Folk arts of North Eastern India

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The horn played above in the beginning is called Penpa

The seven sister states of North-Eastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) are rich in folk and tribal traditions for centuries. Though largely converted to Christianity by the missionaries during the colonial times, one could still find native traditions alive. The state of Assam alone accounts for some 90 tribes and over 220 ethnic groups in all states. Each group has their own attire, dialect and culture. Handicrafts of bamboo and cane, wood-carving, hand loom-weaving are common.

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A Karbi girl in pekok(top) and pena (bottom)

 

 

 

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An Ahom girl in chadar (top) and mekla (bottom)

 

 

 

 

Bihu being Assamese, notice all the men wear ‘gamocha’ as a head-band. It’s a cotton towel woven out of white thread with intricate embroidery in red at the ends. This piece of cloth is highly revered and serves as a cultural identity in the state of Assam.

The cymbal played above in the band is called Bhortal

 

 

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Nritya Parva – annual Sattriya Dance Festival

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The following piece on the festival by yours truly was carried in a national daily – please click the link –

https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/sattriya-showcased-in-assam-festival/article25679532.ece?fbclid=IwAR2krg9lOzofiDewW_sIu81pzHk0K8Za99YADvzeSwHt7BZhxRrH1qOZgks

Slides –

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Flamenco Bienal at Sevilla

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There’s nothing like watching an art form at its place of origin, where it packs every single ingredient without fail. Having watched Flamenco elsewhere and enough times on Youtube, really wanted to lap up all its flavor at its place of birth, Andalusia ! What better time to do it than the Biennial organized by the city of Seville. And Flamenco received UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage tag in 2010.

Though a month-long festival that spans many venues featuring top artists, there isn’t much fuss in town other than a few posters stuck here and there. But the halls get filled up as it draws a select audience from world over, in addition to locals. Speaking of world-audience, Japanese tops the list as this dance form has a huge following back there. At the halls, besides Spanish and English, announcements are made in Japanese too. Tickets sell out months in advance. It’s common to hear encouraging ‘Ole’ from enthusiastic aficionados from the sidelines at the shows. And a strict No,No for photography is a dampener.

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revolutionary dancer Carmen Amaya

As with any other evolving art form, Flamenco comes in both, traditional and modern flavors.  Gypsies or the Roma people are said to be the creators of this art during their misery days in the past centuries, combining what they inherited from their roots, said to be north-western parts of India, with other musical and dance traditions existed in their midst, like Andalucian folk, Moor, Berber, Arabic and Jewish. The music and dance also evolved as a way of venting their real-life struggles and sorrows in sensuous laments, giving the art form a strong and intense character. Though the Roma community is still a marginalized ethnic group throughout Europe, Flamenco has acquired a national symbol in Spain and helps a great deal in promoting tourism.

Besides the month-long festival, there are permanent, smaller and more intimate venues in town called Tablaos, where one can experience Flamenco anytime during the year. And for  those interested in taking classes, workshops to sing, dance, clap and guitar-playing can be found around the town.

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Finally to say a few words on the city of Seville itself, the Arabic, Jewish, Christian and Roma confluence of the past has given this city a fascinating amalgamation in its aura. The massive and ornamented Cathedral stands tall, as if to emphasize the domineering Christian faith of the state of Spain. The state owes much to Christopher Columbus, though his expeditions were sponsored by the ruling Catholic monarchs, it was he who paved the way for bringing the riches to Spain, by way of colonization of the Americas that involved darker period of slavery, genocide, looting, destruction and Christianisation of locally rich indigenous cultures. Rightly so, there is a tomb for the man himself at the Cathedral, where his remains said to have been buried after several moves.

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the Cathedral

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Dangs of Gujarat

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Dang dance is performed by Dangi tribe of Dang region of Gujarat. This dance is usually performed during Holi and other festivals, also at fairs, ceremonies and rituals connected to worship. It is quite swift, vigorous and highly rhythmic. Musical instruments used are percussive Kahaiya and Dholki  besides short shehnai. Men and women stand alternately in a circular form and dance by going round and round, creating various choreographic patterns. They may have their arms around the shoulders or waists of the neighboring dancer. The movement builds gradually and reaches a fast tempo before winding to a halt. The women climb on the shoulders of men and form a human pyramid. The two and three tier formation moves clockwise and anti clockwise.

