The Music in Ziro


By 7am, we were in Ziro. Rubu got us on the road that crisscrossed the vast horizon of paddy fields. To the east were low mountains clad with forests where a water stream gurgled past the paddy field. To the west were settlements steeped in tradition. One could sense a melody in the air, created by the forest, water, paddy fields, grazing grounds and milieu of culture.  Could we have asked for a better welcome to Ziro? We were lucky to have Rubu with us who left no stone unturned to help us understand the music we heard. 

Called Apatani Plateau, Ziro is the district headquarters of Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh where the Apatani tribe is said to have inhabited the area some five centuries back. The plateau topography is punctuated by undulating small hillocks and mountains. We marvelled at the gushing streams that burst through the forests, trained by bamboo and pinewood pipes to ensure water is made available to parcels of lands downstream. A combination of rice, fish, and millet cultivation marks the agricultural landscape. Rubu said what we were seeing had been developed as an intricate system linking forests, water, paddy and fisheries in organic way. 

Soon we were crisscrossing Hong village. Lapañ, nago and babo, the socio-cultural structures, were seen generously punctuating the village around which celebration of life continues year around. Apatanis are amongst the very few tribes in the world that practice Donyi-Poloism (Sun-Moon), a belief that everything in nature originates and manifests from the divine. 

In the evening, we visited Rubu’s uncle in a traditional bamboo long house. We tasted traditional homemade kodo beer with special Apatani salt called Tapyo, tasting somewhat like salt, but made at home using ashes of certain indigenous plants.  

Our senses were fully soaked by Ziro, especially the music. That music has been played for centuries in the Apatani community by the forest, water, agro-pisci culture — a rich cultural fabric woven to perfection. It was the interaction amongst these musicians that created the magic, ably nurtured by the Apatani for centuries. Could there be a better example of a living bio-cultural landscape where the interaction of natural elements create such a melody? 

Globalisation and an ideological onslaught from the outside have brought new challenges and opportunities to Ziro. The Apatani must challenge their aspiring youth to tread a middle path, and not compromise the music of Ziro that has been composed and nurtured for ages. 

For me, the music has been resonating ever since then. No wonder, for all of its music, Ziro is included in India's tentative list as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.