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Assam

Wangla Group

A sight of Wonder – The Warrior dance of Wangala Festival

Our documentation in Meghalaya was a truly special occasion as it marked our first time capturing the essence of folk music here. 

Meghalaya became our home away from home, where everything was so fresh to the eyes. The place, the weather, the people and above all, its music. 

We discovered that Meghalaya is extremely culturally rich, and music embodies their culture; it speaks both in the shade of pure traditional folk and, of course, for rock and roll, as we know Shillong being the rock capital of India. 

Meghalaya comprises three main tribes: the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo. 

Our recording journey of Meghalaya’s folk musicians commenced with the Garo tribe, focusing on the captivating “Wangala dance.” During our conversation with the group’s leader, Jingjang A Sangma, he provided us with valuable insights into the grandeur and significance of this Garo dance form.

Performed joyously on the occasion of the 100 drums Wangala festival, this festival is of immense importance for the Garos, often accompanied by a series of rituals and, of course, music and dance as a part of the celebration.

The Wangala dance holds significant meaning in the Garo culture. It serves as an expression of gratitude to the harvest god, Misi Saljong, while also issuing a challenge to potential adversaries, showcasing the valour and bravery of the Garo people. 

The Wangla dance is a spirited celebration of the harvest season. During the Wangala dance, the Garo tribe designates the “nokma” or village headman as the priest, leading the ceremonial proceedings. The men showcase their musical talents by playing the horn and lok drums, while the women gracefully form formations around the nokma, paying homage to Misi-Saljong (Sun god), the revered deity.

 Jing also mentioned that traditionally, in a few villages of West Garo Hills, offerings and rice beer are presented to the village chief, “Nokma,” before everyone embarks on a cheerful procession from house to house, exchanging wishes for a bountiful harvest. The chant of victory, “Awhowe,” resounds, met with a chorus of “awhuhu” from the participants. This vibrant cultural tradition takes place in October or November and encompasses approximately 52 different elements within the Wangala dance.

The distinctiveness of this form lies in its reliance on Garo chants and slogans rather than traditional song formats. These chants are accompanied by various instruments, including long-shaped drums (Dama), gongs, buffalo horns, and more.

Jing’s dance group members showcased vibrant and captivating costumes and accessories, adding to the overall appeal of their performance. Their attire not only represented their Garo tribal identity but also set the tone for their expressive dance. The girls skillfully portrayed meaningful actions, such as gracefully turning banana leaves, serving rice beer, and gesturing towards the moon. Meanwhile, the boys rhythmically danced alongside their drums, chanting with joyful enthusiasm, perfectly complementing their partners’ movements.

The group was adorned in colourful garments like dakmanda, daksari, or gando, accompanied by feathered headgear known as do’me. Led by Jingjang, the group consisted of one male as the warrior, three skilled boys playing the Dama (drum), three graceful girls as dancers, and two talented instrumentalists on the Rang (gong) and the Adil (wind horn) instruments. Recording their captivating performance atop a hill during sunset welcomed us into the enchanting musical world of Meghalaya. The perfect alignment of that moment, coupled with the group’s remarkable precision in their art form, left us truly impressed and in awe of their commendable talent.

The group comprised a collective of young and immensely talented performers, each radiating an artistic spirit. Witnessing their unwavering support for one another throughout the performance was truly heartening. Their shared dedication to safeguarding and promoting Garo culture across the nation left us profoundly inspired. Engaging with these performers was a delightful experience, as their youthful and infectious energy effortlessly lifted our spirits.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Pranita Baishya Medhi And Group

Singing to a bird, a Songbird herself: Kamrupi Lokgeet

A true songbird, a  household name from Assam, Pranitha Baishya Medhi’s voice is a melodious and soothing delight. She is widely recognized as a pioneer of Kamrupi lokgeet, showcasing her exceptional talent and leaving an everlasting impact on the folk music scene.

Pranitha’s Kamrupi Lok Sangeet group was a refreshing oasis on a sunny day in Guwahati, awakening our senses with its energizing and soothing melodies.

Talking Kamrupi Sangeet, it holds a significant place in the cultural fabric of Assam, specifically originating from the Kamrup region, which encompasses parts of present-day Assam and neighboring areas. The Kamrup region, historically known as Kamrupa, has been a hub of cultural and artistic activities, contributing to the diverse musical heritage of the region.

The history of Kamrupi folk music traces back to ancient times, with influences from various sources. The assimilation of tribal melodies, Vedic chants, and regional customs has shaped the unique musical landscape of the region.  

At the core of Kamrupi folk music lies a deep-rooted philosophy that celebrates the interconnectedness of nature, humans, and the divine. The songs often convey spiritual themes, portraying a harmonious relationship between individuals and their surroundings. These musical narratives serve as a medium to explore the human condition, philosophical concepts, and societal values, while also preserving cultural heritage.

