Who is Jugni?: Indu Vashist

Guest post by INDU VASHIST

The character of Jugni has been featuring in Punjabi popular and folk music for well over a century. The most recent references of this rebellious, fiery female character have appeared in diverse productions like Pakistan’s Coke Studio (above), Punjab’s sensicore rocker Rabbi Shergill, and of course Bollywood in films like Tanu Weds Manu and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

In the various versions of this song, Jugni is a spunky, rebellious character, who does not fit into the traditional feminine norms: she wears western clothes, flirts with men in the streets, wants to drive (either a Bullet motorcycle or a Fiat car, depending on the era), is poor but aims for upward class mobility, speaks English, wants to travel all over (depending on the era she travels all over Punjab, Britain or Canada). The singer, usually a man, sings of loving Jugni, but feeling insecure by Jugni’s defiant character (above): Mainu Kale chad Ke Jandi, Fir Baaja Mar Banandi (First she leaves me then calls after me). The singer often laments that the pain of loving this rebellious character will kill him (below): Eh ladh di ae na darrdi phad ke daang mure khad di aa. (She fights, doesn’t have fear, she always carries a stick as a weapon with her).

Jugni Tap Tap Tap Tap Khoon Bahaundi (Jugni, drip, drip, drip, drip, spills blood)

The first version of this song can be traced back to 1906, written and performed by Bishna and Manda. Manda, as he was commonly known was born as Mohammad in Hasanpur, Thana Vairowal in Amritsar District, Punjab. Bishna was a Jatt from a village in Majha area, close to Amritsar. Both men were illiterate poets who would roam from village to village composing songs and freestyling when given money. In 1906, they are said to have been around the age of 50.

In 1906, the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, a Jubilee flame was taken across the British Empire to celebrate her rule. The flame, carried in a large gold container, was taken to the every district headquarters. As the flame arrived, the district government was supposed to greet it with pomp and ceremony. When the flame reached Punjab, there was nascent freedom struggle anger against the Empire brewing. Bishna and Manda followed the flame from district to district, performing their own poetry and folk music parallel to the pomp of the colonial government. Their versions contained references to Jugni, the rebellious woman. Bishna and Manda had misheard the word ‘Jubilee’ for Jugni and started writing verses that channelled the anger of the region against the British as symbolised by the Jubilee flame. As they travelled behind the flame, their popularity grew; people from all around came to attend their performances. Jugni became a metaphor for the growing unrest against the British.

Many other poets took on the Jugni metaphor and started composing their own songs with similar grammatical structures. Following other Punjabi folk songs’ customs of mentioning specific villages, the specific village of Jugni was meant to highlight either a specific site of struggle or just to contexualise the song. The basic structure of the song can be heard here in a pre-independence recording:

The early Jugni songs had lyrics like:

Jugni jaa varhi Majithe (Jugni is from Majithe, i.e., the district of Bishna and Manda)
koi Rann na Chakki peethe (No pimp should have to go to the grinder – common hard labour in colonial prisons)
Putt Gabhru mulak vich mare (Our country’s young men are dying)
rovan Akhiyan par Bulh si seete (Our eyes are crying, trying to forget)
Piir mereya oye Jugni ayi aa (Oh god, Jugni is coming)
ehnan kehrhi jot jagaee aa (What kind of light is this?)

According to oral histories, as word of Bishna and Manda’s performances got around, large crowds gathered to see the performances, the police started to break up the shows. The British started to get worried about the revolutionary undertones of Jugni songs and the way that people began to talk of the British. The police finally arrested Bishna and Manda in Gujaranwala. They are said to have been tortured and murdered by the police for inciting people against the Empire.

Jugni as a concept still exists within popular Punjabi music today. Rabbi Shergill’s recent version (below) of the song follows the traditional grammar of the song, but refers to the anger brewing in Kashmir and the uprising there against occupation. The character of Jugni is rooted in defiance and rebellion, today that takes on not only Rabbi Shergill’s literal interpretation of the legacy of this folk form, but brings back a fiery woman character back into the popular lexicon.


41 thoughts on “Who is Jugni?: Indu Vashist”

  1. Here’s to you Shivam; my full comment, as posted to Shivam’s facebook link to this piece and then (with minor edits to my blog) goes thus:

    Great piece this by Indu Vashist, carried as a guest post by Kafila; I have often wondered about the origins of Jugni. There is hardly anything on the web – and frankly, the Wikipedia article on Jugni is quite unconvincing. It was never convinced Jugni is a woman, or that it has to do anything with spiritualism.

    In Alam Lohar’s version of Jugni, all she does is go from place to place; and in each stanza, after announcing her arrival, the poet directly gets down to celebrating (or introducing or characterizing), with a varying amount of seriousness but unmistakable revolutionary undertones, the setting to which Jugni has traveled.

    Also striking is the construct ‘mere ali Jugni’ (my version of Jugni), as if there was another Jugni that was well known, but the poet was conjuring her own version of it. All this is quite in line with a wandering poet’s attempt at ‘shadowing’ the Queen’s Jubilee, a creating a parallel ‘Jugni’ as a vehicle of dissent, discontent, resistance or opposition. My heart goes out to the two poets whose artistic vocation took them to dreadful end in Gujranwala. We need to know more about them. (Talk about ‘unsung’ heroes!)


  2. Very well written article and really enjoyed reading it.
    Jugni has quite a unique value in our Punjabi culture. since childhood we listen about Jugni but most of the us didnt know about it. This post help me a lot to understand the concept behind jugni. so Thumbs up to the writer.

    between that I would also like to mention here that. In punjabi culture and specially in Punjabi Literature, Jugni is also known as a form of Poety. ‘Sheyri ki Sinf’ like poem, ghazal, kaafi. Jugni is also one of them. Jugni is a form of poetry inwhich writer/poet/singer admires his beloved and tells story of his surroundings.


  3. This is a representation of what Jugni became but there is much more… it’s a sufi concept… what the writer casually mentions as the Coke Studio version is ‘Alif Allah Chambay Di Booti’, the poetry of Sultan Bahu who wrote it in the 1600s… some centuries before Bishna and Manda came along… believe he wrote verses stemming from the alphabet, all about Jugni… wonder if that’s when she first made her appearance… Bishna and Manda seem to be popstars of their era modernizing an old fable to make a point. Great piece though. Someone needs to write a book on Jugni, tracing where she came from and everywhere she’s been.


  4. There are several problems in Indu Vashist’s formulation. Jugni may have been popularized by Bishna and Manda in 1906, but attributing them to have sung its first version and asserting that the duo must have misheard the word Jubilee for Jugni is preposterous.

    A lazy search using dsal [http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/] can inform one that Fallon and Bhai Maya Singh have defined Jugni in their respective 19th-century dictionaries of Hindustani and Panjabi. While Fallon simply calls it a “popular Panjabi song”, Singh defines jugni as “an ornament or jewel worn by women round the neck” and then gives a sub entry of “jugni gauni” which he explains as “to sing a song of the jugni”. Fallon’s dictionary was published in 1879 and Singh’s was published in 1895.

    Another lazy search using Google suggests that Indu Vashist has borrowed the history of Jugni from Karamjit Singh Aujla’s 2005 article which was translated by Gurjant Singh and is available on the web. See, for example, http://punjabiview.com/who-is-jugni-the-history-of-jugni/


    1. Utterly charming Punjabi Tribune story, though. What a pity that nafris’s comment disproves it.


    2. it seems obvious in hindsight, but without nafri’s comment (sorry, about getting the name wrong in my earlier comment) I would not have bothered checking out the dictionaries that I otherwise often use at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/

      in addition to the specific meaning nafri cites (viz. An ornament or jewel worn by women round the neck:—jugnii gáuní, v. n. To sing a song of the Jugní), i wonder whether it too has its origins in the root “jug” (Corrupted from the Sanskrit word Yuga. An epoch, an era, a period especially one of the four great periods mentioned in the Hindu Shastars).

      if so, it seems rather fitting.


  5. This reminded me of an old article I had come across some time back when trying to find out more about Jugni. Searching for it again took me to Wikipedia, and then back to “The History of Jugni” by Karamjit Singh Aujla (translated by Gurjant Singh. Originally Published in Punjabi Tribune 24th Sept 2005:

    The article provides, albeit in a rough and raw translation, a fascinating first-hand account of how the mystery

    Baba Makhan Singh told that in 1906 when both of them were youths, the Brtish brought Jugni to India. When I asked that how British brought Jugni and what was Jugni, Baba Ji’s answer was that English Queen’s rule was over 50 years at that time. British ruled several parts of the Planet Earth and they thought that they should take a Torche to whole of their Empire. That flame of the Torche was itself Jugni which was taken from city to city in every country under British rule.

