By Madhusree Chatterjee
The indigenous culture of the ethnic people has borne the fire of Maoist insurgency in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Millennia-old traditions of performances and music built around their totemic religions — have been lost in the rubble of widespread devastation of ethnic settlements — and living cultures — in the last two decades with Maoist incursions, invasive political ideologies and the ensuing violence between the guerrillas and the administration.
Caught in the crosshairs are the villagers — the carriers of indigenous cultures, most of which was handed down the generations by word of mouth without documented repertoires. The performers played by rote and the villagers claim that the songs, dances and lores were inscribed in their collective memory till the guerrillas swamped the lush terrain. Veteran folk theatre activist and revivalist Anoop Kumar Pandey has been trying to retrieve the lost cultural signatures of the Bastar tribals for the last 25 years. The journey took him through the heart of the tribal bastions — from Raipur to Dantewada and from Narayanpur to Kondagaon and Rajnandgaon— remote ethnic outposts where he discovered the music of the land.
“It was in course of my journey 25 years ago that I heard the linga gatha — the songs of the tribal god of music,” Pandey told this writer. The legacy of Linga Deva was in peril because “the generation next of the ethnic communities had no memory of the music, except for few elders from the performing communities”. “I decided to revive the music and the cultures that grew around the genre,” Pandey said.
The deity has 18 instruments which accompany the music. These instruments are cited in the folklores connected to Linga Dev — in the ethnic historical texts of Chhattisgarh. Linga Dev, a deity of the Muria tribals of Chhattisgarh, is appeased by the ethnic people with dance and music. The Muria (as also the Muria Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh and Bastar)- a sub-sect of the Gond tribals of Bastar, is a progressive community who believe in music and dances as scared rites of passage at weddings and religious festivals— where boys and girls mingle in the spirit of freedom. Ethnomusicology scholar Walter Kaufmann says the “dhol” – drum- is central to the music of the Linga Dev of the Muria tribals. The Muria Gond “dhol” produces a sound that is low, indistinct and booming. Descriptions of the various instruments are found in documented narratives Linga Patha and Linga Pen – each song is accompanied by the story of its origin.
The instruments include Madiya dhol, tirduggi, akum, tori, torum, mohir, dev mohor, nagura, turburi, dhurva dhol, dandaar dhol, goti baja, munda baja, rambaja, dhankul baja and several other instruments — a collection of drums and horns.
A large portion of Pandey’s collection of 110 rare ethnic Chhattisgarhi instrument is made of percussion tools — the long dhol slung around the shoulders horizontally, the semi circular stationary “dhol”, small “dhol” and “rattan paddy winnower” placed on earthenware jars that woman beat to a rhythm to produce a sound akin to the western drum sets. To reconnect the local youth to the traditional music, Pandey formed the Bastar Band 10 years ago. The 125-member ensemble plays at least 50 ancient instruments and sings from its repertoire of 150 songs across the state – and all over the country.
Pandey, an exponent of the “Naacha” tradition of dance-drama, is one of the performers — he plays the Charhe, a bamboo instrument which he learnt to play from the members of his troupe. At the 16th Bharat Rang Mahotsav — the annual festival of theatre at the National School of Drama, the band performed for an hour in open air with 23 members representing almost every ethnic community of the state like the Muria, Dandamee, Dhurva, Munda, Marhas, Gadbas, Bhatras, Lothra, Parja, Mirgin and Halba.
The band is an attempt to create a kindred communal mosaic – based on the philosophy of “friendship” that the ethnic communites propound as the essence of their social life in tribal regions like Chhattisgarh and Chhotanagpur. “The band members are separated by distances as great as 300 to 400 km, but they assemble to practice in places as remote as Dantewada, Kondagaon and Raipur before performances,” Pandey said. The distance and the milieu of violence – the threat of Maoist violence — make communication more difficult. “They speak different languages and practice different livelihoods— but the spirit of camaraderie and the zeal to keep alive disappearing traditions keep the ban together,” Pandey said.
The members of the Muria tribe, who know the Linga Dev anthems, teach members of other tribes — “they learn from each other,” Pandey sad. Word of mouth helps Pandey locate “old performers with music in the villages”— whom the band tracks down to collect the music.
“The gatha of Linga Dev is a combination of paramapara (generational knowledge) and learning. Some of the members of the band belong to families of professional musicians while others are bell metal carvers, herbal healers and farmers. Music keeps them busy during the non-harvesting seasons,” the music researcher said.
The revival project a slogan for peace. “There are more guns than dhol (percussion) in Chhattisgarh. We want to preach non-violence with the dhol. The songs do not narrate tales of war — the ethnic music of the region addresses human beings — their joys, sorrows, religion and every day battle for survival in the forest. Peace is at the heart of the band’s music,” Pandey said.