When Mesram Tukdoji and his team begin their chorus "Aska ad ghat rai't ropo...." to the accompaniment of music from his Kingri, listeners are transported to a different world. No, the latter is not required to be versed in Gondi to experience the magic of the Adivasi folk tradition which was in full flow during the recently-concluded Nagoba jatara at Keslapur in Indervelli mandal.
The Kingri, also known as Khikri, is a unique string instrument as its three strings and the bowstring are made of horse hair. The instrument owned by the septuagenarian Tukdoji is doubly unique for being at least 200 years old and its strings have not been replaced since the veteran came to inherit the instrument 52 years ago.
The shape of the instrument has a square-shaped resonator box containing a long bamboo with three pegs at the other end. The bow has brass bells tied to it to create a delicate rhythm when the instrument is played. A folk musical instrument, the Kingri is played only by the Pardhans, a bard or balladeer tribe which functions as guide to the Gonds in their religious and social functions and the Thottis, also a tribe associated socially with the Gonds and Pardhans. The instrument, believed to be as old as Gondi mythology which itself is as old as 'Aska ad ghat' or time immemorial, continues to be played during all religious rites and those related with births, deaths and marriages of Gonds. Mythology has it that the Gods who were angry with the tribe could only be pacified when the Pardhan elders played the 'Dunadi vaja' or the sacred stringed instrument. "Yes, this instrument is held sacred by us as we meticulously follow the customs that go with it," observes Tukdoji as he explains the importance of the instrument in the Adivasi ethos. "The Kingri is female and is called Hirabai and is positioned on the left shoulder while being played. When not in use it is tethered to its male, Heerasukka, which is in the shape of a small-sized sword," the musician reveals. "I never had to worry about repairs as the need has not arisen since I began handling it at the age of 20 when I got married," the 72 year old Pardhan discloses. "The Kingri can be played only by married men," he adds as an afterthought, another important aspect connected with the instrument.