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Op-Ed

Shape-v patterns in Northeast Indian art

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By EMN Updated: Feb 25, 2015 9:56 pm
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Dr H.N.Dutta
Vice Chancellor, The Global Open University Nagaland, Dimapur

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he treasure of north east Indian art is found manifested in numerous forms of art motifs, art patterns and art symbols. Art forms in north eastern region are found expression in various other forms and character. These art patterns in many respects bear religious and socio-cultural beliefs and practices traditionally continued in this region. Art forms in north east region of India is found with gratifies, art symbols, textile designs, often representing ancestral beliefs traditionally continuing in community life and societies since ancient times.Common natural geography and such agricultural background as the shifting or jhum cultivation, remote inter-racial and cultural contact, intermingling of cultural beliefs and practices seem to have influenced manifestation of many similar art forms and patterns among different communities in this region. Art pattern in the shape–V or Y is found to have flourished, in traditional cultural life of the people of north east India, since remote antiquity. The heterogeneous character of the north east Indian society provides a pluralistic concept to the art forms in north east India. Religious beliefs, customs, traditions, and cultural traits of the region immensely contributed to the development of the art forms, motifs, patterns, and symbols in this region. Linguistically, culturally and racially, this region is more closer to China and south east Asia then it is to the mainland of India. Therefore, art and culture developed in the north eastern region of India bear certain distinct regional characteristics, which in many respects are south east Asiatic in character. For example, many of the monolithic columns found here are ornamented and carved while some are typically erected or carved either in the shape of Y or V
Of the numerous art motifs found exist in the archaeological remains of the north eastern region of India, the symbolic representation of the pattern found in shape-V, is found manifested in varied forms in Nagaland. What found is that the shape – V is traditionally considered auspicious among the Naga tribes, who attach great importance and sanctity in instituting the wooden V-shaped posts performing major ceremonial festivals during their erections. Erection of V-shaped posts and the skulls with bifurcated horns of the cattle slaughtered at funeral were hung in memory of the dead chief, together with his clothes, ornaments, utensils, were traditionally common in Nagaland. It seems that in Naga society, the shape- V is revered considering that it maintains some relations with the ancestors, soul of the dead and belief in fertility. It is believed that worshiping of the soul of the dead brings prosperity to life and society. In some khels of the Nagas, the murungs dwindled to a mere gabble, the roof of which was adorned with a number of bifurcated buffalo-horn type projections It seems that the art forms of the buffalo- horns, slightly carved inward, is a totemic symbol, possibly originated from the ceremonial buffalo or mithun (bros frontalis) sacrifice and from the custom and belief associated with the hanging of the skull of the slaughtered buffalo or mithun either in stone or wooden V-shaped posts.
Facades of the houses of the rich men or chiefs were adorned with such totemic symbols of sacrificed mithun heads. Such a tradition is found to be very strong among the Sema Nagas7 Grave effigy of the Wanchos and Konyaks figures of Arunachal Pradesh are seen with bifurcated projections in their hands. The V-shaped art pattern and projections, varied forms of which are found expression in monolithic, in tattoo patterns, in grave effigy, in protruded front of rich men’s house, in wooden pillars of murung as well as in burials and other V or Y-shaped posts are indication of a strong tradition of north east Indian art and culture. It is found that tradition of carving of the Buffalo-horn or mithun head in wood is very common among the tribes of Nagaland and among the Konyaks of Arunachal Pradesh. The gateways of villages in Nagaland are found with wooden door carved with motifs of buffalo or mithun heads. The Semas erect a typical Y-shaped stone monolith for ceremonial sacrifice of mithun at festivals. Upon such Y-shaped posts carved mithun heads are hung by the Semas. The monolithic monuments of the Kacharis at Dimapur is found with an erect V-shaped monolithic column and several other columns of this category are found fallen in ground. The wooden village gates in Nagaland, are commonly decorated with designs of Buffalo horn and motifs related to ancestral worship for protection and prosperity.
The Naga tribes raise a protruded V-shaped entrance to decorate their houses. The façade of entrances are adorned with wood carving of buffalo –head. Several feasts of merits have to be performed prior to the raising of such V-shaped projections. Significantly, the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha, Lisu, and other tribes in Thailand also adorn the ridges of their houses at both ends with forked shaped or V-shaped decorations. Hence a south east Asiatic relations with the V-shaped patterns of north eastern region of India needs further studies.
