Where Lies the Soul of Khasi Music

Often when we think about indigenous culture, amongst the first things that come to mind are indigenous music and dance forms. Every community has its own distinct sounds and melodies, rhythms and beats, words and poetry which preserve: Identity and Essence. So, where should we look, if we wish to find the answers to these questions: What is the foundation of Khasi music? Where lies its Soul?

The late Rangbah Rojet Buhphang, who was an exceptional musician and master craftsman, would tell his students at the Sieng Riti Institute in Wahkhen, “Ka Tem ka Put ka ïaid ryngkat ryngkat bad ka Akor ka Burom” which can be translated as “Music goes side by side with good conduct”. This wisdom is a window into understanding the mind and soul of a Khasi. He left us much too early, but his knowledge and contributions will live on forever. His words help us realise that ‘Respect’ is one of the strongest foundations of Khasi music… Respect for oneself and one’s ‘Way of Life’.

The world today is more connected than ever before. Every style of music is at our fingertips. The world we live in offers infinite possibilities. However, there will always be a flip side. As we grow more connected, so too does homogeneity, putting at risk the vibrant diversity that exists. Fortunately, the world is also looking within, more than ever before. The need to connect and grow with the world is being counterbalanced by an innate sense of responsibility to preserve sacred roots and ancient inheritance. Staying rooted is imperative to progress in the churn of globalisation. A positive realisation has dawned. A fine balance must be found. The search and the solutions must come from within.

Shad: Dance,  Suk: Peace,  Mynsiem: Soul

It has been said that to understand the Khasi, one must go deep into the root of his religion. Similarly, to understand and find the soul of Khasi Music, one must dive deep into the sacred rhythms and melodies of the land. One must immerse oneself in the Dance of the Peaceful Heart, Shad Suk Mynsiem.

The traditional Khasi dance has existed since time immemorial. It is an integral part of the culture. The dance is a celebration and it is also a unique form of community worship. Several forms and names exist for the dance. However, the dance held by the Seng Khasi at the historic dance arena – Lympung Shad Weiking – in Jaiaw, Shillong is the most well known. Held annually in the month of April, the dance is a beautiful showcase of the depth of Khasi thought and belief and the richness of the culture that is born from this consciousness.

KI HYNÑIEW SKIT

The Khasi word for rhythm is Skit and there are Seven that are integral to the dance held at Weiking. The seven skits or “Ki Hynñiewskit” of the Shad Suk Mynsiem are:

Lumpaid, Ksing Lynti, Mastieh, Padiah, Dum Dum, Nalai, Klang.

These rhythms are also called by alternate names in different parts of the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, India. Not only do they have different names, these beats are even played with slight variations, from traditional state to state and even, village to village. This diversity and depth flourishing in tandem within such a small area is rare to find in the world today. There are four types of traditional drums used to play the rhythms:

Ksing Shynrang, Ksing Kynthei, Padiah, Ka Bom, Kynshaw. The only melodic instrument is the wind instrument, Ka Tangmuri. The traditional musicians are known as Ki Duhalia.

ONE FOUNDATION, SEVERAL WAYS

The musicians who play at the dance are usually from the same village, town or region but sometimes they are brought together from different parts, assembled like a supergroup. All these factors influence the style of play and the sound produced. Every musician has a special touch or feel of their own. The Shad Suk Mynsiem held in Weiking, Shillong was for an initial period, the only dance organised by the Seng Khasi, but now the dance is held at over a hundred locations, across the Khasi hills by units of Seng Khasi. You will find the rhythms and sounds and even the style of dancing varies from dance to dance. The Khasi religion – Niam Khasi – is often described as “Ka Niam bad Ki Rukom”, which means “The Religion and its Ways”. The same truth applies to the music of the dance: One Foundation, Several Ways. At the dance in Weiking, the seven skits listed above must all be performed. In four out of the seven skits, a specific and essential rhythmic layer must be performed on the Ksing Kynthei (Female Drum).

LUMPAID

The first skit performed is the Lumpaid and it is played to assemble people together in the front courtyard of the Seng Khasi headquarters in Mawkhar, Shillong. The skit has a commanding mid tempo waltz like beat. The pattern played on Ka Bom (large drum) and the Ksing Shynrang (male drum) may appear identical at first but there are slight embellishments on the latter that fill the spaces in between subtly. The Tangmuri melody that flows in veers into musical territory that even the most avant garde musicians in the world could never dream of writing. After the short ceremony conducted in the courtyard has concluded, the gathering which includes leaders of Seng Khasi, dancers, flag bearers, men and women of all ages then proceed to walk towards the historic dance arena, a few kilometers away.

SACRED GROUND

The musicians play their instruments as they walk. The skit they play is the most recognisable and popular Khasi beat: Ka Ksing Lynti. When one thinks of the quintessential Khasi rhythm, this is it. You can’t help but move along to its gallop powered by the Bom and propelled by the energetic patterns of the Ksing Shynrang. The Tangmuri melody twirls around the beat, restraining itself at first before launching into some of the most primordial yet futuristic sonic expressions in the world. Its range and frequencies cannot be transcribed. The Tangmuri – the Queen of instruments – exists in her own “Melodic Universe”.

On arriving at the arena, prayers are offered by an elder of Seng Khasi – U Tymmen U San – following which the gathering disperses briefly. A short breather taken, the musicians move to their positions on their platform and then unleash the most exciting and invigorating of all Khasi beats: Ka Mastieh. The sacred ground – Lympung Shad Weiking – comes to life. The dance to this rhythm is intricate and difficult to perform, but that doesnt stop even the youngest of dancers from attempting it. Immense pride and joy is felt by all. Participation means everything. It takes years and years to find unison. The dance when performed by seasoned dancers and musicians feels deep rooted, powerful, elegant and distinct. It deserves to be included in the list of Indian Classical Art forms.

PADIAH

For many, the dance truly begins when the sixteenth note stride of the skit Padiah takes off, supported by the high and deep notes of the Ksing Kynthei (female drum) which syncopate and displace the measures over a rhythmic bed played with light sticks, on a small circular drum from which the skit gets it name. The female dancers enter the ground and begin their minimal yet mesmerizing dance in the inner section. The hypnotic Tangmuri melody swirls in and out, inspiring the dancers into focus. The dancers begin to appear like waves in a sea of colours. Moving and adjusting to each others movements to keep the flow constant.

DUM DUM

The Padiah is followed by the Dum Dum rhythm which feels slower than the rest but in actuality the tempo does not drop much.The dancers subtly adjust their steps and movements. It has a soothing groove that pulls ones shoulders and head into a synchronized bounce. You will find your feet automatically tapping along. The tangmuri melody played is the same as the one for Ksing Lynti. The inherent nature of the female drum and the way it is played allows for melodic and sonic tones to be created, which bounce alongside the melodies of the Tangmuri.

NALAI

The third rhythm introduced on the female drum is the Nalai. A rhythm unlike any other. It skips and stutters, ricochets and bounces, deceiving the listener into thinking it keeps falling out of time, but on the contrary the pattern played on the small circular drum – Ka Padiah – is actually very consistent and must be played with focus. This rhythm has always drawn my interest the most, especially since it is not played very often, perhaps owing to its complexity. To execute this rhythm well, one requires skill, practice and an inherent talent and deep connection to the music. The accompanying melody on the Tangmuri makes the Nalai even more unusual and intriguing.

KLANG

The fourth rhythm which requires the Ksing Kynthei that we are introduced to is the Klang, also known as Skit Mareh. The small drum leads this one too. It sets the foundation, with a repetitive and driving triplet pattern pushing against, while simultaneously locking in with the pulse of a four four meter. Gradually the tempo lifts. The change in the movements of the male dancers is most evident. They tune themselves into the rhythm and find a balance between a brisk walk and a run. Once a round of each skit has been played, the four rhythms that must feature the Ksing Kynthei are all performed again, in the same order, until the dance reaches its last segment.

SHAD WAIT &  SHAD MASTIEH

Evening approaches and a beautiful sight is often witnessed: The Sun – Ka Mei Syiem Sngi – casts a soft golden light over the dancers, before slowly beginning her retreat behind the majestic silhouette of the Lum Diengiei mountain range. A surreal atmosphere engulfs the entire arena.

In the final section of this unique form of showing gratitude through dance – Ka Shad Ai Nguh Ai Dem – the male dancers hold Ka Waitlam (Khasi sword) in their right hand, switching the Symphiah (Whisk) over to their left. The musicians feed off the energy of the dancers and deliver their rhythms with more passion and commitment. The large drums power the arena while the Kynshaw (hand cymbal) serves as a timekeeper, adding a crucial layer of brightness to the sonic scape. The rhythm section is then joined by a wailing Tangmuri that drifts between an otherworldly tone and the most organic of sounds. When all the instruments are locked in tight and flow together the feeling transmitted is transcendental. Ksing Lynti has transformed into Shad Wait. This energy is reciprocated by the dancers who wave their whisks higher and raise their swords above in sync, taking turns to move faster, criss-crossing, switching sides in beautiful motion. The foundation of each group is the same, but there are slight adjustments and embellishments found within each group. This is a supremely beautiful aspect of the dance.

The Shad Wait comes to an end. The female dancers leave the dance ground, but not before offering a prayer at the centre of the ground. The male dancers prepare for the last dance that wil performed at Lympung Weiking. During this second and final round of the Shad Mastieh at the arena, the ground is filled with dancers. The sound of the Tangmuri soars and cuts across the arenạ̣. The drums roll with thunder and boom. More zeal and poetry can be felt as several pairs and groups launch into their dance at different moments, bodies bouncing, turning and adjusting with more determination, pride and joy! The drummers embellish their parts, adding extra slaps and hits, watching the dancers as they play. It is a mesmerising site. Each movement adds to the sanctity. The last sequence of the Shad Mastieh at the arena sees the dancers on opposite ends rushing towards each other with their swords twirling, as if preparing to strike an opponent. They chant as they draw closer and then stop a close distance apart. They bring their swords and whisks together, like hands in folded prayer. Lifting gently and then lowering them down again. They bow to each other three times, chanting:“Hoi Kiw”.

A deep sense of spirituality flows in this last moment and we are reminded that this dance is a form of Worship and Thanksgiving to the Almighty – U Blei Trai Kynrad Nongthaw Nongbuh – for all he has bestowed on us. It brings peace to the heart. It brings pride to the people. The dance is a way of connecting with Divinity within. The Soul of Khasi music lives in the “Shad Suk Mynsiem”.

