One day I decided to film one of our guards, Ramesh Ji—the ji here is an honorific—who is from Madhya Pradesh. From outside, the guardroom is a confined place—a voluntary prison. As I stepped inside the room, I expected the monotony of waiting, the slow passing of moments to dull me. But I was wrong. As I listened to the Birha enactment of an oral tale in a dialect of Hindi that was playing on his mobile phone, slowly, the complex and subtle knots of his world revealed themselves to me.

As I breathed and immersed myself in the human dynamics of the oral tale, I realized the world that Ramesh Ji inhabits is an old one, passed down from the times when our ancestors lived in a cave no different than this room, in form of oral tales, oral history, folk songs, in languages that have evolved or disappeared, in a language that is losing its relevance in the global English village.

Now the way I look at Ramesh Ji or his people’s way of storytelling has changed: a man without his people’s stories is poor and deserves pity; the man who knows his people’s origins and history is always rich. I no longer think he lives in a prison—his room is a doorway to a cultured world, just as yours or mine. These stories are our roots, our common heritage on the blue and green dots of a planet.

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Birha in Uttar Pradesh & Bihar

Birha is a popular folk song genre of Uttar Pradesh. The central theme revolves around the separation of lover and his beloved. Actually ‘Birha’ in Hindi means separation. The earliest reference to the genre goes back to 17th century, when men from small villages started migrating to cities in search of livelihood, leaving their newly-wed brides behind. The lament of separation and longing for their beloved among the women in the villages led to the birth of Birha. Today Birha is extremely popular among the farmers and laborers in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

There was an abrupt rise in its popularity in the mid-nineteenth century when thousands of laborers from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were taken to Caribbean as sugar plantation laborers. In fact, the laborers and their descendents who now constitute a sizable population in Caribbean still love this genre of singing and storytelling. The best example of this is the growing popularity of Chutney Music, the Soca-Samba version of Birha, in west especially in Caribbean Islands. — Source (Edited)

Birha in Madhya Pradesh

Basdeva is a traditional community of singers based in the Baghelkhand region, who sing about the legendary son Sharavan Kumar using a sarangi and chutki paijan. They are identified by their yellow wardrobe and carry an idol of Lord Krishna on their head. Songs are rendered by a pair of singers. Compositions from the Ramayan and the tales of Karna, Moradhwaj, Gopchand, Bhartrihari, Bhole baba are the other common subjects of Basdeva songs. Birha and Bidesiya are two other important styles of singing that capture the mood of singers in Baghelkhand. Bidesiya songs relate to the theme of love, separation and reunion with the beloved. The Bidesiya song implores the loved one to return early. Phag songs sung during the festival season of Holi express the abundance of spring season and expression of inter personal relationships. Beats of nagara whip up the charged spirits of the group of singers. — Source