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प्रेम रामायण

लेखक: अनिल गोयल

महरषि वाल्मीकि की रामायण ने पिछले लगभग सात-आठ हजार वर्षों में कितने ही रूप धारे हैं. हर काल में वाल्मीकि–रचित इस महाकाव्य को हर कोई अपने तरीके से सुनाता चला आया है. इसकी मंच-प्रस्तुतियों ने भी शास्त्रीय से लेकर लोक-मानस तक हजारों रंग भरे हैं. पारसी शैली की रामलीला को देख कर भारत की कितनी ही पीढ़ियाँ भगवान राम की इस कथा को मन में धारती आई हैं. कुमाँऊँनी रामलीला से लेकर कोटा क्षेत्र के पातोंदा गाँव, ओड़ीसा की लंकापोड़ी रामलीला और हरियाणा में खेली जाने वाली सरदार यशवन्तसिंह वर्मा टोहानवी की रामलीला जैसी कितनी ही सांगीतिक रामलीलाओं की लम्बी परम्परा हमारे यहाँ है. भारत ही नहीं, विदेशों में भी इसकी अनेकों प्रस्तुति-शैलियाँ पाई जाती हैं. इंडोनेशिया में बाली की रामलीला की तो अपनी अलग ही मनोहर शैली है.

हमारे देश में भी कलाकार रामलीला को अपनी दृष्टि से मंच पर प्रस्तुत करने के नित नये तरीके और शैलियाँ ढूँढ़ते रहते हैं. प्रवीण लेखक, निर्देशक और निर्माता अतुल सत्य कौशिक ने, जो प्रशिक्षण से एक चार्टर्ड अकाउंटेंट और अधिवक्ता हैं, अपने नाटक ‘प्रेम रामायण’ में प्रेम की दृष्टि से इस महाकाव्य की विवेचना की है. रामायण की अपनी व्याख्या पर आधारित नाटक ‘प्रेम रामायण’ का प्रदर्शन अतुल ने 5 अक्टूबर 2022 को दिल्ली के कमानी प्रेक्षागृह में किया. उनकी इस नाटक की यह पच्चीसवीं या छब्बीसवीं प्रस्तुति थी, जोकि हिन्दी रंगमंच के लिये एक गर्व का विषय है.

हमारे यहाँ प्रेम-भाव का प्रयोग प्रायः कृष्ण-कथाओं की प्रेम-मार्गी प्रस्तुतियों में किया जाता है. परन्तु अतुल ने बाल्मीकि की रामायण के मर्यादा पुरुषोत्तम भगवान राम के जीवन पर आधारित रामायण को प्रेम के भाव की प्रस्तुति का माध्यम बनाया है, जहाँ रामायण के चरित्र ईश्वरीय अवतार होने के साथ-साथ अपने मानवीय रूप, स्वभाव और संवेदनाओं के संग नजर आते हैं.

Atul Satya Kaushik

इसकी प्रेरणा उन्हें कैसे मिली, इसके उत्तर में वे कहते हैं, “मैं किसी एक प्रोजैक्ट के लिये बाल्मीकि रामायण पढ़ रहा था, और क्रौंच-वध के प्रसंग को पढ़ते हुए मुझे लगा कि इस महाकाव्य की उत्पत्ति तो एक प्रेम-आख्यान से हुई है. तो रामायण की विभिन्न कथाओं में प्रेम को ढूँढ़ने की प्रेरणा मुझे इसी आदि-काव्य से मिली!”
इसके लिये उन्होंने रामायण में छुपी पाँच प्रेम-कथाओं को चुना है. प्रेम-कथाओं के इन पन्नों में से सबसे पहले वे एक लगभग अनजानी सी कहानी ‘अकाल’ ले कर आते हैं, जिसमें श्रीराम की बड़ी बहन, दशरथ और कौशल्या की पुत्री शान्ता और उनके पति ऋषि श्रृंगी या ऋष्यश्रृंग की कहानी दिखाई गई है. दूसरी कहानी ‘रथ से निकला पहिया’ कैकेयी और दशरथ की जानी-पहचानी कहानी है. तीसरी कहानी ‘स्वर और शान्ति’ में वे सीता और राम के मन की संवेदनाओं की कथा सुनाते हैं. इसके बाद ‘उल्टी करवट मत सोना’ में लक्ष्मण और उर्मिला की कहानी देखने को मिलती है. और अन्त में, ‘उस पार’ के माध्यम से सुलोचना और मेघनाद की करुण प्रेम-कथा के दर्शन होते हैं.

