ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Jugni on fire: Interrogating Jugni’s resistance – freedom or fantasy


Bhanot Kavita - university of Leicester, Literature, Birmingham, United Kingdom


29 – Travelling stories, bodies and genres and the making of communities


 Through music and stories, this paper follows Jugni through time and space, unpacking the history and perspective of this popular tradition in Punjabi oral literature and music. Literally a female firefly or an ornament, Jugni has taken on various forms over the years but has often been associated throughout, with the female, with freedom and with fire. From following and resisting Queen Victoria’s jubilee flame as a symbol of colonial oppression to Sufi Jugni as the inner voice or spirit that connects, through love, with God. In this way, Jugni also becomes analogous to the feminine voice frequently centred in Sufism through the metaphor of the female lover in Punjabi folklore (such as Sohni and Heer) who is seen to resist social and religious structures and authority figures, along with patriarchy.  Via Heer, this idea of Jugni as a purported symbol of defiance, resistance and ‘freedom’ has continued to manifest in the more contemporary form of the ‘modern’ woman who ‘doesn’t give a damn’. In Punjabi music, from folk to pop, from rock to bhangra, in Indian and Pakistani films, this Jugni travels from Punjabi villages to towns to big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Lahore and western cities such as Birmingham and Southall.  Flirting with boys, dancing to western music, speaking English, wearing make-up and jeans, this Jugni is depicted as a patakha or firework, sometimes literally.