 

The Dangs live in the rocky, hilly forests of western central India. They are primarily located in the Dangs district of Gujarat State.

They have always lived close to nature, depending on it for survival. Animals are respected and treated as equals. For this reason, they are often called the “children of nature.” The Dangs district contains many protected forests that the Dangs are allowed to use for cultivation and residence. They live in one-room bamboo huts made with thatched roofs.

Despite their poverty, the Dangs enjoy singing and dancing. The villagers are skilled in creating objects out of stone, wood, and clay. Hindu artisans often help them with such crafts. Tattooing has also become an art among the Dangs.

The majority of the Dangs practice ethnic religions, and all of them are involved in ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors). Their lives revolve around rites, rituals and folk beliefs. Many are animists, believing that all objects have spirits. Trees, animals, demons, serpents, and spirits are worshiped through magical rituals. Wagh-Dev, the tiger god, is their sacred animal god and their emblem of worship.

The Dangs believe in magic, witchcraft, and sorcery, along with their many tribal gods and Hindu deities. They believe that the supernatural world contains both good and evil. Their constant fear of the spirits keeps them revolving around a circle of prayers, rituals, offerings, and sacrifices. The Bhagat (priest and medicine man) is thought to be the ultimate “good man.” He is believed to be a spiritual man who communicates with the gods. He is considered a friend, a philosopher, a guide, and a healer.

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Folk dances of Mizoram

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Chheihlam is generally performed over a round of rice-beer and it reflects joy and exhilaration. While a pair of dancers dance in the middle, others squat around, clap, sing to the beat of a drum. Those sit around take turn to join in the middle

 

Cheraw is one of the popular folk forms of Mizoram, also found in other north-eastern states of India. I recall watching a similar performance done by an ethnic group from Taiwan. It is as well found in other far-eastern countries such as Philippines.

Men sitting face to face on the ground tap long pairs of horizontal and cross bamboo staves open and close in rhythmic beats. Girls in colorful Mizo costumes of Puanchei, Kawrchei. Vakiria and Thihna, dance in and out between the beats of bamboo. This dance is now performed in almost all festive occasions. The unique style of the Cheraw is a great fascination everywhere it is performed. Gongs and drums are used to accompany the dance.

The bamboos, when clapped, produce a sound which forms the rhythm of the dance. It indicates the timing of the dance as well. The dancers step in and out to the beats of the bamboos with ease and grace. They need to keep up with the timing with high focus and concentration, as they jump in and out alternately. A misstep by a single dancer may throw the entire set off and may result in injury too.

The origin of this dance form dates back to 1 CE

Chawnglaizawn is a popular form of a community called Pawi. It is performed by a husband to mourn the death of his wife. The husband would be continuously performing this dance till he gets tired. Friends and relatives would relieve him and dance on his behalf. This signifies that they mourn with the bereaved.
Chawnglaizawn’ is also performed in festivals and to celebrate trophies brought home by successful hunters.

 

 

 

 

Beats in the wilderness

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The piece was carried in a national daily

http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/rainforest-music-festival/article19553075.ece

 

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And here is the unedited version with pictures and video clips –

Music in the Forest

Lush green forest cover and peaking Santubong mountain form a glorious backdrop to annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia. Though music has travelled in the form of festival from confined concert-halls to various open-air venues, at this unique setting of 17 acres of forest land, the festival has taken a quantum leap since its beginning 20 years ago. The 3-day long festival held in the month of July hosts renowned musicians, both indigenous and international besides medley of activities.

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A couple of hours flying from Kuala Lumpur lands me in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak and the base to get to the festival. Shuttle buses are organized from the city-centre, with the focus on reducing carbon emission, for the 35km ride to Sarawak Cultural Village, a ’living’ museum and the venue for the festival. People show up in droves at the gate in the opening hours of the morning but an efficient entry system in place keeps the wait-time to minimal.

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Workout

All-day events begin in the morning and wind down well past midnight. There is something for everyone to keep the zing going. To sustain the energy-level for such a long stretch at the festival, it is better to kick-start the day with one of the Wellness-programmes that focus on mental, spiritual and physical through yoga workshops, meditation sessions and Tai-chi. Yoga enthusiasts can get to choose from various types such as hatha, budokon, vinyasa and yin but ‘bring your own yoga mat’ is the norm here. For movement-oriented, Zumba, Bodycombat, Tai-chi, Capoeira and traditional Malay art of self-defence called Silat are the choice.

