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Jugni Songs and the Traveling Sparks of Freedoms

Freedom has no fixed address. It’s meanings are always changing, always on the move. Like Jugni.

When I was a child, I thought being able to go outside the Army Campus where I lived without an adult would be freedom. In college, not having to answer to my parents about where I went and what time I’d be back seemed an urgent freedom. Now as a financially independent woman, I value and seek ever more freedoms: The freedom to move, the freedom to chose, the freedom to speak.
Freedom has no fixed address.
It’s meanings are always changing, always on the move. Like Jugni, a figure I encountered when I began to think more about freedom as a concept, not only my immediate demand. Theories and stories surround the figure of Jugni, in Punjabi songs. Like most Hindi speaking people I imagined jugni meant a female jugnu or firefly. Tiny specks of blinking lights, that appear after rainy days, better in the wild than in captivity.
Later I learnt the Jugni has deeper roots Punjabi folk poetry and songs. Some say it originated in the early nineteen hundreds along with the feeling of unrest against the British in Punjab. In Sufi thought, Jugniis a feminine spirit, who often preaches the name of the Lord ( also referred as the lover), and is often seen seeking him. In more modern renditions - popular music, wedding and movie songs -  Jugni is embodying a young woman.
Even as we live, creating new images and definitions of freedom, so Jugni moves and changes with us, though always symbolising a free spirited feminine energy that travels, who lights a spark of freedom where she goes - for people to make of it what they will.
Here are a few Jugni-thoughts this Independence Day as we think about the meanings of freedom.

Freedom From British Rule

In 1906, the British colonial rulers celebrated the 50th anniversary or Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria's reign by sending a Jubilee  torch that travelled to different villages. One version in oral history has it that two tappa singers, Rolla and Joga, began singing satirical songs about the Jubilee (torch) which they pronounced as Jugni. Another version states that two poets Bishan and Manda, were executed for treason by the British for singing similar politically subversive versions. These versions talked of the troubles of the ordinary people of Punjab while rulers were being celebrated.
Jugni jaa varhi Majithe
Koi rann na chakki peethe
Putt Gabhru mulak vich mare
Rovan akhiyan par bulh si seete
Piir mereya oye Jugni ayi aa
Ehnan kehrhi jot jagaee aa
Jugni stormed into Majitha
Not a soul there at the grain grinder
The sons of the soil are dying
Lips must stay mum though our eyes are crying
Oh Lord, Jugni has come to us
And lit what spark, what flame in us

Freedom in the Self

Jugni is a familiar figure in Sufi songs. Closest to my heart is Nooran Sisters performing a Jugni at a mazaar which ends with “what you have been seeking has been within you at all times”. Being able to find that voice, feels like it would be a wonderful liberation.
Ve bol de di tainu khabr nayion
,  ve sajna!
Jehda nitt tere vich bolda ae
Dhoonde baahr jaake labbhe ghar aake
You do not pay heed to the one who speaks, O Beloved
The one who speaks inside you everyday
You search outside, when it dwells inside


Freedom in Rebellion

In the mid-50s Jugni emerged in popular Punjabi folk music and poetry as a spunky female,  that male singers looked on  from afar with awe, admiration and maybe some consternation. She is off playing tennis with the boys, wearing makeup, going to the cinema. She is the quintessential modern girl, a striking, if unusual, figure of the times. In more recent songs, she flies aeroplanes and stands tall with a stick in her hand as a weapon. I think this Jugni is most exciting for me as a woman, one who inspires envy for being unstoppable, unapologetic, wearing her freedom like armour. She travels far and wide, has style and a sense of humour.  In times where women struggle for the freedom to make choices about their bodies, their representation of themselves and they spaces they can access, this Jugni aspires hope and confidence.
Jugni fashion di matvali
Thappe powder, laave laali
Tiddon pukhi, jebon khali
Veer mereya ve Jugni
Veer mereya ve jugni baindi ni
O gal kissi di sehendi nai
Jugni is a fashion-plate
Wears powder, rouge, looks so great
Empty pockets, empty tummy
But O my brother , Jugni
Won’t sit still for a minute
Won’t tolerate stuff you say to her

Freedom to Storm the Gates, Freedom to Comment

An important and enduring quality of Jugni’s transience is that most songs talking about where Jugni goes use the term ‘ja varhi’ i.e: she stormed in. Jugni enters spaces without permission. It is not an act of violence or violation but rather, of accessing space, maybe one that has been denied, with fierce, free-spirited assertion.  Punjabi poets used her transience to go to places they couldn't go, literally or figuratively. A recent example of this is Rabbi Shergil’s Jugni
Jugni jaa wadi kashmir ….
jithe roz maran das vee..
soni behnaa te sone veer..
oooo ro ro poochna..
ke jaghda tayi mukhnna…
jedo jhelum paani sukhnaa
Jugni stormed into Kashmir
Where tens of people die every day
Beloved sisters, dear brothers
She asks as she cries
Will this fighting end
Only when the Jhelum runs dry?

Freedom to Wander

Transience is an essential nature of Jugni, her constant state of motion if the most evocative feature of the freedom she symbolises. Patakha Guddi , the Jugni song from the film Highway, written by Irshad Kamil makes that transience almost palpable.
Mitthe paan ki gilouri
Lattha suit ka Lahori
Fatte maarti Phillauri
Jugni me(h)l me(h)l ke
Kood-phaand ke
Chakk – chakaudde jaave…
A rolled up bite of sweetened paan
Dressed in a suit of Lahori cotton yarn
Strong like the woods of Phillaur
Jugni is advancing
As the refrain goes, chali chali chali - she’s off! she’s going going, she keeps going. She is an unstoppable force in motion, not pausing to feel shame or consider consequences, pure in spirit and commitment to herself - and by her definition, whatever society may mandate.
The most important thing about Jugni is that she does not stifle freedom into a template. She represents the principle that freedom can never be only one thing and decided by only one point of view or location. Whether political, social or personal, freedom is a limit we keep breaking, a hill we keep climbing, a horizon we keep advancing towards.
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