I am going Baba dhaam !

Sprawled across the ghats of the Varuna and Asi, the ancient city of Banaras or Varanasi watches as tradition and modernity wind themselves around the teeming masses that ebb and flow into and from the city. Pilgrims flock to the city, often swelling its population to twice the size of its resident populace.As the living and the dead seek salvation on the banks of the river, the sounds of the city form a massive, never-ceasing audio collage, profound at times, and downright incongruous at other times. In place of the music of the great exponents of the shehnai, sarangi, tabla, thumri and kajri nurtured by the city of Banaras, is a new musical repertoire produced, published and distributed by the Bhojpuri music industry. Dishing out a catalog dedicated to regionally oriented popular taste, it offers music that does not aspire to sophistication and is hybrid both in content and intent.

Some gems from this catalog include singers Dineshlal Yadav and Khusboo Raj’s offering ” Ae Raja Humke Banaras Ghumay Da” from an album with the rather sleazy title of ” Chirgana Pa Gail Maal Bada Dhansu”. Recorded as a duet with a raucous chorus belting out a refrain, the song is constructed around the said “raja’s” lady love exhorting him for an epicurean tour of Banaras. “Chal ke Godowlia ke panvaa khiyaya da..” or “Come, let’s go to Godowlia (a locality in Varanasi) for a paan“, she says, to which her “raja” replies gamely- “Chalaa, Chowkvaa pe cham-cham chikhaa di” or Come, let me give you a taste of the cham-cham (a spciality sweetmeat of Banaras) at Chowk. From Godowlia to Chowk, and thenceforth to the famous Kachauri Galli, the happy couple’s food-and-shopping-guide-in-a-song mentions different areas in the city known for speciality items like Daal Mandi’s glass bangles, Lahurabir’s lehnga shops, Kshir Sagar’s legendary rasagullas, Maidagin mehndi, Nichi Bagh’s nose-ring stores, Kanhaiyaa Saraaf’s anklets in Bulanala, Banarasi saris from Golghar, launglata sweets near the BHU gate, golgappas at bargain prices from Manas Mandir, and Dharmaraj’s lassi among the many delights of Banaras. For the full menu, check http://youtu.be/gXJQTM_bXl4

As the city gears up for the month of Sawan with pilgrims and kanwarias thronging the city in even greater numbers than usual, new Bhojpuri albums flood
the market. “I am going Baba Dham” offers as many as 46 frenetic uptempo mp3 tracks, laced with thumping “Bol Bam” choruses and vocoder processing on the singer’s voice. The title track declares:

Bhale hum rahile London, bhakti ke jural bandhan 

Aake hum Indiya mein, karile poojan vandan

(So what if I stay in London, devotion always binds me to India, where I return to offer prayers)

Apun ka ek hi prograam, ke I am going Baba Dhaam.

(I have but one program, for, I am going to Baba Dhaam, the shrine in Deogarh, Jharkhand).

The chorus sings back merrily:

“You are going Baba Dhaam, you are going Baba Dhaam!”

Album cover for “I am going Baba Dham

Criss-crossing blithely between Bhojpuri and English, another track declares ” Shiv-bhakti ke ayilba seejun” or ‘It is the season for Shiv-bhakti’.

The tradition of walking long distances during the month of Sawan to collect holy water from the river Ganga, with the purpose of making an offering to Lord Shiva, forms the theme of these Bhojpuri albums. But in keeping with the times, traditional repertoire is replaced by new compositions that mimic contemporary hits, and use catch-phrases in English. As the kanwarias arrive in each city, tents and pandals are pitched to welcome them and offer them refreshments, while tracks like “I am going Baba Dham” and “E Baba, Formula Bata Di” blare at deafening decibels. Tradition blends with the modern, devotion mixes with entertainment, Bhojpuri melts into English, and electronic instruments merge with rustic Bhojpuri accents. And now and again, a surprise track like “Saniya Chal Gayieli Pakistan May” comments on the marriage of tennis star Sania Mirza with Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik !

This article was first featured in my column Music Matters for HT Mint. If you prefer to read it on the livemint site  here is the link: http://www.livemint.com/2012/08/03135750/The-Banaras-sound.html

Shubha Mudgal

Shubha Mudgal

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