Folk Music of Andhra Pradesh
Dr. A. Anuradha

Coordinator, Dept. of Music, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) - India
Phone : 94410-39033, email :

Folk music is one of the ancient forms of the cultural heritage of India. ‘Every part of India has its own culture and traditions, developed according to the taste of the people of that particular part. Thus, the combination of singing songs, instruments and dance is called as ‘Desi music’. This is stated by the ancient Musicologists and the word Desi paved a way to the study of several ‘Desi’ type of arts.

Dese dese janaanam
yadruchyaa hridaya ranjakam !
Geetam cha vaadanam nrittam
tat deseetyabhi dheeyate !!

Andhra Pradesh is a beautiful land of thick forests, high-range mountains, streams, rivers and green fields. The entire state is bordered by the elegant coastal corridor on one of its sides. Andhra Pradesh is a land with rich Cultural Heritage. There exists a large diversity in the life style of its people. Each region has its own nativity and specialty with different cultures and traditions. It is the 4th largest state in the country in terms of its area and 5th largest one in population. Geographically Andhra is studied under three heading viz., Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana. These three regions have their own styles of cultures and traditions which vary from one another. This variation can also be observed in the folk arts which are a part of the cultural treasure. Studying folk arts of Andhra is an interesting as well as a deep subject to deal with. It is expected that, in entire Andhra Pradesh there exist 33 kinds of Tribes like Kuruva, Chenchu, Eruka, Bairagi, Golla, Koya, Jangam, Bhillu, Savara etc. The history of folk art forms of Andhra Pradesh is as old as the history of Telugu language.

Generally, performing folk arts are of three types viz., folk music, folk dance and folk drama. Music and lyric are the main content of these three. Very few of them like Naagini dance, Tiger dance etc., are devoid of lyrics. There are nearly 200 such folk art forms noticed in Andhra Pradesh. Some of them deal with singing, instrumental music and dance and some with singing accompanied with instruments. The main purpose of these art forms is entertainment.

The people of Andhra Pradesh speak Telugu, which is greatly praised as ‘Italian of the East’. Villages occupy a major portion of the state. The main profession of the people is cultivation. As everywhere else in the world, singing songs while doing any kind of work is a practice of the villagers of Andhra also. Music is a tool to get relief from their stress and strain, and to gain vigor during their work time. Most of their songs are related to God as they have a philosophical and devotional bent of mind.

The lifestyle of folk people is as simple as their art forms are. These songs are sung in simple tunes with a limited compass and with easy rendering. The basic feature of folk music is oral expression and the presentation of this form is completely original and has not changed in any form. Though Andhra Pradesh is divided into different regions, linguistically it is still one. There are hundreds of folk songs spread all over the state.

The main components of these folk songs are lyric, music and rhythm. Based on the lyrics and the occasions, folk music can be studied under several headings viz. occupational songs, agricultural songs, moral songs, devotional songs on special occasions etc. Every heading has again several sub divisions. There are innumerable songs like philosophical songs, women’s songs, devotional songs, function-songs like marriage songs, ritualistic songs, cradling songs, humorous songs, epic or mythological songs, children’s songs etc. Thus, study of folk music or songs is a vast subject of interest.

Under the heading of Occupational songs, several types of folk songs are popular in Andhra... like farmers’ songs, fishermen’s songs, palanquin songs etc, These songs are sung by a group of people at the work place in order to forget their tiresomeness and to lighten their stress. Generally, these songs are not normally accompanied by any instruments and are sung only by the workers.

Sraamika or labour songs: These are known as songs sung by different categories of workers while doing their work, such as cart-pullers, industrial workers, stone crushers, construction workers, and workers engaged in laying roads, building bridges and dams. They find pleasure in their work and do not feel it a burden.

Women’s songs: These are usually rendered by women in the houses while attending to the daily chores. These songs have been in existence, for thousands of years. It is learnt that a famous composer Anamacharya wrote hundreds of folk songs in Telugu during the 14th century. These songs are very popular in every part of Andhra. Rokati paatalu (wooden pestle songs), Tirugali paatalu (hand-mill songs), songs while making butter from the curd by using churning-staff etc. One such song is-

“Atta leni kodaluttamuralu Oyammaa
Kodalleni atta gunavanturaalu
aa-hoom - aa- hoom.”

