A traveler is nothing but a seeker of the new. Some are driven by lyrics of a song that had changed their lives, brought them to the outside: to see new cultures, new ways in which human beings have shaped their lives around the world. Folk music is an important facet of a culture because the beauty of places is not only confined to their topography, but most of it depends on the culture and the lifestyles of people. Traditional music in India is a never ending ocean of constant exploration and improvisation. Moreover, Indian musical instruments come in a plethora of varieties with every single one of them giving a unique sound being played in a unique way.
The Northern Indian states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand are the most sought after places when a traveler thinks of roaming around the great Indian Himalayan lands. And apart from trekking, jumping, rafting, and climbing, the heart of the traveler definitely looks for some good old’ native folk music. Here is a simple yet complete guide to exploring folk and traditional music in India, specifically North India.

1. Leh-Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir)


Ladakh is a mystery-land. The great mountain desert of northern India bears the power to leave anyone speechless. Buddhism is Ladakh’s leading faith. Every village has a monastery or a palace which holds ancient Buddhist prayer halls that stand amidst great plains and mountains surrounding the river Indus. Folk music can be found in monasteries and in Ladakhi villages.

Musical Instruments Used :

  1. Dungchen (Horns used in Monastic rituals)
  2. Damnyan (Strings)
  3. Nga (Percussion)
  4. Damaru (Skull Drums)
  5. Drilbu (Bells)
  6. Silnyen (Cymbals)
  7. Kangling (Skin-Bone Trumpets)

Where to find Music :

  1. Any Ladakhi village close to Leh (commonly the villages of Chuchot, Stok, Matho, Stakna and Thiksey)
  2. Leh City
  3. Hemis Monastery
  4. Changthang
  5. Zanskar Valley

Folk Music Festivals :

  1. Hemis Festival : 3-4 July 2017, Venue :Hemis Monastery, Hemis
  2. Stongday Gustor Festival : 12-13 July 2017, Venue : Stongday Monastery, Zanskar
  3. Karsha Gustor Festival : 21-22 July 2017, Venue : Karsha Monastery, Zanskar
  4. Ladakh Festival : 20-26 September 2017, Venue : Leh City
  5. Diskit Festival : 17-18 October 2017, Venue : Diskit

Folk Artists :

  1. Morup Namgyal
  2. Dorjay Stakmo
  3. Tibetan Incantations
  4. Angmo Lay
  5. Spalbay Rimo


2. Himachal Pradesh


Manorma Sharma, in her book Musical Heritage of India, writes, “In every region of Himachal Pradesh, there are songs for every occasion from birth to death, at social and religious ceremonies, fairs, festivals, rituals, seasons, while doing some work, sowing the seeds, harvesting and while playing, dancing, etc. Each type of song has its peculiarity of expression, feelings, and aspirations.” 
The folk music of Himachal Pradesh mirrors its rich traditions and the brilliant history. It uncovers a crisp stream of rich cultural heritage lying torpid in the lap of mid-Himalayas. The stream which has possessed the capacity to save its history as the folk music of Himachal Pradesh.
The people who are observers to such common magnificence bragging rich aesthetic history discover their voice through music and dance. These Himalayan types of dances are exceptionally musical, which ingrains bliss and joy in the climate while urging the people to buckle down. Every district of Himachal Pradesh has its own particular run-of-the-mill dances and dance-tunes which mirrors the culture of that region.

Musical Instruments Used :

  1. Percussions – Dammama, Damanght, Dholku, Nagara, Tamaka, Nagarth, Dhol, Hudak ,Dolki and Dafale
  2. Wind – Algoza , Peepni and Shehnai
  3. Strings – Jumang, Sarangi, Ektara and the Ruman

Where to find Music :

  1. Malana Village
  2. Dharamkot (Israeli Folk)
  3. Mcleodganj (Folk & Western)
  4. Lahaul & Spiti (Monastic Folk)
  5. Kasol (Music Festivals)
  6. Reckong Peo, Kinnaur (Folk Music)
  7. Kullu-Manali (Folk Music)

Folk Music Festivals :

  1. Lohri  : January, Venue : All over Himachal
  2. Sazo : January, Venue : Kinnaur District
  3. Himachal Winter Carnival : January, Venue : Manali, Kullu District
  4. Doongri Festival : May, Venue : Kullu
  5. Nalwari Fair : March, Venue : Bilaspur
  6. Spring Festival : April-May, Venue : Kullu
  7. Phulaich Festival : September, Venue : Kinnaur
  8. Ladarcha Festival : August, Venue : Lahaul-Spiti

