Bastra bhushana alankara
je bidhi puja upachara
deina samaste pujanti
jubati hulahuli dyanti
(Offering clothes, ornaments and accessories, and all that are needed for a puja, all (the people) worship; the young women offer huluhuli)
To the Odias (people of Odisha), nothing symoblizes auspiciousness more than the sound of Huluhuli (Hulahuli): a shrill of varying magnitude produced by women through quick movements of the tongue. No auspicious occasion is complete without the sound of huluhuli, usually accompanied by the blowing of conch shell (shankha). It has probably come from the ululation, a similar practice made by women in various parts of the world, but through a slightly different technique. Hulahuli as a word is used in Sanskrit too.
Ululation is also widely practiced in southern and eastern parts of India. People, especially women roll their tongues and produce this sound during all Hindu temple rituals, festivals and celebrations. This is also an integral part of most weddings in these parts where, depending upon the local usages, women ululate to welcome the groom or bride or both. In Tamil it is known as ‘Kulavai’. In Kerala, ululation is essential for all ceremonial occasions and the term used in Malayalam is Kurava. Bengalis and Oriyas call it Ulu-uli. Assamese call it ‘Uruli’. Ululation is, also, used to some extent by south European women: Wikipedia
While the blowing of shankha (conch shell), shankhadhwani (the sound of shankha) usually marks the beginning and end of a ceremony or a particular ritual within a ceremony, huluhuli is repeated often, sometimes to mark special moments, sometimes when there is reference to the word in a song/text that is sung/read as part of the ritual (as in above, which is from the popular festival of Khudurukuni in the month of Bhadrava, in which unmarried women worship Goddess Mangala), and sometimes simply without any special need, as and when women feel like offering it.
In pure religious festivals like Rath Yatra, while the women offer huluhuli, men match it with cries of Haribol. But in functions like marriage and other such auspicious occasions, it is only the sound of huluhuli that is enough to mark the auspiciousness of the occasion.
In earlier times, huluhuli was treated like an art and young women took pride in their ability to make the sound of huluhuli for a long period. My grandmother was greatly accomplished in this art form and would often continue for close to ten minutes when she would start once. The average was somewhere between less than a minute to two minutes. So, she was quite sought after when there was any ceremony in the neighborhood. I probably started making the sound to tease her but found that I could produce it the way it should be. And for boys, it was really fun.
I still remember an incident in a friend’s marriage (I was unmarried then), when me and another friend of mine (a guy), started making sounds of huluhuli, for the sake of fun. An old lady (probably the bride’s grandmother) was quite impressed with that. When the next turn came for offering it, almost after a few hours, we were still there watching the ceremony. And finding that none of the womenfolk there were capable of making it, she asked us to make the sound. She herself was offering it but she was too old to make it loudly. That time, we thought they were making fun of us. But it is only later that we discovered that none of the women present there were actually capable of producing this auspicious sound.
And we were shocked!
This was about twelve years back. Since then, it has steadily lost its practitioner base. Today, one would be lucky to find 3-4 good huluhulist in a ceremony. In some such occasions, we hear audio tapes of recorded huluhuli being played. Believe me, that does not sound half as thrilling!
In Odisha, government has taken many steps to preserve our art forms, including many rare arts. But few are even sensitive to the fact that this once-ubiquitous art form is dying a slow death.
But when I searched the term huluhuli in Google, all I found was pages after pages on some Hawaiian chicken preparation! While you can find ululation/ululating, the Odia huluhuli is nowhere!