विरह या अपने प्रिय से अलगाव ही प्रायः प्रेम-आख्यानों का आधार रहता है. इन पाँच में से शान्ता की कहानी के अतिरिक्त अन्य सभी चार कहानियाँ अपने-अपने कारणों से जन्मे उसी विरह की वेदना को दर्शाती हैं. सभी कहानियों में स्त्री-मन की अथाह गहराइयों को दर्शाने का प्रयास स्पष्ट नजर आता है, जिसके लिये अतुल कभी-कभी इन कथाओं की अपने अनुसार विवेचना भी कर लेते हैं.

दशरथ के मित्र और अंगदेश के स्वामी राजा रोमपद ने शान्ता को पाला था. युवा होने के उपरान्त परिस्थितियोंवश एक बार शान्ता का सामना ऋषि श्रृंगी या ऋष्यश्रृंग से हुआ. ऋष्यश्रृंग ने अपने पिता विभान्तक या विभंडक के क्रोध से शान्ता की रक्षा की, और उसी क्षण शान्ता ऋष्यश्रृंग की हो गई! (इन ऋषि विभंडक के नाम पर ही आज का मध्य प्रदेश का भिंड नगर बसा हुआ है!) ऋष्यश्रृंग ने भी जीवन के हर क्षण में शान्ता को अपने साथ रखा, उसे पूरी बराबरी का सम्मान दिया! शान्ता के जीवन के उन्हीं क्षणों का चित्रण अतुल ने पूरी कुशलता के साथ किया है.

‘स्वर और शान्ति’ में अतुल ने सीता और राम के मन की ध्वनि को एक अनूठे ही तरीके से सुनाया है. अतुल की सीता अयोध्या की सीता नहीं हैं, वे मिथिला की बेटी सीता हैं, मन से एक चंचल बालिका, सुकोमल भावनाओं से ओत-प्रोत, कर्तव्यों के गाम्भीर्य के बीच अपने मन की संवेदनाओं के कोमल स्वरों को भी सुनने वाली सीता. अयोध्या के राम जितने शान्त थे, मिथिला की सीता उतनी ही चपल और चंचल थीं. आज भी मिथिला और नेपाल के गीतों में उनका यही रूप अधिक प्रचलित है, जनकपुर की बेटी का रूप! राम का स्वरुप भी यहाँ अयोध्या के युवराज का नहीं, बल्कि मिथिला के जामाता का है, जिसके साथ ठिठोली भी की जाती है! सीता के इसी स्वर, और राम के गहन-गम्भीर, शान्त स्वभाव की कथा है यह कथा! यह प्रेम रामायण है, तो उसमें अतुल ने कलात्मक स्वतन्त्रता लेकर सीता की प्रचलित एकदम गम्भीर, आदर्श छवि से हट कर, सीता को अपने पिता की लाडली बेटी, एक बच्ची के रूप में दिखाने का प्रयास किया है!

लेकिन पूरे नाटक में सबसे अधिक मार्मिक और करुणा भरे क्षण रहे लक्ष्मण और उर्मिला की विदा के क्षण! मैथिलीशरण गुप्त ने भी अपने महाकाव्य ‘साकेत’ के नवम सर्ग में घर में रह कर वनवासिनी का जीवन जीती उर्मिला की कहानी कही है. आसन्न विरह के आभास और सीता के वनवास जाने से उत्पन्न हुए कर्त्तव्य के बीच अद्भुत सन्तुलन बनाती हुई उर्मिला… इन चारों बहनों में से सबसे बड़ी सीता तो वन चली गईं . अब बाकी तीनों में उर्मिला ही सबसे बड़ी हैं. तीन सासें तो अपने वैधव्य को भोग रही हैं. उन तीनों सासों की, अपनी दोनों छोटी बहनों की, दोनों देवरों की, और इतने बड़े राजभवन की सम्पूर्ण जिमेवारी अब उर्मिला की हो जाने वाली है. लेकिन इन सब कर्त्तव्यों के बीच उसका अपना आसन्न विरह भी तो है, जिसे न चाह कर भी उर्मिला ने स्वीकार कर लिया है. लेकिन लक्ष्मण के वन जाने के पहले वह एक बार लक्ष्मण से मिल कर अपने को अयोध्या के राजभवन के अपने चौदह वर्षों के वनवास के लिए तैयार कर लेना चाहती है. वह वन-गमन की तैयारी करते लक्ष्मण को बुला भेजती है.

