for singing the folk songs. In Mundan songs ladies normally pray the ‘Lord Indra’ not to give orders for the rain. In threading ceremony janeoo songs are used.


The marriage songs have large number of varieties in different parts of the country. At the bridal side around 22 categories may be noted. They include: Tilak, Sanjha, Mando, Mati, Kalsa, Haradi, Lava bhujai, Matri-puja, Dwar puja, Gurhatthi puja, Vivah, Bhanvar, Choomne ke geet, Dwar rokane ke geet, Kohabar, Parihas, Bhat, Ubtan to groom, Mando khilai, Barat ki bidai, Kankan Chhurai and Chauthari ke geet.


The word Gavana is related to Sanskrit–Gaman. In some parts of the country child marriage is prevalent. In that case although the marriage ceremony is completed as per schedule, the bride is sent to the groom’s house only when she becomes mature. In death songs, praise of the departed soul is the main theme. These folk songs are mostly pathetic as they also express the sorrow of the wife and family.


The Music of the Spheres

The founder of Greek Mathematics, Pythagoras found a basic relation between musical harmony and mathematics. Pythagoras had found that the chords which sound pleasing to the ear—the western ear– correspond to exact division of the string of whole numbers. To the Pythagoreans that discovery had a mystic force. For example, Pythagoreans believed that we should be able to calculate the orbits of the heavenly bodies by relating them to the musical intervals. They felt that all the regularities in nature are musical; the movement of heavens was for them, the music of the spheres.


Our folk songs are more romantic in nature with reference to the stars, planets and other natural phenomena. The depth of thoughts and powerful imagination may be seen in the following Nimari folk song:


Shukra ko taro re eishwar oongi rahyo’

Teki makh..a Teeki gharav.

Dhruva ki badlai re eishwar tuli rha

Teki makh..a tahbol rangav..a

Sarag ki bijalai re karaki rahe

Teki makh..a magazi lagav..a

Navlakh tara re eishwar chamaka rhya

Teki makh..a Angiya silav..a

Chand Suraj re eishwar oongi rhya

Teki makh.a tukki lagav..a

Vasuki Nag re eishwar dekhai rhyo

Teki makh..a veni guthav..a

Bari hat Balai re Gaural Gauriri.


O’ my husband! The star Venus (?) which is shining in the sky I want a Bindi may be carved out of that. And the pole-star you see in the north, is covered with rainy cloud, my ‘chunar’ (scarf?) may be dyed in that beautiful colour. And listen, the striking lightening you see, I want the border of that in my chunari. The millions of stars twinkling in the sky, please make a ‘kanchuki’ (blouse) of that and embroider the sun and moon on the front side of that ‘kanchuki’. Thus, after demanding the entire universe—planets, stars, sun, moon–she demands the Vasuki Nag (the mythological cora) for decorating her hairs as ‘Veni’. The husband simply replied that O’ fair lady you are very demanding.


Physics and Physiology The modern age scientists also pondered over issues, like can music be explained in terms of physics and physiology? Can harmony be reduced to numbers and can rules of selection of notes be traced to certain innate and analyzable responses? The French mathematician D’Alembert and the German physiologist and physicist Helmholtz had given a theory of consonance in relation to the “scheme of nature”. Sir James Jeans, in his book Science & Music deals with the subject, but the matter is not yet settled.


Among musical instruments, the drum is undoubtedly the oldest instrument. Its design testifies to the hunting age of man. Animal skin, thongs of leather and a hollow wooden box—may be from the trunk of a felled tree—furnish all that is required to make this musical instrument. The spirit-stirring qualities of the drum, to use the words of Othello, would soon have been felt by the primitive man. The quick sharp beats sent warriors into action and the slow deliberate beat of a deep-voiced drum became the symbol of mourning. The instrument that frequently stands out in Beethoven’s compositions is the drum.


The design of the drum in India has attained an extremely high degree of sophistication, as the work of Prof. C. V. Raman has showed. In the brilliance, incisiveness and variety of tones it can produce, it is equaled by the complexity of time patterns and modes of execution, developed over many centuries. The simple notion of cyclic rhythm is completely transcended in the Indian Tabalas (drums).


