A few months ago, when city-based artiste Kundalik Kedari needed to refer to the audio and video recordings of the songs and dance forms of a few tribes of Maharashtra for a project that he was working on, he approached the organisation where he was sure to get the material he needed — the Tribal Research and Training Institute (TRTI). But, to his surprise, this decades old institute that not only carries out research but also does evaluation studies to gauge the impact of developmental programmes and schemes on the life of the tribal people in Maharashtra, could not give him any information.
After making several enquiries about the recordings, when Kedari didn’t get any concrete reply from the institute, he filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act about the availability of the said oral literature. Surprisingly, the response he received from the Archives and Information Officer of the institute said no research had been done so far on the various kinds of ceremonial songs of the tribal communities mentioned in the application. It also mentioned that the institute only had recordings of the folk songs of the Madia community in the Gondvana and audio tapes with sounds of instruments like “tatpa, ghagali, chirki and dhol”.
“The tribals have songs for various ceremonies and occasions, which form a major part of the oral literature. It includes wedding songs, dance songs, songs sung at the birth of a baby (palna), kanyadaan (songs sung when a daughter is being given to the groom during marriage), Bhalar songs, Zulwas, devotional songs, grinding songs, pounding songs, folk songs, Dhawaleri songs (Warlis), Holi songs, Tarhar songs (Pardhan), Dorli songs (Korkus) and so on. If an institute as big as TRTI does not have any recording of such oral literature then what will be the future of these art forms,” rued Kedari, who had established Lalit Rang Bhoomi, a theatre unit, in 1986 under which he has presented dramas revolving around tribal issues across Maharashtra.
Belonging to tribal community Mahadev Koli, Kedari is from Junnar district and currently works as a supervisor at the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited. For the last 10 years, Kedari has been organising the Tribal Film Festival in Pune, showcasing films made on the tribal population by various individuals.
TRTI Commissioner Sambhajirao Sarkunde said, “We realise that it’s important to preserve such art forms but since its inception the focus of TRTI has been on the livelihood and development of the tribals. However, in the near future, we will look into this area as well and do the needed preservation.”
On the other hand, Kedari feels in order to bring the tribals to the mainstream, it is important to protect their art forms as well. “There are 47 tribal communities in the country. The population of the some of the communities, such as Katakari and Kolam, is extremely low; it is vital to take steps towards documentation of the related art forms of these people,” he said.
Bhaumik Deshmukh, a professor at Pune University who has done extensive research on tribals and related issues, said, “The onus of development, preservation and promotion of the tribal culture is on the government and the governmental bodies should take necessary steps in this direction.” He has researched on the Kokna tribes for over eight years. “Behind every song and dance, the tribal communities have some philosophy or belief; these need to be recorded,” said Deshmukh who has so far penned three books on tribal-related issues — ‘Tribal Education’, ‘Kokna-Kokni Tribe – History and Life’ and ‘Tribal Development’ (compiled work).