KHULLANG ESHEI: Manipur’s Folk Treasure

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KHULLANG ESHEI: Manipur’s Folk Treasure

By: Seram Neken

Khullang Esei is completely the improvisation of the singers without any written script. The immediate and spontaneous emotional responses to queries and charges in the form of a uniform tune and style of singing are featured in the Khullang Esei. The verses are intelligently and intellectually created. Highly literary proverbs to describe emotions, romance, things, places and situations are components of Khullang Esei. It is said that Meitei Pangals (Manipuri Muslims) had also adapted themselves to such folk songs since time of Meidungu Paikhomba.  The only folk music common to Meiteis and Meitei-Pangals inhabiting the Manipur Valley is the Khullang Esei. The people of these two communities have the ardent responsibility of preserving and revitalizing the age-old Khullang Esei music.

(Pic: Khunung Esei performance during the Folk Music Festival organized by Akashvani Imphal)
(Pic: Khunung Esei performance during the Folk Music Festival organized by Akashvani Imphal) Photo by : S Neken

Folk Music of the Meiteis in the form of Khongjom Parva, Pena, Khullang Esei, other songs of Lai haraoba, Lou-ngaak  Esei, Naoshum Esei, Naothem Esei etc. are increasingly becoming valuable in identifying the nation and its people. Associated with the life, legends, myths, history and philosophy of the indigenous people of Manipur, such folk forms are increasingly used in modern music in order to establish the indigenousness of the contemporary musical products. Most intellectuals have apparently realized the utility of preserving these precious aesthetic elements of the society.

Folk Music may be defined as the music held to be typical of a nation or ethnic group, known to all segments of its society, and preserved usually by oral tradition. History and development of folk music is largely conjectural. Musical notations of folk songs and descriptions of folk music culture are occasionally encountered in historical records.

“As Christianity expanded in Medieval Europe, attempts were made to suppress folk music because of its association with heathen rites and customs, and uncultivated singing styles were denigrated. During the renaissance, new humanistic attitudes encouraged acceptance of folk music as a genre of rustic antique song, and composers made extensive use of the music; folk tunes were often used as raw materials for motets and masses, and Protestant hymns borrowed from folk music. In the 17th Century, folk music gradually receded from the consciousness of the literate classes. But in the late 18th century, it again became important to art music. In the 19th century folk music came to be considered as a national treasure, on a par with cultivated poetry and song. National and regional collections were published and music became a means of promoting nationalistic ideologies. Since the 1890s, folk music in Europe has been collected and preserved by mechanical recordings. Publication and recordings have promoted wide interest, making possible the revival of folk music where traditional folk life and folklore and moribund. After the First World War, archives of field recordings have developed throughout the world.” ……….. Encyclopedia Britannica writes on changing importance of Folk Music in Europe.

One of the most precious folk music of the Meiteis is the Khullang Esei, which is usually delivered in duet. It signifies exchange of romantic emotions between a lad and a lady through highly literary verses in the form of natural tunes without any musical accompaniment. It may also be considered as a tuned dialogue of poetic verses between a male and a female, mostly on romantic themes. The singing is without any musical instruments. It is only through vocal notes and highly literary words of the singers that Khullang Esei is created. No strict rule of classical music binds this folk song. Importantly, Khullang Esei is sung while concentrating on a physical work. Tilling of fields, harvesting of paddy, grinding of paddy etc. are the inherent laborious works of the indigenous people of Manipur. Khullang Esei, usually sung during work, not only breaks the monotony of hard-work, but also hastens the progress of the work. Instances of folk songs during work are Loukaa Esei, Loutaa Esei, Lourok Esei, Loungaak Esei, Nonglao Esei etc. which are still vogue in some villages of the state. Popular singers of Khullang Esei in contemporary Manipur are Lamjao Tomba, Lourembam Padmabati, Ahongsangabam Priyarani, Irungbam Padmabati, Goshe Meitei, Laimayum Subhadra etc.

Origin of Khullang Esei may be traced from pre-historic times. Nowadays, it is performed in the Lai Haraoba festival as “Paosha Esei”, a song sung by ‘Tangkhul Saram Pakhang’ and ‘Saram Nurabee’. It is believed that God Nongpok Ningthou and Goddess Panthoibee who disguised themselves as ‘Tangkhul Saram Pakhang’ and ‘Saram Nurabee’ sang the song during their encounter in the working field at the hill slopes. The tradition is believed to have been handed down from generation to generation orally. Myths also depict that the Khullang Esei was originated from the exchanges between Nongthang Leima  and Haraba during their first meeting.

Khullang Esei is completely the improvisation of the singers without any written script. The immediate and spontaneous emotional responses to queries and charges in the form of a uniform tune and style of singing can identify the Khullang Esei. The verses are intelligently and intellectually created. Highly literary proverbs to describe emotions, romance, things, places and situations are components of Khullang Esei.

It is also said that Meitei Pangals (Manipuri Muslims) also had adapted themselves to such folk songs since time of Meidungu Paikhomba.  The only folk music common to Meiteis and Meitei-Pangals inhabiting the Manipur Valley is the Khullang Esei. The people of these two communities have the ardent responsibility of preserving and revitalizing the age-old Khullang Esei music.

(Reference: Articles of B. Jayantakumar Sharma “Manipuri Esei” published in the monthly Manipuri Journal ‘ECHEMMA’ February, March, April, May & June 2008 editions)

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