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Madan Gopal Singh on the Jugni debate

March 13, 2011


Arif Lohar sining a Jugni with multiple beat instruments – dholak, dhol and bongo and chimta. Even the alghoza – two short and narrow reed flute like instruments – used to keep fast rhythm between three to four notes.

With extreme reluctance, I am trying my hand at English even though my command of this language remains highly suspect. After a recent discussion on Kafila, I felt encouraged to contribute my two-penny bit to the lively debate about Jugni…

Indu ji’s thesis about Jugni, though interesting from an altogether different perspective, sounds to me somewhat credulous from historical and linguistic points of view. This is not to deny that the story is useful. Two village folks – a Muslim (Manda) and a Sikh (Bishna) getting together to sing Jugni on the occasion of the Jubilee flame celebration outside the Red Fort as possibly a sign of protest against the British imperialism – indeed it has its utility. However, not everything attributed to oral history can be accepted as factually verifiable. That much is certain. We need to be doubly cautious while dealing with such instances and impulses to narrativise a pure imaginary as a credible historical fact. Indu ji would have done well to first ascertain the ‘authenticity’ of such a visibly underdeveloped ‘qissa’. It is a different story, though, that someone in Punjab has made academic capital out of this fiction and actually earned an M.Phil degree in folklore.

To the best of my knowledge, we have little or no reference to Jugni being sung in Punjab before the latter half of the 19th century. To me it seems possible to accept that the origins of this genre – like Shori miyaaN’s Tappas – are relatively recent in history. We need to go into the historical reason why this has happened the way it has. As of now, there is very little research work done on either of these forms from a historical or sociological perspective. It is also interesting to note that both these poetic / musical genres are about movement. Whereas Tappas are essentially about the beloved going away and about the woman’s anxiety on being left behind, Jugni is about the voluntary travels of the feminine spirit staged as aggressive subterfuge. Whereas the former, the Tappa, is invariably in the ‘voice’ of a woman, the latter, Jugni, is almost always in the male voice. The woman is always sad and longing for unity in the Tappa, the man in Jugni is always wonder-struck by this constantly traveling, critiquing feminine spirit.

Arif Lohar sings a strident, nationalist and religious Jugni on stage with Benazir Bhutto (?) and a team of indifferent Bhangra dancers and electronic sounds replacing the earlier folk instruments.

As such, I identify three main attributes of Jugni and there may be many more sub-clauses to these three.  Jugni must

1) comment
2) be seen to be traveling
3) either forcibly or furtively enter the space of (limited and not always direct) polemic.

Having said that, there are further three levels at which the poetic genre of Jugni is supposed to function: There is first of all a scene (as description) that may be part of a larger social formation; secondly, this description is supposed to be what the Jugni sees and observes herself as part of her journeys, first hand. This makes the Jugni herself as the primary gaze of the witness as a commentator. Thirdly, there is the reporting authorial voice of the poet/singer – who, at best, seems to function as only a secondary gaze. Thus, we have the scene, the primary observant gaze of Jugni and the secondary gaze of the poet/singer who observes Jugni observing the scene and commenting.

All this, of course, has changed in recent times. The popular film song has completely dislodged Jugni from her enviable position as the primary gaze. Instead, she has now been reduced to a mere spectacle embodying feminine sexuality under a leering/jeering male gaze that might now and then lapse into mock admiration of a fiercely combative Jugni. The author of Jugni has become not only the primary subject of gaze but also, in effect, the virtual or ironic possessor of Jugni herself. Jugni, no longer, travels willfully and without a clearly identifiable cause. She has lost her ability to comment. With Arif Lohar (and, to a large extent, also with his father Alam Lohar) she is seen to be in a mode of quasi-spiritual or, more realistically, religious surrender. The only exception – and an extraordinary exception at that – to this incapacitation of the traditional Jugni is the one that Rabbi wrote and sang for his first album. Here Jugni travels in a state of sadness and reflection all across India accompanied by at times ironic (eg., Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ranting), at times poignant (political deaths and communal carnage) sound bytes from TV channels.

Rabbi’s Jugni in daring slow beat. Video once again by Gurvinder. Arranger-friend of Rabbi, KJ, could be seen in the video.

Having said that I would like to go a step further and propose somewhat controversially that Jugni to me does not seem to be as major a form of collective cultural resistance as, for instance, the poetic genre of Kavishari which is the quintessential folk form of the Malwa region and of which Babu Rajab Ali was a revolutionary exponent. Jugni also does not quite compare in its impact and revolutionary fervor with the energy and intransigence of the Punjabi balladic mode. Even Bhagat Singh’s ghoRiyaan had, for a while, a far deeper impact at the emotional level than any of the Jugnis that we may have heard in our childhood in the post-partition India.

