Published On: Mon, Jun 6th, 2016

India’s disappearing musicians – photo essay | The Guardian

The dance troupes of Karnataka, the formidable hunting tribes of Nagaland, the revered qawwali singers of Rajasthan – these musical groups, once essential to and symbolic of their regions, are dying out and may no longer exist in 15-20 years.

Filmmaker and photographer Souvid Datta shot these images while producing his documentary, Tuning 2 You: The Lost Musicians of India



Tribes united by music

Fishermen wash their clothes and sing traditional trade songs by the banks of the Ganges in Kolkata. The photography project documents disappearing musical tribes and artists across the subcontinent, revealing an India unseen by some and never to be experienced by many

Beesu kamsale dancers cool off by a stream in Karnataka following an intense performance of complexly choreographed acrobatic moves

Village children rest after a day of singing, prayer and celebrations during the annual Holi festival near Mathura

A villager blows a conch shell at a ritual in the Dwarkadheesh temple, Mathura, during the Holi festival

Members of the Konyak tribe perform a hunting dance in the north-eastern state of Nagaland during the annual Hornbill festival

Qawwali singer Farid leads his group in a devotional performance at the Ajmer Dargah Sharif, a Sufi shrine to the saint Moinuddin Chishti


A boy chases his cattle through a valley near Kohima. The lesser-known, rural state of Nagaland is tucked within India’s mountainous north-eastern region bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is home to 16 major tribes, each with their own customs, language and dress. It is predominantly Christian, making it strikingly different from the rest of India. The area has a rich tradition of music and dance, but globalisation, the spread of technology and the rise of cheap travel to India and beyond means Nagaland is facing an identity crisis

A group of teenagers from the Rengma tribe perform a traditional dance

“We all neglect our own culture. We go for western … No one will come and teach us our ways, but we have to learn from our parents so that we can preserve our culture, our identity. We may learn everything. I may learn parts of your culture. But if I forget my own culture, no one can teach this to me”

Rengma dance tribe member

Tribes from Nagaland gather before their performance at the Hornbill festival

Members of the Rengma tribe at the Hornbill festival sing a mothers’ song about when sons left for battle

Teenagers from the Rengma tribe prepare for a chicken dance


Dancers of the dollu kunitha, a drum dance, leap during the climax of their performance. Karnataka is famous for its tribes who perform ritual dances, often enacting religious stories dressed in colourful costumes as gods, animals and demons

Dancers of the ritual halaki suki kunitha wait to perform near India’s eastern coast

A goravara kunitha dancer in Karnataka. Goravara dancers wear black and white woollen garments and a black bear-fur cap, and play the damaru (a two-headed drum) and pillangoviya (a type of flute)

Performers move in a clockwise zigzag, with no fixed choreography, attempting to illustrate the ferocity and power of the region’s black bears

“If somebody lives near the sea they dance something related to the sea; if someone lives by a mountain they dance inspired by the mountains. the people in the village have these customs… of eating in a particular style, dancing in a particular style, celebrating marriage in a particular style… all this put together, this is their way of life – this is folk.”

Sreenivas G. Kappanna, local guide

Dancers of the gaarudi gombe get ready to perform

Uttar Pradesh

Villagers sing and celebrate during an annual Holi procession through the city of Mathura. Musical traditions often center around community events such as births, festivals, marriages and deaths. Faced with globalisation, increasingly cheap technologies and rapid rural to urban migration, many of the most vibrant cultural practices and musical traditions inherent to India’s villages are dying out

Women gather to sing, pray and take part in Holi festival celebrations in Dwarkadheesh temple, Mathura

Village devotees at the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan

Songs and prayers at Dwarkadheesh temple

A child devotee dressed as a god parades through slum streets on the outskirts of Varanasi while singing prayers

Village musicians play traditional songs during Holi celebrations


Women sing traditional marital songs at a village wedding in Jaswantpura. Known for strong percussive sounds, haunting string melodies and the powerful qawwali tradition, the desert state of Rajasthan has one of India’s richest folk music repertoires

A rural musician holds up traditional nagarra drums in Savitri village

Women sing and dance to traditional marital songs at a village wedding

A boy lights a fire outside a village wedding in Jaswantpura

West Bengal

Children outside a musical school in Purulia, West Bengal. The districts of West Bengal are home to many indigenous musical genres such as baul, kirtan, rabindra sangeet, nazrul geeti and adhunik gaan

Amalya Kumar, a leading practitioner of the jhumur musical tradition, sings devotional songs recounting tales of Hindu gods and goddesses in Purulia

Villagers attend a performance by chhau dancers in Purulia

A singer performs baul songs. The baul tradition of mystic singers and musicians is hugely popular in Bengal’s countryside and features indigenous stringed instruments such as the khamak, ektara and dotara

A baul performance near Santiniketan

A musician called Tarak Das Baul plays a tune near Santiniketan

“Have you seen God? To see God in a wooden instrument is no small matter… No-one has seen God. You say Krishna plays the flute in the woods? But there is no Krishna, no flute, no woods. There is only a power, within these instruments and within ourselves, that drives us…”

Tarak Das Baul


Two children pose before singing traditional devotional songs while tending to their father’s mustard gardens in Jonhi village, Sasaram

Every Monday in Jonhi, women who have dedicated themselves to the god Shiva perform songs at a local temple. Usually such devotees are from the lowest of the Hindu caste system, facing societal exclusion and suspicion

Source: India’s disappearing musicians – photo essay | World news | The Guardian

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