लक्ष्मण एवं उर्मिला दोनों को ही पता है कि उनका यह मिलन एक क्षणिक मिलन-मात्र है। उर्मिला के उलाहनों से प्रारम्भ हुए इस अल्पकालीन मिलन में दोनों में से कोई भी अपने अन्तर के ज्वार भाटे से दूसरे को अवगत नहीं करा पाता है। उन दोनों को ही पता है कि दोनों को अगले चौदह वर्षों का भीषण वियोग सहना है। उर्मिला का उर अश्रुओं से गीला है। लेकिन जाते हुए वह लक्ष्मण को दुःख नहीं देना चाहती… अतः अपनी चपलता को बनाये रखने का असहज सा प्रयास करती है. गरिमा और दीप्ति का आविर्भाव इस बालिका, उर्मिला में अभी होना बाकी है. मायके में माता-पिता, और अयोध्या में सीता के संरक्षण में पली-बढ़ी उर्मिला अभी तक एक चपला बालिका भर ही तो रही है…

अतुल के लक्ष्मण ने ऐसे एकाकी क्षणों के लिये अपनी उर्मिला को ‘मिला’ नाम दिया है. वे आते हैं, और अपनी ‘मिला’ से पूछते हैं, “तुम्हें क्या बात करनी है?”
ये कुछ क्षण आसंग विरह के पूर्वरंग के समान हैं. दोनों ही सोच रहे हैं कि क्या बात करें, कैसे एक-दूसरे से विदा लें. वह भी लक्ष्मण के साथ वन जाना चाहती है, परन्तु उसे पता है कि यह सम्भव नहीं है… उसका विराट कर्त्तव्य उसके सामने नजर आ रहा है.
लेकिन कर्त्तव्य के साथ-साथ उसका अपना विरह भी तो है… एक नन्हा सा, कोमल भावनाओं से भरा हृदय भी तो उसके पास है! यहाँ पर अतुल ने उर्मिला को एक छोटी सी, लगभग नन्हीं सी नवविवाहिता किशोरी के रूप में दिखाया है, चौदह वर्षों का लम्बा विरह जिसके आगे प्रस्तुत होने को ही है! वह कहती है, “मुझे? मुझे क्या बात करनी है?”
लक्ष्मण कहते हैं, “मैं चौदह वर्ष के लिये वन जा रहा हूँ और तुम्हें मुझसे कोई बात नहीं करनी?”
उर्मिला आज इन कुछ पलों में जैसे अपने आने वाले चौदह वर्षों को जी लेना चाहती है, अपने सायास ओलाहनों से बातचीत को सहज करने का प्रयास करती, “तुम्हें भी कहाँ करनी है बात! तुम तो सुनते ही तैयार भी हो गये, जैसे प्रतीक्षा में थे कि कब अवसर आये और तुम मिला से दूर जाओ। मैं बहुत लड़ती हूँ ना तुमसे!”
लक्ष्मण तो ठहरे सदा के गम्भीर! लेकिन अपने कर्तव्यों के बीच उन्हें उर्मिला के उर में समाते जा रहे विरह का भान भी था. वे उस चंचला से बोले, “तुम कहाँ लड़ती हो। कदाचित लड़ने के कारण मैं ही देता हूँ तुमको। अब चौदह वर्ष का समय मिला है तो सोचूँगा कहाँ सुधार हो सकता है।”
दोनों का वार्तालाप चलता रहता है, स्तब्ध बैठे दर्शक सुनते रहते हैं, अपने अश्रुओं को रोकने का असफल प्रयास करते हुए…
लेकिन आसन्न विरह के इस क्षण में उर्मिला उतनी चंचला भी नहीं रह पाती, जिसका प्रयास वह अब तक कर रही थी! वह नन्हीं सी बच्ची, वह चंचला किशोरी अब अपने लक्ष्मण को उपदेश दे रही है, “… आज मुझे लड़ना नहीं है। सुनो, तुम ना… भैया-भाभी की सेवा में, कुछ अपना ध्यान भी रख लेना। खिला के भैया-भाभी को कुछ अपने नाम भी रख लेना। समय पे उठना, समय पे खाना, उल्टी करवट मत सोना। याद मेरी आ भी जाये, भैया के आगे मत रोना।”
‘उल्टी करवट मत सोना…’ उस दिशा में शैया पर उर्मिला होती थी! अब जब वह वहाँ नहीं होगी, तो लक्ष्मण को अपनी मिला की याद आयेगी, उन्हें सन्ताप होगा! अपने विरह से बड़ा उस मानिनी के लिये है अपने प्रिय के विरह का भान!

