ਉੱਤੇ ਹੀਰ ਨੇ ਲਈ ਫੁਲਕਾਰੀ
ਕੁੜਤੀ ਖੱਦਰ ਦੀ ਪਾਈ
ਹੱਥੀਂ ਉਹਦੇ ਸਜਣ ਚੂੜੀਆਂ
ਰੰਗਲੀ ਮਹਿੰਦੀ ਲਾਈ
ਕੁੜੀਆਂ ‘ਚ ਚੰਦ ਚੜ੍ਹ ਗਿਆ
ਹੀਰ ਗਿੱਧੇ ਵਿੱਚ ਆਈ
ਰੌਣਕ ਕੁੜੀਆਂ ਦੀ
ਹੋ ਗਈ ਦੂਣ ਸਵਾਈ …
Utteh Heer ne layi phulkari
kudhti khaddar di payi
hathinuh desajan chudian
rangli mahndi layi
kudian ’chchand chad giya
Heer Gidhevi chaayi
Raunak kudian di
hogayi dhunh savayi …
Heer wrapped in embroidered sheet (phulkari)
wearing cotton shirt
bangles on her wrists
resplendent with henna
she appeared like a moon among girls
the hullabaloo grew with
Heer’s arrival in Giddha
hullabaloo grew …
An accomplished dancer’s arrival in the circle of Giddha gets thunderous applause with this folksong, which dubs her as Heer.
The transforming inward circles of Giddha
Giddha is a Punjabi folk dance form; a total dance that includes acting, dance, rhythm and singing, traditionally by and for women1 . It is performed in an inward circle, over Bollian. These Bollian – plural of Bolli, where Bolli, literary meaning language, is a form of folk song – are composed by the women themselves. In the words of senior journalist and writer Giani Gurdit Singh, ‘connoisseurs of folk songs argue that constant rubbing on people’s tongue have blessed songs with softness like hill stones. … The softness of millions of lips and tongues polish folk tunes .2’
While performing the Giddha, one of the woman singers initiates a Bolli and the rest of the dancers respond by repeating the Toda; the dramatic peak of every Bolli. Multiple dancers dance in the circle and others join in with rhythmic claps, heel tapping of naked feet and body movements from their own places, repeating the Toda. Sung in Giddha, the Bollian are short stories of any activity or idea – from abstract to concrete, as perceived by women. Women enact and articulate their finer feelings through Bollian as they make sarcastic comments, question and ridicule social norms.
Scholar Harbhajan Kaur Dhillon3 says that Giddha is a versatile folk dance with its rich variety of songs, music and improvisations. Traditionally, Giddha does not differentiate a dancer from the viewer, as in an inward circle everybody is a participant. Nahar Singh, a Punjabi folklore scholar, has dubbed this circle as Ghahra Pidh (a frock-like platform). Women from every possible age group form the inward circle while dancers take their turns and some choose to remain a part of the chorus.
Love legends also appear in Bollian, where the singers empathise with the women characters and aspire for men synonymous with those in the love legends. Every woman aspires to be Heer, Sassi or Sohni and dreams for a companion like Ranjha, Punnu or Mahiwal. Although Heer is the most popular character and appears frequently in Bollian in different contexts, Sohni has successfully cut her own niche in Bollian. Sohni has been told, retold and interpreted in the popular imagination in the context of her engagement with social norms and patriarchy.
The Bollian discussed below exemplify various aspects of the legend of Sohni-Mahiwal.
