Saturday, May 14, 2011

Voice of Protest: A Study of Dalit Song in Telugu

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Pondicherry University


Cultural performances involving music, dance, verbal art, and other aesthetic media serve both to formulate local knowledge and to communicate its shared under-standings in the total context of social institutions, relationships, and realities. [1] Song represents the voice of the people and is considered as a ‘local knowledge’ in which people make their own conceptions and perceptions in a given society through culture. Song is an effective, communicative, and powerful cultural form. Song establishes intimate relationship with its listeners. Song is a collective cultural form marked with a social character. It has evolved from life and labour of the people. All societies have relied on music to transform the experience of work as it is the cultural expression of labour. The cultural form song internalizes poetry, dance, and music. We could not analyze song from a mere analysis of text. For a better understanding of a phenomenon of any song, we have to read the text, texture and context of a song. Text, tone and tune are integral to any song. In assessing any song one has to keep in mind relations of these forms. The beauty of a song lies in its tune, music, dance and its performance in public.

The literary cultural form has undergone significant changes with changing social, economical and political conditions. Technology has a tremendous impact on the phenomenon of song. In modern times, technology brought tremendous changes in the cultural medium. The Gramophone record, Cinema, Radio, and TV facilitated this change and carried the song with it. The film music, not only popularized and democratized the music but also culminated both the elements of classical and folk. With further technological innovations, especially information technology, globalization has started influencing the culture. With rapid increase of satellite channels and digitalization, popular film music have total grip over its audience than any other cultural form. Music becomes a commodity than ever before. However, song is surviving as a medium to communicate the culture of the society. It is used as a cultural weapon by both hegemonic and counter hegemonic social groups to serve their political interests. History reveals that people many a time succeed in performing their lives through cultural forms against the dominance and exploitation. Dalit song is one such cultural expression of Dalit communities resisting caste dominance, discrimination and exploitation of Brahminical Indian society. Dalit song has to be understood as a self assertion of Dalit culture and political consiousness of Dalit masses. Dalit song has been used for the mobilization of dalits towards a dignified, democratic, humane and a caste free Indian society.

This paper argues that the tunes of dalits are having much worth as music, and the words are having more worth as literature. It is no way lesser than the Brahminical cultural tradition. In fact it is much closer to life and labour. It is more of a kind of orature than a written word. It is argued that the classical tradition has evolved from the cultural tradition of lower caste groups with some impositions. The classical tradition further moved away from its root and becomes reactionary and conservative in its form and content. In India, the lower caste groups have a rich resource of the performative culture. This cultural tradition has been invoked by the dalit movement of contemporary times. In literary and cultural debates of Telugu society, dalit song emerged as a much celebrated and distinctive cultural form. As the dalit movement aims to liberate the oppressed dalit masses by challenging the hegemony of brahminical class, dalit song too targeted at the same direction. Dalit song is the song of protest; the voice of the voiceless.

Culture, Music and Caste

In Telugu literary circles, dalit literature/culture has been ignored till recent times as folkloric, ritualistic, animistic, artless, crude and emotional. The written culture of the elite communities has been celebrated as literature, either classical or progressive. It is obvious that educated upper castes had a monopoly over this literary and cultural phenomenon. The written culture has established its dominance as the celebrated literary cultural tradition at the cost of either marginalizing or negating the oral culture. Velcheru Narayana rao broadly identified the telugu literary cultural tradition as aasu literature from likhita(written ) literature with respective social groups. As the oral tradition is the predominant feature of lower castes and illiterates, the written literature is of the literates- Brahmins and other upper caste groups. In aasu literary tradition the activity of singing and scribbling is spontaneous and unpremeditated. The poet writes while singing and sings while writing. The spoken language enlivens in literature. It is a spontaneous act. Till the advent of print, both literate Brahmins and illiterate dalits (mala and madiga) continued in the tradition of aasu sahityasm with a specificity of their own. However, historically, written tradition established its upper hand over oral tradition. Literature is standardized with writing. With written culture, the difference in social status is even extended to the production of knowledge. The literature of upper castes becomes hegemonic.[2] Though the literates /elites approached oral literature in the name of folklore, people’s literature, desi literature out of their concern but not inaugurated the real essence of this literature. The contemporary Dalit literature had changed the conception of literature/culture. It has changed the very conception of poetic and musical dimensions, with a committed ideology and a vision serving a social purpose. The conscious dalits have initiated a literary and cultural movement against the brahminical hegemony in all possible ways. It is the perception of these organic intellectuals shaped the literary and cultural expression. They started reinventing their own culture from rich resources of their culture.

For dalits, oral culture is the primary source of knowledge for them. The genre of song contains the culture, literature, music, life and struggles of dalit masses. Song is the living cultural tradition of dalits. Historically, song is central to most of the cultural forms marked with- Padas, Kritis, Kirthanas, Javalis, folk songs , bhajana, Harikatha, women songs drama music, film music etc. It had undergone a remarkable transformation. However, it maintained its social fabric. The music had distinguished and identified with a social category. One may find a lot of changes with the early decades of 20th century to the second of the century. Broadly it is divided into classical and folklore. The former represents the elite brahminical class and came with the grammar of music and centered on temple. The folklore identified with the masses, the lower castes, and it is spontaneous act of labourers while engaging in the labour and entertains them in leisure time.

