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Manipuri Vaishnava Music and the Sattriya Ojapali Music of Assam: A Fresh Look – Part 2

(From the volume “Confluence Essays on Manipuri Literature and Culture” by the author, compiled and edited by B.S. Rakumar)


The Sattriya Ojapali:

The Sattriya Ojapali is an ancient music of Assam. But during the neo-Vaishavism movement, the old tradition of Ojapali has been modified with the principal technique of Sattra-style. The Ojapali has two varieties i) Vyah-gowa (big-goa) and 2) Sukanna. The Ojapali performance is categorised under the following units 1) Rag Diya (the recital starts with the rendering of a raga) 2) Sloka (some slokas are recited); 3) Geeta (the Ojapali performs Abhinaya to a Borgeet 4) Diha (a kind of refrain (Ghosa, Sloka) 5) Pad Gowas or Thiya-Paton (Narrating a verse). The Pada-Gowa is again divided into many subunits.

In Ojapali, the main central figure of the dance is called Oja (Like Isheihanba in Manipuri). He is a dancer cum-narrator singer. Next is Daina like duhar in Manipuri) and others are called pali. Palis consisting of numbers from 10 to 15 take their position in a semi-circular form and keep their rhythm in their cymbals as well as in their feet. The dance strictly follows the Raga music.

In Ojapali music, there are six Purushas. They are i) Mallar 2) Saranga, 3) Hindol 4) Bheirab 5) Dipak 6) Megha. There are other 36 Bandha Ragas also. In the rendering of the Raga, the mridanga is not used, instead Bhot tal (mangang or gong is used.) The main five talas are used. they are i) Char tala 2) Choutal, 3) Tikari 4) Leecheri and 5) Thoka tala.

Shri L. Birendrakumar has stated that the raga Mallab of Ojapali has some resemblance with the raga Mallab of Manipuri Nata Sankirtana. In Ojapali music, the raga alaap begins with Ha Ri Ta Na whereas in the Nata Sankirtana music also the raga alaap begins with Ta Aa Ri E Ta Na. In Assam and Manipur, the raga Mallab is considered as the King of ragas. It should be noted that though some names of ragas, talas, etc. are similar in both the music traditions of Assam and Manipur, the style of singing is quite different. Leela Venkataraman says –“Manipuri music is so completely different from other Hindusthani or the Carnatic classical genres, that a non-Manipuri takes time to understand and appreciate aesthetics, Music exists with the dance and not separate from it. While the odd similarity with Hindustani and Carnatic music can be traced, it is a distinctive genre, its use of microtones quite different. Voice production is also distinctive, the high tremolo and soprano type of voices with yodels and trilles and breaks in tile singing, giving a  feel of music emerging from deep spaces within the body, throbbing with emotion“. (1ndian Classical Dance: The Renaissance and Beyond”, Niyogi Books, 2015, 194 pp). This view can be applied in the case of Ojapali music also.

Common origin and the lost tradition:

It is fact that adaptation, assimilation and diffusion is a natural process in the domain of cultural history. The art forms are generally modified and innovated to suit the local customs, tradition and sensibility. The people may accept and assimilate or reject a different culture. Under the Hindu system, the local traditions of faith and culture are not ordinarily wiped out, but subsumed and reinterpreted according to the indigenous regional forms. Thus, Hinduism takes different forms in different regions and even communities without losing identity. In case of cultural affinities and similarities between Assam and Manipur, we find the existence of a common or identical element resulting from direct or indirect contact, cultural inter-change and diffusion. This is, indeed, a interesting area of study and research.