Tales of Ancient Shillong: the eerie earthquake

The glamourous city Shillong, capital of Meghalaya today, was completely in wilderness till 1866. There was no proper residential area even, other than some temporary huts made of stones and branches of trees in the present upper Laban area. Some plain paddy fields were there in the present upper Laban and Pynthorumkhrah area, where the Khasi people from nearby villages would plant paddy during summer time.

Due to excessive cold and dense forestry people did not find comfortable and safe to stay in the hill.

 The story of Shillong actually started at Cherrapunji, the first Headquarters of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills District under the Assam Division of the province of Bengal.

 But the British Officers found Cherrapunji quite damp and unhealthy due to heavy rainfall; and a good number of the officers died of enteric fever, including David Scott, the founder of British suzerainity in the hills. The remaning officers started hue and cry for their safety to shift the head quarter from Cherrapunji to a healthier place.

 Meanwhile, as early as 14th October, 1856, J . Allen, Member of the Board of Revenue of the Bengal government, apparently responding to the grievances of the officers, recommended shifting of the district headquarters from Cherrapunji to a more suitable place. The area, known today as Upper Shillong, lying at the foot of the Shillong Peak, was selected as the site of the next district headquarters and sanatorium, but the site had to be abandoned mainly because there was no source of adequate water supply for the people of the projected town. The choice ultimately fell on Iewduh, (Present Barabazar area) as the area was known then.

 

Col. Henry Hopkinson, then commissioner of Assam Division and Agent to the Governor General, who actually fathered the town of Shillong, took up measures for building up the town and shifting the district headquarters from Cherrapunji. In 1861, he directed Capt. Rowlat, the Deputy Commissioner of the district to proceed to Iewduh accordingly.

  Capt. Rowlat built a cottage for his stay at Iewduh, and made a detailed survey of the area for the projected town. Col. Hopkinson also sanctioned Rs. 35,000 for the improvement of the Guwahati – Iewduh cart road. The final selection of Iewduh as the site for the new town was communicated by a letter dated December 18, 1863, to the Bengal Government, which in its turn, approved purchase of land for the purpose. Col. Hopkinson purchased 2499 acres of land at a cost of Rs. 8,433, including Rs. 1,000 paid to the Syiem of Mylliem for renouncing all claims to the purchased land. This was the area on which Government buildings began to be constructed. Col. Hopkinson named the town ‘Shillong’.

[Ref:- ‘Birth of Shillong’ by Prof. Dr. B. Dutta Roy. The Assam Tribune 7th October 1976.]  

It was only on April 28, 1866, that the Deputy Commissioner’s office, Treasury, Jail and Police started functioning at Shillong, the new born town.

No other State capital in the country has undergone such changes of status and fortune as Shillong since its foundation.

In February 1874, on the formation of Assam as a separate province, Shillong was chosen as capital of the new province on account of its salubrious climate and conveniently central situation between the Brahmaputra Valley and the Surma valley. The site of the present Raj Bhavan was then purchased from Mr. Bivar, former D.C. of the district who owned this property, at a cost of Rs. 26,000 for the construction of the official residence of the Chief Commissioner of the province. The road below the present Raj Bhavan along the lake still bears the name of Mr. Bivar. [Bivar Road]

 A big catastrophe came down upon the new city Shillong on 12th June 1897, to crush the beautiful resort to dust, swept away many valuable lives and properties to turn the place into debrises. It was a horrifying and tragic episode of 19th century Shillong.

Before 1897

1897 Aftermath

Let us hear the eeric discription from an eye-witness (L) Sarada Manjuri Dutta, as described in her published work, (Maha Jatrar Pothey):-

‘12th June 1897, was an inauspicious and doomy Saturday. It was evening, being a Half holiday in the offices and schools, people were relaxing at home, and it was a bolt from the blue! All on a sudden a very strong tremor jerked the whole region, with a horrible underground sound and it was continuing! Houses were collapsing with residents inside! People lost their control in movement for the constant tremoring and big fissures on ground. Only helpless shouting and cry of the children and women grasped the whole environment! The first tremour continued for three minutes and then with intervals continuing for long three days, levelling the hill city to the ground. It was a tremendously dreadful condition, recorded in the century old history of Shillong. The then newly built hill city turned into debrises within a few seconds. A big catestrophy! Many children were buried alive due to the big fissures in the floors, but could not be rescued as there was no way out! The helpless mothers would hear their faint piteous cry from underground but could not help! An unbearable heart breaking condition! A big tradegy’!

The earthquake of June 12, 1897, reduced them in a heap of ruins in the space of few seconds, wrecked the water supply and destroyed the stone masonry embankment that dammed up the water of the artificial Ward’s Lake built by the Chief Commissioner Sir William Ward in 1893-94 below the Government house. The pent up water of the lake rushing through the breached embankment down the nullah towards the Polo Ground washed away a wooden bridge over it, creating scarcity of drinking water in the whole town.

  There were 29 deaths in Shillong, 10 of which occurred in the Secretariat press. Two Europeans killed were Mr. Mc. Cabe, the Inspector General of Police, and Mr. Rossen Rode, a pensioner of the Survey Department. Mr. Mc. Cabe was sick in bed and was found crushed after an hour’s digging of his collapsed bungalow. The total number of lives lost in the Khasi Hills District was 916, maximum of which died due to the falling of hill, which buried them.

 The Govt. report goes as:-

 The Assam earthquake of 1897 occurred on 12 June 1897, Saturday in Assam, British India at UTC, and had an estimated moment magnitude of it resulted in approximate 1,542 human casualties and caused catastrophic damage to infrastructures.

 In Shillong, the earthquake took place at about 5:11pm June 12th. The shock was preceded by a rumbling underground noise which lasted for about 3 minutes. The actual earthquake lasted about two and a half minutes in Shillong. This noise was compared with the tremendous rumbling noise like a thousand ships’ engines thumping away in the midst of a storm at sea. The shocks were so severe and prolonged that everything was leveled to the ground. Mr. F. Smith of Geological Survey of India who was stationed in Shillong at the time, opined that the earthquake was so violent that the whole of the damage was done in the first 10 or 15 seconds of the shock. He reported that all stone buildings collapsed, and about half ikrabuilt houses were ruined, but plank houses (wooden frames covered with plank walls, resting unattached on the ground) were untouched. Many people lost their lives at the Secretariat, the military lines and the bazaar’. The London Times reported the death of 27 people in Shillong, 13 of them crushed to death in the Government Press. However, a year later, Luttman-Johnson reported the loss of ten lives at the Printing Press. The London Times also mentioned an unnamed district town of 750 perishing. This town probably was Cherrapunji where a landslide wrecked the Cherrapunji Railway and caused 600 deaths.

 On August 10, 1897, the Times published letters from residents of Shillong. Rev. G.M. Davis was quoted saying that his church became a heap of stones in less than one minute. The water burst the bounds of the lakes making them absolutely dry within seconds. There was sulphury smell in the air coming out of fissures in the ground. He saw huge stones in the steps of his house literally bubbling up and down. Mr. M’ Cabe, the Inspector-General of Police, who was sick and in bed was found crushed on his bed after an hour’s digging of his collapsed bungalow. [Ref:- 1897 Assam earthquake From Wikipedia]

(L) Sushila Dutta, mother of Prof. Suprava Dutta Lady Keane College Shillong in her old age expressed her terrible experience of that furious moments of earthquake which she personally witnessed and miraculously survived, as:-

 ‘It was 12th June 1897, Saturday 5pm. All schools and officess had half holiday; and so, my husband was at home I had high fever and Doctor Kamala Charan Dutta was called at home who examined me and prescribed medicine. Prasanna Babu, a very close friend of my husband was also present there. My little girl of one year was playing on the floor in my bedroom. Suddenly a violent tremour! A stupendous jerk with a tremendous rumbling sound! Our house was moving and collapsing! I was so panicked to get my little daughter to me but within winkling of an eye, the house collapsed and I discovered myself thrown outside in the compound, and Dr. Kamal Babu grasping my little daughter was helplessly crying for rescue from half underground. It was an unbearable scene! The tremour was continuing with full intensity I was crying to rescue my child. My husband and our servants, with spade and axe cleared the debris and rescued them very tactfully from a very critical condition. We had to take shelter in the Jailroad field. The tremour continued for almost three days with intervals. Many mothers lost their children underground, heard their cry but despite all attempts failed to rescue! That tremounds destructive incident of that deadly earthquake left an indelible mark in my memory’! [Translated from ‘Shillong er smriti’ By Sushila Sundari Dutta. Ref. ‘Netaji Pathagar Golden Jubilee Souvenir’]

  There were also several reports from Shillong in Luttman-Johnson’s paper, where it was reported that that there were aftershocks almost every ten minutes on the night of the 12th and during the day of the 13th.

Today it is a history, a mere episode only but that disastrous earthquake of Shillong moved the whole world; and many global seismologists visited then Shillong to research on the subject. They observed that the light constructions of wood and clay etc remained unhurt despite the strongest jerks of the earthquake whereas the RCC buildings were crushed to dust.

 Prof. Asuri, an expert from Japan, detected that being a bumpy hilly place with rocky soil, Shillong was not fit for heavy concrete buildings, but light buildings with wooden frame and Ickra walls etc could be sustaniable here.

  Accordingly the city was rebuilt with light constructions of buildings and houses which were named as ‘Assam type buildings’.  

  So, since 1897, the Assam type constructions started in Shillong very popularly.

 In this big span of hundred and twentyfive years, of the catastrophe Shillong faced many ups and downs, many political changes and natural calamities at the same time; but braving all evils Shillong is still shining!

Uma Purkayastha, a well-known author, is a retired principal of the Govt. Girls’ Higher Secondary School in Shillong and an academic by training. She started writing at an early age and has written a significant number of poems, short tales, novels, and plays. She is an ardent reader with keen insights. Some of her significant books are “Tagore and Pineland Shillong,” “Uttaran,” “Golpo Sambhar,” and “Beacon Light of the Khasi Hills.”

Vedanta in The West: an interview with Swami Chetanananda

Swami Chetanananda, a monk in the Ramakrishna Order, has been serving as the Minister of the Vedanta Society of Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri since 1950. He previously held positions in Advaita Ashrama’s publication and editorial departments.

He served as the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California’s Vice President and is currently a cabinet member of the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis. In 1978, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he worked as the Assistant Minister for the Vedanta Society. After Swami Satprakashananda’s death, he became the Society’s Minister in 1980. He also serves as the minister of the Kansas City Vedanta Society. His extensive spiritual experience inspired Kajingshai to interview him for publication in the Across Boundaries section.