he differentiation of folklore and classical art has to be understood in terms of power. It is argued that the invention of the ‘classical’ performing arts in modern south India is recognized as rooted not only in the quest for authenticity and validation, but also in the play of power, and the politics of representation.[3] As Lakshmi Subramanian observed, ‘for the Brahmin community, consumption of classical music became an integral element in their cultural self definition, a marker of status and taste, and a cementing agent of a collective identity and presence that no longer had the same visibility in active political life.’[4] From the reformist/revivalist perspective, the dance and music of hereditary and other traditional communities were secret, idiosyncratic, heterogeneous, unscientific, non-canonical, hybrid, vernacular, and non-modern. They were transmitted and performed through oral, caste based, and practice-centred processes. The new classical arts, on the other hand, would be based on ‘ancient’ yet suitably reformed, modernized textual and theoretical canons, and the performers would be modern professionals, untainted by caste associations and non- scientific methods. … The major outcome of the reinvention of a classical tradition would be the displacement of the hereditary performers and the dispersal of their communities and knowledge bases. In both North and South Indian elite nationalist projects, the classical arts were constructed as the heritage of an ancient Indian civilization, redefined (in terms of the Orientalist genealogy of nationalism) as a specifically Hindu civilization.[5] The Karnataka music was reinvented as a ‘classical’ tradition by the Madras elites in the twentieth century, predominantly middle class telugu and tamil Brahmin communities. Karnataka music is a typical bramin enterprise. It is through this music they accessed the past and invoked it in altered socio-political landscape of early twentieth century south India. The invention of Karnataka music involved the erasure or devaluation of many earlier kinds of music, the co-option of some hereditary performers, and the marginalization of others.[6] Dalits are consciously resisting the dominant discourses of elite and asserting their identity. They use performance to wrest power to determine their own identity, and deliberately to engineer self representation in which a collective past mobilizes their community into a modern present.[7]

Dalit Song as a Protest

The changes in a society are always carried out by the political struggles. Politics as a value facilitate the understanding of the culture, history and politics of a social group. The power of politics is expressed through the social and cultural practices of society. In other words, culture plays a key role in upholding the hegemony of the particular social group or community. From late eighties onwards, with the Dalit movement came against the hegemony of the upper castes and argued in favour of a casteless society. It is very much evident that dominance of upper caste brahminical class is carried through their literature and cultural forms. Even today, the brahminical ideology sustains through its music in the name of classical, in the public sphere. It has been celebrated as elite culture and pure/real musical form. As a feudal cultural form it is loyal to God and religion, and confined to temple. In other words, it shows its loyalty to feudal lords or kings and helps maintaining the status quo of the system. This brahminical culture propagated through festive occasions of temple and especially in modern times through Ganasabhas. As Dalit movement came against this dominant brahminical ideology and tried to establish its distinct cultural forms and experiences of life in a celebrating way, the literature and culture of dalits emerged as a symbolic protest against dominance. Dalit song as a cultural genre made an attempt in resisting hegemony of brahminical class and in mobilizing dalits for a political purpose.

The rise of Dalit song may be viewed as a protest against the dominant upper caste hegemony. The dalit literary cultural struggles are against the feudal, capitalist and brahminical cultural forms in a process of self discovery and self assertion of their culture. Dalit song not only countered the brahminical culture but also made a difference with existing alternative cultural struggles as in the case of political struggles. In a cultural front there is a powerful tradition of capturing the peoples culture (folklore) and politicizing for the propaganda of political ideology. The cultural organizations like Praja Natya Mandali, Jana Natya Mandali , and Aurunodaya Samskritika Samstha worked with a mission in this direction. In their cultural production, there are many songs about the dalits in the name of workers, labourers, and agricultural coolies. They were tapped from their cultural repository and politicized with a social purpose. Dalit song, though it has not established its autonomy like existing ‘revolutionary song’, but it was forced to talk about caste, naked reality of Indian society in a much more concrete fashion. In comparison with other literary genres like poetry and story, Song is quantitatively less in production, though there is a conscious effort to build a cultural movement of dalits by establishing cultural organizations like ‘Dalita Kala Mandali’ and ‘Lelle’.

Dalit Literary and Cultural Movement

Dalit literary and cultural movement has its own significance in telugu literature. Though it has continuity with earlier alternative struggles on certain issues, it is radical in problematising the issue of caste in Indian society. Ideologically, it contests even the struggles influenced by Marxism. Dalit movement adds new dimensions in understanding the Indian social reality and in strategies of liberation struggle. It got reflected in literary and cultural movements too. In the 1950s, the literary organization Abhyudaya Rachayalala Sangham (Progesssive Writers’ Association) and cultural organization Praja Kala Mandali articulated the Dalit question in the name of class in support of communist party. In the 1970s in support of radical Naxalite movement, writers association, Viplava Rachayatala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers Association, RWA) and cultural association named Jana Natya Mandali (JNM) brought many artists of lower castes to the forefront. The JNM contributed a lot in reviving the tradition of song. The folklore of the lower caste groups got politicized and used for the purpose of spreading the revolutionary messages. These songs basically targeted labourers to join the armed struggle for classless society by keeping the differences of caste and religion. From the late 1980s with the rise of Dalit consciousness, Dalita Maha Sabha under the leadership of Katti Padma Rao and Bojjatatakam changed the political discourse of Telugu society by articulating the issue of caste explicitly as dominant social reality of Indian society. Many young Dalit writers started questioning the brahminical dominance and upper caste monopoly in the alternative movements under the leadership of B.S.Ramulu, Dalita Rachayatala, Kalakarula,Medhavula Iykya Vedika (Da.Ra.Ka.Me, United front of Dalit writers, artists and intellectuals) in the 1990s. At the same time under the leadership of Sikhamani, Dalit Rachayatala Sangham, (Darasam, Dalit Writers Association) was formed. Almost at the same time Dalita Kala Mandali , the cultural organization was also formed under the leadership of Masterjee. In the late 90s, Lelle, a cultural organization was formed with an initiation of Suresh and Mallepalli Laxmaiah, who are sympathetic towards the Naxalite movement. On the other hand, the JNM artists namely Gaddar, Vangapandu further contributed to the Dalit song. The influence of Dalit movements could be seen in these artists in their recent songs.

With the rise of Dalit movement, Dalit literature came to forefront in Telugu literature by questioning the existing canons of Telugu literary world. Dalit aesthetic creation mostly took the form of poetry with the newly emerged educated middle class. This is confined only to that section and generated a debate in literary circles of Telugu society. This form has its limitations since majority of Dalits are illiterates. With an intensified Dalit struggles, to mobilize the people they are forced to revive the tradition of song. The cultural phenomenon of JNM under the leadership of Gaddar and Vangapandu already established a powerful tradition of revolutionary song by exploring the folklore of the people. In a similar fashion, dalits are in search of song for the propagation of Dalit ideology. As a cultural and political tradition, it has a continuation with other alternative political organizations such as Prajanatyamandali, Jana Natyamandali, and at the same time ideologically breaks away from this kind. As a result, the cultural form significantly transformed itself quite politically and also aesthetically. Dalit literary and cultural movement gave a new direction to dalit song with the involvement of new composers, artists/performers and the formation of new cultural organization such as Dalita Kala Mandali. The dalit performers and composers of songs are widening their political canvass and also inaugurating themselves as the cultural leaders of ongoing Dalit and other alternative struggles of Telugu society.

