Geet Gawai : Our National Heritage

The Bhojpuri Speaking Union which operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Arts and Culture 

The Bhojpuri Speaking Union which operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Arts and Culture is organizing a Geet Gawai Utsav 2016 in collaboration with the High Commission of India and the Mauritius Bhojpuri Institute.

The Geet Gawai Utsav 2016, the first of its kind ever in Mauritius and the world is being held at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, Phoenix on Sunday 9th October 2016.

It is worthy to note that the Mauritius Bhojpuri Folk Songs- Geet Gawai Nomination Dossier has been submitted for Inscription on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Ministry of Arts and Culture for the Government of Mauritius, for consideration in November 2016.

It is heartening to recall that Mauritius is a Member of the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since June 2016.

Geet Gawai: Let’s walk through 182 years of Geet Gawai

The Geet Gawai is a musical ensemble (vehicle) that encapsulates the intangible cultural heritage brought to Mauritius by the Girmitias – Indian Indentured Immigrants from the Bhojpuri Belt of India and implanted on Mauritian soil 182 years ago.

It is a vibrant form of music sung by women. It is spontaneous, melodious, rhythmic and above all soulful. It is rooted in the lives of the performers and tradition bearers. The Geet Gawai has undeniably become part of the Mauritian cultural and linguistic patrimony.

The Geetharines are the ones who have preserved and transmitted the Geet Gawai from generation to generation. It is an oral tradition par excellence. Homage is hereby paid to them.

The Geetharines have learnt the Geet Gawai in their tender age from their mothers, mothers-in- law, nanis, dadis, phouphous and neighbours. It is an intrinsic part of their lives as they breathe and live it. The Geet Gawai depicts a magnificent harmonious blending of the intricacies and ways of the cycle of life.

The Geetharines have invariably kept the rich nuances of Geet Gawai alive and safeguarded its pristine quality, originality and aesthetics of the style of singing. They have ensured its transmission individually and collectively.

The Geet Gawai has definitely inspired the gamat singers (Latente singers) – both male and female in their equally vibrant compositions and who have improvised and popularized it in gamat sessions for decades.

Geet Gawai: The music that celebrates life

The Geet Gawai is a life cycle oral tradition of Bhojpuri folk singing sung on auspicious occasions principally on pre-wedding and wedding ceremonies. It is also sung on the occasion of a birth, janeo (thread giving), mundan (tonsure) and other family rejoicings. Today, they have come out of the secluded confines of the four walls of the home and are performed on stage at public events. The pre- wedding folk songs are sung in the evening lasting till late in the night and warming up till the early next morning.

There is usually one lead singer, followed in chorus by the group of singers. There is a complicity of shared camaraderie among them, a togetherness in melody as they warm up to their rich repertoire song after song.

The genres include a multitude of beautiful Bhojpuri folk songs depicting the moods, moments, stories and myths from the hoary past, depicting romance of the coming together of man and woman in the different stages of life. As well as the love, affection and auspiciousness that pervade the ceremonies and bind the family together.

The proper Geet Gawai sung at pre-wedding and wedding occasions start with invocations such as sandhyas, devidevtageet, mahadev, shaadigeet, followed by sumirans, mandar puja, dhartibandhal. Other wedding songs accompany each wedding rite and tradition such as matkor, tilak, chumawal, lawamilai, kanyadan, sindurdan, etc. There are other varieties that accompany festivals such as holi, harvest, drought (harparawri) or rainy season, grinding (jatsar), or godna (tattooing), etc.

Eventually the climax is reached in the singing when the Geetharines bring out several lilting jhumars one after the other from their rich repertoire, accompanied by women dancing rhythmically in a circle to the beat of dholak, lota, chimta, lakritaal and clapping of hands. The atmosphere is electrifying. No one can resist but join in when the rhythm peaks. And this goes for the family members and the younger generations who are mesmerized by the fast beats of the music and pulled in by the force of the music.

An Age Old Spirit Relives

The Mauritius Bhojpuri Institute was set up in May 1982 as an NGO to give Bhojpuri Language and accompanying folk songs and folklore esteem, respectability, prestige and recognition. The MBI did yeoman pioneering service in institutionalizing and bringing the Bhojpuri culture, language and folk songs to the fore from the backwaters of Mauritian cultural life at grassroots, national and international levels.

The very successful ballet “PaniNai Ba”/ Parbatia brought alive an age old spirit. Hundreds of cultural events by well-established Bhojpuri artists, composers and institutions followed. They have added to its glow and assured its journey into modernity. CDs and Video cassettes are produced by artists. The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation has set up a 24-hour Bhojpuri Channel that has immensely helped to give it visibility. The Mahatma Gandhi Institute has a Department of Bhojpuri Folklore and Oral Traditions which promotes Bhojpuri at academic level in collaboration with the University of Mauritius. The Ministry of Education and Human Resources, Tertiary Education and Scientific Research has introduced the teaching of Bhojpuri at the Primary level. It is also understood that the Cabinet Decision to introduce Bhojpuri Literature at Secondary level as an optional subject is well under way at the Mauritius Institute of Education.

The Bhojpuri Speaking Union

The Government of Mauritius set up the Bhojpuri Speaking Union by an Act of Parliament in May 2011 subsequently amended in October 2015. The Chairperson of the Bhojpuri Speaking Union is appointed by Cabinet decision. The aim, vision, mission, statement, strategic policy and activities of the Bhojpuri Speaking Union are in line with the Act of Parliament. The Bhojpuri Speaking Union functions as a parastatal body under the aegis of the Ministry of Arts and Culture. The BSU is governed by a Board appointed by the Government.

The Geet Gawai School of Petit Raffray is unique in its structure. I took the initiative of setting up the Bhojpuri Speaking Union Geet Gawai School at Petit Raffray, following a meeting with Geetharines in September 2013. The Geet Gawai School is run by Mrs Dhundevi (Reeta) Poonuth with the collaboration of the Guruwaines – the Geetharine teachers who are well versed in the tradition.

The classes include Bhojpuri language, girmitia-immigration history, Bhojpuri literature, 16 sanskaras, music, theatre, lyrics, poetry, slam, folk performing arts, choreography, dance, as well as inculcating human value education, respect for elders, harmonious living at home and in society, sharing and caring, integrity, discipline, honesty etc.

Focus is also given on protection of environment, climate change, medium and small scale industries. In short the Geet Gawai empowers the Geetharines and their students in cultural and economic sustainability.

Geet Gawai School Branches: Twelve branches have been opened at Mahebourg, Lalmatie (2), Laventure (2), Plaine des Roches, Piton, Dagotiѐre, Queen Victoria, Bonne Mѐre, Crêve Coeur.

New branches are being opened at Quatre Bornes and Allée Brillant Castel.

There is a growing demand for the opening of new schools for the promotion of Bhojpuri language and Geet Gawai.

Dr Sarita Boodhoo

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