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Buang

The Buang (also called bhuang) is a primitive Santal drone instrument. Buang is an onomatopoeic term in consonance with the deep booming sound the instrument emits.  The Buang is exclusively associated with the Dasae (Dnasae) festival of the Santals, which coincides with the Durga Puja of the Bengalis, in the month of Ashwin (September-October) – the month known as Dasae by the Santals.




The Buang (also called bhuang) is a primitive Santal drone instrument. Buang is an onomatopoeic term in consonance with the deep booming sound the instrument emits.  The Buang is exclusively associated with the Dasae (Dnasae) festival of the Santals, which coincides with the Durga Puja of the Bengalis, in the month of Ashwin (September-October) – the month known as Dasae by the Santals. 

According to Santal folklore, Dasae is a lamentation of the slaying of their first king, Mahisashur, also known as Hudur Durga, who was vanquished by a beautiful woman who went on to assume the name of Durga. It is believed that his soldiers went about, disguised as women in search of their lost king. To this day, groups of Santal men dance gracefully around the village lanes or move from village to village, swaying in perfect harmony, singing Dasae songs and using instruments like cymbals (kartal) and the Buang to accompany themselves. They are dressed in “female” attire (long dhotis and turbans from saris), with feathers on their heads. It is a grand sight indeed. 

It needs to be clarified however that during Dasae, two different kinds of dances take place, depending on the region. The Buang dance, where the Buang instrument is predominant, is performed in the southern parts of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha – comprising Medinipur, South Bankura, South Purulia, Singhbhum and Keonjhar respectively, by large groups of men.  The Dasae dance on the other hand is performed in the northern regions, North Bankura, North Purulia, Birbhum upto Nepal. Here the sound of the cymbals (kartal) is dominant. The Hudur Durga folklore has probably been woven around the Buang.

In these northern areas, the Buang dance is performed usually by the Buang guru along with one or two shishyas, unlike the Dasae dance which is performed by a large procession of men (Dasae Daran). The instrument here is small in size and sound – nowhere as impressive as the larger one from the south; it is a prop almost. They move around the neighbourhood performing, sometimes trailing behind the Dasae Daran, but not always. The steps of the dance differ from the Dasae, but sometimes merge into one another.  

The Buang is a chordophone that is essentially crafted using a dried gourd, which acts as the resonator, a length of bamboo, sticks and hemp rope. There is no one specific way to craft the instrument and villagers use available resources and their creativity to put it together. Traditionally, the buang was put together using rope and wooden pegs. In the village we visited, metal bolts and nuts were used.

A calabash (hotoh in Santali) gourd, at least 2 feet in length, is dried and hollowed out from the narrow end. This is then to be attached to the centre of a horizontal length of bamboo, about 3 feet long. A hole is drilled through the centre of the closed end of the gourd and a bolt driven through it from the inside and attached to a corresponding hole at a position about one-thirds away from an end of the bamboo. This is secured by a nut inside the gourd and washers and a nut above the bamboo. (In an earlier time, wooden plugs would be used.) Care must be taken that the bamboo is firmly aligned with the top of the gourd. To secure the bamboo to the gourd further, a mix of powdered straw, dhuno (Indian frankincense, the resin of the sal tree) and a sprinkling of sindoor is prepared, burnt and packed into whatever little space there is between the bamboo and the gourd. 
 
Near one end of the bamboo, about 4” away, a hole is drilled. Carefully selected branches from specifically, the Karam tree (adina cordifolia) are dried and whittled in advance to form two sticks.  The branch is chosen such that one stick is angular (about 135 degrees or so), with the shorter arm thicker than the other, which is also slightly curved (the arc of the bow). This is called the Aah and together with the bamboo, forms a sort of bow. The thicker, shorter end of this stick will be plugged tightly into a hollow end of the bamboo. The second stick, shorter in length is plugged directly into the hole at the end of the bamboo. This is the tuning peg or Khi. 

A hemp rope is wound tightly around the tuning peg and knotted at one end and pulled taut across to the other end of the bamboo where it is tied to the top of the curved stick (aah). The villagers we visited said white paper or even cloth tassels may have been used to decorate it in the days of yore. However, in more recent decades, the men have been decorating their buangs with gaily coloured tassels cut from kite paper and shiny tinsel paper. 

The instrument is played by tugging the middle of the string upwards in rhyme with the beat of the drums and a deep “buang” sound emerges. The entire process, from collecting the branches, letting them dry, whittling them, fetching and cutting the bamboo, preparing the gourd to the finished Buang takes many weeks. 

The songs are the same for both Dasae and Buang dances – though the songs, and the traditional manner of singing are gradually being forgotten. The tempo of the songs vary from region to region. In Malda, for instance, the tempo is much quicker, while in parts of Jharkhand, it is much slower.  

Incorporated in the Dasae songs, which are in the form of question to the guru and his reply, are invocations to the Buang guru. One of the songs sung to the accompaniment of the Buang is in honour of the instrument itself and recounts the birth and growth of the gourd on the manure heap. In another song, the words go “… Pray tell Guru, why is the buang played? For what reason is it sounded all around? Oh Guru, perhaps it is sounded for the welfare of society…”.