V-shaped tattoo patterns and buffalo-head patterns or the head of the buffalo sacrificed together with other properties of the dead are hung on Chang grave of Arunachal Pradesh. The Miniyong- a sub-tribe of the Adis of Arunachal Pradesh dig the skull of the dead, out of the grave and hang it up on the bamboo posts for veneration, whose soul is believed to have caused the fever or disease to someone in the family. The Adi’s of Arunachal Pradesh decorate their hotkang- the alter for the sacrifice of mithun with two V-shaped crossed wooden projections for prayers for recovery of from their disease, which are similar in practice, with V-shaped projections hung with mithun -head as found in Nagaland. Wooden masks projected with the bifurcated horns are found worn by the Sherdukpens during Jachunga –Chham dance and such a common feature is notably found in deer dance of various Buddhist groups in Arunachal Pradesh. Colorful V-shaped patterns are found in galore in the textiles designs, popular among various communities in the north eastern region of India. Often such patterns are found given shape to geometrical motifs and arrangements in looms.
The Mizos called the V -shaped or the Y -shaped wooden posts as Selphan. A chief or a rich Mizo, in his life time resorted to a ceremonial sacrifices by giving public feast by killing, domesticated gayal or mithun , during this festival, and the skull being displayed prominently on the Selphan- the sacrificial Y-shaped fork post.
The V-shaped or Y-shaped projections, found commonly as an art form among the tribes of the north eastern region of India, as such, seem to be south east Asiatic. It seems that, the shape-V as found manifested in north east Indian art tradition may represent certain ancestral belief of worshipping an object that represents a symbol or power (of Supreme) without being an image of him. It may have some coherent relation with reciprocal sharing of food among the primitive food gatherers, that led to the formation of some social groups with a totemic symbol either of buffalo or mithun head or with the shape-V in later times. Because the houses of only the chief, king or rich, who could offer feasts, were customarily adorned with such V projections. Under such a king or chief, a group of people stood united for social security against possible threat of primitive belief and environment such as the head hunting as existed in Nagaland17 In Indian art carvings of herbivorous animals such as goat is found associated with the male procreative power. From this view point, the animals such as buffalo or mithun seem to have associated either with belief of fertility or prosperity.
People at large in the north eastern India, under similar belief, hung a skull with horns of a buffalo or bullock on posts at their paddy fields. The V-shaped projections may also emphasises the female principle, as aspects yield to reproduction of men, crops, stock and cereals. V-shaped monolithic columns, Y-shaped posts, or V-shaped tattoo patterns of the north east Indian art tradition as such represent symbols of prosperity. Both the prongs of the V-shaped monolithic column at Dimapur monolithic site have carvings of lotuses at their tops followed downward by floral motifs, figure of goats, floral motifs, with four equidistant decorative projections placed around the rim and again by a goat at their bottom. All these fields of decorations are symmetrically arranged. This monolithic column and the carvings of the herbivorous figure of the goat on it may signify to some concept of fertility, erected for ceremonial veneration for prosperity.
The V-shape forms, of the north eastern region of India, in similar way, also signify to the cult of fertility among the native tribes of this region. However, the concept of the shape-V in Indian art and culture is not altogether absent and since ancient times the shape- V have inspired Indian artists to create models, gratifies, art forms, symbols and motifs representing human power, vigor, valor and might of human spirit often representing them directly also anthromophormically.
The shape-V as art form basically signifies to the greatest extant the cult of fertility, power, and prosperity. Socially its use indicates the status, prowess and power of the user in society. In religious belief the shape –V leads to economic prosperity by promoting crops, men, stock and cereals. The shape-V seem to be an universal symbol, since remote times among primitive groups. Among the food gatherers, the shape –V possibly represented certain totemic symbol. This V-shaped art tradition, at a time, was attempted to provide an aryanised or brahmanical pattern by carving goat-headed Saivite figures of Daksha prajapati. But the north eastern India, being dominated by the Mongolian hill tribes, the V-shaped art tradition remains predominantly non-Aryan until recent times, which more or less has certain inclination towards animism or belief in spiritual beings representing human prowess, valor, glory and might. So these were venerated for sustainability of similar glory in their life even after death.

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By EMN Updated: Feb 25, 2015 9:56:13 pm