Art & Entertainment

Ram As Purabiya’s Own Family Man

In the traditional folk world of the region, Ram is popular as bridegroom and Ram as groom or son-in-law takes precedence over Ram the victor

Ram As Purabiya’s Own Family Man
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Last year, I got a call from a Delhi newspaper asking me to jot down some lyrics of folk songs sung on Diwali in Bihar. Ram is ubiquitous in the folk songs of Bihar or Purabiya, the regions consisting of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, a Google search was of little help. This was a sudden request, and I had never paid too much attention to this subject. So, I talked to some experts and explored several mediums. It turned out that the traditional world in the Purabiya region, considered rich in folk songs, did not take much interest in Ram the warrior or Ram the victor, though Ram appears as one of the main inspirations for the folk oeuvre of the region.

In the traditional folk world of the region, Ram is popular as bridegroom and Ram as groom or son-in-law takes precedence over Ram the victor, with the former being the subject of a large number of songs. After Ram’s wedding with Janaki, the Purabiya folk songs follow them until their vanavas, when they are banished to the forest. However, there are not too many songs about what Ram accomplished afterwards: going to Lanka, fighting a war with Ravan and the subsequent celebrations upon his triumphant return to Ayodhya.

This is an interesting discovery. Why does Ram, invoked in almost all genres of Purabiya folk songs—such as Chaita, Chaiti, Faag, Kajri, Sorthi, Sohar, Nirgun and wedding songs—tend to vanish from the folk tradition of the region after turning up as a victor?

In the Bhojpuri region, for instance, we find songs across genres where Ram is arriving in Janak’s court, breaking the bow, marrying Sita, his love for his consort, bringing her back to Ayodhya, then leaving for the forest and the hardships they face together in the forest. These verses are literary gems and form a massive corpus across the region. The folk songs associated with Ram’s wedding follow the same pattern as the gaaris (songs taunting the groom and his family, even to the point of abuse) that are still part of the region’s wedding rituals.

One of these songs is still common during weddings in the Bhojpuri region:

Raja Dasharath ke teen sairaniyan
Sabahi ke sabahi khelari ji
Dharam karam kaise baanchat hoihen?
Pari jab barisar din par paari ji

Loosely translated, the song reads as follows:  

King Dasharath has three co-wives
And all of them are ‘players’
How can they talk of religion  
And duties,  
as they have to take turns
being his wives?*

In Bhojpuri, Ram extends much beyond this. A number of noted poets and bards of the modern era have written on him. Mamaji, a saint-poet from Buxar, wrote songs that adore Sita as his sister. This led to the entire region turning Ram into their brother-in-law. Mamaji spent his lifetime creating and singing songs on the Ram–Janaki marriage. Similarly, two songs by another poet, Pratap Chandra Sinha, are sung in almost all religious functions: “Aaju Mithila nagariya nihaal sakhiya (Today this city of Mithila is blessed)” and “Ae pahuna ehi Mithila me rahu na”  (Dear guest, Ram, why don’t you stay back in Mithila).”

Another poet from Bihar, Rasool Miyan, was also a one-of-a-kind devotee of Ram and wrote a famous sehra song, a genre that describes the groom’s entry into the wedding hall, on Ram’s wedding. Master Aziz used to sing Ram’s stories as he moved from village to village. Noted Bhojpuri bard Mahender Misir, too, got enamoured of Ram and began to write his Apoorna Ramayana (The Unfinished Ramayana), which he was unable to finish in his lifetime. Vindhyavasini Devi, a famous folk singer of Bihar, wrote a folk Ramayana based on the folk songs devoted to Ram, but was unable to get it published. This passion for Ram can be widely found in the Bhojpuri-speaking areas and the Magadh region of Bihar.

There are not too many songs about what Ram accomplished afterwards: going to Lanka, fighting a war with Ravan and the subsequent celebrations upon his triumphant return to Ayodhya.

“Folk songs are never interested in the divinity of the gods or their miracles. The common folk bring the deities out of the divine, into the realm of humanity, and adore and worship them there,” says Professor Ramnarayan Tiwari, a folk scholar. To illustrate his point, he rattles out several verses from the Bhakti (medieval devotional) poets and says that it is no surprise that there are hardly any folk songs on the militant or victorious Ram. There is no mention of his prowess as a warrior, valour or divinity. As soon as we begin to delve into his bravery, warcraft and valour, he transforms into a god, and traditional folk songs do not usually deal with distant, divine entities.

In fact, Ram is popular as the pahuna Ram in the entire Purabiya region. In Mithila, Ram is a groom, a prospective son-in-law. Even Vidyapati, a Bhakti poet who defines the Mithila identity, did not write anything on Ram. Interestingly, Ram gained popularity in the region years after Tulsi wrote Ramcharitmanas. When he arrived on the folk scene, he was always accompanied by Janaki.

Ashish Jha, a scholar, says that the first independent Ram temple in Mithila was built as late as in 1806. Before that, there had been a Janaki temple in Sitamarhi. Eighty years later, in 1886, a Ram–Janaki temple was built in Janakpur. Four years later, Chanda Jha wrote the Mithila Ramayana, taking Ram to every Mithila household.

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Years later, Kapildev Thakur ‘Snehlata’ wrote songs, which made pahuna Ram immensely popular in Mithila. Subsequently, Ram appeared in Mithila paintings, too. However, even here references to him are limited to the marriage. Today, the two most common Mithila folk paintings featuring Ram depict him and Janaki exchanging garlands (varmala) and Janaki’s swayamvar.

As Ram spread in the region, his image became dynamic. If you look at Mithila wedding songs in general, the songs of Shiva are the most popular. Not just the songs, even the popular culture reinforces this. There have been many negative aspects of Ram’s image as a son-in-law, giving rise to some social taboos. For example, for years, daughters would not be wed in Mithila on the occasion of Vivah Panchami, which marks Ram and Janaki’s wedding. The second taboo does not allow three daughters to be married into the same family. Finally, a daughter’s marriage should never be arranged simply because the groom has made a good impression, and one has to also consider his family, gather knowledge about them. This is because Janaki was wedded to Ram on merits without considering his family, which carried internal strife. Dasharath had three wives and Sita had to pay dearly for this.

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However, Ram’s popularity later overcame these inhibitions due to Snehlata’s songs, which transcended the linguistic boundaries, making Ram equally popular in Bhojpuri and Magadhi regions.

This is how Ram’s legend has developed over time in the Purabiya region. But if you Google him today, a massive corpus of songs on him is available. These range from songs on the Ram Temple, on his victories, on his valour and power. Here, the Vivah Panchami or pahuna Ram takes a back seat. This transformation of Ram’s image from traditional folk songs to modern ones is interesting. The songs which once signified joy and excitement and carried gentle tunes have given way to loud and boisterous music being blared from DJ consoles.

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(This appeared in the print edition as "One of Their OWN")

(Views expressed are personal)

Nirala Bidesia is an independent journalist with interests in folklife, culture, music & cuisines of eastern india

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