VEDANTA IN THE WEST
KJ: Could you please share your experiences as a minister at the Vedanta Society of St. Louis and the activities of the centre?
SC: The Vedanta Society of St. Louis was started by Swami Satprakashananda, a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, in 1938. He was a very learned monk, and he met Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda, and several direct disciples. The swami passed away in 1979.
I came to Hollywood in 1971 and worked with Swami Prabhavananda for five years. I was transferred to St. Louis in 1978 to assist Swami Satprakashananda, who was then bedridden. I lived with him for nearly two years.

Swami Vivekananda brought Vedanta (or Hinduism) to the West in 1893; later, five disciples of Ramakrishna came to the West to preach Vedanta. The teachings of Vedanta are very appealing to the American people, especially for two reasons. First, they love democracy, and the Vedantic concept of God is a democratic concept of God: each soul is divine. Second, they love freedom. It is as if the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbour is their chosen deity. The goal of Vedanta philosophy is jivan-mukti (“free while living”). Freedom is the song of the soul.
Ramakrishna monks have been spreading the messages of Vedanta and Ramakrishna in the West for the last 130 years. I have been working in this country for 52 years. Our St. Louis centre has various activities, such as daily worship and arati, lectures and classes, publications and a bookshop, interfaith meetings and interviews with students, and a spiritual ministry.
KJ: What are the Indian values that you believe should drive the 21st-century world? With technological advancements and Westernization, people seem to be drifting away from their culture, food, and traditions.
SC: India was under foreign rule for 1,000 years – Muslims ruled for 700 years; and the British, French, and Portuguese for a total of 300 years. Now India is a free nation and making tremendous progress in the fields of Economy and Technology. Behind all this spectacular progress, India should not forget her eternal values, which Swamiji reminded us of in his Lectures from Colombo to Almora. Material prosperity cannot bring peace and bliss in life; one cannot buy them in the market either. They come from spiritual life. Ramakrishna said that kamini-kanchan (lust and gold) cannot give happiness. This truth has been tested by many nations of the world, and some are now experimenting with it. India demonstrated the eternal values of renunciation and service in a changing society. Swamiji said that these are our national ideals: Renounce your ego and selfishness, and serve human beings as God. This is the religion of this age and the way one can find fulfillment in life. Swamiji said: They only live who live for others. I hope Indian people will listen to Swamiji and eventually will move in that direction.
When we study religion in the world, we find that the main focus in the 19th century was reasoning. People tried to understand God through reasoning. In the 20th century, the main focus of religion was humanism. People asked: If religion cannot bring happiness, what good is that religion? In the 21st century, I believe that the main focus of religion will be mysticism. People say that we have read enough, heard enough, and seen enough – now we want experience. In this context, Ramakrishna and our age-old Vedantic tradition will play an important role.
In 1992, I was invited by the School of Contemporary Mysticism in Avila, Spain, St. Teresa’s birthplace. I spoke on Ramakrishna’s spiritual experiences.
LIFE AND GOD
KJ: In the context of the Harmony of Religions, what universal moral ethics should every religion stress to maintain harmony in society?
SC: The seed of the harmony of religions is in the Rig Veda, Bhagavad Gita, and Shivamahimnah Stotra. But Sri Ramakrishna demonstrated that wonderful ideal in his life by practising Christianity and Islam along with Hinduism. He realized God in the Hindu way and then through other religions. No one, except for Sri Ramakrishna, has ever done that in the religious history of the world. His unique message was Jato mat tato path – as many faiths, so many paths. Do not quarrel about religion. Nowadays, we find that “Inter-religious Councils,” “Interfaith Partnerships,” and similar organizations are springing up in many cities in the Western world. This phenomenon started after the advent of Ramakrishna and after the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. In America, Swamiji gave a few lectures on ‘The Ideals of Universal Religion.’
I remember an incident that took place in St. Louis in 1980s. The local TV station interviewed me on Vedanta religion. The interviewer was Catholic. He asked me: “Swami, are the Hindu God, Christian God, Muslim God, and Jewish God different?”
I answered: “When the sun rises, can you say it a Hindu sun, Christian sun, Muslim sun, or Jewish sun? Can you put any stamp on the sun?”
The interviewer replied: “Swami, I have my answer.”
Swamiji spoke of universal moral ethics in his last lecture in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893:
The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”
YOUTH AND SOCIETY
KJ: With growing wealth and prosperity in the middle class, many young people are skeptical about spiritual messages. They believe that unlike science, spiritual truths cannot be verified. How can they be convinced otherwise?
SC: It is true that nowadays the young generation are less interested in religion. In the West also, very few people go to church. Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics are not enemies of religion. They keep religion alive. They are true enemies of religion who are apathetic toward religion. Anyhow, when they are in trouble, they look upward and ask for help from God.
You see, Vedanta is a scientific religion. The method of science is experimentation, verification, and conclusion. Vedantic truths have been tested, verified, and then accepted. I think that those who complain against the Vedantic religion have never practised it.
There are two complains against Vedanta: first, it is dry; and second, it is difficult. You see, the subject matter of Vedanta is Satchidanada – existence, knowledge, and bliss. It is hard to believe that the blissful Brahman is dry. Those who complain that Vedanta is difficult, they never sincerely tried to understand this wonderful philosophy. If you want to get milk and kernel of the coconut, you will have to break the shell.
NORTH EAST INDIA AND SHILLONG
KJ: : RKM Shillong is fortunate to have had Revered Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj as the First Secretary, and several other great monks (such as Rev. Gahananandaji, Prameyanandaji and others) have contributed to the growth of the Shillong ashrama. Please share any reminiscences about RKM Shillong and your association with these monks.
SC: I have nothing to say at present.
RESEARCH AND NEW FINDINGS
KJ: Can you mention one incident from the recent discoveries about Swamiji’s travels/works?
SC: Some years ago, I got the script of Swamiji’s reminiscences by Mrs. Hansbrough from the Vedanta Society of San Francisco. I edited it and sent it to Prabuddha Bharata for publication. Then I translated it into Bengali, and this was published in Udbodhan magazine and later incorporated into Bahurupe Vivekananda. I found many interesting episodes concerning Swamiji in it, especially his human aspect. Let me tell you one incident.
Ralph was a son of Mrs. Wycoff, one of the Mead sisters who were devoted to Swamiji. He lived in their house in Pasadena for a few weeks in 1900. Ralph was then a teenaged boy and devoted to Swamiji.
One day Swamiji said: “Ralph, God is so near to us, but people do not see Him.”
Ralph: “Why, Swamiji?”
Swamiji: “You see everything with your eyes. Can you see your own eyes?”
Ralph: “No, Swamiji.” (After a pause) “But I can see my eyes in a mirror.”
Swamiji: “Ralph, that is the answer. If you have a pure, clean mind, you can see God right now.”
It is amazing that Swamiji did not quote any scripture or give a long talk to this American boy. He just convinced a young American by using a common example. Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” It was said 2000 years ago and still it is a gospel truth. Our Upanishadic teachings are four to five thousand years old, still they are true. Truth never becomes old
Thank you,
Swami Chetanananda, Laguna Beach, California, 26. 8. 23

Folklore and Media Perspectives

Folklore and Media Perspective is the way in which the contested definition of folklore is being presented. At the outset, I would like to reiterate the refreshing observations made by Dan Ben-Amos and would like to quote it as a guiding mode for my thesis in trying to address the issue:

To define folklore, it is necessary to examine the phenomena as they exist. It is cultural context; folklore is not an aggregate of things, but a process-a communicative process, to be exact.

While this conception about folklore clearly delineates the collection that folklore was purported to represent, it lays stress on the contextual aspect of transmission, which in turn allows us to see folklore as a communicative process involving the producer of an item of folklore to share her or his product with an end-user. Thus, it follows that a storyteller can entertain an audience with a story, and while the three are distinctive entities, they are related to each other as components of a single continuum and it is in this way that folklore exhibits a splendid trait of the communicative process. Folklore should be understood as a social interaction which makes use of various modes of communication including the art forms and significantly, mass media.

Recognizing communication as the common denominator of folklore and media, it can be affirmed that no society exists without the activities attributed to it – surveillance of the environment to call attention to threats and opportunities, correlation of the various part of society in making a response of the environment and transmission of the social milieu to succeeding generations. In addition, modern media modes provide entertainment and even an escape from the tedium and grind of everyday life.

This conception of folklore also facilitates the much-needed academic debate on folklore the subject matter and folkloristics the study of that subject matter. If we are to grapple with the realities of our technology-driven civilization as significantly reflected in and perpetuated by information technology and mass communication, we need to be clear in dealing with the scholarship of folkloristics and its very demanding applications.

The identification of communication as the criterion of both folklore and media is the critical point which will illustrate the exciting intersections that occur between the two seemingly autonomous and disparate disciplines. As stated above, folkloristics is the scientific study of folklore and a great part of it is related to the study of contemporary society which generates and sustains its own tradition through media at its disposal. At one point of time, it was widely held that technological media was detrimental to folklore but I feel that this is a naive assertion as the study of contemporary culture implies the use of a range of expressive and communication system which cannot exclude technological media.

Folkloristics is an inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary subject embracing the social sciences, humanities and the arts. Mass media, likewise, is an indiscriminate consumer of raw material, making use of anything and everything to achieve its objective of successful communication. In this, it has been observed that the material or products that folklore provides are adroitly used by the media and presented through its various modes.  Mass culture or folklorismus is the industrial renewal of folklore. It is the process of channeling the traditional folk themes, metaphors, motifs, ideas and beliefs into the mass-produced industrial-commercial products, mass media and other forms of modern communication. Indian society, as we are aware, is not strictly speaking an industrial society at the present moment. However, as a developing country, industrialization is an important aspect of our growth and progress.

The marchen or fairytale has been used times out of number as advertisement material in the print as well as electronic media and again, while the fairytale have been serialized and moulded in comics and cartoon formats, legends  and myths have been presented as news or human interest stories in papers and magazines. These latter examples have often been sensationalized to which accusation Henry G. Gray, a pioneer newspaperman was quick to defend saying “The purpose of a newspaper is to print the truth and make a profit, not necessarily in that order”. I have observed that the tendency of newspapers and magazines to sensationalize has been when there is a “discovery syndrome” story involved.

A couple of years ago, The Telegraph did a story on the practice of name-giving and calling through tunes employed by people living in the remote villages of Khatar Shnong. The reports bordered on exoticizing the place, people and the practice. Admittedly, the tradition is of great interest to readers but to say that the practice is unique is rather far-fetched. Name-calling through tunes is a system of traditional utterance employed by folk groups in different ways. The tradition is widely practiced by some ethnic communities living in the Andean heights of South America and the Tyrolean Mountains of Europe.

