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Humming Along With The Palanquin Bearers

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Lightly, O lightly we bear her along
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream.
Gaily O gaily we glide and we sing
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
Softly, O softly we bear her along
She hangs like a star in the dew of our song
She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide
She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride.
Lightly, O lightly we glide and we sing
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

The above poem Palaquin Bearers by Sarojini Naidu, gives a peek into the custom of carrying the new bride in the palanquin to her new home after the marriage. The custom prevails in almost all of the Indian sub continent. The palanquin bearers are known as Kahaars. What image props in front of you when you say Kahaar? Mostly a group of 4 or 5 men, well built, strong shoulders, dhoti clad, bare waist above. Sometimes they have a simple turban around their heads. But they do have thick sticks in their hands. These sticks assure that the Kahaars balance the weight while carrying the palki or the palanquin. While going through the above poem my thoughts took me back to 1980s. Doordarshan aired a serial in 1988, Mujrim Hazir, which was based on Bimal Mitra’s novel Asami Hazir. Murim Hazir was perhaps last work of the legendary actress Nutan where she played a character called Kaaliganj ki Bahu. The story is set in Bengal early 20th century, where Nutan plays the widow of a landlord. She is seen moving around in a palki and whenever that happened, the scene was dramatized by the soft humming song by the Kahaars – Gun guna gun guna!! As a child, the song haunted me. Years later I learnt that the song is Palkir Gaan composed by Salil Chowdhury and rendered by Hemant Kumar.

Bangla Version –

Hindi Version –

The song has beautiful rhythm which motivated to move forward. The kahaars usually chant something or sing something to keep the pace. The rhythm helps them move uniformly bearing the weight. In some parts of the sub continent, not only the bride but saints, Godmen who were invited by the rulers also were carried to the destination in a palki. Now it is a custom to carry their ‘Padukas’ in the palki.
Hindi music composers too have experimented on this Kahaar rhythm to make some beautiful songs. The music lovers are accustomed with many ‘Maajhi’ (Boatman) songs. But have you thought about the palanquin bearers songs? Humming, chanting their way through the forests, through difficult paths, they also give an insight into the travel philosophy. Which songs come to your mind in this category? Remember, the song has to have the Kahaars humming or chanting (even if very little).
Here are a few of them –

Devdas (1955) –

Amar Prem (1972) –

Ajnabee (1974) –

Balika Badhu (1976) –

Jaani Dushman (1979) –

This particular song isn’t a kahaar song but has the rhythm and humming of those songs –

Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1995) –

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan

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