Janice Rodrigues | NT BUZZ
Indian cultural history is an amalgamation of various folk forms, dances and arts, many of which are dying out in the cacophony of modernity. The revival of folk forms is what some associations and individuals are working to achieve. The revival of the Raibenshe or Raibeshe is one example of something that has seen the spate of revival over the past couple of years. The performance of the folk dance was seen for the first time in Goa at ongoing Lokotsav and at MOG – Museum of Goa, under the aegis of the social enterprise of Banglanatak.
The folk form of Raibenshe is a dance form reserved for the male population of the Badgi community who come under the scheduled castes from the western fringes of West Bengal. “The community is based in the districts of Bankura, Barddhaman and Birbaum,” says Kankan Kharghoria from Banglanatak who also posed as the translator.
Agility, strength and a sharp sense of balance is what characterises this dance form. “The community comes from a region in West Bengal where the zamindari or the land lord systems were the most prominent, and since they were classes lower than the zamindars, the men were employed as bodyguards to the land owners,” says Kankan. As bodyguards they accompanied their masters on their journeys and movements during the day and the evenings were spent at leisure, which they utilised to test their agility and build on their strengths. Slowly over the course of years this practice was given form and thus gave rise to a dance they called Raibeshe.
“The dance is mainly based on the martial arts involving sticks. That is from where the name comes. Raibenshe or Raibeshe comes from two words, Rai means royal or the ruler and Bansh means long stick or bamboo. They used the bamboos as weapons to protect their landlords,” says Kankan. The martial art-folk dance must’ve taken form about 150 years ago, as that was when the zamindars were at their peak power.
Ask them if the dance form is similar to the other dance forms involving martial arts and the reply is that there are similarities and differences. “It is similar to the martial arts in other parts of the country involving bamboo sticks and that is where the similarities end. The glaring difference here is the collaboration of the wheel and sticks. It also involves tall jumping, and making human pyramids and other formations,” says Kankan.
The group is in Goa to perform for the first time, and since it is the whole community who is involved in the tradition, there is no set group. “The youngest is about 8 and the oldest is 59, for the group performing in Goa. We have no set group as all the members of the Bagdi community are proficient in the art form,” says Kankan. The tradition being ingrained into the male members of the community right from the time of birth, they seem to have inherited it in their genes, passing it forward from generation to generation. It is only two years ago through the persistence of the Banglanatak that the Bagdis have started performing the Raibenshe outside the periphery of their land.
The gymnastics, use of bamboo poles and balancing on a wheel is something that made the Raibeshe a strictly male art form. “This particular dance form, since it has involvement of vigorous movements, is a totally male dominated one, since the community comes from the similar areas, the women participate in the Baul and Jhumar dance form,” says Kankan.
Since the abolishing of the zamindari systems in the 1950s, the Bagdis have been employed in labour and mainly into farming their now own lands. “Initially they had developed the dance for their own entertainment and pleasure but after the abolishing, their routine was such that the months from September to February would be reserved for the performances during their festivals and the rest of the year they would be focused on the cultivation of their rice crops.” Now however since Banglanatak has arranged for shows, they practice in the evenings after their farming duties, before the performances.
As a community, since they come from the rather backward section of the population they are faced with challenges from everywhere. “They depend on farming to sustain themselves; the dance form is only a supplementary income, it is not possible to get their shows regularly. However the government has worked towards their welfare and has provided members of the community with artisan’s cards, so they can avail of the schemes for artisans. Literacy was a problem till 2000, but the younger generation now are at an average and have passed class ten,” says Kankan.