Earlier this month in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the popularity of Bhagwa Lehrayenge, a catchy song celebrating the surge of saffron, was far from its peak.
In one locality, it left a bunch of people confused. They could hear a procession approaching; as it moved closer, Bhagwa Lehrayenge grew louder.
They stepped out, thinking it was an election campaign procession of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Suchi Mousam Choudhary. It turned out to be a ghudchadhi procession instead.
Ghudchadhi precedes a Hindu wedding, wherein the groom sets out on a musical procession seated on a horse, a sword belted to his waist, towards a temple — for prayers and rituals.
Election campaign or wedding, it's hard to tell when Bhagwa Lehrayenge is playing in UP.
Bhagwa Lehrayenge was refusing to fade in February in other parts of the state. In some other parts of UP, at a roadshow of the BJP, Yogi Adityanath could be seen walking up to a dais, receiving a rousing welcome. Bhagwa Lehrayenge could be heard playing in the background at the rally.
Another place in UP, another day, another time at the BJP's election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to have improvised and presented his prose take based on the song. "Poora UP keh raha hai, jo kanoon ka raj laye hain, hum unko laenge..."
Modi's audience can be heard responding to his improvisation with cheers. It was clear that Modi, too, was aware of the song and its popularity.
What kind of a song finds itself played on loop at election campaigns of the BJP as well as at weddings? Just the sort Bhagwa Lehrayenge that is.
Banjo and beats rolled together in the bhagwa.
Behind it all is a singer who is a devotee of Baba, as Shri Khatushyam ji is addressed in reverence and affection by his bhaktas.
Ahead of the assembly election in UP, Kanhiya Mittal, the singer from Chandigarh, noticed that the views of one of his songs uploaded on YouTube were shooting up.
The song Bhagwa Lehrayenge celebrates the resurgence of bhagwa.
The election season clashed with the Hindu wedding season. The song clicked with one party's supporters. It was a natural and obvious progression. The riveting part of its popularity in the masses in UP — it landed as a popular entrée in the DJ's list at wedding events in the state, especially in western UP.
The assembly election and wedding season would become two factors propelling the song. The song would become viral, registering more than three million views on YouTube. Video clips of celebrations over this song at weddings in UP, particularly during the election held over different phases, can be seen on social media.
The video of a person known as Muniya Bhaiya among his dear ones narrates how the song is a draw for weddings in UP.
Mittal, a devotee of Shri Khatushyam ji, is known for his bhajans dedicated to the deity worshipped in Rajasthan and the neighbouring states. "My bhajans and songs dedicated to Khatushyam ji are popular with his devotees. They are widely played at weddings. When 'Jo Ram ko laaye hain, hum unko laayenge...' became popular at weddings, it wasn't surprising for me," he told this writer over the phone.
The allure of parodies based on Bollywood songs was the flavour of the election season in UP during the 1980s and early 1990s. There was little ground for original stuff.
In western UP, parties that make the BJP's opposition in 2022 used to come up with attractive content in campaign material. In the recently concluded 2022 assembly election, one song would enter the campaign scene, get associated with the BJP, become a stunner, and give the BJP a strong cultural association in the election-related mini-culture that sets itself in UP.
The way this song emerged from no political party in the poll fray and found itself played at campaigns, on the internet, at weddings, attaching itself to its subject, generates interest. It mentions the pride in the Sanatan, Ayodhya, Kashi, and Mathura, with carefully crafted subtle mentions and talks about the universality of bhagwa, and connects cultural resurgence to the actions of a party.
On YouTube, the video has been viewed 3,032,741 times and clearly put the BJP's own, decently constructed song material for its 2022 campaign on the back burner.
There are hits and loops off the internet of Bhagwa Lehrayenge — at campaigns and private parties that would not be accounted for as "numbers" in hits.
The popularity of this song indicates how well the masses connect to the idea of Sanatan soft power. It connects culture and politics by indicating the return of Ram and Sanatan to the political and cultural narrative. It conveys the idea of the celebration of Sanatan in politics.