Dalit movement brings the special recognition for Dalit song. Though there are a good number of songs about the life and struggles of dalits narrated by dalits, these songs are not identified with a name of Dalit. In academic discourse, they are known as folklore in contrast with elite culture/classical song. With the political intervention of left politics through Praja Natya Mandali and Jana Natya Mandali these kinds of songs are popularly known as people’s song (Praja pata) or Viplava pata. The folklore got politicized by them. The revolutionary song makes a conscious effort to enliven the people’s culture by destroying its anti- democratic elements. The song goes in the line of revolutionary politics. For them, song is the medium to propagate revolutionary ideas. The revolutionary song is not only entertaining but it also makes the song more meaningful for the people. They changed the song in many ways-in tune, dialect, sense and sensibility, content and conclusion. Most of the songs on dalits are written from the political perspective of class struggle. Dalits are viewed as labourers or working class. Still there is a debate going on whether the songs under the influence of revolutionary politics by the Dalit singers on the subject of Dalithood to be treated as Dalit song or not. This has to be understood in the context of assertion of Dalit politics in ideological differentiation with Marxist revolutionary politics of Telugu society. Dalit movement contributed significantly by pointing out the characterization of Indian social reality as casteist in nature. In defining the Dalit song, the literary critics encountered the situation same in the case of definition of Dalit and Dalit literature. This conflict reflected in the controversies centered around Chikkanavutunna Pata and Dalit Manifesto. Chikkanavutunna Pata proposes that SC, ST, BC and Minorities are to be treated as dalits and the literature written by them are Dalit literature. Ambedkar-Phule and Desiya Marxism should be the philosophical basis for Dalit movement. The other extreme considers the labourers those who are exploited by the caste are dalits. In course of time, struggles of identity politics further intensified and literature too identified with specific identity within dalit social groups.

In the year 1994, the first collection of Dalit literature came with a name of ‘Chikkanavutunna Pata’ (Thickening Song). There is a compliant about this book that it does not contain any songs though the title implies the genre of song. At the same time, another book named ‘Dalit Manifesto’ has a good number of songs along with poems. Of course, there are different viewpoints emerged on the questions of who are Dalits? What is Dalit literarure? However, everybody recognized the song as the powerful cultural medium to reach the Dalit masses. The debate went to the extent by telling poetry (vachana Kavita) is not a medium for Dalit literature.[8]Some Dalit scholars stretched the point by saying written culture is brahminical since it had predominantly helped to establish the elite brahminical hegemony by marginalizing the oral culture of illiterate dalits.[9] This issue got resolved by acknowledging both the forms and their contextual importance. One may argue that the form of song is better than poetry without bringing the distinction of Dalit or non- Dalit. It is not right indirectly negating the space for Dalit writers in poetry by branding that space as brahminical. Dalit poetry reflects the upward mobility of dalits and everybody has to welcome this trend. Song is the revolution of sound. Poetry is a silent revolution. Song, which has an immediate emotional effect and poetry, which has deep thoughts woven with feelings are weapons of dalits against social injustices. Both have to be employed effectively.[10]

Dalit Song: Recovery of Cultural Past

Dalit song is not a traditional folk song but it had roots in folk song. It is a continuation of orature of illiterate dalits against the written culture of social elite. Dalit song is a classic example of a performance of their social memory against the contemporary conditioning of dalits. It is a song of untouchable communities. In that sense it is a people’s song. It is an untouchable spring. Dalit song is a political song. It is a cultural expression of labour of dalit masses. It is an attempt not only to recover the cultural past of dalits but also a song of protest against oppressed and exploitative caste system. It is a song of liberation. It is a realization of dalit self. Dalit song is a significant cultural activity expressing and constituting people’s sense of reality. The song represents the culture of the society, but also used politically for realization of one’s social self and liberation of a social collective. Songs and singing are important within the dalit movement. Life, music and literature are inseparable in dalit song. Dalit song reveals the idiom of daily habits of speech of dalits. It is a continuation of cultural tradition of revolutionary song of Telugu society with different cultural meaning and ideology. Though dalit song has unwritten history it has got its recognition as a part of contemporary dalit literature inspired by ongoing struggles of dalit movement. The composers and performers broaden dalit literature and culture. Dalit songsters saw themselves as both recovering their cultural tradition and adding to it by writing lyrics that commented on current political issues and implicitly suggested visions of an alternative future. Dalit song keeps on emphasizing various forms of domination experienced, internalized and challenged by dalits. Dalit song is a cultural expression of a concrete, straightforward and much broader area of reality than the abstractions of social and economic experience.

Dalit Song as a Literary Production

Dalit song is as old as Telugu literature. It was mostly available in oral form. There is no recorded evidence for their songs. But one can listen to their songs by invoking the social memory of dalits. Though there are countless composers and singers, no name got celebrated or institutionalized in Telugu literary tradition. Written culture had succeeded in marginalizing the singers of lower caste groups since these groups are illiterate. Even after technological innovation, no voice of these singers got recorded. On the other hand the singers of brahminical culture like Kshetrayya, Tyagaraja, Annamaya, Ramadas are not only institutionalized and revered as legendary figures in the musical tradition. By overcoming the limitations imposed on the Dalit artists/writers, in Telugu history one may find some songs on the lives of dalits. With the rise of conscious educated dalits, there are attempts to record the every day struggles of dalits through literary and cultural performances. In written culture too, we find publication of some songs by dalit writers.