The comic book, as a genre of mass communication emerged sometime in the 1930s and the portrayal of the exploits of comic-book heroes completely absorbed the attention of the young and old alike, selling something like 600 million copies yearly and that too during the periods of the Great Depression in the United States. A discerning reader of comic books would easily detect Superman, Flash Gordon, Batman and assorted other comic book characters as spin-offs from mythic and legendary figures. I am tempted here to cite the example of our own folk hero, U Adadak, who is presented as the ideal comic hero in that he, along with his friends forming an alliance and going out to the world in search of adventure. His friends comprise of U Puh Shilum or Hill-plougher, Khwai Shynreh or Buffalo-fisher and Kynting Mawsan or Boulder-thrower. These Herculean figures are accompanied by a dwarf riding a cat. In the hands of a comic book artist or film animation artist, the exploits of these mythic figures would make for very interesting reading or viewing.

When Marconi equipped two US ships to report back to newspapers on the America’s Cup Race in 1899, few thought that the wireless would dominate world airwaves for the next eighty years and bring to people’s  home news, music, stories and the market. The systematic development of commercial radio broadcasting was started by David Sarnoff who became famous for two reasons – one, he was the first person to have heard the distress signal from the sinking Titanic while being stationed on the East Coast of the United States. Second, David Sarnoff became the guiding spirit of Radio Corporation of America. Sarnoff’s plan was to make radio a “household utility” and since then, radio has never looked back.* What followed was a frenzied scramble for frequencies and churning out of programmes of which cultural productions such as radio plays, and songs formed a heavy component. The regeneration in folk music especially was largely sustained by radio stations all over the world. All India Radio Shillong commissioned in 1948 is a case in point. The huge collections of spools in its holdings represent one of the best repositories of folk music in the country.

Allow me to say that the first tentative steps I took in the field of folklore research was encouraged by All India Radio in the mid-1980s. I was working on a part-time basis and under the supervision of the talented late A.N. Kharkongor, we produced substantial programmes by recording live ceremonies and performances. When the North Eastern Service of All India Radio started in the early 1990s, there used to be a slotted weekly programme called folklore retold hosted by Dr. Soumen Sen, a veteran folklorist of North-East India. It was a hugely successful programme and it did a tremendous job to generate interest among listeners.

Film has a pervasive influence on our culture. It shares certain principal elements with literature, another discourse that dominates our culture. The youngest of the art forms, film draws on techniques and conventions from theatre and music yet, all that being said, it has evolved its own narrative method by harnessing the support of technology.

Films are an important part of mass culture everywhere and more so in India where these films play a very important role in the society. This is substantiated by the fact that India produces more films in a year than any other country in the world. In the first place, popular films in India, irrespective of the language they are produced in, are more or less like “modern fairy tales.”  Scholars have recognized that popular Indian films follow the same structural patterns as one notices in fairy tales and folktales. Popular films .with love themes (boy meets girl plots) seem to fantasize love and adventure with themes of the hero winning against great odds through the strength of individual desire which are classified motifs in the celebrated Aarni-Thompson Index of Tale Types. The magic of the myth and the fairy tale has not died out completely- it survives in changed forms in the Indian popular cinema. While Jawaharlal Handoo  talks of four broad categories in popular Indian cinema which seem to operate on folklore, there are more sub-categories which I shall discuss here:

i)             Full Myth Films in which traditional myths or folktales or their national or regional variants are incorporated without changing the basic plot structure.

ii)            Half Myth Films in which the myth or the traditional narrative is imposed on a non-traditional plot-structure or vice-versa. This form is also more appealing both to the city and the village people as it very appropriately establishes the relevance of the mythic metaphors in the modern context.

iii)           Mythic Theme Films represent such films which borrow one or many mythic motifs and use them according to the needs of the plot-structure, which may otherwise be completely non-mythic and non-traditional.

iv)           Fairy Tale Pattern Films are those popular films which exhibit a deep structure-pattern comparable to fairy tales. For example, the hero in such films, just like the fairy tale has to pass numerous tests before being able to trace his heroine, liquidate the villain, win back the heroine and marry her. The donor’s and villain’s actions, just like the fairy tale, are crucial in such films. The logic of the fairy tale pattern: from disequilibrium to equilibrium is an essential feature of such films.

v)            Fairy Tale Reversal films are those that employ folk motifs in a completely reversed format. The best example of this kind is Shrek, where we find the ogre cast in the role of a hero and the stereotyped prince is thoroughly undermined.

vi)           Urban legends with touches of the horrific are doing very well as Hollywood productions and there are a proliferation of films, made in Hollywood and Bollywood, which cater to the consumption fever of the young for the gothic. 

Thus, the fairy tale, if not in its entirety, but in terms of structural frame and action patterns seems alive and thriving in one form or the other in the modern Indian celluloid industry. The cinematic jargon used to describe actors as celestial objects reveal a happy coincidence of folk speech and functional nomenclature. The Khasis refer to handsome males as Nai khatsaw synnia or the full moon which shares the firmaments with ki khlur or stars. Both the celestial objects are considered   males and in both are fitting examples of luminosity.

The use of folklore in media is not only confined to borrowings from narratives and other performative genres but can also be detected in the structures and practices used in mass media. The cultural expressions of people’s everyday life is the core area of folklore studies and folklorists are seriously studying how folk narratives, metaphors, customs and usages are integrated into community life. A very strong reflection of the process of integration of folk nuances with patterns in communication systems of society is found in television. The rise and spread of the T.V. phenomenon in India have been very fast. It has made a strong impact on Indian society and mass culture. Besides direct telecasting of great Indian epics (Ramayana and Mahabharala were great hits) and myths, and other forms of oral narrative including “frozen” forms such as, “Vikram aur Baital” (Vikram and the Baital) and living folktales in serials like “Dada-Dadi ki Kahaniyan” (tales of grandfather arid grandmother), there are numerous indirect forms in which T.V. as a strong medium of mass culture plays the role of renewing folklore and other forms of oral tradition in modern Indian society.

The modernization of the society led many scholars to believe that folklore was dying or would die out very soon. In fact, some genres did disappear from oral tradition due to the impact of the modernization, but they continued to live on in other forms of modern media. For example the television superheroes in many countries have taken some of the roles that traditional folk heroes have always had. Interestingly, this kind of change and continuity of tradition is more visible in modern mass culture and the heroes of this culture which have the same characteristics as the traditional animal tale heroes.5 Similarly, in many countries the magic folktale is no longer transmitted orally, but through books, videos and television and now in¬ternet and e. mail etc. “Television,” writes Gary Alan Fine,  “has apparently changed the temporal boundaries of entertainment, possibly more than it has altered the con¬tent of the stories.” Parents more often than not use all these modem media and read or retell them to their children. The professional storytellers too adapt them from printed or oral sources. These storytellers are not bound by regional or national folk traditions, but feel free to use stories from any culture.

T.V. advertising is another area in which folklore metaphors, symbols, designs, motifs, and ideas are transformed to popularize or boost modern industrial products, and as such become an important part of mass culture. In the past FIFA World Cup, the Sports giant, Addidas, used an inverted proverb to promote its products. The visual showed a small boy playing football with many world cup football stars, past and present.  When the boy scored a goal, the catch-line came as follows: Impossible is Nothing which is the inverted form of Nothing is Impossible.

A couple of years ago, my students and I did a survey of magazine advertisements (using Time and India Today as source material) with the intention of locating folklore metaphors and symbolism used in the advertisement visuals and texts. We discovered that forty percent of the material making use of easily recognized folk metaphors in products such as Bacardi rum where the bat is a central figure to Visa card, Singapore Airlines and the Allianz Insurance which some feminist group in South India, I think, felt was incestuous. There is even a computer virus named Trojan Horse which has affected my computer system.

Television portrays salient aspects of cultural life and though many programmes are created outside everyday life (News, Sitcoms etc.), they are patterned after experiences and impressions of real-life situations: Mie Berg on the introduction of television describes the phenomenon thus: “Television suddenly brought the whole world into the living room. One switched it on – and the living pictures flowed into the family’s circle…”

Through a mass-mediated production, we become part of a larger world whose influences work their way into our lives and altering our perspectives. As a cultural being, humans are obsessed with routines and rituals and as communication consumers, we structure our everyday lives on a necessity which we customize. I have observed that TV constitutes a very significant marker as far as domesticity is concerned. In a family, members will vie for viewing time and the remote becomes an object of authority even hegemony. Television is consciously anointed as the symbolic order we create out of and for our everyday culture. The invasion of our domestic and mental domain by television can best be illustrated by Michael Marsden  who says: “the television receiver has quietly and smoothly assumed the role of household god, becoming the focal point for interior designer and homeowner alike”

During the early nineteen eighties, very few families in Shillong had television sets and during important events such as Republic Day parades and I remember specifically, that during the Asian Games played in New Delhi, people used to congregate in homes that had TV sets and sometimes, the sets were placed outside to facilitate wider viewership. Naturally, TV was pronounced TB that is substituted by a voiced bilabial stop because the voiced labio-dental is not present in Khasi. That TB is a short form for tubercolosis is common enough knowledge and some wit would exhibit his familiarity with both the disease as well as the gadget by saying that TB is nowadays curable; the thing is when someone has colour TB meaning colour television, implying advanced stage of TB, then there is a real cause for concern! By a skillful twist of language, the wit has added to the store of colloquial speech. Another example of integration of a folk aphorism with contemporary lifestyle that I have heard is when a person dies, she or he is referred to as having gone to God’s house to watch TV, deviating from the traditional practice of referring to such occurrences as having gone to God’s house to eat betel nuts.

The intersections between folklore and the media cannot be underrated. The two domains are, by academic definition, autonomous yet they display an inter-connectedness that will open up more exciting work in this brave new century.

Prof Desmond Kharmawphlang: A Professor of Cultural and Creative Studies. Desmond L. Kharmawphlang has published a number of books. A poet and a folklorist; he has published books of poetry and collections of theoretical essays on folkloristics pertaining to North East India. He has represented the country in numerous conferences outside the country notably in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Norway, the United States, Finland and Greece.

Ruth Harris on ‘Guru to the World’

Ruth Harris has written a new book [“Guru to the World: Life and Legacy of Vivekananda,” Harvard University Press, October 2022] that examines Vivekananda’s life through his transformative relationships and the impact he had on transforming the Western understanding of spirituality and the global perspective as a whole.

