Folk arts of North Eastern India

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The horn played above in the beginning is called Penpa

The seven sister states of North-Eastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) are rich in folk and tribal traditions for centuries. Though largely converted to Christianity by the missionaries during the colonial times, one could still find native traditions alive. The state of Assam alone accounts for some 90 tribes and over 220 ethnic groups in all states. Each group has their own attire, dialect and culture. Handicrafts of bamboo and cane, wood-carving, hand loom-weaving are common.

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A Karbi girl in pekok(top) and pena (bottom)

 

 

 

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An Ahom girl in chadar (top) and mekla (bottom)

 

 

 

 

Bihu being Assamese, notice all the men wear ‘gamocha’ as a head-band. It’s a cotton towel woven out of white thread with intricate embroidery in red at the ends. This piece of cloth is highly revered and serves as a cultural identity in the state of Assam.

The cymbal played above in the band is called Bhortal

 

 

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Nritya Parva – annual Sattriya Dance Festival

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The following piece on the festival by yours truly was carried in a national daily – please click the link –

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/sattriya-showcased-in-assam-festival/article25679532.ece?fbclid=IwAR2krg9lOzofiDewW_sIu81pzHk0K8Za99YADvzeSwHt7BZhxRrH1qOZgks

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Flamenco Bienal at Sevilla

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There’s nothing like watching an art form at its place of origin, where it packs every single ingredient without fail. Having watched Flamenco elsewhere and enough times on Youtube, really wanted to lap up all its flavor at its place of birth, Andalusia ! What better time to do it than the Biennial organized by the city of Seville. And Flamenco received UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage tag in 2010.

Though a month-long festival that spans many venues featuring top artists, there isn’t much fuss in town other than a few posters stuck here and there. But the halls get filled up as it draws a select audience from world over, in addition to locals. Speaking of world-audience, Japanese tops the list as this dance form has a huge following back there. At the halls, besides Spanish and English, announcements are made in Japanese too. Tickets sell out months in advance. It’s common to hear encouraging ‘Ole’ from enthusiastic aficionados from the sidelines at the shows. And a strict No,No for photography is a dampener.

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revolutionary dancer Carmen Amaya

As with any other evolving art form, Flamenco comes in both, traditional and modern flavors.  Gypsies or the Roma people are said to be the creators of this art during their misery days in the past centuries, combining what they inherited from their roots, said to be north-western parts of India, with other musical and dance traditions existed in their midst, like Andalucian folk, Moor, Berber, Arabic and Jewish. The music and dance also evolved as a way of venting their real-life struggles and sorrows in sensuous laments, giving the art form a strong and intense character. Though the Roma community is still a marginalized ethnic group throughout Europe, Flamenco has acquired a national symbol in Spain and helps a great deal in promoting tourism.

Besides the month-long festival, there are permanent, smaller and more intimate venues in town called Tablaos, where one can experience Flamenco anytime during the year. And for  those interested in taking classes, workshops to sing, dance, clap and guitar-playing can be found around the town.

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Finally to say a few words on the city of Seville itself, the Arabic, Jewish, Christian and Roma confluence of the past has given this city a fascinating amalgamation in its aura. The massive and ornamented Cathedral stands tall, as if to emphasize the domineering Christian faith of the state of Spain. The state owes much to Christopher Columbus, though his expeditions were sponsored by the ruling Catholic monarchs, it was he who paved the way for bringing the riches to Spain, by way of colonization of the Americas that involved darker period of slavery, genocide, looting, destruction and Christianisation of locally rich indigenous cultures. Rightly so, there is a tomb for the man himself at the Cathedral, where his remains said to have been buried after several moves.

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the Cathedral

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Momasar – a Rajasthani village festival

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Stage for home-grown folk arts

As my taxi changes gear from highway to village-dirt-lane, a street dog barking furiously runs along for it finds a foreign moving object in its neighbourhood in this early hour of the day. We outdo the dog by a long way, and I could hear strains of music wafting in through morning stillness. I ask the driver to head in that melodic-way. Musicians belong to Islāmic faith singing Hindu bhajans in the courtyard of quaint Hanuman Dhora temple at dawn opens the festival. Villagers sitting cross-legged on the blanket are taking in the bliss. White-clothed and turbaned elders walk in at their pace while head-covered women in bright red Rajasthani sarees gather in a corner on the blanket. A few SUVs to my left and camels inside house walls to my right. Desert sand underneath my feet and peacocks trot at higher elevations looking for breakfast, this hour is indeed sublime !