The first generation Dalit writers responded to the context of the nationalist movement. Nakka China Venkaiah, Kusuma Dharmanna and Jala Rangaswamy are prominent figures. Kusuma Dharmanna’s (1930s) song Maa Kodde Nalla Doratanam (We don’t want this native black hegemony) is popular at the time of Dalit consolidation under Adi Andhra Mahasabha. This song is a direct response to the celebrated Garimella Satyanarayana’s song of nationalist movement, Maa Kodde Tella Doratanam (We don’t want this white man’s hegemony). Dharmanna wrote this song foreseeing the plight of dalits in independent India under native Hindus. The legendary figure in Telugu literature, Jashua with the influence of Gandhi’s nationalist movement wrote many poems on the subject of Dalit life. Jaala rangaswamy, antarani varevuru, Malasudhi (1930) Kusuma dharmanna Harijanasatakam and Nalla Doratanam (1933) , Nakka China Venkaiah Harijana keertanalu (1935) are prominent songs of early dalit writers.

Under the influence of Dalit movement many songs are composed by the young artists and performed on many occasions. A few audio cassettes and compilation of books of songs have seen the light. K.P.Ashok Kumar and Jayadheer Tirumala Rao’s collected songs came with a name of Dalit Geethalu (Dalit Songs) in the year 1995.[11] This includes the songs of older generation Dalit writers, sympathetic upper caste writers, writers of progressive and revolutionary writers, and recent Dalit songs dated from 1985 onwards. The editors explain that these songs are included by locating the struggles historically as nationalist, progressive, revolutionary and Dalit movements. Karimnagar Dalita Patalu (1993), and, Dalita Geethalu (Dalit songs,1993) of Masterjee. B.S. Ramulu edited Pravahinche Pata-A.P. Dalita Patalu (1996), Vishala Bahujana Tatvalu , B.C., S.C Patalu (2004) are some of the anthologies of songs published. Dalit songs were included in most of the anthologies of dalit poetry. Dalit Manifesto(ed. Kesava Kumar and K.Satyanarayana), Dalita Kavitvam (ed. K.Lakshminarayana), Padunekkina Pata (ed. G.Lakshminarasaiah). In addition to this, there are quite a good number of dalit songs included in the other collections of songs- Prajakala Mandali patalu-2007, Prasad (ED.) Jana Chaitanya Geetalu (1992), dalita jana geetalu (1985) and S.V.Satyanarayana Telugulo Vudhyama Geethalu (2005).

There are some publications of individual writers with prominence of songs- Gorati Venkanna’s Ekunadam motha, Rela Pulu, Ala Chandravanka , Gaddar Patalu, Guda Anjaiah’s Oorumanadira, Dondapati Rama Rao Dalita Sakti (1987), Dalita kavita (1992), Vu.Sa. Patha Pata Sakshiga Kotha Pata Padatha (1993). Some of the songs are identified with writers- Sambhuka, kadalinamura from Poyedemilenollam, (1992), K.P. Ore ore ore Dalitanna from Dalita Kalamandali Patalu (1992), Donepudi Mohan Prasad’s Dalita Radham Kadilindi from Dalita Kavita (1992), Sunkam Oddayya ‘s Mekameram Baligakonno puli meram lechiraranno(1983) from Adiripadutunru (1985), Vu.Sambasiva Rao’s Yeto Telchuko, Dalita Natyam, Dalita Matha, Harijanulam Kadu (1991 , Yedureeta), Kamu Memu Hinduvulam (1993), Gaddar DalitaPululu, Mayamma Aalisamma, Rajyadhirakaniki Malanna, Desabandhu, NMR Malayevada Madiga Yevada (1995), Vangapandu , Malapeta (1990) ,Chunduru Pata, Agravarnala pani Ayindayyo, Janam, Sudrula Saval, Sakti Malolla Vedanna and K.Ram Lakshman Safayanna (Karimnagar Dalita Patalu)

B.S.Ramulu, dalit literary critic points out that after his collection of songs, Pravahinche ganam(1996), there are more than hundred books of songs published till today. But these collections of songs did not include the songs of writers those who are questioning the caste discrimination and demanding the political power for SC, ST and B.C people by idealizing Budha, Phule and Ambedkar. There is no place for the lyricists belonging to B.C , S.C writers and the members of DAFODAM in the publications of Communist, Naxalite, Atheistic, Rationalist and Hindu communal organizations…they are supporting caste system silently.[12]

Saga of Dalit Song

Dalit writer G.Kalyanarao keeps on emphasizing that dalits have a tradition of Allika samsrkriti (Netting culture ) in literature. As he says, What my father has narrated/His father hand written/Narration has become untouchable/The Writing had established as a Royal King. He further argues that dalit culture derived from folklore, where the other is fakelore. For dalits, literature, Music and dance are interwoven. Dalits, the lower caste communities communicated their lives and everyday struggles through a song culture for generations and has continuity till date.[13] It does not mean that folklore is the true representation of dalit culture. The folkloric tradition has undergone many changes with changing material conditions. For instance, under the patronage of feudal lords, the folkloric culture of lower castes was encouraged. But this has different meaning from the earlier. In other words, folklore is filled with reactionary content. Here we are using dalit culture or dalit song with a specific meaning and confined mostly with emergence of a cultural/literary genre dalit song in the backdrop of contemporary dalit movement. So this dalit song has certain marked features. For dalit song, caste oppression and the way out is the central focus. It has intended to raise the consciousness of dalits by questioning the brahminical culture. It has invoked the cultural past of dalits for a political purpose. In other words, it has politicized the folklore to meet their political demands and reach the people.

Though dalit song has continuity with cultural organizations such as Jana Natya Mandali and the phenomenon of Gaddar in its form, but it has consciously kept ideological difference with it. The liberation of dalits could be seen in the philosophy of Ambedkarism rather following Marxism. Indeed, dalit literature and its writers have influenced Telugu literature in general and progressive writers in particular. The language and idiom has changed significantly. It is evident that the legendary revolutionary figure Gaddar’s tone and tune has changed with the influence of ongoing dalit movement.[14] Dalit writers and artists have bridged the oral and written cultural traditions through their publication and performance of dalit song. Dalit song mostly focused on the questioning of existing caste hierarchy and exploitation by dominant caste. There are innumerable songs on the ideologues of dalit movement - Ambedkar, Phule, and Periyar. The large mass of dalit songs comprise of songs of dalit assertion. This prominently includes voicing against the caste atrocities. Apart from this, dalit song propagated the alternate symbols and myths that are submerged in dominant culture. The celebration of Sambuka, Ekalavya are examples in this regard. The dalit writers through their songs have transformed the condemned and demeaned life styles as the symbols of protest. They present themselves as productive castes against the exploitative castes. The writers highlight the dalit involvement in labour and project them as the real makers of history. The musical instrument of dalits, Dappu becomes the emblem of dalit movement. The Dappu music has reverberated the song culture of dalits.