The meaning of the above song is very funny, stating that ‘daughter-in-law without her mother-in-law is considered to be very good in manners and same would be the case with the mother-in-law, without the daughter-in-law. These songs are also called Suvvi paatalu. Folk songs provide not only recreation and relief. The word “Suvvi” or “aa-hum” gives rhythm to the songs. They are very popular and composed in the raga Mohana (Bhoop in Hindustani Music). It runs in Trisra gati (three notes on a beat). These songs are in the form of questions and answers, between two women, which are very interesting. They enjoy every moment of it.
The notation of the song runs as follows,

p p p - p p p - p d p - g r g - s s r - , G!
Attale-nikoda-luttamu-ralu.-Oyamma-. .
s r g - p p r - r g r - s r d – S,
Kodalle ni Atta - gunavantu-.
ra. - lu . - , r d - S, !!
Aa hum

There are hundreds of folk songs relating to agricultural songs sung on different occasions like, praying for rains, ploughing, sowing seeds, transplanting, weeding, planting of sprouts and harvesting etc. All these songs have some supporting words like, ‘siluka rekka poolo, uyyaalo, sandamaamayyo, allo nerello, venniyyallo’ etc. and the names of their favorite deities Lord Rama and Sita are also found in the lyric. A song on the occasion of sowing seeds popular in the Telangana region is-

“Seetamma Sreeramulu - siluka rekka poolo
Saarellipovangaa - siluka rekka poolo
Sreelakshmi kondhandaa - siluka rekka poolo
Yemanni lepudu - siluka rekka poolo”

Former songs hold a very important place in the history of folk music of Andhra. The farmers, those days used to sing folk songs invoking and praising the Rain God to give sufficient rainfall for them to have a very good harvest. The famous song, praying for Rain God is-

“Vaanallu kuravaali vaana devudaa –
vari chelu pandaali vaana devudaa”.

It is set in Trisra gati Eka tala. The above two songs used to be sung in the major notes (svaras). Men and women would be divided into two groups while working in the fields and they would engage themselves by singing and humming melodious folk songs till they finished the day’s work. These folk songs have a place even in their daily life. As Andhra Pradesh is divided into four zones socially and culturally, the lyrics as well as the pronunciation and the accents of these songs, vary from one area to another.
Fishermen community is very famous for its folk music. Andhra Pradesh has 950 kms of coastal area and many rivers like Godavari, Krishna, Pennar, Tungabhadra etc, with a lot of scope for fishing, which is one of the main source of living for the people of those areas. Fishermen’s folk songs have gained universal acclaim and many professional folk singers have rendered them across the globe. Late Mr. Sampath Kumar is a reputed artist in this field of singing of fishermen songs. Usually, fishermen sing these songs either in a group or individually. The songs are really enjoyable to listen, though they sing with rough and rustic voices. One of the famous fishermen songs in Telugu is-

“Hailessa hailoo hailessa -
haiyaaree joorsee hamsalanti padavaraa
Vayyaram volakabosera chinnoda -
terechapa paiki yettara.”

In this song, the fisherman happily sings and compares his boat with a beautiful royal bird, Swan. In another song, in a detachment mood, he questions himself in a philosophic way-

“Gattekketunda a naa naava -
kallola jaladhilo munigipotundaa”.

It means, ‘can my boat (life) reach the shore without getting sunk in the disturbed ocean?’
There are numerous songs in villages which appear in day to day life, sung on different occasions. Village festivals (jataras), etc, which are celebrated in a grand way in the villages have a touch of folklore in the songs, dances and devotional songs etc.. There are several songs popular in the ritualistic festivals. The songs sung by the gurus or the priests of the village temples have very good moral values. For instance-

Kondathalliki jatara seedham- nindu
manasutoo mokkulu eedham kallakapatam
porapochalu vadileese thalli mammu
rachchimchantu raramma.

