Jai Kisan! Ten of my favourite ‘farmer’ songs

I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the past several weeks. That happened partly because I have been swamped with work (I’m working pretty much simultaneously on two books, juggling between one and the other), and partly because of some trying times my family’s been through. My father had Covid, then there were a couple of other family crises that we went through and from which we’re still recovering. It’s been a very, very stressful time.

I did have a couple of posts, both film reviews, ready to be posted, but I was too stressed to publish them. And now, even though we’re getting back on track and looking forward to Christmas, I couldn’t summon up the energy to watch a film and review it. It was time, I decided, for the sort of blog post that energizes me. A song list.

Given the situation in India right now, with the farmers’ protests front and centre, I was reminded of the many, many Hindi films that are about farmers. Since very early on, Hindi cinema has been enamoured with village life. And where there are villages, there are farmers. True, barring some films (Godaan, Do Bigha Zameen, Aurat and its remake Mother India, among them), rural life as depicted in Hindi cinema is far from the reality. Anybody who’d only seen farms in Hindi cinema would think Indian farmers had nothing better to do than sing and dance and bill-and-coo with glamorous village girls all day long.

The truth, of course, is that farms and farmers have a much, much harder life than that. And farmers deserve all the gratitude and respect we can give them: without farmers, we wouldn’t have food to eat.

But. On to the crux of the matter, the farmer in Hindi film songs. Given that Hindi film kisaans tend to do so much singing and dancing, I decided on a list of songs that are picturized on characters who are farmers or farm workers, singing about farming or some aspect of agriculture, the land, of what life means to them, etc.  As always, these songs are all from pre-1970 Hindi films that I’ve seen, with one exception, a song from a 1971 film that has enough of a late 60s vibe to let me make an exception for it.

In no particular order:

1. Dharti kahe pukaarke (Do Bigha Zameen, 1953): The very first film that came to my mind when I thought of farmers in Hindi cinema was this iconic Bimal Roy work, about a poor farmer who, deep in debt, is forced to leave his village and come to the big city in an attempt to earn enough to redeem his precious two bighas. While Do Bigha Zameen also had the wonderful Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya (which does a great job of showing the impact of the monsoon on farming), for me the quintessential village/farmer song is this one. An encouraging song, a philosophical song, and one that could apply to anyone, not just a farmer departing his home. The picturization too is memorable, most of the song ‘sung’ by farm workers: people weeding, people moving what looks like hay onto large heaps, others just sitting on the periphery of a field under a tree looking out while Balraj Sahni’s character walks by.

2. Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata (Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, 1957): If Do Bigha Zameen had Hariyaala saawan dhol bajaata aaya as a monsoon song, Do Aankhen Baarah Haath had this one. Umad-ghumadkar aayi re ghata celebrates the coming of the rains, and the jubilation it brings in the life of the farmers. V Shantaram’s jailor, along with the convicts he’s trying to reform, greets the rain with joy, the entire group plunging into the fields and starting the sowing even as the rain falls about them. The rest of the song sees Sandhya’s character singing of what follows the rain: the growth, the greening of the fields, and harvest. As the men harvest their crop of vegetables and pile them into a cart, the joy of the monsoon spreads further out, into the seasons that follow.

Hiya jarat rahat din rain (Godaan, 1963): Munshi Premchand’s classic novel, about a poor farmer and his family, whose greatest wish in life is to own a cow, was adapted to screen in this film starring Raj Kumar and Kamini Kaushal (it remains, to this day, my favourite Raj Kumar role; he’s not an actor I especially like, but he was wonderful in Godaan). The film’s music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar; this song, sung by Mukesh, is one of its finest. Raj Kumar’s Hori, depressed and sinking under the weight of all the miseries and stresses that fill his life, looks to the skies, hoping and praying for rain, and coming to the slow realization that it will not come this time either.

4. Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Upkaar, 1967): I am not a fan of Upkaar; I find it too jingoistic and tedious.  But it has a couple of classic songs, from the ultimate in cynicism (Kasme vaade pyaar wafa) to this patriotic one, which talks of the fertility of this land. But while Mere desh ki dharti eventually does become a paean to the patriots of India, whether it’s the Unknown Soldier or stalwarts like Bose or Tilak, the focus of the song is on the rural, agricultural part of the country. The lyrics, especially in the beginning, are all about farming: Bailon ke gale mein jab ghungroo jeevan ka raag sunaate hain… sunke rehet ki aawaazein yoon lage kahin shehnai baje (when the bells in the bullocks’ necks sing a song of life… the sounds of the water-wheel are as musical as a shehnai ). And the picturization, with Manoj Kumar and the other actors going about various farming activities, ploughing fields and so forth: yes, definitely a farmers’ song.

5. Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya (Mother India, 1957): From one of the landmark films of Hindi cinema comes this song of a good harvest and all that it entails. While Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya’s lyrics (by Shakeel Badayuni) are not very specifically about farming and the joy of a good crop, the picturization is very specific. At different points of time, Radha’s (Nargis) character celebrates an abundant harvest with her husband, and with her sons. There are scenes of waving crops, of sheaves of grain-laden stalks. Of village folk, joyful and excited, letting their hair down at a rural fair.

6. Bol bol tu bol (Aurat, 1940): Mehboob Khan’s Mother India was a remake of a film which he had made seventeen years earlier: Aurat (1940), starring Sardar Akhtar. Anil Biswas’s music for Aurat consisted of many songs of only a couple of minutes each, and given the rural setting of the film, there were several that had something or the other to do with farming. Another of my favourites from this film, Gagri sookhi bail pyaasa, for instance, echoes the joy of a long overdue monsoon having finally arrived.

But this song, which I’ve chosen because of the picturization and the irony of the lyrics versus the picturization. Surendra, out in the fields chasing the birds off the crops, addresses a song to a bird, begging it to sing. (Or he’s just being clever. “Sing out so I can see you, and pick you off with my catapult” could be his logic behind this).

Not really, as it turns out: the ‘bird’ in question is his sweetheart, and she joins in the song, distracting him from the task he should be doing.

7. Aao jhoomein gaayein (Paraya Dhan, 1971): Though it was released in 1971, Paraaya Dhan has, for me at least, a late 60s vibe to it, which is why I’m including a song from this film in this list. Hema Malini’s character, brought up in a Himalayan village by her foster father (played by Balraj Sahni), a reformed former dacoit, goes dancing and singing through the fields as the farmers gather their crops (grain of some sort, and cabbages) and load it onto vehicles. The girl herself does no work, but her foster father helps load vehicles, and exults over some cabbages. Plus, there are lots of extras pretending in varying degrees to be doing farm work like weeding and harvesting. The song itself has a peppiness to it that I love.

8. Aayo re aayo re saawan aayo re (Bandhan, 1969): Another of those songs that talk of the joy of the coming of the monsoon, the significance of the monsoon in the life of the farmer. Bandhan too was a film about the grip of the moneylender on a farmer who wants to hold onto his land no matter what, but the plot was not quite as dismal as that of earlier films along the same theme, like Godaan, Do Bigha Zameen, or Mother India. And it didn’t have music anywhere as good as that of all these earlier films; but Aayo re aayo re saawan aayo re isn’t absolutely unbearable, and its picturization is all in the fields and the villages. Some extras do a slipshod job of ‘farm work’ like weeding and hoeing, but it’s the sight of those waving green fields here that really gladdens my heart.

9. Jai dharti maiyya jai ho (Dharti ke Laal, 1946): This song is a little different from the others in that there is no farming activity in progress in the setting. But Jai dharti maiyya, I thought, merited a spot on this list because it’s from one of the classic films about farming and the plight of farmers. This film was about the Bengal famine of 1943, and though most of the film is too grim for there to be (realistically) too many songs, in the happier days of its characters, there’s a scene where a young couple goes to a village fair. A group of performers is singing a paean to Mother Earth here, and the praise showered on the dharti is so much a vocalization, too, of the farmers of this story: this is where they were born, this is where they are happier. Yahin mein sona upje, yahin pe barse armit maiyya (Here gold is harvested, here too nectar is showered).

10. Naach re dharti ke pyaare (Heera Moti, 1959): Along with Dharti kahe pukaarke, this one is my favourite song of this list on two counts: both songs are wonderful when it comes to lyrics and music, and both have picturization that actually does evoke the life of a farmer. (Coincidentally, both films star Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy). 

Naach re dharti ke pyaare is set in the time of harvest: and in just about every frame of the song, you can see how much work that entails. As they cut the crop with their sickles, as they thresh it and winnow it, as they pile it up, they sing. So much work, so very visibly an agricultural community hard at work.

What ‘farmer’ songs would you add to this list? Please share!

41 thoughts on “Jai Kisan! Ten of my favourite ‘farmer’ songs

  1. Sorry to hear about your family. I hope everyone is doing better now.

    I don’t think I know any farming songs, which is odd. There are a lot of Govinda songs about the countryside but not about actual farming. I wonder if there even are any from the past twenty years or so. I’ve seen them in southern films though, I think.

    • Thank you, we’re all well now. :-)

      Yes, I do remember seeing lots of Govinda songs set in the countryside, but (given that I’ve probably seen only a couple of Govinda films) I don’t remember any about farming.