Ka Jingshai (KJ) was in conversation with Prof Ruth Harris (RH). Here is an abridged version of the interview, which can be found in full at https://bit.ly/3KgGkFk

KJ: Your book about Vivekananda covers the importance of his philosophy from multiple perspectives in an interesting way. How did you discover Vivekananda, and why you decided to switch genres in your writing?

RH: Well, there are two things. On one level, it was a shift, a tremendous shift, and I had to spend 8-10 years doing the book because I had no background. On another level, it wasn’t because I came to it through French history. I was reading about the relationship between Romain Rolland and Gandhi and picked up two other books he wrote. One on Ramakrishna (La Vie De Ramakrishna), and the other on Vivekananda ( La Vie De Vivekananda). It’s that book that got me started. 

The second reason is that people like Vivekananda came from the colonial and imperial world to the west, but they shaped our views and shifted our perceptions. Also, I wanted to explore why somebody like Vivekananda had such an impact outside of India before he returned to India. I began to read letters, and I got a sense of him as a human being. That was very enticing.

KJ: When you read him first, what really struck you? 

RH: What struck me about him was his capacity to express very harsh, fundamental truths through wit and humour, especially to his western audience and, at the same time, his openness to their preoccupations. I was stunned by this because he could have been very angry. There were times when he said, ‘Please, don’t speak of us as heathens, don’t offer us stones when we need food.’ It was also his cultural ambidexterity that he could engage in any of the discussions Westerners were interested in. That struck me, and so did the first woman who dealt with him. He could talk about many things, and I began to think, ‘what does it mean for somebody like this, to so many different people, that he had to encompass all this learning and ability to communicate?’

KJ: Did you ever feel like ‘let me write on the Guru of Vivekananda?’

RH: Well, I have to say, of all the things I wrote, the chapter on Sri Ramakrishna was the most difficult. As a Westerner not brought up in this tradition, I had read the gospel of Ramakrishna, and I began to think of how difficult it is to convey the message of Ramakrishna. I was trying to understand, but we get that message only through devotees completely changed by his presence. We get an extraordinary sense of his charisma, humanity, and capacity to touch people with different psychological makeups. 

The story of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda is often told as a story of opposites, but it’s superficial opposites. Certainly, Ramakrishna comes across as  Bhakta, Vivekananda as sceptical Jnani. But underneath, it was Ramakrishna’s wisdom that he was learning. Vivekananda himself said, ‘I am a bhakta’. It is a complex and transformational relationship; I think Ramakrishna understands that you need somebody who can communicate in the wider world; the savviness of somebody like Ramakrishna really impressed me. 

Finally, I found out how he insisted on being a baby and said that innocence and play of babyhood are authentic Atman. He acknowledges Vivekananda’s intelligence; when he reasons too much, he says, ‘you must go beyond that.’ This is something that he used when he was speaking to his audience. It wasn’t just the rational Vivekananda that they loved.

KJ: What thoughts made you think that the concept of ‘Swami Vivekananda and America’ needs a new light? 

RH: There was a personal dimension here in a weird way. It brought many things together for me. Of course, I am American, ended up in Britain, and married an Englishman. It was interesting that working on Vivekananda brought my American, British and Indian friends together. 

Most of my American friends said, ‘we’re growing up; we’re not religious; we’re spiritual.’ I thought, ‘Where does that come from?’ Many of them were Jewish or Christian. But they all think of themselves as spiritual. Yet, they knew on some level that many of the ideas around spirituality they professed came from some vision of yoga or India. 

I realized that people had not grasped the connection between Vivekananda and William James, who was considered in America to be the founder of psychology. Romain Rolland, in  his discussion of Vivekananda, writes about William James. He recognizes that Vivekananda is part of a greater shift in views of self-consciousness and religious experience. I read some of his correspondence and realized that he was having a debate with Vivekananda. He does not accept Hinduism. He still thinks of it in very orientalist terms as metaphysical and transcendent, but not based on science.

KJ: It’s intriguing that you present and understand Indian ethos so delicately in this book. How challenging was that? 

RH: I can’t tell you. In the fourth year, I began to despair. I thought, ‘Oh, this time, I’ve bitten off too much. This time, I’m going to get into trouble.’ That’s because I could not understand, but I was working hard. I was raised in a Jewish tradition and spent a year working on Catholicism to learn about the Virgin Mary. 

I think the change came when I listened to a good translation of the Gita. When you begin to understand what it is, for Arjuna not to defend his family and his relations because of his Dharma, when Indian families mean so much. The sacrifice is extraordinary for the higher ethos I began to appreciate. 

Interestingly, many of my Indian friends began to recognize that we really can’t understand politics, and of course, the Indian anti-colonial struggle without religion. I had been working on religion and science for many years, but what I was doing on Vivekananda was different. It was in exchanges with my friends that I began to get an idea. I tried to be delicate, I’m not sure I always managed. 

I tried to use my historical imagination to enter into the world I was looking at. I realized that people pick and choose from Vivekananda. But the world he lived in was not like ours. We have to understand that it was a world of theosophy, spiritualism and Christian science. 

KJ: In Vivekananda’s writings and speeches, there seems to be a convergence between modern science and Vedanta. He also cautioned against superstitious beliefs in both science and religion. What is the main lesson to be learned from these opposing ideas?

RH: What he’s saying is don’t accept claims from either religion or science as blanket claims. Each individual must find her own path through intellectual understanding. Vivekananda globalizes Hinduism, he engages in debates, and he’s provocative. The Orthodox didn’t accept what he was doing. There are those who disagree with his vision of the relationship of Karma Yoga with Advaita. There are others who do not want to give up rituals. He never said you had to give up anything. He wanted people to question. Though he did prioritize Advaita above other forms, he never lost sight of the fact that Ramakrishna had achieved everything spiritually through Kali.

KJ: Do you think Swami Vivekananda, in a sense, was more unique in his approach than Ramakrishna?

RH: It is not that, that he isn’t unique; Ramakrishna is utterly unique. He’s not like anybody I’ve ever encountered, he’s remarkable. But what I’m saying is that Vivekananda becomes a global figure, he goes to Chicago, he does all those things that Ramakrishna could never engage with.

In his encounter with Ramakrishna, he wants to see God. Vivekananda has this mystical sense and he knows, that it was Ramakrishna who can do that. That’s when he accepts Ramakrishna. It’s a spiritual reconciliation of the highest order. I think that’s partially why he hopes to bring reconciliation when he goes to America. But he’s also savvy, he needs to impress them, he also acknowledges that there are dynamics of power that have to shift. He scolds the people in the West. He says, ‘You’re brutal, you’re materialistic. You don’t listen, you don’t see yourselves.’ When he comes back to India, he says, ‘You’re timid, you’re quarrelsome. you must learn self-reliance, commit yourself to practical Vedanta.’ Like a good Guru, he says different things to different audiences. Despite that, I don’t think that there are two Vivekanandas. He wishes he was back with Ramakrishna, but he has to shift his whole rhythm and psyche and it’s exhausting. That’s why his women friends in America, worry about him all the time, they see he’s exhausted.

KJ: Do you believe that the mental pressure and stress Vivekananda experienced was due to the obstacles and superstitious beliefs that he had to overcome?

RH: I do think it was very exhausting, it’s again that human capacity to acknowledge his weaknesses that I got attracted to him, that he wasn’t a Superman. That he not being a Superman, he’s extraordinary. He talks about ‘The imitation of Christ.’ You can imitate Christ, he says, be Christ, be better than Christ. But he doesn’t want Indians to imitate the British; he wants them to be Indian. How do you take the world, the universal, while remaining authentically yourself? That’s his message for individuals and nations.

KJ: How do you think these ideas about blending experience and reason are influencing the modern thought currents of the West? 

RH: In this connection, we may remember his discussion with William James. They all were trying to blend experience and reason. When people say in America, I’m not religious, I’m spiritual, what they’re trying to say is, I think, ‘we’re not superstitious, we don’t belong to these old ideas, but we are open to many different paths.’ 

He was interested in creating a Vedantic science, but he himself could not do that. He was interested in the idea that people would see the cosmic and the mundane together. They found it difficult because they think the universality is European rationality. But when science comes to India, it doesn’t shift. People are interested in science, but many continue to have their spiritual preoccupations.

In the West, there was a split. By the end of the 19th century, there was a revolt against these ideas and Vivekananda slots into those discussions. What’s interesting about Vivekananda is he believes in evolution, but he doesn’t believe that natural selection has a role in the higher mental and psychological faculties. Even Darwin’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, would have agreed with Vivekananda. 

KJ: There is a popular trend of using science to justify every religious ritual or practice. What was Vivekananda’s stance on this matter?

RH: Vivekananda wanted everyone to find his or her own way. He didn’t think that real spirituality was the miraculous. He encouraged people not to search for ‘getting powers or being miraculous’ He thought that a more enduring spirituality was based on perseverance and disciplined search. 

I think he’d learned that from Ramakrishna, and that’s why I begin that chapter by talking about how Ramakrishna has throat cancer and his disciples want him to cure himself, and Ramakrishna says, ‘I can’t ask for that. As I spent all my time explaining that the body is nothing.’

These are things that Vivekananda knew and tried to convey to his American devotees. 

One of the things about my book is to show how the vision of science changes very much over time. I still think that we have an overinflated view of science. It can explain some aspects of the world but not everything.

KJ: In your treatment of disciples of Swami Vivekananda, you have dealt with the Indians, the Americans and the British separately. Were their perceptions of Vivekananda different during his time? How do you look at this when the world is considered just one village?

RH: Absolutely. I mean, even though it is one village. In India, there are many who view Vivekananda through the eyes of family tradition; it’s there in the bone. Yet everyone has a different view in India of Vivekananda. 

In America and in Britain, it’s again, different because they see Vivekananda as basically the door opener to all these Indian ideas. I was trying to get them to understand that there’s a background to why he came to America. 

That Chicago thing is important because America is not yet an imperial power, it will be in 1898, five years after the Parliament. He’s glad to be in America because he speaks English but doesn’t have to deal with colonists. In Britain, people have heard of Vivekananda but don’t think of him through an imperial lens. They think of him as the founder of yoga. That’s what many people have heard of Vivekananda, but they don’t realize that he has had such a powerful afterlife in Indian society.

KJ: After reading Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on Vedanta, the concept of Self, Atman, and oneness, as a Westerner, how revolutionary were those ideas for you to comprehend?

RH: Yes, it really was revolutionary. But I also have to say what I loved about reading these high flights of Hindu metaphysical thought was how he joined them to stories.