    Baba Makhan Singh told that that flame was put in a big gold utensil and was taken to the every headquater of the districts. Wherever Jugni was taken big celebration were observed by the Govt. In all those shows Bands, Police department, army, Zaildars,high officials and high society people visited. In these shows Manda and Bishna also held their stage.

    When Baba Makhan Singh was all explaining this, then a nearby person who looked a bit more educated, interupped that English didn’t bring Jugni-flame. In fact it was Jubilee which illiterate Bishna and Manda pronounced as ‘Jugni’.

    From that gentleman’s interruption suddenly the mystery of the word ‘Jugni’ was found that the word ‘Jugni’ took birth from the english word Jubilee. It is clear that in 1906 the Jubilee flame was taken everywhere under the rule of Queen Victoria at her 50th anniversary on the throne.



    1. I agree that this is a very cursory look at the topic. It is heartening to know that Jugni remains as contentious as ever! Its true that someone needs to write a book on Jugni, tracing where she came from and everywhere she’s been.


  6. Sorry, I don’t buy the idea that the word “Jugni” is a corruption of “Jubilee”.
    As a format of folk music, the genre of Jugni already existed. Dr. S.W Fallon, in his famous Hidustani-English Dictionary, published in 1879, explains the word Jugni as ” A popular Punjabi song”



  7. fantastic. always wondered about this character ‘jugni’ and tried to find similar ones in other folk lores in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Karnataka. Nothing came close to the amazing defiance of jugni…thanks for the article.


  8. This is what the Rabbi song says about Kashmir:

    …Agressive speech about killing in Kashmir by someone

    Jugni jaa wadi kashmir ….
    jithe roz maran das vee..
    soni behnaa te sone veer..
    oooo ro ro poochna..
    ke jaghda tayi mukhnna…
    jedo jhelum paani sukhnaa


    The girl goes to kashmir…
    where 10-20 die daily…
    our beautiful sisters and brothers.
    cry and ask…
    when will this quarrel end…
    when water from Jhelum will dry up?

    Oh my brother…
    Oh my brother says the girl…
    make a new river flow from here…

    From here: http://www.justsomelyrics.com/1404696/Rabbi-Shergill–jugni-Lyrics

    I don’t think that the reference is one of “the anger brewing in Kashmir and the uprising there against occupation”. It’s more like ruing death and killings – and remember in the Indian narrative it is terrorists who are killing, so it can be taken either way.


  9. Sundeep, you seem to be going ahead in the right direction. Rahul Roy had this to say on Facebook:

    “jugni is the colloqial term for the yogini…tribal populations all over North, Central and East India use the term for an autonomous female forest spirit…these later got transformed into the Yogini cult which was popular during the 9 to 11 century AD and they constructed the unique circular yogini templesremnants of which can still be found in the Bundelkahnd area …in the context of Punjab it is the memory of ancient Shaktic practices that are invoked through the figure of the jugni…almost always the jugni signifies a free spirited feminine energy.”


    1. Folklore is often rooted in many different stories coming from many different traditions. In this case, Sufism, Shakti and much more recently Sikhism. Studying it is not about trying to pin down an exact story.

      My whole interest in Jugni re-emerged a few weeks ago when I was in a prominently Sikh village and the Mika Singh song from Tanu weds Manu was playing incessantly. When I asked the elders about Jugni, they gave me the rough story of the the two poets; however, other the stories of Jogini/Jugni also makes sense.

      A wider research is needed to include the breadth of the stories about this character, and I am glad that this conversation has brought out so many other interesting points!


  10. Indu, fantastic effort; thanks for starting the fire of the controversy too! How else will one enter unknown territory? I also heard the Mika version a few weeks ago on FM and was captivated – what was particularly profound was how these lyrics (combining acute desire for this fiery upwardly mobile young woman with acute anxiety that she will always slip out of your hands, but also grudging admiration for her refusal to submit) stands as a stark counterpoint to the heavily misogynistic music videos and lyrics that dominate Punjabi/Jat pop-folk. I thought to myself when I heard Mika – how the hell did this guy come up with such brilliance – painting a vivid portrait of small-town female upward mobility and male anxiety plus desire in a just a few sentences? The longer history of Jugni explains a lot.


