Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Until the 80s, several anecdotes used to float around in Tripura about how indigenous children routinely got their names Sankritized when they took admissions in schools. Maitya Ram Reang did not attend one but his name, too, was changed to Satya Ram Reang when he began to perform on stage.
Translated from Kokborok by Hamari Jamatia
The Hojagiri dance of Tripura is a blend of physical strength, rhythm, and delicate moments that requires years of practice to master. It is performed by the Bru community, one of the 19 tribes of the state. Such is the elegance of the form that the Tripura government and the Tripuri population take great pride in it and regularly showcase it on Republic Day and other national and international programmes.
Hojagiri dance, much like every indigenous dance form, has been kept alive and popular by its ardent practitioners and promoters. One such person is Maitya Ram Reang who has been instrumental in sustaining and promoting the traditional dance. In view of his contributions, the Government of India conferred the Padma Shri award on him on Republic Day this year. However, if you scroll down the names of awardees you will find that he is not listed under his indigenous name but is found under the name of Satyaram Reang. According to Maitya Ram, his name was changed many decades ago when he first started performing. Maitya never went to school and so he did not notice that his name had been changed by the organizers of cultural shows. The story of Maitya’s name resonates with many indigenous people whose names used to be routinely changed to sound more Sankritized. There are many stories narrated by the people of the older generation who say that when they took admission in school, schoolteachers (non-Adivasis) would give them a Sankritized name so they won't have to make an effort to pronounce local words.
Despite receiving accolades as Satyaram, Maitya Ram prefers to be called by his real name. It is pronounced "muito" which means remembrance in the Bru language. Indeed his official documents such as the Aadhar card is in his indigenous name given to him by his family. His grandson Romario Reang, who is also a performer, says, “Earlier when he went to perform in the city, he couldn't read his name written on the paper. He just performed his songs and showcased his talent.”
Early years: Maitya Ram was born on February 1 at Dashmi Reang Para in South Tripura District. He started performing from the age of 12 and went on to form a band of singers and dancers. The journey to safeguard the Hojagiri dance began in the teenage years itself. Maitya Ram and his troupe used to perform at local festivals such as Buisu and Sena. One day in 1966, the troupe performed at the BSF camp at Bogafa. The personnel were so impressed by their dance that they took the initiative to promote Maitya Ram’s troupe into performing at various functions in the state. It didn’t take long for their talent to find admirers and the troupe performed in Delhi, Gujarat, Mumbai, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Japan.
One of his first performances abroad was in 1987 when his team were invited to Russia. For his contributions, Maitya Ram was awarded with the "Sangeet Natak Akademi" in 2004. On 26th January of this year, he made it to the list of Padma Shri awardees. The declaration brought great joy to him as well as to the entire state.
Challenges: In 2007, Maitya Ram decided to open the Hojagiri Dance Academy with his eldest son Helenjoy Reang who was also an accomplished performer. Unfortunately, in 2020 Helenjoy suffered a stroke and died leaving behind a wife and a child. The untimely demise deeply saddened the family and the Reang community who lost a gem of a performer. Helenjoy had taken the initiative to revitalize Bru music and dances and had taken them to various corners of the country. Jushmita Reang, wife of Helenjoy says, “We are still mourning the loss of my husband. I have a young kid of three years old who I have to take care of. As such, it is a struggle to work for the academy. I wish the government would help us with funds to run it or we get donors to look after its day to day work.”
Romario Reang laments the fact that the academy was opened with the help of Tripura government but has now been neglected completely. “For the first three or four years, the government gave funds to operate the academy. After that they completely stopped helping out. Due to this we sometimes are unable to keep the school open. We urge the government to start helping us with funds again.”
Hojagiri musamung (dance) is one of the cultural aspects of Tripura that gives it its identity. The government routinely places pictures and clips of Hojagiri dances in their catalogues to showcase Tripuri culture. This dance form requires support and a dedicated school to thrive and grow. Maitya Ram's Padma Shri has brought renewed focus on the beauty of the dance form and it is imperative that the interest in Bru dance and music continues so that reaches newer heights.
This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.