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Activities

The festival ground is designed such, a boardwalk around a water-body would make sure catch all the sights and sounds. Talks on wealth of plants in the rainforest, personal-care oil extraction, soap-making from natural ingredients are at Sarawak Biodiversity centre. Cheering kids holding mothers’ arms lead me to Pustaka Bookaroo, where children get initiated into arts, crafts and music, justifying the festival claim that it is family friendly. There is a heavy emphasis on Sape, a local ‘boat lute’ of 4-strings made of hollowed-wood, through history and exhibition, art of making and playing workshops, to preserve and promote local musical heritage. Rainforest World Craft Bazaar is an alluring stop over for souvenir hunters as it spreads a wide range of arts and crafts of indigenous people from garments, pants, batik, beadwork to tapestries for which the raw materials are sourced from the forest. Indeed, tree-bark clothing are also up for grabs. Inking the skin with an ethnic tattoo here would stay indelible even after returning home.

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Music

The festival aims to showcase music and dance rooted in cultures from around the world. Two stages, ‘Jungle and Tree’, aptly named for they are flanked by forest trees, are the focus for the prime-time mega acts. This year, over 25 bands from South Africa, U.K., Guinea, Cape Verde, Columbia, Belgium to Tahiti are featured. The bands play back to back, alternating the stages with no breaks, creating a seamless musical transition though the sounds are distinct as they cover a range of genres. When the venue live up to its name and the skies open, revellers literally ‘dance away the evening in the rain’ as they come all prepared to slide on the muddy ground.

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As Sarawak is located just north of the equator, it is hot and sweaty. The only air-conditioned refuge at the grounds is the Theatre stage that hosts afternoon shows that are chamber-style, intimate and classical for seated audience. The music here is soothing and help unwind and take a break from all the walking done.

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Then there are ‘Mini Sessions’ that host over 20 sessions in 3 days featuring lecture-demos, interactive dance workshops and thematic performances on ‘percussion’, ‘wind’ ‘strings’, ‘keys’ and so on by bringing together musicians, based on the theme, from various bands. Each musician gets to demonstrate his instrument individually and the session ends on collective synergy with them all play together to enthral the now informed audience. These shows are held in the replica of traditional houses and halls of the Sarawak ethnic communities that are part of permanent exhibits at the Sarawak Cultural Village.

Participatory and free-style Drum Circle in the afternoons draw an exuberant gathering where some 100 percussion instruments are handed out to pound out the rhythms.

 

 

Food

A wide choice of Asian cuisine is on the platter, from scrumptious fried snacks to savouries and ice-cream to fresh juice to beat the heat. But for growing number of vegetarians and vegans, the options are very limited and that is something the organizers need to pay attention in the future years, as part of their green initiative like tree-planting, recycling and food-waste management. Food marts are equipped with seating area and entertainment zone for the buskers and clowns to stir up the appetite. Cooking demonstrations, workshops and food-tasting satiate the culinary drive in those who choose to explore beyond the dining tables.

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From a modest 300 music lovers in 1998 today the festival attracts over 20,000 from across the continents and has become an eagerly anticipated event in the annual musical-calendar. “I have been coming here for many years and the music offered used to be lot more traditional but now that has taken a turn and attracts more of young and hip dancing crowd” says Kumar, a Malaysian resident. Taking advantage of being in Borneo, I hit the forest trails to catch the sights of two well-known endemic species, Orangutan and Proboscis monkey, to cap off my sojourn.

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Details

Both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines fly to Kuching

stay – 3 resort hotels, a hostel and a campsite near the festival grounds,

plenty of hotels in the city-centre

website – rwmf.net

Momasar – a Rajasthani village festival

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Stage for home-grown folk arts

As my taxi changes gear from highway to village-dirt-lane, a street dog barking furiously runs along for it finds a foreign moving object in its neighbourhood in this early hour of the day. We outdo the dog by a long way, and I could hear strains of music wafting in through morning stillness. I ask the driver to head in that melodic-way. Musicians belong to Islāmic faith singing Hindu bhajans in the courtyard of quaint Hanuman Dhora temple at dawn opens the festival. Villagers sitting cross-legged on the blanket are taking in the bliss. White-clothed and turbaned elders walk in at their pace while head-covered women in bright red Rajasthani sarees gather in a corner on the blanket. A few SUVs to my left and camels inside house walls to my right. Desert sand underneath my feet and peacocks trot at higher elevations looking for breakfast, this hour is indeed sublime !

