A month-long exhibition documenting the musical traditions of the Santhals — one of the largest tribal communities in India — is being organised at the National Museum next month in collaboration with the Museum Reitberg, Zurich, as well as the Crafts Museum, New Delhi, and the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal.
The exhibition, which will be thrown open to the public on April 15, will be themed around the cultural heritage of the Santhals, especially their musical traditions. “The focus of the exhibition is a string instrument called Banam — a crude-looking object, but a very sophisticated piece of engineering and art. Banam is carved out of a single piece of soft wood, with images of men and women exquisitely carved on them,” National Museum Outreach department head Joyoti Ray told Newsline.
Some of the depictions are beautiful, Dr Ruchira Ghosh, chairperson of the Crafts Museum, who has curated the exhibition along with Dr Marie Eve Scheurer, said. “There are exquisite human figurines of men, women and children. One of our main pieces is a Banam shaped in the form of a mother feeding a baby,” she said.
The exhibition will showcase three types of objects related to the Santhals’ musical tradition. Banam, the most used instrument by the community, is a bowed monochord and the only Santhal instrument to be categorised as a chordophone. The other instruments on display will be two types of drums called Tamak and Madaland flutes played by the Santhali musicians.
“One section of the exhibition will focus on the very lively but, sadly, a diminishing art form of the Santhal community called Chadar-Badar. This performance is done on a small set with a long pole as the base and is quite mesmerising. A number of beautifully carved wooden puppets are attached together and, with the pull of a string and related mechanism, the whole set moves around the base. It very closely resembles the dance form of the Santhali tribe. In fact, the puppets are modelled on the basis of the costumes of the Santhali dancers,” Ray said.