The songs of Kamrupi culture also embody a remarkable specialization in the art of storytelling. Through poetic verses and melodies, the folk music tradition carries forward oral histories, mythological tales, and everyday experiences. This oral tradition has been passed down through generations, keeping the culture alive and thriving.

This folk music showcases the region’s diversity, with different subgenres representing various communities. Bihu, Goalpariya, Kamrupiya Lokgeet, and Ojapali are some of the prominent styles that highlight the cultural vibrancy and social fabric of the Kamrupi people.

One notable aspect of Kamrupi folk music is its enchanting fusion of traditional instruments, which adds a captivating flavour to the compositions. Instruments like the dhol, dotara, pepa, flute, taal, and khutitaal create a soul-stirring and distinct sound that transports listeners to another realm. 

The group members skillfully employed these instruments, evoking the vibrant essence of nature and uplifting our spirits. As the sun set, their mesmerizing melodies had a profound effect, soothing us with the richness of their voices and the harmonious interplay of their instruments.

Their first song, called “O Phuleswari” “is a heartfelt Kamrupi folk song from Assam, India, narrating the tale of a village girl named Phuleswari. 

With the lyrics that goes like –

“O Phuleswari Bukure Lagori”

(Oh Phuleswari, companion of my heart)

“Kenke jao ghuri gaonor maya ari”

(Leaving the daughter of the village behind, how can I return,?)

The song encapsulates the emotions and sentiments surrounding her departure, evoking a profound sense of longing and addressing the deep connection she shares with the protagonist. Through vivid imagery and reflections, the song portrays Phuleswari’s innocence, vulnerability, and the impact of her departure on loved ones. “Oh Phuleswari” beautifully captures the universal experience of love, longing and the lasting impact individuals leave on their communities.

While the second song is truly a heartwarming one called “O Shalki”, Shalki refers to the bird Myna. The lyrics start off with – 

O Shalki suti Salki

(Oh myna, … my little myna)

Kon dexe jabi

(Where are you flying away?)

O Aamar dexe jabi salki

(Do fly along our way oh myna,)

Aaike lag pabi

(You’ll meet my mother there.)

The song tells a heartfelt story of longing and the desire for family connections. It follows the journey of a myna bird, symbolizing a messenger, encountering various characters along the way. The lyrics evoke emotions of sadness, hope, and anticipation, capturing the ache of separation and yearning for loved ones. The song beautifully portrays the universal human experience of longing for family, belonging, and the warmth of home, emphasizing the importance of these deep bonds.

As mentioned earlier, Kamrupi songs have a unique storytelling quality, where the lyrics encapsulate a wide range of emotions and come to life with heartfelt expressions. The way these songs were delivered by the group left us completely enthralled, as their performance was an exquisite blend of emotion and melody.

In a nutshell, Pranitha’s group wove musical spells that embraced our hearts from the very first note, entwining us in their melodies until the very end. Their songs became delightful earworms, gracefully dancing in our minds and surfacing in moments of joy. 

The group had Pranitha Baishya Medhi on vocals, Kanak Medhi on the dotara (string), Rajkumar Rabidas & Nikunja Medhi on minor percussion instruments and Nikunja Pathak on the bansi (flute). Together, they created a magical soundscape that shall assuredly resonate with anyone.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Nadiram and Group

The Soulful Journey of Tiwa Music in Markang Kuchi

So far, we have had the good opportunity to meet and document the folk music of major parts of North India, and this time, the beautiful Northeast awaited us. We were to embark on a journey in search of folk music, folk wisdom and folklores of the region and were excited to start in Assam.

Assam, the gateway to the northeast as it is popularly known, truly reflects the land’s lush tea plantations, the enchanting Brahmaputra river and the vast green paddy fields in its tropical tapestry. Apart from its eye-pleasing landscapes also lies its diverse musical traditions ranging from folk to fusion to everything in between. 

On our voyage through Assam’s rich folk music, we went to a nestled village within its cocoon called “Markang Kuchi” from the Morigaon district near Guwahati. 

Little did we know that on our way from Guwahati on a slightly rainy day, we were about to be enchanted by the symphony of Assamese folk music.

We were warmly greeted by the gracious artist Nadiram Deuri, a folk musician from the Tiwa Tribe in Markang Kuchi. As we arrived, the surrounding greenery and the playful drizzle of rain set the perfect backdrop for our recording session with the village’s folk musicians.

Upon our conversation with Nadiram and his group, we learnt not only about the culture of Tiwa music but also about the determination to find a purpose for the community and the culture’s welfare. 

In the Tiwa tribe, also known as the Lalung tribe, music beats at the core, resonating through their festivals, rituals, and ceremonies, shared Nadiram. These melodies are more than just tunes; they carry the wisdom and stories of generations which are passed down orally. Through Tiwa music’s lyrics, traditions and values are passed down to the young, teaching the importance of hard work, honesty, and respect for nature. It mirrors the Tiwa people’s daily lives, reflecting their struggles, dreams, and celebrations. With each song, wisdom travels across time, connecting the past with the present.

