Folk Music Tradition

Folk music is the music of the common people, as opposed to the established classical music. Its name is derived from the German volk, which means ‘people. ‘Folk music began as a traditional genre, associated with the folklore of the region.

General Characteristics of Folk Music

    • Most of the compositions cannot be traced to any one particular source
    • Numerous influences acted on a song, including creativity, forgetfulness, previously learned songs, and stylistic expectations. As a result, it might become shorter or more like new styles of prevalent music
    • The knowledge was transmitted orally rather than through any written sources
    • An important aspect of traditional folk music is that its survival is based on acceptance by a community
    • Each performance of a song may be unique in different regions

Some of the important folk (regional) musical traditions in India are indicated below:

Serial NumberRegional Music styleFeatures
1. Rasiya Geet, Uttar Pradesho   The rich tradition of singing Rasiya Geet flourished in Braj which is the sacred land of Lord Krishna’s charming leelas from time immemorial.

o   This is not confined to any particular festival, but is closely woven into the very fabric of daily life and day to day chores of its people.

o   ‘Rasiya’ word is derived from the word rasa (emotion) because rasiya means that which is filled with rasa or emotion. It reflects the personality of the singer as well as the nature of the song.

2.Pankhida, RajasthanSung by the peasants of Rajasthan while doing work in the fields, the peasants sing and speak while playing algoza and manjira. The literal meaning of the word ‘Pankhida’ is lover.
3.Lotia, Rajasthano   ‘Lotia’ is sung in the chaitra month during the festival – ‘Lotia’.

o   Women bring lotas (a vessel to fill water) and kalash (a vessel considered to be auspicious to fill water during worship) filled with water from ponds and wells. They decorate them with flowers and come home.

4.Pandavani, Chhattisgarho   In Pandavani, tales from Mahabharata are sung as a ballad and one or two episodes are chosen for the night’s performance.

o   The main singer continuously sits throughout the performance and with powerful singing and symbolic gestures he assumes all the characters of the episode one after another.

5.Shakunakhar – Mangalgeet, Kumaono   Numberless songs are sung on auspicious occasions in the foothills of Himalaya.

o   Shakunakhar are sung during religious ceremonies of baby-shower, child-birth, Chhati (a ritual done on the sixth day from the birth of a child) Ganesh pooja etc. These songs are sung by only ladies, without any instrument.

6.Barhamasa, Kumaono   This regional music from Kumaon is describing the twelve months of a year, each with its specific qualities.

o   In one of the songs the Ghughuti bird symbolizes the onset of chait month. A girl in her in laws place asks this bird not to speak because she is disturbed with the memories of her mother (Ija) and she is feeling sad.

7.Mando, GoaGoan regional music is a treasury of the traditional music of the Indian subcontinent. Mando, the finest creation of Goan song is a slow verse and refrain composition dealing with love, tragedy and both social injustice and political resistance during Portuguese presence in Goa.
8.Alha, Uttar PradeshAlha, typical ballad of Bundelkhand narrates the heroic deeds of Alha and Udal, the two warrior brothers who served Raja Parmal of Majoba. This is the most popular regional music of Bundelkhand which is popular elsewhere in the country
9.Hori, Uttar PradeshThe history of Hori, its evolution and tradition is quite ancient. It is based on the love pranks of ‘RadhaKrishna’. Hori singing is basically associated with the festival of Holi only. In India tradition of singing Hori during spring season and while celebrating Holi has been continuing since ancient times
10.Sohar, Uttar PradeshSocial ceremonies have, at times, served as a potent factor for intermingling of different cultures. North India has a strong tradition of singing ‘Sohar’ songs when a son is born in a family. This has influenced the Muslim culture and a form of ‘Sohar’ song gained currency in the Muslim families living in some regions of Uttar Pradesh. ‘Sohar’ songs unmistakably point to the mingling of two cultures.
11.Chhakri, Kashmiro   Chhakri is a group song which is the most popular form of Kashmir’s folk music.

o   It is sung to the accompaniment of the noot (earthen pot) rababs, sarangi and tumbaknari

12.Kajri, Uttar PradeshKajri is a folk song sung by women, from Uttar Pradesh and adjacent region, during rainy season. On the third day in the second half of the bhadra, women sing Kajri songs all through the night, while dancing in a semi-circle.
13.Qawwalio   Originally, Qawwalis were sung in praise of God.

o   In India Qawwali was brought from Persia around thirteenth century and Sufis enlisted its services to spread their message.

o   Amir Khusro (1254-1325) a Sufi and an innovator contributed to the evolution of Qawwali.

o   It is a mode of singing rather than a form of composition. In performance Qawwali presents a fascinating, interchanging use of the solo and choral modalities.

