South Asia is the most populous and densely populated region in the planet’s most populous continent. Not surprisingly, therefore, it’s home to many culturally rich nationalities who still struggle in the post-Colonial world for recognition, equality and self-determination.
The earliest known settlers in Assam are believed to be the Khasi and Synteng people of southeast Asia. The were later marginalized by the arrival of the Tibeto-Burman language speaking Monpas, Sherdukpens, Bhutan, Mishings, Deuris and Bodo-Kachari. The last major wave of immigrants seems to have been the Hindus around 500 BCE, although small numbers of many other groups have arrived since. As such, Assam today is a highly hybridized place that nonetheless is struggling for autonomy.
Assamese dancers (photo by Ramesh Lalwani)
Ankiya Nat (Onkeeya Naat) is a traditional Vaishnav musical theatre dating back to the 1400s. Borgeet are popular Vaishnav songs dating back from the same era. There’s also a significant folk music tradition that shares many characteristics with Burmese, Chinese and Thai music and is a significant influence on the popular music of artists like Anima Choudhury, Bhupen Hazarika, Javanta Hazarika, Jitul Sonowal, Khagen Mahanta, Luit Konwar Rudra Baruah, Nirmalendu Choudhury, Parvati Prasad Baruva, Utpalendu Choudhury and Zubeen Garg.
The Dravidian-speaking Brahui of Balochistan are thought to be a remnant of the Dravidian migration to India thousands of years earlier. After the area was ruled by several people, the Iranian Baloch people first settled the arid desert of Balochistan about 1,000 years ago after fleeing the Seljuq Turks. Today, Balochi are widely believed to have assimilated varying degrees of Arab, Greek and Turkish ancestry. Today Balochistan is a member of UNPO.
Music of Balochistan
The music of Balochistan incorporates various influences from Iran and Pakistan and includes Sepad, Shabtagi and Vazbad (various types of hymns), and melancholic Zayirak. Famous performers and composers include Ali Reza Askani, Aref Baloch, Asim Baloch, Bakshi Baloch, Saeed Borhanzahi, Shah Jaan Dawoodi and Abdul Sattar Baloch.
The Hindu Republic of Bangabhumi declared independence from Bangladesh in 2003. The movement was founded in 1973 in India soon after Bangladeshi independence to support the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, who were targeted by the Pakistani army in the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities.
Human rights activist and Hindu Bangladeshi Taslima Nasreen
Music of Hindus in Bangladesh
Many Hindus in Bangladesh have achieved fame either as musicians (Subir Nandi, Tapan Chowdhury, Shuvro Dev, Rathindranath Roy, Aroti Dhar and Shefali Gosh) or composers (Ajit Roy, Subal Das and Subhash Datta). However, with the dwindling, persecuted Hindu minority spread throughout the country, there’s no reason to think all of these artists identify with Bangabhumi.
The early history of Bodos is largely unknown. Cultural assimilation with Assamese was not productive. By the end of 1970s it became clear that Bodos had a little or no influence in the Indian political process. The official Bodoland Movement for an independent state of Bodoland started on 2 March 1987 under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU).
Music of Bodoland
The Bodos traditionally dance the Bagurumba. Their traditional music is played on local instruments including the Siphung, the Serja, the Tarkha, the Kham and the Khawang.
First mentioned by the Chinese in the 700s, according to the GBUM, the region enjoyed a brief period of independence between November 1, 1947, when the suzerainty of the Dogra rulers of the Kashmir princely state ceased to exist, and November 16, 1947, when the local inhabitants liberated their region and opted to join Pakistan.
The territory is part of the larger disputed territory of Kashmir and has been in dispute between India, Pakistan, and China since 1947. On 29 August 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009 was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by the President. They are a member of UNPO.
The Chagos Archipelago is a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands roughly in the centre of the Indian Ocean. The Chagossian people’s ancestry is mostly of African heritage, particularly coming from Madagascar, Mozambique and Mauritius.
