Folk Songs of Punjab

Folk Songs of Punjab

  • The Punjab is a multi-layered Cultural Region and its music tradition stretches back for thousands of year to the Vedic Period. Due to an exposure to a number of cultures, Punjab has developed its own unique musical mode. Just as the hardships have made the people lively, the same impact can be seen on the folk music of Punjab which is very lively and vibrant.Folk Songs of Punjab
  • The importance of music in the region can also be estimated due to the fact that all the Gods and Goddesses of the region are associated with one or the other musical instrument like God Shiva is the bearer of damroo, Vishnu is recognised with a Shankh(Coonch shell), Krishna as Murlidhar(flute), Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning is never seen without Veena.
  • Talking Specifically of Punjab, the Harappan figure of a dancing girl and the excavations at Sanghol, carved female musicians on stupa railings depict the importance of music in a Punjabi‘s life since centuries. As the religions, Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam are dominant in Punjab they have their own musical forms.
  • The four divisions of Punjab‘s musical repertoire are Sufiana Qalam, Qawwali, Gurmat Sangeet and Bhakti Sangeet are rooted in religious experience.
  • The Hindu Kirtan, Muslim Milad, Majlis and Qawwali and the Sikh Vaar and Shabad Kirtan are usually performed by trained musicians. However at the same time, strong secularism can be seen in the folk music of Punjab.
  • In 1955, the International Folk Music Council met and worked out this four point characterization of Folk Music i.e first, it can be easily distinguished from cultivated art music, secondly it is transferred from generation to generation through the oral tradition, thirdly it is conceived and cultivated by the community within itself rather than spreading in it; fourthly, it is the expression of the whole community rather than an expression of the individual. Punjab has a strong Sufi tradition.It came to India from Arabia and Iran.
  • The two religious philosophies ie the Guru and the music of sufi saints complemented each other. Qalam‘ means Pen‘ and Sufiana Qalam means the writings of Sufis the lyrical verses of Sufis are known as Kafi‘. In Kafis‘ the descriptions are mainly of the experiences of travelers, lovers, songs of rivers flowing to the sea and the spinning wheel and loom


  • All over South Asia, where there is Qawwali, there are Muslims; where there are Muslims, there are Sufis where there are Sufis, there is qawwali- not the popular version of qawwali adopted for entertainment in clubs and on the electronic screen but the authentic spiritual song that transports the mystique towards union with God‖ explains Regula Qureshi (1986) about qawwali.
  • This type of qawwali can be heard during the Annual Urs celebrations of the Great Sufi Saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi or Chisti in Ajmer.
  • The quawwalis are sung basically in 5 themes. The three themes are of religious nature ie Hamd, (Praises of God), Nath Sharif (Praises of Saint) and Man Kabat (Songs of ecstasy).
  • There are two other non religious themes in which qawwalis are sung, one is the Ghazal (a song in the praise of mashooq, lady love) and the other one is light Punjabi form popularly sung at marriages and celebrations.
  • The main features of qawwali are that it is sung along with rhythmic clapping and the instruments used are basically Tabla and Harmonium.

Gurmat Sangeet

  • The Gurmatt Sangeet contains the bani of Saints and the Sikh Gurus and is also known as Shabad Kirtan. It is a crux of devotional music, folk music and classical music. The credit of keeping Gurmatt Sangeet alive goes to the Guru Kirtaniye, Raagis, Dhadis, Rababis, the Pakhwaj walas, the Manjeera walas and others.
  • The main feature of Gurmat Sangeet is that it is sung in Pard taal, a style of singing which has its major compositions in dhrupad and khayal.
  • The folk traditions of Gurmatt Sangeet were kept alive by the two disciples of Guru Nanak, a Hindu named Bala and a Muslim named Mardana.
  • Mardana, who belonged to Mirasis, Community, played the Rabab. Similarly, the Dhadis were another group in which emerged in the age of Gurus. Dhad is a small drum.
  • Sufi dhadis sang in praise of a Divine beloved while Sikh Dhadis specialised in martial ballads called Vaars. The Sufi dhadis mainly performed at the melas and at the mazaars while Sikh dhadis mainly performed at Gurudwaras.


  • It is important to note that the Taksals or a mint where the traditional Sikh theology, scriptures and rituals including music are taught.
  • There are mainly five taksals where the Gurmatt Sangeet is taught ie Damdami Taksal (Guru Kanshi), Dodhar Taksal (Ludhiana), Hargana Taksal (Chamkaur Sahib), Taran Taran Taksal (Taran Taran) and Budhagord Taksal (Ganganagar).However without the reference of the Ragis, the Gurmatt Sangeet is incomplete.
  • Bhai Mardana evolved a group of Muslim singers who used to sing Gurbani to carry forward the Rababi tradition.
  • These Muslims were baptised and they became Sikhs. They are known as the Raagis or the Kirtankaars.

The Folk Songs Names

  • The general and the most popular folk songs of Punjab can today be heard every where. The Punjabis are proud of their vibrant and sweet music and the young generation today is patronising the folk tradition.
  • The life style of Punjabis which infuses colour to every aspect of life, has songs to be sung in all walks of life.
  • There are six basic themes of Punjabi folk songs which are described below:

Life Cycle Songs: There are four categories in which we can divide the songs which are related to different stages in the life of a person.

  1. A) Songs Sung at the birth of son
  • Putra Janam (songs sung on the occasion of the birth of Son)
    • Naam Karan (naming ceremony)
    • Mundan (hair removing ceremony)
    • Janeu:songs sung at the ceremony of giving a boy his sacred thread
  1. B) Wedding Songs The wedding songs can be further divided in to the songs of bridegroom and the songs of bride
  2. I) Songs of bridegroom‘s side
  • Mangane de Geet: songs sung at the time of engagement
  • Maneven de Gaon: songs sung to welcome the bridegroom
  • Gharouli de Geet: songs of dowry
  • Chounki charan vele de Geet: songs sung when the bridegroom sits on the wooden bathing seat
  • Sohhle : songs of happiness and joy
  • Ghorian: sung at the time of riding to the bride‘s house
  • Sehra: sung at the time of tying the bridegroom‘s flower veil
  • Kangna: sung when the bride and groom enter the house together or the first time
  1. II) Songs of the Bride‘s side
  • Suhag: Sung by the bride in the praise of her parents and happy days of her childhood and in anticipation of happy days ahead
  • Jaggo: processional songs to call the neighbours to the wedding
  • Chura charan vele de geet: sung when the chura, the ceremonial bangles are worn by the bride
  • Janj: sung when junj, the marriage procession is to be greeted
  • Milni: sung at the ritual introduction of two sides
  • Ghanne de Geet: sung when the bride is adorned with jewels
  • Siftan: songs in praise of bridegroom
  • Chhandh: evolved from poetry, songs of joy
  1. C) Sithniyan (crude, teasing songs)
  • Songs sung when the bridegroom`s procession is being welcomed
  • Songs sung when the wari, or gifts from the bridegroom`s side, are being shown
  • Songs sung when the groom`s party sits down to the meal
  • Songs sung when the daaj, dowry or the bridal gifts are being displayed.
  • Lavan : sung at the time of actual wedding ritual
  • Mahiyan: sung when the girl is preparing for wedding and is bathed by women at home. It goes for both men and women.
  • Vedi de Geet: sung while erecting the marriage pandal
  • Khatt: sung at the time the maternal grand parents present gifts to
  • the bride
  • Khaara: sung when the bride is bathed before being adorned as a bride on an overturned tokra, or basket.
  • Pani Vaarna: welcoming the bride to her new home
  • Bidaigi: sung when the bride is being sent off in the doli
  • Ghungarian: sung when the doli or palanquin arrives at the groom‘s house.
  • Shahana: sung by mirasis in praise of the bridegroom
  • Til Methre: sung while welcoming the bride and orienting
  • Pattal: song sung before meal
  1. D) Dirges
  • Siayappa (performance of lamentation accompanied by breast beating)
  • Vaind (prolonged moans of lamentation)
  • Ullahanein (Complaints,tuneful lamenting songs)