Nadiram grew up in a musical background since his childhood, and he started pursuing music on his own. The music of his tribe always intrigued him, and the result of that is the heritage of the Tiwa tribe that we see today. From writing songs, articles and books on the Tiwa tribe to teaching various Tiwa art forms, Nadiram became the first artist to create the first-ever cassette recording of Tiwa songs.

As the group were dressed in their traditional attire, Nadiram also told us about the attire they were wearing when performing.

The men wear Paghuri around their heads, Thagla as a jacket, Pagha around their necks, Thana as the lower and Nara as the waist tie-around.

They performed a song called “Langkhôn ”, to which the “Langkhôn Misawa” (Langkhon Dance) is performed for the “Langkhon Phuja” festival. Observed in the Ahin and Kati seasons (October-November), this song is a heartfelt prayer of farmers for a successful harvest.  Accompanied by the rhythmic beats of bamboo stamps of Bijuli Bamboo named “Langkhon”, the dance symbolizes their hopes for a fruitful yield. Rooted in the agricultural practices of the Hill Tiwas, the Langkhon Puja festival centres around worshipping rituals devoted to appeasing the Ramcha God and Mother Bijuli. It is widely recognized as the ‘Langkhon Puja’ due to the prominence of Langkhons in this festive dance.

The second song, “Borot,” depicts the narrative of Khunguri, a virgin girl who fasts for the duration of the festival. This song is also known as Usha Barat. The main Barat festival is held on the full moon night in Magh Mah (December-January). Three hundred earthen chakis (oil lamps) are lit during this celebration, and young groups of boys and ladies sing the happy Godalboria hymn. This Puja is a kind of worship dedicated to the purity of a virgin.

With instruments in hand, the talented musicians of the group delighted us with snippets of their craft. United by a shared passion, they worked together to preserve and promote Tiwa culture, guided by Nadiram ji, their Guru. Accompanied by Mukunda Teron, 71, on the soothing Bansuri  &  Phêmba (Assamese wind instruments), Arun Chandra Patar, 38, on the beats of the Khrám (Assamese drum), Manjumoni Konwar, 38, on the vocals, the rhythmic songs of Tiwa tribe all composed by Nadiram Deuri were weaved together beautifully. 

Nadiram ji, a true artist at heart, aimed to empower his musicians to achieve recognition and acclaim, not just locally but on a larger scale. His dream was for folk artists to embrace their traditions and find stability through their art, inspiring others to follow suit and keeping the flame of folk music burning bright.

A whole new culture greets us wherever we go, and that day was no exception. The musicians were all decked up in their vibrant costumes, ready to enchant us with their seasoned melodies, presented with such humility and grace. 

They were gracious enough to share their tales with us, even down to the traditional clothing, festivals, and ideals they hold dear. They were with us, present in the moment from camera rolling to action to cut. 

Isn’t this what we learn from the beginning? To smile through it all, to make others feel attuned to our culture or music, and to share what we can with our fellow travellers on our voyage. As passengers on this musical train in Markang Kuchi, we witnessed their musical diversity and tradition. 

They came, they smiled, they performed, they smiled again, and they left us all feeling grateful to have met them.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Manik and Group

Embracing Karbi Culture through Dance and Music

The Karbi tribe, also known as Mikir, has etched a mark on the northeastern state of Assam for centuries. As we ventured deeper into the cultural tapestry of Assam, our journey led us to Mikirkuchi, of Morigaon district, to document the folk music of the Karbi tribe.

Upon reaching the location, the doors to Karbi tribe’s culture were opened by Manik Teron, a folk musician and teacher from the region. It seemed as though Manik and his group eagerly awaited our presence, inviting us to witness the essence of their folk forms. The space exudes warmth, with the team dressed in vibrant traditional attires and beaming smiles. It felt like coming home.

Manik’s musical journey began in his childhood, immersed in the vibrant world of folk music that surrounded him. He has honed his skills in playing an array of instruments, particularly the traditional wind instruments of Assam like Bansuri, Phempa, and Morit. His ability to play other instruments and also sing as a vocalist further showcase his versatility as an artist. Music runs deep in Manik’s family, where despite their occupation as farmers, they share a profound love for folk music. Furthermore, he takes the tradition of Karbi music forward by teaching it to youngsters and adults alike.

Karbi music embodies a profound philosophy, connecting with the divine, celebrating seasons, harmonizing with nature, and reflecting life’s values. “Botor Kekur” requests divine rain for crops, while Rongker expresses gratitude and seeks protection from harm. These examples illustrate how Karbi songs intertwine spirituality, seasonal festivities, and a deep reverence for the natural world.