Mocking Social Hierarchies
ਰਾਤ ਹਨੇਰੀ ਸਾਂ-ਸਾਂ ਕਰਦੀ ਸੋਹਣੀ ਕਦੇ ਨਾ ਡਰਦੀ
ਚੱਕ ਲਿਆ ਘੜਾ ਉਹਨੇ ਧਰਲਿਆ ਢਾਕ ‘ਤੇ, ਬੋਚ ਬੋਚ ਪੱਬ ਧਰਦੀ,
ਡੋਬੀ ਤੈਂ ਨਣਦੇ ਕੱਚੇ ਘੜੇ ‘ਤੇ ਤਰਦੀ, ਡੋਬੀ ਤੈਂ ਨਣਦੇ…
rat haneri saan-saan kardi Sohni kade na dardi
chakk liya ghara uhne dharliya dhhak te, boch boch pab dhardi,
dhobi tain nannde kacche ghade te tardi, dobi tain nannde … …
Sohni is not scared of the dark furious night, She walked quietly with a pitcher on her flank,
O sister-in-law I drowned, you made me swim on an unbaked pitcher…
O sister-in-law it’s because of you I drowned …
Unleashing a double-edged weapon, through this Bolli, women empathise with Sohni and ascribe responsibility to her husband’s sister. On the one hand they associate themselves with Sohni but on the other, with a sarcastic tinge, they question the established social hierarchy where in-laws are supposed to exercise their control through the sister-in-law. The sister-in-law here emerges as a strong representative of patriarchy and the references to her in Bollian further endorse the stereotype. The ghara (pitcher) represents the social construct, against which Sohni is struggling; where her sister-in-law withdrew the last bit of support replacing it with an illusionary support that disintegrated within no time.4
ਸੁਣ ਵੇ ਘੜਿਆ ਮੇਰੀ ਜਾਤ ਦਿਆਂ, ਕੀਹਨੇ ਤੇਰੀ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਗੋਈ, ਕੀਹਨੇ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਘੜਿਆ
ਘੜ-ਘੁੜ ਕਿ ਤਾਂ ਚਿਖਾ ‘ਚ ਚਿਣਤਾ, ਜਲ ਪਾਣੀ ਦਾ ਭਰਿਆ,
ਪਾਰ ਲੰਘਾ ਦਈਂ ਵੇ ਲੜ ਸੋਹਣੀ ਨੇ ਫੜਿਆ।
sun ve ghadia meri jaat dia, kihne teri mitti goi, kihne tainu ghadia,
ghad ghud ke tan chikha ‘ch chin ta, jal pani da bharia,
parr langhaa dayin ve ladh Sohni ne phadhia
Listen O pitcher, we are of the same ilk, who kneaded your soil, who shaped you,
once shaped, you were baked in the oven, strengthened to contain water,
Sohni has resorted to you, help her to cross.
The unbaked pitcher remains Sohni’s constant companion in various modes of creative expression. In the above Bollian, Sohni kept her engagement with the ghara, intact in more ways than one. Here, she is instinctively aware of the pitcher’s qualities. As a daughter of a proficient artisan Sohni identifies herself with earthenware. The earthenware she has grown up with is her pride as she enjoys the respect and prosperity of her father earned through professional expertise – this played an instrumental role in bringing Sohni and Mahiwal face to face. Mahiwal’s first impression of Sohni was reflected in the earthenware bought from her by his associates. On finding the baked pitcher swapped with unbaked, she realises the imminent danger but refuses to budge. Overtly she seems to be in dialogue with the pitcher but covertly she gathers courage before the final journey.
This illusionary help of the unbaked ghara remains an integral part of Sohni’s narrative in one form or the other as a metaphor for social constructs. This is also a moment of realisation for Sohni as she realises that the soil used for social constructs does not match with the lovers’ pursuit. Contemplative, Sohni attempts to establish that she is made of a different soil. In Bollian this difference has been depicted as an essential trait of chivalrous women.
The path less trodden
ਇਸ ਘੜੇ ਦੀ ਮਿੱਟੀ ਰੇਤਲੀ ਖੁਰ-ਖੁਰ ਹੋ ਗਈ ਢੇਰੀ
ਵਿੱਚ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ ਸੋਹਣੀ ਮੌਤ ਨੇ ਘੇਰੀ।
es ghare di mitti retli khur-khur ho gayi dheri,
vich daryavan de Sohni maut ne gheri
this pitcher is made of sandy soil which eroded back to basic,
Death entrapped Sohni in rivers.
After invoking the old association, here the women talk about the basic characteristics of the pitcher and the inevitable fate of Sohni. Through the ghara, women underline the difficulties of the path chosen by Sohni where death seems certain. The last line of the Bolli uses the word ‘rivers’ instead of river or the Chenab and this use changes the meaning of Chenab. The choice of this very word establishes that specificities are immaterial as it is a general social phenomenon. Sand is a symbol of barrenness and is notorious for playing tricks through mirages; it neither grips nor contains. When women comment on the sandy soil of the pitcher through folklore they create an image of a courageous woman. Sohni’s pitcher remained true to its sandy character whereas she proved her own mettle. Both are legendary in their own terms and stand true to their characters. As camels and cacti challenge the hostility of deserts, Sohni questions the social norms through folklore. She emerges as a role model of an independent loving woman.