14.Tappa, PunjabTappa is a form of semi classical vocal music inspired by the folk songs of camel riders in the Punjab area. Tappa, in Punjabi and Pashto language, is set in ragas generally used for the semi classical forms. It is characterized by jumpy and flashy tonal movements with rhythmic and rapid notes.
15.Powada, Maharashtrao   Powada is the traditional folk art from Maharashtra.

o   The word Powada itself means “the narration of a story in glorious terms”.

o   The narratives are always odes in praise of an individual hero or an incident or place.

o   The chief narrator is known as the Shahir who plays the duff to keep the rhythm.

o   The tempo is fast and controlled by the main singer who is supported by others in chorus.

o   The earliest notable Powada was the Afzal Khanacha Vadh (The Killing of Afzal Khan) (1659) by Agnidas which recorded Shivaji’s encounter with Afzal Khan.

16.Teej Songs, Rajasthano   Teej is celebrated with great involvement by women of Rajasthan. This is a festival celebrated on the third day after the new moon or amavasya ofshraavana month.

o   The theme of the songs sung during this festival revolve around the union of Shiva and Parvati, the magic of monsoon, greenery, peacock dance etc.

17.Burrakatha, Andhra Pradesh


Burrakatha is a highly dramatic form of ballad.  A bottle shaped drum (tambura) is played by the main performer while reciting a story. The ballad singers, like stage actor, wear make-up and a highly stylised costume.


18.Bhakha, Jammu and Kashmiro   The Bhakha form of folk music is popular in Jammu region.

o   Bhakha is sung by the villagers when harvesting is done. It is considered to be the regional music with most melodic and harmonious elements. It is sung to the accompaniment of instruments like harmonium.

19.Bhuta song, Keralao   The basis of Bhuta song is rooted in superstitions. Some communities of Kerala do Bhuta rituals to send away the evil ghost and spirits.

o   This ritual is accompanied with vigorous dancing and the music has a piercing and eerie character.

20.Daskathia, Odishao   Daskathia is a form of ballad singing prevalent in Odisha. Daskathia is a name derived from a unique musical instrument called “Kathi” or “Ram Tali”, wooden clappers used during the presentation.

o   The performance is a form of worship and offering on behalf of the “Das”, the devotee.

21.Bihu songs, Assamo   Bihu songs (bihu geet) are the most distinctive type of folk songs of Assam, both for their literary content and for their musical mode.

o   Bihu songs are blessings for a happy new year and the dance is associated with an ancient fertility cult.

o   It is Bihu time when an opportunity is there for marriageable young men and women to exchange their feelings

22.Sana Lamok, Manipuro   Manipur’s hills and valley-both are fond of music and dance. Sana Lamok is sung at the time of coronation ceremony by the Maaiba (priest).

o   It may also be sung to welcome the king. It is sung to evoke the spirit of Pakhangba, the presiding deity. There is a belief that this song is potent with magical powers.

23.Songs of Lai Haraoba Festival, Manipuro   The meaning of Lai Haraoba is the festival of gods and goddesess.

o   It is performed for the Umang-Lai (forest deity). Ougri Hangen, song of creation and Heijing Hirao a ritualistic song is sung on the last day of Lai Haraoba festival.

24.Saikuti Zai (songs of Saikuti), Mizoramo   Mizo are traditionally known as a ‘singing tribe’. The regional folk songs of Mizoram constitute the richest heritage of Mizos.

o   Saikuti, a poetess of Mizoram composed songs in praise of warriors, brave hunters, young men aspiring to be great warriors and hunters etc.

25.Chai hia (songs of the Chai Dance), Mizoramo   As per Mizo custom during the Chapchar Kut festival not only singing, dance should also continue throughout the festival.

o   Special occasion for singing and dancing is called ‘chai’ and songs are known as ‘chai hia’ (chai songs).

26.Villu Pattu, “Bow Song”, Tamil Naduo   Villu Pattu is a popular folk music of Tamil Nadu. The lead singer also plays the role of the main performer.

o   He also handles the dominating instrument which is bow shaped. The songs revolve around theological themes and the conquest of good over evil is emphasized.