There is also a significant proportion of Indian ancestry. The French brought them over as slaves from Mauritius in 1786. The Chagos were home to the Chagossians for more than a century and a half until the United Kingdom and the United States expelled them in the 1960s in order to allow the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. Many have fought for their right to return, only to be stymied by the British government.
The indigenous peoples, collectively known as the Jumma, include the Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tenchungya, Chak, Pankho, Mru, Murung, Bawm, Lushai, Khyang, Gurkha, Assam, Santal and Khumi. The early history of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is a record of constantly recurring raids on the part of the eastern hill tribes, and of the operations undertaken to repress them. The earliest mention of these raids is to be found in a letter from the Chief of Chittagong to Warren Hastings, the Governor-General, dated April 1777, in which he complains of the violence and aggressions of a mountaineer named Ramu Khan, the leader of a band of Kukis or Lushais.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts, combining three hilly districts of Bangladesh, were once known as Korpos Mohol, the name used until 1860. In 1860 it was annexed by the British and was made an administrative district of Bangladesh and a member of UNPO.
Dimasa women sorting snails
In the Mahabharata there is mention of the foothill dwellers of the Great Himalayas called Kiratas, which some suspect is a reference to the Kacharis. One of the tribes of the Kacharis is the Dimasa.
Originally established in the Brahmaputra valley, the Dimasa resettled in Sadiya and Assam and established the Dimapur Kingdom in the thirteenth century. In 2009, after years of fighting to regain independence, the Dima Halim Daoga stopped fighting.
Music of the Dimasa
The traditional dance forms of the Dimasa Kacharis are largely instrumental and played on the khram (drum) and muri (a wind blown instrument).
The Garo are a people who call themselves A·chik Mande (“hill people”). They appeared in Meghalaya, according to tradition, from Tibet, around 400 BCE. Originally they settled in the valleys but other groups persecuted them until the headed for the hills. In 1872, the British army, armed with guns and cannons, subjugated the Garo, who relied on swords and spears in their attempted defense.
Music of Garo
There are several traditional musical forms among the Garo, including Nangorere, Serejing, Pandu Dolong. Instruments include Kakwa, Nanggilsi, Guridomik, Kamaljakmora, gongs, Rangkilding, Rangbong, Nogri, Adil, Singga, Sanai, Kal, Bolbijak, Illep (or Illip), Olongna, Tarabeng, Imbanggi, Akok (or Dakok), Bangsi rosi, Tilara or Taragaku, Bangsi mande, Otekra, Wa·pepe or Wa·pek, Dotrong, Sarenda, Chigring, Dimchrang (or Kimjim), Gongmima (or Gonggina), Am·beng Dama, Chisak Dama, Atong Dama, Garaganching Dama, Ruga and Chibok Dama, Dual-Matchi Dama, Nagra and the popular Kram… to name a few.
(photo by Ramesh Lalwani)
The Nepali-speaking Gurkha claim descent from the Hindu Rajputs of Northern India, who entered modern Nepal from the west. They were long used, after the subjugation of South Asia, by the British to do their military dirty work.
Since 2007, some of the Nepali-speaking Gurkha (led by Bimal Gurung) have struggled for independence. The political arm of the movement is Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJMM).
During the Mughal period, Jharkhand was known as Kukara. The principle peoples of Kukara were the Asur, Baiga, Banjara, Bathudi, Bedia, Binjhia, Birhor, Birjia, Chero, Chick-Baraik, Gond, Gorait, Ho, Karmali, Kharia, Kharwar, Khond, Kisan, Kora, Korwa, Lohra, Mahli, Mal-Paharia, Munda, Oraon, Parhaiya, Santal, Sauria-Paharia, Savar, Bhumij, Kol and Kanwar. In 1765 it was conquered by the British and renamed Jharkhand. Revolts against the colonizer were common until 1900. Finally, in 2000, the disenchanted Jharkhandi were given a modicum of recognition.
