About anantha

Living Life...

Dangs of Gujarat

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Dang dance is performed by Dangi tribe of Dang region of Gujarat. This dance is usually performed during Holi and other festivals, also at fairs, ceremonies and rituals connected to worship. It is quite swift, vigorous and highly rhythmic. Musical instruments used are percussive Kahaiya and Dholki  besides short shehnai. Men and women stand alternately in a circular form and dance by going round and round, creating various choreographic patterns. They may have their arms around the shoulders or waists of the neighboring dancer. The movement builds gradually and reaches a fast tempo before winding to a halt. The women climb on the shoulders of men and form a human pyramid. The two and three tier formation moves clockwise and anti clockwise.

 

The Dangs live in the rocky, hilly forests of western central India. They are primarily located in the Dangs district of Gujarat State.

They have always lived close to nature, depending on it for survival. Animals are respected and treated as equals. For this reason, they are often called the “children of nature.” The Dangs district contains many protected forests that the Dangs are allowed to use for cultivation and residence. They live in one-room bamboo huts made with thatched roofs.

Despite their poverty, the Dangs enjoy singing and dancing. The villagers are skilled in creating objects out of stone, wood, and clay. Hindu artisans often help them with such crafts. Tattooing has also become an art among the Dangs.

The majority of the Dangs practice ethnic religions, and all of them are involved in ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors). Their lives revolve around rites, rituals and folk beliefs. Many are animists, believing that all objects have spirits. Trees, animals, demons, serpents, and spirits are worshiped through magical rituals. Wagh-Dev, the tiger god, is their sacred animal god and their emblem of worship.

The Dangs believe in magic, witchcraft, and sorcery, along with their many tribal gods and Hindu deities. They believe that the supernatural world contains both good and evil. Their constant fear of the spirits keeps them revolving around a circle of prayers, rituals, offerings, and sacrifices. The Bhagat (priest and medicine man) is thought to be the ultimate “good man.” He is believed to be a spiritual man who communicates with the gods. He is considered a friend, a philosopher, a guide, and a healer.

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Folk dances of Mizoram

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Chheihlam is generally performed over a round of rice-beer and it reflects joy and exhilaration. While a pair of dancers dance in the middle, others squat around, clap, sing to the beat of a drum. Those sit around take turn to join in the middle

 

Cheraw is one of the popular folk forms of Mizoram, also found in other north-eastern states of India. I recall watching a similar performance done by an ethnic group from Taiwan. It is as well found in other far-eastern countries such as Philippines.

Men sitting face to face on the ground tap long pairs of horizontal and cross bamboo staves open and close in rhythmic beats. Girls in colorful Mizo costumes of Puanchei, Kawrchei. Vakiria and Thihna, dance in and out between the beats of bamboo. This dance is now performed in almost all festive occasions. The unique style of the Cheraw is a great fascination everywhere it is performed. Gongs and drums are used to accompany the dance.

The bamboos, when clapped, produce a sound which forms the rhythm of the dance. It indicates the timing of the dance as well. The dancers step in and out to the beats of the bamboos with ease and grace. They need to keep up with the timing with high focus and concentration, as they jump in and out alternately. A misstep by a single dancer may throw the entire set off and may result in injury too.

The origin of this dance form dates back to 1 CE

Chawnglaizawn is a popular form of a community called Pawi. It is performed by a husband to mourn the death of his wife. The husband would be continuously performing this dance till he gets tired. Friends and relatives would relieve him and dance on his behalf. This signifies that they mourn with the bereaved.
Chawnglaizawn’ is also performed in festivals and to celebrate trophies brought home by successful hunters.

 

 

 

 

Thol Bommalattam – Shadow Puppetry

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This is an ancient form of entertainment and story-telling that continues to this day, though sparingly. It uses articulated cut-out figures made of thol (leather) that are made to dance, act, fight, nod, laugh so on between  a source of light and a screen. This art form is still found in many countries across Asia, notably China, India and Indonesia have always been major players.

 

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European merchant ships played a role in importing this art form to parts of Europe.

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Puppets are held close to the screen and hands and legs are manipulated with attached canes. I took a peek behind the screen while the women work and hundreds of puppets strewn across the floor. The team members were scurrying around to pick the right characters for the scenes to follow.

