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Retelling the Traditional Ballads of Garhwal –

Retelling the Traditional Ballads of Garhwal –

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Retelling the Traditional Ballads of Garhwal –

Akshyata Ray

You have researched a great deal about Uttarakhandi folk, and your work restoring and retelling their stories is commendable. Could you tell us about that experience? What perks and perils does one encounter during such a journey?

I wrote these stories as many as 18 years ago. Wish I had got them printed early. For those many years I kept wondering who would be interested in them. But as a proud Uttarakhandi, I valued them within the core of my heart and knew I had done something special. I recorded songs of these traditional singers called Baadis. I sat with them endlessly, listened to their songs and extracted the stories out of them.

As a student and teacher of literature I felt a natural affinity to this traditional art form that contains within its fold the ingenuity or the truth of our people.  These narratives have come down to us from shared humanity. They have value from several perspectives. Today I adore them and want to go full throttle in preserving them, empowered with innovative tools if I may. 

If one is committed to art forms that bear testimony to the past, the special perk that follows is a sense of artistic attainment. These tales connect us to our roots. I had plunged into this territory a novice and ended up becoming committed to this basic form of expression of days of yore.  It is so fascinating to know that these songs represent the rudimentary culture of our past generations as well as of contemporary generations. They contain memories that can be revisited. Isn’t it enthralling to know that lots of information relating to our particular social milieu is kept alive in this special genre of oral tradition? They are a consequence of the thought processes of our ancestors. They are testimony to our past.

What perils can be attached to this kind of study? There are obstacles for sure such as distortions creep in with each passing generation. Human memory can cause major upheavals. Also its not easy to keep preserve the recordings in cassettes. Data storage is a major issue. Also may be the Chinese Whisper syndrome.


Retelling of the Traditional Ballads of Garhwal is a must read for anyone interested in folklore. Do you happen to have a favourite folklore? And why is it your favourite? 

Jeetu Bagurhwal’s story enchants me. It is a powerful tale. It is engaging because it is brutally spot-on. It is a tale born out of the natural environment of Garhwal, Himalayas.     This story, just as the story relating to the life of Madho Singh Bhandari, is based on oral evidence, and may or may not be regarded as authentic. But it speaks to the readers because it addressees universal truths such as effervescence of true love. It connects to our innermost fears and greatest failings. It is inspirational in that it encourages us to cling to the virtuous. It shows us how important it is to be human.

The same goes for other stories included in this collection. But it reflects, not merely the social, religious and political conditions of the region, in times gone by, but also generates an enigmatic appeal grounded as it is in the vicinity of the mysterious Himalayas – mysterious particularly because large portions of it have remained inaccessible even till date, lending a haunting ambience to the fairies, nature and the like. Jeetu was a warrior, a magician, a romantic flute player and an obsessive lover – falling in love with every beautiful woman he came across. He had a glad eye. He suffers a miserable end at the hands of the mountain fairies. Natural forces running amok is a very familiar experience.

Jeetu Bagurhwal is still worshipped for having invented the irrigation system in the hills. Therefore, in every event of paddy plantation a bunch of paddy saplings called “lungaalaa” is offered to the spirit of Jeetu Bagdwaal as part of the beginning ritual. Communities across Garhwal still offer a 15-day dance ritual to Jeetu Bagdwaal and his family. So persuading is the myth that very recently a TV channel produced a documentary on the fairies of Khaintakhaal.


In the introduction to your book, you’ve mentioned that language is a barrier when it comes to the propagation of folklore and thus result in its oblivion or erasure. What steps can be taken at individual, national and international levels to restore this beautiful form of storytelling?

This is a difficult question to answer. But since these tales were originally sung or have grown out of the aural/oral tradition, we could transfer them from teacher to taught through songs apart from the written word. The aural has a lot of impact. And of course the theatricality of these stories has huge potential. Through enactments youngsters can be encouraged to explore the world and their place therein. Competent authorities need to compile a list of all the folklore records with libraries, archives, museums etc and institutions such as schools and colleges can be encouraged to access them. 


Are there any myths you would like to bust, related to folklores of Garhwal?

This is an interesting area of study, something experts need to examine and investigate with single minded devotion.


Folklore and oral histories are an authentic, alternate form of storytelling. Stories also seem to evolve over time. Do you feel that if these stories had been documented in the past in the conventional non-oral tradition, would they have told a different story?

There is always an element of truth in folklore. Only variations creep in with the passing of time. Early documentation sure helps in perpetuation of narratives. But personally I love the play of imagination and altering versions. That sure indicates the power of creativity.


Folklores by Baadi are considered to be lewd. Is this a misconception or is there any truth lurking behind this statement?

There have been reports of bawdy behavior by individual singers. But the tales by themselves are not raunchy. Baadis have two sides to their performances; one is the private and the other the public one. The private one has always remained shrouded in secrecy. It is mostly performed indoors in the houses of the well off.

Mostly their songs are romantic, and their subject matter includes love stories of Garhwali Casanovas, Radha and Krishna, and Jeeja and Saali (love between brother-in-law and sister-in-law). In its corrupt form, their singing has come to be identified with nudity and sex, with suggestions of prostitution.


Does this book have a sequel? Or anything that you are working on currently that your readers can look forward to?

Yes, I am now working on folktales of Kumaon to add to the might of this collection. The next book may be titled ‘Reimagining tales of Garhwal and Kumaon’.

About the Interviewee:

Anjali Nauriyal has received several awards for her contribution to journalism including the GIAN Award for grassroot augmentation in 2005 by Mashelkar, UMA SHAKTI SAMMAN 2009 for exemplary work and popularity in field of social service through journalism, Indian Medical Association Award for contribution to society, Raj Rajeshwari Samman by PHD Chamber and Uttarakhand Government. Outstanding Journalist by Punjabi Sabha and Comrade Kamla Ram Nautiyal Sanstha Uttarkashi Samman, Chief Minister’s Award for Excellence and Garhwal Post Award for Excellence 2016, Pride of Uttarakhand by Doon Citizen’s Council, Uttarakhand Ratan by All India Conference of Intellectuals, Daughter of Uttarakhand by Garhwal Post, Media Federation of India Award, etc.

Currently she is working with Garhwal Post as Features Editor. Her maiden book titled ‘Retelling of the Folk Ballads of Garhwal’ has become a regional best seller.