Music of Jharkhand
I’m sure there’s an indigenous musical tradition in Jharkhand but it seems that Jhumar, a dance/music form from Balochistan, is the most popular.
In the ninth century, Kashmir Shaivism arose, replacing the previously popular Buddhism and Hinduism. In 1349, Shah Mir introduced Islam to the region. Muslims ruled until 1751 until they were toppled by the Afghan Durrani Empire, whose reign ended when Ranjit Singh conquered it for the Sikhs. Today, it’s still hotly contested by rival parties including India, China and Pakistan.
Music of Kashmir
The traditional music of Kashmir reflects its cultural and geographic location at the crossroads of Central, East and South Asia. Chakri is one of the most popular forms. Sufiana Kalam is the local classical form, having arrived from Persia in the 1400s.
Khālistān is a proposed Punjabi Sikh state, meant to revive the Sikh Empire of the 1700s. The movement to establish the nation peaked in 1970s and 1980s and has since grown much quieter.
Well known Punjabi Sikh performers include Kuldeep Manak, Daler Mehndi, Jaspinder Narula, Shingara Singh and Sukhbir.
In Burmese, “Naka” means “people with pierced ears.” The Naga may have migrated to their current location in Nagaland from a region between the Huan Ho and Yangtze rivers. As early as 150 AD, they were mentioned in the writings of Ptolemy, however, the historical record of the Naga is sparse, picking up again in 1816, with the invasion of Nagaland by the Burmese. Lumped together with Assam following the partition of India, the Naga National Council has long attempted to earn self-determination. They’re members of UNPO. Oh yeah, and they’re mostly Baptists.
Music of Nagaland
The oral tradition of the Naga is passed down through folk songs, dances and folk tales. Subjects are primarily romantic, historical, agricultural or devotional.
Pashtunistan or Pakhtunistan is a proposed nation constituting the Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pashtun homeland was divided in 1893 by the Durand Line dividing British India and Afghanistan. The area was historically known as Pukhtunkhwa or Paktika. The Durrani Empire united the Pashtun areas in 1747, which lasted until conflicts with British Empire and the Sikh resulted in its collapse.
One of the most popular traditional forms is Attan. There’s also the Khattak Wal Atanrh, Mahsood Wal Atanrh and Waziro Atanrh, among others. Many Pashtun forms combine roots in Hindustani and Persian music. Some well known Pashto singers include Nashenas, Sardar Ali Takkar, Naghma, Rahim Shah, Farhad Darya and Nazia Iqbal.
Rājputāna was ruled by the Rajputs for centuries. They were famed for their abilities as warriors and often clashed with Mongols, Arabs and Turkic would-be invaders who worshiped the sun and may be descended from Scythians. The non-violent Rājputāna Liberation Front is the primary force attempting to re-attain independence.
Most of Rājputāna is situated in the Thar desert and the lyrics of folk songs often focus on fetching water from various sources.
Sikkim is situated in the Himalayas and home to the Sikkimese. They believe that they were introduced to Buddhism by Guru Rinpoche in the 8th or 9th century. The Lepcha and Limbu tribes migrated from Tibet. They were joined by the Bhuttias from Nepal around the 1400s and later, Nepalese.
The Sikkimese established the Namgyal dynasty in 1642 and over the next century and a half fought off invaders until it was annexed by the British after they allied themselves with them. The Sikkim Democratic Front has been a force seeking Sikkimese since 1994.
Sindh is home to the Sindhis. Their civilization may’ve been toppled as early as 1700 BCE and their homelands have over the millennia seen the arrival of Muhajirs, Pashtuns and Punjabis. In 1972 the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz movement was founded by G M Syed with the aim of Sindhi liberation. Syed was placed under house arrest until his death in 1995. The Sindh are currently represented in the UNPO.
There are two main forms of Sinhi music, baits, a vocal form, and waee, an instrumental form.
