Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bamphalar: The Anuual Theatrical Festival Of Jowai

Come May and June and the Jowai Town’s folk will once again celebrate yet another festival extravaganza. The lesser-known Festival of the town is a sort of month-long theatrical festival known to the local people as Bamphalar. The ancient Khasi-pnar is not known to possess any particular artistic inclination. Except for our monolith, our blacksmith, our Lyrnai Pottery and few sculptures scattered here and there, our artistic heritages would have been blank. Though we lack in the other artistic trait like painting, sculpting etc, yet we are proud that we still keep the unique theatrical heritage that we inherited. The origin of the festival is very recently according to woh Chaimon Pyrbot an elderly man of Iongpiah, locality. In my interview with him sometime ago, woh Chaimon is of the opinion that the people of Jowai borrowed this art from their neighbours in Shilot (now Sylhet), with whom they had a very good trade relationship in the times gone by.
Bam Phalar, derived its name from the last part of this festival- the community feast after the two or three days dramatic extravaganza. The month of April, May and June are the hay days for those with any theatrical talent in the locality, it is a time to prepare themselves to perform yet another drama in the local Community hall known as Yungwalieh (literary meaning white-house). The origin of the Yungwalieh is also very unique to this area alone. The denizen of this District has traditionally had this community hall since time immemorial. The Yungwalieh serves as a community hall where the community will meet for various reasons and the same time it is also use for Bamphalar, particularly for staging the dramas. Now the newly construct community hall in Localities like the Loomiongkjam, Iongnpiah, Tympang Club and Tpepale designed their hall for multipurpose uses. The Halls were designed in such a way that it combine in one a theatre and an indoor stadium. In the past almost all the localities in the town organise their own Bamphalar, old localities like the Chutwakhu, the Mission Compound and I still remember in the mid seventies; accompanying my parents to watch a drama in our local Yungwalieh at Iawmusiang. Sadly now only few localities took the trouble to organise Bamphalar and stage their dramas. To be precise now only locality like the Panaliar, the Loomiongkjam, Iongpiah Loompyrdi, Lumkyrwiang, Chilliangraij, Lulong and Tpep-pale regularly celebrate Bamphalar.
Bamphalar are normally scheduled to start on the Market day, still a payday in the local culture and it depends on the locality or the dong, how many drama would they staged. By mutual understanding it is arranged that each locality would organise their Bamphalar on the market day of the week in the span of these two months, so there is no chance of one locality’s Bamphalar clashing with the other. Normally Bamphalar is a three days affair, in which the local theatrical troupe will present their drama on the first two nights and the third and the last day is the big day of community feasting together (Bamdoh). It is a common practice now that the troupe of the locality will stage a serious drama on one night and a comedy on another night. Both the comedy and the serious dramas staged by the troupe, the story line will always depict the present cultural scenario of the society. There were times when the locality would also stage a drama on a historical and legendary figure of the community, like that of Kiang Nangbah, Lo Ryndi, Suna Raja and many other legendary figure of the area. But locality would very rarely perform this kind of drama; now a typical drama stage by any locality would contain the popular Bollywood block buster masala, a bit of gyrating dance, a bit of action and a lot of romance in the air. For the convenient of the local daily labourers, the drama normally started at 8 (eight) o’clock in the evening and would finish at around 1 to 2 o’clock in the morning. There were times that the drama will go on till the dawn of the new day.
The Bamphalar not only serve as a stage or an opportunity for those members of the local artist to showcase their talent, but it is also a great fund raising occasion for the locality. Dramas stage now a days always hit the box office and with tickets fare costing Rs. 100 and above,this naturally enables the community to raise a lot of fund. To me it is a treasure of literature, I often wonder what happen to the script of the drama that was staged, I doubt if the locality would have any mechanism to preserve these huge literary treasure. Just imagine if one locality would present two dramas in a year and there are 9 (nine) Dongs, which still organise their Bamphalar, how many drama would we have? In total we have 18 dramas a year and not to mention of the songs that goes to be part of a drama to make it a perfect Bollywood production. Of late with the advent of generation next in the locality, scripts of the dramas are now type in the computer and preserve well by the young artist.
It is very inspiring to learn that even though all the actors, the dramatist, the comedian, the dancers has spend their time and energy to present to the audience the best drama, yet they did this all for free. Nobody charge any fee for performing or involving in organising the drama; all did it voluntarily and for the love of their locality and of course the art. For weeks together they spend their time and energy yet its all for free.
Although there are those localities that stop organising Bamphalar, I personally see no threat of this tradition fading away with time. In the localities that still organise this yearly event, the theatrical festival is still alive and thriving. Actors, Dramatist, Comedians et al still spend their leisure time in the evening of these three months practicing and preparing each day for the D day. This dramatic event will still last, because the generation next of each locality not only enjoy performing in the stage, but are now using other modern dramatic gadgets to improve their presentation. The last drama of Iongpiah Loompyrdi club, even use Computers and LCD screen to improvise the dramatic-effect on one of their drama. The move to improve their presentation is also drive by the competition spirit among the locality. In their effort to perform the best drama, the troupe of the locality will try their level best to out do the others.
Not only these few localities in Jowai that still actively organise Bamphalar, but villages like Mihmyntdu, Sabah, Nongtalang and many more still organise their own annual Bamphalar.

No comments: