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)