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Borderless: Uniting a broken Punjab

October 3, 2022

Separated by a fictitious line hastily drawn in the sand, Punjabi’s yearn to reunite with their kin across borders – following the largest mass exodus in history in 1947, the Punjabi spirit still lives on both sides of that border, eager to meet again. Royal Academy of Bhangra, with the help of acclaimed musician Vijay Yamla, strives to bridge the gaps our ancestors were left with. And what better way to share our pain, longing, and aspirations, than through the universal language of love: art. 

“My grandfather, Yamla Jatt, was born on the Pakistan side of Punjab and himself was forced to migrate to the newly created India in 1947 – we can never forget the pain of our nation being split, and I strive to bring our people together with our shared musical traditions and sangeet.” Vijay Yamla goes on to describe the shared history of the two Punjabs and his aspirations to unite people once again through a rich, and centuries old, musical tradition. 

Vijay’s late grandfather, and legendary folk singer, Yamla Jatt, was born in what is today Lyallpur, Pakistan – Vijay recalls the deep connection and syncretic traditions present in his grandfather’s music, with influences from Sufi poetry, Waris Shah, and age old classics such as Heer Ranjha, Jugni and Jagga. 

Royal Academy partnered with Vijay to not only coach students at the academy, but to revive a sense of community that was lost in the pages of history. The pain of the 1947 partition of Punjab is one that is felt on both sides of the border, and as Punjabi folk music traditions make a resurgence, music and dance is one form of art and love that binds Punjabis together – wherever they are in the world. 

Recognizing the deep connection Punjabi folk traditions have with Islamic mysticism, through Sufi poetry and qalam, Vijay’s artistically curated sessions bring together our differences to highlight the deep similarities our traditions have. Uniting a family that spans hundreds of different dialects, theological traditions, and cultural identities to inspire youth to once again dance together, sing together – celebrate, together, like our ancestors have for centuries before the trauma of partition clouded our communities. 

With this unique opportunity to study under Vijay, students at Royal Academy are among the few in the world attempting to heal the pain of partition that divided us, and revive a centuries old sense of community with those lost in the chaos of displacement. Dating back centuries, and encompassing a wide variety of shared heritage, Bhangra and music give us a chance to dig deeper into the similarities that bind us – reminding us that we are one family. 

Regardless of religious background and traditions, Vijay has tirelessly worked on teaching Punjabi youth from Patiala to Surrey their shared heritage, artforms that transcend borders and time itself. Vijay himself has toured both Pakistan and India, centering his music and art around the syncretic nature of Punjabi folk lore, sangeet, and dance. The tumbhi, dhol, and bugchu still echo in our hearts – and with love, will transcend our differences for generations to come.

Written by Jasminder Singh Sandhu

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