Seasonal Songs

  1. A) Seasonal
  • Sawan Ke Geet (songs of rainy season)
  • Basant Ke Geet (songs of spring season)
  • Teeyan De Geet (Teeyan is a festival of young married women during the monsoons)
  • Jhule Pingan (songs sung on swings during monsoon)
  • Rakhri Ke Geet (songs of rakhi festival)
  • Sankrant Ke Geet (songs of sankrant, the first day of each month of Indian calendar and particularly the solstice days)
  1. B) Songs of Occupation/leisure
  • Chhalla (a form of singing)
  • Kaseeda (a long song often sung by women as they embroider)
  • Akhaan (proverbs)
  • Bujhartan(riddles)
  • Chakki ke Geet(flour-grinding songs)
  • Kohlu ke Geet(oil pressing songs)
  • Vaadi Ke Geet(Harvest songs)
  • Dhola(songs related to the lover)
  • Paani Bharan de Geet(songs sung while
  • Charkha/Trinjan(Songs sung while spinning)
  • Lamm(songs addressed to the soldiers)
  • Dulla/Dulla Bhathi(the ballad of Punjab‘s Robinhood)
  1. C) Fesstival Songs( Every festival has a specific song related to it)
  1. Devotional Songs
  2. Bhaent (hymns addressed to the Goddesses)
  3. Bhajan (hymns in general)
  4. Aarti (sung during puja as ceremonial lamps are waved before the idol)
  1. Love Songs
  • Kissa (tales)
  • Mirza (the tragic balled of lovers, Mirza and Sahiba)
  • Dhola (folk form)
  • Bulo-Mahiya (folk form)
  • Sassi (the tragic ballad of lovers ,Sassi and Punnu)
  • Boliyan
  • Tappe(one line songs)
  • Jindua(legend of west Punjab)
  • Chhithi(addressing point of song)
  • Kafian(sufi form of compositions)
  • Birha de Geet(songs of separation)
  • Doharde(couplets)
  • Saddh(poetic form)
  • Jhok( name of a village, also a jhuggi, the hut of a lover)
  • Heer (a style of singing/legend)
  • Jugni(romantic songs typically sung by men)
  1. Ballads: Lok Gathawan
    • Vaaran (heroic songs)
    • Saake (songs recounting tragic incidents of history, emotional and pathetic)
  1. Children`s songs
  • Lohri(lullaby)
  • Kikli (a happy dance done in duo with a circular movement)
  • Thaal (a children`s song)
  • Pret Katha (Ghost stories)
  • Pari Katha (Fairy Tales)

Folk Musical Instruments of Punjab

  • A folk instrument is an instrument that developed among common people and usually doesn’t have a known inventor. It can be made from wood, metal or other material. It is a part of folk music.
  • The instruments can be percussion instruments, different types of flutes, the bow and different types of trumpets‖ 2 Sometimes there are a few instruments which may not meet the criteria for classifying the definition however their common appearance in the folk music makes them to be folk music instruments.
  • As per the previous studies, there were around 87 folk instruments of Punjab out of which 55 are still intact and 13 of them can be described as vanishing and 19 are gone, since long. A few lovers of musical instruments are trying to keep them alive by teaching these instruments to their disciples and a few have taken the responsibility to preserve them.
  • There are at present only two places where these instruments are being preserved. At Bhaeni Sahib Gurudwara, which is a Namdhari Gurudwara near Ludhiana, Satguru Jagjit Singh has been training young boys and girls in classical music and Gurmatt Sangeet. He is the religious head of Namdharis and is a trained musician and a patron. He has preserved very rare musical instruments in the Gurudwara and is promoting music in a very systematic manner.
  • Another place is the Javaddi Kalan Gurudwara near Ludhiana, where a festival of Gurmatt Sangeet is organised regularly. At this gurudwara also many rare musical instruments have been preserved.
  • One of the greatest custodian of Punjabi folk, Jaswant Singh Bhanwra has been living here and teaching students in the traditional Guru- Shishya parampara(teacher –disciple tradition).
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