Giving back Chenchus their music

Stringed music instrument restored after 50 years. A team from the Forum and the university, guided by G. Manoja from Palamur University, travelled all the way to the Appapur hamlet in Nallamala forests.

August 15, 2015 01:22 am | Updated March 29, 2016 03:26 pm IST

It was quite a homecoming for ‘Kinnera’ (aka ‘Kinneri’), a stringed music instrument, when it arrived into the Chenchu tribal heartland amid the forests of Mahabubnagar district of Telangana, after decades of wandering.

The rare instrument with three resonators, which was popular in the tribe long ago, but disappeared later, was restored to them recently, thanks to the joint efforts by the ‘Telangana Rachayithala Vedika’ (Telangana Writers’ Forum) and the University of Hyderabad.

A team from the Forum and the university, guided by G. Manoja from Palamur University, travelled all the way to the Appapur hamlet in Nallamala forests on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on August 9, to present their exquisite find to the tribe. To their surprise, they were greeted by smiles of recognition, as the instrument was still part of their lore if not lives.

“Though they lost the instrument 50 years ago, a few tribesmen still remember it. In fact, three old-timers could even play it,” says academic and writer Jayadhir Tirumal Rao, who headed the team.

The instrument uses bamboo for the neck, dried and hollowed gourds for resonators, human hair or animal nerves for strings, and pangolin scales for frets which are fixed using honey-wax. According to Mr. Rao, visiting faculty at the Centre for Dalit and Adivasi Studies at the UoH, Chenchus lost the instrument half a century ago when the gourd used for resonator became extinct in this region.

It was inherited by the ‘Dakkali’ nomadic community of the district which was a ‘Madiga’ sub-caste and lived a troubadour for existence. They, however, reduced the number of frets to seven, purportedly in honour of Chenchus.

Obtaining ‘Kinnera’ from Dakkali community was an arduous task for Mr. Rao who stumbled upon the instrument while researching about Panduga Sayanna, a Telangana fighter.

“Dakkali singers sang his praise using ‘Kinnera,’ which egged me on to explore its history. To obtain it, I had to follow the community’s trail for almost three years. Initially they were afraid, but later came round and parted with this rare gift,” Mr. Rao said. And it was from the hands of Dakkali Pochaiah that the tribe received this souvenir.

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