Coming back to the origin of the word, my friend Shama Zaidi suggested to me the day she forwarded this posting on the blog to me that there might be an affinity of sorts between ‘Jugni’ and the Sanskrit word ‘agni’. Even though I have used the word ‘agan’ – and in my reckless moments of self-indulgence I keep doing the impossible – in a Jugni I wrote for the pop-icon Jasbir Jassi of ‘LauNg da lishkara’ fame, I must mention that the word ‘agni’ is not used in the Punjabi language. Moreover, the conjunction of J+agni (etymologically, ‘J’ signifying ‘born of’ and ‘agni’, signifying ‘fire’) will need either a particle in between or an additional vowel sound. In either case the production of the word ‘Jugni’ does not seem phonologically possible through such a mediation in the Punjabi language. I may also mention that when the word ‘agni’ is not used in the urban or pedagogic Punjabi space, it is highly unlikely that it would ever have been used in the rural context.

Jassi’s Jugni in which I used alliterative non-Punjabi expressions such as incantations ‘agan-agantar’ and ‘jugan-jagantar’. Video by Gurvinder. I requested Jassi to use Pakhawaj in Jugni and he readily agreed.

I may also express here my sense of utter bewilderment at Indu ji translating the Punjabi word ‘rann’ as ‘pimp’. In the Punjabi language, the word ‘rann’ is used colloquially for ‘woman’. For ‘pimp’, there are many words but certainly not ‘rann’. Such instances seriously detract from the credibility of a scholar who is proffering to work especially in the field of folk-forms.

In his comments to the posting by Indu ji, Shivam Vij quoted Rahul Roy hinting at a possible affinity between the word ‘Jugni’ and ‘Yogini’. In my humble opinion, this association is seriously flawed. In the Punjabi language, the word for ‘Yogi’ is ‘Jogi’. The feminine gender of ‘Jogi’ is ‘Jugiaani’ (listen, for instance, to Pathane Khan’s “raaNjha jogi meiN jugiaani”). We might also come across frequent references to ‘Jogan’ but ‘Jugni’ as a feminine gender of ‘Jogi’ is unheard of. Even, a word like ‘jogni’ is lexically possible by way of a feminine extension of Jogi but Jugni seems well-nigh impossible. I must point out, however, that in Guru Gobind Singh’s ‘Charitropaakhyaan’ in ‘Dasm Granth’, the word ‘jugni’ – without the acute vowel ‘i’ or what I call the de-stressed ‘i’ – occurs to stand in for the feminine of ‘jogi’ [ref: mahārudra ke jugnì han’é aayhauN, 146]. I may hasten to add, though, that the language of the Guru’s Chritropaakhyaan is not Punjabi.

Amongst the comments in the debate following Indu ji’s article on Jugni is one particularly interesting one by a lady who tries to seek a connection between the ‘siharfis’ [each ‘siharfi’ – normally a poetic unit comprising 4 lines but also very rarely 6 lines as well – opens with one letter from the Arabic alphabets] of Hazrat Sultan Baahu (a 17th century Punjabi Sufi poet) and ‘Jugni’. I think the confusion here is caused by Coke Studio’s highly popular ‘Dam GuTkuN’ sung by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi which has been passed off as ‘Jugni’.

I would like to submit that this offering by the Coke Studio is a mix of at least three different genres. It opens with a peculiarly truncated and transformed siharfi of Sultan Baahu where his four lines stand not only frustratingly reduced to three but marginally changed as well. It then goes on to attempt the Jugni genre by adding the refrain ‘dam guTkuN’ at the end. The addition of this refrain is something that defies logic. We possibly need the genius of a Sukumar Ray to explain the inclusion of this ‘aabol taabol’ at the end. It has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘Jugni’.

The third part where the singers go onto ‘vaNgaaN chaRha lo kuRiyo Daata de darbaar diyaaN’ (literally, ‘get the bangles, o girls, from the court of Data [Ganj Baksh of Lahore] around your arms) is more like a street vendor’s imploring melody and quite unconnected with the genre of Jugni.

Arif Lohar sings his Coke Studio composition in a concert which includes electronic instruments such as a keyboard and octo-pad. Chimta has been dropped as indeed are the alghoza.

But most importantly, this melodic mélange, almost completely, lacks in offering a critique of any sort. It is in a mode of total surrender. If indeed it is a Jugni, I must say it is a very strange one. I may also underline here another feature that may credibly distinguish a Jugni from a siharfi. Whereas a Jugni is always mercurial (Rabbi’s Jugni is perhaps the only exception), siharfis have to be more reposeful and attentive to the basic sounds – especially the vowel and nasal sounds.