When we inquired about the uniqueness of Karbi music, Manik, with his distinctive Assamese-Hindi accent, eloquently expressed, “Jab bacha paida ho, toh ham karbi logo ke paas ek gana hai, jab shaadi ho toh bhi gana hai, aadmi ke janam se lekar maran har avsar ke gane hai .” Translated as, “From the moment a child is born to the final moments of one’s life, every event, whether grand or humble, is accompanied by a song in the lives of the Karbi people.” With this simple yet profound statement, Manik encapsulated the essence of Karbi music.

It is important to note that the music of the Karbi tribe is inseparable from its dance. Like two sides of a coin, Karbi music and dance are intricately intertwined, with the rhythm and melody harmoniously complementing the movements of the dancers and the music of the musicians.

As the sun began to set, the artists’ enthusiasm soared, prepared to enthral us with their performances. Manik led the group of young dancers and musicians. With his flute and phempa, complemented by the vibrant beats of the Kham, taal & dhol and the melodic vocals of his fellow musicians, he skillfully guided us through two lively and rhythmic dance forms, filling the air with joy and rhythm.

Their song featuring “Lalilang” is a vital part of folk dance performed by tribes like Karbi, Bodo, Tiwa, and Koch in Dimoria, Assam. These songs, characterized by their sexual appeal, are akin to Bihu songs for their tribes and are often sung during the Uruka celebration of Magh Bihu. They accompany the fishing activities on lakes like Parkhali Beel and Bomani Beel, where the Dimoria people worship the “Bow” deity before fishing. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by the rhythmic beats of Dhol, pepa, and tal, creating a sense of mutual love and togetherness.

 One of the most enchanting moments was witnessing the young dancers, dressed in their traditional attire, gracefully swaying to the folk beats. Forming circles, both girls and boys moved rhythmically. Accompanied by the melodic verses of their song, the dancers exuded the spirit of celebration and abundance.

It was uplifting to witness young individuals joining the folk group, learning traditional dance forms and becoming torchbearers to preserve these artforms from fading away.

Manik Teron and the young performers demonstrated the resilience and beauty of indigenous cultures. Their dedication and passion showcased the importance of passing down traditions to keep them alive.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Jutimala and The Tai Folks

Of Unity, Love & Brotherhood – Tai Ahom

On our first day of documentation in Guwahati, we excitedly met with the talented group Jutimala and the Tai folks, ready to immerse ourselves in their performance. However, nature had a different plan, as the heavens opened up with a torrential downpour, forcing the set-up to be swiftly packed away. 

 Nevertheless, as our journey in Assam came to a close ten days later, we were fortunate to reconnect with Jutimala and the Tai folks on our last day, giving us a chance to experience their music and complete our documentation with their inspiring artistry. Leading to our time spent exploring the cultural richness of the Tai Ahom community.

Upon our conversation with Jutimala and the team, they shared that The Tai Ahom community of Assam possesses a culture that is on the brink of extinction. Their language, once vibrant and filled with wisdom, now faces the harsh reality of fading away. Sukaphaa, also originally known as Siukapha (Siu-Ka-Pha), was an illustrious figure, the founder of the Ahom kingdom and is considered the architect of Assam. All the Tai Ahom people revere him as the first leader who formed the Ahom community in the northeast region.

Jutimala shared that the Tai Ahom community worships their gods in nature and its elements, engaging in rituals like “Medam me phi ” on January 31st and celebrating the “Banfi” festival throughout the year. Jutimala believes that their language, written script, seasonal festivals, and ancient traditions are at risk of extinction and deserve protection and revival. With a history of 600 years under the rule of a visionary king, the Tai Ahom community has initiated revival efforts to reunite tribes and preserve their cultural heritage. Jyutimala’s advocacy aims to bring attention and respect to the overlooked traditions of the Tai Ahom community.

Listening to the music of Tai Ahom was truly an ethereal experience, with vocals and instruments that could only be described as divine. It felt as though we were transported to a realm where we discovered the inherent beauty of this age-old musical tradition.

Jutimala’s team mesmerized us with their rendition of two ancient songs from the Tai Ahom compilation. Her enchanting voice, accompanied by her talented group members, brought these songs to life.

Their first song, “Lai Lung Kham” was started by prayer as a sign of respect for their forest deity as it goes – 

“Chao fura chao tara

 Fura tara along sikia rani pan Boi mou 

Chao kao oi”

This song expresses that The Tai Ahom community holds a deep reverence for nature and worships the forest deity, “Pu Phi Su.” Their devotional song, “Lai Lung Kham,” is a result of the revival of the Tai Ahom language and culture by Damchao Junaram Changbun Phukan and Manchao Noben Mohan. This captivating composition serves as a prayer to the forest god, expressing the profound belief in the inseparable connection between music and nature. It beautifully captures the essence and origin of music, drawing inspiration from the symphony of the forest itself. 

