Tagged the 21st century State – Chhattisgarh, located in central India and covers an area of 135,190 km2. Primarily a rural State it is home to the Gond, Halba, Kamar/Bujia, Oraon, Uranv, Kanver, Baiga, Korva, Pando, Birhi, Binjhwar tribes and more. This interesting social composition gives the State a unique backdrop in the nourishing time honed culture and customs. Anthropogenic evidences found in caves and rocks date the history of Chhattisgarh to many thousands of years back and mythology points towards roots in the epochal Ramayana and Mahabharata – however, contemporary history is marked by the Ashokan stone inscription of 257 BC at Rupnath, north of Jabalpur.
The songs of the land
The land of Chhattisgarh has much to offer for those keen to learn and understand the solidarity of this preserved heritage and its very vibrant music. The State marks festivals on occasions such as Navakhani, Ganga Dushhara, Sarhul Chherka, Dushara, Karma, Kartika and Hareli, where celebrations reach a crescendo with myriad dance forms and folk songs brightening the night and day skies. Prominent among the songs sung by the tribes are the Sohar – expressing the happiness of a new baby’s arrival; and the Bihav and Pathoni songs which are festive and poignant – in celebration of a new bond, as well as in melancholy about the new bride’s departure from her paternal home, gouna. Bihav songs such as Chulmati, Telmati, Maymouri, Nahdouri, Parghani, Bhadoni are famous and have been adapted into many modern day songs. Chhattisgarhi song renditions in various festivals include the Cher-Chera songs sung to usher in the new crop season, specially sung during Navakhani held in celebration of the new crop. It is also interesting to note that regional folk songs are inevitably linked with mythology, for e.g. the Goura songs rendered during the worship of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Other important recitals include the Mata Seva, Janvara, Bhojali, Dhankul, and songs of Nagpanchami – a festival marking the worship of the snake deity. Loriya, Fugdi, Kau-Mau, Chau-Mau, Khuduwa (Kakdi), Dandi Pouha are songs devoted to children in play. Also there are other songs like the Karma, Danda and Dewar that are popular in entertainment genre in Chhattisgarh. The Chhattisgarhi folk songs dedicated to seasons are the Fag Basant Geet, invoking the spirit of spring and Baramasi, the twelve consecutive months thereafter, and the Sawnahi is for the monsoons.
The popular plays
Songs, as we are aware, forms an intrinsic attribute of plays in the folk culture of India. The various folk songs are linked to the customary day to day events of the tribal population that inhabit this region. As opposed to such festivities, the vivid and popular folk plays of Chhattisgarh are performed by professionals and trained artists who move from location to location especially during festivities. Plays that top the charts are Chandaini-Gonda, Sonha-Bihan, Lorik-Chanda, Kari, Hareli, Gammatiha, etc., while Rahas is more contemporary in nature that involves the rendition of regional songs.
The dances of yore
Panthi, the religious folk dance of the Satnami community is performed on Magh Purnima, that marks the birth anniversary of their founder, Guru Ghasidas. The dance is held around a monument, the Jaitkhamb, set up in dedication to the spiritual head. The songs are a compilation of poems and recitals of Kabir, Ramdas and Dadu. The dance commences with soft lilting music and pulsating drums where the dancers perform with bent torsos and swinging arms, till it reaches a crescendo where the dancers display acrobatic forms, to culminate into a human pyramid.
Pandavani is a folk ballad which depicts the story of the Pandavas from the epic Mahabharata, with one lead narrative artist and supporting musicians. There are two styles of narration – Vedamati and Kapalik. The Vedamati style is simpler with the narrator sitting on the floor throughout the performance but the latter is livelier and includes enacting of the versus sung and performed by the narrator. The Kapalik dance form is however more popular in Chhattisgarh.
Raut Nacha is known as the folk dance of Yaduvanshis, the cowherds. The dance is performed during Dev Uthani Ekadashi – the day of awakening of the Gods after the 11th day of Diwali – as symbolic devotion to Lord Krishna. Every year, since 1978, the city of Bilaspur organises the Raut Nach Mahotsava, where hundreds of tribal women participate from remote villages.
Among the other dances are Soowa or Suwa, also called the Parrot Dance, performed by tribal women, wherein the dancers encircle a parrot, representative of the forests, and dance to uphold nature’s bounty. Karma, a dance prominent among the Gond, Baiga and Oraon tribal groups, where two separate looped rows of men and women are arranged, to follow each other’s steps in rhythm. Mention must be made of other tribal dance forms in the State of which, the most prominent ones are the Dandari, Damkach, Bhagoriya, Gendi and Sela. It is believed that the Danya of Gujarat has evolved from the Chhattisgarhi Dandari, the difference lying in the props – in Chhattisgarh deer antlers are used in place of sticks. The latter two, Gendi and Sela, are dance forms that use stilts or poles as props.
Other vibrant tribal dances of Chhattisgarh include Bhagoriya performed in a festival by the same name, held to worship the lord of dance; Phag – a sword dance; and Lota – performed by women who dance while balancing pots full of water on their heads.
With expanding economies and increasing developmental activities, the people of Chhattisgarh are exposed to modern cultures and adaption to changing times is inevitable. However, the richness of the culture and its bond with the social set up reflects the uniqueness of Chhattisgarh – primordially tribal in nature. It is that richness woven into the fabric of the lives of the Chhattisgarhi people that is bound to survive the onslaught of modernism to survive and triumph against all odds.