Pabuji Pad, Bhajan and Gheir dance
A Candlelight story tale
It is on the Phad, the “curtain”, on which the beautiful story of Pabu is narrated: a cotton canvas (rezi) carefully painted unfolds and is tightened on bamboos, with sixty-odd pictures forming a real comic narrating the feats of Pabu, the cattle keeper.
The Bhats, known in Rajasthan for their puppet theatre (kathputli was at the root of the genealogical bards as is the case for many castes of artists). Historically, their role was vital in the traditional society not only because they sang praises of castes that they served – from the princes of yesteryears to the Rajput warriors, from the great merchants to the noble peasant families – but because they were also the memoir of these castes, capable of orally citing the genealogy of each family across several centuries.
Among the several roles of the storytelling Bhats, the Bhopas (bards or seers) being affiliated to them, we find the Bhopas of Pabuji Phad.
“Pabuji was born in 1256 in Kolu village of Jodhpur district. At the age of 24, the valiant Pabuji Rathore was to marry Phoolamde, the daughter of Sodha, the Sindhi Rajput chief of Amarkot. The preparations started. Pabuji received Kesar Kalmi, a mare known for her beauty and prowess, as a gift from the noble Deval Charni, on the condition that Pabuji will immediately come if Deval’s herd of cows are in danger.
Pabuji’s good manners had made a very good impression on the Sodhas and Phoolamde was impatient to seal this union. Time came for the ceremonies. The bride and groom started making rounds of the ceremonial fire ( (saptapadi), one, two, three rounds… But on the third round, the process was interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Deval. The Khenchies of Jayal had indeed taken his cows away.
What was Pabuji going to do? Wait and complete his wedding? Send somebody in his place to be able to enjoy the boon that this marriage brought him… Of course not, because Pabu had to keep his promise. He hastily left the ceremony and his half-married bride to fight the cattle thieves and perished during the battle…”.
As Asiya, the great poet, says, “Mount Abu may vanish in thin air and Mount Girnar may be consumed by the earth, but Pabuji’s name shall always be there”.
His spouse, Phoolamde, who would rather be the spouse of a courageous person for a short while than a long-time spouse of a coward, went back to the funerary fire and sacrificed herself to the ritual of “sati”.
The entire legend of Pabuji comprises 52 poetic compositions (panwaras). The Bhopas work in couples. The woman is dressed in a fascinating flamboyant red costume (jaama) and wears bells tinkling at her ankles, and sings each panwara in a narrative manner along with a ravanhatta viol. The ravanhatta, wherein the sound box is made of coconut and the long neck is made of bamboo, has a single string that may increase up to 3 to 16 sympathetic strings; it is believed to be the instrument of Lord Ravana. Small bells fixed on the neck mark the recitative pace of the epic. The woman or the man disguised as a woman, accentuate each scene of the phad accompanying the song with a lamp (pala) or dance.