The music of the Adivasi communities of Chhattisgarh is a music of resilience – of people caught in decades of violent conflict, whose songs, often accompanied by drums, speak about the beauty of their land, their forests, their daily lives and a reverence of nature. Children too are taught these songs in their families at a young age. 

We visited Farsegarh village in Bhairamgarh tehsil of Bijapur district in southernmost Chhattisgarh in August 2016. Of Bijapur’s population of around 255,000 (Census 2011), 80 per cent belong to the Scheduled Tribes. Farsegarh’s 1,400 residents, as well as those of neighbouring villages, are mostly Muria Gond. The village is among the many impacted by the conflict that involves Naxalite militants, the state, and the state-supported Salwa Judum. The people in the village say they are constantly caught in a cycle of violence.

A woman in Farsegarh, who lost her husband in the conflict, asks, “What else will happen when one son is a Naxal and the other is made a police supporter? What will a family do when they are out to kill each other? That’s the reality that we live in.” She is a farmer in her 50s who did not want to be named. “We don’t earn too much. We don’t even  know if we will be alive tomorrow. We are alive today and that’s all we think about.” 

Not many government schemes reach Farsegarh – the only state presence seems to be a residential school, the police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps.

Toddy trees in Farsegarh village, Chhattisgarh
PHOTO • Shobha R. ,  Arundhati V.
An open book with drawings
PHOTO • Shobha R. ,  Arundhati V.

Many Advasi songs of Farsegarh and other villages celebrate the lush beauty of the land, but the experiences of the people speak otherwise. Right: A representation of what an Adivasi woman, who lost her husband in the conflict, said about life amid conflict (Artwork by co-author Arundathi V.)

The residential school for tribal children on the periphery of Farsegarh is not in great shape – electricity is intermittent, the building leaks during the monsoon. The students have to cook and clean in the hostel. There are around 50 Adivasi students here (ages 6-15, all girls, from various nearby villages), one teacher-caretaker, and a cook.

During our visit, the students sang the songs of their communities in the Gondi language, and some of them translated the songs for us in Hindi.

Song 1

The girls sing fondly about the mahua tree, which is intrinsic to their lives and livelihoods

Oh mahua tree,
Oh mahua tree
How beautiful you are,
Oh! mahua tree
The mahua flowers are falling
Red, red flowers
Like a red shower of rain
Oh mahua tree,
Oh mahua tree
How beautiful you are,
Oh! mahua tree

Singers
Susheela Manra, Farsegarh village
Gayatri Tellam, Dhanora village
Kamala Udde, Sagmeta village

Song 2

The girls sing and tease each other about how beautiful their cousins and friends are

My dear cousin,
How beautiful you are…
Tell me what you like?
The crow starts cawing,
Flies around the village
Caw caw caw
Tell me how,
Tell me how?

Singer
Gayatri Tellam, Dhanora village

Song 3

The girls sing happily about the simple joys of dressing up and dancing

Wear your earrings girl, and come dance with us!
Rela rela rela... [chorus]
Wear your bright clothes girl, and come dance with us!
Rela rela rela… [chorus]
Wear your new shoes girl, and come dance with us!
Rela rela rela… [chorus]

Singer
Avantika Barse, Farsegarh village 

A chameleon lazes in the sun, at the government residential school for Adivasi children, Farsegarh village
PHOTO • Shobha R. ,  Arundhati V.
An Adivasi woman in Farsegarh village wearing traditional anklets
PHOTO • Shobha R. ,  Arundhati V.

Left: A chameleon lazes in the sun at the school for Adivasi children in Farsegarh. 'Do you see the tail of that chameleon? Catch it!' a song says, playfully. Right: Anklets worn by Muria Gond women; another song the girls sing speaks of dressing up and dancing

Song 4

The girls sing about a chameleon, while reminiscing about times they spend with their family

Rerela rela rela rela…[chorus]
Do you see the tail of that chameleon? Catch it!
Oh sister, sing a song for me, will you?
Oh sister, la la la
Oh brother-in-law, come before me
The tail of the chameleon is green
Do you see it, oh brother-in-law?

Singer
Gayatri Tellam, Dhanora village

Song 5

The girls sing softly about their idea of the tricolour and their country

Rerela rela re rela rela...[chorus]
It is a saffron flag, oh friend!
It is a white flag, oh friend!
It is a green flag, oh friend!
There are 24 lines in the middle of the flag.
Rerela rela re rela rela… [chorus]

Singers
Susheela Manra, Farsegarh village
Saraswati Gota, Bade Kakler village
Kamala Gudde, Sagmeta village

Song 6

The girls sing a sweet song about who would make a lovely pair with them

Relare rela [Chorus]
You and I, together make a lovely pair.
Oh! dear boy, we make a lovely pair…

Singer
Avantika Barse, Farsegarh village

Sweet toddy being tapped from a tree in Farsegarh village, Chhattisgarh
Girls in a residential hostel in Farsegarh singing softly with the lights switched off, after school hours
PHOTO • Shobha R. ,  Arundhati V.

Left: Sweet toddy being tapped from a tree in Farsegarh; one of the songs says, 'We will tap the toddy, Oh! Come to our land'. Right: The girls sing softly with the lights switched off, after school hours 

Song 7

The girls sing and welcome everyone to come visit their land, enjoy the bountiful nature and see how they work in their fields

Relare rela… [Chorus]
The leaves of the taadi tree sway gently
Oh! Come to our land
We will tap the toddy, Oh! Come to our land
Come, let's cut the tall grass
The grass is swaying gently,
here and there,
here and there
Oh! Come to our land,
together we can cut some grass
Come to our land,
together we can harvest paddy
The leaves of the paddy sway,
Here and there,
here and there

Singers:
Sarita Kusram, Sagmeta village
Saraswati Gota, Bade Kakler village 
Susheela Manra, Farsegarh village

Arundhati V.

Arundathi V. is a human rights activist, theatre artist and trainer; she works with the Sambhaavnaa Institute in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh on issues of rights and justice.

Other stories by Arundhati V.
Shobha R.

Shobha R. is a human rights activist, theatre artist and trainer based in Bangalore. She works on issues of eviction and gender justice, and on facilitating expressions of oppression, justice and resilience.

Other stories by Shobha R.