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FEATURESFRIDAYREVIEW

Published:February12,201515:40IST|Updated:February12,201515:40IST
February12,2015

Warinwords
SANGEETABAROOAHPISHAROTY

TheHindu
NameirakpamIbemniDeviatIGNCA,NewDelhi.Photo:ShankerChakravarty
NameirakpamIbemniDevi,anexponentofKhongjomParba,talkstoSangeetaBarooahPisharotyaboutthepopularballadgenreof
Manipurwhichdepictsthevalourofthelocalwarheroesinthe1891battleagainsttheBritish.
AgehasobviouslymadeImphalbasedNameirakpamIbemniDevifrail.At85,thePadmaShri(2012)accordedwellknownballadeerfrom
ManipurtakessmallmeasuredstepsonthelawnsofNewDelhisIndiraGandhiNationalCentrefortheArts(IGNCA),lookingforaspotof
sunonacoldday.Finally,whenshesettlesdown,IbemniDevi,inhertraditionalattirephanek,herelegantinnaphishawlsittinglightlyon
hershoulders,standsoutamongthecrowdofcitybredvisitorsatIGNCAsKathakarInternationalStorytellersFestival.
Herart,KhongjomParba,toostandsoutinthepageantoforaltraditionsthiscountryhas.ThoughtheBritishdefeatedmanylocalrulersto
begintheirrule,nottoooftendowecomeacrossanestablishedtraditioninacommunitythatrecountsthroughballadsthetalesofheroes
whowentdownfightingforthemotherland.Inasingsongway,KhongjomParbadepictstheheroicbattletheManipurisfoughtagainstthe
BritishinaplacecalledKhongjomontheIndiaBurmaRoadin1891.ThesuperiorforceoftheBritisharmyledtothefallofKhongjomwhich
broughttheKingdomofManipurunderBritishhegemony.Manipurlostsomeofitscelebratedheroesinthatwarsay,PaonaBrijabasi,
Chenglensana,YaiskulLakpa,NarangbaPoila,ChongtaMiaSingh.
AwarmemorialinKhongjomandaremembrancedayobservedeveryApril23intheStatekeepalivethememoryofthisimportantpageof
Manipurihistory.Butmuchbeforethat,itisthetraditionofKhongjomParbathathaskeptitfreshinpublicmemory.IbemniDevi,even
thoughshelostherfatherattheageofthree,stillremembershimsingingpaeanstothosewarheroesbyweavingintothelinestheirpainand
suffering,theirsacrificefortheland,beforeanassembledcrowdinhervillage.ThoughhewasoneofthefirstballadeerstodoKhongjom
Parba,hewasnotitsfounder.DhobiLeinowas,addstheSangeetNatakAkademiAwardrecipient(2004).
IbemniDevibeganlearningtheartfromherfathersstudentChaobaSinghattheageofsix.Beinganoraltradition,theparbaneedstobe
memorised.Itisverylong.Ifyoucontinuetosingitandemotewiththedialogues,thewholestorywouldtakeyou10to12days.Wechoose
differentpartsoftheballadtoreciteinagathering.Typically,onesessiongoesonforabouttwohours,shesays.Sincetherearenowritten
versionsoftheParba,thereisalwaysascopeforimprovisationinit,shepointsout.
Theaccompanyinginstrumentofthissoloartisthedholak.IbemniDevi,bytheway,isnotonlythefirstwomanKhongjomballadeerbutis
alsosaidtobethefirstwomaninManipurtoplaythedholak.IlearntitfromTombiSinghandKrishnaMohan.Bothweremyfathers
disciples,sherecalls.
KhongjomParbaissunginBengali,theofficiallanguageadoptedbytheroyaltyinManipurbetweentheearly18thandmid20thcenturies
leadingtothebanofthelocallanguageMeeteilon.Sheadds,AftersinginginBengali,ItranslateittoMeeteilonforpeopletounderstandit.
Intermsofthetone,shesays,Itemulatestheveerrasa.
IbemniDevialsoregularlysingsballadsdepictingepisodesfromtheRamayanaandtheMahabharataatthefamousGovindajiTemplein
ImphalintheKhongjomParbastyle.
IusuallysingaboutSitavanavas.Ittalksofherviraha.SitaasksMotherEarthwhyshewasneverdestinedforhappiness,whyseedsof
sorrowwerealwayssownonherpath.Sheexplainstherasaherebyemotingafewlinesoftheballadinherfeeblebutstillsocaptivating
voice.Thoughmanyballadcompositionsarecreditedtoher,shestates,ItwouldbewrongtosaythatIcomposedthemalone,mygurusalso
contributedtothem.
ToteachKhongjomParbatomoreandmorepeople,shehasbeenrunningaschoolfromherhomeinImphalsince1964.Withalaughshe

says,Someofmystudentsarelongdead.Thoughagehasweakenedherbody,itisthepassionfortheart,shesays,thatmakesherteach
studentseveryday.Shepinsherhopeonsomeofherdisciplessaying,Theyhavethepotentialtotaketheartforward.
Sheisalsoteachingsomeofhergrandchildrenbutadds,Agurugivesknowledgeequallytoeveryone.Itdependsonastudenthowmuchhe
orshecantakefromtheguru.SheelaboratesitwithanepisodefromtheMahabharatapopularinManipur.BothKuntiandGandhariwere
greatdevoteesofLordShiva.Oneday,bothwantedtoknowfromShivawhowasabetterdevotee.Shivasaid,whoevercangetme100golden
champakflowerswith100petalseachthenextmorningwillbetheone.BothKuntiandGandharifelttheywouldnotbeabletogiveShivathe
offeringhehadaskedforandweresadaboutit.Theyshareditwiththeirsons.ArjunagotforKuntithegoldenflowersbypiercingarrowsat
Kuberastreasurytogetallthegoldheneededandthenwithhisarrowscreatedbeautifulchampakflowers.Arjunasaidhelearnttheartfrom
hisguru.ThoughallthePandavasandtheKauravashadthesameguru,itwasonlyArjunawhocouldlearntheart.
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