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MUSIC FOR THE SOUL: UMAKANTA BAIRAGI

Umakanta Bairagi11

In conversation with eminent Assamese Tokari and Dehabisar Geet exponent Umakanta Bairagi

By Aiyushman Dutta

(First published in melange, Nov 27, 2017)

Whenever we talk of Tokari Geet or Dehabisar Geet, the first name which comes to mind is none other than Umakanta Bairagi. In a career that spans around fifty long years, Umakanta Bairagi has achieved eminence as the foremost performer of Tokari and Dehabichar Geet. A man who has performed throughout the country, he has spent an entire lifetime striving to popularise this ancient oral folk tradition of Assam through his performances, books and recordings.

Umakanta Bairagi was groomed in the traditional Tokari Geet and Dehabichar Geet tradition of Assam by his father Kanakeswar Gogoi. He began presenting the art initially on religious occasions and then on public stages. An institution in himself, he has been performing on All India Radio, Dibrugarh station regularly since 1969, and has later sung from the Dibrugarh and Guwahati stations of Doordarshan.

Not just performances, Umakanta Bairagi has also taken on the responsibility of documenting this centuries-old tradition for posterity. He has to his credit a large number of audio recordings of Tokari and Dehabichar Geet besides compiling two books on the same. He has also trained a number of students over the years and has established an institution for that purpose in Guwahati, ‘Kanakeswar Gogoi Memorial Dehabichar/Tokari Geet Prashikshan Kendra’, which has been named after his father.

Shri Umakanta Bairagi has been honoured for his work by various institutions in Assam. He was bestowed the title Bairagi by All India Radio, Dibrugarh, in 1971. But the foremost honour was when he received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for his contribution to the Tokari and Dehabichar Geet of Assam.

I recently met the veteran artist in his residence at Guwahati to talk about his journey with Tokari Geet/ Dehabichar Geet. Following are excerpts.

Q. Please tell us a bit about your childhood.

Ans: I was born in Chaulkhora village of Khowang subdivision in Dibrugarh district in 1954. Our house was in a deeply forested area and I was born and brought up there. My father Kanekeswar Gogoi used to do odd businesses for our livelihood. I grew up along with five other brothers and sisters.

Since we stayed in a very remote area, it was difficult for us to go to school. Somehow, with a lot of difficulty, we managed to complete our Lower Primary schooling and also two classes of MP School. That however was the end of my formal education.

Q. How did you get interested in Tokari and Dehabichar Geet?

 Ans: I have always been fascinated by the Tokari as an instrument. When I was a child, my father used to play the instrument but only after we slept. So on the pretext of sleeping, I used to listen to him play the Tokari instrument and sing Dehabichar geets. Dehabichar geet is a form of spiritual discourse carried out in the form of songs and which is accompanied by the Tokari. I used to love listening to these songs and also to the sound of the Tokari. I have never had a guru in life and I am an entirely self-taught artist.

When I was very young, a local MLA had come to visit our village and my grandfather had taught me two songs to sing in front of him. That was the first time I sang in public. But after that, nothing much happened as far as my singing career was concerned.

when I got married, I decided to learn the Tokari instrument on the sly. Once when my father left for a business trip, I used to play his instrument on the sly. You can say that just like Eklavya, I learnt the Tokari by stealing.  So once, during a 6 day stretch when I continuously played the Tokari, I learnt how to play the instrument.

After learning how to play the Tokari, I and my friends would roam around the villages in the evening, visiting different households and playing in front of them for some tea and til or tekeli pitha.

Q. How did your tryst with the radio start?

 Ans: In the year 1968, the Dibrugarh station of All India Radio had announced an audition for Tokari artists. One of my friends had applied for the audition and I had gone along with him. When his turn came, he could not play even a single song, out of the 15 songs that were asked to him, in front of the interview panel. I felt very bad because he should have been able to play at least one song.

I approached the station director and asked him if I could participate too. He made me fill up a form and accordingly after three months, a call letter came to my house. When I went for my audition, the interviewers did not let me finish even the first song, and said that I would definitely be hearing from them.