Dalit song is a collective political song born out of dalit culture. It might have many unknown others and they may have continuity from past to present times in various forms. The lyricists, writers, singers, musicians, artists and performers collectively enriched the dalit song. Moreover, song has a life only in its performance in public. Reception of a song is equally important as the tune and content of the song. Dalit song has accompanied the dalit movement. Dalit songs are performed in all its political meetings to emotionally carry forward the ideals of the movement. Many songs go unpublished but they are very much circulated in dalit sphere. There are a few songs which are published, though it may not reach its targeted audiences. Most of the times, songs are popular through the singers, but the general public are not aware of its lyricists and composers. However, there are some prominent signatories of contemporary dalit song. As there are different ideological and strategic positions within dalit movement, so it has reflected in dalit song too. One stream reflects the influence of Naxalite movement. According to this, Dalit liberation is linked up with armed struggle and considers Dalit issue as a part of class .The liberation of Dalit struggle has been linked with the struggles of land. The songs of Gaddar, Vangapandu, Guda Anjaiah, reveal this position. However, one finds significant change in their political orientation on the issue of caste after Karamchedu massacre (1985). The other political stream counters this position and treats Dalit question differently from the position of Naxalite movement and argues in favour of autonomous dalit struggles with an inspiration of philosophy of Ambedkarism. It forcefully argues that laborers liberation is linked up with Dalit liberation and struggles of land liberation linked up with caste annihilation rather than the other way. It argues the necessity of taking note of where the Dalit song differs with the revolutionary song in understanding the autonomous political stand of dalit.[15] They explore the other alternatives to capture the political power rather than armed struggle. This position could be seen in Masterjee and others. There may be many other positions. In understanding dalit song we may broadly identify the four streams with respective dalit balladeers- Gaddar, Masterjee, Gorati Venkanna and Andhesree .

Gaddar: The Trumpet of Dalit Tigers

In song culture, Gaddar is a phenomenon and a legendary figure. He has a commanding influence on both revolutionary and dalit song. Being a dalit, Gaddar is an internal critique of Maoist party on the issue of caste. Being nurtured in Maoist political struggle, he is critical about the Dalit movements and its strategies to reach out to the powers. Gaddar emerged as a link between the Naxalite party and Dalit movement, not only as singer but also as a theoretician with commitment. In comparison with the language of political rhetoric of Marxists, Gaddar’s cultural language comes close to the life styles of toiling masses. In the backdrop of dalit movement he too changed his language from identifying people earlier with ‘coolie’ and ‘labourer’ to Malas and Madigas. The significant transformation can be seen from his earlier songs calling with coolanna (Coolie brotherhood) to his songs of eighties with ‘Dalita pululamma’(Dalit tigers). It is true that his early songs centered around coolies and peasants. He sings for ‘Coolie Rajyam’. It does not mean that, Gaddar is not sensitive about issues of caste. Even prior to dalit movement, he came with a song ‘Yelaro ee Madiga batukulu/ Mottukunte dorakadura methuku’. In the song ‘Rajyadhikaraniki Malanna’, he categorically explains there will be no change in the lives of dalits unless and until they get political power. Even if dalits change their caste or religion, there will be no change in their lives .For them, armed struggles is the only way:

‘Bhanchan bhanchanantu

Guloponni dora antu

Yennalu bhatukutavu Malannaa

Yeduru tiragavemiro Madiganna


Rajyadikaranki -Malanna

Neevu riflundunkovaro- Madiganna’[16]

In this song he appeals to the Dalit community of Andhra especially Mala and Madiga caste groups saying that converting into different religion won’t change their lives, and their fate won’t change.

Gaddar’s Dalita Pululamma (Dalit Panthers) is a powerful song that reached the people. This is about the courageous struggles of dalits of Karamchedu :

Dalita Pululamma/Karamchedu Bhooswamultone/ kalabadi nilabadi poruchesina / dalita pululamma. Dalits’ undeterred struggles against the upper caste Kamma landlords and their sacrifices in the struggle form the pedestal of the song Dalita pululamma. This song bears testimony to the dalit struggles and has the power of fuelling the dalit community against the landowning gentry. In continuation with this, Gaddar composed many songs on the lives of dalits. He translated the condemned life styles as symbols of protest: Yenta Chakkagunnado Naa chettakundi..[17]

In the same line of Gaddar, Vangapandu is known for his songs in the dialect of northern coastal Andhra. Like Gaddar he too belongs to JNM. He composed songs on miserable lives of dalits, and their role in knowledge production, and against the atrocities against dalits. His popular song Vundarra mala peta, Kaastalunna chota’ depicts the miserable conditions of dalits. The song explains: Dalitwada(hamlet of Malas) is there, where the problems are there. In another song he sings that Knowledge is nobody’s property, It is the wealth of all jatis. (‘Jnanokadi sottukadanna/adi sarva jatula sampadoranna’). He composed this song in response to anti- Mandal agitation on the question of reservations for backward castes. In this song, he vehemently opposes the fake meritocracy and attacks the false notions of the upper castes on reservation policy. His song Gandara ganda, yendaka chuddamuro invokes the feeling of revolt of dalits against the upper caste hegemony. This is the song of revolt came out in the backdrop of ongoing atrocities against dalits.

