The Pena (a.k.a Bana, Bena, or Tingtelia) is a bowed lute found in North East India and Bangladesh. It is used in folk music as well as the accompaniment of the Manipuri dance styles. It is part of a culture of bowed instruments which extends throughout north India. As such, the pena is remarkably similar to the ravanhasta found in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, and the ubo found in Manipur and Nagaland, or the kenda found among the Munda (Mundari) of Northern India and Bangladesh.
The subject of terminology is always problematic when dealing with Indian music. In this page, some terms will be from Manipuri while others may reflect a rustic Bengali dialect. However, we cannot even begin to fathom the various alternative terminology that may be found in the different tribal communities of North East India and Bangladesh. These considerations should be kept in mind.
There is a considerable variation in the name of this instrument. In Manipur, it is usually known as pena, but the Nagas often refer to this as tingtalia. In Bangladesh it is known as bana or bena. It is possible that this instrument may be linked to the pinaki vina, mentioned in numerous ancient texts. However, there is the strong likelihood that bana or bena is merely a corruption of the Bengali term bina, which in turn is a corruption of the Sanskrit word vina. The names of this instrument imply a certain generic quality; this is indicated by the fact that the be-ana of West Bengal is of a different construction, yet still played with a bow.
The social significance of this instrument is varied. In Manipur, the pena has a rich tradition. At one time, this instrument was played in royal courts and was considered part of the "high culture" of the region. Today, it is usually associated with folk music and the traditional Manipuri dance. It is still occasionally used for funerals and weddings. The bana of Bangladesh is used in folk music, and is found in folk theatre.
The instrument consists of two basic parts. There is the body of the instrument and there is the bow. The body of the instrument is known as penamasa in Manipur, or dhorr in Bangladesh. The bow has different names. In Manipur it is known as "pena cheijing", while in Bangladesh it is known as chorr.
The main body of the instrument is made by taking a length of bamboo and passing it through a half coconut shell. This forms the neck of the instrument; it is sometimes referred to in Bangladesh as the noli. This bamboo is roughly 10-11 inches in length and roughly 1 to 1.25 inches in diameter. It it is trimmed at the base and then passes through two holes cut in the half coconut shell. Aside from the holes in which the bamboo passes there are two holes for acoustical purposes. The largest opening is covered with some type of skin or membrane. There is also a smaller sound hole cut into the back; this smaller sound hole remains open.
There is a decorative scroll attached to the end of the instrument. In Bangladesh, this is known as mogra.
There is also a tuning peg used to control the tension on the string. This is fitted into two holes made in the side of the bamboo neck. In Bangladesh, this pegs is known as kaan; it too is made from bamboo.
There are a number of different materials which may be used for the membrane. In Bangladesh the skin of an iguana is used; it is said that this iguana skin is only available in the rainy season. In other areas peritonaeum, rawhide from other animals, or other membranes may be used.
The bow is made of wood. Sometimes there is a curved piece of metal at the end. In some places, this bow has has numerous small metal bells attached to it (see ghungharu). Horse hair is then strung between the wood and the metal.
Several materials may be used for the string. Although metal strings are occasionally used, it is more likely to be some indigenously available material. Such materials may be horse's hair, or the fibre from a sago-like plant which grows in the region.
It is interesting to note that the number of performers of this instrument have been declining. As rural culture has come under assault by the larger urban cultures, many traditional art-forms are disappearing. It is estimated that in Manipur there are only about 145 pena musicians. In many other part of India and Bangladesh the situation is worse.
© 1998 - 2018 David and Chandrakantha Courtney
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