The second song was The Tai Ahom Anthem, “Mo kham phan tai Moung”, which is all about love, unity and peace. 

 Their first king of Tai Ahom Chaolung Siukapha and his descendants united all the tribes and communities of Northeast India and created Bor Axom. This song is sung as a sign of brotherhood and sisterhood within the Tai Ahom community.

Some parts of the lyrics convey the following –

Rao Jin si hit daini 

(We are pacifists.)

 Rao Jen pin ou daini 

(We are artists. )

Jin si rang Roy Rao mai yam

( Our national flag represents peace. )

Jutimala Buragohain backed both of these songs on the vocals, gong and taal; on the Gong and percussion was Shantanu Gogoi, on the Pin nong Tau (Hulusi), Flute & Khim (string)  was Bhaskar Jyoti Konwar, and on the Traditional klong drum was  Akash Jyoti Das. 

The synergy of their presence of mind, heart, and music created a flawless fusion of melody, harmony, and rhythm. It wasn’t just the music itself that achieved perfect balance; our receptive spirits were fortunate to hear and immerse in the melodies of the Tai Ahom tribe.

As we listen to an artist’s music or have the privilege of meeting them, an overwhelming desire emerges to shower them with good wishes. This sentiment holds true for Jutimala and the Tai folks, whose remarkable work for their art and community deserves nothing less. As you read these words, let us collectively extend our heartfelt wishes to the team, wishing them the best of community culture and creativity.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Hafeza Begum Chowdhary and Group

Of Faith and Fidelity: Zikir and Zari music of Assam

If you appreciate Sufi music, then you’ll be compelled by the soulful folk genre of Zikir and Zari. Hafeza Begum Chowdhury deserves our heartfelt gratitude for gracefully introducing us to this genre of music. As a trailblazer in the Zikir Zari art form, she has elevated its stature through her dedication. It’s remarkable to discover that Assam, a world within itself, harbours such a splendid array of musical genres. From tribal melodies to the nurturing embrace of Zikir and Zari, the music from this region truly inspires and enriches our souls.

Zikir, derived from the Arabic term “Ziqr,” embodies the act of singing or recalling Allah’s name through spiritual chants and deep remembrance.

Upon asking about this folk form, Hafeza Bgeum shared that, During the 17th century, the songs of Zikir and Zari gained prominence, primarily attributed to the Sufi saint and poet Hazrat Shah Miran, also known as Ajan Fakir. Ajan Fakir, originally from Baghdad, arrived in Assam and settled in Suwaguri Sapori, near present-day Sibsagar town in northeastern India. Accompanying him on this journey was his brother, Shah Navi. Legend has it that Ajan Fakir earned the name “Ajan Fakir ” or “Ajan Pir” for introducing the recitation of “Azan” as a vital aspect of Muslim rituals among the Assamese Muslim community.

Hafeza further shared the profound philosophy underlying Zikir and Zari Sangeet, highlighting its three fundamental aspects: Namaz (Islamic prayers), Kulima (recitation of holy scriptures), and Rujha Haj Zakhat (pilgrimage and acts of charity during the holy month of Ramadan). The essence of these songs outlines and reflects the life of Hazrat Shah Miran, known as Ajan Fakir, as well as compositions centred around devotion, everyday life and spirituality. The Zari songs, with their poignant melodies, carry the weight of burial hymns, resonating with the tales of Karbala’s tragic event of Hassan, and Hussain (Islamic figures of Shia Islam). They find their solemn place during the sacred month of Muharram, their lyrics serving as reflections of societal injustices.

Ajan Pir, a visionary poet, took up his pen to craft these songs as tukari geet, weaving them with the essence of pure Assamese language. His aim was to ensure that the common folk could grasp their messages. With a touch of simplicity, he artfully conveyed the fundamental principles of Islam, safeguarding its religious doctrines within these songs.

Hafeza Begum’s group, consisting of seven members, showcased their folk form during the performance. In the traditional Zikir Zari style, they utilized instruments like the dotara (stringed instrument), ektara (one-stringed instrument), flute (wind instrument), and minor percussion to create a vibrant musical experience. One intriguing aspect of this folk form is the participation of women, with one taking the lead as the vocalist while the others provide harmonious backing vocals. Additionally, the women contribute to the music through rhythmic clapping, a vital element of every performance.

In their performances, the women grace the stage dressed in white, traditionally adorning the quintessential Assamese saree known as “Mekhela Chador.” As a symbol of reverence, they elegantly cover their heads with a white veil. Similarly, the men demonstrate respect by wearing the cap called “Taqiyah” on their heads throughout the performance. This attention to attire and adornment adds a touch of cultural authenticity and reverence to the mesmerizing display of Zikir and Zari Sangeet.

