Sonic Saturdays

Monsoon melodies: Kajri songs of love and yearning by Girija Devi, Shobha Gurtu and more

This style depicts the protagonist’s pangs of separation and her hope of uniting with her lover.

Folk music of the Gangetic basin has song-forms that are closely associated with the seasons. The significance of the monsoon is abundantly clear from the song-forms that are inspired by it. This episode highlights the kajri, also known as kajli, one of the most important among these.

The connection of the kajri style with the rains is evident from the very name, which is symbolic of the kaajar-like or kohl-like dark rain-clouds. The etymology of the name is also explained by its linkage with Kajali Devi, also known as Vindhyavasini Devi. A temple dedicated to her is situated at Vindhyachal near Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.

The kajri songs describe the splendour of the rains and the manner in which every aspect of nature in fact heightens the female protagonist’s pangs of separation and hopes to unite with her lover. The first track featured here is a kajri rendition by Shyam Bihari Gaud.

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Based on the same melodic template, Urmila Srivastava presents another kajri in the folk idiom.

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As has been the case with many folk forms, the kajri has also been incorporated into the Hindustani concert repertoire by many thumri-dadra exponents. The original composition is based on the folk template, but the vocalists elaborate on the melodic framework intertwining their knowledge of raags and their ability to play on the song-text.

The duet on the next track features Banaras gharana doyenne Girija Devi and Ravi Kichlu. Like the preceding songs, this one is also set to Khemta, a cycle of six matras or time-units.

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I was fortunate to have played tabla on a series titled Songs of Seasons that was published more than two decades ago. This series included a few kajris. Here is one sung by Lakshmi Shankar, a well-known exponent of thumri-dadra and seasonal song-forms. The sarangi accompaniment was provided by Ramesh Mishra. This kajri is set to the 14-matra Deepchandi and concludes with a laggi section that highlights swift rhythmic patterns on the tabla.

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We end with another kajri from the same series. Sung by the charismatic Shobha Gurtu, the harmonium accompaniment is provided by Purushottam Walawalkar. This composition is set to the eight-matra Kaherva, but the lilt deviates from the even-paced 4-4 pattern and almost suggests a Khemta-like swing. The laggi section brings the rendition to a close. Listeners will notice the manner in which Gurtu deviates from the original melodic structure to bring in traces of other raags.

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