Folk tales from far corners
Kala Madhyam, the folk festival that concluded in the City recently, showcased the best of arts and crafts from rural India..
THE RAINS tried, but they just could not wash away the exuberance generated at Kala Madhyam, the annual folk arts mela co-ordinated by city-based non-government organisation, Madhyam. Colourful stalls showcasing the best of visual arts from rural India, gaily dressed singers and dancers performing on the beautiful slopes of the amphi-theatre, and craft persons working diligently to produce charming objects lent a festive air to the fair. The three-day mela had performers such as Padmashree Teejan Bai from Chattisgarh, and a host of others who have helped raise the status of folk arts in our country.
For Bangaloreans, Kala Madhyam was a treat. Even though the steady rains on the first day had organisers and craft persons almost in tears, the next two days saw a steady stream of city slickers picking up handloom dresses, terra cotta bric-a-bracs, leather hand-bags, and paintings for the year.
What is a good opportunity for well-heeled people to stock up on ethnic chic for the year is however a survival-exercise for traditional artists. "This is our livelihood," says Sudarshan Swain, who specialises in Pattu Chitra, and paintings on Tussar silk. "Only if people buy our products can we survive and continue with our traditional occupation."
The palm-leaf paintings, which are priced between Rs. 100 and Rs. 50,000, use laboriously hand-made dyes and fine brushes. "The price is for the whole family's work that goes into the painting, for the attention to detail, and for the stories from our epics that are depicted there," adds Mr. Swain's colleague, Kailas Chandra Maharana.
In one of the stalls, a Madhubani painter wondered why people shy away from his work when they are told its price. "Each of our paintings has a story to tell. Each painting is unique. The work is slow and tedious. But we want to keep the art alive." Earlier, Madhubani paintings were only done on walls, but with changes in the market, they are now done even on saris, dupattas, and other dress materials. At Kala Madhyam, silk saris with Madhubani paintings on them were available for Rs. 3,700, while the cotton ones came for Rs. 1,500.
Photos: T.L. Prabhakar
Artistes from Assam and Rajasthan mirroring India's legendary folk culture.
Rakesh Soni's tribal metal art lured many a visitor. Tribal folks of Bastar in Madhya Pradesh used to cast miniature body parts (depending on which part of their body had some disease) and offer it to their gods. From this developed the art of tribal metal work. The mela brought out the fantastic and unbelievable variety that our folk arts have to offer. A big draw at the mela was the "folk food" ragi rotti, joladda rotti, hand-turned ice cream, and cool "golas" from Rajkot.
Kala Madhyam is a project of Madhyam aimed at giving visibility to folk arts and to strengthen it. "Madhyam has been using people's media such as folk art forms, street theatre and puppetry to communicate development related messages to rural communities and to empower folk artists," explains Munira Sen, Director of Madhyam.
While avid shoppers browsed through stalls of Jaipur's blue pottery, Channapatna's toys, Sandur's Lambani bags and jewellery, Kantillo's brass and bell metal products, more reticent friends and family settled down on the lawns of the Chitrakala Parishat to take in the performances.
"Our puppets tell real stories," said a colourfully turbaned artist from Rajasthan, interspersing his Hindi with a bright sprinkling of English.
Other performances that enchanted visitors included the Jhummer and Bihu dances from Assam, Ratnam and Lingam's spirited Dapu Dance of Andhra, Pooje Shivanna's mesmeric Pooje Kunitha of Karnataka, and of course, Teejan Bai's pandavani, or narration of stories from the Mahabharata. Madhyam has been encouraging folk forms such as Villupaatu, Therukoothu, and Kummi and Kolattam in Tamil Nadu through various workshops with Dalit groups. In Assam, Madhyam activists have used Jummer and Bihu to spread messages of harmony, while the Chau form has stimulated development from within the culture in West Bengal.
The aim is to foster a respect for all cultures and to create a positive attitude towards other cultures. Kala Madhyam showed glimpses of magic that folk arts are capable of casting. In rural India, music is a constant companion of people working on their art forms.
"When we paint, our women folk sing songs while they pound the rice or wash the silks, and our children rub special stones and sea-shells to make paints," says Sudarshan Swain, painting a picture of familial vibrancy. It is this essence of traditional art forms that Madhyam endeavours to capture in its melas. If you missed the mela this year, look out for this folksy affair next year. For details about Madhyam contact 2281981/2259766.
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