In recent time, IGNCA as a part of the Lokaparampara module, within the overall research framework of Janapada Sampada Division, laid emphasis on the ethnographic studies among folk and tribal communities. As a result North East India became epicentre of field investigation and documentation especially in the arena of tribal art and culture. While doing so the researchers endeavored to assemble a repertoire of tangible and intangible cultural properties. The most significant tangible materials collected so far from North East India are a large body of fascinating ethnographic and tribal art objects.
Today a significant acquisition of paintings, woodcarvings, bronzes, terracotta, basketry, textiles, and various minor arts from the folk and tribal tradition could be found in the cultural archives of the Janapada Sampada and Kala Nidhi division. While developing these reference collections, in the process, it also acquired a few one man collections of intrinsic value consisting of books, photographs, art objects, valuable documents and other materials. The Milada Ganguli collection of ethnographic objects is one of them. The collection consists of some 200 objects of Naga art from Nagaland and Manipur as well as a set of black and white photographs. Milada Ganguli conducted fieldwork continuously for 18 times after the formation of the state of Nagaland in 1963. Ms Milada Ganguli was a Hungarian scholar married to the family of Tagore, Kolkata took great fascination of the tribal art and culture of the North East India especially Nagaland. The significance of this collection lies in the fact that Milada Ganguli acquired these objects at a time when socio-cultural transformation was taking place in Nagaland. Secondly, Milada Ganguli looked at these cultural materials not only as an outsider but also as an insider. This collection represents pre-modern and post modern Naga culture and tradition. Objects such as Konyak cowrie shawl, Chief's anthropomorphic figure, head-hunters pendants, giver of the feast of merit's ivory armlet etc represents the glory of the Nagas of bygone days. The objects representing the fascinating customs that are longer there now yet they carry forward the legacy of the Naga cultural history.
The present catalogue appropriately titled- "Saga of Hornbill" by Prof A.K.Das, Tagore Fellow is a humble effort to document the work of Milada Ganguli on Naga culture and tradition. It is hoped that the catalogue will enhance the need for heritage conservation at a time when there happens to be a drastic change in Naga life-style.
Although it took considerably a long time to publish the catalogue yet its academic interest has not decreased, rather it is a good thing that we have some record of the Naga art in transition. Besides, there is no doubt that this publication would ultimately fulfill the long felt academic need of the institution. This is the last one of the series of catalogues published by the Janapada Sampada Division during the period 2016-18. I am sure it would be useful for researchers and scholars dealing with tribal arts and crafts.
In the Indian myth and epic literatures this region was identified with Kamrupa having its capital at Pragjyotishpura- present day city of Guwahati. Archaeological relics around the Brahmaputra valley and the foothills show the Sanskritized cultural milieu of circa 3rd or 4th century A.D. Some of the local archaeologist tries to push back the date to circa 1st century B.0 on the basis of Surya Pahar and other such finds (1). However the epitome of archaeological glory of the region vested in the Da Parbatia temple relics of circa 6th century A.D. The cultural influence from the Tibet and the South East Asia is of later period. The Towang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh has been built by Mera Lama in circa 16th century A.D. The Noi Khomong stupa in Vijaynagar, Changlang District of Arunachal Pradesh has been dated as middle of 18th century A.D (2). There are minor finds of archaeological significance scattered here and there could be associated with post medieval period only.
This region has always been an ecologically and topographically diverse consisting of flood plains of the Brahmaputra river valley spreading east to west, the ragged south-eastern hilly tracts along the Barak river valley and the high rising eastern Himalayan ranges in the North with rapidly flowing water channels pouring into the valley. The southern tip of this region is desolate hilly tracts merging with Chittagong Hill tracts of Bangladesh.
A large number of big and small rivers and streams criss-crossing this region percolates and meets the river Brahmaputra in the valley. Brahmaputra in fact is not a river but a river-complex. Brahmaputra's river ecology is a complex whole from natural topography to manmade environment. Undulating plains dotted with water bodies and swamps and ever green luxuriant undergrowth. Several nature parks and reserve forests represents wonderful bio-diversity of the region. The middle and the upper reaches of the valley are covered with artificial greenery of the tea plantations miles after miles at times continuing up the gentle hill slopes.
