Research on Dalit Assertion in Punjabi Music
Following my blogs on Bootan Mandi, dalit assertion and related subjects, one of the researchers, Prof. Peter Manuel of the Music Department of the City University of New York, contacted me a couple of weeks ago and informed me about his interest and asked
|Peter Manuel and Ginni Mahi|
I have divided his questions in two parts. The write-up produced below is to answer one of his interests in Bootan Mandi and the Gurpurab of Ravidass which has turned into a big mela in the region as an annual ritual with particular reference to the ‘Chamar Identity’ which the renowned singers of Punjab have tended to praise and mention in their albums and stage performances. The second part of the query is about the increasing dalit assertion in the Punjabi folk lore in the contemporary times to establish “Chamar Identity” to counter the often bragged and flouted ‘Jatt Superiority”. I will answer the latter part separately.
I thought of sharing this with my blog followers.
Resurgence Of Dalit Identity and Bootan Mandi Jalandhar
Bootan Mandi is a non-descript resident locality situated on Nakodar Road (now named as Ambedkar Marg) in the outskirts of Jalandhar city. Even before India’s independence in 1947, Bootan Mandi was a famous place for leather tanning, trading of raw and tanned leather not only by the Chamars (untouchables in the Hindu caste hierarchy) of the area but also by the Muslims who had to leave for Pakistan in the wake of partition of India. Bootan Mandi as such was a prosperous place mainly inhabitated by Chamars engaged in leather business. Out of them, some of the more enterprising even spread out to other leather business centers like Kanpur, Calcutta etc.
Chamars are the followers of Guru Ravidass, a great Saint of the Bhakti Movement in the 15th century. Forty one hymns (shabads/bani) of Guru Ravidass are enshrined in the religious and holy Guru Granth Sahib, scripture of the Sikhs. Guru Ravidass was an exponent of casteless society and equality. Obviously, his mission and philosophy became the main stay of dalits who were the sufferers and victims of the Manuwadi (ancient Hindu Law maker Manu) caste divide of the society. The Chamars and other dalit communities started asserting themselves under the influence of India’s Independence struggle against the British rule. The after effects of the First World War in which some dalits got the chance to go abroad coupled with the Ghadar movement, advent of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Babu Manguram Muggowalia on the political firmament of the country and society at large added further impetus to the process. The chamars of Bootan Mandi, with their economic well being, came to the fore and spearheaded the Ad-dharm Movement of Babu Manguram Muggowalia in the late 1920s. They also supported and followed Dr. Ambedkar’s struggle for the emancipation of dalits in 1930s. Bootan Mandi became the nerve centre of dalit politics and social empowerment from mid 1930s. Under the leadership of two leading lights of the time, Seth Sunder Dass and Seth Kishan Dass (all well to do leather businessmen were called Seth as a mark of respect even today this practice is prevalent), Bootan Mandi hosted the offices of Ad-dharm Mandal, Schedule Caste Federation and celebrated and observed the birthday anniversary (Gurpurab) of Guru Ravidass with élan and gaiety every year. The festivities, including illumination of buildings, fireworks, religious discourses, poetic symposium, musical shows, dance and drama slowly became a common and regular feature in successive years. The Bootan Mandi Seths supported and encouraged the symbols of dalit assertion in recognition of the roles of Ad-dharm Mandal at Kishanpura, Dera Sachkhand Balan, and Dera Chak Hakim near Phagwara. Seth Kishan Dass of Bootan Mandi, an ardent follower of Guru Ravidass and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar became a Member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly even before India’s independence. Literarypeople like Gurdass Ram Alam, Bhagmal Pagal, Narinder Khedi on invitation and reception by the son of the soil of Bootan Mandi, Pritam Ramdasspuri, set the tone of folklore to recognize and appreciate the festivities at Bootan Mandi. Gurdass Ram Alam recited his composition “ Bada Shor Painda Gariba De Dere; Ajj Kaun Aya Savere Savere” at a public function at Bootan Mandi in honour of Dr. Ambedkar during his visit in 1951. Pritam Ramdasspuri asserted with pride “Guru Ravidass Di Jins Han Te Bhim Di Aulad Han”
Moving with the time, the community of Bootan Mandi and also of villages in and around achieved further economic success and political awareness. The festivities on Guru Ravidass Gurpurab and also the birthday anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar got more organized and pronounced. These activities were more spiritual and solemnto begin with. My own uncle, brother of my father, Jai Ram Parwana was an artist of his own reckoning. He performed Prabhat Pheris (singing f devotional songs and bani of Guru Ravidass in the mornings in the streets of the colony), wrote poems and songs which were rendered by famous singers and poets on the stages of Gurpurab celebration. By mid 1960s, taking over from my educated seniors namely Om Parkash Mahey, Dharam Chand Mahey, Durga Dass, Bishambar Dass, Bhagwan Dass and others, myself, as a young student and a humble native of Bootan Mandi, got engaged increasingly with these social and spiritual aspects of community living. We, along with my colleagues like Hardial Banger, Manohar Mahey, Darshan Kaler, Sat Paul Mahey, Swaran Dass Duggal, and Prem Shant among others, changed gears and started giving further
|Ramesh Chander beating the Drum on Gurpurab at Bootan Mandi|
I conclude with the hit number of Master Saleem son of legendary Ustad Puran Shah Koti, both sons of soil of Bootan Mandi:
“Bootan Mandi Aajo Jihne Dekhna Nazaara Ae”