Another popular lyricist Guda Anjaiah too see the question of dalit as a part of larger class struggle. His popular song Ooru Manadira fills the confidence of dalits by declaring this village is ours by questioning the Dora (landlord) of villages:

Ee vurumanadira/ee vada manadira/palle manadira/ prati paniki manamra/ sutti manadi!katti manadi! Palugu manadi/paara manadi/bandi manadi/ bandedlu manayira/dorayendiro/vadi peekudendiro/…sanghapolla jendakinda-sangamokati pettale/ manila doche ee dorala-makkeliragadannale[18]. In this song, he urges the dalits to remain resistant towards the landlords who do nothing for the village but claim superiority in the village. When the dalits toil in the fields, produce the essential implements of the village, where from this invisible dora enters and tries to dominate and exploit us. This way, the song creates the sense of attachment of dalits towards their village in which they are segregated and demeaned. In an another song Dalitulanaga Yevarura tries to define dalits in a class frame work.[19]

Charabanda Raju’s Yekulamabbi .[20] and B.N.B’s Pedollarajyam [21] are sympathetic to dalits cause by considering dalits as a part of working class. They questioned the caste discrimination and appealed the toiling masses to come together. Another writer K.C. sings for Dalita Rajyam: Ore ore ore dalitanna inkalevaro-mayannalevaro

eedopdi dongala gulcha-parugu deeyaro….dailajana rajyamkoraku porujeyara

Masterjee : Salutes to Ambedkar

Masterjee is a unique phenomenon in dalit cultural politics. His political position too differs from the earlier noted singers. He is the founder of Dalit Kala Mandali and composed number of songs exclusively Dalit in nature. He gave many performances and worked as a cultural force for Dalit movement. He even tried to change the attire of dalit performers. Mastarjee-Anduko dandalu baba ambedkara, manamenabaiayudu satam, edemi dharmamanna!sambhukuni tala narikesi. His song on Ambedkar is popular all over Andhrapradesh: ‘Anduko dandalu baba ambedkara.. ambarana vunnatti’. His song goes with the political arithmetic of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to capture the power, as he sings in Manamenabaiyadusatam (we are eighty five percent): Padihenu mandi leni-dopidi agrakulamu/desanni dostavunte-sustetlavurukundam/ kusundimestavunte-kastetla vurukundam[22]. He propagated the principle of Mulavasi (dalits as sons of soil). Ee Desavasulam sings as: Eedesavasulam-eebhumi putrulam/memu aadi jatulam-asalu mulavasulam/ batukochina badavaryulu-brahmanagra kulamantoo/bharatadi mulajanula-banisalu meerantoo[23]

Gorati Venkanna : Pastoral Rustic Cries

Gorati Venkanna’s voice is very distinctive and celebrated dalit poet and performer among all those poet-performers who came after Gaddar in Telugu society. It looks as if Venkanna’s voice is fractured – as it combines two distinct tones and pitches. As he sings in this shifting and a distinct voice his songs and tunes rock the hearts of the audience. The range of Venkanna’s themes overlaps with that of Gaddar’s – although Gaddar’s range and orientation are wide and deep. [24] He emerged as a literary cultural figure with the contemporary dalit movement of nineties. He published Ekunadam Motha (1994), Rela Puthalu (2002), Ala Chandravanka (2010). Most of these songs have been cut into popular albums. He is a poet, philosopher, performer and a serious representative of dalit cultural traditions. His songs are philosophical and very much rooted in dalit cultural life. In other singers such as Gaddar, Masterjee and Vangapandu, politics dominates the song, but in Gorati Venkanna, philosophies and life has cutting edge over politics. He builds powerful imageries that are enriching dalit aesthetics. His tunes are very much rooted in dalit cultural tradition.

Yenninallu ee goralu, Madi dharmam manadi kadu

Yenninallu ee goralu/yenta mandimi orugudamu/dalitanna dandu kattakunda bratakalemu/dalitanna berisalethakunda niluvalemu[25]

This song reflects the self respect and dalit anger against upper caste landlords in the wake of Karamchedu and Tsundur massacres. This is a popular dalit song. The song sounds rebellious as it sings: How long can we subjugate ourselves to the atrocities of the upper castes and the vicious circle of caste discrimination. Without collective and organized resistance, we cannot survive anymore in this caste ridden society. He also has written the mesmerizing lines Madi dharmam manadi kadu in which he projects the democratic and radical tradition of the dalits contrary to the brahminical tenets.

His celebrated song Palle kanneru pedutundi (Tearful Village) is a powerful pastoral song. The song starts singing that the countryside is crying due to invisible conspiracies. This explains how the communities lost their livelihood in the changing economic context. The song doesn’t explicitly imply the victimization of dalits but quite implicitly it addresses the plight of the community life of the lower castes. Here lies the magical rebellious effect of this rustic singer.

The village is weeping.

In unknown plots, the mother is being bonded

Thumma [thorn] trees have grown in the potter’s furnace

Dust is covered in blacksmith’s chimney

The big barisa [chisel] has gone rough

The weaver’s shuttle is broken

The hands of the artisans are broken in my villages

The village’s freedom is drowned in the Ganges (Translated by Kiran Kumar)

In yet another moving song, he portrays the pathetic, inhuman conditions of dalits in terms of their shelter, poverty, and starvation. There is a descending degree of deprivation in the lives of dalits-

Galli sinnadi garebolla katha peddadi (this lane is narrow)

The lane is small but the story of the poor is large

The houses they live in are smaller than a Pan shop

Phaikhana houses (toilet) are better than these houses

Why are they abandoned like old railway compartments? (Tr. Kiran Kumar)

The following song satirises rhetorically the real and reel heroes driven by factional politics and how dalits sacrifice their lives for the glory of faction leaders and how it becomes an idealistic portrayal of real heroes in the silver screen. Ultimately, the dalits in both real and reel are made scapegoats for the vested interests of the upper caste. The last two lines mark the ironic comment of the singer against the victimization of dalits.