First, I only understood the parable side, and then, with time, I began to investigate the other side. I spent so much time reading about American women because I was like the American women. But also because I’ve lived in Britain so long, I was like Margaret Noble.  Again the relationship between universalism and particularity is a very important issue for the Jews, the relationship between love and longing for spirituality. 

Vivekananda has been spoken about as a great cosmopolitan or a great globalist. But I think, after the pandemic, we realized that it’s not so easy when we are a village on one level, but we’re also highly fragmented. 

KJ: Vivekananda was many things to many people. Ruth, why did you want to attribute the word Guru to him?

RH: It’s very simple. I was saying that he was trying to be a guru to the world. But I also was trying to explain that India was often placed in that position. But rather than being easy to do, it’s also problematic because the idea that India is spiritual and the West is materialistic is basically a cliche.

We know that Indians are not purely spiritual and that Westerners are not purely materialistic. So while he enters into the Western world, by presenting himself as a guru to the world, he’s also constrained by these very categories that don’t allow people to step outside the box. I think that’s a great paradox for him.

I think it’s, if you don’t mind my saying, because I’m not Indian, it remains a great paradox for India today because India wants to be a world teacher, but it’s not always true that people do it that way. I wanted to explore that paradox honestly and with generosity.

KJ:  You mentioned that the book’s purpose evolved over time. Have you ever travelled to India, and if so, for what reason?

RH: I did. I went to the archives, and I did everything. I also went all over America to look at archives. I was in St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston. I, of course, went to Calcutta, to Belur Math. I had to go to all these places. Because if you don’t have a sense of place, you can’t understand and, when you go and visit people, they give you bits of history. They give you their memories, what has been passed down to them, and you learn a lot.

KJ: Do you think Vivekananda’s philosophy should be taught to school or college students for a better world tomorrow?

RH: I think it would be very interesting to have some aspects of his work on universalism and diversity in the curriculum in our schools. In England, there is teaching in Christianity. But there’s also a lot of emphasis on religious studies, and now they’re starting to do courses on Hinduism.

 I would recommend reading ‘Practical Vedanta’, the lectures in London, where he describes that everything can be in the service of this Self that is God, even in the most humble things.

Professor Ruth Harris is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls’ College and a Professor of Modern History at the Oxford University. She has been awarded Guggenheim Fellowship and Wolfson History Prize and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. She has published widely in the history of science and medicine, the history of gender and religion, and the history of politics and emotion.

Manipur and Jagoi Ras

Manipur, an erstwhile kingdom, has a chequered history. In the beginning Manipur valley was a vast lake. When the lake started drying up people descended to the valley and settled there. The Meiteis of Manipur are said to be the descendants of a break-away group of the Shang Dynasty of Central China and the Lei-hou tribe of Koubru hill situated in the north-west of Manipur valley. They established their principality in Koubru hill range sometime during the 15th century B.C. Over the centuries, many people belonging to Tai Shan groups from China and Burma (Myanmar) migrated to Manipur and settled in the valley.

Jagoi Ras on stage by Brojendro Thounaojam

King Loyumba (1074-1112 AD) instituted Loyumba Shinyen, a written constitution, which was essential in the reordering of the society to integrate the dominant groups. In many ways principles of this constitution still govern the Meitei social system.

The Ningthouja dynasty of the Meiteis founded by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba in 33 AD ruled Manipur till the British took over in 1891. They installed a royal blood on the throne as a proxy ruler till they left in 1947. The reign of the Ningthouja dynasty continued until the monarchy was abolished in 1949 after the merger of Manipur with India.

Manipur’s connection with Hinduism started when Hindu kingdoms in mainland India were overrun by invaders and people, especially the Brahmins, started running off to safer places to escape the onslaught. Starting from the 15th century A.D. waves after waves of the Brahmins entered Manipur and assimilated into the local population.

Besides the Meiteis, there are 33 recognised tribes in Manipur. Frequent intermarriages with different tribes have also enlarged the gene pool of the Meiteis. More often than not ‘Manipuri’ is used as a generic term to encompass all the peoples living in Manipur.

Doyen of Indian Theatre, Ratan Thiyam maintains, “Manipur is beautiful because of its syncretic culture. We have accommodated every culture, every religion, every ethnicity that came our way, and out of this fashioned a unique identity for ourselves. This is an outlook we inherited from our ancestors and this is precisely what has made our arts great and our society resilient. Why are we questioning this greatness inherent in us now?”

Manipuri culture presents an amazing synthesis of artistic and moral aspects. Manipuri performing arts encompass dance, music, martial arts, drama, etc. To the Manipuris dancing is devotion and submission to God.

The tradition of worshipping pre-Hindu deities continued even after the coming of Hinduism. Meitei religion is centred on the veneration of deities. Lai Haraoba or pleasing of deities, ceremonial rites to appease deities, a pre-Hindu festival, is an important festival of Manipur.

Lai Haraoba has been preserved in its most pristine form — its dance forms and oral literary and poetic traditions are still intact even long after the Meiteis have become Hindus. Hinduism could not totally subvert the pre-Hindu Meitei religion. Even the kings who patronised Hinduism continued to worship pre-Hindu gods and goddesses. Meitei religion reached a modus vivendi with Hinduism.

Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1759-1760, 1764-1798) is considered to be the most devout of all the Hindu Manipuri kings. During his reign the image of Shri Govindaji at the temple in Imphal was carved out of a jackfruit tree as Shri Krishna had revealed in his dream. He also arranged to cast the image of Sanamahi, a pre-Hindu deity, in metal. He worshipped both the deities. 

Classical dance is associated with spirituality and has a deep-rooted relationship with Natya Shastra. Manipuri Ras Lila known as Jagoi Ras in Manipuri is one of the classical dances of India. During his lifetime Rajarshi Bhagyachandra founded three Ras Lilas, viz., (1) Maha Ras, (2) Kunja Ras and (3) Basanta Ras. These original forms of Jagoi Ras belong to temples and are never performed outside the precincts of temples. His successors founded another two Ras Lilas, viz., (1) Nitya Ras and (2) Diva Ras.

Three years after the installation of Shri Govindaji, for the first time Maha Ras in classical tradition was dedicated to Shri Govindaji at Langthabal (Canchipur), on the full moon night of Hiyangei (October-November), in 1779 A.D. It continued for five days in which the chief queen and other members of the royal family took part with the young lady Vimbabati playing the role of Shrimati Radharani. King Bhagyachandra himself played Pung (Mridanga) while his uncle, Ngoubram Shai was the leader of the vocal group.

Jagoi Ras customarily starts with a Sankirtana known as Nat Sankirtana. The term ‘Sankirtana’ signifies a form of song or chanting performed in public to praise God. Dance, song and music all combine with devotion in Sankirtana. In a typical recital, two drummers and many other singer-dancers with cymbals in their hands perform, supplemented by conch blowers. The rituals of Nat Sankirtana are all continuation of the original rituals of Lai Haraoba with suitable changes made to adapt to the need of time, situation and other relevant factors.

“Sankirtana: Ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur” was inscribed on the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the eighth session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, held from Monday 2 to Saturday 7 December 2013.

Maharas at Shri Gvindaji temple, Imphal by Kosygin Leishangthem

There are different costumes assigned to the dancers playing Shri Krishna, Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and the Gopis.

Jagoi Ras on stage by Brojendro Thounaojam

Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and Gopis wear potloi, a cylindrical costume made of layers of stiff starched cloths covered with a bright coloured silk cloth (either red or green) on which chamaki or bright metal pieces are sewn. Green coloured potlois are for Shrimati Radhika and Brinda Devi. It is tied to the waist of the female performer. Above it she wears another short skirt like garment called poshwal (poswan). Potloi is so designed that any movement of the legs of the performer is correctly transferred to it. In other words, potloi dances along with the steps of the performer.

All the performers in the three Ras Lilas associated with Govindaji Temple gather up and tie their hair on the top of their heads. Each dancer wears a koktumbi, a conical headwear, over the hair. Then the head is covered with a maikhumbi (semi-transparent white veil).

Khwang-goi, a belt, is tied to the waist. Khwang-nap, a flap, is placed on the front. The upper portion of the body is adorned with resham phurit or velvet blouse. Khaon, astrip of embroidered cloth, is put on across the upper portion of the body from left shoulder to right waist and the flap is dropped below the waist. Khaon is used for the performers in Ras Lilas associated with Govindaji temple.

Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and Gopis in Nitya Ras and Diva Ras can wear either koktumbi or another type of headwear called jhapa. But jhapa is not allowed in Govindaji temple. On their hands they wear khutnam topi (an ornament worn on the top of palm), khuji (bracelet)and khuji thak rattan zoor (an ornament tied to forearm and upper arm).

Shri Krishna wears golden-yellow silk pheijom (dhoti) with green borders. Two Khaons are put on across the upper part of the body from shoulder to waist, from right to left and left to right, with the flaps hanging below the waist on either side. Shri Krishna also wears Khwang-goi and khwang-nap.

Shri Krishna’s headgear comprises of chura, cherei and kajenglei. Chura is the crown of peacock feathers. Cherei or paper-flower is the thin strips of white paper on a string worn at the back of the head. Kajenglei is the circular headdress consisting of numerous brass strips with red tuffs.

On the hand from the top of palm to arm, Shri Krishna wears khutnam topi, khuji popchaobi (thick bracelet), taan (plaque), tanthak (an ornament worn above taan) and tankha (an ornament worn below taan). On the bridge of foot and around the ankle Shri Krishna wears khong-gi leiteng. It covers up sengao sarik or the string of small metal bells around the ankle.  

The complete set of costumes for Shri Krishna is called natavaravesh.

  • Maha Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Hiyangei, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in October-November. It corresponds to Kartika Purnima.

Shri Govindaji representing Lord Krishna participates in Maha Ras. For this purpose, the deity is taken out of the temple in a grand ceremonial procession to the Ras Mandal after rituals. The deity is carefully placed on Vhadra Chakra, a revolving platform at the centre of Ras Mandal. The Gopis dance around while the deity revolves in all directions.

There are some basic differences between Govindaji temple and other temples including Bijoy Govinda. At Govindaji temple, the deity is present at the Ras Mandal. No dancer enacting the role of Krishna is present. At other temples, the role of Krishna is enacted by a dancer. The solo episodes of ‘Radha and Krishna’ or ‘Krishna Nartan’ are there. At Govindaji temple, instead of the episodes of ‘Radha and Krishna’ a significantly big Artika is offered in the beginning with the two deities of Shrimati Radharani and Shri Krishna installed on the Vhadra Chakra.

Historically, Maha Ras was performed in the precincts of Govindaji temple with the participation of the members of the Royal family. As it is more ritualistic and have certain practices to be followed, very little change has taken place in this form.