लेकिन विरह-सन्ताप के साथ-साथ इस सीता-भगिनी को कर्त्तव्य-बोध भी है! ‘याद मेरी आ भी जाये, भैया के आगे मत रोना।’ अपने व्यक्तिगत सन्ताप के क्षणों में भी कर्त्तव्य-बोध के होने का इससे बड़ा उदाहरण और क्या हो सकता है!
दोनों के बीच वार्तालाप सतत प्रवाहमान है. प्रेक्षागृह का वायुमण्डल प्रेक्षकों की निस्तब्ध साँसों और आँखों की नमी से बोझिल होता चला जाता है. लक्ष्मण कहते हैं, “मिला… ना राम को, ना सीता को, ना लक्ष्मण को ये श्राप मिला। यदि सच में मिला किसी को तो उर्मिला को ये वनवास मिला। मिला, तुम महलों में रह कर भी वनवास का जीवन भोगोगी। मोर के संग मोरनी को देखोगी, तो भी रो दोगी। पर आह, दुर्भाग्य। मेरी मिला का वनवास ना वतर्मान याद रखेगा, ना इतिहास। उर्मिला का वनवास कोई याद नहीं रखेगा।”

लेकिन उर्मिला को अपने लक्ष्मण पर अटूट विश्वास है, “झूठ कहते हो, कोई याद रखे या ना रखे, मिला का वनवास, लक्ष्मण याद रखेगा। रखेगा ना।” और फिर दोनों ही अपने को रोक नहीं पाते… संयम के सारे बांध टूट जाते हैं… दोनों गले मिल कर फफक कर रो पड़ते हैं। उर्मिला का लक्ष्मण पर यही अटूट विश्वास बहुत वर्षों के बाद लक्ष्मण को रूपवती राक्षसी सूर्पणखा से दूर रखने में सफल होता है! सावित्री की कथा इतिहास में कितनी बार दोहराई गई है!
नाटक के लेखक, निर्देशक और प्रस्तुतकर्ता अतुल सत्य कौशिक ने अपने नाटक को कथावाचक के फॉर्मेट में तैयार किया है. मंचाग्र में दाहिने हाथ पर कुर्सी पर बैठ कर अतुल पूरी कथा के सूत्र को अपने हाथ में थामे, एक कुशल नाविक की भांति दर्शकों को इस कथा-गंगा की यात्रा करवाते हैं. इस कथा-यात्रा की पतवार हैं नृत्य और सजीव गायन, जिसमें लोक से लेकर शास्त्रीय तक सबका समायोजन अतुल ने किया है. अंजली मुंजाल की अत्यन्त सुन्दर और प्रीतिकर नृत्य-संरचनाओं को सुष्मिता मेहता और साथियों ने कत्थक नृत्य के द्वारा प्रस्तुत किया.

एक घंटे और चालीस मिनट के इस नाटक को अतुल ने केवल तीन कलाकारों सुष्मिता मेहता, अर्जुन सिंह और मेघा माथुर के द्वारा प्रस्तुत किया है, जो दृश्यों के अनुसार विभिन्न चरित्रों को बारी-बारी से निभाते हैं. नाटक के आकर्षण का प्रमुख आधार-स्तम्भ है लतिका जैन का गायन. दूसरा स्तम्भ है नाटक में नृत्यों का प्रयोग. आज हिन्दी रंगमंच में गायन और नृत्य का प्रयोग लगभग समाप्त हो चुका है. कविता, गीत, गानों, गजल इत्यादि के माध्यम से निर्देशक ने विभिन्न भावों और संवेदनाओं को दिखाया है. मैथिल सुहाग-गीत ‘साँवर साँवर सुरतिया तोहार दुलहा, गोरे गोरे लखन … दुलहा’, अवधी के विदाई गीत ‘काहे को ब्याही बिदेस’, रामनिवास जाजू की हिन्दी कविता, और हिन्दी, उर्दू, फारसी, बृजभाषा इत्यादि के एक प्रसिद्ध गीत जेहाल-ए-मिस्कीं इत्यादि को प्रयोग करके अतुल ने आज के समय में एक साहसिक प्रयोग किया है… जिसकी बानगी हमने बापी बोस के नाटक ‘आषाढ़ का एक दिन’ में भी देखी थी. कुछ लोग इस नाटक को डांस-ड्रामा या नृत्य-नाटिका का नाम देंगे. मैं इस प्रकार के पश्चिमी वर्गीकरण के विरुद्ध हूँ… हमारे नाट्यशास्त्र में कलाओं को एक समग्र तरीके से देखने का प्रावधान है, ना कि उन्हें एक-दूसरे से अलग करके देखने का, जो मुझे ज्यादा उचित लगता है. अतुल के सैट की परिकल्पना में भी कहीं अल्पना जैसी पारम्परिक शैलियों की झलक मिलती है.