I did hear from them and they called me to record four songs. I cannot express my happiness at that moment. The four songs were aired at 4 pm in the month of January and I felt fortunate that I was able to sing my own composed songs in front of the people of the entire State. I counted my blessings and thanked god for making me, a person who sang for pithas, capable enough to sing in the radio.

From 1971 onwards, I become a regular artist of All India Radio and I continue to perform even today.

Q. You have been performing in different stages across the country. Do you remember how many songs you have composed and performed till now?

Ans: I have lost count of the number of performances but till now, I have composed around 775 Dehabichar Geets. All the songs are spiritual in nature or based on the story of Krishna or the Ram-Leela. In some of the songs, I question our own spiritual existence – why we were born, what is the purpose of our existence, and the like. They are sort of self-introspective in nature.

Q. Dehabichar Geet is an oral tradition which existed even before the time of Srimanta Sankardev. Please tell us about your efforts in documenting this centuries-old oral tradition.

 Umakanta Bairagi

Ans: Like you said, Dehabichar Geet is an oral tradition which existed even before the time of Sankardev. It did not exist in written form and the earlier practitioners did not think about writing it down. But although an oral tradition, a lot of changes has creeped into this tradition once we entered the Xankari era. In the songs of yesteryears, there used to be no mention of God but nowadays, it is mandatory to at least mention the name of one single God out of all the different gods we have.

I have taken the initiative to document and compile around 150-200 age-old songs and their meanings in the form of two books which I wrote in 2008. I was fortunate enough to receive the support of the central government under their “documentation/ preservation of cultural and traditional heritage” scheme. The government official was very supportive in my endeavour and I was able to record many ancient songs – right from my grandfathers’ times. Now there are around 400-500 songs of the present day period which I have not been able to record till now.

Q. Please tell us about your first audio cassette recording.

Ans: In 1985, I recorded an audio cassette, ‘Brindrabon’, in Jyoti Chitrabon. The recording was made possible with the support of Suresh Phukan, who was a folklorist and professor of Assamese in Joysagar College. ‘Brindabon’ was the first audio cassette of Tokari geets to be released in Assam. After ‘Brindabon’, I released another audio casette on Tokari geet, ‘Mathura’, and that was also produced by Suresh Phukan. Later on, Rubul Bora produced two of my other audio cassettes on Tokari geet like ‘Amiya Madhuri’ and ‘Porom Guru’.

Q. How many cassettes and recordings have you made till now?

Ans: Till now, I have produced around 6 audio cassettes and one audio CD. But I still have a lot of my songs which are yet to be recorded.

Q. Nowadays a lot of artistes are using the Tokari to create fusion songs. What are your views on this issue?

Ans: Nowadays, a lot of people are doing fusion music with the Tokari and Dehabisar geet. I personally believe that they should not do such kinds of fusion. Dehabichar geet is not for entertainment, it is not some kind of Bihugeet; it is more of a spiritual discourse that is needed for the wellbeing of the mind and body.

I feel this kind of fusion should stop because if it continues, the future generations will not be able to comprehend the real or true nature of Tokari and Dehabisar Geet. Many people are approaching me to accompany them on fusion tracks. But I have been refusing them all. I will not leave the Tokari to sing or play any other instrument or song.

Q. You have performed in a lot of places outside the Sate. How do people outside receive your songs and music?

Ans: Besides Assam and the Northeast, I have performed in various parts of the country, like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Kolkata, etc. I have felt that people outside really appreciate our songs and performances. I remember one show in Haryana, especially, where young women and girls broke out in dance after hearing our songs. They later came and felicitated us on stage. That was one memorable performance we did.

Q. Do you feel that the upcoming generations will continue to embrace the tradition of Tukari Geets?

Ans: From whatever I have learnt after years of teaching, I feel that the Tokari and Dehabisari tradition will continue in the days to come. I say this because nowadays I find a lot of young people interested in this tradition. In our days, only old people used to sing Dehabisar Geets but nowadays, I find even bachelors coming forward to learn and perform these songs. The Tokari and Dehabichar geets are presently being performed on stage as well as aired on the radio and television. As such, I feel that the new generation will indeed embrace Tokari geets in the days to come.