This hilly and river fasted, jungle clad region is a superb natural grandeur. Well known for rare flora consisting of varieties of trees, herbs, shrubs, orchids, creepers and rich fauna of varieties of mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles and insects — an astounding landscape of bio-diversity. From high altitude alpine outgrowth to sub-tropical greenery and thick deciduous rain forests in the foothills and plains all together reveals a chequered mess in a haphazardly drawn natural cartography. Bamboo and cane are two useful plants abound in this ecology. Rhino and golden gibbon are two rare species of mammals among a posse of wild animals. The water bodies that are scattered through the length and breadth of the region present a unique aquatic life.
This rich ecological enclave is the habitat of heterogeneous ethnic groups that presents a composite demographic contour. Dominated by Indo-Mongoloid racial stock some one hundred ethnic groups share common ecological treasure. There are mild and peaceful Buddhist groups of Bajrayana order namely Monpas, Sherdukpens, Zhakharings and Khambas in the Eastern Himalayan High Mountain abode and down below in the plains of Dibong and Dihing valley there are Khamtis, Singphos, Tai Tuning, Tai Fake and Khamiyang professing Theravada form of Buddhism of South East Asia.
Besides, assorted groups of tribes professing animistic and magico-religious worldview inhabit the eastern Himalayan mountainous areas (mid-height and foothills) such as the Tagins, Adis, Nishis, Mishmis, Hill Miris, Akas, Khowas, Tangsas and the like. Down the plains of the Brahmaputra valley Bodos, Mishings, Rabhas, Kacharis, Deuries, Tiwas and other minor groups inhabit along with ethnic Assamese. Some of these tribal groups continue their indigenous religious pursuits with traditional rites and rituals side by side with Hinduism. In the undulating southern hilly region of Patkoi range several ethnic groups especially the Noctes, Wanchos, Nagas, Tangsas and Singphos having age-old martial tradition show their virility in every aspect of their life including the ancient cult of head-hunting. The head taking among the ethnic groups was once a custom of glory that has indirectly endowed immense creativeness to the ethnic groups since time immemorial. The head-hunting cult is now defunct and abandoned. Contiguous with the Naga Hills are North Cacher and Karbi Anglong hills inhabited by Khelma, Dimasa, Zemi and Karbi. The hilly tracts further south- west a few ethnic groups such as the Jayantias, Khasis and Garos follow matriarchal social organization and show the rightful place of women in the society. Deep down the south contiguous to the Chittagong Hill tracts there are several tribes such the Kukis, Mizos, Riang, Jamatia, Noatia, Hajong, Chakma, Mog etc could be seen along with other Bengali speaking ethnic groups of Barak valley. One of the strong ethnic groups Ahom inhabiting upper Brahmaputra valley belongs to Tai-Shan stock. Surrounded by the Naga Hills the Manipur valley is inhabited by the sanskritized Meities professing vaishnavisim. In the Brahmaputra valley, the neo-Vasihnavite and Sakti cult adherents mainly the ethnic Assamese live in harmony along with ethnic groups such as Bengalis, Nepalis and Biharis. This is a brief picture of the ethnic contour of the North East.
Cultural affinity with that of the immediate neighbours in terms of the tangible and intangible cultural heritages is an important issue. According to some anthropologists it is a melting pot of many traditions. A mixture of the northern Pan-Himalayan and the South East Asian cultural elements together with Gangetic valley culture makes it a unique place of composite human geography. This cultural admixture is more pronounced in the Brahmaputra river valley throughout its length and breadth. In fact North East India is a critical place of convergence of the Bajrayana, Theravada, Animistic, Hindu and Christian and Muslim cultural traits emanating from all directions. It is an interesting confluence of multi-cultural milieu enriching each other in a give and take environment of co-existence.
However, percolation of the South East Asian cultural elements is a significant trait of this region. As one travel from North Bengal to Sadiya along the Brahmaputra valley the intensity of the South East Asian cultural elements gradually becomes more prominent. Manipur is the last frontier of the cultural melting pot. Here one can find the strong Vaishnava tradition prevailing upon the animistic base. Outcome of this could be seen in the scores of tangible and intangible cultural properties of the Meities- such as Sumanglila, Rashlila or Lai-Haroba performances. Cultural strains not only flowed from Myanmar or Thailand- it could be extended as far as the islands of Indonesia specially when one take into account the specific cultural traits of the some of the Naga tribes or similar ethnic groups. Most striking similarity with that of Mekong valley culture could be seen in material culture especially in vernacular architecture, crafts tradition, indigenous dresses and costumes.
The paddy and the bamboo are twin natural ingredients together shaped typical culture of the region- revealing a fusion of South East Asia and the North East India. As a matter of fact "paddy and bamboo culture" have become the binding factor in this ecologically contiguous region. It stands for the "unity in the diversity".
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