The great Saint composers, Annamacharya (14th cent.) and Tyagaraja (19th cent.) have written and sung many devotional songs besides the daily worshipping songs on their favorite deities. An example for awakening of Lord Vishnu, (known as Melkolupu Paatalu), Annamayya’s a famous song-

Vinnapalu venavale - vintha vintalu
pannagapu domatera - paiketha velaya” .
(Bhupala raga)
In the same vein Tyagaraja’s song-
Melukovayya-mammueluko – Sri Rama
Melaina Seetha sametha-na bhagyama”
-- (Bouli raga)

A traditional awakening song of Goddess Gangamma, presiding deity of Rayalaseema is-

Melukonave Ganga maataa – melu konave.

It is interesting to note that a few traditional folk tunes are found in the songs of some classical composers. For example, an old folk song tuned in Ananda bhairavi raga in Khanda chapu tala is in Saint Tyagaraja’s Divyanama keertana, with the same tune.

Kasturi Ranga Rangaa – maa yanna
Kaaveti ranga rangaa
Sree ranga ranga rangaa – ninu baasi
yetlu ne marachunduraa.

Similar tune of Tyagaraja’s song is-

Ksheera saagara vihaaraa – aparimita
ghora paataka vidaaraa
Kroorajana gana vidooraa- nigama san
chaara sundara sareeraa.

This is a very popular and pleasant tune. Every song not only deals with devotion, but also the social customs. In his very popular song “Tandanana ahi tandanana” , Annamayya condemns the social evils like caste, colour and creed discrimination and teaches the people that “Brahma mokkate-parabrahma mokkate”. It means God, who dwells in every soul is one. This song is full of spirituality, expressed in very simple words and is easily understood even by a lay man.

Normally, in the villages all are busy with their own occupations during the day. So, they assemble in a temple during night to discuss the problems of the village. On such occasions they engage themselves in singing songs, with devotional feelings and community welfare as their content. Sometimes it may be a single man show. Everyone takes part irrespective of the age, caste or creed. They organize group Taala Bhajans or Chekka Bhajans and such type of devotional entertainment programmes. They sing devotional songs in Antiphonal way. This type of songs are easily accessible to everyone and can be rendered without much difficulty. Each song will have an ending “Sree madramaa ramana Govido Hari” in Homophonic way. One such song is-

Eetadokka demudanta – eesaamu kella
nallani volluvadanta- vontininda namalanta
bulligedda nekkananta –
engilikayalu thinnaadanta.

This is in praise of Lord Vishnu and says that He is the Lord of the Universe. This song is in a pleasant raga Mayamalava goula with Desadi tala and is very simple. Another song of such type is-

Siva siva murthivi gananadha-neevu
Sivuni kumarudavu gananadha.

Telangana and Rayalaseema are also famous for traditional folk music. Many devotional songs are written and rendered on the presiding deity of many parts of Telangana region, Bathukamma, the incarnation of Goddess Shakti.

Ex: “Bathukamma bathukamma vuyyaloo- bangaru bathukamma vuyaloo”. The other Festivals wherein folk music has an important place is during “Sammakka - Sarakka Jatara” at Eturnaagaaram, in Warangal Dist, and Mahankali Jataras that are organized during the month of Ashadham, at different places in Hyderabad District.

Rayalaseema, is known as a treasure of folk songs and folk art forms. The following is an example for devotional songs on the Goddess Gangamma,

Nilu nilu Gangammaa talli,
niluva vammaa Gangammaa talli
Nee valla bratikemu memu .........”

Northern part of Andhra Pradesh is famous for several Tribes and folk people. The people live in the coastal area. The fishing community worships several Gods. In the coastal area of Visakhapatnam they pray to Sea Godess as an incarnation of Gangamma, to save their lives. Every year they pay offerings to Her and worship. On that occasion, they sing several folk songs on the deity.

Folk songs are educative to the masses, and indicative of the social changes.

Children songs: The songs sung by the mothers, to their children to sleep or cajole them when they are afraid of something or the other are innumerable and each one of them has a very good lyrical value. The song “Jo atchutananda jojo mukunda-raara paramaananda Rama Govinda” is one of such examples, and it is ever lasting as a mother’s lullaby traditionally sung in a soft raga Nilambari in Khanda Chapu taala (2+3). This is also a song of Annamacharya, and is a master piece of the composer sung for centuries. Similar to this, there are two more songs, “Ramalali megha shyamalali - taamarasa nayana - Dasaradha tanaya lali”. These are very famous lullabies in Andhra, traditionally sung over centuries.