Q. You have been bestowed with one of India’s highest honours in the form of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. How do you feel at receiving such a big honour?

Ans: I received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2013. It was like a surreal feeling for me. There is an interesting story as to how I received the news of the award. When they announced my name on the TV, I was in a nursing home in Guwahati for some minor illness. The nurse was about to serve me food when the news broke out on TV. I did not know whether the news was true or not. Only later on when my family also verified the news, I realised that it was true. I feel thankful for receiving such a big honour and it has given me the much-needed impetus to carry on with my work.

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In Perpetual Search for Drama: Vikramjit Kakati

Vikramjit

In conversation with veteran photographer and eminent design engineer Dr. Vikramjit Kakati

By Aiyushman Dutta

(Published in melange, Dec 10, 2018)

Many of us would know immediately recognise him as being one of the most brilliant photographers of the region. A doctorate degree holder in engineering design from the prestigious IIT-Guwahati, a PADI-certified Scuba Diver, Chartered Engineer besides being a photojournalist of repute, Vikramjit Kakati is a name which hardly needs an introduction in our regional circles. And although he has his made his mark amply in diverse fields such as engineering design, chartered accountancy as well as photography, he is more content and happy to be identified as the father of google.

While many would be curious to know about his relationship with the internet giant – google, here’s another surprise for you. For this multifaceted personality, Google is none other than his son, Google Kakati, whom he dotes upon, and not the internet software giant.

This decision to nomenclature his son as ‘google’ is just one of the many surprising facets which describe Vikramjit Kakati – a highly creative individual who is always on the lookout to present a different view of things. He is a man who is in a perpetual search for drama in his photographs as well as other facets of his life. A celebrated photographer and an eminent design engineer, Vikramjit Kakati is truly a man of many surprises.

I recently caught up with the ace photographer and design engineer to know more about his life and journey in the world of photography. Following are excerpts.

Q. At the beginning, let us talk about your family and childhood. Please share your childhood memories with us.

Ans: I come from a very old family of Guwahati which served as accountants (Kakati) to the Barphukans (Ahom Generals). In the earlier days, we lived in the area where the present day Old DC Bungalow is located at Panbazar. In those days, that area used to house the quarters of the Barphukans. Later on, we shifted to our own place in Tokobari and thereafter to Bhangarh where I live now. My father worked as a magistrate. As informed by my father, I was born in 1971 in Goalpara where my father was posted.

While I did my initial schooling in Lakhinath Bezbaruah Sishu Bhawan, Sibsagar, I passed my matriculation examination from Don Bosco High School, Guwahati in 1987. After that, I joined B Barooah College and then joined the Jorhat Engineering College to become a mechanical engineer. I passed out from JEC in 1995 and after a year or so, I worked in the Indian Railways where I worked till 2007. After that, I worked for a short while in the Indian Oil Tanking. During the time I was in IOT, I gave the Ph.D entrance examination for IIT. I was selected for the Ph.D. course in IIT which I completed recently. I am now working as an Associate Professor and Administrative Officer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, School of Technology at Assam Don Bosco University. 

Q. How did you get involved into the world of designs?

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Ans: I have always been interested in the world of art. From childhood, I realised that it was important to be different from the rest, to do the same normal things but from a different perspective. From JEC, I had a junior Dr. Buljit Buragohain who also did his P.hD from IIT. He introduced me to the design department of IIT. Before that, I was not aware of its existence.

I went to IIT-Guwahati’s design department and found its philosophy to be quite different. This department is one of the best in the world and students from all across Europe, Middle East and elsewhere come here for further studies. I have qualified in the IIT selection process and joined the design department.

I had based my P.hD subject on a social media topic but my pathfinder cum Ph.D. supervisor, Prof Amarendra Kumar Das, a veteran scientist and who is the inventor of Dip Bahan rickshaws, then head of department of Design, IIT instead asked me to work on the socio-economic aspects of design. Prof. Das has suggested me to design and innovate a machine which would help reduce losses in tea gardens of Assam due to non-availability of physical resources. So under the guidance of Prof. Das, I developed such a model. I am also working in the field of rapid prototyping and mechatronics, which are fast developing fields. 