The song is an original and Mittal is original in his approach to ideas. This writer came across a video clip where he had reacted to a comment made about the people of UP and Bihar during the election in Punjab, in a refreshing catchy couplet. "UP ke Krishna Kanhaiya ne Mahabharat sajai ho, UP Bihar ke bhaiya ne Bharat Mata sajai ho."
Mittal says in one of the videos on YouTube that he was asked what does "laayen hain" mean? He says he is not of this party or that, but of Sanatan, and the politician/s who has/have cared to bring the narrative about Ram and cared for Ram's celebration is/are the ones he is referring to.
It was while travelling with a friend in a car when Mittal realised he wants to make devotional music more appealing to the youth. The friend did not seem comfortable with the idea of playing devotional music on the car stereo. There was something else, more groovy, playing in another car.
The friend asked him to lower the volume of the devotional song playing in their car. "The friend told me, 'look at the beats in that song and look at the bhajan you are listening to. Mera insult hoga, log kahenge ye kya sunn raha hai', he said. People don't accept their own culture. I decided that in my work in music, I will add beats to bhajans so that when they play on car stereo and others happen to hear it, they, too, will want to play the same bhajan."
Mittal says the credit for making him inclined to devotional music goes to his mother. His maternal home is in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan. The lori she sang to him when he was a child became the material for his first performance when he was seven. "That, too, was a bhajan. The credit for making me immersed in devotional music goes to my nanihaal, where I was born." He adds that his songs became popular around 2014.
He is currently working on a devotional song on request from a section of the devotees of Shri Khatushyam. They live in the United States of America.
For the devotees of Khatushyam ji, Mittal composed a song that is based on the katha of the deity. "That made people connect with me. Wo bhagwan se bhi jude aur mujhse bhi judte gaye."
He writes (his songs) keeping the youth in mind. "Mera sad bhajan bhi hoga to running mein hoga, achche music ke saath hoga (Even if the bhajan is sad, it will be offered with good music.)."
What attracts the elderly and women to his music? "Jo gyaan ki baatein hoti hain usmein buzurg attract hote hain. Aur jitni dharmikta ek mahila mein hoti hai, ek Ma mein hoti hai, utni dharmikta purush mein nahin hoti. Ma mein mamatv hota hai, mamta hoti hai, wo zyada dharmic hoti hai. Bhajan jitni jaldi matrishakti aur behenein catch karti hain, utni jaldo koi nahin catch karta."
He says that during the UP polls, women were seen singing Bhagwa Lehrayenge on the dholak and not men.
He adds that he faces difficulties for his views that are expressed in his songs. "I received phones. I did not look at the BJP while writing the songs. I looked at the sant (Yogi Adityanath). Maine Hindutva ko dekh, phir inka naam liya hai. It is the first time that a sant became a CM (chief minister)."
Mittal says he is not interested in politics, and any neta who works for the benefit of Sanatan and the nation does find a mention in his song. In an upcoming song, he appeals for the Yamuna to be cleaned in Delhi. He says he doesn't understand or do politics. "I am just a small devotee, I am a sevadaar."
He gave his first stage performance when he was 11, in 2001, to an audience of 10,000 people in Chandigarh. "I came to the limelight in 2014. My bhajans became hit. Gradually, I became popular among the devotees of Khatushyam ji and Bala ji. In 2019, I came up with a song that became popular: Hindi hoon main Hindu, yeh desh hai hamara, har ek se bhaichara, yeh vyavhaar hai hamara (I am a Hindu, this is our nation, brotherhood with each and everyone, is our countenance)."
What does he think of kirtan?
"Kirtan se hum rashtrahit, deshhit ki baat kar sakte hai. Logon ki sanatan mein prerna jagaa sakte hain (We can talk of nationalism and patriotism via kirtan. We can further ignite people's inspiration towards the Sanatan via kirtan.)."
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