Songs by Children: Village children are the centre of attraction during the village festivals and other occasions. Even 2, 3 year old children sing with their tender and sweet voices in Telugu. The songs like, “Chitti chilakamma, Udataa udataa hooth” etc, are popular in Andhra, for over many years. They are very rhythmic in rendition and the dance carried out to these songs is eye-catching. Some of the regular songs of the young girls sung daily are-

Kaalla gajji kankaalamma
vegula chukka- velaga mogga.

This song is not only an entertainer, but also has a lyrical value. Behind this lyric, there are some names of Ayurvedic medicines mentioned for certain diseases.

Vaana vaana vallappa
vaanalu musire vallappaa.

This is a song, where village children sing and play joyously in the rain. There are several such songs popular in the villages of Andhra.
A song by the girls by clapping and rotating in circular way is-

Chemmachekka- chaaradesi mogga-
attlupoyanga - aaraginchanga
Oppula kuppaa – vayyari bhaamaa

Actually, all these songs mentioned cannot be said as songs, but are verses with a rhythm. Children recite them in a rhythmic way.

Indian culture has a high place in the world-history, dating back to thousands of years. The festivals may be different, marriage-traditions may be different and Temple customs may be different, but from the just born baby to the octogenarian, every religious function is performed with utmost veneration. At all stages, folk music, instruments and dances have a place of importance in the rituals.

Occasional songs: During Winter especially in January, the villagers, as it is the end of their agricultural toil they harvest their crops and get money. They celebrate the major festival of the year ‘Pongal’ for three days in a grand manner. A month from mid-December to mid-January is called Dhanurmasam, which is deemed as very sacred. During this time many types of folk art forms are performed by the young girls, like Gobbillu, Bommala koluvulu (exhibition of dolls, toys etc.). Girls make designs called Rangoli with flour in the front-yard of the house. A popular song on Gobbillu is-

Gobbiyyallo – Gobbiyyallu – Sankranti
Pandagocchhe - Gobbiyyallu.

Young girls sing and dance around the Gobbillu (lumps of cow-dung treated as representative of the deity, … shown in the photo) clapping their hands. These Gobbi songs are traditional and very popular in every village of Coastal Andhra. Besides these, there are several folk art forms performed by the beggar- singers. Haridasulu, Gangireddu laata, Pagati vesha gaalu, Komma dasarulu are a few to mention. Haridasaas are a kind of singers with a sacred appearance singing devotional songs on Lord Hari, with the Tambura in one hand and kartals in other hand.

This is a season for ritualistic celebrations to the Goddesses of villages, known as Jaatara-s. In the celebrations, many wild offerings are made to the Goddesses and many folk art forms are performed in the presence of the deities. These celebrations vary from one place to another place.

Marriage songs: Coming to the folk music at the time of marriages, everyone will try to make the occasion a unique event by participating in dancing and singing. A great variety of songs are rendered at different events that take place in the wedding. There are different occasions in a wedding when different songs are sung from ‘engagement to sending the bride to the mother-in-law’s house. Generally, folk people compare the Bride groom and Bride to Lord Rama and Sita, who are the role models to Indians. This is the reason why many of the marriage songs are on Rama and Sita. A very popular marriage song in Andhra is-

Aananda maananda maayenu –
mana Ramayya pendli kodukaayenu
Aananda maananda maayenu –
mana Sitamma e pendli koothuraayenu.
and another popular and traditional song in Sankarabharana raga in Khanda Chapau taala song is-
Lakshmi kalyaana vaibhogame-
Sita kalyaana vaibhogame.