Q. You are a respected photographer. How did you get interested in photography?

Ans: My father played the key role in developing my interest in photography. I remember taking my first photo when I was just around 6-7 years old. The photo was that of the gate of the Assam State Zoo. My father had brought a AGFA CLICK 3 camera which was a legendary camera during those days. He insisted that I shoot photos with it and looking back, he was the first person who influenced me to study photography.

Then in Engineering College, I was lucky to meet a few individuals who helped hone and nurture my photography skills. I met Prasad Chakraborty, who was in Assam Agriculture University, and who taught me the nuances of SLR cameras. DSLR cameras had not come up at that time. Then we had a teacher, Gautam Hazarika, who owned a Russian-model SLR camera. He used to give me the camera to practice and take photos.

The seeds of photojournalism were sown deep in mind right from a very early age. I am one of the very few photojournalists who still have a photograph of Prafulla Mahanta’s signature while accepting the Chief Ministership post in 1885.

Then again, when it comes to non-news photography, the concepts of creativity and innovation have also been deeply instilled in my mind. As I said, right from my childhood days, I wanted to do things in a different way. The same desire to things differently also reflected in my photography as well. For instance, probably I am the first photographer to have shot the light trail of GS Road. After that, many photographers have taken the same photo. I will always remain thankful to Mr. Utpal Baruah of UB Photos for providing me a launching platform. 

Q. Your photographs have a lot of drama. How important is drama in photography for you?

Ans: I feel drama is the soul of photojournalism. A photographs needs to have drama to make even a normal thing look outstanding. Many photographers talk about right framing, composition, etc being the pre-requisites for a good photograph. However, I feel that for a photographer it is very important to have a good Point of View (POV). POV is very important if we want to create drama in a photograph. Mr Manash Jyoti Dutta of Sivsagar & a correspondent of UB Photos taught me about importance of point of view (POV) in News Photography. 

Q. How do you manage to find out time for photography amidst your hectic work schedule and all your diverse roles?

Ans: Every people has time to do what he or she wants if he knows how to manage time properly. Those who complain about not having time are the ones who are superficial and those wanting to do a sloppy job. These are the same people who take up 10 jobs but cannot complete even one of them properly.

In any case, suppose I work for 10 hours in my office and sleep for another 6 hours. I still have 8 hours left for photography. And if I can visualise my subject well, even a single hour is sufficient for photography.

Q. Please tell us about the present scenario of photography in Assam.

Ans: At present, there are a lot of photographers in Assam. But I find very few innovative photographers among them all. Every day we get to see thousands of photos being shared on Facebook, Instagram and other social networking sites, but we come across very few memorable photos, pictures that remain with us long after we have seen them.

I feel that our photographers are getting stereo-typed. Nowadays, there is a trend of wedding photography and one will find a lot of photographers working in this field. But I feel that the saturation point has been reached.

Another thing that I would like to point out is the importance of contributing to stock photography. It is very important to contribute to stock photography platforms if one wants to generate revenue from their photographs. Our photographers do not contribute to stock photography platforms. To them, I would like to say that just sharing on Facebook is not enough; you have to think about how to generate revenue from the same.

Overall, I feel that a lot of maturity and entrepreneurship skills are needed for the present generation of photographers if they want to develop and progress in their field.

Q. What do you feel is more important to become a successful photographer – creativity or technical equipment?

Ans: You will need both. If your equipment is not proper, a lot of problems come up. Along with a good point of view, you also need good gear. For instance, I use a wide lens (10-22 mm) most of the time when I want to create drama in a photo. The drama which this lens can create cannot be achieved by a normal 18-55 lens. Just like you cannot win the Formula 1 race with a broken down 800cc car, you cannot achieve quality photographs without good equipment. Sometimes one may get good photographs though mobile phone cameras. But that is accidental and happens only once in hundred times.

You have to spend money. Only talent is not enough. You need some gear to showcase your talent.

Q. What is your advice to upcoming photographers?

Ans: My first advice to upcoming photographers would be to drop your egos. Ego is of no use and nobody has ever been able to rise with ego.