And finally, I may also make a few humble suggestions with regard to the text of Rabbi’s Jugni and its translation from another blog which Shivam Vij has adduced in his comments.  The correct text and perhaps the correct translation are as follows:

Jugni jaa vaRi Kashmir
Jiththe roz maran* dass vee(h)
So(h)n*iyaaN bhain*aaN de so(h)n*e veer
O(h) ro ro puchchhan*
Ki ai jhagRaa taayiNoN mukkan*a e
jadoN jhe(h)lam paan*I mukkan*a ai
o(h) veer mereya
o(h) veer mereya ve Jugni kehNdi aa
o neer naveN ik vehNdi aa

Jugni (not ‘the girl’) barged (it is not any other ‘going’. It is either a forcible and aggressive entry or a stealthy one) into Kashmir
Where close to 10-20 lose their lives each day
Handsome brothers all of beautiful sisters
Crying non-stop, they (the sisters?) ask
That this conflict will end only
When the water in Jhelum dries up?
O my brother
O my brother says Jugni
She swims / flows (in) a new water

I sincerely hope that my comments are not offensive and that they may be of some use in this ongoing debate.

Addendum: Though I am not totally sure but I will like to ponder if the word Jugni could in fact not have been conjured out of the root word ‘jug’+a suffix ‘ni’ – ‘jug’ signifying an epoch and the suffix standing in for ‘of the’.  I also find Shivam’s re-gendering of ‘jugnu’ (is it fire-fly or glow worm?) as ‘jugni’ poetically moving. The well-known London-based Punjabi poet, Amarjit Chandan, wrote to me today drawing a parallel between a possible Punjabi word ‘Jaagni’ and ‘Jugni’.  In any case, we have in Punjab an all-women musical form, Jaago, which is staged as a moving spectacle at the time of weddings.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Ajit permalink
    March 13, 2011 7:20 AM

    Perhaps Jugni is related to ‘jogan/jogini’ (rather than ‘agni’) ?

  2. March 13, 2011 11:34 AM

    superb post again,its really nice to know so many ppl having passionate debate about “jugni”,i think it would make for a gr8 documentary subject ,”who is jugni”?,there has to be no concrete answers but just a search ,being a punjabi i am hearing since childhood”oh kudi jugni vargi he” but never gave it a thought ,but after so many yrs ,i feel like its much more deep that just a phrase ,there is a history behind ,kudos to all of u for generating this debate and i suggest to carry it on ,

  3. March 13, 2011 4:58 PM

    Dear Madan,

    Thanks for a great post and for better informing the Jugni debate. Just want to mention for the record that in the comments on her post Indu did say that hers was a cursory look on Jugni and not a result of research. She wrote:

    I agree that this is a very cursory look at the topic. It is heartening to know that Jugni remains as contentious as ever! Its true that someone needs to write a book on Jugni, tracing where she came from and everywhere she’s been.


    Folklore is often rooted in many different stories coming from many different traditions. In this case, Sufism, Shakti and much more recently Sikhism. Studying it is not about trying to pin down an exact story.
    My whole interest in Jugni re-emerged a few weeks ago when I was in a prominently Sikh village and the Mika Singh song from Tanu weds Manu was playing incessantly. When I asked the elders about Jugni, they gave me the rough story of the the two poets; however, other the stories of Jogini/Jugni also makes sense.
    A wider research is needed to include the breadth of the stories about this character, and I am glad that this conversation has brought out so many other interesting points!

    I am grateful to her for posting about Jugni – the deracinated Khatri refugee philistine that I am, I always presumed Jugni simply meant girl. The debate that followed, and your illuminating clarifications not only about what Jugni is but also what Jugni is not – leave me grateful to Indu, you and others who commented on Indu’s post. Thanks also for writing this post in English rather than the Devnagiri Hindi so that those from across the border who have been following it are not deprived of the conversation.

    Lastly, thanks for giving me the correct text and translation of the Kashmir section of Rabbi’s Jugni. It is telling that Jugni barges into Kashmir, so to speak, and while that does speak of Jugni’s character, it affirms my point that Indu’s reading of Rabbi’s Jugni being against occupation is not as apparent. Like Indu, I wish it were so!

  4. voyeur permalink
    March 13, 2011 7:29 PM

    The jugni debate has been one of the most fascinating on this blog. The fact that it is in English (beautiful English might I add, belying the concerns the writer seems to have expressed at the outset) is helpful not only for those across the border but also those across the Vindhyas. Bollywood and music have appreciation of Jugni and her sisters but we still remain uncomfortable with the written form.

