By Tapati Chowdhurie
|Ghumura dance from Kalahandi, Odisha|
The Adi Bimb Festival, held recently at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the National School of Drama (NSD), was hailed as a defining moment in the promotion of the diverse cultures of the indigenous tribes of India.
Ratan Thiyam, Chairman, NSD, whose long-cherished dream it has been to help build cultural bridges between mainstream India and Andaman, delivered the inaugural address at the festival. He pointed out that urban India has much to learn from the lifestyles of Adivasis, who co-exist in perfect amity with nature and remind us how vital it is to conserve its resources rather than deplete them. “Our indigenous cultures have been degenerating in the wake of globalisation, and there is an urgent need to preserve their identity,” emphasised Ratan Thiyam. The Adi Bimb Festival, which saw the participation of over 300 Adivasi kalakars or artists, was a significant step towards this objective.
The morning sessions were exclusively devoted to seminars, while the evenings showcased a vibrant array of tribal dances. The performance space, a replica of a typical Indian village, showcased motifs and materials from all over India.
The festival opened with “Basantare eto rango”, a ghumura dance from Kalahandi, Odisha. Ghumura is both a percussion instrument as well as a dynamic dance form that evokes veera rasa and is said to have inspired and entertained battle lines of yore. Apart from the eponymous ghumura, the dance employs a variety of musical instruments such as nishan, dhol, taal and madal, and is marked by energetic jumps, cartwheels and somersaults.
Kalahandi, a virtual treasure trove of tribal culture, is also home to a popular folk dance form known as bajashal, typically performed during weddings and other social festivities. The bajashal dancers wowed the audience at the festival with their performance of dalkhai, where the lover woos his beloved, telling her she is as fragrant as jaiphul, to the spirited accompaniment of instruments such as the dhol, tasa, mohuri, nishan and taal.
Yet another dance form from Kalahandi is the banabadi, a martial dance ostensibly first performed by Krishna. It is ritually performed by Yadavas in the months of Kartik and Magha of the Hindu calendar. In contrast to the vigour of banabadi is the gentle grace of rasarkeli, a dance performed in a spirit of relaxation and rejuvenation at the end of a long work day.
The festival amply showcased how every mood, season, birth, death, feast, festival and rite of passage is spontaneously celebrated in tribal life with dance and music. Occasionally, as with the Nicobarese, who have adopted an urban lifestyle and converted to Christianity, they bear the imprint of modern influences as well. At the festival, the Nicobarese performed their traditional Ossuary and Pig Festival dance, inviting the whole village to play and sing and hunt the pig, even as they mirrored the stark reality of the hunter-gatherer who has to kill for survival. Similarly, kharsawan Chhau dancers from Jharkhand performed their ritual hunting dance, recreating in minute detail every act and move of hunting for game.
Presenting a perfect foil with their lyrical movements were the Santhal dancers who performed the domdong dance, traditionally associated with wedding festivities, the baha dance that heralds spring and the sohorai dance that celebrates the festival of Paus.
Colourfully attired women from Rajasthan sang and performed the chakri – a graceful fast-paced dance with innumerable spins and turns – while menfolk kept steady beat on their dholaks. A staple of all auspicious events including wedding ceremonies, the chakri was originally performed by women of the Kanjar tribe who settled in Baran and Kota, and has now spread to the Haroti, Barod and the Chippa regions of Rajasthan as well.
|Holi dance performed by Rathwas of Gujarat|
The Rathwas, who hail from the hills and forests of Gujarat and Maharashtra, performed their unique Holi dance, making a human pyramid to resemble a temple. The Rathwas do not play Holi with colours; instead, they fast and gather alms for five days, cook bagra and offer it to all in the name of Holi mata, the goddess of Holi. The Rathwa dancers also made a beautiful camel formation atop which an image of the Holi mata was taken in procession.
From Madhya Pradesh were the gudum baja dancers, who drummed with their hands and elbows, played a range of drums and reed pipes, whistled, somersaulted, and expertly wielded sticks in mock-fight. The Saila and Ahira lathi dances, also from Madhya Pradesh, showcased their distinctive styles of combat using lathis or sticks. Masked Chhau dancers from Seraikella performed with zest, giving the audience a peek into their rich cultural legacy.
The Kabui Nagas performed the shim laam or the fly dance, a highlight of the Gang Ngai festival, the kit laam or the cricket dance that celebrates a bountiful harvest, and the ga laam or the crab dance, all of which bear ample testimony to how their lives are inextricably interwoven with the rhythms of nature.
The bamboo dance of the Karens (a tribe that traces its roots to Burma, and was resettled in the Andaman and Nicobar islands by the British) was a virtual glimpse into their social history, and a reminder of how tribal culture is a vital key to the collective reconstruction of our past.
The Adi Bimb Festival, true to its name, held up a mirror to the sheer depth and diversity of India’s indigenous tribes. Even as it alerted us to the dangers of confining tribal dance and music to the urban proscenium, it provided both an equal platform and also prompted a paradigm shift in the notions of audience and performance.