In the last century, Helmholtz in Germany had made a deep study of the physics of sound as it affects human beings in sensation. One of his findings was that the quality and effect of a tone is determined by the harmonics or overtones of fundamental note. (That is, components having frequencies 2, 3, 4 times the fundamental frequency.) Taking up this idea Prof. Raman made a study of the Indian drums to demonstrate their acoustical perfection which bears “remarkable testimony to the inventiveness and musical taste of its progenitors”, as he put it. Among his many publications on Acoustics, one of the earliest was on the musical drums.


Computers and Music

The computers may help in planning and production of all types of classical and folk music. They may be used in recording, editing, dubbing, transmission and preservation of the music.

The digital recording is not only space saving but also maintains the quality of the programmes. The Internet has converted the entire world into a global village. The MP3 is standard in digital audio music players now. This facility is widely used by the western countries to popularize their folk music all over the world. However, in our country much effort is needed to use this medium.

Dr. Hari Sahasrabuddhe, Head, Computer Division, Pune Vidhyapeeth has done monumental research for using computers in the field of classical music. He has prepared software to produce and present 38 ragas. They include–Gaud Malhar, Asavari, Basant, Pahari, Bageshri Bahar, Bilaval, Bhairavi, etc.


Dr. Sahasrabuddhe has used HCL Horizon and PC-XT to prepare the software. The music notations are handed over to ALPFA (FARNIGHT AUTOMATOR). The printout is taken and the music is played on PC-XT. Similar efforts may be made to prepare softwares for producing folk music of different parts of the country in future.


Some other softwares developed by a German company are also available in the market. One such software is ‘cubesis’ and the other is ‘VST’. With the help of these softwares one can compose any type of music and prepare the re-mix also. In these software programmes the technique of MIDI–Musical Instrument Digital Interface–has been used. It has audio CD support.


DNA Music

A number of enthusiasts in USA are producing DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) music. It is easier to produce as DNA molecule is made up of four simple letters T-C-G-A. As a matter of fact, the DNA molecule is made up of sugars and phosphates, and four specific small molecules or bases. Two of them are very small molecules, thymine and cytosine, in each of which atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen are arranged in a hexagon. And two of them are rather larger, guanine and adenine, in each of which the atoms are arranged in hexagon and pentagon joined together.


Prof. J. Bronowski, in his famous book The Ascent of Man has said “The DNA spiral is not a monument. It is an instruction, a living mobile to tell the cell how to carry out the processes of life step-by-step. The cells specialize: nerve cells, muscle cells, blood vessels. The cell specializes because they have accepted the DNA instructions to make the proteins that are appropriate to the functioning of that cell and no other. This is the DNA in action.”


There is an urgent need to define the language of folk music to preserve and recreate through computers if we are interested to pass on this information to our future generations. This is the only way because the ecology and the environment of the rural India is changing very fast. The folk traditions are dwindling and the genetic material is not going to pass on this information to the next generations.


Psychology and Folk Songs

Dreams have traditionally been regarded as windows on personality, predictors of the future or messages from Gods or demons. As we enter sleep, thoughts consist of fragmented images or what physiologist, Jonathan Winson terms ‘minidramas’.


Sigmund Freud believed that dreams express irrational, usually sexual, infantile wishes, of a sort necessarily repressed in everyday life and indeed, so abhorrent even to our dreaming personalities that they can appear only in symbolic disguises.


Our folk songs also use dream sequence in which the sweetheart generally expects from the lover or husband to interpret the actual meaning of the dreams. These folk songs, in one sense, challenge Sigmund Freud as far as their scientific interpretation is concerned. In one of the famous ‘Nimari’ folk song a newly married bride is asking the interpretation of her dream from her husband. The folk song narrates the dream as follows:


Suti Na Ho ghanyer, Sapano ho dekhyo,

Sapano ko arath batao bhola ghaniyer.

Mansarovar man .. a sapana men dekhyo

Bharyo Turyo bhandar man .. a sapana men dekhyo,

Bahati si Ganga man .. a sapana men dekhi

Bhari Turi Bawari man .. a sapana men dekhi

Shravan Teej man .. a sapana men dekhi

Karakati Bijalai man .. a sapana men dekhi,

Gokul ko Kanho men sapana men dekhyo,

Tartarav Bicchhoo man .. a sapana men dekhyo,

Gulab ko Phool man .. a sapana men dekhyo

Jhapalak diyo man .. a sapana men dekhyo

Kawla ri Kel man .. a sapana men dekhi

Bar ooper ki vanjuli man .. a sapana men dekhi

Pela Balai Nar man .. a sapana men dekhyo

Ugato S Suraj man .. a sapana men dekhyo

Sapana ka arath batao bhola gheriyer.