 

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Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata form the repertoire, used to be performed by itinerant artists on temporary platforms during temple festivals. It is believed puppet-theater dates back to 3rd century BCE. The puppets in general are three to four feet tall.

 

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Songbird of Mali – Oumou Sangare

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Oumou performs in the Sahara desert along with Ali Farka Toure

 

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With Salif Keita in Bamako

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With self right after a show in Paris

 

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In the hotel room in Fes, Morocco

A leading female act in the world-music circuit for over two decades and an awardee of the ‘WOMEX artist of the year 2017’, here’s a tribute to this remarkable lady by yours truly in an Indian publication. This is probably the only time an article on this artist appeared in this part of the world as her music waves yet to find its way here.

Please click below –

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_CsYhDopBVvY3FUazRaa3Rxck0/view

OR

https://www.deccanherald.com/content/491427/songbird-mali.html

 

 

 

 

 

Slithery Encounters

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This story was published in a national daily – Please click below

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/slithery-encounters/article19959330.ece

 

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Wielding flash lights we walk into open fields that are still swathed in early hour hush and darkness. Two young men, Raja and Sekar of the Irula ethnic community lead us, carrying canvas bags, a crowbar and a scythe. The flash lights help us search for what we have come after and avoid stepping on anything wriggly on our path that might result in agony. We are into an hour of walking and nothing exciting just yet. The day is starting to break and the Irulas have left us behind. Just as our zeal starts to ebb, a meek call from a distance, viola, they have caught a snake !

After the African safari circuit, tiger sighting and an Amazon expedition, a snake-walk has remained unchecked in my wild-wishlist and what better place to do it than in our own ‘wild Chennai’ ! Having long heard about the Irulas and their ability in tracking and handling snakes, now is an opportunity to see them in their elements. Their international foray into Florida swamps to catch pythons drew much attention in the news media early this year.

 

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The first catch of the morning is an Indian Rat snake, which is about 5 feet long and looks beautifully streamlined. We get a short lesson on its characteristics as it is being held by its tail. The Rat snake is pale brown in colour, can grow up to nine feet long and preys on rodents. Known as ‘Sara pambu’ in Tamil, it is non-venomous. On release, the snake vanishes into the bush in a flash.

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The first sight gives us a sense of justification for giving up a few hours of sleep this morning and now we are pumped up for more. With the day well awake by now, we walk on across the fields punctuated by bushes and thorny plants. Again, we hear the familiar voice of Raja from afar. The two men walk toward us in their calm demeanor with a catch on hand, and call out in a subdued voice ‘Spectacled Cobra’ – a prize catch indeed ! Cobra is among the big-four of south Asian venomous snakes. With deadly venom as artillery, this one is no pushover and means business with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. With the hood well spread in threatening posture and in typical cobra-stance, the snake surveys around like a filmy action-hero surrounded by gangsters. All the while, he keeps a watch on the handler squatting by. A short lapse of concentration could make the difference between life and death for the Irula men. Now, Raja gently eases his hold on its tail, but the snake holds its ground and doesn’t make a dash to get away as we expect. ‘If I get up, he will run away’ he says. Finally, the Cobra slips back into its fortress, a nearby bush.

 

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The spring is high in our walk yet the men are out of our radar again. Thanks to overnight rains, the breeze is pleasant and the clouds that still float hide the Sun, making the walk far from tiring. We track down the men and find them furiously digging into a burrow, sliding their bare hands in and out periodically to feel for snakes. As the wait stretches, doubts start to creep in and the impulse to move-on grows. Again, the men catch a snake out of thin air, this time it is a Sand Boa. For its proportions it is hard to believe the snake could gulp down a bird like the Nightjar. The snake is easily identifiable by its small head, thick body, pointed tail and lethargic movement. Though slow-moving, the snake constantly looks for an escape route from its captors. After a long look at it, Raja gently places it back at its rat-hole home. ‘When I was younger, I used to walk with family elders into the fields and watch them catch rats and snakes. Now, the acquired skills help us catch snakes for venom-extraction, which is a crucial antidote for snake bites’ he reminisces as we walk further.

