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Basanti Devi: The Padma Shri-Awardee who is keeping Uttarakhand's 'Jagar' folk art alive

When the audience packed auditorium started clapping all of a sudden, turning to the right, I saw Basanti Devi Bisht entering the hall in her traditional costume with a red 'tika' worn from nose to the forehead. In a musical evening organised by Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) on May 19, 2018 she was invited to perform in ‘Sanjari: Ek Bharat Shreshth Bharat’. Sanjari is a series of musical events, which is IGNCA’s attempt to bring in light the fading music of India.

Basanti Bisht is the only woman Jagar (a folk art of Uttarakhand) singer to be awarded the Padma Shri last year. The lady in her 60s, along with her troupe is a known name in the field of folk culture of Uttarakhand. The audience followed every beat of Basanti’s  drum while she was performing. 

She won the hearts by starting the performance with a Manglik song whose story goes like this- Back when the earth was formed, Naradmuni went to Naaglok to bring cows to the earth for its purity but cows said, “People living on the earth will beat us and disrespect us.” To this, Naradmuni convincingly replied by saying, “Hey mother, you will be respected and taken care of by the humans.” And got them to the earth.

In her presentation, Basanti Bisht also dedicated songs to the Spring season in Uttarakhand, ladies whose husbands are in the Army and rarely come home, and Lord Shiva too. 

Uttarakhand rests on the Indian map as a place with mountains and rivers. Representing the ever-flowing rivers, Ganga and Jamuna, she sang a song called ‘O Jag Janani h Le Mata’ where she praised the presence of these rivers. 

Various songs sung by her were preceded by a back story of each, given by the host, Vilas Janve. ‘Meri hudki baaji ghama gham…teri jhamri baaji chhama chham’ sung by Basanti was a song of two young lovers where the boy says, “You are a soft flower and I am a bee roaming around. I will never forget you. Today, let me play my instrument and

you dance on it.” 

Basanti Devi is playing a huge role in taking forward the rich and lost culture of her state. 

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