Resonance Music

Pepa, in bamboo?

It is often said that folk dance or music is a perfect representation of a region’s culture and tradition. Combined with rich history, the music, dance and instruments play a vital role in giving a distinct identity to a region. We realised it on our visit to Guwahati last April, a month marked by traditional festivals. We had the opportunity to witness Assamese dance and music performed during Rongali or Bohag Bihu.

Bihu connotes three different festivals — the Rongali or Bohag Bihu, celebrated during the month of April, Kongali or Kati Bihu, in October, and Bhogali or Magh Bihu, in January. Of the three, the Rongali Bihu is the most important one, which marks the Assamese New Year and spring festival.

This is also the time when the traditional musical instruments are played as an accompaniment to different music and dance forms. The most significant instrument is the Pepa. Apart from Pepa, many other instruments such as baanhi, dhol, gogona, taal, toka and xutuli are played during the New Year celebrations and sowing season and at weddings.

During Rongali Bihu, girls perform the Bihu dance, also known as Bihu Naas. Sometimes the Pepa performer sits in the centre and plays the music, while the girls dance around him in a circle. The dhol performers stand outside the circle and play the instrument. The Rongali Bihu festival is celebrated for seven days and is known as Xaat Bihu.

Pepa is a reed pipe that is connected to a buffalo-horn. Also known as pempa, pepati, singra and xuri, it is an aerophone or a wind instrument, usually made with a buffalo horn, with a small bamboo pipe attached to it. Pepa has four parts namely the hing or thula, the reed pipe known as the gofnola or nolisa, supohi or the reed and the mukhoni, which is the mouthpiece.

Three varieties of Pepa are seen in the Assamese traditional music namely, the Gutia Pepa, which consists of all these four parts, the Jur Pepa, where two separate Pepas of four parts each are used, and the Juria Pepa, where there are two separate Pepas with three parts each. They are tied together with a single fourth part which is the mukhoni.

There are two versions of Pepa — single and double. The single horn/bamboo has five or six holes and the dual-bodied instrument has four holes. A metal ring is attached to the opening of the horn that functions both as a mechanical reinforcement and an embellishment. The Pepa is usually under two ft in length, but the size may vary.

Pepa, in bamboo?

Blowing of long notes and use of the trill are common among Pepa players. During Bihu it is performed with the dhol. It is said that Pepa was introduced by the buffalo herders. Legend has it that once the horn of a dead buffalo was found lying on the banks of the Brahmaputra. When a gentle breeze blew, a soft sound started emanating from the horn. This piqued the interest of the local buffalo herder, who was inspired to create the Pepa. The sound of the Pepa used to be heard early morning in the villages of Assam, when the buffalo herders would make their way to the fields. With the decreasing number of buffaloes in Assam, Pepa is now being made of wood, bamboo or cane, instead of the buffalo horn.

The writers are well-known Carnatic musicians

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2021 9:12:30 AM |

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