Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dhumra Naach – the Tharu dance with soulful songs

Men, women and chirpy children wait for the troupe of dancers to arrive. The surrounding is slumbering in pitch darkness – it's a new moon day and the load-shedding is on – the electricity will dazzle only at ten o'clock. Not even a single firefly shows up to light the environs. It is Shukrati or Deepawali, the festival of lights but you can feel the irony. The oil lamps have absorbed all the oil and even the candles have burnt down to the last strand of their wicks. As the clock strikes nine, a beating of mirdang (drum) is heard at a distance. The sleepy eyes of the spectators gleam with delight. Their wait is over – the artistes are coming to perform the Dhumra Naach.

Last year, the baby in the house had fallen ill. He was blue with cold, cough and fever. The couple went to the village community medical assistant (CMA); he administered some medicines but nothing happened. Then they made a vow to the Chora Devta, the mischievous God – if the baby gets well, they would organise a Dhumra Naach show to appease Him. Within hours, the baby started recuperating and returned to normalcy in few days.

In the earlier days, Dhumra Naach was the one and only form of entertainment during marriage, Ghar Dekh (literally observing the house, family and connections – of both the bride and groom – a marriage was consummated only after this ritual) and other occasions of merrymaking. Five to six members comprising a Nyak (leader), Natuwa (dancer), Chugla (clown), and others joining as chorus and musical instrument (Jhail – the cymbals, Mirdang – the drum and harmonium) players form the team. These days even a two membered team including a Natuwa and Mirdang player is rare to be seen. 

The troupe had performed the Naach at three other places before coming to the couple's place. "It is rare to find the Dhumra Naach troupes these days," says Sukhair Chaudhary, the Chairperson of Shani Community Forest Users Group in Saptary district of Eastern Nepal. The young generation enjoy listening to Hindi and Nepali songs and dance to the tunes of Bollywood rather than practising the varying pitches of singing.

The singing is an arduous task with the variations in pitch and long spells of singing dries off the voice of the lead singer, Nyak here. Even the songs for morning, daytime and evening differ in pitch, wordings and feeling.  

Long spells, deep meaning – that’s the special thing about the songs sung during the Dhumra Naach. "The one sung in the morning is called Parati, one sung in the daytime is called Birhain and the ones sung during the night are called Pachhimaihi and Shabad," says Bauwa Lal Thakur, a former Natuwa and an avid singer.

The Nyak starts singing and other members join him. All the members are male, including the Natuwa who has disguised himself as a female. If you are a first timer, you won't be able to differentiate – whether the dancer is a male or a female. The make-up, dress, ornaments and appearance of a Natuwa is so real that you will think he is a girl.

Now-a-days men feel shy to disguise as a girl. Earlier the Natuwa used to wear long hair and even pretended like a female – had all ornaments and dresses of a lady kept carefully in sandook, a wooden box.

While the troupe is singing and dancing, the clown is busy entertaining the crowd with his antics and messing around. The spectators are enjoying the show, however, I am not able to make out what they are singing. I am only enjoying the pitch variations and soulful singing.

All of sudden the whole environment is bathed in light – the much awaited electricity arrives. The artistes get excited and start singing more loudly. It's interesting, almost every adult has a mobile in his hand and many have mobiles with camera. Few start taking pictures and some start filming the show. Unfortunately, I don't have a mobile with high resolution camera. I miss the chance to capture the Dhumra Naach.

In the crowd I once again locate Bauwa Lal, the former Natuwa and singer. He narrates to me the meaning of the song. I am overwhelmed by the profound meaning. I take him to a silent corner and request him to sing few lines for me. He is singing with his soulful voice; I am enjoying and recording the song.     

Till I jot down the next post with the songs Birhain, Pachhimaihi and Shabad, enjoy the below video on Dhumra Naach posted by Subash Chandra Chaudhary in Youtube.

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