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   Home >> Library index >> Miscellaneous-Vanishing Art Forms >> 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 diminishing rapidly. 
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. 


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 tribe. 


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.