sunday sounds

Five videos show why Alam Lohar remains one of Punjab’s iconic folk cultural heroes

He died in an accident near Sham ki Bhaitiyan on July 3, 1979 but his music and legacy live on.

Before the internet, before TV, before films and before radio, the most popular form of entertainment for the people of rural and small town Punjab was a raucous form of folk theatre known as nautanki. Troupes, sometimes called akharas, and other times, mandalis, toured the countryside and crowded urban neighbourhoods, providing entertainment by singing, dancing, choreographed fighting and storytelling. Sort of like the travelling tent shows or a mini-carnival in the West, the mandalis would start their shows in the late evening and play non-stop for up to eight hours when the sun was well above the horizon.

This form of theatre, while not completely extinct, is less and less of a crowd-puller in South Asia today.  TV, film, video games and the internet have all had a perilous impact on the livelihoods of musicians, actors and acrobats who relied on this colourful form of theatre for their living.

Alam Lohar remains one of Punjab’s iconic folk cultural heroes.  With a keening tenor voice he recited in music the many love songs of Punjab and regaled audiences with his renditions of sufi poetry.  He kept beat and led his accompanists with the incessant rhythmic clicking of his chimta (ironsmith’s tongs) – the simplest of rural instruments but one that Lohar played so effectively that he and the instrument are nearly synonymous.

Born into a family of blacksmiths (hence his name, Lohar) in Gujrat district, Lohar, as a young lad astounded his elders with the sweetness and power of his voice and quickly found his way into the rural musical society of Punjab. In time he is credited with inventing a new style of singing Punjabi ‘vaar’ (folk tale).


Lohar is credited with bringing the term ‘jugni’ (firefly) into the musical lexicon and throughout his career he performed many versions of this (or similarly titled) song.  This video tells you so much about this amazing performer: his great natural talent as a singer and actor; his absolute passion for music; his theatrical sense of timing as well as his versatile voice.  Lohar’s energy was legendary as was his stamina.  One can only feel for the bevy of lady dancers in this clip (and the item number below) that he so thoughtlessly ran into the ground. On an ancillary note, this Pakistani film clip is of interest for the way in which it refers back to a pre-Partition time when Sikhs and Hindu panditjis (replete with turbans and  exaggerated choti) were a part of the rural scene.

Kalaam (Saif ul Malook)

Another side of Lohar, without the mise en scene of the film studio, is that of straight-ahead vaar singer of Punjab.  Here he gives a heartfelt interpretation of some kalaam from the 19th century mystical masterpiece Saif ul Malook written by Mian Mohammad Bakhsh of Mirpur district in Kashmir.  The vigour and passion with which Lohar imbued everything he sang is evident in this clip. Lohar was one of the first to put the poetry of Saif ul Malook to music, something for which all music lovers are forever in his debt.  Lohar was not just a performer but a poet in his own right, penning a corpus of mystical and rustic lyrics which he would insert into this shows and performances with as much pride as he would the songs of the ‘greats’.

Ho tu gabroo Jat Punjab da

A gem of a video clip, also from a Pakistani film.  Lohar performs in the street in the fashion typical of the travelling minstrel the species he so well represented during his lifetime. The clip is full of fun and humour from the inexplicable police posse idling about to the vivacious beauty pounding the pavement of the village while stone-like onlookers imitate the Punjab constabulary. A special treat emerges when one realises that the lungi-wearing and slightly confused Jat which Lohar is poking fun at is none other than the great Sultan Rahi, king of the Punjabi rural melodrama.

Moda maar ke Sorry

This has to be one of the strangest item numbers ever. Alam Lohar, as ever decked out in his signature dhoti and rumaal, ripping up the dance floor in a song that plays on the English phrases ‘Excuse me’, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Never mind’, with trendy Bhutto-era ladies once again struggling to keep up with the frenetic energy of Lohar sahib.  Before seeing this yourself you’d never rate Lohar as sex object.  But as ever, his moves are liquid quick and seductive. His usual expert chimta work and nautanki percussion is complemented by some very cool electric guitar runs and keyboard noodlings worthy of a mid-sixties psychedelic band in full flight. One wonders if this is not the work of the Tafo Brothers, Pakistan film industry’s experimental sibling music composers?

Heer te Ranjha di pehli gal

We (sadly) wind up this quick glimpse at the genius of the Sher-e-Punjab of folk music with a true favourite of the nautanki circuit: a scene from the epic Heer Ranjha in which the two lovers meet for the first time. This epic of Waris Shah was a staple of the travelling music theatre shows that used to criss cross Punjab and Alam Lohar loved performing the songs.  Lohar is famous for his rendition of Waris Shah’s Heer, which he had completely memorised and performed in numerous styles.  Though almost all nautanki akharas were run by men, women singers and performers were not entirely unheard of.  Indeed, in the 1960s Alam Lohar combined with the voice and talents of probably Punjab’s greatest  female nautanki artist, Bali Jaggi.  It is a delight to listen to the soulful dialogue between the two singers (and characters) which brings the story to life so eloquently.

Alam Lohar died in an accident near Sham ki Bhaitiyan on July 3, 1979 but his legacy is carried forward by his son Arif Lohar.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.