Secondly, photographers have to search for stock photography. We have so many varieties of plants and insects. If these can be given to stock photography, monthly one can earn a good amount as revenue. Nowadays with the help of internet, you can sell your photos to customers in any place of the world. I sincerely believe that one has to take advantage of the internet instead of wasting time chatting on Facebook.

Third, think from the other side. It is always important to think from a different POV if you want to achieve good results in photography. There is no point in having a normal POV. If one wants to be memorable, he or she needs to have a different perspective.

Q. What are your views on photojournalism as a profession?

 Ans: I feel that photojournalism is very challenging as a profession. But if you are in Assam, it is better not to become a photojournalist as you will not be able to earn much from it. Unless you work for an international photo agency and you are based in Assam, photojournalism is not exactly a rewarding job profession as such in context to Assam.

Complete information of Utpal Borpujari’s new film, ‘Ishu’

 

 

Guwahati / Mumbai, Aug 3: Children’s Film Society, India (CFSI)’s newest production “Ishu” is a feature film that will instantly take the viewer to a world of a kid whose innocent and happy-go-lucky world turns topsy turvy thanks to the superstitious society of adults around him.

Set in a remote tribal Rabha village in Lower Assam area bordering Meghalaya’s Garo Hills, this Assamese feature film is based on renowned Assamese writer Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s popular novel “Ishu”, and marks the feature film debut of National Award-winning film critic and acclaimed documentary director Utpal Borpujari.

The film takes a look at the inhuman practice of ‘witch hunting’ that is prevalent in parts of Assam as well as some other parts of India, through they eyes of an innocent child whose favourite aunt is branded as a ‘witch’ by the evil village “Bej” (quack) who conspires with another aunt to do so.

Treated like a fairy tale albeit set in today’s times, “Ishu” is a sensitive take on how such incidents impact a child psychologically, with the narrative taking the viewer along protagonist Ishu’s quest to find his aunt who goes missing after being assaulted by the villagers at the instigation of the villainous quack.

The social evil of ‘witch hunting’ has been a recurring problem in Assam, so much so that the state Assembly unanimously passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill 2015, following years of sustained campaign by civil society organisations and an intervention by the Gauhati High Court. The Bill, however, is still awaiting the President’s assent to become a law.

Several incidents of witch hunting has been reported in Assam during this year too, while according to data placed in the state Assembly, 93 cases of witch-hunting were reported and 77 persons, including 35 women, were killed during 2010 to 2015.

“However, despite its sensitive and serious backdrop, my film treats to subject in a way that it is suitable for viewing by children. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has given it a U certification without any cuts,” says Borpujari, who believes that children’s films can affectively take up social issues if handled sensitively.

CFSI Chairman MukeshKhanna said this movie will give a clear message to the people that social evils are bad and must be eradicated from the society. “Children are the future of our country and should always be motivated. By practicing social evils like ‘witch hunting’, we are making circumstances worse for children and disturb their psychology. This will have an adverse effect on the children and will not help them in their career and overall development.”

“Movies like ‘Ishu’ bring awakening in the society about the ill-effects of social evils and educate people about their harmful aspects on the society. CFSI will continue to make and promote such films whose themes are aimed at bringing about transformation in the society for the benefit of mankind, particularly children,” he says.

According to Dr Shravan Kumar, CEO of CFSI, “This is a highly sensitive film in which exploitation of people due to social evils such as ‘witch hunting’ is highlighted. The movie is informative, educative and throws light on the harmful effects of social evils practiced by people in the society. The movie tells the audience that such evils harm children and have an adverse effect on their psychology. Our attempt at CFSI has always been to focus on issues concerning children and their welfare.”

“I am happy to note that in Assam, a Bill to prevent social evils like “witch hunting” has been passed by the State Legislative Assembly, and is awaiting President’s assent. Let us hope that it would become a law soon.”

“This is the first feature film made by well-known film critic and documentary film maker Utpal Borpujari and we hope that children as well as elders will like it,” he says.

Incidentally, the script of “Ishu” was chosen as the only Asian entry into the 2012 Junior Co-Production Market of Cinekid International Film Festival, Amsterdam.