Why similarities and resemblances? This is a very difficult question, and we do not have a ready-made answer. Here comes the idea of common origin and heritage. In this context, some scholars believe that the musical tradition of Assam and the adjoining areas including Manipur comes from a now forgotten eastern school of Indian cIassical music. Kamarupa (Pragjyotishpur) was old Kingdom in some early stages of its history. Kamarupa was politically and socially in the melting pot. Dr. Meheswar Neog says –“The old Kamarupa extended from Lohit division of the North-Eastern Frontier Agency on the east to the river Karatoya which n0W cuts across North Bengal and East Pakistan, on the West”. (Sankaradeva, NET, 1967, p.1) Shri L. Birenchakumar Singh has made a considerable research in this regard.

He made some interesting observations that before Pre-Sankaradeva period (15th Century) many kinds of ragas were used in Kamarupa. The ragas were from the Indian classical music tradition. He said –“In Sangeeta Damodar it is especially mentioned that the old Hindu ragas were used in Kamarupa as in other important places of India. In Kamarupa, the Natya Shastra, Sangeet Damodara, Sangeet Ratanakar were used as foundation. He also mentioned as important fact that Pandit Vishnu Bhatkhande did not mention the namc of Sangeet Damodar in his study. He came upto Bengal and did not enter Assam. (Manipuri Vaishnava Music Neinaba published in the Poknapham as serials, now ready to publish in a book form).

The Manipuri Nata Sankirtana might have got some inspiration from the tradition in Bengal and Assam. But it has its own distinctive personality and features. It is not a product of mere imitation. Through limited relationship with immediate neighbours, the Manipuri Nata Sankirtana has produced its own uniqueness, sanctity and richness which is not found anywhere in India. It is also a fact that the Manipuri Nata Sankirtana follows the old systems of the early Hindu Sangeet prevalent in those days in Kamarupa.

From the above study, we may come to the conclusion that there was a great Hindu music tradition in eastern India. Now the tradition had been forgotten and it has become “a lost tradition”. The music tradition of Assam and Manipur has a common source of inspiration and origin, and later on it develops into their own distinctive styles and performance. We must claim that like the Hindustani Sangeet in the North India and the Karnataka Music in the South, there exists an Eastern India Vaishnava Music tradition too. It is high time for people of India to recognise this lost traditional, the third Eastern India Vaishnav Music Tradition of India.



i) History of India, Sir Edward Gait, EBH Publishers (India), Guwahati, 2008

ii) History of Manipur, Gangumei Kamei, National Publishing House, New Delhi, 2011

iii) A Short History of Manipur, R.K. Jhalajit Singh, Second Edition, 1992

iv) Historical Development of Indian Music, Swami Prajnananada, Calcutta, 1973

v) A Study of Some Tradition of Performing Arts in Eastern India: Margi and Desi Polarities, Dr. (Mrs.) Vatsyayan, Deptt. Of Publication, University of Gauhati, 1981

vi) Perspective on Manipuri Culture, Edited by S. Shyamkishore Singh and Bhagat Oinam, Centre for Studies in Civilisation, New Delhi, 2017

vii) Historical and Cultural Relations Between Manipur, Assam and Bengal, Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, 1986

viii) Indian Classical Dance: The Renaissance and Beyond, Leela Venkataraman, Niyog Books, New Delhi, 2015.

ix) Bhaona: The Ritual Play of Assam, Maheswar Neog, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi

x) Sankaradeva, Maheswar Neog, NBT, India, New Delhi,1967

xi) Sattriya Dance, Directorate of Cultural Affairs, Assam, 2000

xii) Manipuri Vaishnava Sangeet Neinaba, L. Birendrakumar Singh, JNMDA, Imphal

xiii) Meitei Nata Sankirtana Neinaba, Editor, L. Lakpati Singh, Gulapi Nata Sankirtana Akademi, Imphal 2002 (vol. I)

xiv) Meitei Nata Sankirtal1a Neinaba, Editor, L. Lakpati,Gulapi Nata Sankirtana Akademi, Imphal 2009 (Vol. 3)

xv) Manipuri Jagoi Seminar, E. NilakantaSingh, MSKA, 1975

xvi) Some articles and Seminar papers have been also consulted

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