Telangana or Telengana means “land of Telugus.” They may be descended from the Tailang of Burma. In the 1950s and ’60s, discontent among Telugus began to grow and the Telangana movement eventually turned to violence which resulted in the death of 360 students. The Nava Telangana Party, led by T Devender Goud, declared Telangana as a separate province on November 2, 2008.
Music of Telagana
Currently, the Telugu film industry, also known as Tollywood, is the dominant vehicle for Telugu music.
Tamil Eelam is the name of the state the Tamil attempted to establish in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese dominate Sri Lanka and many Tamil have long felt marginalized. From 1983 to 2009 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought an extremely bloody war against the Sri Lankan government.
The most famous Tamil musician is Mathangi Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A. Traditional Tamil Nadu music draws upon classical Carnatic music and poems of Sangam literature. Other musicians, famous among the Tamil diaspora (including those in Tamil Nedu), include Vijayalakshmi Navaneethakrishnan, Pushpavanam Kuppuswamy, K. V. Mahadevan and M. S. Viswanathan. Tamil Cinema has produced several well-known film composers, including A. R. Rahman, Yuvan Shankar Raja, Harris Jayaraj, Karthik Raja and Vidyasagar.
Tai people (not to be confused with Thai) most likely originated in China and various groups have migrated around southeast and south Asia. Since 1996, the Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF) has struggled against domination of the Tai-Khamtis by both the Adi and the Indian government that has ruled them since post-British colonial period.
The Twipra Kingdom was ruled by the Tripuri people for at least 2,000 years. They are believed to have left China before the Sui Dynasty and settled in the area. Since being ruled by India since 1949, the TNV (Tripura National Volunteers), the NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) and the ATTF (All Tripura Tiger Force) have all fought to restore their independence.
Young Tripuri Dancers
Music of Twipra
The Tripuri’s traditional music is played on instruments including drums, rattles, rhythmic sticks, sumui (bamboo flute), chongpreng (akin to a lute), dangdoo (jew’s harp), and other instruments. One of the key figures in Twipra music is Hemanta Jamatia, a retired member of the TNV who later surrendered and dedicated his life to protecting his peoples’ music.
1100 years ago the Kingdom of Tulu Nadu was ruled by the Ballal Kings of Sullia. Although Tulu speakers still make up the majority of the population, there are Konkani, Kannada and Beary-speaking minorities. The culture also reflects the influence of Arabs, Jains and Goud Saraswat Brahmins.
Two of the more widely known Tuluva pop singers are Shweta Shetty and Vidyabhushana. One of the popular traditional forms is the Yakshagana, which is somewhat akin to opera.
parched farmland in Vidarbha
Vidarbha was an independent kingdom ruled by the Yadva at least as old as the Mahabharata, in which it is mentioned. Today Vidarbha is home to Telugu and Hindi speakers and people from Chhattisgarh.
The mountainous nation of Waziristan is in the news a lot nowadays, ever since it was thrust into the media after the invasion of Afghanistan. There are various conflicting accounts of the Wazir peoples’ origins, pointing variously to the Afridis, Aryans, Hephthalites, Kushan and Scythians.
Waziris displaced by warfare
Zozam is the proposed name of a state in what is currently the north Indian state of Mizoram. The main population is the Mizo people. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language although legend says they emerged from under a large covering rock known as Chhinlung. Most suspect that the Mizo arrived from China centuries ago and may be close relatives of the Chin in Burma. Although the Mizo National Front used to actively fight for independence, nowadays they pursue their aims through political action.
The panel of judges on Mizo Idol
The Mizo people categorize their traditional music into several types, including Bawh Hla (warrior chants) Hlado (hunting chants), Thiam hla & dawi hla (Invocation & Incantation), Dar Hla (instrumental gong music), Puipun Hla (festival songs) Lengzem Zai (love songs), tribal anthems, village anthems, and other styles.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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