In the film, the lead role is played by 10-year-old Kapil Garo, who hails from Sonapur area near Guwahati. Kapil, who has given a performance with a maturity much beyond his tender age, was selected for the role after the director and his team interacted with nearly 300 kids across Assam. “Kapil has the required innocence and charm that I had visualized in Ishu, and being from a village himself, he blended naturally with the character,” says Borpujari.

The film also stars two-time National Award (Special Jury Mention)-winning actor Bishnu Kharghoria and National Award-winning Manipuri actress TonthoingambiLeishangthem Devi, along with veterans like Chetana Das and Pratibha Choudhury and talented younger actors like MonujBorkotoky, DipikaDeka and NibeditaBharali. Others in the cast include Mahendra Das, Rajesh Bhuyan, Naba Kumar Baruah, MonujGogoi, etc.

Along with KapilGaro, other child actors in the film include MahendraRabha, SrabantaRabha and UdayRabha.

The film’s dialogue, with emphasis on how the Rabha people living near Goalpara area speak Assamese with a particular accent, has been written by Borpujari in collaboration with award-winning theatre director SukracharjyaRabha of the famed Badungduppa Kala Kendra of Rampur, Agia.

Several actors from the Badungduppagroup, including Dhananjay Rabha and Basanta Rabha, have acted in pivotal roles in the film, which has been shot in pristine locations of several Rabha tribal vilages near Agia in Goalpara, located on the south bank of the mighty Brahmaputra.

It may be mentioned that NSD graduate and actress Pranami Bora conducted an 8-day workshop for the actors of the film at Badungduppa Kala Kendra premises, and MadanRabha and BasantaRabha were in charge of imparting accent training for the actors so that all of them could deliver their dialogues in the local accent.

The film has been edited by the legendary A Sreekar Prasad, while its sound design is by Amrit Pritam Dutta and music is by Anurag Saikia, all National Award winners. The cinematographer is Sumon Dowerah, a veteran of many award-winning and mainstream films in Assamese, while other prominent crew members are JItendra Mishra (executive producer), Hengul Medhi (final sound mixing), Monjul Baruah (associate director), Homen Borah (production manager), Golok Saha (art director), Rani Dutta Baruah (costumes) and Achitabh (Shanku) Baruah (make up). The assistant directors of the film were GhanshyamKalita, Ronal Hussain and MonujBorkotoky.

Director’s Profile:

An M.Tech in Applied Geology from IIT-Roorkee, Utpal Borpujari won the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India in 2003. As a professional journalist, apart from cinema, he has written extensively on politics, society, culture, literature, etc., while working with some of India’s top media houses. Since 2010, when he decided to turn a filmmaker, he has made several acclaimed documentary films that have been screened across the world in various film festivals. Among them are “Mayong: Myth/Reality” (2012), “Songs of the Blue Hills” (2013), “Soccer Queens of Rani” (2014) and “Memories of a Forgotten War” (2016). Borpujari has also served in international film juries as an erstwhile member of the International Federation of Film Critics, apart from having served on juries for National Film Awards and Indian Panorama. He has also curated films as well as served as a consultant for the Northeastern sections in the International Film Festival of India as well as various other film festivals. “Ishu” is his debut fiction feature. He is currently developing scripts for a Hindi and an Assamese film.

Northeast rules in national cultural carnival

Special Northeastern Folk Music and Dance Presention


For connoisseurs of art and culture, Panchkula in Haryana was the place to be last week. This small township in the northern part of the country was host to the gala Silver Jubilee celebrations of the seven Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCCs) of the country. For four consecutive days, the Panchkula parade ground became the perfect setting for visitors and families from the nearby towns and areas to converge and soak in the vibrancy of India’s rich culture and tradition laid out in front of them in a nutshell. The seven ZCCs had constructed their own special villages where they displayed the entire spectrum of the culture of the various communities in their zones, much to the delight of the thousands who thronged the venue, despite the storm that lashed Chandigarh earlier this month.

The festival, titled ‘Matti ke Rang’, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the presence of AICC president Sonia Gandhi and Minister for Culture Kumari Selja.