At the wedding the old ladies of the house sing songs by praying to God to bless the new couple with a happy and long life.
“Sree Mahalakshmini
Sree Mahaa Vishnuvunu boli
Taamara tamparalai tavili dampatulu.....
Kadu vedukala cheta kadupu challagagaanu
kodukula kotavai komarondavamma.....
kalakaa makhila bhogamula vardhillu”

The bridegroom’s party generally holds an upper hand and always try to make fun of the bride’s party, of course, in a lighter vein. Here also a number of folk songs are rendered by both the parties in different ragas and talas of folk nature. There are plenty of songs popular in Coastal Andhra. For example, a song by the bridegroom’s party, criticizing the bride’s party-

“Yelaagu bhonchetumo -
ee vindu may maylaagu bhonchetumo
Chhaalaa pellillaaye eelaati vindu
may maylaagu bhonchetumo.

Love songs: Several romantic or love songs are also popular in folk songs of Andhra Pradesh. A popular example of such songs is-

Mokka jonna thotalo musina cheekatlalo
Manche kaada kalusuko maruvaku maamayya.

In this song, a young girl invites her fiancé to the maize fields to meet her at dusk and demands that he should not forget her invitation.

Responsorial songs : Another interesting form is the verbal discussion between two people, set in a folklore way. The conversation is in the form of a song and it may be between the mother-daughter or wife and husband or mother- in-law and daughter- in-law or between lovers. For example, a conversational song between a young couple-

Male: Rupai kaavaalaa- rupai sillara kaavaala
Female: Roopu rekaa sallangunte rupai yenduku  rupai sillara yendoku.

In this song, the lady expresses that ‘the love and affection for her husband is more than money’. This is a best example for their plain and simple way of living.
Epic songs : Coming to epical songs, there are hundreds of songs on Ramayana, Bharata and Bhaagavata in folk style. Here is an example of a traditional folk song related to the epic Bhagavata. The content is complaints made by the gopikas against Krishna in his early childhood about his naughty deeds.

O Yasoda yemi seyudune –
nee koduku dudukulaku

Then, Yasoda gets angry with the women and doesn’t agree with them. She supports her child. This is beautifully depicted in a song, written by Annamayya-

Kaanarate – pencarate katakataa biddalan
Nenu mee valene kanti neyyamaina biddanu.

The romantic songs between Lord Krishna and the Gopikas (girls) were of folk nature. These scenes were illustrated by many poets romantically in the form of folk songs. The pranks played by Krishna have been visualized in a beautiful manner by many composers.

Philosophical (Vedaanta and Vairagya) songs : Devotional and spiritual content delivering good messages to the society is rendered by many in folk music.. There are several philosophical songs known as ‘Tattvaalu’, frequently sung in the villages of Andhra Pradesh. One such song is-

Vastavottide potaavottide aasa yendukantaa
Chesina punyamu chedani padaarthamu cherunu nee venta.

It means, ‘nothing comes and nothing goes with man. Nothing remains. So why this unnecessary greed! What ultimately remains is only the Dharma.’ Many sages or sage-poets have tried to reach people with their teachings in folk style, so that they could be understood even by the illiterate.

Folk songs also deal with pathetic, sorrowful, philosophical and jovial contents.

Pallavi or the introductory phrase of a song is very important for folk music. In some songs, the Pallavi and Charanams are in continuation of the same content and in some cases they are of contrasting nature. Men and women are usually divided into two groups and the song generally seems like questions and answers. One group sends a question and the other group answers supporting its own stand. This is carried out in a very interesting manner and is enjoyed by the audience.

Traditional folk songs are normally in the ancient ragas are like, Bhupala, Bouli, Mohana, Nadanamakriya, Bhupala, Bhouli, Neelambari, Janjhuti, Navaroj, Saindhavi, Anandabhairavi, Yedukula Kambhoji, Mukhari, and Sankarabharanam set to simple talaas like Aadi, Rupaka, Khanda, Eka, Misra etc. Vinjamuri Seetha and Anasuya have done a lot of research about these ragas for Telugu folk music. Some folk songs have a limited compass and are sung in just 3 or 4 notes and it is difficult to assess to which raga the particular song belongs.

