Are we preserving Punjabi culture?

In the last five decades, Punjab has failed to form and implement any concrete policy on culture. At best it has indulged in ad hocism and experimentation on the whims and fancies of various bureaucrats who were posted in this department. Only two bureaucrats can be credited with taking some concrete steps towards the advancement of culture in Punjab. These two enthused IAS officers were Ravneet Kaur and Rupan Deol Bajaj. I vividly recall that Ravneet Kaur had introduced the brilliant idea of establishing a Punjabi theatre repertory, when she was heading the department. The repertory was to do theatre in Punjabi on the lines of which is done by the National School of Drama repertory. But unfortunately this idea could not be implemented because of petty rivalries within the department. ÿ However, both Ravneet Kaur and Rupan Deol Bajaj had successfully revived the dying art of phulkari. They had not only modernised but also evolved a methodology to market phulkari. While Ravneet used phulkari for the interiors of tourist resorts in Punjab, Rupan transferred it from bedspreads to salwar kameezes and blouses. However, this endeavour could not be sustained. Today, phulkari is seen in some of the emporia but is not popular. While export of garments with chikan and Kutch embroidery from Lucknow and Gujarat, respectively, is running into crores of rupees, phulkari has lost its appeal even in Punjab.

The plight of the performing arts in Punjab is no better. Although the so-called guardians of society continue to give the argument that Punjabi culture could not flourish because it faced repeated invasions yet it has to be admitted that no worthwhile efforts have been made in this regard either by the state or by the people of Punjab. Culture is an ever-evolving process and efforts have to be made to keep it thriving. The Patiala Gharana gayaki is today being kept alive by non-Punjabis like Ustad Ajay Chakrabarty, Ustad Mazhar Ali Khan and Ustad Jawaad Ali Khan. There is, however, not a single singer from Punjab who has followed Patiala Gharana.

The fate of sufiana kalaam is also bleak, as singers like Hans Raj Hans are being pushed by market demand to opt for cheap, hurriedly written lyrics in the name of Punjabi pop. The rich heritage of sufiana kalaam is slowly but surely dying in the state. I wonder for how long the two Wadali brothers can continue to breathe life into this form of singing. The rich poetry of Bulleh Shah, Hashim, Amir Khusrau that showered the nectar of wisdom, love, devotion and truth on sufiana kalaam will be restricted to museums for the coming generations of Punjab.

In this grim backdrop, a ray of hope has been kindled by the Patiala Heritage Society, which has organised the Heritage Festival in Patiala. The patronage from Capt. Amarinder Singh for this society generates hope on two accounts. One, he can ensure financial support. Second, and more important, is that he has shown keen interest in the revival of neglected and dying arts.

The classical forms of music, dance and art like the Patiala Gharana gayaki, sufiana kalaam, kathak, classical vocal and classical instruments like the rabab, tabla and sarangi have alt disappeared. What is visible is just giddha and bhangra, and they too are in the pop form. Even these two dance forms have not grown in a positive direction. The bolis (theme narration) of giddha speak of casteism, ritualism and gender bias. The new generation has not tried to introduce any changes in these bolis. Hence, even today, they continue to glorify the birth of a male child, superiority of the so-called upper castes and eulogise male domination. Bhangra, on the other hand, has lost all its grace, finer body language and its very basic meaning of depicting a certain mood and season of the year.

Credit must be given to the Patiala Heritage Society for taking lead in reviving the serious arts of Punjab. Folk art forms come easily to the natives of any area. It is the serious art forms for which people and the state have to strive to preserve. Whether it is Patiala Gharana or sufiana kalaam, complete devotion is required to cultivate, inculcate, and patronise them. The citizens of the state must introspect and ask themselves one question: why is the youth leading a trivialised existence’ Punjab needs to look into the lifestyle of people of Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, U.P. or Assam. Children there are pushed into serious art forms since the age of 4 or 5.
The decision of the Patiala Heritage Society to hold an annual Heritage Festival deserves appreciation. Thankfully, they have not allowed the festival to be superficial by offering fun and frolic alone. To bring in Ajay Chakrabarty face to face with the people of Punjab might generate certain serious questions. It is this non-Punjabi, one of the t celebrated exponents of Patiala Gharana, who has spent all his life in building up an audio-library of recordings of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and his followers. Living in Kolkata, he has kept Patiala Gharana alive by imparting this gayaki to his students.

The society has also invited Hans Raj Hans, who will render his long lost expertise in sufiana kalaam. Besides, Jagjit Singh will sing Punjabi poetry and Sonal Mansingh will expose people of Punjab to dance forms of other states. A renowned political satire, Ghasi Ram Kotwal, will be enacted in Punjabi by theatre director Kewal Dhaliwal. Madanbala Sandhu’s Vichhere Pani is bound to delight and revive the rich folk culture of Punjab. Kathak by Pt. Birju Maharaj, classical vocal by Pt. Jasraj and sitar recital by Ustad Vilayat Khan will be some of the other highlights of the festival.  

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