Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reviving the Indigenous Spirit and the glory of traditional musical instruments of Assam.

Kalpana Patowary’s uncanny intersection of traditional and contemporary elements in her projects, her tireless dedication to a vast and still-expanding array of instruments, and her ongoing commitment to place herself in as many unique and challenging musical scenarios as possible have made her an active figure in today’s thriving roots music scene. As Assam grapples with a growing distrust amongst communities, perhaps in the sounds and tunes of the traditional musical instruments lays the strength of uniting. In decades, if there has been something through which Assamese people has found respite, it has been music; with the lament however that it’s indigenous music is losing out to western forms silenced by the loud pitch of modern instruments.  The age old Assamese instruments are on the verge of dying, with the youth getting more attracted to electronic gadgets than the primitive ones.

In “The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut” Kalpana Patowary tries to incorporate some of them…

Kali or KALIA
Kishore Kr Bharali playing Kali or Kalia
Kali or Kalia - Traditional Assamese musical Instrument 
While Assam has treasured most of its indigenous art and cultural forms, Kalia has not been that lucky. “For several centuries, Kalia recital used to be a popular form of entertainment and considered as the spine of Assam’s rich legacy of folk music. However, Kalia playing was pushed to the backdrop by popular Hindi film songs and western music. Since then, this unique fiddle has slowly lost its adoration and only a handful of patrons exist today”, recalls Kalpana.

Says Kalpana, My aabu – fathers mother – she belongs to the Nath cult – the Yogi’s and my father used to tell about this particular traditional double reed aboe instrument that in auspicious occasion’s this instrument always took part just as Shehnai in Indian traditions. It is a primitive folk music instrument, has an age old tradition and has some magnetic effective tone which takes you to some other dimensions. Kalia is a ritual wind instrument with a magical sound. This instrument is very hard to find and is almost not produced anymore and finding a player is equally difficult.

Its sound expresses - vastness, silence and peace, long lasting sounds that calm the mind and lead to an inner depth. The sound is loud and penetrating and just to produce a single note is an art in itself. Due to the high pressure required, the Kalia can be played only for a short period of time.

Kalia is now extinct and I was always very attracted towards this instrument. Through this album The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut, it was an opportunity for me to bring this instrument forth I am trying to give a modern facelift to the fading enthusiasm of Kalia.

According to AssameseBhojpuri singer musician Kalpana, the tunes of Kalia are embedded with a deep and vital message of harmony and honor, which the modern Assamese society has long forgotten.
Through this album the traditional instruments can became widely accepted and loved beyond the boundaries of tradition.

@Other Ancient Musical Instruments used in this Project.

Prasanta Kr Choudhury 


Sarinda an Assamese version of violin which has its connections with the Vaishnavite heritage propagated by Sankaradeva, had almost lost its identity. Perhaps the overwhelming affiliation of Sarinda with religion and culture has resulted in confining this art to a small group who are trying to conserve this folk culture, which has not only put the instrument and its legacy on a revival tunes, but has given it a fresh string of hope of survival. However, without any scientific or academic syllable, there is no enthusiasm and curiosity for learning Srinda among today’s young generation who are constantly exposed to contemporary music and hi-tech gadgets which seem more appealing. “I have got ideas to compile this  album because the sound of Sarinda has a touching and nostalgic effect on listeners, but due to lack of patronage, Sarinda has been reduced to a mere element of Assam’s cultural art. If we can bring some innovations and renovation, it can produce unique and different melodies which youngsters may find more attractive “says Kalpana.


For me music starts here. Dotora has a very special place in my heart. It reminds me of my mentor father, my early childhood riyaaz and performances. So Dotora had to be there in this project. I didn’t start my musical career taking lessons like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, neither with Harmonium, nor with Tanpura. My learning of music, doing riyaaz and all started with Dotora.So Dotora has to be there in this project. And I feel a very Indian rustic mass appeal, an instrument expressing something for poor people. It is one of the oldest instruments in the world. Its significance is to such a degree that it should be added to the list of “Masterpieces of the immaterial heritage of ASSAM”. Its sound speaks about Aam Bharatiya Log, Hum logo ki Lachargi, our daily problems whether related to financial one or emotional and spiritual, I feel Dotora has a distinctive sound of mass appeal.

During the recording sessions in Guwahati, we discuss and introspect on the key principles and basic notes of the instrument so that we can exploit this unique fiddler to carve its own niche in the modern musical trend” tells Kalpana.

Madhab Pathak 


Nagra or Negara as its pronounced differently in Lower and Upper Assam is the same one. It’s largely played in Naam prasang, Kirtana in vaisnavite musical tradition of Assam. Naam Ghoxa and Kirtan Ghoxa are basically hymns where there was not any scope to use this instrument. But somehow I managed to creat some place for it to play as in Hari Naam Roxe.


Bortaal is the big size clash cymbal, Its weight approx. 1½−2 kg. The player who plays Bortaal is called in Assam as Gayan. Bortaal is a symble of Assamese traditional culture. Sometimes, the players perform with both dance-music e.g. in Gayan-Bayan, Bortaal Nritya etc. Sometimes the player perform with only music e.g. in Harinaam, Dihanaam etc. The rhythmic high pitch of sound of the Bortaal makes the surroundings pure and sacred.


Hengrabari… there in my native place we have a local Naam ghar.Naam Ghar is a congrational prayer hall with a separate room where the Monikut is placed. I still remember in morning and evening… dawn and dusk time one particular drum is played as to a reminder call for everyone to remember HIM, the almighty. Doba...I planned the album “The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut” to open with this auspicious sound.

Through workshops and live sessions, I want to create ample opportunities to analyze and understand the aesthetics of these rare instruments. “These workshops can be conducted to teach youngsters basic principles and scientific characters of sounds, so that the educated youth can innovate and blend unique and imposing tunes of these sounds with modern tunes and hi-tech gizmos with the larger objective of appealing to the global music lovers” explains Kalpana.

Kalpana says, these ancient instruments are almost fading away from general sight. They are rarely noticed or heard these days.  No one desires to play them anymore. Essentially, these instruments are difficult to play but help in folklore. Today's generation is giving these instruments a go by. "We have to aware people of this heritage to preserve the folk instruments of Assam and make the most of their use in comparison to electric instruments. It is very necessary to make the coming generations aware about the richness of folk instruments. I request everyone to help in preserving our old folklore," said Kalpana. 

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