The Konyak tribe of Nagaland are known for their headhunting history, which was continued until 1960. The former warriors are recognised by their facial and chest tattoos and animal skin, hair and horns which are ceremoniously covered over their bodies. This tribal community is found in large numbers in Nagaland, India and Sagaing of Myanmar. The place is situated at the India and Myanmar borderline.
The word ‘Konyak’ is derived from ‘Kaonyak which means ‘blackhead’ or ‘human’.
The social system of the Konyak is dependent on the hereditary Kingship or Wangship. The former warriors are recognised by their facial and chest tattoos and animal skin, hair and horns which are ceremoniously covered over their bodies.
Tattooing is a kind of permanent dying. The skin of the body was perforated and some designs were drawn on the different parts of the body especially on the face, chin and chest.
The design-making was painful but the men and women in the past accepted it for it was something like a status symbol. These tattoos are found only on the body of warriors. The Men who had gone to the war were marked by chest tattoos. They used the thorns of an orange or lemon tree to make the needles, which was then tied to a wooden pestle. The ink was made by mixing resin from burning trees.
The tattoos are only found on the face of head hunters. The custom of killing enemy and bringing the head was indicative of courage and pride in the past.
The belief among their forefathers was that some magical power was there in the human skull. In the past, a heroic reception was accorded to a warrior who entered the village with the captured head of the enemy.
The village-folk, men and women used to offer ceremonial reception to the hero. The skull was tied in the log drum and dance and merry-making continued throughout the night.
At an altitude of about 1,500-metres in Arunachal Pradesh, a natural valley is situated named Ziro town, surrounded by hilly areas.
This place is about 150 kilometres distant from Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh. Ziro is an old town of Arunachal Pradesh, home of the Apatani tribe and famous for its Pine Hills, bamboo trees and rice fields.
The climate of the Ziro is very cold at the time of winter. I have got an opportunity to go to Hong villages and stay with Apatani tribe. There are two villages in Ziro valley- Hong I and II. The journey to Ziro valley is not very easy at all. There is only connecting road to Itanagar and Guwahati. One private transport service runs single bus from Guwahati to Ziro which comes back to Guwahati. It takes about 15 hours to reach Ziro from Guahati. Ziro is the headquarters of Lower Subansiri district. Around 26,000 Apatani live in this region. The most significant feature of Women of the Apatani tribe is they wear distinctive nose plugs called yapping hurlo – these are a rite of passage marking an advent into adulthood.
The practice, along with their dark facial tattoos is originated as a deterrent – during raids by rival tribes, women were kidnapped and never seen again.
The nose rings and the tattoos were meant “to make them look less appealing. These body alterations are a fading ritual that has not been practiced since 1970.
Another special feature of this community is fish farming. Due to the Apatani’s unique farming and sustainable agricultural techniques, Ziro was nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site in April 2014. The Apatani usually greet guests with traditional homemade rice beer along with a special salt called tapyo, which is made at home with the ashes of indigenous plants.
Chhau dance is a genre of martial folk dance performed by tribal in West Bengal. Based on the place of origin it can be divided into three sub categories- Seraikella, Mayurbhanj and Purulia Chhau. Purulia chhau is the most popular among these because of their vigour and unique characters. There are number of explanations behind the name of “Chhau”. Certain people believe that this word has come from the word Chhaya- means shadow. Also some other believes this is originated from the word “Chho” which means expressing or doing something in gestures. Chhau is entirely sustained and developed by the people of local land. The themes included their heroic deeds and traditional folklore. They had started this dance for their own entertainment as well as to encourage themselves. Tribal men are the performers of this martial dance mostly from the families of traditional artists or from local communities of Purulia. The most notable features of this dance are the dresses and masks. The village where the maximum people are engaged in making masks, dresses and performing dance is “Chorida”- the village of Chhou dance. Here almost every person is expert in making Chhau masks. Chorida village is about one hour by car from the Purulia rail station. This place is a small village of Bagmundi sub division. This folk dance has been carrying long history before independence. But the person who gave the actual recognition was “Padmasree” Gambhir Sing Mura. He had won this prestigious national award in the year 1981. He was died in 2002 but the people of Chorida still remember him by establishing his statue in the middle of the village. The mask makers mainly come from Sutradhar family. About 60 to 70 families are directly attached with this creative work. Their workplaces are at their own houses. In some family three generations are working together in the same profession.