Hafeza Begum’s group had us completely charmed as they started performing, presenting themselves with utmost grace and purity. Dressed in bright white traditional garments, their presence against the backdrop of lush greenery created a visually mesmerizing scene. The soulful melodies of the Sufi genre added an extra layer of beauty, making their performance truly stand out and visually appealing.

Zikir and Zari songs were preserved and perpetuated by both Ajan Peer and his disciples, who served as the dedicated custodians of these musical traditions.

Unlike written compositions, these songs did not exist in documented form. Instead, they were shared and disseminated like other folk songs. Due to their oral nature, the transmission of these songs relied solely on the spoken word, allowing them to be passed down through generations.

Hafeza Begum Chowdhury, as the lead vocalist, was accompanied by Tasrin Ara Rohman and Sayeda Saikia on the backup vocals. On the flute was Harekrishna Talukdar, and the dotara was Tikendrajit Bharali and Nikunja Medhi; on the ektara warmed us all with their delightful performances; interacting and hearing their stories was even more heartwarming and behind their profiles were true artists who wanted to create a difference through their art and keep it going for as long as possible. 

Despite their diverse backgrounds and personal goals, these musicians are bound together by their music. When they perform, they unite as one, and their music has the power to unite the listeners as well.  In those moments, boundaries dissolve, and a sense of unity emerges, connecting the performers and their audience in a profound way.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Meva Sapera And Group

Carrying forward the legacy of Bhavai Dance, a Symphony of Colors and Culture

Rajasthan’s folk can never be glimpsed through one glance. Like a book, it unfolds its diversity in every page and every turn. There is music, there is dance, there is arts & culture and, all well cooked together to serve anyone with delightful heritage and awe. 

Today, we were documenting two beautiful folk forms Kalbeliya and Bhawai. 

The Kalbeliya and Bhawai both echo distinct yet ethereal tunes, one that can charm the listeners. The essence of Kalbelia on one hand, represents the coexistence of culture with that of animals, especially the snake. While the Bhawai on another, showcases the poetry of songs of water. Bhawai refers to a pitcher and often in Rajasthan songs of water or “Panihaari songs” are sung in connection to the water. 

Our recording sessions featured the talented Mewa Sapera & group, whose warm spirits and heartfelt performances left a lasting impression. With songs like the renowned “Kalyo kud padyo” and “Bheeti mharo sone ki hoti,” their graceful swirls and twirls, reminiscent of serpentine movements, along with acrobatic feats in their costumes, stirred a range of emotions.

On another note, Poonam Sapera, Mewa Sapera’s daughter showcased exceptional balancing skills during her Bhawai performance, gracefully carrying pitchers on her head while executing precise moves. Balancing on the rim of glasses with their feet and pitchers on top is no small feat, but they executed it effortlessly.

What’s intriguing is that many of Rajasthan’s musical dance forms incorporate elements of acrobatics, demanding immense focus and determination. Women, in particular, shine on these stages, seeming as though they were born for them.

In the realm of Rajasthan’s culture, music and dance are intricately intertwined, akin to two facets of a precious coin. They not only complement each other but also boast a resplendent and regal heritage. 

As the folk music fills the air, it breathes life into the dancers, who, in turn, animate the audience. This synergy creates a captivating cycle where everyone converges into a shared moment, transforming it into a cherished memory.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Bijaya Bora Group

Borgeet – A Melodic Journey through Assam’s Spiritual Musical Heritage”

 

With the sun setting down, we saw the arrival of another folk form that we were to shoot in Guwahati. This group particularly performed Borgeet, a devotional folk form of Assam.

Presented by Bijaya Bora and the group, the group has been performing Borgeet form of music for years now.

Borgeet is an enchanting form of devotional music that holds a significant place in the cultural tapestry of Assam. Rooted in ancient traditions, Borgeet has been an integral part of Assamese religious and cultural practices for centuries. This unique musical genre blends soul-stirring melodies with profound spiritual themes, compelling listeners with its allure.

The origins of Borgeet can be traced back to the 15th century when the great Assamese saint, social reformer, and poet Srimanta Sankardev founded the neo-Vaishnavite movement known as Ekasarana Dharma. It was during this period that Borgeet emerged as a form of devotional expression, aiming to disseminate spiritual teachings through music. Sankardev and his disciple, Madhavdev, played instrumental roles in shaping and popularizing Borgeet, infusing it with elements of devotion, righteousness, and social harmony. The language used by them for all their Borgeets is believed to be Brajavali, which can be described as an amalgamation of Maithili and Assamese, resulting in an artificial linguistic blend.

Talking about its musical structure, Borgeets draw their musical inspiration from ragas, as explicitly stated, while raginis, the female counterparts of ragas, are notably absent in their compositions. The presence of rhythm (tala) in Borgeets, however, is not specified, and these devotional songs can be performed without adhering to a particular rhythmic structure.