O’ dear! In my dream I have seen Mansarovar and full of granary. I have seen flowing Ganga and water up to the brim of a ‘Bawari’. I have also seen greenery of Sawan month and striking lightening. Gokul’s Kanha and angry scorpion were also seen. In dream I have seen a rose flower and a twinkling lamp, Banana tree and barren field of sugarcane. A lady with yellow scarf and a rising sun were also visible in my dream. O’ my husband, please tell me the meaning of this dream?


Sigmund Freud might have interpreted the above dream song in the light of his theory as sexual infantile wishes. However, let us see how the husband of the lady has interpreted the song?


He said that Mansarovar is your father, granary is your father-in-law. Ganga is your mother, Bawari is your mother-in-law. Shravan teej depicts your sister, striking lightning is sister-in-law. Kanha is your brother; scorpion is your younger brother-in-law (Devar). Rose is your son and twinkling lamp is your son-in-law. Kel in backyard is your daughter and barren field is your maid servant. The lady with yellow scarf is the second wife of your husband (saut) and the Sun is your husband. Ranu the wife is very happy with this interpretation.


If we analyze we may be surprised to note that this interpretation is closer to the theory of a Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung, who was a close associate of Freud and later formed his own school of psycho-analysis. Carl Jung held that dreams may also reflect the higher aspects of the mind and often provide the dreamer with wise guidance and sound advice.


Mother and Child Care

A family is a small group of people who live together as a unit or household, sharing same food, customs and environment. One of its central roles is reproduction and rearing of children. The family is having five important areas of functioning; all are interrelated.


These five areas are: biological, psychological, socio-cultural, economic and educational.


Biological: Reproduction, child-rearing, nutrition, protection of health, and physical recreation

Psychological: Emotional security, identity of individuals, maturation of personality, psychological protection and making relationship outside family

Socio-cultural: Transfer of behaviour, tradition, culture, socialization of children; determination of norms of behaviour at different ages and relationships

Economic: To obtain resources, distribution and use of resources, protection of family members

Educational: Teaching of skills appropriate to age and way of life; preparation for adult life and fulfillment of adult role


Our folk songs reflect the variety of ways for mother and child care. Bundelkhand area is having a rich tradition of folk songs related to the various stages right from the conception to child birth and child rearing. “Aagannon” also known as phool chowk, is the ceremony organized in the sixth-to-ninth month of conception. A few lines of this song are worth noticing:


Sone ke diyal jarao

Gori dhan chowke aain,

Chandan chowk purao,

Gori dhan chowke aain.

Bamman bulao ved dikhao gun ke ganat lagao,

Gori dhan chowke aain.

Sahdeya lakhana lyayo devara gin var batao,

Gori dhan chowke aain.


A different form of “Sohar” is popular in Bundelkhand region. It is known as “Dohad”. In these folk songs the unbearable labour pain of a lady is expressed:


More kamar dhan peer ab naiyyan jeene ki,

Sun raja more maharaja re,

mori sasu khon deo bulay

Ab naiyyan jeene ki.


Another “Sohar” is called charua charai. During this period the herbal drinks are offered to the pregnant lady. The folk song discusses the instrument which may be used to cut the placenta.


Kahe ko chhura main nara chinayo

Kahe ke pare asnan

Kanhaya ne janam liyo


The nutritional requirement of a lady immediately after the delivery of a child should be kept in mind. This Bundeli folk song reminds of the same:


Badhav lyai nandi are sanvariya

Khan se aai peeper kahan se aai sonth

Kahan se aai nanadi are sanvariya.

Puriya men aai peepar dabba main aai sonth

Kahe kho aai nanadi are sanvariya

Jaccha khon aai peepar baccha khon aai sonth

Neng khon aai nanadi are sanvaria.


After-delivery care is also very important. The ladies are supposed to fetch the water from the nearby well. Bundeli folk songs related to kuan pujan take care of that.


Ooper badar ghumrayan ri

Gori dhana paniyan ko nikari

Jao jo kaiyo raja sasur se

Angna main kuiya khudav

Tumai bahu paniya ko nikalri.