  2. A very timely post, Madhu, thanks.
    And what a beautiful choice of songs. Of course Do bheega Zameen’s besutiful and touching song is my all time favourite. To think even today farmers commit suicide because of their meagre debts is heart wrenching. The govt stopped counting the deaths and stopped major media from talking of it.

    • Yes, what is happening to the farmers (what has been happening, actually – this is nothing new) is really heart-wrenching. In a country which is so hugely dependent upon agriculture, one would think the government would have realized that it’s logical to help farmers, but politics… uff.

  3. Hello Madhuji, I did sense that something was amiss as you are such an avid and regular blogger. Hope you and your family are better now. The songs that you have in the post are great. I am adding a few from my side after a little bit of research. Hope you find them appropriate.
    1) Mehnat Kare Kisaan Maahajan Bante Hain Dhanwaan from the movie Lalkaar (1956)

    2) Kheto Pe Chale Bhaiyya Kisaan Re from the Movie Aadaab Arz (1943)


    3) Ai Kisaano, Yeh Dharti Tumhaari from the movie Ganwaar(1970

    • Very appropriate songs! Thank you so much. The only one here which I already knew of was the one from Ganwaar; it was on my shortlist.

      Thank you for the concern too; yes, we’re all better now.

  4. Such a beautiful post this, and thanks to you, I continue to discover new songs. Sending best wishes and healing vibes for your family this holiday season.

  5. Madhuji,

    An excellent and relevant post, considering the current situation in our country.
    Nice selection of songs!!

    Here’s one from Jigri Dost 1969
    Mere des mein pawan chale purvaai

    One doesn’t see anyone doing farm work here. But the song talks about the land, the fields etc and is picturized in the fields. .
    I believe, the screenshot at the beginning of the post is from this song.

    • I like this song a lot, and it was on my shortlist – plus, as you pointed out, it’s in the opening screenshot. I actually dropped it from the list because though the song does seem like a ‘farmer song’, Jeetendra’s character isn’t a farmer at all; he’s a gwala, a cowherd. Of course one can regard that as dairy farming, so it wouldn’t be completely inappropriate! The song does have references to farming and fields full of gold.

  6. And sorry to hear about the health challenges in your family.
    Hope every one recovers soon and all of you stay safe and healthy!!

  7. Madhuji
    I was suspecting something wrong as you nearly never leave a gap of more than a week between two posts. I’m happy to know you all are fine now and things are settling down.
    I wish speedy recovery to your father and wish you all good health and a safe year ahead. May the new year bring a lot of joy and happiness to your family.
    And
    About the post,
    A wonderful and timely post. I can’t think of a Hindi film song to add, though a few Marathi songs are there to mention.

    काळ्या मातीत मातीत तिफन चालते
    Suresh Wadkar and Anuradha Paudwal

    A farmer couple is ploughing in a farm with an optimistic approach.

    Second one,

    तुझ्या माझ्या संसाराला आणि काय हवं
    Asha Bhosle and Suresh Wadkar

    This one’s with english subtitles.

    And, the last but most popular,

    माळ्याच्या मळ्यामंदी पाटाचं पाणी जातं
    This one’s is sung and composed by Lata Mangeshkar. She has composed for a few Marathi films under the pseudonym आनंदघन.

    The lady describes her brother and his wife working hard in thier farm to have a good yield.

    All the dongs are popular in Marathi household.
    If I remember Hindi songs, I’ll add.

    :-)

    • Thank you so much for these songs, Anupji! I especially loved the last one – the tune was very nice, and the picturization was lovely too.

      Thank you for the wishes too. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe 2021 to you and your family!

  8. First things first. Hope your father has recovered now and the other stressful incidents too are behind you.
    Coming to the songs the usual songs are all there and some which don’t ring a bell. Come to think of it I can’t off hand remember too may other farming songs.
    While at least three of the films you mentioned have ben remade I will go to another Tamil movie of 1965 vintage( Pazhani about 4 brothers from a village and the hardships they face) which has this wonderful song about farming extolling the virtue of being a farmer.
    Unfortunately the subtitles are in Tamil . even as such you would enjoy the music and the singing by the trio of TM Soundarajan, Govindarajan & PB Sreenivas.

    This is one of the songs I keep going to when I am in need of a little upliftment.
    May this uplift your mood as well as this festive season!

  9. What an appropriate theme for the times! Love the first few songs you posted, especially those from Do Bigha Zameen and Heera Moti.

    As you so rightly mention, ‘farmers’ in Hindi films are mostly running around singing songs and leading an idyllic life. And I can’t remember any songs off hand that showed farmers actually talking/singing about farming, other than the ones you have already listed.

