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Bastar Band

By GovernanceToday
In Art & Culture
January 5, 2016

Spreading message of non-violence with ‘dhol’


Bastar band, a musical group, uses folk performing art

Whenever there is talk of Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, the first impression that comes to our mind is the fire of Maoist insurgency that often comes in news. Then comes the picture that this part of the country is also a land of natural resources. Unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the poorest districts of the country, thanks to the massive neglect of the tribal populace by successive governments for whom the region was never an attraction. However, caught between the ethnic way of life and the trappings of what the world deems “development”, the tribal population is making every effort to protect their cultural roots. One such attempt is the formation of the “Bastar Band,” a musical ensemble engaged for the salvage and spread of Chhattisgarh performing art forms and music for over a decade. The group is working under extremely adverse contemporary scenario of this region, an area which is receiving bullets all over, and is wounded with the violence which has made the general life conditions extremely miserable.

The band, which is spreading the message of love, peace, and brotherhood among the people, was formed by Anup Ranjan Pandey, a theatre artist, with the support of local tribal youth and others to protect traditional tribal music and instruments from extinction. All instruments, clothes and other stuffs used in the band are made by the local tribals themselves, without any machines. Many team members of this musical troupe are illiterate and belong to the remote villages of the region. Majority of them kept their legs outside their villages first time in the life when they travelled for performance, and also saw trains for the first time in their lives.

Says Pandey, “I have myself seen Bastar turning into an extremely disturbed area from a heaven, which became a turning point in my life. The deterioration of peace and erosion in the performing art traditions incited me to work for their salvage and this catalyzed the foundation of Bastar Band.” The band has artists from Muria, Dandami Maria, Dhurwa, Bhatra, Dorla, Munda and Halba tribes of the region. According to Pandey, each tribe has its own history, social and religious customs and a distinct musical tradition and dance form, which he is trying to showcase for the benefit of urban folks in India. Dance is an important part of tribal culture in Bastar district. There are various forms of tribal dances in Bastar, which include Saila, Suva and Karma dance. All the folk dances involve complex footwork and are characterised by the robustness and earthiness. The band also has artists from Mahra, Ganda, Mirgan and Ahir communities.

To organize this band, Pandey travelled to different corners of the area in adverse situation and convinced the artists about the aim of the band. He says that the credit goes to members of the band who believed in him and joined the group in extremely difficult and violence ridden conditions. The objective of the band is Banduk chhodo-Dhol pakdo (throw guns and hold drums) because gun destroys whereas drum expands the life. According to band members, risk is there in any work, so if the risk is related to a good cause like, using music for social therapy, the risk must be accepted, and the group has done precisely that. While some members of the band belong to families of professional musicians, others are bell metal carvers, herbal healers and farmers. Music keeps them busy during the non-harvesting seasons.

The participants usually wear scintillatingly colourful costumes, ornaments and headgear, which form the most important characteristic of the tribal dances. To add more charm to already colourful dance performances, ghungroos and tiny tinkling bells are tied to body, which create a heart-warming musical sounds making the environment livelier.

It, in fact, took over two decades for Pandey to form this group. He spent all those years in collecting the musical instruments which the tribal people have used for ages and protect and preserve them for the posterity. 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. Pursuing his humblest research, the revivalist has been trying even now to retrieve some of the lost cultural signatures of the Bastar tribals.

Sharing one of his experiences, Pandey recalls, “It was in course of my journey 26 years ago that I heard the lingagatha, the songs of the tribal god of music. 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. So, I decided to revive the music and the cultures that grew around the genre.”

A major part of Pandey’s collection of 110 rare ethnic Chhattisgarhi instruments 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. 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, who has performed as a lead actor at world famous “Hey Market” Theatre Leicester (England), and Tramway Theatre Glasgow (Scotland) with famous play director Habib Tanveer, himself is an exponent of the “Naacha” tradition of dance-drama. He is one of the performers and plays the Charhe, a bamboo instrument which he learnt to play from the members of his troupe. The theatre artist, who has performed internationally, has been bestowed with a number of awards such as, Chhattisgarh Bhushan Samman and Chhattisgarh Diwas Samman for giving a new life to the dying art of the state.

The presentation of Bastar Band has been widely acclaimed throughout the country. It has given performance in all corners of the country as well as in front of dignitaries such as, President of India, Governor and Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, to name a few. Its performance at 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi was awe-inspiring.

The band has coined a slogan for peace. “There are more guns than dhol (percussion) in Chhattisgarh. We want to preach non-violence with the dhol, as peace is at the heart of the band’s music,” says the folk theatre activist.