Kinnera: The Music from Telangana’s Past

Music and art are defining aspects of a country’s culture. The Kinnera is exemplary of ancient musical arts that have succumbed to the eroding forces of time.

The Kinnera: An Age Old Tradition

Art is intuitive. As said by Edgar Degas, it is what one makes others see. Art is able to activate imaginative capacities, and it is a sort of window to the human soul. It enables us to free ourselves from the rut of everyday life, and sense emotions and colours at the simplest level.

Several ancient, primeval forms of art exist within the Indian subcontinent. The Kinnera, a musical instrument, is one such form of art that has faded into antiquity.

Craftsment make the kinnera from an array of natural objects. It can produce a wide spectrum of sounds and tones Image Courtesy: Indian Tribal Heritage

The Kinnera is a stringed instrument, much like the Veena, which has 12 ‘steps’ mounted with strings that can produce tones of varying frequency. It is interesting to see the physicality of the instrument itself. The stem is made from hollowed bamboo, the body is made from dried gourd, and the human hair or animal nerves are used to make scales. Scales of a pangolin are used to make frets for the instruments, and honey-wax is used as an adhesive to hols the structure together.

Around half a century ago, the Kinnera faded from the Chenchu context. This occurred because the gourd used to make it died out as well. Natives used the instrument to create music about Panduga Sayanna, a Telangana fighter, and records about this  practice produced information regarding the disappearance of the instrument.

The Only Remaining Kinnera Maestro:

Mister Darshanam Mogilaiah is literally the only remaining individual in the 21st century who is capable of playing the 12 step Kinnera. Hailing from the village of Mahabhubnagar in Telangana, Mogilaiah belongs to the Dakkali tribe. This particular community of individuals is well versed with the instrument, and has worked since colonial times to popularise it. They played songs of revolt using the Kinnera during the era of colonialism in India. The Dakkali are a Chenchu race breed. They used their art and music as a form of protest against colonialism.

Mogilaiah is the only remaining artist who knows how to play the 12 step Kinnera.
Image courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

Aged 65, Darshanam Mogilaiah has been the forerunner of the Kinnera. He belongs to the Madiga Mastin subcaste of the Dakkali, and has been a master at the Kinnera since his childhood, and is a 5th generation artist in his family. Mogilaiah sings praises of Meera Saab in his tunes. Meera Saab is an iconic Mahabubnagar native who lived 400 years ago. She helped the poor by stealing from the rich, much like Robinhood. Mogilaiah is the only one who has mastered all 12 steps of the instrument, and uses objects like dry fruit and coconut to produce different frequencies on it.

 The Decline of the Kinnera

With the advent of electronic equipment, the Kinnera has died out, Mogilaiah is one of the few musicians who lives on and survives this sacred tradition. Mogilaiah has received  a fillip from Dasari Ranga, a research scholar from Osmania University, who is doing a thesis on the songs of agriculturists, called ‘Karshaka Geetalu’. Ranga has arranged a program to exhibit the art of the Kinnera to the University of Hyderabad as well as Telugu University. Students will be able to learn the art of the instrument through Mogilaiah.

Music binds communities and cultures together irrespective of their caste. During hardship, music is able to uplift the spirits of people, and induce peace. We must strive to protect the forms of art and music under the risk of extinction.

This article is written by Suvozit. It was originally published on www.nazariya.in,  an initiative that is connecting rural India to metropolitan cities

Works Cited:

Chenchu music: “Kinnera” stringed music instrument restored after 50 years – Telangana. Indian Tribal Heritage. 27 December 2015. Web. https://www.indiantribalheritage.org/?p=19267

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