  • Kunja Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Mera, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in September-October.

In Kunja Ras Shri Krishna meets the Gopis at a secret grove of their choice.

  • Basanta Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Sajibu, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in March-April. The season of colours is enacted in the Ras. Chandravali, the second in devotional ecstasy to Shrimati Radharani too joins Basanta Ras. The episode of Mana signifying the discarding of Shri Krishna by Shrimati Radharani is the most thrilling and sympathetic portion of Basanta Ras.
  • Nitya Ras was founded by Maharaja Chandrakirti (1850-1886).

This Ras Lila is not dedicated to Shri Govindaji. One of king’s daughters, princess Sanatombi married and lived with her British husband major Maxwell, the then British administrative officer. This relationship was not approved by the Royal family. According to Manipuri custom at the time she was regarded as an outcaste. Princess Sanatombi organized the Nitya Ras founded by her father and celebrated it outside the temple premises with herself in the role of Makokchingbi (a major in the Ras Lila).

Nitya Ras can be performed in any month of the year except Sajibu, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in March-April. Female dancers of Nitya Ras were not allowed to use Koktumbi or the headdress of Shrimati Radha and Gopis for the three dance forms associated with Govindaji temple. Nitya Ras is also known as Nartana Ras.

  • Diva Ras was created during the reign of Maharaja Churachand (1891-1941).

Diva Ras is the youngest of the five Ras Lilas. It started during the reign of Sir Churachand Singh, the royal head during the British Manipur administration. The time was around 1940 A.D. before World War II.

This Ras Lila is performed during day time hence called Diva Ras. The time of Diva Ras is scheduled ahead of the time of Shri Krishna’s coming back home along with the cows from the pasture.

Manipuri Ras Lilas have undergone many transformations since Rajarshi Bhagyachandra created Maha Ras. In the olden days traditional dancers, singers and artists could survive because of the patronage of kings and dignitaries. Now, they are left to fend for themselves to stay alive. To earn their livelihood they have to bend their ways and try to adapt to the present trend. To attract tourists and entertain people Manipuri Ras Lilas have come out of temples. Excerpts have also been adapted for stage performance. Performance lasting whole night has been squeezed into ten to fifteen minutes

References: –

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, ‘Beyond the Spectrum: The Tradition of Lai Haraoba’ / Northeast India: The Insiders’ Definition. Marg, Volume 63 Number 4, June 2012  

 R.K. Danisana, Manipuri Dances (A Panorama of Indian Culture). Rajesh Publications, New Delhi 2012  

Haobam Ibochaoba Singh, The Pre-World War-II Form of Ras Leela. Published by (L) Haobam Ongbi Shantibala Devi W/o H. Ibochaoba Singh, Uripok Haobam Dewan Leikai, Imphal, January, 2009  

 K.C. Tensuba, Genesis of Indian Tribes: An approach to the History of Meities and Thais (first published in India by M.C. Mittal, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi in 1993)  

 M. Kirti Singh, Religion and Culture of Manipur. Manas Publications, Delhi, 1988  

E. Nilakanta Singh, Fragments of Manipuri Culture. Omsons Publications, New Delhi, 1993  

Pradip Phanjoubam, “Drama in the time of bigotry: theatre director and poet Ratan Thiyam” in the Hindu, December 01, 2018 04:15 pm | Updated December 02, 2018 10:21 am IST; https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/drama-in-the-time-of-bigotry/article25641764.ece. Accessed on December 4, 2022  

 Saroj Nalini Parratt, “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the Cheitharon Kumpaba”. Routledge, Oxon, simultaneously published in the USA and Canada, First published 2005. (CK Vol. 1)  

Saroj Nalini Parratt, “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the Cheitharon Kumpaba”. Vol. 2. 1764—1843 CE, Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., First published 2009 (CK Vol. 2)  

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh is a bilingual poet, writer and translator from Imphal, India. He writes poetry, short-stories and nonfiction in both English and Manipuri. His original writings and translations in English have appeared in Oxford University Press Volumes, Sabd, Pratibha India, Interstate Commerce Commission Quarterly, Chandrabhaga, Imphal Free Press, North-East Frontier, Sentinel / Melange, Katha Volumes, Glimpses from the North-East (published by National Knowledge Commission), Marg etc.He is the Vice–president of, North East Writers” Forum, a life member, of Naharol Sahitya Premee Samiti, Imphal, and an advisor, Chorus Repertory Theatre, Imphal founded by Ratan Thiyam.

Vivacious

For good or for evil, the religious ideal has been flowing into India for thousands of years; for good or for evil, the Indian atmosphere has been filled with ideals of religion for shining scores of centuries; for good or for evil, we have been born and brought up in the very midst of these ideas of religion, till it has entered into our very blood and tingled with every drop in our veins, and has become one with our constitution, become the very vitality of our lives.

-Swami Vivekananda

Greetings!

The epic Mahabharata as a legend is considered the foundation of Indian history and philosophy. With 2,111 chapters, 100,000 verses, 18 books (or “parvas”), 107 sub-parvas, and the appendix Harivamsha, is the longest epic in existence. The magnitude of this work is eight times larger than the size of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined. Not only is it a captivating story, but it also holds a wealth of profound knowledge and understanding about Indian culture and values. It has enthralled generations and remains an inspiration to people today.

The great sage Veda Vyasa, also known as Krishna Dvaipayana, is credited with writing this epic according to folklore. The Mahabharata introduces us to a wide variety of human characters, ranging from the sublime to the absurd. No human emotion, act of bravery, charity, selflessness, or malice is overlooked in this epic. Śri Krishna is undoubtedly the most brilliant and picturesque personality projected by the epic. He appears on the scene suddenly at the time of Draupadi’s svayamvara and continues to appear throughout the story. All his energies are channeled in one direction: protection of the right and the good, and punishment or destruction of the wicked. His remarkable prowess, matched only by the bewitching beauty of his perfect form, sage counsels, superb stratagems, and immensely superior statesmanship, captivate our hearts. The epic portrays him as God Himself come down to save mankind, as he himself admits in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a part of this great Epic.

In this edition of Ka Jingshai- the Light, we are delighted to present the Khasi rendition ‘Ka Mahabharata. Translated by Sri H L Pde and prof Streamlet Dkhar in 1974. This timeless classic had been lost to the annals of history.

In the English section of this edition, we bring you a rich variety of articles. You can read about the Vivekananda Cultural Centre from the memoirs of Smt. Champa Sen Choudhury, reminiscences of the late Dr. Bidhu Bhushan Dutta, and an exclusive interview with Prof. Ruth Harris from Oxford University. These articles offer unique perspectives on Indian culture and provide readers with valuable insights into the cultural legacy.

In the unexplored pages of history, tribute is paid to the freedom fighters of Northeast India – ‘Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma’ of Meghalaya and ‘Pioli Phukan’, a freedom fighter of Assam, who sacrificed their lives. This issue also raises serious contemporary issues such as the increasing migration from villages. The literary section features the poem ‘Jheeni-Jheeni Beeni Chadariya…’, while short stories ‘Catherine’ and ‘Moch’ are devoted to social concerns. The arrival of the season of spring ‘Basant’ and strength ‘Shakti’ are celebrated in Poesy.

We express our gratitude to the authors for entrusting us with their extraordinary works, allowing us to share them with our esteemed readers. With this edition of Ka Jingshai, we present a wonderful opportunity for our readers to explore the multifaceted and vivacious culture of India. We sincerely hope that this edition brings you immense pleasure and that the articles within it touch your hearts and inspire you to develop a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of India.

Keep sending us your suggestions.

Hunting the Stag Lapalang Illustrations: Peace

Once upon a time there lived with its dam on the Plains of Sylhet a young deer whose fame has come down through the ages in Khasi folk-lore. The story of the Stag Lapalang, as he was called, continues to fascinate generation after generation of Khasi youths, and the merry cowboys, as they sit in groups on the wild hill-sides watching their flocks, love to relate the oft-told tale and to describe what they consider the most famous hunt in history.The Stag Lapalang was the noblest young animal of his race that had ever been seen in the forest and was the pride of his mother’s heart. She watched over him with a love not surpassed by the love of a human mother, keeping him jealously at her side, guarding him from all harm.
As he grew older the young stag, conscious of his own matchless grace and splendid strength, began to feel dissatisfied with the narrow confines and limited scope of the forest where they lived and to weary of his mother’s constant warnings and counsels. He longed to explore the world and to put his mettle to the test.

His mother had been very indulgent to him all his life and had allowed him to have much of his own way, so there was no restraining him when he expressed his determination to go up to the Khasi Hills to seek begonia leaves to eat. His mother entreated and warned him, but all in vain. He insisted on going, and she watched him sorrowfully as with stately strides and lifted head he went away from his forest home.

Matters went well with the Stag Lapalang at first; he found on the hills plenty of begonia leaves and delicious grass to eat, and he revelled in the freedom of the cool heights. But one day he was seen by some village boys, who immediately gave the alarm, and men soon hurried to the chase: the hunting-cry rang from village to village and echoed from crag to crag. The hunting instincts of the Khasis were roused and men poured forth from every village and hamlet.

Oxen were forgotten at the plough; loads were thrown down and scattered; nothing mattered for the moment but the wild exciting chase over hill and valley. Louder sounded the hunting cry, farther it echoed from crag to crag, still wilder grew the chase. From hill to hill and from glen to glen came the hunters, with arrows and spears and staves and swords, hot in pursuit of the Stag Lapalang.

He was swift, he was young, he was strong—for days he eluded his pursuers and kept them at bay; but he was only one unarmed creature against a thousand armed men. His fall was inevitable, and one day on the slopes of the Shillong mountain he was surrounded, and after a brave and desperate struggle for his life, the noble young animal died with a thousand arrows quivering in his body.

The lonely mother on the Plains of Sylhet became uneasy at the delay of the return of the Stag Lapalang, and when she heard the echoes of the hunting-cry from the hills her anxiety became more than she could endure. Full of dread misgivings, she set out in quest of her wanderer, but when she reached the Khasi hills, she was told that he had been hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong, and the news broke her heart.

Staggering under the weight of her sorrow, she traversed the rugged paths through the wildwoods, seeking her dead offspring, and as she went her loud heartrending cries were heard throughout the country, arresting every ear. Women, sitting on their hearths, heard it and swooned from the pain of it, and the children hid their faces in dismay; men at work in the fields heard it and bowed their heads and writhed with the anguish of it. Not a shout was raised for a signal at sight of that stricken mother, not a hand was lifted to molest her, and when the huntsmen on the slopes of Shillong heard that bitter cry their shouts of triumph froze upon their lips, and they broke their arrows in shivers.