Traditions: Winds of Change

Every society moves under the impulses of two contradictory forces: tradition and innovation. The former would see it ruled by the past, the latter looks towards the future. The traditional music of Asia has always evolved, and continues to do so, whether the defenders of pure traditions like it or not.


  • In order to admire beautiful monuments and relics of past civilizations, one goes to the museum; but music is something alive, destined to develop, and is bound to open to influences from almost anywhere. The most important thing is to reconcile the splendour of the past with possibilities of the present. In other words, safeguard our heritage without involving it in the speculations of those who should perpetuate it.


  • There is an urgent need to define the language of folk music to preserve and recreate through computers if we are interested to pass on this information to our future generations. This is the only way because the ecology and the environment of the rural India are changing very fast. The folk traditions are dwindling and the genetic material is not going to pass on this information to the next generations.


  • It is nothing but the association of different organisms, so as to bring one or all of them certain advantages to improve their existence. The Indian film music is a very good example of this symbiosis. A large number of film songs have been using folk tunes as well as folk songs.


It is said that nothing is permanent in this world except the necessity for change. The folk traditions constantly change according to time, history and culture contact. They are never fixed and isolated objects. They are historically conditioned inventions.


In India, the tradition of folklore has enough vitality to absorb new elements. Our father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi has long back rightly said that “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible” He was very sure about the deep roots of our culture that is why he could say it very emphatically “But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any one of them.”


The media have a vital role to play in this situation. There is a rich and variegated treasure-house of folk music in our country. This has to be rediscovered, resuscitated, and placed in its correct perspective.


Tribal Music

  • Some of it tonally quite simple and involving two or three notes.
  • Some using as much as a full octave, usually pentatonic.
  • Most of their music is monophonic with the exception of tribes of Manipur, Assam, where simple form of polyphony is common.
  • A variety of instruments is used. Some tribes have perhaps no more than a drum, while others have quite a number, including some in each of four major categories—chordophones, aerophones, membranophones and idiophones.
  • Two distinct types of music—‘outdoor’ ensembles, and members of tribe or a Hindu caste, and their own characteristic tribal songs, weddings and festive occasions.
  • Songs are mostly functional and often have sanctity of ceremonial rite, events of life cycle—birth, initiation, marriage and death.
  • Agricultural songs—burning and preparation of fields, planting, harvesting etc., have an element of ritual.
  • Hunting and food gathering tribes have songs to propriate diety success for venture or successful conclusion of hunt.
  • Most tribes do, however, have more or less secular songs—such as greetings, lullabies, lore and courtship songs, ballads and humourous songs.
  • At festival time—songs describing their ancestry and origin of tribe.


Folk Songs

  • Associated with the cycles connected with life and death, agriculture and season.
  • Vary in detail—inter- and intra-regions of society.
  • “Outdoor” ensemble—festival music, weddings and funerals.
  • Nettle proposes that folk music is an oral tradition found in those areas which are dominated by high cultures, having a body of cultivated music with which it exchanges material and by which it is profoundly influenced.
  • Hindu mythology and religious philosophy are integral parts of much of Indian folk music. Songs sung at the time of childbirth for example ‘Soha’ songs of U.P. often describe birth of Krishna or Rama and wedding songs of Shiva and Parvati. A fisherman could begin with invocation to protective deity.


Devotional Songs

  • Saint singers, Bhajan, Kirtan Abhang
  • These devotional songs are intermediate stage between classical and folk music.
  • Less abstract than classical more sophisticated than folk.
  • Mystical and emotional experience.
  • Sound produced was incidental to the act of singing and did not need to be good musician to derive spiritual benefit from the songs.
  • Songs, however, have ‘catchy’ tunes derived from ragas of classical music.
  • Wide appeal due to lively rhythms.
  • Temple service, Bhajan mandalies.


Classical Music

  • Classical music placed emphasis on technique and beauty of performance.
  • Fundamental element is the use of drone, usually provided by wind instrument or plucked stringed instrument.
  • Based on melody and rhythm. Modal in character



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  5. Rahi Omkar: Khadi Boli, Lipi Prakashan, Delhi (1975).
  6. Upadyaya, Ram Narayan: Nimari Ka Lok Sahitya Aur Sanskriti, Shitya Kutir, Khandawa 2.


A version of this article appeared in the Indian Journal of Science Communication.