Madhya Pradesh has been, and still is, to a large extent dominated by its tribal population. So it is not surprising that the ethnic dance and music of Madhya Pradesh is also tribal in nature.
The colourful Maria Gonds of Bastar celebrate almost every significant event in their lives by dancing. One of their most famous dance tradition is the spectacular marriage dance, the Gaur do catch a performance if you can.
The head dress that the Maria Gonds wear for the dance is made of bison horn, raw silk and feathers and is handed down from father to son. Like the American Indians, the Maria Gonds attach great importance to their head dress; a Maria may give a bullock in exchange for a good pair of horns. The traditional marriage ceremony of the Marias is simple - theres just the dance and the feast after it
Their neighbours, the Murias, are known for their tradition drum dances called Mandri. It is mainly the dance of boys, who play the drum along with dancing. Sometimes girls also join them, though they appear grouped separately.
The dance movements and steps of the boys are often complicated, involving kneeling, jumping, gyrating and the like, but at no time is there a let-up in the playing of the drum.
All over India the harvest means celebration and dancing. So it is for the tribals here. Women in the Bundelkhand region dance the Jawara, in which they carry the newly harvested grains of the jowar (sorghum) crop on their heads in baskets. They skilfully keep their baskets balanced on their heads without using their hands even though the dance is often quite fast-paced.
The Maach of Madhya Pradesh is a folk theatre form presented largely through traditional song and dances. Men portray all the characters and the themes are generally historical or borrowed from folk legends about kings and warriors. There is not much of acting, as the theme unfolds mainly through song and dance. The singing is generally done by the dancers themselves, but there are supporting musicians too. The climax of the performance often shows the principal characters dancing in a cloud of coloured powder.
The dances are to some extent influenced by the folk dances of the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. The womens dances are full of swirls, with one hand holding the ghunghat (veil worn over the face) and the other poised on the waist
Other interesting dances of the tribals of Madhya Pradesh are the Phag (a sword dance) and Lota (a dance performed by women who balance full pitchers of water on their heads).
Madhya Pradesh probably has the longest musical lineage among the Indian states, both classical and folk. With songs to mark every occasion these people truly seem to sing their way through life.
The tribals in fact can make music from anything you hand them: leaves of trees, seeds of fruits, animal horns, sticks, pots, pans and so on. The tribals of Bastar for instance swish around the dried pod of a tree, the rattling seeds of which produce the most enchanting music.
Surprisingly, none of them are trained musicians. They are farmers, blacksmiths or shepherds by day, but when the sun disappears into the horizon, they transform into ace drummers, flautists and singers. Preserved among these ancient communities are some of the earliest and most primitive instruments devised by man.
The flutes and trumpets used by the tribals of Madhya Pradesh are of the simplest kind, played as part of religious ceremonies or for the sheer pleasure of it.
The singha could well be the first aerophonic instrument invented by man. It is simply the horn of a dead animal, the tip of which has been sawn off. The ansingha is an S-shaped trumpet of brass, copper or even silver used as an accompaniment to music performances.
Pungi or been is synonymous all over India with the community of Jogis or snake charmers. It has two parallel bamboo pipes fitted into a gourd, one of which gives the drone while the other has the finger holes. Even Margot Fontaine cant beat the grace of a cobra dancing to a Jogis pungi.
But you must be cracked silly if you think the snake is swaying to the music of the snake charmer. Snakes are stone deaf and cant hear a thing. The dance is actually defensive postures adopted by the snake fearing an attack from us humans.
The Marias use a richly ornamented brass trumpet called the binnoor. A horn-shaped variation of this is played in religious processions and temple ceremonies.
Mohuri is a cylindrical bamboo flute with seven holes that produces shrill, piercing notes. Almost all the communities in the region play it.
The modern flute is called bansuri. Usually with six finger holes, it is an integral part of every music and dance performance. An older cousin of the modern flute, the bansari is a cylindrical bamboo tube with four finger holes used by the folk singers.
Almost every self-respecting north Indian can claim to play the dholki (a kind of drum). During marriages, the women of the house gather together and sing songs to the lively beats of the dholki. But you can find innumerable variations of the drum.
