Festive season, craft fairs help Odisha's Kendara singers to find their lost ground

Two years after finding it unsustainable to pursue their traditional singing, about 150 Kendara singers in Odisha are now back to wandering in the villages, humming songs while playing their cherished musical instrument which dates back to the 12th century. State government’s efforts to include these artists in the craft festivals and the ongoing festive season has brought cheers to the wanderer-singer community. Details here.

Ashis SenapatiAshis Senapati   1 Oct 2022 12:24 PM GMT

Festive season, craft fairs help Odishas Kendara singers to find their lost ground

Kendara was for long a medium of mass education and rural entertainment with its emphasis on social themes and mythological songs. All photos by Akshya Rout

Santosh Nath, a 45-year-old traditional Kendara singer from Odisha's Kendrapara district is excited at being able to do what he loves the most — playing his musical instrument and singing folk songs while wandering the nearby villages in search of alms and accolades.

"COVID-19 pandemic was a gloomy period. We barely survived it. But now we are back at work and are happy after the state government has started to organise craft melas [fairs] and festivals in many areas of the state. We also hope to earn more money in this puja [Durga Puja] season," Nath, a resident of Kasoti village, told Gaon Connection.

At a distance of almost 100 kilometres from Odisha's capital Bhubaneswar, the Kasoti village is located on the outskirts of the Kendrapara town and is known as the 'village of the Kendara singers'. There are almost 20 households in the village who trace their origins to the artists who enjoyed prominence and patronage from the royal families in Odisha during the 12th century.

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Most of the Kendara singers make their own musical instrument.

Pareash Nath, another resident of the Kasoti village told Gaon Connection that the male members of the Nath community walk from door to door and recite religious and folk songs borrowed from the ancient Odia literature and receive rice, money and other alms in return from the rural households.

"We never use any cycle or two -wheelers to commute from villages to villages for our singing. Some people and officials also invite us to perform in functions like weddings and government programmes '' he said.

Kendara is a wooden string instrument, a portion of which is made of dried gourd or coconut shell. This age-old musical instrument has a string and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its string.

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"Most of the Kendara singers make their own musical instrument," Nrusingh Nath, a 45-year-old Kendera singer from Taranda village, told Gaon Connection.

Easy to understand, relatable song

Khirod Kumar Nath, a noted Kendara performer who has performed at the state-owned broadcasting platforms like All India Radio and Doordarshan, told Gaon Connection that these songs provide popular entertainment to the rural audiences with their medley of sentimental songs, patriotic songs, religious hymns and social comedies.

"Essentially Kendara music in its original form was meant for the poor and the rustic. The simplicity of its form and deliverance makes it easily understandable. Kendara was for long the medium of mass education and rural entertainment with its emphasis on social themes and mythological songs. It is now reviving after the end of the pandemic," the 64-year-old said.

Meanwhile, Kamalkanta Nath, a 59-year-old Kendera singer from Kasoti informed that the Kendera instrument rose to popularity during the 12th century when Sanskrit was declared to be the official language of the then Utkala state but the common people did not understand it.

Khirod Kumar Nath, a noted Kendara performer.

"It is after this that the jogis [sages] belonging to the Nath sect who were performing Odia folk and devotional songs through Kendara became popular across the rural hinterland in Odisha," he said.

Today, around 150 Kendera singers remain connected to their traditional art. The villages of Kasoti, Biraswati, Noliachakrapur, Nikirei, Chanchnia, Balikuda, Kujang , Earasama and some villages in the Jagatsinghpur district inhibit these artists.

"Many Kendara singers also switched over to other occupations to earn their livelihood during the pandemic. But they are now wandering from villages to villages to earn livelihoods by singing songs," 72-year-old Sadananda Nath, another Kendara singer from Biraswati, told Gaon Connection.

The government also provides these artists a monthly pension of Rs 1,200. "Crushed by COVID-19, many Kendera singers were struggling to earn their livelihood after which the district administration involved many singers in efforts aimed at raising awareness about the viral infection among the people through their songs," Pitambar Samal, the Additional District Magistrate of Kendrapara told Gaon Connection.

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