  11. ایہہ تے حقی گل اے کہ ‘جُگنی‘ پنجاب دا ایک منیا تنیا لوک گیت اے۔ جسطراں ہر فلم وچ ایک ہیرو، ہر ناول وچ اک ہیرو، تے ڈرامے وچ اک ہیرو ہُندا اے تے بعض موقعیاں تے فلم، ناول یا ڈرامے دا ناں ہی ہیرو دے ناں اتے رکھ دتا جاندا اے، ایسے طراں ‘جُگنی‘ لوک گیت وچ ‘جُگنی‘ ای ہیرو اے تے ایہو مرکزی کردار ادا کر دی اے۔ جسطراں اک شاعر صرف اکو سوچ یا زاویے نال اپنی شاعری نئیں کر دا بلکہ منہ دا سواد بدلن لئی کدی عشقیہ، کدی طربیہ، کدی مزاحیہ تے کدی سیاسی شاعری کر دا اے ایسے طراں جُگنی وی بوہت سارے کردار ادا کر دی اے تے ایہدے کئی روپ نیں یعنی ایہہ کدی مزاحیہ موڈ وچ، کدی روحانی موڈ وچ، کدی مذہبی موڈ وچ، کدی مسکینی موڈ وچ، کدی طنزیہ موڈ وچ، کدی سیاسی موڈ وچ اپنے جوہر وکھاندی اے۔ جگنی وچ جنے ودھ یعنی زیادہ دھاگے ہوؤن گے اونا ای زیادہ فلسفہ تے خیالات جگنی اپنے اندر لپیٹے گی کیوں جے جگنی دا ہر دھاگہ دوجے دھاگے نالوں وکھرا ہوندا اے جیویں غزل دا ہر شعر دوسرے شعراں توں بغیر وی سواد دیندا اے تے با معنی ہوندا اے۔ گُگنی دے موڈ جیہڑے کے پنجاب دے موڈ نوں تشبیہ دیندے نیں، دیاں دو چار مثالاں ویکھو:

    جُگنی جا وڑی مدرسے
    منڈے لے کتاباں نسے
    مشنی کھڑکی اوہلے ہسے
    او پیر میریا جُگنی رہندا آ
    جیہڑی نام علی دا لیندی آ

    جگنی جا وڑی وچ روہی
    جٹاں پکڑ سہاگے جوئی
    اوہدی وات نہ لیندا کوئی
    اوہ تے رو رو کملی ہوئی
    او پیر میریا جُگنی رہندا آ
    جیہڑی نام علی دا لیندی آ

    ہُن تیری گاواں جُگنی
    حق دم مرشد جگنی جی
    علی لجپال دی جنگی جی
    تے بری امام دی جگنی جی
    شاہ بخاری دی جگنی جی
    ولی شاہ تاریا جگنی جی
    دَم گُٹگُوں، دَم گُٹگوں
    گُٹگوں گُٹگوں رے پئی
    نالے کلمہ نبی دا پڑھے پئی
    ہن تیری گاواں جُگنی

    جتھوں تیک جگنی دے معنیاں دا تعلق اے ایس بارے سیانے تن گلاں دسدے نیں۔
    نمبر اک، جگنی او زیور اے جیہڑا گلے یعنی دھون وچ پایا جاندا اے۔
    نمبر دو، جُگنی، لفظ ‘جوگن‘ دا وِگڑیا ہویا ناں اے۔ جس دا تعلق اوس بندے یا شخصیت نال اے جیہڑا اک جگہ ٹِک کے نہ بہہ سکے تے ہر ویلے مختلف جگہاں پھردا تے بدلدا رہے یعنی خانہ بدوشاں والی زندگی بسر کر دی اے ساڈی جُگنی۔
    تیجا تے آخری نمبر اے کہ جُگنی لفظ ‘جُگنو‘ دا مونث اے جیویں منڈے دا مونث کُڑی ہندا اے۔
    بہرحال اے حقی گل اے کہ جگنی لوک صنف پنجاب دا موڈ اے تے پنجاب دے موڈ نوں سمجھن والا جگنی نوں وی آسانی نال سمجھ جاندا اے۔

    میری جُگنی دے دھاگے دو
    دَر مُرشد دے آن کھلو
    تیرے اندر ہووے لو
    او پیر میرا جگنی کہندا آ۔۔۔



  12. Much of this article does seem to be taken from Karamjit Singh Aujla’s article on Jugni which I read a few months ago. The author should really reference her sources. It allows for intellectual transparency as well as those reading to follow up on further reading should they wish to do so.