Folk Artists :

  1. Karnail Rana
  2. Ghambri Devi
  3. Roshni Devi
  4. Thakurdas Rathi
  5. Ravikanta Kashyap


3. Uttarakhand


Traditional India music is incorporated into every nook and cranny of the Uttarakhand society. The atmosphere of this hilly area has been very conducive that it had roused musicians to make awesome tunes. Compelling surges of rapids, the richness of the pine backwoods, rough mountain tops, heavenly delights of slope stations; all these moved toward becoming topics of various musicals creations. The folk music basically is identified with the different festivals, religious traditions, folk stories and basic existence of the general population of Uttarakhand.
The music of Kumaon and Garhwal locale is a variety of adjusts and verses. Content is otherworldly and it portrays the problems of the socio-economic situation of the state. The Garhwal and Kumaonese are attached to music, folk moves, and tunes joined by neighborhood musical instruments. They go from place to place describing folklores, moving and singing the acclaim of their divine beings and goddesses.

Musical Instruments Used :

  1. Dhol (Percussions)
  2. Rasingha (Wind)
  3. Flute (Wind)
  4. Masakbhaja (Strings)

Where to find Music :

  1. Dehradun (Folk & Western)
  2. Nainital (Folk)
  3. Mussoorie (Folk & Western)
  4. Rishikesh (Western – The Beatles Ashram, Folk)
  5. Haridwar (Folk)

Folk Music Festivals (Festivals have no fixed calendar date) :

  1. Basant Panchami (Beginning of Spring)
  2. Bhaitauli And Harela (Beginning of Spring)
  3. Phool Dei (March)
  4. Khatarua Festival (September)

Folk Artists :

  1. Mohan Upreti
  2. Shri Gopal Babu Goswami
  3. Shri Narendra Singh Negi
  4. Chander Singh Rahi
  5. Heera Singh Rana


4. Punjab


Folk music of Punjab is created utilizing the conventional musical instruments, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg! There is an extensive variety of folk tunes for each event from birth to death including marriage, celebrations, fairs and religious functions. This part of folk music has moved with time. However, the more established classifications of folk start with the dhadi kind; which follows thoughts of collective origin. Folk music is likewise regularly utilized as a part of different life events in the Punjab area.
In practically every wedding function, relatives, companions, and expert folk musicians perform distinctive arrangements of folk melodies which utilize subjects from a nostalgic past and convey topics of division, euphoria, dread, and expectations in the present. The emotions expressed in these wedding tunes have the fatherly home portrayed as a wellspring of adoration and sustain, while the in-laws home portrayed as a fountain of oppression and torment. Folk music continues to stay alive as a way for locals to express themselves and loosen up the tension!

Musical Instruments Used :

  1. Dilruba (String)
  2. Dhol (Percussion)
  3. Iktara (String)
  4. Sarangi (String)
  5. Khartal (Percussion)

Where to find Music :

  1. Amritsar
  2. Ludhiana
  3. Bathinda

Folk Music Festivals :

  1. Holi : March 
  2. Lohri : January 
  3. Vaisakhi : April
  4. Teeyan : July

Folk Artists :

  1. Asa Singh Mastana
  2. Lal Chand Yamla Jatt
  3. Alam Lohar


5. Uttar Pradesh


The folk culture of Uttar Pradesh is dominated by the amalgamation of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims to coexist in a single society. It is not very different from the folk music in Punjab, except for the places where one could find it. Khayal, Ghazal and Qawwali are the most famous form of folk music in Uttar Pradesh.

Musical Instruments Used :

  1. Dilruba (Strings)
  2. Dhol (Percussion)
  3. Iktara (String)
  4. Sarangi (String)
  5. Khartal (Percussion)

Where to find Music :

  1. Lucknow
  2. Varanasi
  3. Allahabad

Folk Music Festivals :

  1. Holi : March
  2. Lohri : January
  3. Vaisakhi : April

Folk Artists :

  1. Ram Kailash Yadav
  2. Shyam Lal Begana
  3. Indra Shrivastava & Kamla Shrivastava
  4. Balla Ram Singh
  5. Meenakshi Prasad

Music is known as the ‘universal language’ and folk music is a genre that has its own way of saying something. Folk musicians always sing from their hearts, giving it a whole new level of emotions pointing towards comfort and freedom, but ultimately a sense of homeliness and belonging!
Stay tuned for more tunes!
To read more on the regional folk music in India and where you can listen to them, check out the links below :

  1. East Indian Folk Music
  2. West Indian Folk Music
  3. South Indian Folk Music

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