Folk music is blended with our lives, even without our knowledge. Then there are these gypsies, who do not stay at a particular place continuously for a long period. They keep moving from one place or the other for their livelihood, according to the seasons. This community is very good at singing folk songs. They belong to every part of Andhra Pradesh and they carry with them their traditions and customs and their folk music as well thereby conveying them to the people of the new place where they choose to stay for some time. That’s why desi music traditions like kolatam, Chekka Bhajans have gained popularity in the villages during festivals and temple rituals. Along with folk music, folk dance also has journeyed together in the history of folk tradition of Andhra Pradesh. One of the most popular kolaatam songs in coastal Andhra is-

‘Krishnamma gopalabaala krishnamma-
yadu nanda kumara baala krishnamma.

This song has been in prevalence for ages and sung in a traditional and popular Raga Mukhari in Aadi taala. It is sung in all the festivals and temple rituals of most of the villages of Godavari Districts-

Krishnaya tandry O Krishnaya tandry –
maa kashtamule teerchavayaa krishnaya tandry
Lobha moha madamulane krishnaya tandry
Naa naava eedhuchunndayaa krishnaya tandry.

The above song is not only a devotional one, but also a philosophical song, normally sung in the raga Janjhooti. The tune of this particular folk song has been modified and is used in different styles in cinemas also.

Many tribes like Chenchu, Dasari, Baind, Jangama, Kuruva and others propagate Folk songs. More importance is given to folk songs or their expression than the dance component. There is always a main singer supported by two or three chorus singers. In the olden days Tambura or Tuntuni or Ektaar was the main drone Instrument. Sometimes it is also accompanied by Harmonium and a drum to provide rhythm. In some parts of Andhra Clarinet is played instead of Harmonium.

Budige jangam kathas, Oggu kathas, Jangam Kathas, Burra Katha, Jamukula kathas, Golla Suddulu, Kommu people, etc are some extraordinary story telling ways, in Telugu literature in the form of songs. The performers are generally 3 or 4 in number.

There are some other art forms like Seva garidi and Tappeta gullu, which are very popular in Northern part of Coastal Andhra. They are considered as sacred art forms and the performers are devotees of Lord Vishnu. These are the art forms where Music, lyric and , Dance play equal role. In these forms, the main singer is accompanied by a group, singing and dancing with ghungroos tied to their legs. In Seva garidi, people play with huge Chimbals (Brahma taal). They sing, “Harihari narayana aadi narayana- karuninchi mammelu kamala lochanudaa” moving around a fire.

In Rayalaseema, several types of musical forms exist. A few to mention are Golla suddulu, Goravalu belonging to Kuruva tribe. They are devotees of Lord Siva. They feel themselves as Lord Siva. They have their own way of dressing and wearing ornaments. They wear a Trisul, Conch, Dhamaruk (the ornaments of Lord Siva in Hindu mythology) and Ghungroos. They sing songs in praise of Lord Siva.

In Telangana, several Art forms like Oggu katha-s, Jangam kathas, Jamidika kathas, Baikani songs are very popular singing art forms popular in Telangaana. Burra kathas are very popular in Andhra.

Folk music contains natural elements like lyric, raga, tala and instrumental assistance. It does not have the features that are essential in the traditional classical music. Folk songs that are sung as a part of the stories generally do not require instruments. But they are as melodious as traditional music. It is the same with folk dance also. Bharata Munni, the exponent of the Natya Sashtra, explained four types of instruments used in music or dance, these are (i) Stringed instruments (ii) Percussion instruments (iii) Wind Instruments (iv) Metallic Instruments. There are several folk instruments, used as accompaniments. They are, Folk Veena (known as sarada), Gummetas, Titti, Kommu, Brahma Taal, Chirutalu (a kind of Kartaals), Tribal Flute, Tribal Shehnai, Jamidika, Veeranam, Daph, Metallic Cymbals, Dholak, Andelu, Dhamaru, Conch, Bells, and Ghungroos etc.

Thus, folk music of Andhra Pradesh is a vast subject which has a great scope to study and to conduct research on it. Everyone should remember that today’s culture has its roots in the ancient folklore. It is the responsibility of every individual, to safeguard and preserve it for future generations.

* * *

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*Special thanks to Prof. M. Jayadev, Dept. of Telugu, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Sri V.V. Ramadoss, Bangalore and Sri D. Sainath, Visakhapatnam for their cooperation.

© Author

(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2013)