By Marjing Mayanglambam
Pena, of the Meiteis of Manipur, a spike fiddle instrument has a long relationship with the people, since time immemorial starting from the mythological era of Gods and human living together. The Pena balladeer mesmerizes listeners, far, and nearby the songs and sounds, given birth. Softness, boldness, narrative, melodic, rhythmic, and even martial movements are all seen in the various forms of performances by Pena balladeers. Now, there’s a two-sided view towards Pena from the society and the people, which is quite fascinating.
Chapter I – Pena: The Public Stigma
a) Women aren’t allowed to play the Pena
“No, it is not the 19th Century anymore, and Yes, dear daughter you are not allowed to play or sing the songs of Pena”. Touching the Pena is very sacred, sometimes scary and haunting. Must our body be pure, and holy in external appearances in order to hold Pena? Is it an instrument of the ancient deities? Asking reasons for the restriction is also prohibited for it will be taken as a disloyalty against the elders and some well-learned academical figures, hence, ‘Silence’ will be the best option. Public shaming will be imposed in a far greater rate nowadays, with the era of Information Technology at its peak. Give up and focus more on studies or any other job getting fields.
b) Pena Balladeers are still being considered low-class
With accordance to the manmade intangible social hierarchical discrimination, “Marrying or having relationships with a Pena Khongba will ruin the image of our prestigious family”. Family statuses in the society of any form of famed localities won’t agree to have any affinal kinship with Pena balladeers at any cost. The way he dresses, the songs he sings, family background, and all other related factors are being intensely considered, without knowing more of the inside reasons, capabilities, and truths. Seems like music and art can’t describe a person’s life.
c) Fusion or fission or just Confusion
The immersion of Pena in the contemporary world of arts is a major challenge for the practitioners, listeners, critics as well as the celebrated mocking lots. The age-old traditions of Pena seem to be too outdated or not compatible with the modern popular culture. With the influence and gradual arrival of the foreign art and media, the young minds and surprisingly, old minds too, are swept by the fancy, eye – catching, transitory beauties. Thereafter, the music and songs of Pena are mutated with the blend of various medium such as modern – pop music, or fusion – modern – impressionism music.
Only a small portion from the colossal world of Manipuri Culture, Art & Tradition is taken out, focusing more on Pena. Imagine, what else is happening being untold? Dissection of what happened in the Past is a tough work, if scientific and solid evidence are always sought. Finding out more on what is happening in the present does not seem to be that hard and is neglected most of the time. What might happen in the Future creates anxiety for the deep thinkers and change bringers. Or we could all just sing Ray Evans’s –
Que Sera, Sera (Whatever will be, will be)
(The writer is pursuing B.Sc Anthropology at Dhanamanjuri University – The view expressed is the writer’s own)