Borgeet compositions primarily revolve around the praise and adoration of Lord Krishna and other deities of the Vaishnavite tradition. The lyrics depict various aspects of Krishna’s life, including his childhood antics, divine love, and his divine incarnations. Alongside devotional themes, Borgeet also encompasses narratives from great Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, incorporating moral lessons and spiritual teachings into its lyrical foundation.

Bijaya Bora’s group performed two eccentric songs from the collection of age-old Borgeet composed by Srimath Shankardev.

Both of their songs depict Sri Shankardev, a 16th-century scholar and saint, singing to the lord about earthly problems.

Both the songs eloquently explore the intricacies of human nature, delving into the elemental traits of Kam (lust), Krodh (anger), Madh (intoxication), Lobh (greed), Moh (attachment), and Ahankar (false pride). These traits, representing worldly desires, often lead individuals astray, distancing them from their spiritual connection with the divine.

Furthermore, the song poignantly portrays the narrator’s plea to the Almighty, beseeching for guidance and a path to transcend the entrapment of these materialistic desires. It reflects the universal struggle faced by humans in their earthly existence, where they find themselves entangled in the pursuit of fleeting pleasures and distractions. The yearning to break free from these shackles and attain a higher spiritual realm resonates deeply within the lyrics, expressing a heartfelt longing for enlightenment and liberation.

Bijaya Bora’s group performed these two songs by Srimanth Shankardev, which, through their music and melody, teach all listeners to reflect and understand the true essence of being born as a human. They teach us the qualities of being connected to the almighty and giving up excess materialistic desires.

With Bijaya Bora on vocals, the group was accompanied by fellow musicians Rajkumar Rabidas, Numal Rabidas, Jogen Basumatary, Taranga Kashyap, Lekha Rani Bora, Chandamita Borah in their Borgeet showcase.

All of these artists, humble and down to earth, performed and brought forth their culture before us and harmoniously held their ground while performing.

Borgeet is a form that requires major vocal emphasis, as the singers really need to get the complexities strong. The Borgeet group of Bijaya Bora gracefully presented themselves from start to finish.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Da Thymmei Performing Arts

Hoi Kiw – The Call of Khasi 

In the heart of Meghalaya, the music flows like year-long rains, awaiting its time to embrace the people. Inspired by the natural beauty that surrounds them, the melodies of Meghalaya’s music mirror their everyday lives, their heritage and history.  

One of the captivating discoveries we made in Meghalaya was the paramount significance bestowed upon its music. The people of Meghalaya possess a profound familiarity with their tribal music and cultural heritage. Many individuals further deepen their understanding of music by pursuing formal studies through various courses provided by institutions. This dedication and reverence towards music are integral to the fabric of Meghalaya’s cultural identity, making it a truly remarkable and enriching experience.

Immersed in the enchanting world of Khasi music, we were greeted by the strings of the “Duitara,”(string instrument), the melody of the vocals entwined with the rhythms of “Ka shynrang”(percussion) and “Ka bom” (drum). The group Da-thymmei warmed all of us with their uplifting music.

“Da-thymmei” which means “from the roots” is indigenous to the Khasi and Jaintia tribes. The group led by Daijed Sing Kharkongor aims to “Preserve folk culture and defend dignity.” The group laid before us a mesmerizing performance, the tunes and words of which are etched in our minds & hearts even today.

As the documentation began, the group started with the song “Ka shad ka kmen,” where the chorus of “Hoi Kiw” effortlessly uplifted our spirits. This heartfelt song pays homage to the Khasis of Meghalaya, painting a vivid picture of their culture, traditional instruments, their vibrant clothing and so on. It has truly become a Khasi anthem that leaves a lasting impact, as the chorus finds its way into the hearts and minds of listeners, lingering for days to come.

In their second song, “Thawlang ïawbei,” the group pays heartfelt tribute to their ancestors, expressing gratitude for their wisdom and protection of the tribe’s interests. Listening to this piece was a surreal experience, as its musicality and structure swept us into deep reflection, even though we weren’t familiar with the language. Such is the power of music – it transcends barriers, evokes emotions, and bestows upon us the precious gift of listening and feeling.

Daijed, the leader of the group shared that, Khasi being one of the most prominent tribes of Meghalaya, their culture is synonymous with that of nature.  Khasi musicians draw inspiration from the melodies carried by the rustling leaves, the melodious calls of birds, and the gentle murmur of rivers and the trees that stand tall within the sacred forests. They also embrace the profound wisdom inherited from their ancestors. Rooted in the knowledge passed down through generations, their music reflects the rich societal fabric, the philosophy of life, and the significance of events like Thanksgiving, harvests, and changing seasons.

Their group Da-Thymmei emerges as true leads in reviving the vibrant folk music culture of the Khasi community, skillfully blending traditional ensembles with contemporary fusion elements. As a versatile performing arts group, they encompass the realms of Music, Dance, and Theatre, showcasing the diverse facets of their rich heritage. Each artist within the group possesses exceptional skills in their respective disciplines, united by a collective mission to safeguard and preserve their revered cultural traditions for generations to come.