Samara Simha Reddy babu you should be cool and happy

Indra Sena Reddy you should rise higher and occupy the chair of Indra

Bharatha Simha Reddy you should give bombs and our people should blast them

Chennakeshava Reddy you wave your fingers and we all should dance

We are like umbrellas on your head

We are knives in your hands

If you say something to us

We run like your hunting dogs

If you want to kill some one

We kill them, we kill them

[… … …]

We should rig the votes and you would chair the power

We should sit at your feet when you’re in power

By becoming the leaders of our state, you will be praised

We should be blamed as the killers

The heroes should take your role and give the hit movies

By watching the movie our people should shout and encourage them

Your statues must be placed after Gandhi and Nehru

Our photos should be pasted in the police stations (Tr. Kiran Kumar)

Andesree : Jaya Jaya Jayahe

Andhesree ( Ande Yellaiah ) is a well known dalit poet and lyricist born in madiga family of Telangana region. His life itself is a representative of dalit song. He lived as an orphan, Shepherd, mason and construction labour for a survival. He does not have formal education and self educated in later days. His voice is prominent in dalit literary cultural movement and separate Telangana struggle. His songs are revolving around nature and nostalgia of village life from the backdrop of dalit life. His songs are humanistic in nature. The most celebrated songs of Andesree are Palle neeku Vandanamulammo, Maayamai potunnadamma.. manishannavadu, Gala Gala Gajjalabandi, and Komma chekkite bommara.. kolichi mokkithe ammara .yelaro ma batukilitla…yevaru chesina mayaro. Palle vandanamulammo reflects his life experiences as a shepherd. This song is a representative of any ordinary dalit labourer (paleru). Mayamai potunnadomma manishannavadu is a typical humanistic poem in search of humanness which is vanishing in the corrupt, mechanized life. His song Jaya Jaya Jaya Jayahe is considered as the anthem of Telangana by the agitating masses. He is a lyric writer for Telangana based films named Ganga and Bathukamma. He also published song collections Patala pudota and Andela sandadi.

Against Brahminical Hegemony

Apart from these streams of song culture of dalits, we find powerful lyricists of dalit song. Kalekuri Prasad, Sivasagar (K.G.Satyamurti), Vu.Sa, Kathi Padma Rao are dalit leaders and ideologues. They are prominent Telugu literary critics and powerful dalit writers. Kalekuri, Sivasagar and Vu.Sa came out from the literary and political parties representing the revolutionary ideology. They are negotiating with Naxalite politics from a dalit perspective. In Telugu literary landscape they forcefully argued for politics of caste and class reconciliation. The Kathi Padma Rao is a leader and founder of Dalita Mahasabha, came from a background of rationalist movement. Unlike Gaddar, Venkanna, Masterjee, Andesree they are not performers but are well known dalit writers. As leaders of dalit movement, to mobilize the dalit masses they attempted to pen down some songs. K.G. Satyamurthy known as Sivasagar, once the secretary of Peoples War Group and a legendary figure in revolutionary literature came out of the party and actively engaged in Dalit politics and Dalit literary movement. In revolutionary politics, he is a trend setter. His songs are bridging the oral and written culture of revolutionary literature. In dalit literature too he changed the idiom and aesthetics of Telugu literature. His song Nallati Sureedu (Black Sun) highlights the Dalit aesthetics:

Nalla nalla sureedu/nallati sureedu/Nalupu nalupu sureedu/Gelupu dari sureedu/Andala sureedu/Andamaina sureedu/Andamaina sureedu/Aaku seppula sureedu.[26]

Kalekuri Prasad (Yuvaka ) is a major dalit poet, literary critic and a lyricist. He is a poet raised for fistful self respect. The popularity of his songs even reached the Telugu screen. Palle Pallena Dalita Koyila[27], Chunduru Gundelo Gayam.. Dalita ,Bhoomiki Pachani Rangesinatlu, Karmabhoomilo pusina oo puvva are some of his popular songs. His song Chunduru Gundelo Gayam is in response to Chunduru massacre and reached the dalit masses with its tune invoked from a celebrated Christian song. Since most of the dalits in coastal Andhra are affiliated with Christianity over a period of time, he adapted the Christian tune to politically mobilize the dalits. His song Palle Pallena Dalita Koyala is a celebration of dalit struggle with a pride and respect.[28]

Vu. Sambasiva Rao known as Vu.Sa is prominent Bahujana intellectual and lyricist. Along with K.G.Satyamurti, he initiated dalit revolutionary politics and edited a magazine Yedureetha. He is known for his songs in both revolutionary and dalit literature. In the light of Dalit movement he argues for rewriting history: Tiragarayora mana charitranta/ tiragarayaro mulla charitranta/ manaku teliyani mana charitra/musipettinodevado-dachipettinodevado/ pusa guchinatuu rayi, malle rayi. tiragarayora mana charitranta. His other songs include patha pata sakshiga kotha pata and Mahatma Phule.

Kathi Padma Rao, the dalit leader and writer made an attempt to write songs too .Dalita Yugam and Dalita Pata are worth mentioning. His Dalita Yugam is a song of awakening of dalits and gives confidence to the dalit life and his struggles: lera lera dalitula yugamidira, dappulu mrogina gudem neede/gudem neede/patalu puttina gundeyara. gundeyara/kala tallivi neevoyi.nevoyi/tambura nadam totira.[29] Music evolves from the dalithood through the traditional drum –dappu and songs emerge from the struggles of dalits. And also dance and performance. Hence, the life of a dalit is the motherlode of cultural art forms and he asserts that this era is ours.

The song culture has continued by many singers, composers, lyricists, and organizations and individuals. After Dalit Kalamandali, Lelle is the foremost cultural organization that emerged along with the dalit movements. Mallepalli Lakshmiah and Suresh played a pivotal role in the activities of Lelle. They even experimented with the dalit songs by making a perfect fusion of black music and dalit music. Chandra Sree, Dalit women singer produced Ambedkar Suprabatham and formed a dalit women theatre. Sivasagar’s Nalla Nalla Sureedu is popular all over Telugu society through the voice of Chandra Sree. Dappu Prakash of Dalita Kala Mandali is known for a rhythm of dalit song on Dappu. Rasamayi Balakishan is a dalit artist and organizer of Telangana cultural life through Dhoom Dham. Udaya Bhaskar’s Bahujana Kala Mandali is popularizing the ideology of Ambedkar in North coastal Andhra. In any of the cultural front organizations of Naxalite parties, dalit artists are the prominent ones. Ramarao of Arunodaya and E.V. of Praja Kalamandali are leading figures in this regard.

Jayaraj (Vasanta Geetham), A.Y.Prabhudas ( Yevarikundi Pratibha, Chindindi Raktam Chundurulona), Nernala Kishore, Suddala Ashok Teja have contributed for establishing the dalit song in Telugu society.


