India and its folk music

Celebrating musical diversity on World Music Day


June 20, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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Different forms of folk music of India

Different forms of folk music of India

Every year June 21 is celebrated worldwide as World Music Day to mark the impact of music in our lives. The celebration of the day began with the inception of the Fête de la Musique in France in 1982. It was introduced to celebrate music through street performances and free concerts. Since then it has gradually acquired exposure and spread to many cities and countries worldwide.

Music has always been an important part of Indian lives and with its rich cultural diversity, it has provided the world with various forms of folk music. While Indian classical music displays the art of music, the folk music of India reflect the way of life in Indian society. They are influenced by many things like region, festivals, professions and even seasons. Even though folk music may seem to have lost its shine against the new arising music forms, but still even today the traditional events are incomplete without them. Here is a list of few forms of folk music which reflect the Indian culture:


Lavani artists performing at an event

Lavani artists performing at an event

Lavani is a popular genre of music in west-Indian state of Maharashtra which is generally performed by women accompanied by foot-tapping dholki (a percussion instrument) beats. It is a combination of traditional song and dance and is often used in theatrical performances with socio-political or sensually charged lyrics.

Originally performed for entertainment and as morale booster for soldiers during the 18th and 19th century, lavani came into prominence during the Peshwa rule. Lavani songs which are sung along with dance are divided into two types- Nirguni Lavani, which is devotional and philosophical in nature and Shringari Lavani, which is sensual and is meant to draw laughter from its listeners with the erotic subject matter. Performed by women in bright-coloured nine-yard saris called nauvari, the music has also been implemented in Bollywood movies.



Bihu performers playing musical instrument gogona

This folk music from the state of Assam in north-east India is performed during Bihu celebrations in a year depending on the crop cycle. Initially it was performed only during Rongali Bihu, but nowadays it is also performed at the other two Bihus (Bhogali bihu, Kati bihu), and even in social events. This folk music is also accompanied by dance and is performed by young boys and girls dressed in traditional garbs. The performance is distinguished by the composition of performers­­- Husori (when a group of boys and girls perform together) and Jeng Bihu (when only a group of girls perform).

One of the oldest versions of Assamese folk-song, Bihugeet talks about nature, life in farmland, love and relationships, social messages and even stories. It is accompanied by various unique musical instruments like dhol (drum), pepa (hornpipe), gogona (jaw harp), taal (cymbals), toka, xutuli and banhi (flute).


Baul singers

Baul singers along with their musical instruments

Part of the culture of rural West Bengal (east India), the word Baul originates from Sanskrit words Vatula (madcap) or Vyakula (restless) and means divine inspired insanity and is dated back to 15th century. Accompanied with musical string-instruments such as Khamak, Ektara and Dotara, the Baul singers sing songs inspired by Hinduism as well as Sufism as they travel around in search of philosophical enlightenment.

The songs are mostly philosophical and allegorical in nature and talk about love, nature and the divine. They even narrate folktales and comment on contemporary issues through their lyrics.

Villu Paatu

Performers of Villu Paatu

Performers of Villu Paatu

A popular folk music in the south-Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Villu Paatu is an ancient form of musical story-telling. Known by the name of ‘Bow Song’ due to the use of the musical instrument villu (bow fixed with bells), the music illustrates about social messages and mythological themes. The main singer narrates a tale which is interspersed with songs sung by the chorus accompanying him. This folk music is equally appealing to village community and the urban section of the society and portrays the cultural heritage of the state.

Uttarakhandi music

One of the Uttarakhandi folk art

One of the Uttarakhandi folk art

The folk songs of the north-Indian state of Uttarakhand mainly refer to the traditional and contemporary songs of Kumaon and Garhwal regions in the foothills of Himalayas. Often performed during festivals and religious gatherings, the songs convey the beauty of nature in the region and bravery of historical characters and folktales.

The folk songs of the state are divided according to occasions like religious songs, auspicious songs, heroic narrative songs, seasonal songs and songs about love and romance and are performed with musical instruments like masakbaja (bagpipes), dhol, dholki, wind-instrument bhankora and ransingha (trumpet).

There are many other folk music forms found in India other than the above mentioned like West Bengal’s Bhatiali sung by boatmen, Maharashtra’s Koli sung by fishermen, Bhangra and Jugni from Punjab, Maand from Rajasthan and Pandavani in central and south-east Indian states.

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