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Raipur: Dancing on Transformation

by Georgina Maddox

Landing in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, one becomes aware of a sense of change and transition—where a small town is steadily altering into becoming a city. The vast forest land with its gorgeous trees and flowering bushes give way to malls, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, car showrooms, and other new-age buildings which hint towards the cosmopolitan. Notably, Raipur the capital of Chhattisgarh (that was part of Madhya Pradesh before it was formed as a state in 2000), is known as the rice bowl of India. where hundreds of varieties of rice are grown. The Mahanadi River flows to the east of the city of Raipur, and the southern side has dense forests.

Naya Raipur is a ‘green city’ in every sense of the term. This is because large areas have been brought under tree plantation, arrangements have been made for water conservation and wastewater recycling, and non-conventional energy resources are being utilized to the maximum. Most of the plantation was done under ‘Social Forestry Programmes’. That is the secret behind the lovely tree-lined road that we get to drive down on all our trips even in the areas designated as the ‘city’.

It was a pleasant morning when a large group of metropolitan, city-bred media personnel, designers, fashion experts, wellness workers, cultural practitioners, curators and art gallery directors, all landed in Raipur to attend the National Tribal Dance Festival and Rajyotsava 2021 that was held at Science College ground in Raipur. Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Shri Bhupesh Baghel presided over the inaugural ceremony and also entertained us in a large-hearted gesture to a lovely Chhattisgarhi high tea at his official residence in the city. The inauguration was performed in the presence of Chief Guest Shri Hemant Soren, Honorable Chief Minister of Jharkhand; Shri Tamradhwaj Sahu, Minister of Tourism; Shri Amarjeet Bhagat, Minister of Culture and other dignitaries. The second instalment of the festival is curated by Yasmin Kidwai.

The participants for the festival had come from several countries and also artists from 27 states and six Union Territories of the country—the dance troupes were performed by artistes from seven countries including Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Swaziland, Mali, Palestine and Syria.

Nigerian dancers

Uzbekistan dancers

Sri Lankan dancers

Dancers from Uganda

Swaziland dancers

Contingent from Mali

Dancers from Palestine

This was indeed a treat because sadly, the local culture of Chhattisgarh is something that not everyone is aware of. It is so culturally rich with its dances, music, folk-songs, its visual art that ranges from the famed Dokra Casting of Bastar, to the beautifully woven saris, the robust silver and metal jewellery, the cane and bamboo work, the terracotta sculptures, vessels and the ‘Tibetan’ inspired carpets taught to the locals by the immigrant Tibetan community that have settled in the suburbs. The merging of their different cultures has in fact helped them do good business for the local population. It was a delightful sight of bustling stalls with the engaging and interesting wares displayed with a sense of pride, which we are all greeted with at the fair.

When interacting with the artisans of the Shabari stall that works with the Chhattisgarh State Emporium one learnt that wrought iron, bell metal, sisal, shell craft, wood craft and bamboo craft are all the forms that the local artisans engage in. What is most interesting is that they are open, to an extent, to urban innovation and are willing to work with architects and ‘modern artists’ to incorporate new ideas into the traditional approach.

“We are in fact looking forward to innovation and intervention with the other areas of ‘modern art’ for the artisans. Of course, we will be keeping in mind not to alter too much, only that which is intrinsic to their local tribal practice,” says Sanjeev Jha the district collector of Sarguja. Rajat Bansal the DC of Bastar also adds that it would be wonderful to have an increase in tourist activity and homestays for those who would like to ‘live the local life’; he reiterated that the areas that they are promoting and working with are safe from any ‘red’ activity.

It is noteworthy that the Karma dance is performed on the day of Ekadashi in the month of Bhaado, in the memory of King Karam Sen, to worship Kalmi (Karam Dal tree). In keeping with the practice, the community offers prayers and performs the karma dance throughout the night praising the deities. This folk dance gives a message of environment conservation and love for nature. In this category, Gusadi Dimsa was performed by the team of Telangana, Oraon by Jharkhand, Gair Ghumra by Rajasthan, Dhamali by Jammu, and Kashmir, and the Gaur Sing dance was performed by the team of Chhattisgarh.

The festival that commenced with a dazzling procession of all the tribal groups in traditional outfits spreading infectious energy through the venue continued in that vein. Tribal dance forms from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Assam, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Puducherry and Jammu & Kashmir showcased the vibrant and diverse culture of India.

Dancers from Arunachal Pradesh

Dancers from Andhra Pradesh

Dancers from Andhra Pradesh

Dancers from Bihar

Dancers from Goa

Dancers from Gujarat

Dancers from Haryana

Dancers from Jammu & Kashmir

Dancers from Jharkhand

Dancers from Kerala

Dancers from Karnataka

Dancers from Ladakh

Dancers from Lakshadweep

Dancers from Manipur

Dancers from Madhya Pradesh

Dancers from Meghalaya

Dancers from Puducherry

Dancers from Rajasthan

Dancers from West Bengal

The dancing and festivities were not without its competitive edge; rewards of rupees five lakh, three lakh, and two lakh were offered to the participating tribal groups exhibiting the best of the culture through dance performances on wedding ceremonies, traditional festivals, and rituals, social dances like harvest dance among others.

It may be said conclusively that the National Tribal Festival is a mega event that not only highlights and celebrates tribal culture and heritage but also delves deeper into important discussions on the initiatives that can help in the economic development of tribal communities. We look forward to the third furlough.

(All images are courtesy of the National Tribal Dance Festival and Georgina Maddox)


Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.

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