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We end the morning with one more find, a long and slender creation in the reptile family, a bronze-back tree snake. This has a bronze stripe running from head to tail, found in the open and are arboreal. They are fast-moving and navigate branches with an elegant ease. Aside from Cobra, all the snakes we sight are non-venomous, yet they are often mistaken to be dangerous and killed. An educational outing like this helps dispel the myth about these exceptional creations of nature and also helps understand their role in the overall scheme of things. Snakes keep a check on exploding rodent population and thus help farmers a great deal. Finally, not to forget the fringe attractions along the way of various species of birds, beetles, geckos, scorpions and other critters.

Forest Scorpian

Where to find snakes around Chennai

In spite of the city mushrooming into a concrete-jungle lately, according to MCBT, snake sightings and rescue, both venomous and non-venomous, are constantly reported from Adyar, Vadapalani, KK Nagar to many other parts of the city. Snakes thrive along Cooum river and in Pallikaranai marsh, Guindy National Park, the fields off of the East-coast Road to name a few.

Spectacled or Indian Cobra

Distributed throughout the Indian sub-continent including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal but does not occur in high altitudes and desert regions.

Venom Type: Neurotoxic

Characteristics for identification: Easily identified by broad hood and ‘spectacle-mark’ behind the hood. Colour of Spectacled Cobra varies from yellow, brown to darker shades based on geographical areas. Commonly found in dense forests, grasslands, wetlands, human habitation and agricultural lands. Hides in holes, mounds, caves, piles and cracks. Always raise hood on provocation or to threaten its enemy. Grows upto 5.5 feet in length. Scales appear oval-shaped and the belly colouration range from grey, tan, yellow, brown to reddish or even black. Though terrestrial in general, can climb if needed. Wide range of diet include frogs, toads, lizards, rodents, birds, small mammals and other snakes.

It is one among the four deadly venomous snakes occur in our country. Highly revered in mythology and culture and the cobra idol is worshipped in temples across India particularly during Nag Panchami. Hindu gods, Shiva carry one coiled around his neck while Vishnu recline on one with multiple cobra-heads. Snake-charmers with their cobras in wicker-baskets were a common sight until recent years but now the snake is protected under Indian wildlife protection act (1972).

Snakes around Chennai

Non-venomous :

Common Sand Boa

Red sand Boa

Common Vine Snake

Buff-striped Keelback

Checkered Keelback Watersnake

Common Bronzeback Tree Snake

Common wolf Snake

Indian Rat Snake

Venomous :

Spectacled Cobra

Saw Scaled Viper

Russell’s Viper

Common Krait

Resources

a youtube video by MCBT – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aUl-jQsLWs

web-page – Indiansnakes.org

book – Snakes of India by Romulus Whitaker

Dholavira – an Indus valley site

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Indus Valley site (believed to be 3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE – Dholavira is located in Rann of Kutch of Gujarat. It is relatively a new discovery, excavated in 1990s by a team led by R S Bisht.The excavation brought to light the urban planning and architecture and unearthed large number of antiquities such as seals, beads, animal bones, gold, silver, terracotta ornaments, pottery and bronze vessels. Archaeologists believe that Dholavira was an important centre of trade between settlements in south Gujarat, Sindh, Punjab and Western Asia.

One of the unique features of Dholavira is the sophisticated water conservation system of channels and reservoirs, the earliest found anywhere in the world, built completely of stone. The city had massive reservoirs, three of which are exposed. They were used for storing fresh water brought by rains or to store water diverted from two nearby rivulets. This clearly came in response to the desert climate and conditions of Kutch, where several years may pass without rainfall. A seasonal stream which runs in a north-south direction near the site was dammed at several points to collect water. An elaborate system of drains to collect water from the city walls and house tops to fill these water tanks. One of the most important findings of Dholavira has been a signboard with Indus Script. When visited, I could still see large number of fossils and sherds scattered all around the place.

Folk Traditions of the states of Bihar and Haryana

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Haryana

Haryana has rich tradition of music and dance for various occasions such as wedding, festivals and so on and for seasons such as harvest, sowing of seeds, monsoon and so forth.The music in general falls into two categories, classical such as songs for Teej, Phag and Holi and rural or country music that narrates legendary tales.

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Phag is a seasonal dance by the farmers, expressing the joy of bounty crop.

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Bihar

Here the folk songs deal with various events in the life of a common man.

The following songs called  Sohar that are performed during childbirth

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The influence of Bihari music is seen in countries such as Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean islands where a large number of Bihari indentured labourers were taken by the British during the nineteenth century.