Momasar

A village 160 miles north-west of Jaipur in Rajasthan is hosting the 6th edition of Shekhawati Utsav, organized by Jaipur Virasat Founndation that works to keep and promote traditional art forms of the state. The festival runs for 2 days, staging 200 artists from various regions and attracts a few thousand crowd to this remote hamlet, mostly from nearby villages and also a handful of die-hard fans from abroad.

We break for tea and simple refreshments at a local temple-hall. I meet up with a group who come from US and various European countries. “Marc and I chanced upon this festival last year and this year we are here to play. Yes, we were suggested city gigs but we settled for this unique village one” says Markus from Germany. In a first, this edition would feature a non-Rajasthani band in Marc Sinan and Iva Bittova. Energized by tea and with the help of a local guide, we stroll through the maze of lanes for local attractions such as temples and century old charming havelis that are painted with frescos, belonged to wealthy merchants of yesteryear.

Music at rural settings

I enter Patwari ki Haveli, an exquisite heritage building of Momasar, for ‘Music in the afternoon’. A group of women sing welcome-songs at the massive door. An array of activities in the courtyard include men spinning yarn from drop-spindle, rope-making demonstration and young students of wood-craft display their creative works. “This reflects the motive of our Foundation – preserve and encourage tradition in all forms” says Vinod Joshi, Director of JVF and the force behind this festival, which also serves him as a pay-back to his birth place. Along the wall, Kathodi performers present a unique image as two men blow into a mouth-piece of a vertical wind instrument, a man on scraper and another rubs a thin metal rod placed over a brass plate to produce the drone effect. “They live in the forest and make their own musical instruments” says Joshi. A flight of stairs in the haveli brings up a compact hall that is open to the skies where the 80 year young Safi Mohammed sings with gusto often tossing and turning the tanpura on his hand, more than strumming on it.

A quick stop for snacks at the temple hall and as the light starts to fade, we head to a farm. Though it is dark, I could get a sense of the expanse of the place and feel my respiratory system is more at ease now. As the wind blows across under starry sky, a dimly lit make-shift platform offers space for more folk art traditions. A red-turbaned, white dhoti clad man with anklets thumps his feet and waves his arms around to the beats and singing of two men playing on maante drum, a large clay-pot – their silhouette leave a surreal feel. While Marc and Iva sounds are a novelty in village-ears, the day ends at Taal Maidan, an open-air ground, at midnight with “Kuchamani Khayal”, a folk-theatre tradition from the Nagaur region of Rajasthan and is very much on the decline.

Curtain downs with a bang

Second day begins with ‘Baal Mela‘ that features a few thousand young boys and girls from 13 different schools in the village to get them re-acquainted to their rich roots and help them understand that tradition and progress could go hand in hand. “This is very crucial for the future of what we are now involved in” says Joshi, who sounds keen on covering the entire spectrum in his quest. The children get to see artists who do not make it to center stage this year, yet perform amid children’s’ competitions and workshops.

On the grand finale evening, hoards of villagers stream in one direction, young girls giggle their way in, boys bond with arms around shoulders while women look in unwind-mode with their day chores done with. Now my taxi struggles its way through this mass in this otherwise no traffic zone. As I reach brightly lit Taal Maidan, the place is buzzing, children play in sand chasing each other, flies and bugs have a field day around high wattage lamps and even crawl on people, excited in their sudden-found-illuminated-lives. The stage that exudes Rajasthani decor is all set for the show. An endless kaleidoscope of folk forms that include Dhol-thali, Kalbeliya, Gair, Bhapang, Kachhigodi, Sahariya Swang dance unfold on front that last well into the wee hours.

Though a comfortable hotel stay is some 25 miles away, the festival affords to experience folk art at its provenance. While Langa and Manganiar musicians are hot invitees on world stage, JVF aims to bring the world to their homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This piece by yours truly was carried in India’s national daily –

http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-stage-for-home-grown-arts/article16644617.ece