    But here are two songs from Vishukkani, composed by Salilda, which should fit the bill. The first one, Munnottu, munnottu is when the farmers are getting ready for the sowing – they are actually tilling the land.

    This is a ‘harvest’ song, when they harvest the paddy just before Onam.
    Poo vili poo vili ponnonamaayi

    • Thank you for these, Anu! I liked both the songs, Poo vili poo vili especially so. Somehow the tune sounded familiar, though I couldn’t tell if I had heard the tune (or something similar to it) elsewhere. Very melodious.

      • This was Salilda, Madhu, so he used his own tunes (with different arrangements, of course) across Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali. The Hindi equivalent of Poo vili was used in a film called Jeena Yahan starring Amol Palekar and Shabana Azmi. The song is Yahi to hai mere khwaabo.n ka jahaa.n.

        While Munnottu munnottu was composed solely for Malayalam.

        • Ah. I hadn’t realized Poo vili was also Salilda. I remember coming across that song in Chemmeen (I’ve forgotten the words), which was the same tune in part as Bagh mein kali khili.

          Thank you for the song from Jeena Yahan; I don’t recall having heard it before, but I guess I must have (unless some other composer lifted the tune in some other song).

  10. Hi Madhuji, Wish you a happy Christmas and a more peaceful time in the New Year. Hope your dad is feeling better. Your long absence from this blog was indeed a cause of distress. Relieved that you are back.

  11. One more Sunil Dutt song from the late 70s:

    Dharti gaaye re aaye re khushi ke din aaye re – Daku Aur Jawan 1978
    An average song but at least one sees people farming, besides singing and dancing.

  12. Merry X-mas and Happy New Year!!
    This is a Kannada song from movie Bhoodana (1962). The farmer is given a rocky terrain and he converts into a cultivatable land.

    • Thank you for this song! I had never heard Nenta kelu before but I liked it a lot. Nice tune and rendition, and good picturization – so much hard work happening there.

      Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you and your family too. :-)

  13. Dear Madhu,
    As usual am am more than a little late in my response to such a “timely” ( sorry the right word eludes me…) post by you.

    And I do hope all is much better on the home front now…That must have been such a difficult time for you…to say the least…

    Re. Song no. 7 on your list.
    7. Aao jhoomein gaayein (Paraya Dhan, 1971)

    I know that this does look like I am digressing from your subject…but there is
    an interesting detail about the film “Paraya Dhan” that I felt like writing about.
    (Would not like to term it as “trivia”).

    “Paraya Dhan” (1971) is one of the “early” films that the genius art director Bansi Chandragupta worked on, ,when he moved to Bombay.
    K K Mahajan had met with Bansi earlier in Calcutta, and had (and so I believe) suggested that he should come and work here. And in no time he went on to make such an impact with his innovative approach to art direction!

    I take the liberty of quoting from a well-researched article on Upperstall.com:

    In the early 1970s, Bansi left Calcutta and settled in Bombay due to artistic differences with Ray and also because of the fact that Art Direction as a profession in Calcutta had limited earning opportunities. In Bombay, although Bansi was greatly disappointed by the casual manner in which production design was treated in the regular commercial films, he was highly valued by the newer crop of filmmakers who were exploring a cinema radically different from the average blockbusters. Seema (1971), a film by Surendra Mohan saw Bansi win the first of his three prestigious Filmfare Awards for the Best Art Direction. The second came with Do Jhoot (1975), while his brilliant recreation of the slums of Mumbai in Ravindra Dharmaraj’s seminal film Chakra (1980) won him his third and final award. Bansi worked with the painter Akbar Padamsee in Kumar Shahani’s controversial landmark debut Maya Darpan (1972), which the critic Ashish Rajyadhyaksha described as, “the only successful colour experiment of New Indian Cinema”. In Umrao Jaan (1981), he collaborated with the director Muzaffar Ali for another sumptuous recreation of the magnificence of Nawabi Lucknow and in all its elegant finery. Avtar Kaul’s 27 Down (1973), Basu Chatterjee’s Piya Ka Ghar (1972), Manzil (1979) and Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug (1981) are some of the other major films in which he worked as a production designer in his Bombay period.

    Source https://upperstall.com/profile/bansi-chandragupta/
    (Lists Bansi’s films in all languages…including “Paraya Dhan” (1971)

    I hope this is of interest to all….

    Praba Mahajan

    • Thank you so much for that interesting bit of trivia! This is why I really value the readers of my blog – especially people like you who have had close to first hand experience of cinema, because you enrich this blog immensely.

  14. Hope your family has recovered from the challenges. This is a fine article and the comments posted by some readers are equally interesting.

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