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Folk Gathas of Kumaon

An amiable, communicative bird Ghughuti is an integral part of Kumaoni folklore. The bird is associated with fond memories of a girl’s life before marriage when she lived a carefree life in the shadow of parental love

By Anjali Nauriyal

Ghughuti in invariably mentioned in some of the most popular of folk songs of Kumaon. Folk singers Narendra Singh Negi and Gopal Babu Goswami have rendered their versions of the Ghughuti song.

Amongst the most heart-wrenching folk Gathas of Kumaon is the story relating to the traditional bird Ghughuti, and her association with a girl’s life before marriage, when she lived a carefree life in the shadow of parental love.

Surely Mait or Maika which is the in-laws’ home is where the girl is destined to live the rest of her life, and where the love of her life her husband too showers her with love and affection, but it is the ‘memories’ of her parental home that create havoc in her heart and she is devastated.

Folklore has it that a young woman was married off to a far off village in the mountains. Her in-laws were doting, kindly and adoring, but the young girl longed for her parental home and parental love. But she could only visit them occasionally being a married woman looking after her family.

Few months into her marriage, it was time for Bhaidooj, a festival celebrating sibling love; she was overjoyed, as her brother would come to celebrate the festival with her. She began preparing the best of food for him.

On the day of Bhaidooj, her brother woke up early and started his journey through mountain landscape, covering valleys, sloping sides and rounded ridges. He had to remain empty stomach as he could only eat after she has applied the customary Tilak on his forehead.

The young woman cleaned up the house, cooked a hearty meal, and feeling fatigued fell into a deep slumber.

When the brother reached his sister’s sasural (in-laws’ place) he got emotional seeing his sister asleep after a hard day’s toil. He decided to let her rest and not wake her up.

For hours he sat at his sister’s doorstep; waited for her to wake up; rested a bit and then leaving the special gifts that he had carried all the way with great difficulty at her bedside, he embarked on his return journey. He knew he had to reach home before it was dark; else it would become dangerous for him with wild animals prowling about in the night.

Hours later when the sister awakened from her sleep, she saw the Bal Mithai and other gifts and at once knew that her brother had come and left in a hurry.

She was crestfallen and began to sob uncontrollably. Unable to bear the pain at the thought that her brother had travelled empty stomach, and returned without tasting the meal she had prepared for him she wailed, “My brother walked all the way to meet me. Empty stomach. He must have been very tired and hungry. No one woke me. I remained asleep. I am an unfortunate sister.”

Legend has is that she was filled with remorse and agony, and so deep was her shock that she first fell unconscious and then fell dead. Later she reincarnated as the Ghughuti bird, and when she cooed she could be heard in the entire length and breath of Kumaon mountains: “Ghughuti basuti, baek bhuk go main sooti….
(My brother returned hungry while I slept.)”

This aforementioned folktale gives a glimpse of life lived in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Here life is made up of magical moments intrinsically woven with the habitat that includes the birds and animals, the flowers and fruits, the shrubs and trees. The Ghughuti represents this special life and its vibrant energies.

Dr Anjali Nauriyal is Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI. Veteran journalist, author and actor, Dr Anjali Nauriyal is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI.