Articles on Indian Heritage / Culture

GLIMPSES OF NAGA LIFE AND CULTURE

by Dr. Gautam Chatterjee

From urbanites view point art is viewed as a secluded activities of people and vision is from the standpont of Gallery de art. But for indigenous people like Naga, art and culture are inseparable from their daily milieu. And their art is functional within their ambience. In order to research and depict the Naga life Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts(IGNCA) has recreated their life through Milada Ganguli’s rare collection of Naga Art at Mati Ghar IGNCA which can be seen from Monday the 6th October,l997.

Milada Ganguli, 90 year old , a connoisure of Indian art is the connection between the past and present. A native of Czechoslovakia, came to India way back in l939 after her marriage to Mohonlal Ganguli, a writer and a close relative of Rabindranath Tagore. She developed a special interest in the hills of North-East India and was specially attracted towards Naga culture. She has visited these people around 18 times and collected artefacets of rare kind. Today, one part of her collection is the holding of National Museum, Calcutta and second part has come to the IGNCA which are being displayed at theexposition titled "SUNGKONG"--call of the Log Drum.

The exhibition is studded with rare artefacets and photographs placed within the context of beautifully created panorama of Naga life ,the aura of bamboo and grass work interplayed with symbolic motifs of tiger,lion,cross-bow to the votary symbol of potency.

The exposition revolves around the theme of ‘Sonakong’ or the call of Log drum of Naga people. Symbolically it reflects the major part of the extinct Naga Art forms which are no objective articulation of aesthetics but a display of functional art of bygone era. The entrance is the roof of the Morung or dormitary which is decorated with long tassels of thatching grass. Then one walks over the dried grass reaching out to the Morung. This Morung is the epic centre of the Naga life. Here youth and elders meet to share their oral traditions,heritage and functions as a platform of folk cultural demonstration. At night this is the watch post to keep a watch over the enemies. Then comes the unique log drum which is another functional symbolism of this tribe. The interrelatedness of Morung--the dormitary and use of Log drum for community communications is the high point of this exposition. Dr. Malla, Art Historian coordinating the exhibition explained that Log drum has again coming to play a major role in Naga life as one can hear the rythm in festivals like Moatsu etc. ‘this is a new beginning for the symbolic retention of old values.’

The exposition on the one hand subtly deals with myths and megaliths of Naga people on the otherhand analyses the patriarchal norms,values, power potency and social hiearchial order. From the status of chieftain to the dialects and population concentration of different naga groups are also displayed.

Coursing through the fertility and fetish beliefs of Naga the rituals and symbolic human skull are the points of display.The micro life style and the traditional stone oven hemmed with thatching grass and the concept of angan bordered with bamboo boundary is played to display the artefacts. There are around l00 display artefacts which covers from common serving bowl to dao,from basket cane work to the sacred human wood carving called ‘Instead of Me’. Explaining this rare art piece Dr. Das an expert on Naga art said that ‘Amongst Naga people, there is a tradition when the Chief is out of the village then a woodcarving depicting a man is placed in his seat and called "Instead of Me". This sacred piece of art and heritage is very rare and this collection is of Chang Naga of the Tuensang Distt. of Indo Burma border.’

Amongst the rare art pieces one can find the Head Hunter locket made of brass with a human face on it. This locket is symbolically sported by Naga people while on head hunting spree. Incidentally this locket is created be Kachins tribe of Burma from whom Naga people used to buy through butter tread.

Another rare specimen is the cross bow which has a mechanism of triggering the arrow. The bow and arrow are made of wood and bamboo and the cord is of burk fiber. After walking through the earthly creation of Naga people one comes to the tail of the exhibition which is tailored with the textile section to show some of the unique collections of traditional attires through photographs and cloth. Apart from bright colour temperatures of the naga attire one come accross the Kauri Shell work on black texture where upon human body is created to bringforth the contrast of design and texture.

Like wise, the exposition ,though small, creates a window to get rare glimpses of Naga culture which is almost extinct and modern revivalism is mere symbolic in character and cosmetic in vision.

 

Dr Gautam Chatterjee

 

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