नाटक में प्रकाश-व्यवस्था तरुण डांग ने और ध्वनि-व्यवस्था दीप्ति ग्रोवर ने सम्भाली थी. संगीत निर्देशन अनिक शर्मा का रहा. गायन जीवन्त था, लेकिन संगीत कराओके था, क्योंकि, ‘संगीतकारों को साथ लेकर चलना सम्भव नहीं हो पाता!’, अतुल कहते हैं. हिन्दी रंगमंच की यही विडम्बना है, कि एक प्रस्तोता को कितने ही समझौते करने पड़ते हैं!




Folk Theatre of India: Koothu

Koothu which is also called Therukoothu is a Tamilian art form that incorporates dancing and music in the backdrop of narration and presentation of epics in the Tamil Language. The Dravidian society has been a harbour of cultural nourishment since time immemorial. It is believed that the Koothu had originated in the early days of the Dravidian Tamilakam.

The term Koothu refers to two performing arts viz. Terukuttu and Kattaikkuttu. In contemporary times, the two terms have an interchangeable usage. However, in medieval times, the two terms referred to two entirely different dramatics art forms. Kattaikkuttu consists of performances that take place overnight at a stationary fixed place. Terukuttu often refers to mobile and non-stationary performances that usually take place in a procession.

The prominence in its growth was achieved by Koothu during the medieval eras wherein during the Sangam era. This peak is clearly reflected in the Sangam literature which lay a preface to the nurturing of the natagam(drama), isai(music) and iyal(dance). The Sangam literature also etched out the fact that the Koothu acted as a medium for the education of religion, tradition and history in the rural strata of society.

Kothu, in its inherent settings, does not include any spoken dialogues, it only consists of songs and music. The dance of Koothu has an informal structure and tone to it, with the backdrop of performances being the depiction of scenes from the Hindu mythologies like Ramayana and the Mahabharata along with some Tamil classics. Heavy, colourful and intricate costumes blended with elaborated and extravagant makeup are used by the performers in the drama. Sparkling shoulder plates, towering head gears and wide skirts. Since no amplification instruments are used, the performers are trained to sing in their voices at a high pitch so that they can amass the entire audience.

Koothu had been traditionally a male-centric theatre form, however with the change of times female participation has significantly increased. Over the years, there had been no institution for formal education of Koothu, however recently the koothu pattari (workshops for koothu) and an array of dedicated schools have been set up to save the dying art.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma

Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. Therukoothu, The Street Theatre of Tamilnadu
  2. Theru Koothu: A Tamil street theatre tradition in danger of fading into oblivion has found a new lease on life



Breaking barriers: How Purulia Chhau artistes came together to reimagine Tagore for our times

Chhau, Tagore and free thinking in the age of algorithms
– by Arundhati Chakravarty

Tasher Desh performance by Purulia Chhau artistes.
Tasher Desh performance by Purulia Chhau artistes. Photo courtesy Sagar Kuiry

Are we slaves to a system that controls our lives? Are our choices dictated by artificial intelligence? How can we break free and think independently? These are some of the issues that came to mind when a group of 17-odd artistes in Purulia presented a dance drama in the idiom of Chhau.

Penned close to a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore’s musical drama Tasher Desh (Kingdom of Cards) may be an uncomplicated take on the freedom of thought, but it resonates deeply with the challenges of our times. However, Chhau and Tagore — two eminences in the cultural landscape of Bengal — rarely share a stage. So the artistes were on uncharted territory when they decided to present their unique rendition of Tasher Desh.

The signature jumps and somersaults, flamboyant masks and dholak and dhamsa beats of Purulia Chhau – usually used to depict stories of battle and heroism – now told the story of the liberation of the card kingdom from its rules-bound existence.

“In the current geopolitical scenario – be it in West Bengal or India or other countries — regimes are getting stronger. Tasher Desh talks about liberating your mind from a particular regime or system. Moreover, we are slaves of our gadgets, controlled by artificial intelligence and algorithms. Tasher Desh is all about thinking independently,” said author and journalist Suvam Pal, one of the three key persons behind the project.  

