“Hoop Gye Album” of Khowar folk songs launched
By Zahoor ul Haq Danish
Chitral (TP) November 25, 2020: The first ever studio-recorded album of Khowar folk songs was launched in Chitral recently. The album is part of “Anwar Anam Initiative for Music”, an initiative sponsored by the renowned Pakistani-American business entrepreneur Anwar Aman to preserve and archive the folk heritage of Khowar through state-of-the-art studio audio/video recording. The album features legendary artists of Chitral and Gilgit Baltistan, namely Mansoor Ali Shabab, Niaz Hunzai, Basharat Basha and their band. The recordings were done under the artistic and technical guidance of Wajahat Shah Alami, a reputed musician and artist of the north.
The album, which includes a remarkable fusion of traditional and modern musical instruments, consists of three folk songs of Khowar, all of which are associated to women. What distinguishes the genre of Khowar folk heritage in general is that almost all the known folk songs of Khowar, sung and cherished over more than four centuries by the indigenous Dardic community, originate in women’s voice. These songs incorporate in them themes of greater significance like heroism, bravery, stoicism, patience, protection of environment, sanctity of life cycle and compassion for the wild life, apart from inspiring sentiments of moral and educational significance.
One of the songs titled “Ghoru”, for instance, dramatizes the tragedy of a hunted ibex. The painful drama of the tragedy manifests itself in every line of every verse. By genre, the song is a perfect example of folk ballad, as it tells a story; moves on in dialogue form; concentrates on a single episode; includes incremental repetitions and refrain; moves on in a dramatic manner; dramatizes a tragic story; and ends abruptly.
The song is composed of un-rhyming verses of even length. The first line of every verse expresses the worry of the kid, whereas the second line of every verse voices the pacification of the mother-ibex.
The imminent tragedy of the hunt of the mother by a hunter is heralded in the deep worry and sense of insecurity of the kid.
The situation of the song is that while grazing on high mountain pasture, the kid senses the looming tragedy, but is not able to figure out how it is going to happen and how to avert it. Overwhelmed by a deep worry, she looks all around and downhill at the nomad settlement—a hamlet.
Lo, she sees a human figure (hunter?) down at the bottom of the terrain, steadily walking uphill towards the high pasture. A deep worry grips her heart. She keeps inquiring her mother about this usual, but somehow unusual, sight of a human being walking up towards the pasture from the downhill village. The mother takes the sight very usual: that of a shepherd treading uphill to drive her herd. She takes the sight for granted and pays no special heed. How could she know that the ‘shepherd’ is carrying along her tragedy!
The emotions-packed song goes as:
“Mother, dear mother! Who is walking up down there?”
“Oh mother’s darling! A shepherd of pastures he is!”
“Mother, dear mother! The gun barrel is flickering.”
“Oh mother’s darling, it is a gleam of the sunlight only.”
“Mother, dear mother! Blood drops are spilling down your chest.”
“Oh mother’s darling! I am only sweating from the heat of summer.”
“Mother, dear mother! Who will keep watch atop the cliff?”
“Oh mother’s darling, the brave kid herself will do.”
“Mother, dear mother! Who shall protect the orphans?”
“Oh mother’s darling! The Almighty God will.”
“Mother, dear mother! Which path shall the orphan be treading?
“Oh mother’s darling! The mountain track they will be treading!”
Ritualistically, the song was supposed to be sung while returning from a successful ibex hunt. However, interestingly (intentionally?) the pathos in the story strongly evokes antihunting sentiments through arousing sentiments of deep pity for the ibex family.
Another song titled “Begal’s Song” is basically a threnody, sung by a mother on tragic assassination of her son Begal by the king’s men. However, the way the mother acts and sings it, makes it a great heroic song.
The background story of the song goes that a young man named Mirza Begal (1620c) lived in Shoghor, one of the scenic valleys of Chitral. The rulers of the erstwhile state of Chitral had their summer palace at Shoghor, which was also sometimes used as a regional administrative centre of the royalty. As a tradition, where there were palaces there would be means of recreation and sport for the royal elite. Polo had been the most favourtie hobby of rulers and elites of the state. Mirza Begal, being from one of the notable families of the time, was a reputed player of polo. His and the Mehtar’s (ruler’s) teams were considered as traditional rivals of the game, and most of the times Begal’s team would beat out the royal one.
Once on the occasion of some festival the royal team challenged Begal’s team to a match for a bet. Begal accepted the challenge. Day and time for the game were set, players were gathered, and horses were prepared. The Mehtar collected his players the night before the match and said that losing the match to Begal this time would be tantamount to losing his royal glory. “We have to win this match at any cost,” enunciated the Mehtar. Someone among them said that with Begal living and playing against them they couldn’t even think of winning against his team. And, thus, the plot to murder Begal in the dead of night was hatched, and executed.
In the morning when Begal’s mother went into his room to wake him up, she found to her utter shock that her dearest son had been brutally murdered, and there his slaughtered body lay in blood. She realized for sure that the Mehtar’s men had done it out of cowardice. She gathered her nerves, and made her mind to keep the matter to herself till the end of the much awaited game. She gathered her emotions; covered her beloved son’s dead body; hid it in her house; put on Begal’s polo dresses; masked her face; rode Begal’s horse; and went to the polo ground precisely at the time of the match. The Mehtar, seeing Begal’s precise arrival at the ground, doubted execution of the plot by his men. Begal’s supporters and players cheered ‘his’ arrival on time, but ‘he’ was tight lipped, and had vowed not to speak till the end of the game.
Now, the match started. It was a nail-biter one as usual. Begal’s mother, in the guise of Begal, played the game with her son-like skills. Lo, Begal’s team beat out the Mehtar’s team even this time. When the frenzied celebration was over, Begal’s mother took off her head cover and mask, rode her horse across the ground all the way to where the Mehtar was sitting in the crowd of his players and supporters. Addressing the Mehtar on her horseback she sang this song in tears:
Behold the ruthless Mehtar’s ruthlessness, O mother’s Begal!
Behold my pierced and bruised heart, O mother’s Begal!
Wherefore should the Mehtar get you murdered?
While even an old woman could hit the ball, O mother’s Begal!
Thou would hit the ball from far end, and get goals scored on the other;
Who could play the game like thee now? O mother’s Begal!
Thy flying-hit would soar high into the air,
And would tear through the heights of the sky, O mother’s Begal!
May he, who killed thee, lose his son too!
And may mourning never cease in his house! O mother’s Begal!
Ah! The players get paired now, and the team is one player short:
Oh mother’s spear-lashed! O mother’s Begal!
Shoghor’s is rocky ground, O mother’s Begal!
Thou wilt stumble over, O mother’s Begal!
The song is locally known as “Nano Begaal”—Mother’s Begaal—, and is marked by a deep elegiac tone and melancholy. However, it presents the mother as an undaunted heroic figure who can make her way through any kind of challenge for the sake of the love and good name of her son.