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Significance And Evolution Of Traditional And Folk Hori Singing During Holi Festival
By Priyaankaa Mathur, March 2011 [[email protected]]

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Rural  and traditional communities throughout India have evolved with their own  regional customs and festivals, which are celebrated with Folk music unique to  that community and region.  It is almost  impossible to identify all kinds of Folk music in India; however the most  popular musical genre, sung during ‘Holi’, the festival of Colors is ‘Hori’.  It is to note that the rural quality and the  lilt to the word itself, makes a slightly phonetical slur on the alphabet 'Li'  thus  changing it to ‘Ri', by making it  easier to enunciate Hori  the musical  genre, getting more easily accepted than   Holi.


  The  tradition of playing colors on Holi draws its roots from a tradition of Radha  and Krishna. It is said that young Krishna was jealous of Radha's fair  complexion since he himself was very dark. He narrated his woe to mother  Yashoda, who teasingly asked him to color Radha's face in which ever color he  wanted. In a mischievous mood, Krishna applied color on Radha's face. Thus, the  tradition of applying color on one's beloved is being religiously followed till  date.

Interestingly Hori has both classical as well as  semi-classical connections. These compositions are mainly based on the love  pranks of ‘Radha-Krishna ' known for its connection with Vrindavan, the native  place of Lord Krishna. When it is sung as a classical piece, it is a sequel to  the Dhrupad form. Such horis are set to the tala Dhamaar, also classifying  Dhammar as the musical genre itself, ­­which has 14 beats. The excitement of  hori  is depicted skillfully in the  Dhammar recitals by the use of tempo variations such as Dugun, tigun, Chaugun  and aar, i.e double, triple, quadruple and also in the fraction of the same as  one, one fourth, one and half and so on. The Dhrupad performers   are experts in the art of calculating and  measuring the time in music, along with the science of proper production of  voice, intonation and modulation along with the proper development of the raga  in its accuracy. Thus, horis sung as a concluding portion of a Dhrupad recital  are classical in nature as well as treatment.

When Dhamaar is sung in lighter Taals and in a  semi -classical repertoire incorporating the elements of thumri, the resulting  composition is known as Hori. The traditionally sung  Horis during the festival of Hori, describe  the celebration of Krishna, his  romance  with Radha and the pranks he played with her and the cowgirls (gopis), depicting  the Shringara Rasa, wherein underlying feeling of this fun-frolic was love and  devotion, that can be still experienced even in the very atmosphere in the  Krishna-nagari Vrindavan.

Most  of the hori’s are sung in Raga kafi. Raga Kafi depicts love and passion and is  used as a basis for many of the lighter compositions sung in the thumri style.  Usually it is rendered in the late evening and uses all the seven notes in the  ascending and descending order. Gandhar and Nishad are komal (flat) and all  other notes are shuddha (full). ‘Holi  khelat nand lal’ is a traditional Kafi Hori describing Krishna’s tales from  folklore. Interestingly we find the poetic description of raga kafi as the poet  describes her saying:

Kafi who inspires lust  tenderly
    sits on the lap of her  playmate in the royal palace,
    fond of parrots she is  dressed in blue
    and decked with jewels.
    She is the image of  sensuousness.
    In the Lotus of my heart
    I cherish her,
    lovelier than Lakshmi
    the goddess of Fortune.

Other  than Raga kafi traditional Horis are also sung in many other ragas as Semi-classical  compositions in ragas like Mishra kafi, Khamaj, Shahana kanhara, sarang, pilu  and many mishra ragas. Significantly, horis are mostly set to a tala of 14  beats called Deepchandi and are also sung in teentaal (16 beats), Rupak (7beats),  ektal (12beats) and jhaptaal (10beats). The famous Hori “Hori main kheloongi unsang dat ke, jo piya ayenge brij se palat ke”sung  by Smt. Shobha Gurtu is an exquisite example of hori sung in thumri style in  raga shahana kanhara set in a keherwa . At the conclusion of the hori, laggis are  played on the tabla, which adds a bit of excitement after a spell of relaxed  singing.

Though  Horis are supposed to be about the love pranks of Krishna and Radha, there are  some delightful exceptions too. One hori in raga Kafi is about Ram and Sita - Ram Siya Phag Machavat being the theme.  Some of the traditional horis sung in thumri style such as ''Moke daar degi sari rang ki gagaria'' and ''Abb kaun gunan so manau hori aali, piya to manat nahi'' have  their origin in the ancient past era of the Indian History and were very  popular during the Mughal and contemporary periods.

It  is interesting to note that Raja Mansingh  Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1516 AD) was the driving force behind introducing and consolidating  Dhrupad and composing three volumes of songs namely Vishnupadas (songs in  praise of lord Vishnu), Dhrupads, and Hori and Dhamar songs associated with  Holi. Mansingh's support gave a place of pride to these genres in the society,  thereby relating music to the lives and language of the laymen.


The  beautiful scene of Krishna's prank in which he played color with Radha and  other gopis has been made alive in myriad forms in a number of paintings and  murals. Besides, holi is celebrated at a time of the year when the fields are  in full bloom and people are expecting a good harvest. This gives people a good  reason to rejoice, make merry and submerge themselves in the spirit of Holi.  


Celebration  of the various traditions associated with Holi; reassure the people of the  power of truth, as the moral of all these stories is the ultimate victory of  good over evil. The story of Hiranyakashyap and Prahlad also points to the fact  that extreme devotion to god pays as God always takes his true devotee in his  shelter. Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular  fabric of our country, as everybody like to be a part of such a colorful and  joyous festival.

•Travel  to Vrindavan
•Goverdhan  Parikrama
•To  know all about Holi

Editor – Pictures taken  from various sites through Google search. Courtesy and copyrights lie with  those sites.

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