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Lavanya Bahuguna


Whistling Artist Malvika On Her Plan To Safeguard India’s Whistled Language

  • IWB Post
  •  August 24, 2019


A few days ago, we came across a petition by Malvika Vazalwar, a girl from Maharashtra, requesting the Indian government to include Meghalaya’s whistled language in UNESCO’s Representative List of ICH. She even reached out to UNESCO Cell, Ministry of Culture, in order to receive some guidance on how, together, they can get it nominated in the reputable ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ List. Interestingly, Malvika herself is a Whistling Artist and naturally, empathizes with India’s Whistling community.

IWB spoke to Malvika, who’s a professional writer and consultant, about the potential of this petition and how it can make a difference in safeguarding this unique and creative form of expression. Excerpts below:

Let’s begin with the petition that you’ve initiated. How important is it to you?

I was only seven when I began whistling and it’s been a growing passion ever since. Recently, when I read about the ‘whistled language’ from the ‘whistling village’ of Kongthong, in Meghalaya, India, I wanted to know more. As a result, I took to the internet to do my kind of research and watched a handful of documentaries. The very fact that whistle is a language spoken by a group of people amuses me! Though I haven’t been able to visit this particular hamlet yet, I feel quite connected to its culture.

Also, it’s not just that I started this petition. A while ago, the news of ‘Sfyria’ – the whistled version of spoken Greek – being included in the UNESCO’s list of Intangible World Heritage was doing rounds, that’s when I felt at war within me as I thought of the possible reasons for not including the ancient whistling language of India in this list yet. I guess I used my rage in the right direction when I started this petition.

What reply did you receive from the Ministry of Culture when you informed them about the petition and sought help?

It was through a press release that I got to know that the Ministry of Culture had appointed the esteemed Sangeet Natak Akademy to prepare the nomination dossiers. This is the first step to nominate the ‘whistled language’ for UNESCO’s list of Intangible World Heritage! So when I wrote to the Ministry of Culture proposing the idea, they came forward to guide in the best possible way.

Furthermore, the officials at the Sangeet Natak Akademy told me that the idea is noble and that they would present it in front of the members of the Advisory Body on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Diverse Cultural Traditions of India relating to UNESCO (ABICHU). I understand that the process is going to be long but I’m not losing hope. Let’s hope to receive a piece of positive news from ABICHU soon!

Apart from this, I also reached out to the concerned authorities on Twitter, including Professor Rakesh Sinha,  who recently spoke for the same cause.


Has anyone, who’s signed the petition, reached out to you so far?

Oh, yes! Many people have contacted telling me how unique and inspiring this campaign is. I’m amazed to see hundreds of strangers supporting it on social media full throttle. In fact, a few natives of North East India were kind enough to thank me for making efforts towards getting their homeland its due recognition. I’m grateful to the local and official bodies for giving this initiate a direction and hope.


What do you think you’ll achieve if UNESCO agrees to recognize the Whistled Language?

I think I’m only going to be happy for the people of Kongthong village who’ve played the biggest role in conserving their exceptional culture. It’s their centuries-old tradition and the fact that only a handful of us (Indians) know about it breaks my heart. While scholars from abroad had spent years with this community to study their communication system, a majority of us have remained blindfolded until now. But not anymore, right?

What do you like the most about this rhythmical dialect?

Oh, everything. Imagine your name is a tune and so is your friend’s. It is said that at the time of the birth, the village unitedly composes a lullaby for the newborn and the mother forms a unique tune for her baby so she can name him/her after the melody. This implies that there is a whistled identity unique to each person living there! Can you imagine? I mean how can someone not fall in love with something so musical? Plus, the way these people are naturally born with this talent is something to ponder upon.

And, what inspires your work as a Whistling Artist?

It has to be the happiness around me. I started whistling after watching my dad do it all the time, especially when he was in his jolly mood. As far as I’m concerned, I whistle while trying on a new dress or during a long drive. Happy moments and people inspire me to come up with my own versions of musical tunes.


On that ‘note,’ share a little about your Live performances.

I keep doing small gigs here and there but the major breakthrough was when Kala Ghoda festival of Mumbai invited me to present my art in front of its visitors. It was one of its kind experiences as it also exposed the listeners to the existence of this language. Other than this, I’ve also performed on Radio for a ‘World Music Day’ celebration. It’s funny how they say ‘(good) girls don’t whistle.’ Look at me – I’m pretty good and people actually sit down to pay attention to my flair, ha-ha!

What do you want to say to our readers?

The ‘whistled language’ is a fast-disappearing oral-tradition of the Meghalayan Kongthong village. Today, it needs your signature to safeguard itself. Please do the needful by considering it your duty towards your country.

Lastly, how and where can we study more about the whistled language?

You can watch Whistling Tribe and The Village of ‘Song Names’ in India (by Oinam Doren).

Did you know? (courtesy: Wikipedia)

  1. One of the most well-known whistling competitions is the International Whistlers Convention (IWC). The festival takes place in Louisburg, North Carolina – which began in 1973. In fact, it has been customary for the Governor of the State of North Carolina to sign a declaration declaring the week of the IWC as “Happy Whistlers Week,” for citizens and visitors to honor the art of whistling and to participate in the scheduled events.
  2. According to Guinness World Records, the highest pitch human whistle ever recorded was measured at 8,372.019 Hz, which corresponds to a C9 musical note. This was done by Andrew Stanford in Hanover, New Hampshire, on March 20, 2019.
  3. On the other hand, the lowest pitch whistle ever recorded was measured at 174.6 Hz, which corresponds to an F3 musical note. This was accomplished by Jennifer Davies of Dachau, Germany on November 6, 2005.
  4. The most people whistling simultaneously was 853, which was organized at the Spring Harvest event at Minehead, the UK on April 11, 2014.
  5. On La Gomera, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, a traditional whistled language named Silbo Gomero is still used. At least nine separate whistling sounds are used to produce usually four vowels and five consonants, allowing this language to convey unlimited words. This language allowed people (e.g. shepherds) to communicate over long distances on the island when other communication means were not available. Interestingly, it is now taught in school so that it is not lost among the younger generation.
  6. Another group of whistlers was the Mazateco Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. Their whistling aided in conveying messages over far distances.

Also, check out the ‘13 Intangible Cultural Heritage elements from India inscribed on UNESCO’s List‘ updated last in March 2018.

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