An evening in a Santhal village : The Tribune India

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An evening in a Santhal village

An evening in  a Santhal village

THE walk through the village was almost like a stroll around an open-air art gallery. Photo for representational purpose only. File photo



Usha Bande

THE walk through the village was almost like a stroll around an open-air art gallery. We were in Boner Pukur Danga, a Santhal village near Santiniketan, to collect material for a project on Santhal women. Our visit was arranged officially so as not to intrude upon their privacy. ‘Look at these paintings,’ said our driver-cum-guide, pointing towards the motifs on the walls. ‘Women’s art. These colours are extracted from vegetation,’ he added knowledgeably. The highly imaginative and surreal portrayal of tribal life on the outer walls of the houses left us awestruck.

It was a late afternoon in March. The air was crisp and laden with the aroma of the jungle. The mild sunlight spread its golden glow on the walls. The yellow hue gave the village such a magical gleam that you could spend a wholesome evening here. The streets were empty except for three or four pre-school children shrieking and hurling dust at each other. A mother duck came out of an alley, her quacking chicks running behind her, heading towards the pond.

As we reached the courtyard of the headman’s house, two young women emerged with decorated thalis and a lighted diya. ‘It’s auspicious to enter from the front gate,’ said the feisty Champa, the headman’s wife. We went out and entered through a floral arch of Neelmani lata loaded with deep-blue flowers. It was a traditional Santhal welcome with kumkum and garlands of wild flowers. We discussed with Champa various aspects of the tribal women’s lives, our Bengali friend being our interpreter.

Soon, the arrival of two colourfully dressed Baul singers, invited to entertain us, charged the atmosphere with sonorous Krishna songs. The music touched us to the core, speaking to the soul.

At sundown, the menfolk piled up firewood and lit a bonfire. The drums started beating, and as the cadence rose to a crescendo, the whole village gyrated rhythmically to the beat. In the eerie light of the flickering fire, the song and dance resonated, sending shivers down the spine. The food, prepared with indigenous spices, tasted different, but it was delicious. For me, it was potatoes and wild beans with rice, while others enjoyed fish.

It was an informal yet intense evening that left on our minds an otherworldly feeling, like being in a magical mystery chamber — the Santhal women’s views on art and craft, the clean village, the Baul music, the vigorous tribal dance and the simple but delightful food, besides the affection showered on us by the residents.

I wondered whether there could be a more authentic experience or a more grassroots exposure than this.


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