Union Minister for Culture Kumari Selja


Integration Through the Arts

For those who are unacquainted with the functioning of the ZCCs, these cultural centres were conceived by former Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi in a bid to promote national integration by disseminating the vibrancy India’s culture to its people in the rural areas. The foresightedness of our former Prime Minister can be gauged from this very act of his. He was one of the first to realise that the diversity of our country is “a practical reality and not just a theoretical concept”, and that culture is the most suitable tool that can be used as the base for national integration. For culture has the capacity to reach across to people, cutting across barriers of time, space, language, values and traditions.

It is pertinent to remember the words he spoke during the setting up of the ZCCs: “The performing arts reach across all communities, all language barriers, and have a unique role to spread the values that have inherited. Participating in the performing arts is an osmotic process of building values, awareness, familiarity and respect and even reverence for different strands in the rich tapestry of our civilisation and our heritage. So integrating our country must be seen as one of the functions of the performing arts today.”

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The Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCCs) were set up 25 years ago in second-tier towns of the country so as to reach the people in the grassroots. Since its inception, these centres have been working towards its objectives to preserve, innovate and promote the projections and dissemination of folk arts, cutting across regional cultural borders and bring about unity through culture. The seven overlapping zones comprising the Zonal Cultural Centres have promoted, cross-promoted and created opportunities for cultural exposure and awareness among the people of different states and regions.

With the philosophical implication that the number 7 has, the seven ZCCs epitomizes a celebration of cosmic time and space. The seven ZCCs are North Zone Cultural Centre, Patiala, South Zone Cultural Centre, Thanjavur, Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Kolkata, West Zone Cultural Centre, Udaipur, North East Zone Cultural Centre, Dimapur, North Central Zone Cultural Centre, Allahabad, South Central Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur.

The North East Zone Cultural Centre, which encompasses the eight States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and Sikkim, is based in Dimapur. With a competent staff led by a dynamic director in the form of Som Kamei, the Centre has been organizing a number of intra and inter-cultural events in all the States of the country, and even abroad. In Guwahati, the centre organizes regular events through its amphitheatre Shilpgram, which is located adjacent to the Kalakshetra.

NEZCC director Som Kamei


Although the seven ZCCs did have a bleak period it between, it was able to rejuvenate itself and make a major contribution in the process of nation-building. The fact that it was able to complete 25 years did warrant a mega celebration, which resulted in the Silver Jubilee celebrations in Panchkula as it was.

Culture Unbarred

When I say the Silver Jubillee celebrations were a gala affair, I mean every word I say. For the choreographed performances of the cultural event at the main stage, which were based on more than 15 singing forms and 12 martial arts, were performed by more than 1000 performing artists alone! During the day there were more than 30 art form performances being simultaneously enacted within seven Mini villages of all the seven Zonal cultural Centre of India. Large crowds thronged the courtyard of mini villages of the Seven Zonal Centres to purchase exquisite traditional items from various parts of the country. But the major highlight of the entire event was the food streets where the special cuisine of each zone was laid out for the visitors. Offering traditional and sumptuous food, the food area was undoubtedly the most sought after area during the entire celebrations. The master craftsmen who were ferried from the different nooks and crannies to set up their stalls also made brisk sales.

Cheraw dance of Mizoram


A number of popular and eminent arts performed across all four days of the celebrations. The highlight of the festival, however, was the concluding day ceremony when the audience was able to witness the entire spectrum of the country’s culture on a common platform. The choreographed dance presentation of the final day included the famed Chanting form of Sikkim, Thumchen from Jammu & Kashmir, Sankh Vadan from Orissa, Algoza from Rajasthan, Baul Kirtan from West Bengal, Bhortal from Assam, Jangam Gayan from Haryana, Bhakan from Jammu & Kashmir, Dhadhi from Punjab, Tati singers from Nagaland, Nirgun Bhajan from Rajasthan, Kajri Gayan from Uttar Pradesh, Golparia musical instruments from Assam and performance of Langa Mangniar singers from Rajasthan.