The khanjari is a small hand drum used by the folk musicians of Madhya Pradesh. Using the thumb, fingers, knuckle and palm the drummers produce the most amazing number of sounds.
Madal belongs to the cows tail shape of drums (called gaupucha vadya). The conical clay shell is stretched over with monkey skin and is struck with bare hands. Used by the tribals, it gives a lively rhythm and linear beauty to their dances.
But nothing can drown the thunderous roar of the dhol, a mighty single-face drum beaten with two sticks. Smaller versions of the dhol are slung around the neck with leather thongs by dancers and theatre performers.
The dholak is a cylindrical wooden drum stretched with animal skin and beaten with sticks. It is especially common among the Pradhans and Achalpurs.
The small bowl-like timki is also slung around the neck and played with long thin sticks. The timki is usually played in company with the dhol or any other main drum.
Pakhawaj, an asymmetrical horizontal drum played with both hands, is an integral part of Hindustani or north Indian classical music. Its deep, resonating sound is said to possesses a sobriety and dignity that no other drum can match.
The pakhawaj is these days being replaced by the more common tabla, a two-piece drum. The right one (called dayan) resembles a wide-mouthed vessel and is taller than the left one (bayan) which looks like a giant teacup.
Clappers of various kinds struck to maintain the rhythm of the songs are extremely popular all over India. The tribals of Madhya Pradesh have devised ingenious ways of clapping two pieces of wood to produce the most complex beats.
The most primitive of the wooden clappers is the tapri, a hollow disc with two wooden clappers used by the tribals. The tapri was actually hung around the necks of cattle to help the herders locate runaway cows.
The Saila dancers and Korku tribals have mastered the art of jangling the chatkula, an oval clapper of wood or bell metal. Tiny bells attached to the two ends add a tinkling melody to the clang of the chatkula.
Khirki is a bamboo rattle that the Gonds in the tribal district of Mandala play dexterously.
The triangular, crossbar thiski is another popular rhythm keeper. It has four round pieces of wood that move along a wire frame and clash against wooden discs or plates.
Even simple sticks are put to musical use by folk dancers. The Saila dancers use a pair of sticks of equal length called danda which they either strike against one another or with those of their partner.
Gedi is a pair of bamboo stilts with footrests that the Gedi Nritya performers use. The dancers strike the stilts on the ground while moving in a circle, producing simple rhythmic beats.
The shrill jangle of the manjira, a pair of circular metal cups held by loops, leads the singing of devotional songs.
The tribal women wear large, hollow anklets with metal pellets called paijani which produce delicate sounds when they walk. The grace of a young woman is believed to echo in the music of her anklets. The young men of the countryside pride themselves in being able to judge the beauty of a maiden by the very sound of her paijani.
Stringed Instruments: The sculptures at Bharhut and Khajuraho portray musicians playing a variety of stringed instruments. Though most of these have not made the journey of a thousand years, variations of these can still be seen among the folk artists of the state.
No performance is ever complete without the twang of the chikara, a seven-stringed instrument played with a curved wooden bow attached with little bells. The Pradhans are especially adept at playing the chikara.
The mendicant singers all over India use the single-stringed ektara. The string is plucked with the forefinger, a hollowed pumpkin or gourd acting as the resonator.
The tanpoora is essentially a classical instrument, providing the drone to the singer.
The veena has always been a deeply venerated instrument in India. It is played by Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, and the consort of Lord Brahma. (Check Religion
under India head for details.) The dhrupad singers of yore found the deep, sonorous quality of the veena particularly suitable for their style of singing. These days the veena is played solo as well as an accompaniment to vocal music and dance.
Unlike folk music, which grew wild and unrestrained in the sal forests of this region, the classical music of Madhya Pradesh was tamed and nurtured in the comfort of royal courts. The Tomara rulers of Gwalior, along with valour and bravado, had in them a deep passion for music. Raja Man Singh in fact played host to several music conferences, debates and duels between doyens of the era like Baiju Bawra, Baksu, Mehmud and Lohang. Believed to have been a great singer himself, Man Singh is also touted to have created ragas or melodies like Gujari Todi, Gujari Malhar and Mangal Gujari, all named, predictably, after his beloved Gujari queen Mrignayani.