Momasar

A village 160 miles north-west of Jaipur in Rajasthan is hosting the 6th edition of Shekhawati Utsav, organized by Jaipur Virasat Founndation that works to keep and promote traditional art forms of the state. The festival runs for 2 days, staging 200 artists from various regions and attracts a few thousand crowd to this remote hamlet, mostly from nearby villages and also a handful of die-hard fans from abroad.

We break for tea and simple refreshments at a local temple-hall. I meet up with a group who come from US and various European countries. “Marc and I chanced upon this festival last year and this year we are here to play. Yes, we were suggested city gigs but we settled for this unique village one” says Markus from Germany. In a first, this edition would feature a non-Rajasthani band in Marc Sinan and Iva Bittova. Energized by tea and with the help of a local guide, we stroll through the maze of lanes for local attractions such as temples and century old charming havelis that are painted with frescos, belonged to wealthy merchants of yesteryear.

Music at rural settings

I enter Patwari ki Haveli, an exquisite heritage building of Momasar, for ‘Music in the afternoon’. A group of women sing welcome-songs at the massive door. An array of activities in the courtyard include men spinning yarn from drop-spindle, rope-making demonstration and young students of wood-craft display their creative works. “This reflects the motive of our Foundation – preserve and encourage tradition in all forms” says Vinod Joshi, Director of JVF and the force behind this festival, which also serves him as a pay-back to his birth place. Along the wall, Kathodi performers present a unique image as two men blow into a mouth-piece of a vertical wind instrument, a man on scraper and another rubs a thin metal rod placed over a brass plate to produce the drone effect. “They live in the forest and make their own musical instruments” says Joshi. A flight of stairs in the haveli brings up a compact hall that is open to the skies where the 80 year young Safi Mohammed sings with gusto often tossing and turning the tanpura on his hand, more than strumming on it.

A quick stop for snacks at the temple hall and as the light starts to fade, we head to a farm. Though it is dark, I could get a sense of the expanse of the place and feel my respiratory system is more at ease now. As the wind blows across under starry sky, a dimly lit make-shift platform offers space for more folk art traditions. A red-turbaned, white dhoti clad man with anklets thumps his feet and waves his arms around to the beats and singing of two men playing on maante drum, a large clay-pot – their silhouette leave a surreal feel. While Marc and Iva sounds are a novelty in village-ears, the day ends at Taal Maidan, an open-air ground, at midnight with “Kuchamani Khayal”, a folk-theatre tradition from the Nagaur region of Rajasthan and is very much on the decline.

Curtain downs with a bang

Second day begins with ‘Baal Mela‘ that features a few thousand young boys and girls from 13 different schools in the village to get them re-acquainted to their rich roots and help them understand that tradition and progress could go hand in hand. “This is very crucial for the future of what we are now involved in” says Joshi, who sounds keen on covering the entire spectrum in his quest. The children get to see artists who do not make it to center stage this year, yet perform amid children’s’ competitions and workshops.

On the grand finale evening, hoards of villagers stream in one direction, young girls giggle their way in, boys bond with arms around shoulders while women look in unwind-mode with their day chores done with. Now my taxi struggles its way through this mass in this otherwise no traffic zone. As I reach brightly lit Taal Maidan, the place is buzzing, children play in sand chasing each other, flies and bugs have a field day around high wattage lamps and even crawl on people, excited in their sudden-found-illuminated-lives. The stage that exudes Rajasthani decor is all set for the show. An endless kaleidoscope of folk forms that include Dhol-thali, Kalbeliya, Gair, Bhapang, Kachhigodi, Sahariya Swang dance unfold on front that last well into the wee hours.

Though a comfortable hotel stay is some 25 miles away, the festival affords to experience folk art at its provenance. While Langa and Manganiar musicians are hot invitees on world stage, JVF aims to bring the world to their homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This piece by yours truly was carried in India’s national daily –

http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-stage-for-home-grown-arts/article16644617.ece