This story was originally reported and written in Hindi. Contributors from across India report, write and illustrate for us in a language of their choice.
“Mothers would sing faag to their children to put them to sleep, so that when they grew up, they would continue this tradition,” says Roobsi Devi. The 54-year-old is one of the few people in the Nanakmatta village who still sings faag – the traditional songs of the residents of hilly regions in Uttarakhand.
“No matter what the work, singing faag is considered very important. No one knows when or why or who sang the first faag, but now it is a part of our rituals and tradition,” adds Roobsi. Set in the Kumaoni language, faag is sung by women in the community on the occasions of marriage and birth.
Roobsi grew up in Thal village of Pithoragarh district where she learned faag by listening to her mother sing with other women in the village on different occasions and celebrations. Even after the family migrated to Nanakmatta village in Udham Singh Nagar district, the music of faag never stopped. “Faag has been going on for many generations,” she adds.
As more and more young people leave the mountains to find jobs outside, Roobsi fears that the sound of faag may die out.
The Kumaoni language is listed as vulnerable in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, published in 2010. As per the report, vulnerable languages are spoken by most, but not all, children or families of a particular community as their parental language, but this may be restricted to specific social domains.
“If no woman in a house is available to sing faag for an auspicious occasion, then women from other homes in the village can be called to sing,” Roobsi adds. However, there are strict caste hierarchies on who can and cannot sing faag. For example, Roobsi explains upper castes don’t sing for lower castes and only women considered ‘auspicious’ are allowed to sing. Many in the community consider it a taboo for menstruating women and widows to sing faag.
The faags recorded here by Roobsi Devi originate in the Champawat district of Uttarakhand. They are sung during the vidaai ceremony – a newlywed bride leaving her parent’s home. It speaks about parents bidding farewell to their daughter and her tears as she leaves her family to go to her married home. The last faag in this series concludes the story and is sung when the marriage procession is about to reach the bride’s house.
With new functions replacing traditional wedding ceremonies, the occasions for Roobsi to sing faag have declined. She now spends her days collecting fodder for her cattles, looking after the kitchen garden and doing housework.
With no written material, faags are taught from memory and passed down. “Now our children will learn this and start singing or the tradition of faag will disappear.”
Faag 1 sung by Santoshi Kunwar
कसकै झूलो विरान मुलक,
आज छोड़ि ईजा मैले तेरी कोख, बाबा क देश.
मेरि कोख ल तू उत्पन्न है रे,
स्वामि कुल में हिल-मिल रए.
Bride: How will I go to that foreign place?
Mother, today I will leave your lap and father’s land
Mother: You are the child of my womb
May both of you live together with joy
Faag 2 sung by Roobsi Devi, Chandra Devi, Taara Devi, Kalawati Devi, Chandra, Pushpa Chand and Santoshi Kunwar
काला धुरा काला लेक एकली न जानू!
मैं त जिया एकली न जानू
काला धुरा काला लेक अकेलि न लगूँ।
अधि बाटि हुन्ना बालि डोल रे नगारा,
वो पाछा सोल सौ बरयात
उति पाछा पिठी को भायालो।
Bride: I do not want to go alone to a dark and unknown place
Mother, I will not go there alone
Mother: I do not want to send you to that strange place alone
But your in-laws have already reached halfway with the drums!
And behind them are all the guests.
Faag 3 sung by Roobsi Devi, Chandra Devi, Taara Devi, Kalawati Devi, Chandra, Pushpa Chand and Santoshi Kunwar
लुक-लुक बाली कन्या; गाँव की मज्याली
तेरी आँछ सोल सौ बरयात।
एक पात्या कामली को गाँठ पाढ़ो बाबा;
झानू बाबा डोली कान हालि ल्योनु;
आ पुज्या धरम जमाई, आ पुज्या किसना अवतारी।
झानू-झानू भाया मेरा; भिना न्योति ल्यूनो,
भिना न्यूति जगिना बसाल।
सोल सौ बरयात में को हुन्या मेरा भिना?
मैं त दीदी पच्याणी न पाँ।
सिर होलो मोर रे मुकुट;
कर्ण होली ढाल तलवार।
दान हाथ होली छाता उन होला भाया भिना तमारा।
दियो-दियो बाबा मेरी धुली रे अरग।
बता-बता रुख बिना क्याको दान होलो?
धुलि अरग में क्या-क्या चीज चालो?
ताम दान होलो;
बाबा काँसो दान होलो।
सबह बड़ो कन्या दान होलो।
Villagers: Go and hide young one, beloved of the village
Your groom is arriving.
Bride: Bundle my belongings in a thin blanket
I have to go now
Support my doli with your shoulder father
Your son-in-law, an avatar of Lord Krishna has arrived.
Bride: Dear brother, I will go now
Take your brother-in-law to the mandap.
Brother: Who is my brother-in-law among all these people?
I can’t recognise him
Bride: The one who is wearing a crown made from the feathers of a peacock
A sword in one hand and an umbrella in the other, that is your brother-in-law.
Father, complete the rituals.
What materials are needed for this?
Father: Copper and bronze and many more things will be given as gifts
But the biggest gift will be that of our daughter’s hand.
The PARI Education team would like to thank Rohan Chopra for help with the English translation of the songs and text for this piece.
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Deepika Bora and Gayatri Bora are students of Class 12 at Nanakmatta Public School. They share an interest in learning about their community.
Gayatri says, “I grew up hearing faags sung by my grandmother and her friends, but today I see them gradually fading away. I wanted to document them.”