Though Dalit song got variegated forms and different streams over a period of time, it has emerged as the voice of the voiceless. Dalit song is regarded as a song of protest against the hegemonic and hierarchical caste system that relegates the dalits to the margins. At the same time, it helps dalits to liberate themselves from the chains of caste boundaries and euphemistically becomes a vehicle of celebration of dalit culture and aesthetics with pride. It serves as the medium to recover the cultural past of the dalit self. The strength of Dalit song lies in countering the brahminical culture and in celebration of Dalit culture in public. Dalit song is a turning point in articulating the life of dalits in a concrete form than the earlier as it was in the name of ‘class’, and ‘labourers’. Dalit song is at low phase today due to the weakening of Dalit movement in Andhra pradesh. It implies that the Dalit song won’t survive without a strong Dalit political movement. In this situation, interestingly many of the young singers identified with Dalit movement contributed later to Telangana Pata. In articulating the wish of Praja Telangana, dalit bahujana artists and writers are in lead role. The dalit writers and artists got much more visibility and acceptance with intensified Telangana struggle. As the Telangana bahujana intellectual observed: in a span of ten years from 1994 to 2004 roughly 400 songs were produced. Nearly 250 songs are in the form of cassettes. More than 10 books are published in the name of Telangana song. But the saddening thing is that not even 10 songs out of 400 are concerned about problems related to cultural, political and social power of B.C, S.C, S.T and minorities living in Telangana.[30] The situation demands the strengthening of dalit movement by negotiating the alternate socio-political movements such as class, gender, region and ecological oriented. Dalit song can be rightly exploited effectively by bringing in new insights from other terrains but more seriously without losing its autonomy, its focal point and the essence of dalit life and culture. Dalit song should be the rhythm of dalit life.

End Notes

[1] Coplan, David B. Musical Understanding :The Ethno aesthetics of Migrant Workers’ Poetic Songs in Lesotho, Ethnomusicology, Vol.32 No.3 , 1989, p.337

[2] Narayana Rao, Velchuri Telugulo Kavita Viplavala Swarupam, Illinois: TANA publication, 2008, p.16,18

[3] Peterson, Indira Viswanathan and Davesh soneji. (ed.) Introduction In Performing Past, Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, p.32

[4] Subramanian, Lakshmi. Embracing the Canonical, Identity, Tradition, and Modernity in Karnatak Music, Peterson, Indira Viswanathan and Davesh soneji. (ed.) Introduction In Performing Past, Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, p.67

[5] Peterson, Indira Viswanathan and Davesh soneji. (ed.) Introduction In Performing Past, Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, p.7

[6] Ibid.p.14

[7] Ibid.p.31

[8] Mo. Dalita Kavitvaniki Vachana Kavita Vahika Kadu. Andhra Prabha Sahiti Gavaksham September 14, 1994

[9] Surendra Raju, Iliah refered in HRK

[10] HRK. Vachana Kavithakoo Samajamlo Space vundi. Aa spacelonoo dalita kavulaku chotundi Sunday Andhra Jyothy ,25 May 1997 p.7

[11] Thirumala Rao, Jayadheera and K.P.Ashok Kumar (Ed.), Dalita Geethalu, Hyderabad: Sahithi circle,1995.

[12] B.S.Ramulu (Ed.) Vishala Sahiti- Bahujana Tatvalu, B.C, S.C la Patalu Hyderabad: Vishala Sahitya Academy, 2004, p.37

[13] G.Kalyana Rao is the author of a celebrated dalit novel Antarani Vasantham (Untouchable Spring). Kalyana Rao, G. Telugu Natakam Mulalu, Andhrapradesh: Viplava Rachayathala Sangham, pp.25-33

[14] Kesava Kumar, P. Popular Culture and Ideology: The Phenomenon of Gaddar, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. No. February 2010

[15] Laxminarasaiah, G. , Charitralo Nilichipogala Dalita Geethalu , Aadivaram Andhrajyothi, October 29,1995.

[16] Gaddar (Ed.) ‘Rajyadhikaraniki Malanna’ Jana Natya Mandali Patalu JNM: Secunderabad, 2001 p.71-72

[17] Gaddar, Gaddar Galam Audio CD

[18] Anjaiah, G., Ooru Manadira, Ooru Mandarin (patalu) , Hema Sahiti publications: Hyderabad,1999 p.1

[19] Ibid.

[20] Cherbandaraju is an important literary figure in Digambara Kavitvam and revolutionary literature. Cherabandaraju . Ye Kulamabbe , Dalit Manifesto, p.2

[21] B.N.B. Mallollamantavu, Dalit Manifesto, P.9

[22] Masterjee. Manamenabaiayudu satham , In Jayadheera Tirumala Rao and K.P.Ashok Kumar (ed) Dalita Geethalu

[23] Mastejee Ee desavasulam , Dalit Manifesto p.32

[24] Kiran Kumar, G. Songs of Tears and the Forces of Voice: A comparative Study of Gaddar and Gorati Venkanna, M.Phil thesis submitted to English and Foreign Languages niversity(Unpublished),2009 , p.46

[25] Venkanna, Gorati. Yenni Sarlu Ee Goralu In K.lakshminarayana ( ed.) Dalit Kavitvam-2 , Anantapuram: Rama Publications, 2003 , p.56

[26] Siva Sagar, Nallati Sureedu In Siva Sagar Kavitvam (1968-2004) , Swecha prachuranlu: Khammam , 2004 . p.268

[27] Prasad, Kalekuri. Palle Pallenaa Dalita Koyila In B.S. Ramulu ( Ed.) Bahujana Tatvalu. BC, SC la Patalu, Hyderabad: Visala Sahitya Academy, 2004 p.50

[28] Prasad, Kalekuri. Palle Pallena Dalita Koyila In K.Lakshmin Narayana (Ed.) Dalita Kavitvam-2, Anantapuram: Rama Publications, 2003, p.59

[29] Ibid. p.26

[30] Ramulu, B.S. Vishala Sahiti- Bahujana Tatvalu, B.C, S.C la Patalu Hyderabad: Vishala Sahitya Academy, 2004, p.34

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