ਸੋਹਣੀ ਜਹੀ ਕਿਸੇ ਪ੍ਰੀਤ ਕੀ ਕਰਨੀ
ਉਹਦੀ ਪ੍ਰੀਤ ਵੀ ਪਾਣੀ ਭਰਦੀ
ਵਿੱਚ ਝਨਾਵਾਂ ਦੇ
ਸੋਹਣੀ ਆਪ ਡੁੱਬੀ ਰੂਹ ਤਰਦੀ।
Sohni jahi kise preet ki karni
uhdi preet vi pani bhardi
vich Jhanavan de
Sohni aap dubi ruh tardi
Who can love like Sohni?
Even Love can take pride in her.
Sohni herself drowned in Chenabs, but her soul swam across …
This Bolli depicts Sohni as an inimitable symbol of love who has expanded the glory of Love, someone whom even Love can be proud of. Here the Chenab is plural representing the multiple social norms obstructing Sohni, who sacrificed herself to immortalize the indomitable female spirit. Occasionally, the last line of this Bolli is sung differently.
ਸੋਹਣੀ ਮਹੀਵਾਲ-ਮਹੀਵਾਲ ਕਰਦੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਦਰਿਆਵਾਂ ਦੇ।
Sohni Mahiwal-Mahiwal kardi vich daryavan de
With this change Sohni’s resolve gets personified and Mahiwal emerges as an irresistible lover who is worth seeking even when fatality is knocking from close quarters. The popularity of Sohni endorses this formulation and reiterates that when the woman claims her basic right to have a companion of her choice, her confrontation with social norms is inevitable. This inevitability underlines the relevance of Sohni alongside other love legends. Her association with the pitcher could not help her cross the river but through folk songs women have made her spirit swim across to stand the test of time.
Contemporary River Crossings
Bollian thus celebrates the spirit of women, and manifests their aspirations, dreams and pain. The nuances of the psyche of suppressed women manifest themselves in folk songs and Giddha is a unique platform for such voices. Dhillon writes, “The suppressed self of Punjabi females gets expressed in Giddha performed at Tian (a monsoon festival when rural women dance at a common place) and marriage.”5 This phenomenon is not confined to Punjab only as such folk songs represent the psyche of suppressed women in any agrarian society. Dr. Nahar Singh spells it out as ‘cultures with strong restrictions against pre-marital sexual relations consider marriage moral, psychological and social imperative.’ Like any other agrarian society, Punjabis recognise pre-marital sexual purity and furthermore, in case of girls, pre-marital sex is a taboo. The valiant pursuits of lovers acquire legendary status in culture ascribing such values. Even a cursory glance at Punjabi folk songs is enough to establish the fact that love or unrecognised social relations have been rendered with unparallel intensity … these folk songs function as curative formulas of social health.’6
Sohni’s enduring popularity endorses this formulation and stresses that when women claim their right to choose their companions, a confrontation with social norms is inevitable. While her pitcher could not help her cross the river, through folk songs women have carried Sohni’s spirit across the raging waters. This is the best tribute from co-travellers, cutting across time and space.
1. Malwai Giddha is another Punjabi folk dance, which has no similarity with the Giddha except the name. Malwai Giddha is a dance performed by men in the Malwa region of Punjab, between the Satluj and the Ghagar rivers.
2. MeraPind, Giani Gurdit Singh, Sahit Parkashan, Chandigarh, 2010, Page-248
3. Giddha Te Is Di Peshkari , Harbhajan Kaur Dhillon, NATIONAL BOOK SHOP, Delhi, 2006
4. When Sohni set out to swim towards Mahiwal with the help of a baked pitcher, her sister-in-law swapped the baked pitcher with an unbaked one which, inevitably, eroded in the Chenab leaving Sohni alone to confront the violent waves.
5. Giddha Te Is Di Peshkari, Harbhajan Kaur Dhillon, National Book Shop, Delhi, 2006, page-6
6. Bagin Chamba Khid Riha, Dr. Nahar Singh, Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1999, page-4
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