China and Chhau

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of sources. Like a cross-border connection that brought together Chhau and Tagore. 

Pal said he hit upon the idea while working in China. “I saw how China promoted Peking opera, Sichuan opera and Tibetan Cham dance. These are forms of masked dance and theatre. Chhau is also a masked dance, but it has many more elements like acrobatic movements, unique musical instruments and a style of narration. The mask itself is an art. India’s representation of performing arts abroad has been limited. It struck me that Chhau has a wide appeal and should be showcased better,” he told the writer over phone.

He envisaged the project as an attempt to bring Chhau — a dance form with folk and martial elements mainly prevalent in eastern India — into the mainstream of Indian cultural discourse and empower the artistes.  

But why Tasher Desh? “I had hosted a Rabindra Jayanti event last year, in which Chhau dancers performed to a Tagore song. One China-born scholar who had studied Tagore’s drama suggested a staging of Tasher Desh with Chhau dancers. That got me thinking,” Pal, who has had a long association with Santiniketan, explained. 

Tasher Desh was written as an exhortation to break the shackles of regimentation and celebrate the power of creativity, and the Chhau artistes did just that through their unique adaptation. Curiously, just as the initiative was sparked by a foreign connection, in Tagore’s drama, too, it is the ‘bideshi’ (foreigners) who brought about the air of change in the kingdom of cards.

Chhau is a UNESCO-listed Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Pal pointed out. “Unfortunately, it is largely limited to Purulia district, with little innovation in thematic content. On the other hand, the study of Tagore is often confined to a group of puritanical scholars. So we decided to break the mould by blending Tagore’s theatre and Chhau. One should not be confined to any particular regime or diktat or system.”

Tagore and Chhau

Pal teamed up with Dr Naba Gopal Roy and Dr Sudip Bhui, faculty members of Purulia’s Sidho Kanho Birsha University, which incidentally is the only university that teaches Chhau, to work on the project. The effort, however, came with its fair share of challenges, the foremost being the amalgamation of the distinctive elements of Chhau with Tagore’s drama.

“I come from a family of Chhau artistes. We usually depict stories from the epics and Puranas. I enjoyed playing a new role in Tasher Desh. It called for a new kind of thinking and performing,” said Karna Karmakar, who played the role of the prince.

Rabindranath Kumar, another member of the troupe, agreed, “Departing from our traditional repertoire of mythological stories was an entirely different experience.”  

Workshops and training sessions were held for the dancers, who had limited expertise in theatre and were used to dancing to drumbeats and not dialogues.

Dr Bhui oversaw the elements of Chhau in the production while Dr Roy oversaw the nuances of staging a Tagore play. Keeping its intent and character intact, the play was shortened to suit the Chhau convention of short depictions of twenty-odd minutes. A single narrator delivered all the dialogues in keeping with the Chhau convention.

Tagore’s songs were unchanged. They were sung by local Jhumur and Tushu singers. Musical instruments like dhamsa, shanai and dholok added to the local flavour. The masks were specially designed by the mask-makers of Charida village in Baghmundi block.

The month and a half of preparation was fraught with tension, recalled Bhui, as Chhau season had begun in Purulia and the artistes had a busy schedule. “Getting hold of the main artiste was itself a huge challenge. We had to wait outside his house and threaten that we wouldn’t leave without him. Some artistes went without food the whole day because they were too busy practising.”

Chhau season starts in April, along with the Charak festival, and continues into June, with shows lined up every night. The troupes travel across towns and villages, depicting episodes from the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata and local folklore.

The shows follow a pattern of sorts. Around 10 pm two ensembles arrive in the village and proceed to the venue, a flat open ground called akhada where the spectators settle down in a circle. After refreshments and some rest, an ‘akhada bandana’ marks the beginning of the festivities. The group that arrived in the village first takes the stage as the dhol, shehnai and dhamsa reverberate along with cheers from the audience. Ganesha strides in, followed by other gods and demons and the mythical stories of love, valour and revenge unfold. The two groups take turns on the stage and the show continues till early morning.

The season accounts for bulk of the artistes’ annual earnings. After a pandemic-induced lull of two years, programmes picked up again this year and the artistes had their hands full. So did the residents of Charida, where hundreds of families make the large and vibrant masks, the most characteristic feature of Purulia Chhau. The clay and paper masks are painted and embellished with tinsel, jute and zari. The process can take up to a week, and the larger masks weigh up to 7 kilos. Each dancer’s mask is unique, made according to the face measurements. Some of the masks are used for performances, while others are sold as souvenirs and artwork.

