Kesariya Balam…

Welcome to Rajasthan, the land of the Rajputs and the land of their exquisite palaces: ‘Padharo mhare des’.

Jaisalmer

If you visit Rajasthan, you will probably hear the song Kesariya Balam at every tourist destination. This is the traditional folk song of Rajasthan, it’s about a wife welcoming her husband, her lover, her Balam home, after a long time. In the ancient Rajput times, the kings used to go away on wars and would get a royal welcome on coming back with songs like these.

Somehow this folk song has not yet lost its cult status in spite of its ubiquitous nature. The version of the song mentioned above is from the movie Dor. Salim-Suleiman have done a marvelous job in recreating the traditional folk while infusing some modern instruments in it.

Instrumentation:

SarangiRajasthani music always comes with abundant Sarangi. Sarangi is an instrument which is considered closest to the human voice. Interestingly many of the compositions in Rajasthani folk are based in Raag Sarang. However this song is based in Raag Maand. Maand and Sarang are afternoon raags and I feel they bring out the harsh sunny mood and sparsely vegetated terrain of Rajasthan, listening to them will somehow give you the feeling of travelling on a severe afternoon or being in a desert. They also give a feeling of longing, of craving just like the Rajasthani terrain longs for a shower of rain.

For the rhythm, a kind of Dholak is used with a six beat cycle. The rhythm is not just a simple six beat pattern, but a bit complex one, influenced from the style of walking of the camel! The piece also has nice flute elements to keep in tune with the theme of the movie.

Vocals:

A natural husk and vibrato in voice are characteristic to Rajasthani folk. Plus, the voices are distinctively high-pitched. In this piece as well, the singers vibrating voices bring out a nice effect. The folk is usually sung in a group and here also some parts are sung in chorus, keeping with the tradition.

Other versions:

There are of course thousands of versions of this folk song. Usually, for any folk song, the flavor of rendition changes slightly as you move into different sub regions, moreover Kesariya Balam to Rajasthani folk is just like Sachin is to Indian cricket, can’t really say which one of them defines the other ! So this is a version of how the song is still sung at the forts, for the tourists.

This song was originally popularized by Lata Mangeshkar in the film Lekin. The song is definitely commendable for the vocals and the lyrics, but I feel that somehow, it has lost the folk touch. Same is the case with this rendition by Mehdi Hassan. He sings the song in a 7 beat cycle rather than the traditional 6 beat Dadra cycle. Richa Sharma also attempts the folk, but the instrumentation is not up to the mark.


For the more interested listener..

  • The Melody: This song is based on Raag Maand. It is not really a mainstream Raag, but a Raag more prevalent in the semi classical forms like Thumri, Dadra, etc.  The Raag brings out the typical desert melody rather aptly. The classic phrases that define the Raag have notes in a zigzag pattern (Vakra chalan) and not in a straighforward manner. This is a beautiful piece in Maand by Ustad Sultan Khan, accompanied by Ustad Zakir Hussain.
  • Other interesting songs: There are a lot of Hindi film songs with the Rajasthani folk influence. In recent times, the song Sajnaji Vaari Vaari is a good attempt to modernize the Rajasthani folk with the use of techno beats. Another beautiful Rajasthani song, again by Sunidhi Chauhan is the one used in Amul ad 🙂