Jesuit NGO promotes Santal dance forms through competition

Udayani so far has organized five such competitions in June

By Matters India Reporter

Kolkata: A Jesuit-managed NGO in West Bengal state strives to preserve and promote through dance the Santal tribal identity that is on the verge of extinction.

Santal is among the biggest ethnic tribes in India. They are found in the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkand, Odisha and West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, and in neighboring countries of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. They speak Santali and identify with their music and dance.

However the young generation is confused about their identity amid increasing influence of music and dance forms in the market, says Jesuit Father Jothi, director of Udayani (Awakening), an NGO.

He told Matters India that Udayani decided to intervene after it found the simple Santal folk music and dance forms on the verge of extinction.

“Since Udayani has been working among the Dalit and Tribal (Santal) women in South Bengal, we felt the need to preserve, protect and promote the beautiful Santal culture,” the priest told Matters India.

The NGO found dance competition one of the effective means for cultural preservation and promotion.

“We have been having Santal dance completions in each block we work. The competition is organized by Santal and non-Santal Self Helf Group (SHG) members alike,” Father Jothi explained.

Santals have different tunes, steps and forms of songs and dances.

Basically there are eight dance forms with the music accompanying the songs with drums; Tumda and Tamak. Flute is one of the preferred musical instruments.

Dong, Baha, Langde, Dahar, Karam, Dassai, Danta, and Sadpa are the different forms of Santal dances. Generally they dance in a particular place called ‘Akhra’ or ‘Jaher’ but a dance like Dahar is danced on the road.

The martial dance is Danta where the Santals exhibit their bravery skills by dancing with their bows and arrows.

Sadpa is one of the difficult dances performed only by women.

The men play the drums while women hold their hands with each other and dance in semi circles.

The women decorate their head with traditional headgears along with flowers or leaves and look elegant.

Such priceless tradition is disappearing as the young boys and shy away from performing it, Father Jothi said.

In some cases, when they study and work with non-tribal milieu they try to ape the dominant culture and language for false self-respect and survival.

Some students or working people say that they don’t know how to play the drums or the different forms dances.

After the competition all members are given a chance to have community dance on the open space so that everyone participates in the pride of Santals and appreciates.

The competition has revived people’s interest in their tradition.

“I am extremely happy to participate in this competition and I am encouraged and feel proud today as an Adivasi,” said Sukurmoni Murmu from Bhaira village in Pandua block who leads the team with pots on her head.

Sangeetha Murmu, daughter of SHG member from Jaganathpur village and a ninth grader, participated with her friend and danced to the tune of recorded music, the music and steps were really modern.

Sangeeth’s team was guest performer. “We dance on the stage and perform in the school too. This is one of the deviations and it is precisely for this reason we promote tradition with competition,” she added.

Phulmoni Hembram of Thodgram, another competitor, said, “Chances like this encourage me and make me feel proud of my tradition, culture and identities.”

Udayani so far has organized five such competitions in June and plans another one soon.

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