As the group prepared for their performance, we witnessed a beautiful ritual led by Daijed. With utmost care, he wrapped the silk turban known as “Jainspong” around each member’s head, symbolizing unity and respect. The group donned traditional attire, including the elegant “Paila” necklace, a sleeveless jacket adorned with motifs known as “Jymphong,” and the graceful dhoti called “Jainboh.” The female group member looked beautiful in the “Jainsem,”(Traditional clothing for women) completing their ensemble. Their attire not only reflected their cultural heritage but also added an enchanting touch to the entire performance. 

Our initial introduction to Khasi music began with this incredible group, recording their soulful folk songs. It was a wonderful experience as they played with absolute ease and precision, transporting us effortlessly along with Meghalaya’s gentle breeze. We found ourselves captivated by their melodies, swaying to the rhythm of their music. It was a truly lovely encounter that left a lasting impression, inviting us to embrace the world of music in Meghalaya.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Banshailang Mukhim Group

Born to be Musicians!

Bravo to Mr. Banshailang Mukhim for effortlessly embracing numerous roles in the musical realm. A true Duitara wizard, let’s dub him as such, Banshailang’s ensemble possesses the ability to elevate the music, lending more essence to its performance.

As our time in Meghalaya drew to a close, we met with the talented musicians of “Shlem”
Institute of Music in Smit village, led by Mr.Banshailang. The name “Shlem,” which translates to “home” in Khasi, is a perfect embodiment of the institute. Within its welcoming walls, every artist feels a sense of belonging as they embark on their musical journey, making it a true home for their passion and growth.

Amidst weather-induced delays and location quests, we were treated to a cherished experience of immersing ourselves in Banshailang’s understanding of Khasi folk forms and being inspired by his musical journey.

Upon asking what is the speciality of Khasi music in terms of its structure,
Banshailang shared that Khasi culture possesses its own unique structure of rhythms (taalas) known as “skits,” with three particularly popular ones. In addition, there are rhythm cycles that are exclusively performed during rituals, such as the Nongkrem autumn festival, which is a time of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest while paying homage to the deities.

He also shared that the Khasi people have a deep connection between music and their rituals, as well as their everyday lives. Music serves as a medium that not only maintains their connection with nature but also acts as a reminder of its origins, as music is believed to have originated from nature itself. Within Khasi culture, songs are predominantly sung to express reverence and gratitude towards all-natural elements.

The Khasi people hold a strong sense of love and pride for their tribes, which is reflected in many of their songs that highlight the community, its people, and the surrounding nature.

At the Shlem Institute, many students flock to learn the intricacies of Khasi folk music. Each student within the institute possesses remarkable talent, whether as a skilled singer or instrumentalist, showcasing musicianship in their performances. Notably, their performances are further heightened by the interplay and playful camaraderie between the musicians. This joyful interaction reflects their deep dedication to their passion for performing, creating an impact as their music is straight from the heart. Under the nurturing umbrella of the Shlem Institute, it is evident that every individual is cultivating a spirited and vibrant performer within them.

During their first performance that day, they shared an exquisite composition called “Shyrta,” derived from the Khasi language, meaning “For the rest of the life.” The song was composed by Banshailang Mukhim. This enchanting instrumental piece featured the melodious tones of the Khasi instrument ka duitara, accompanied by the harmonious sounds of ka Bom, ka ksing shynrang, and ka kynshaw. Through this musical masterpiece, they conveyed the sheer joy and a heartfelt longing to preserve the experience of love and happiness throughout their lives.
This instrumental piece is a treat for the ears, showcasing the intricate craftsmanship of each instrumentalist, woven together into a harmonious and rhythmic composition.

Their second song, “Ka por” stands for time. “Por” (Time) is a song delving into the concept of time’s impact on our lives. It skillfully expresses the fleeting nature of time, urging us to embrace the present and shape a better future. The lyrics evoke nostalgia for lost moments and highlight time’s regal influence.The song reflects on the cyclical and irreversible nature of time, encouraging us to learn from the past and create a brighter future. Despite challenges, it urges us to pave the way for progress. Ultimately, “POR” invites contemplation on time’s essence, inspiring us to cherish life’s precious moments. 

Both of these songs, the song performers, the sound of instruments and the melodious vocals set the stage for a perfect end to our days in Meghalaya. Being in Meghalaya became all the more special only and only because of the people we encountered during our time there. And we’re proud to say that our encounter was with the storytellers who sing the truth they’ve learnt, that they’ve lived and that which they want to share with the world and beyond. 

They say, that sometimes people choose music, but so to say, it is also true that sometimes music chooses people, so it can flow through someone’s melodious note, a rhythmic beat, a soothing string or even a breath of air. Music is in the air, and everywhere. Are you listening?

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)