In every alternate house from the youngest to the oldest members of the family can be seen busy in making these extraordinarily beautiful masks. As it is impossible for the artists to show mood variations through facial expressions, the expression in the mask’s face is very important to illustrate different moods. So it needs extremely high artistic perfection and knowledge of the epic and mythology for the artist to make the right mask which depicting perfect mood. Process of making mask is very hard and lengthy. Artists have to work hard for the processing. At first a clay model of a mask is made and dried in direct sunlight to make it hard. The first step is known as ‘Mati Gora’. Then the dried model is covered with powdered ash. Then layers of old newspapers moist with gum are pasted on this powdered layer. A thin layer of fine clay will be applied known as “Kabij Lapa”. On drying, old torn cloth are pasted on it effectively. The mask is then polished, “Tapi Palish”, with a wooden spatula. With a small tool, “batali” the features of the face are defined and cleaned. This is known as “Khushni Khoncha”. A layer of clay water is applied on it. On drying a layer of zinc oxide or “khori mati” is applied on it. According to the characters the mask is painted and decorated by using colours. Dark yellow or bright orange colours are used for Gods and Goddesses like Devi Durga, Lakhmi and Kartik. White is generally used for Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Goddess Saraswati. Goddess Kali is painted black or blue. A talisman or a tilak is applied on the forehead of Lord Rama and Krishna. The devil or Asura is painted in black or deep green with thick moustaches, protruding teeth and large eyes. Silver and golden foil cut in different shapes, string of beads, pith works, and coloured paper
flowers, feathers of hens and peacocks are used for decorating the masks. A type of oil is applied on the mask for a fine finish. A complete chhau mask of ideal size weighs up to 3kg.
Making only Chou masks doesn’t suffice a considerable lifestyle. Increasing costs of the raw materials, poor marketing, and interfering middleman are some of the chief factors which cuts off the profit percentage to make the chhau mask makers poorer day by day. So they have to make some other decorative mask which can be used as wall hanging. The workshops of all the artists are now full of such decorative masks staked together, ready to be marketed along with original chhau masks.
The Chhau dance is evidently a war dance. The steps, movements, attack, defence- these are the different strategies during performance. Each performer- holds a sword and shields like in a war field. Themes are based on mythological drama, everyday life, aspects of nature or just a mood or emotion. Rituals connected with Chhau spread throughout the year beginning from Dussehra. The performers have to dance in the rhythm of music which is based on Hindustani Ragas. The accompaniment is with a Nagra, a huge kettledrum, Dhol, a cylindrical drum, and Shenais or reed pipes. In the villages of Purulia the Chhau dance is performed at the centre of the ground in open space. The viewers watch their performances sitting surrounding that area.
Every year at the onset of monsoon, annual cattle race known as “Moichara” takes place at Herobhanga village near Canning a small town in South 24 Parganas. This is a popular sport event in this locality. A ladder is placed behind the cattle. This is used by instructor for standing during race. Farmers from neighbouring villages come to take part in the race before farming season starts. The paddy fields are filled with water. The instructors of cattles take intense risks for this sport. There are two kinds of events. In single race one instructor drive two cattle. In the second event two instructors simultaneously run two pairs of cattle.
DONDI is a Hindu ritual, performed on the day of Shitala Puja. Shitala is a Hindu Goddess who is worshipped to protect people against many diseases. On an auspicious day Hindus men and women after taking a dip in the river Adi Ganga at Kalighat, (West Bengal, india) perform this ritual locally known as ‘Dondi’. Mothers along with children perform this ritual. During this event water is poured on the participants. Local people worship the participants by different ways. The new born children are laid down on the way to the holy women. They cross the children. The complete distance they cover is about half mile from the adi ganga to the Puja pandel. After this event they give anjali to the Ma Shitola. At the same day Dhunipuja is also performed. Some women take dhuni stands on their heads, hands. The burning smoke creates an unnatural situation.
Jharia is famous for its rich coal resources in Dhanbad district in Jharkhandstate, India. The coal field lies in the Damodar River Valley, and covers about 110 square miles (280 square km), and produces bituminous coal suitable for coke. Most of India’s coal comes from Jharia. Jharia coal mines are India’s most prominent storehouse. Jharia is famous for a coal field fire that has burned underground for nearly a century. Fire may occur in coal layers that are exposed to the surface of the earth or areas close to it. These are visible to the naked eye. Also, fires erupt in the underground seams, which have large cracks that serve as channels for oxygen to the burning coal. The pollution caused by the fires affects air, water, and land. Smoke, from these fires contains poisonous gases such as oxides and dioxides of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, which along with particulate matter are the causes of several lung and skin diseases. High levels of suspended particulate matter increase respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and asthma. In this photo series I try to show the faces of the coal mine workers and their surrounding environment.
It is stated that according to Indian Cultural heritage one has to visit various tirtha or pilgrim centre to earn virtue. Gangasagar is one of such famous pilgrim center where people criss-cross of the country being attracted and come to earn virtue. There is a proverb “Sab tirtha bar barGangasagar ek bar”-which means by taking holy dip only once in life a person earns that much of virtue which one can earn by visiting all the pilgrim centres throughout the life. Transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn, during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is known as Makar Sankranti. From this day begins the six-month long Uttarayana, considered very auspicious for attaining higher worlds hereafter. According to some religious scriptures the Sun on this day visits the house of his son Shani, who is said to be the lord of Makar Rashi. It is also believed that Bhagirath—mythically credited with bringing down the purest of all river, mother Ganges to this planet—finally led Ganga near the Kapil Muni Ashram, at the present day Ganga Sagar, and performed ‘tarpan’ with her holy waters for the salvation of his unfortunate ancestors (60,000 descendants of King Sagar of Lord Rama’s clan). He thus liberated their souls from the old curse of Sage Kapil, the presiding deity at the Gangasagar temple. Mythical belief goes that those who die in this period have no rebirth. So each year during this Makar Sankranti millions of people come and take their holy dip in to the sagar.