| THE VANISHING TRIBE
When was the last time you watched a Nat perform acrobatics? Or heard
the sound of a Jal Tarang? Or how many of us know that Ashtapadiattam
and Koodiattam are dance forms? Sunday Times draws up a checklist
of our vanishing art forms.
By Vineeta Pandey & Anubha Sawhney
An evening music concert at Delhi’s famous Kamani Auditorium. Once
upon a time it would have drawn a handsome crowd. But that was then.
Recently, only 50 people turned up to see a performance. Reason? Most
‘regulars’ were at home watching the finals of Indian Idol on TV.
For the vanishing tribes of artists and craftspeople of the country,
it’s an unequal contest: classical ragas vying with adrenalin-raising
indipop; ancient rhy-thms versus catchy feet-stomping beats; tradition
pitted against change.
Most people today wouldn’t be able to tell a Dilruba from a Sarangi,
a Kanjeera from a Jal Tarang. Hardly music to the ears, but that’s
the sorry state of many of our musical instruments and forms. Remember
the Jal Tarang? China bowls filled with water and struck with a light
wooden mallet to cause it to ring. The unique instrument can only
be found in museums now. The Dilruba, also called the Esraj, is similar
to the sitar but smaller — Allaudin Khan is the last known living
player of the instrument. The Veena, Rudraveena, Sarangi — are all
on the endangered list. The number of Sarangi players in India is
The Kanjeera, a small round drum covered with goat skin and circled
with bells, is also hard to find. So is Morchand, and the once-popular
Nagada and Naubat, played in marriages.
Gone almost missing are also many forms of music — Haveli Sangeet
(temple music from Mathura), Bengal’s Baol Kirtan, music of the Rajasthani
Mand — and many raags and raginis — Hans Kinkini, Gopika Vasanth,
Kuku Bilawal, Lacchasaakh, Jhankaar.
‘‘The government gives no importance to the performing arts,’’ says
Shobha Deepak Singh, director, Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. ‘‘No
wonder Sufi music with its instant appeal has overshadowed the Dhrupad
and Khayal,’’ adds Khayal singer and teacher Shanti Sharma.
OUT OF STEP:
Mohiniattam, Ashtapadiattam, Koodiattam, Yakshagana, Kalaripayatu
— names that wouldn’t strike a chord with many. These are all dying
dance forms. While the government and people like Singhjit Singh and
Charu Mathur have managed
to keep the Manipuri dance alive — other forms like Saathiya, a martial
art based dance from Orissa, have all but died out. ‘‘Dance must be
an alternative subject in schools,’’ says Singh.
The Patuas of West Bengal are a distressed lot because now they have
to sing about the Tsunami’s tragic tales. Patuas are both artists
and entertainers who move along a given c i rc u i t not far from
their own homes: writing the lyrics, composing the music, singing
it and painting it on a scroll that they carry around from village
to village. Their stories are about everything from social problems
like wifebeating to current news topics like Osama bin Laden. Says
cultural activist Rajeev Sethi, ‘‘Micro-enterprises and cultural-industries
constitute the second-largest workforce after agriculture in India.
This is a mostly self-employed and unorganised sector, employing a
massive number of economically vulnerable but talented and tenacious
people. They capitalise on the assets of traditional skill, knowledge,
imagination and creative innovation in an age increasingly committed
to mechanised production.’’
The only place to catch them now is the traditional mela. The nomadic
Nats wandered from village to village, taking their acrobatics to
every part of the country, drawing big crowds wherever they went.
But today, like many other traditional artistes, they are a vanishing
It’s an art that the second generation is not picking up. Compared
to the effort — and cost — that goes into the making of a Madhubani
painting, the returns are poor: about Rs 5,000 a month when actually
a single painting is sometimes sold for that amount. But it’s agents
who are making the money, not the artists. Fortunately, this dying
art is seeing some light now. ‘‘My husband and I are determined to
keep this traditional art alive,’’ says Sudha Devi, who took to making
Madhubani paintings after she was married. Now, she is regularly invited
to Dilli Haat to display her work.
More than 26 crafts such as Kalamkari, Tikuli, Chamba Rumal and Marguetry
are in the languishing list. The Indian Handicrafts Board is working
hard to revive these. “Craft melas, urban haats and marketing outlets
have helped a lot,’’ says Sandeep Srivastava, additional development
commissioner, Handicrafts Board. ‘‘Out of the 26, we have managed
to revive Kani shawls from J&K. Our efforts are still on to revive
more.’’ Also helping is the interest being showed by the US and European
countries like Italy and Germany.
Remember the glint of gold or silver varak on your great-grandmother’s
trousseau? Well, the technique is being recreated and restored by
designer Rohit Bal in his forthcoming collection for the India Fashion
Week. ‘‘I’ve been intrigued by varak for a long time now. After painstakingly
tracing its origins and finally finding some kaarigars who still do
this fascinating gold-and-silver leaf work, I was determined to use
it. Sheer fabrics like georgettes and chiffons are best to offset
this fine work,’’ says Bal. Some other designers are chipping in to
do their bit. Filmmakercum-designer Muzaffar Ali, for instance, has
given a new lease of life to the dying art of chikan and zardozi embroidery.