Never before was heard a lamentation so mournful, so plaintive, so full of sorrow and anguish and misery, as the lament of the mother of the Stag Lapalang as she sought him in death on the slopes of Shillong. The Ancient Khasis were so impressed by this demonstration of deep love and devotion that they felt their own manner of mourning for their dead to be very inferior and orderless, and without meaning. Henceforth they resolved that they also would mourn their departed ones in this devotional way, and many of the formulas used in Khasi lamentations in the present day are those attributed to the mother of the Stag Lapalang when she found him hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong hundreds and hundreds of years ago

Dr. Peacefully Kharkongor is an Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Women’s College, Shillong. She also has a passion for art.

आजादी अमृत महोत्सव

हेमलता गोलछा, गुवाहाटी
आजादी की उमंग दिलों में जगाने को
नव स्वर्णिम युग का उत्थान हुआ।
बिगुल बजा विकास का भारत में
चहुँमुखी उन्नति का सूत्रपात हुआ।
तोड़ पराधीनता की बेड़ियों को
जीवंत लोकतंत्र का निर्माण हुआ।
ग्रामीण विकास योजना की नींव रखी
संविधान के आदर्श स्वरूप का निर्माण हुआ।
शिक्षा को मिला आधार स्तंभ
‘बेटी बचाओ, बेटी पढ़ाओ’ की धारा का प्रवाह हुआ।
खंड खंड में बंटे भारत को अखंड बना
370 धारा का सफाया कश्मीर से हुआ।
आतंकी हमलों का मुँहतोड़ जवाब दिया
सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक का कीर्तिमान नाम हुआ।
मिटाने को भ्रष्टाचार उठाए ठोस कदम
नोट, वोट और खोट में नव चमत्कार हुआ।
सैन्य का सीना चौड़ा, महाशक्ति मिसाइल से
अंतरिक्ष में छलांग से प्रगति क्षेत्र को मकाम मिला।
स्वच्छ भारत अभियान है जोरों पर
‘नमामि गंगे’ से नदियों का जीर्णोद्धार हुआ।
देश विनिर्माण में कड़ियाँ जोड़ दी लाखों
आत्मनिर्भर भारत के स्वप्न का संचार हुआ।
पारदर्शिता है चुनौतिशील है राष्ट्रीय नायक
तीन तलाक मिटा ‘सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः’ का आग़ाज़ हुआ।

आजादी अमृत महोत्सव

मुझे बोनसाई नहीं होना

केसरिया

कठपुतली

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Mahatma Gandhi at Golakganj, Assam

Before 1901 there was no place called Golakganj. The place was known as Tokrerchara and was in fact pretty insignificant. It was not even a proper market but largely for the chhara or the water body. Other than paddy, the place also used to produce jute and that was one of the major attractions of the small-time merchants to sail upward in their boats from the downstream of the river Gangadhar and buy jute from the farmers. Till the late nineteenth century many sailors used to come to this place to do their trade in the nearby haats of Materjhar and Pratapganj which were the major markets in the western part of the zamindar of Gauripur, who used to be called by the laity as the Raja Bahadur. As typical of the markets, Pratapganj and Materjhar attracted many merchants including the Marwaris. The Marwaris used to come to the district of Goalpara since the mid-18th century. Among the early Marwaris to Pratapganj were the Kanhailals of Pratapganj. Kanhailal had first arrived at the Dhubri port which was the district headquarters of Goalpara, but the main place was Gauripur which was the capital of the Raja Bahadur of Gauripur. In fact, it was Raja Pratap Chandra Barua who had donated the land to the British to set up their district headquarters at Dhubri. Raja Pratap Chandra Barua shifted their capital from Rangamati to Gauripur in 1850. Pratap Chandra was the descendent of Kabindra Patra who was the first zamindar of Gauripur and was one of the trusted generals of Chilarai, the legendary Koch warrior. His son Raja Prabhat Chandra Barua was an illustrious ruler. Golok Barua was one of the sons-in-law of the Gauripur Rajbari who was given the western part of the estate to look after which which comprised some of the major haats like Materjhar, Pratapganj, Tamarhat, Harirhat, Paglahat, Agomani and others.
Assam Railway and Trading Company under the British had introduced the railways in Assam in 1881 in upper Assam between Dibrugarh and Margherita. The purpose of the track was primarily to ferry timber and other forest resources and coal. Assam was not yet connected to the rest of country by railways. It happened in 1901 when they had opened a line to Assam through Golakganj. As per the railway plan to take the line from Lalmonirhat, Gitaldaha, Bhurungamari in Rangpur subdivision (now in Bangladesh) to Assam they had chosen the small village Torerchara as the Gateway to Assam. But then to lay the line they needed a considerable amount of land. At that it was Golok Barua who had agreed to offer land with the conditions that the railway track would be laid on the land he would provide and the railway station at the Tokrerchara village must be named after him. The British Railway company had agreed and named the station as Golokganj junction as it became the point for the track to divert to Dhubri and towards Fakiragram. In 1901, with the coming up of the station, the place came to be known as Golokganj and the otherwise insignificant village began to grow as an important place. That was the time when many Marwaris too began to come to Golakganj as it grew as a major trading centre as communication became easy to reach markets at Bhurungamari Lalmonir Hat and other places in Rangpur district, and more importantly Calcutta came closer to Golakganj. Under the Gauripur estate, the Golokganj became an important part of which Jogomohan Prodhani was the jotedar who was locally called the zamindar.
There were many stories about Golokganj railway station. The famous Bengali author, Bimal Mitra, they say, was here at Golokganj as the Station Master for some years. Golokganj gained importance because it turned out to be the first railway station of Assam through which trains entered the Assam territory. But the station has became famous for the arrival of two major figures of India’s freedom struggle- Netaji Sbhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi.
Netaji Subhash came to Assam in 1938 after he became the President of Indian National Congress. He had come on the invitation of Bishnuram Medhi and Gopinath Bardoloi to Assam to save Assam from being a part of Pakistan as the Muslim League had carried out a massive campaign for that purpose. Sir Sadulla, a Muslim Leage leader from Assam was to become the chief of Assam at that time. He went to Guwahati and met the Congress leaders and came to Dhubri. On October 31, 1938 Subhash had arrived at Golakganj at around 7am to a big crowd gathered there to welcome him. From he had proceeded towards Dhubri to stay there for the next two days.
One of the most significant events in the context of the Freedom Struggle was the visit of Mahatma Gandhi to Assam. He had come to Assam thrice- 1921, 1926 and 1934. Since he came by train, every time he had to travel through Golakganj Junction. The train to Guwahati would invariably wait about an hour at Golakganj railway station.
Mahatma Gandhi’s visits to Assam were well recorded. During his first visit to Assam his train, Darjeeling Mail, reached Golakganj on 18 January, 1921. He was received by Nabin Chandra Bardoloi, who later became the General Secretary of the first Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. In1920 following the resolutions at the Nagpur session of Congress, Gandhi had launched the non-cooperation movement. Assam too became a part of the movement after the annual session of Assam Association held in 1920 at Tezpur. In March Gandhi had set a target to raise rupees one crore for the ‘Tilak Swaraj Fund’ and enroll at least one crore new members for Congress for four anna each. Accordingly the target set for Assam was Rs. 1, 30, 000 when the population of of Assam at time was around 4 crores 70 lakh (excluding the Surma valley). On 17 January 2021 Mahatma Gandhi came to Assam and reached Golakganj in the morning by train from Calcutta by Darjeeling mail. There was a huge crowd to have a glimpse of the Mahatma as though they had heard so much about Mahatma Gandhi, they never saw him. Besides, there were many tales doing the round among the common masses about his supernatural power turning him into a kind of a mythic figure for the general people. Nabin Chandra Bardoloi was among the major leaders from Assam to have welcomed him at that the station.
In 1926 Gandhi had come to Assam to attend the Congress Session held at Guwahati when the population of Guwahati was just about 16000 only. He began his journey from Calcutta to Assam on 23 December 1926. This time too he had stopped at Golakganj station to receive the warm welcome of a mammoth crowd. His last visit to Assam was in the year 1934 when he had come to Assam to raise funds for his movement against untouchability. On the morning of 10 April, 1934 Mahatama had arrived at Golakganj who was greeted by the Congress leaders like Omeo Kumar Das, Devendranath Sarma, Garhmuria Goswami, Kailash Chandra Prodhani, Bhuban Chandra Prodhani and others. On that day Mahatma went to the Kachari Ghar of zamindar Kailash Chandra Prodhani to take rest and address a gathering. Kailash Chandra Prodhani was the eldest son of Jagomahan Prodhani who was a major jotedar under the Raja of Gauripur. In the meeting Kailash Chandra Prodhnai had donated a pouch of gold coins to the Mahatma. In the evening Mahatma Gandhi along with other Congress workers went to Rupshi and spent his night there at the zamindar of Rupshi where the people had donated an amount of Rs. 1000 to Gandhi. He then went to Gauripur and Dhubri where zamindar Kumar Jagadindra Narayan Choudhury had delivered the welcome address.
These episodes were significant historical events which are reflective on how the general multitudes actively took part in India’s freedom struggle. This is part of the micro-history which has immense value to know and discover many untold stories of India’s freedom struggle which had made tremendous impacts even in the small, nondescript places like Golakganj

References:
Hazarika, Sanjoy. “Subhas Bose and the ‘special’ case of Assam” , The Sunday Guardian, http://www. sunday-guardian. com/analysis/subhas-bose-and-the-special- case-of-assam. Accessed on 19 March 2022
Passah, Wandell. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Shillong (June 12, 1927) in The Shillong Times. 28 January 2022
Saikia, Chandra Prasad. Ed. Asomot Mahatma. Guwahati: Asom Prakashan Parishad. 2007 (First edition, 1969)
Special correspondent. “Netaji’s visit to Dhubri remembered on his 120th birth anniversary” in The Assam Tribune 15 Sep 2010 5:30 AM https://assamtribune. com/netajis-visit- to-dhubri-remembered-on-his-120th-birth-anniversaray. Accessed on 21 April 2020
Dr Jyotirmoy Prodhani, a professor at English Department, NEHU he writes on different areas ranging from short stories to ethnicity of North East India. On the literary front he is a member of North East Writers Society and Asom Sahitya Sabha. He also is the president of North India East Association for Human Sciences (NEIAHS), Life Member of the forum on Contemporary Theory (FCT), Baroda. Hauthored several books that are both immersive and informative

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