An exemplary martial arts display was also a major highlight of the celebrations as martial warriors from various parts of the country – Akhada wrestlers of Madhya Pradesh, Dahal Thungri from Assam, Dand Patta from Maharashtra, Diwali of Uttar Pradesh, Raibanshe of West Bengal, Dandia Gair of Rajasthan, Talwar Raas of Gujarat, Ruk mar Nacha of Odissa, Kalaripayattu art from Kerala, Naibul Thangta of Manipur, gatka of Punjab and Silambattam martial Art from Tamil Nadu – performed together on stage in perfect synchrony.

Northeast India Rules

Northeast India, too, was beautifully represented by the Dimapur-based North East Zone Cultural Centre, which had facilitated the travel and performance of a more than 2,000-member troupe for the festivities. Thanks to the able leadership of its chairman Nagaland Governor Nikhil Kumar and its director Som Kamei, the Silver Jubilee celebrations had begun in the twin cities of Dimapur and Jorhat last month itself.

DONER Minister Paban Singh Ghatowar inagurating the event


A Special North-eastern Folk music and Dance presentation, depicting the rich and unique cultural milieu of the region, was also held on the concluding day of the festival. Around tribal music and dance forms were displayed in the event, which was inaugurated by Hon’ble Shri Paban Singh Ghatowar, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER).

The dance forms from the Northeast which were displayed during the concluding day celebrations included Maibul Thangta dance from Manipur, Wangla from Meghalaya, Juju- Jhajha from Arunachal Pradesh, Tamang Selo from Sikkim, Ngada dance by Rengma from Nagaland, Barat dance from Assam, Hozagiri dance form of Tripura, Punh Cholam of Manipur, Bro Zai of Arunachal Pradesh, Ka Shad Mastieh of Meghalya, Sangrai Mog from Tripura, Singhi chham dance of Sikkim, Dhol Cholam dance of Manipur and Bohag Bihu dance of Assam.

Food is culture too!

Besides art camps, folk dance, handloom and handicraft exhibition and music performances and cultural exchange events, a major highlight of the three-day celebration in Panchkula was the food festival which sought to display the culture of the varied zones of the country through the prism of its cuisine. And judging from the response of the people, North-eastern food, which has been labelled exotic by many, was a clear favourite.

A northeastern couple serving Rice beer


maharashtrian matka roti


The food street behind each mini village offered a range of traditional cuisines prepared by chefs who were brought in from their zones especially for the celebrations. The North East Zone Culture Centre had also set up stalls for each of the eight States. While the Assamese food stall offered traditional lip smacking delicacies like Black rice Pudding, Chicken coconut rice and Rice beer, the Manipuri food stall offers unheard but very delectable cuisines like Eromba, Sinju, Proautti, Pakoda and Natuga. The Naga Food stall was also very popular for its famed Chicken with bamboo shoots whereas the Sikkim food stall offered its range of Special noodles, momos and other Tibetean dishes. Assamese rice powder gur ladoo and til gur ladddoo were also much sought after by the visitors from outside.

Not only the Northeast, the other Zones too laid down the best of its fares. While one at the Allahabad food stall couldn’t resist the temptation of tasting the Awadhi Dum Aaloo, Jalebi and the chaat papdi, the Maharashtrian food stall had Jawar ki roti and Baingan ka bharta. The popular Hyderabad food stall also served a variety of non vegetarian and vegetarian Biryani.
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Art Should be Instrument of Change

The mega Silver Jubille celebrations of the ZCCs concluded amidst a lot of gaiety and merriment on April 16 last. As artists from various parts of the country came together on a common platform to project the diversity of the country, one could remember the words of late Zakir Hussain: “Arts should not only be a mirror of contemporary life but should function as an instrument of social change. There could be no better instrument than the medium of music, dance and drama to bring about national integration.”

For any organization, 25 years is a long time to look back in retrospect. As curtains came down on the celebration in the august presence of Hon’ble Union Minister of Culture Kumari Selja and Sh. H.E Shivraj V. Patil, the resolve of the people manning the ZCCs to usher in “development through culture” further deepened.

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Manas Robin’s Bihu Jatra


Glimpse of popular Assamese singer Manas Robin’s Bihu Jatra in Assam, 2012