Who is Jugni?: Indu Vashist
Guest post by INDU VASHIST
The character of Jugni has been featuring in Punjabi popular and folk music for well over a century. The most recent references of this rebellious, fiery female character have appeared in diverse productions like Pakistan’s Coke Studio (above), Punjab’s sensicore rocker Rabbi Shergill, and of course Bollywood in films like Tanu Weds Manu and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
In the various versions of this song, Jugni is a spunky, rebellious character, who does not fit into the traditional feminine norms: she wears western clothes, flirts with men in the streets, wants to drive (either a Bullet motorcycle or a Fiat car, depending on the era), is poor but aims for upward class mobility, speaks English, wants to travel all over (depending on the era she travels all over Punjab, Britain or Canada). The singer, usually a man, sings of loving Jugni, but feeling insecure by Jugni’s defiant character (above): Mainu Kale chad Ke Jandi, Fir Baaja Mar Banandi (First she leaves me then calls after me). The singer often laments that the pain of loving this rebellious character will kill him (below): Eh ladh di ae na darrdi phad ke daang mure khad di aa. (She fights, doesn’t have fear, she always carries a stick as a weapon with her).
Jugni Tap Tap Tap Tap Khoon Bahaundi (Jugni, drip, drip, drip, drip, spills blood)
The first version of this song can be traced back to 1906, written and performed by Bishna and Manda. Manda, as he was commonly known was born as Mohammad in Hasanpur, Thana Vairowal in Amritsar District, Punjab. Bishna was a Jatt from a village in Majha area, close to Amritsar. Both men were illiterate poets who would roam from village to village composing songs and freestyling when given money. In 1906, they are said to have been around the age of 50.
In 1906, the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, a Jubilee flame was taken across the British Empire to celebrate her rule. The flame, carried in a large gold container, was taken to the every district headquarters. As the flame arrived, the district government was supposed to greet it with pomp and ceremony. When the flame reached Punjab, there was nascent freedom struggle anger against the Empire brewing. Bishna and Manda followed the flame from district to district, performing their own poetry and folk music parallel to the pomp of the colonial government. Their versions contained references to Jugni, the rebellious woman. Bishna and Manda had misheard the word ‘Jubilee’ for Jugni and started writing verses that channelled the anger of the region against the British as symbolised by the Jubilee flame. As they travelled behind the flame, their popularity grew; people from all around came to attend their performances. Jugni became a metaphor for the growing unrest against the British.
Many other poets took on the Jugni metaphor and started composing their own songs with similar grammatical structures. Following other Punjabi folk songs’ customs of mentioning specific villages, the specific village of Jugni was meant to highlight either a specific site of struggle or just to contexualise the song. The basic structure of the song can be heard here in a pre-independence recording:
The early Jugni songs had lyrics like:
Jugni jaa varhi Majithe (Jugni is from Majithe, i.e., the district of Bishna and Manda)
koi Rann na Chakki peethe (No pimp should have to go to the grinder – common hard labour in colonial prisons)
Putt Gabhru mulak vich mare (Our country’s young men are dying)
rovan Akhiyan par Bulh si seete (Our eyes are crying, trying to forget)
Piir mereya oye Jugni ayi aa (Oh god, Jugni is coming)
ehnan kehrhi jot jagaee aa (What kind of light is this?)
According to oral histories, as word of Bishna and Manda’s performances got around, large crowds gathered to see the performances, the police started to break up the shows. The British started to get worried about the revolutionary undertones of Jugni songs and the way that people began to talk of the British. The police finally arrested Bishna and Manda in Gujaranwala. They are said to have been tortured and murdered by the police for inciting people against the Empire.
Jugni as a concept still exists within popular Punjabi music today. Rabbi Shergill’s recent version (below) of the song follows the traditional grammar of the song, but refers to the anger brewing in Kashmir and the uprising there against occupation. The character of Jugni is rooted in defiance and rebellion, today that takes on not only Rabbi Shergill’s literal interpretation of the legacy of this folk form, but brings back a fiery woman character back into the popular lexicon.