Supporting Kamrupi Dhuliya

    By Ankur Bora

    Folk art is a central part of the social and cultural fabric that holds our community together. They enrich and give meaning to people's lives, help them to feel part of society, and celebrate the cultural diversity. The various symbols of folk art (e.g. choreography, gesture, icons, musical notation) communicate meanings rooted in a particular social, historical, and locational context.

    Kamrupi Dhuliya

    The word Dhuliya means drummer in Assamese. Pronounced as Dhuila in Kamrupi dialect, the folk art of the Dhuliyas is unique to Lower Assam and is one of the few traditions struggling to find breathing space in the fast-changing cultural landscape of today. I came to know about Kamrupi Dhuliya in the year 2012 when we organized the “Guwahati Run and Walk Event”. There were five dhuliyas in colorful costumes leading the rally and I was enthralled by their extraordinary craftsmanship, amazing artistry and lively representations of folk dance. It was the first Sunday of the New Year and the lively beats of ‘Dhol’ filled the morning air, their drumbeats reflecting a jubilant , vibrant pulse. Towards the end of the event , they switched roles and began riveting the audience with a series of acrobats. Although the term dhuliya literally means drummer, the Kamrupi dhuliyas are more than that and they are well versed in acrobatic and theatrical skills which they combine with the art of playing the dhol(drum). Spontaneity of expressions and quickness of mind and feet are the hallmarks of a Kamrupi dhuliya . They made the show come alive and captivated the audience from start to finish.

    Despite, being acknowledged and finding acceptance in the hearts of the people, recognition has been hard to come by. The reality is that far too small sections of the population are able to regularly participate in and enjoy the arts. The Kamrupi dhuliyas are struggling to keep their heads above water. The barriers are broad and significant: they are struggling to carry forward the legacy in the face of modernization .With the arrival of electronic music systems and party and wedding bands, the drum beats of the dhuliyas have faded substantially and people are also not as welcoming as they were.

    Recently Utpal Bhattacharjya of Nalbari came out with the stories of some of these Dhulias. Utpal is a pass out from Pune Film institute and this young man has been striving to revive this folk art. His sincere wish is that individuals and well wishers come forward with financial contribution that will collectively help revive this unique and beautiful art. 

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    Brief profiles of some of veteran folk artists:

    Firati Das: Started his sagacious life as an artist practicing acrobatics with Mohan Bhaoriya. Firati has excelled in all departments of Dhulia Folk performing art including Gayan, Bayan and continued to enthrall the community audience with bundles of laughter for decades. Firati Das is one of the oldest (age: above 80 years) living Kamrupia Dhulia artists. He is currently running a tiny grocery shop to make his ends meet. Also he is one of the last remaining KAALI badak( an indigenous wind instrument of Assam associated with Dhulia performance; regarded an indispensable part of rituals).

    Niranjan Das: Started performing with Kamrupia Dhulia Troupe of Koihati at a tender age of 3. His father late Kirtana Das was a renowned Dhulia artist who introduced his to the performing art of Dhulia. His remarkable talent in theatrics, satire and acrobatics won the hearts and minds of people across the country. He is showcased his skills in more than different places in India. Like many others of his age Niranjan also received early lesson of the Dhulia art from his Father and Mohan Bhaoriya. The art and craft he bequeathed from his forefathers becomes deeply ingrained in his heart and he strived to elevate the performance to a new level. Due to extreme poverty, Niranjan was forced to take up odd profession such as daily wage earner, cart- rickshaw puller, domestic help. But such hindrances could not deter Niranjan from his obsession with Dhulia folk art. Niranjan has been in death bed, suffering from cancer for last two years. Utpal informed that Niranjan Das passed away on 9th November, 2014. His grieving family deeply acknowledge your support and solidarity during the hardship of bygone days.

    Karuna Das: According to legend, KARUNA DAS can lift upto as many as four GURI DHOL (principal dhols--dhols that produce profound basal sound that shook one's soul) and play them in sync. Karuna lost all of his three sons but reveals that his unfathomable devotion to folk art of Dhulia for last eight decades kept him going despite all these pain, poverty and insecurity. Octogenarian Karuna Das is founding member of Gobradal Dhulia Dal and one of the flag-bearers of folk art of Dhulia in greater Kamrup region.

    Jiban Koiwarta: Jiban's flawless acrobatics are hard to believe if not observed through one's own eye. A linchpin of trademark kushti of Kamrupia Dhulia, Jiban takes the arena by storm with his immaculate moves and impromptu acting as Bayan. He has trained many newcomers and hopes to revive the folk art form in near future. He has experimented with new elements in the traditional Dhulia bhaonapresentation of Kamrupia Dhulia. A humble soul who has possessed all the qualities of a thespian, has earned nothing in his 6 decade long career as a dhulia artist. But Jiwan is happy with the blessings of the community that has been bestowed on him as a practitioner of the art he dearly embraced all his life.

    Harindra Das: Such is his devotion to the folk art of Dhulia that he continued to play Dhol despite being paralyzed following a brain stroke. He humbly reveals that it is unassailable passion that kept him focused on the craft and recovered in the process to surprise of many. He joined the Koihati Dhulia Dal at a very tender age and since then there is no looking back. When he enters the stage with the huge GURI DHOL on his shoulder one will doubt how long will he continue with such a weak physique. But once he finds his rhythm, he frees himself from all the worldly bindings and connects with universal rhythm of passion and art. Living with great hardship and still looking after his four member family.

    Jogen Das: Born in 1955. Jogen Das is Secretary of Kamrupia Dhulia Dal, Koihati. He has strived to reenergize and restructure the legendary Dhulia troupe formed by Sangeet Natak awardee Mohan Charndra Barman and Nritati Dhulia. He has contributed as music director to plays directed by Baharul Islam and Jyotinarayan Nath and other presentations by National School of Drama. He has also participated at a workshop organised at GURUKUL GRAMMAR SCHOOL as a resource person on traditional music and drama. Presently serving with the Kamrupia Dhulia Dal as Bayan and trying to unite the people with his art.

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