    1. I dont know who is Karamjit Singh Aujla n hear its name first time. Actually i did Master in Punjabi for promoting my mother tongue. All dis above is from literature ov Punjabi which i read in my academic session. Thx.


  13. This is not exactly related to the subject of the post but a small factual correction. 1906 was not the Golden Jubilee (50th anniverssary) celebration of Queen Victoria’s reign. That was in 1887. She died in 1901 after a reign of 63 years & 7 months. In 1906, Edward VII had already ascended the throne.


  14. Pringle man, thanks for the link to your article. It does not seem to be the “exact same article” on a quick read. Surely Jugni can be written about by many people in different ways?


  15. The reference to ‘Yogini’ in one of the comments quoting Rahul Roy is interesting. There are two words in North Indian languages and colloquial that may be related to ‘yogini’: ‘Jogan’ and ‘Jogin’. It is possible that Jugni may have the same origin, but it needs to be researched. There are different contextual references – ‘Jogan’ as the female counterpart of ‘Jogi’ (Yogi) and ‘Jogin’ as in ‘Dakini-jogini-pishachini’ (the ‘Shakti’ context).

    I heard the Jugni song from my father in my childhood. Later I heard it from recorded songs of Lalchand Yamla Jatt. Recently I was mentioning to my friend Daljit Ami (Punjabi Tribune) that while surfing on the net I accidentally came across the Coke studio Jugni song by Arif Lohar and he told me the story about Jubile and Jugni and about article written about it. And today this great mix of music and info by Indu Vashist.
    Interestingly, Arif Lohar’s song (Alam Lohar resung) actually sermonizes to stay away from expressing desires (indulgence) and preaches humanist spirituality: ‘Din din dhalee jawanee jaandi jyon sonaa puthia ladiaan/ aurat mard shahjade sohne o moti o la ladiyan/sir da sarphan karna jehde pir prem pya ladian…’


    1. Thank you for the clarifications. Next time, hope we can all be judicious before we allude to an author copying from elsewhere for a post.


  16. Its a good article on folk music and acquaints us about the history of this folk song that I used to sing in so many events in school.

    However, I was put off by a major glitch of this article which makes me suspicious about its authenticity. It says that they conceived this song around 1906, inspired by the word Jubilee as it was the year of 50th anniversary of Victoria’s anniversary. ( In 1906, the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign, a Jubilee flame was taken across the British Empire to celebrate her rule???)

    I beg to differ. The diamond Jubilee of the queen was celebrated in 1877 , 50 years exactly after 1837, when she was proclaimed the Queen. She DIED in 1901, so technically, King Edward VII was the King Emperor at 1906. He died in 1910 after a brief rule. so what was the occasion of the celebration in 1906? Can’t say. Please clarify!


  17. There may be different points of view regarding origin of `JUGNI`, but this style of singing lifts the mood & spirits of the followers.As the composers n singers are regularly giving `JUGNI` a contemporary look,I am sure it will flourish in the sea of global music for generations to come.

    Coming to the origin of` Jugni`,it definitely needs an authentic research work/project


  18. Every Punjabi anywhere in the world must have heard the “JUGNI” song or at least the word itself fills one with different and mixed emotions. I am grateful for the actual history related with the word “JUGNI” and its everlasting usage till date by writers and singers. I am sure the word will never die as long as the Universe exists.


  19. I came by this article today and am shocked at kafila with its high morals is allowing such blatant plagiarism. I don’t know this writer or the one she’s copy-pasted the text from. But it’s painfully clear that this piece is a straight lift without any reference. The mistakes in the original have been duly repeated, verbatim. What’s strange and baffling though is that the editors at Kafila, who have replied to comments, didn’t know and didn’t bother to check whether Queen Victoria was even alive in 1906 for her “golden jubilee” to be celebrated in India.
    Victoria became queen of England in 1837. India became a subject of the Crown in 1858. Victoria was proclaimed “empress” of India in 1877. She died in 1901. So by no calculation does 1906 amount to the completion of 50 years of anything.
    It’s not the silver, golden or diamond jubilee of anything. If there’s no jubilee, the stretch that Jugni came from Jubilee is seriously suspect.
    Kafila is an important site. Editors must, at least, ensure that articles are at least factually correct and not repeating mistakes made by other writers.


    1. Your point about the date of the jubilee has been made by earlier commentators as well, as you can see if you take a look. It seems to be some sort of widely purveyed legend around the song.


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