The masks of Charida received the GI tag in 2018. The village also hosts a statue of Gambhir Singh Mura, a Purulia Chhau exponent from a nearby village who was awarded the Padma Shri in 1981.

Exposure and empowerment

The Tasher Desh team. Photo courtesy Sagar Kuiry.

Encouraged by the response to performances of Tasher Desh in Kolkata and Santiniketan last month, the team is making efforts to organize shows in other parts of West Bengal, Delhi and Mumbai and abroad. With exposure comes empowerment, and that is what Pal and his team hope will ensure the survival and evolution of this regional art form.

“I have been involved in initiatives to build social awareness through Chhau. These have boosted our confidence. We would love to innovate more if we get better opportunities and funding,” said Bhui.

Purulia Chhau is a vibrant living tradition at the grassroots, but it did not go through the process of regeneration to the extent that the two other gharanas of Chhau – Saraikela and Mayurbhanj – did. Royal patronage and government support helped Saraikela and Mayurbhanj Chhau adapt faster to changing audiences and tastes, while the Purulia variation retained most of its traditional formats and themes and remained inextricably linked with the local community.

“Lack of royal involvement and political empowerment are factors behind the under-representation of Purulia Chhau at the national level,” summed up Bhui.

Most of the performers are not full-time artistes but engaged in other professions for most of the year. “We earn from shows during Chhau season, but it is hardly commensurate with the effort we put in,” said Karmakar, who works as an ironsmith.

Despite the meagre returns, Chhau is an integral part of Karmakar’s life. He learnt the art from his father, who learnt it from his father.

Purulia is a land of contrasts, with abundant natural beauty and considerable mineral resources on one hand and rough weather and soil on the other. Given its rich cultural heritage, tourism is a backbone of the local economy. The pandemic dealt a body blow to the sector, affecting not just the Chhau performers and their families but also those who earn their livelihood making the masks and costumes.

“I saw the economic hardship there after the lockdowns. So I wanted to promote Chhau to empower the artistes. They are reluctant to accept donations or charity, but they accept honorariums for performing,” Pal said.  

Karmakar’s troupe had a packed schedule again this year, and he is thankful for that. “Covid made things very difficult for us financially. Shows have picked up this year. We look forward to better opportunities,” he said. 




Folk Theatre of India: Jatra

The word Jatra implies a journey. Jatra theatre form is based in the regions of Orissa, Eastern Bihar and Bengal. As of the early 2000s, the Jatra’s had a troupe of around 55 groups based in Calcutta and generated a revenue of around $21million USD every year.

Sri Chaitanya, a prominent saint during the Bhakti moment is credited to be the inventor and the promoters of this music enriched form of theatre. It is widely believed that the first spectacle of the play was also done by Sri Chaitanya wherein he played the role of the Rukmini in the play, Rukmini Haran (the play was based on a story in the life of Lord Krishna).

The first stage of Jatra includes a musical concert with the aim to attract an audience. Following, the concert the four-hour-long plays commence. The scene transitions and the endings are marked with dramatic monologues, dances and rich melodic music. Open-air venues are employed for a Jatra performance with the stages being highly minimal in nature and having little to no props giving the actors the freedom and the space.

The composition of the cast is heavily inclined towards the male, with the female characters inter spread. After the 19th century, with the changing society, the female contribution in the cast of Jatra plays has increased significantly which is an affirmation of the ever-changing and ever-evolving nature of the theatre form. The performers join the Jatra troupes or groups at a very young age and they follow a hierarchy of roles. Like Sutradhar in the Ankiya Naat, the Jatra also has two characters Vivek and Niyati which are omnipresent and interact with the audience via dance movements and commentary. The modern alter-ego of Jatra includes loud music, lightning and catchy dialogues. Jatra performances are usually done at weddings and festivities. The peak of the Jatra season arrives in the Durga Pooja times.

Jatra has survived the turmoil of the time were successfully and has waved through the currents only to grow and profess. The reason for this growth is the very nature of Jatra, which provides it with an ability to adapt and acclimatize with the changing fabric of society and to incorporate the new dynamics and life.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma
Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. Jatra Bengali Folk Theatre
  2. Jatra, The Bengali Folk Theatre of East India and Bangladesh



Folk Dances of India: Jhora

Project: Abhinav Sharma. Guide: Prof. Manohar Khushalani

Jhora folk dance is native to the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where it is celebrated with all pomp and show during the springtime celebrations by the locals. Jhora folk dance finds its root in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, historically known as Uttaranchal.