  5. Anon permalink
    March 13, 2011 9:20 PM

    Brilliant stuff. As always, thanks Madan.

  6. Madan Gopal Singh permalink
    March 14, 2011 9:52 AM

    Two things:

    1) I forgot to add this clip by the eponymous Gurmeet Bawa who specializes in the ‘lammi hek wali gaayeki’ (long winded throw) folk singing of Punjab. This is one rendition of Jugni in which the Hindu deity Ram finds a place alongside of Ali, Rabb, Pir and SaayiN.

    2) My friend Ali Sethi, the young Pakistani novelist and a fantastic singer, told me that the Coke Studio, Dam GuTkuN by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi, was released within three days of the murderous attack on the dargaah of Daata Ganj Baksh and that it had a deep emotional impact.

    • Harcharan permalink
      June 4, 2012 12:17 AM

      I have very infinity towards sufi’s , I just came to know about this marvalleous personality i.e. Mr. Madan Mohan Singh on NDTV in his interview just 3 hrs before….I admire his direction toward sufism….He is perfect follower of sufism with truth that..”chal bulleya othe chaliyee jithe hovan sare anne , na koi sadi jaat pehchanne na koi sanu manne”……He has such a marvalleous voice and concept of sufism but still he is not famous in public.I would like to know about this personality but I am not getting any information on web , if some one can help me then I shall be really thankful.

  7. Sundeep Dougal permalink
    March 14, 2011 2:12 PM

    Yes, I too had noticed the mistranslation of rann as pimp but refrained from commenting.

    About etymology, in response to the earlier post, I had also wondered whether in addition to the specific dictionary meanings cited (viz. An ornament or jewel worn by women round the neck:—jugnii gáuní, v. n. To sing a song of the Jugní), i wonder whether it too has its origins in the root “jug” (Corrupted from the Sanskrit word Yuga.

    Much more to say on all this, but perhaps later…

  8. Shiraz Hassan permalink
    March 15, 2011 2:57 PM

    This is turning out to be an interesting and thought provoking debate.
    This article is more mature and researched based as compared to the previous one.
    I agree with most of the facts mentioned in this article. But It doesnt satisfies completely. I would like to do some research regarding Jugni and its metaphor. lets see what comes out.

    its really a nice work and loved to read it.

  9. Ponni permalink
    March 15, 2011 3:42 PM

    I really appreciate that there has been a debate that has been raised about a subject that is multi faceted and could be a comment on so many different things that we are all concerned with.

    I am however wondering about the tone of this debate. Why is it that this has become not-so-mildly competitive? Is there a way to have a conversation on blogs while keeping it at all times respectful and pleasant? I recently met someone who commented on this subject and this person didn’t mean to allude to the serious allegations that could have been read into this person’s comment. It was part of ‘the casual language online’ I was told. For me commenting on a blog is also a well thought out exercise. And that is because it is one of those rare spaces for conversation among those who might not always live in the same worlds and do not get to talk to one another. Within that, I believe that the most scathing critique can be presented without being patronising and in a graceful manner. Some how I always find this missing in kafila and other places and that often puts many people off engaging.

    I for one do no want to be patronised or bullied in the public sphere when the intention was only to spark off a debate based on work that is based on my own background as a researcher and the understanding that comes from that. It might be limited and initial, but isn’t that the case with all research? The day we begin to think of our thought and work as all encompassing and complete, aren’t we redundant? I definitely would think twice before placing any one else in this position again also.

    However, all the best to you Shiraz and hope some more work comes out of it. And I wonder if this debate had been a bit more cordial, it would be possible to consider doing this research collectively by all those who have participated in this conversation. Maybe it is still not an unlikely idea and I am just biased about non-cordial debates? I hope that is so.

    Thanks again for an exciting conversation everyone.

  10. March 30, 2011 12:19 AM

    I am learning.

  11. Anant permalink
    December 5, 2012 9:03 AM

    Link to Rabbi’s jugni, the link in the article is dead:

    Link Gurmeet Bawa’s jugni:

  12. Ashima permalink
    October 2, 2013 11:35 PM

    I was interested in this and tried to find old punjabi dictionaries in my college (Kamala Nehru College). We have a Punjabi section. Some of the dictionaries are older than the years in which jugni appeared as a song genre. It said that it means a necklace.


  1. Debate on origin of ‘Jugni’ « nalayak rooh
  2. Who Killed Jugni?: Shiraz Hassan « Kafila
  3. | طفل مکتب
  4. Coke Studio Pakistan – At a crossroads: Nandini Krishnan « Kafila

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