Kudmali Language Conference
Arranged by Prabhatalloi Foundation
Many will agree that language is an essential part of any people’s cultural identity. So naturally we ourselves would like to help promote our own cultural heritage and pass it on to future generations. With these ideas in mind, PA Foundation last year organized a seminar on languages at the new Sidho Kanho University here in Purulia.
There were many excellent contributions. Not least among them, Kiriti Mahato, who is President of PA Foundation, discussed his new book. Kiriti is a celebrated Jhumur singer in his own right. He also writes extensively about the area’s cultural heritage, especially its music and poetry, and campaigns on its behalf. Afterwards, with the University’s help, we gathered together all the submissions that had been presented in the form of a book, edited by Kiriti, called Jhumur Loka Jiboner Sandhan.
Now, a year later, this collection of papers has been published. So last Sunday, 7th September, we hosted a conference to mark the occasion. It was held here in Dabar on our School Campus using the new Guest House as a conference room. The focus of the discussions was on the Kudmali language and the ways we could help to promote it.
The programme started at 11am and continued to 3pm. It was attended by poets, singers, academics and reporters from all over West Bengal and neighbouring States. The young, award winning poet Avhimunya Mahato read from his own poems. He has just received the Yuba Sahitya Academy Award for his book Mati (meaning Soil).
Several other artists read from their own poetry and others sang Jhumur songs, to the great pleasure of all present.
But mainly the discussions centred around exploring ways we could save our aboriginal and tribal languages, Kudmali in particular. Dr NG Dutta (Head of the Department of Bengali at Sidhu Kanho University) and Dr Binapani Mahato offered their valued advice.
We came to agreement on three main proposals:
*We need to continue to publish books written in Kudmali and make them easily available to young people.
*We should encourage and assist universities to include the study of Kudmali both as a part of the curriculum and as an independent field of study in its own right.
*We should lobby the Government to create jobs to cater for students passing out after studying these languages
It really was a splendid day. The delegates were pleased to meet up again and very much appreciated the facilities we provided. And, for our part, we at PA Foundation are thrilled that it went so well. We now plan to host a variety of future events here in Dabar.
The Rahr Belt, Jhumur Song, Chhau Dance, and the Kudmali Language
These are four pillars of our culture. Purulia was the capital city in what has historically been called the Rahr Belt. It has always been mainly tribal and aboriginal people who live here. The culture is an ancient one, over four thousand years old, predating the Sidhu civilization. Because of its geographical and natural blessings this land has been very rich both economically and also in terms of language, culture and trade. The soil was very fertile and the land was covered by dense, productive forest. It was considered a golden land then. People here became very rich through trade, they even maintained trade relations with the Mayan Aztecs and the Subdhu civilisation. On account of this prosperity, outsiders had always been coming to Rahr. Some came as enemies to attack and plunder, some in friendship to trade and others seeking to convert the local people to their own religion.
But now with the passage of time the soil of the land has lost its fertility and the forests have been cleared. The rivers have run dry because now the rainfall is neither sufficient nor reliable. In line with the decline of our physical environment, our culture has begun loosing its vibrancy and, with this, our languages are now at risk of disappearing. For Purulia the word existence has become synonymous with cultural survival.
The Jhumur song tradition is as old as the culture itself. Although it is a genre in its own right it also strongly influences other song forms and permeates the dance culture.
Chhau Dance uses Jhumur as its musical backdrop. Every performance begins with a Jhumur incantation to Ganash. There are three forms of Chhau. The oldest form of this martial dance is the Purulia (or Manbhum) Chhau. The origins of this martial dance are uncertain, lost in the long passage of time, but it is still very much in the blood of people here today. The choreography depicts episodes from the much loved legends recounted in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The Mayurbanj and Seraikila forms of Chhau evolved later, during the period of British rule. In both cases a Maharaja first sponsored the dance and then later changed it by introducing classical dance elements that catered to the sophisticated tastes of its royal patrons and their guests.
Today the movements and costumes of Seraikila Chhau still reflect this heritage closely. We took these photographs in the grounds of the royal palace where it was first created and performed.
By contrast, the local villagers performing Mayarbanj Chhau are still developing their own new and original choreography. Their themes are about everyday life and chores and the natural world around them. Some of the images below are from a Peacock Dance and a Snake Charmer Dance which were created for Robert when he visited to record for his research paper in 2007.
Kurmali is the most widely spoken of the five main aboriginal and tribal languages here. Ranking them based on what proportion of the population use each language, they are: Kudmali 50%, Santali 25% , Mundari 10%, Kueuk 8% and Ho/Kharia 2%. The rest use Bengali as their main language in daily use. None of these languages has a written alphabet or script of its own; they are purely spoken languages. What is now being written down in these languages borrows from Hindi or Bengali script to give a phonetic rendering of what is being said or sung.
Clearly many still speak or at least understand these very ancient languages today. Yet they are all at risk of disappearing very soon, in the next few generations even, because the speakers are overwhelmingly adults. Children are not mastering these languages in schools but rather concentrating on Bengali, Hindi and, as is the case all over the world, English. Things are made more difficult because the former Rahr Kingdom is no longer a single entity. After Independence the area was split into parts which came under the political jurisdiction of three different States. As a consequence the population in each part came to belong to a marginalised minority culture in the State they were allocated to. In the case of Kudmali, its disappearance would mean the end of a language believed to be 4,000 years old.
However, many here do in fact appreciate the importance of Kudmali to our cultural heritage and identity. PA Foundation has helped to finance a small office in Purulia Town just a few doors down from our own. Here artists and writers committed to promoting the language can meet to socialise, plan and work. From there, they are now publishing a weekly newspaper in Kudmali language. In doing this some of them have become expert in desktop publishing so they are also able to prepare texts for subsequent publication in the form of books and pamphlets.