‘Jugni’ is an age-old folk narrative ploy used in Punjabi folk music, and a couple of other regional languages, like Sindhi, Rajputana, and even Hyderabadi. John T. Platts’s Classical Hindi and English Dictionary defined it as an ornament worn by women, and also a firefly or a glowworm.
The use of this word in folk music brought a shift from its literal meaning to a metaphorical one. The word started being used in a spiritual sense as well as to refer to a free-spirited woman, a rebel, ahead of her times, who likes to pursue her dreams, as she pushes beyond the social norms.
Jugni has been used as a narrative of resilience, a means to symbolise love, a voice of the collective consciousness. The use of this Jugni, or the specific style of storytelling in music, is also an expression of life lived by communities through various ages.
The origin of the word can be traced back to 1906 to the village Manjha, close to Amritsar. Two illiterate but extremely talented poet Bishna and Manja are attributed to the use of this genre and their freestyle music, that they took to the people as they travelled through the bylanes of the villages in pre-independence Punjab.
During the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, the Jubilee flame was taken to every district headquarter of every state under the British Empire. In Punjab, the revolting sentiments were brewing, but still at a nascent stage. Also, the Jalianwala Bagh massacre was still a decade away. Dissent, could, however, be read in popular folk music.
The poets, Bishna and Manja followed the procession of the Jubilee flame and sang songs channelling the anger of the people against the establishment. This is considered to be the first instance when the poets use the term ‘jugni’. ‘Jugni’ might be the corrupt form of the English word ‘jubilee’. So impressive was their music that many people would come out in abound to see them perform. Their growing popularity landed the poets in trouble, and they were arrested by the British police.
Over a period of time, many other budding poets and singers started using this style of storytelling, employing Jugni to tell cultural and societal tales of that time.
In contemporary times, ‘Jugni’ was popularised by Alam Lohar’s rendition of this folk genre in his hypnotic song, Jugni. He is the first singer to have recorded Jugni on an electronic medium, which is also one of the reasons how the popularity of this song traveled across regions. The Jugni of Lohar is gender-neutral, and mostly spiritual, where an understanding of the material world and God is being forged.
Later his son, Arif Lohar sung the song for Coke Studio. Many other folk singers and Punjabi singers have adopted Jugni, including Rabbi Shergill.
This feisty character, who is a sort of a nomad defying the norms, living a life of her own terms and conditions, surfaces very often in Bollywood music. A few popular tracks to employ this narrative device in their music has been Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye (2008), Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Queen (2013), and Highway (2014).
In the song Jugni from Queen, the song, with its right use of instruments, delivers a modern edge to the folk song. The song is a celebration of the drive of a woman who takes a leap of faith into the dreary world to break free from the shackles as she chases her dreams.
In Highway, Patakha Guddi draws heavily from the spiritual form of this narrative. The song celebrates the character of Jugni, who finally renounces her shyness, flouting the customs, she is on a path of spiritual enlightenment.
The trajectory of an effervescent ‘Jugni’ transcends time and space. She has travelled through the colonial world, raising a voice of resistance, to a more contemporary world, where she chases her dreams across continents. Women need to be reminded of these tales so that they too can challenge all those voices that question her choices, and her constant quest for freedom.
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