It has been known that certain dance forms require people of a particular caste, age, gender etc, however, in the case of Jhora, everyone irrespective of their social standing, gender and race can be a part of the performance making dance form an all-inclusive and embracing.

Jhora folk dance is usually conducted when the springtime celebrations with the tribal and the local people performing the dance twice a day, that is, in the morning and the evening. Jhora folk dance is also performed at weddings, fairs and festivals to magnify the happiness of the occasion. There is marked high tourist inflow during these times just to witness the spell-bounding and the mystically colourful Jhora dance performances.

The dance performance initially begins with a number of participants and as the music picks up pace, more and more people keep on joining in with a circular formation being maintained at all times. The dancers, standing in a circle, hold the arms of their partners and slightly bend their bodies forward.

The music for the dance has rich tastes of the traditional drum musical instrument called ‘Hurka’. If there are more members then the ‘Hurka’ is accompanied by cymbals. At the initial beat of ‘Hurka’, the left leg is crossed with the right leg to strike the floor. With the completion of the initial beat and the impediment of the second beat, the right foot stands sideways and the dancers make a slight dip and a jump inwards. In this form, the dance progresses in cyclic beats with the ‘Hurka’ player leading the flock.

Jhora dance resonates with the inclusive nature of the hilly areas of North India that is Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand and promotes harmony among the people of varying social standings, all the way adding to the richness and the essence of the hilly culture and heritage.

References :

  1. Folk Dances of Uttarakhand
  2. Jhora Dance of Uttarakhand



Folk Theatre of India: Bhand Pather

Bhand Pather is the traditional theatre that is enacted in the Kashmir Valley. Historically Bhand Pather, represented the secular fabric of the valley with both the Muslims and the Pandits being a part of the performances. Post-1990, due to all the upheaval in the Kashmiri social structure Bhand Pather has had a significant impact for it stood as an emblem of peace, harmony and brotherhood. Since then there has been a tinge of decrease in the glory and the brilliance of the Bhand Pather.

The word ‘Bhand’ means the traditional and the age-old folklore entertainers from India, Nepal, Pakistan. Historians are of the opinion, that the Bhands entered the Kashmir Valley from Persia due to the onset of Muslim royal courts in India around the 14th Century. Bhand Pather is etymologically derived from two Sanskrit language words “Bhana”, which is a drama of satire and is sourced on the Natyashastra by Bharata, and “Pather” which means a character in a play.

The folk theatre is an amalgamation and a unique striking blend of singing, acting and storytelling. Farce is the centric component of this art form which is complemented by the satirical and the humorous Pathers or storylines.

The abode of Bhands in modern-day Kashmir is predominantly in Gondpora, Shaangus and Muhipora of the Anantnag district. They are also found in some other places like Kokernag, Frisal, Qayamooh.

Bhand Pather is considered as an ancestral endowment, a knowledge a skill that is passed down the generation as legacy and with the will to keep the theatre form alive. The Kashmiri societal fabric is the central theme of all the plays and is at the very core of these performances. The nature of the theatre asks the performance to be lively, energetic and high interactive. The play performances are designed such that they are best enjoyed in open spaces such as under the shades of lofty Chinars, open compounds, in weddings with the aim to invoke satire, humour and bring a reflection to the society. A conscious effort has been made to ensure that plays do not deal with tragic subjects.

The form had thrived and grown manifolds during the peaceful times in the valley. However, with the rise of anti-societal elements, the art form has given the theatre form a huge setback. Society must progress towards peace and let the lost theatre form regain its formal glory.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma

Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. The Other Kashmir Problem
  2. ‘REVISITING BHAND PATHER’



Folk Arts of India: Madhubani

Image Credit : https://www.artzolo.com/traditional-art/sun-madhubani-painting?id=71024

Madhubani Art form, also referred to as the Mithila art form is a style of Indian paintings that finds its roots in the northern Bihar region of India and the lower regions of Nepal. The Madhubani art form is remarked and characterized by the complex geometrical patterns that these paintings employ to represent ritualistic content of occasions such as festivals etc.

Madhubani paintings find their origin in the Mithila region of Bihar. The tale of Madhubani paintings goes back to the times of Ramayana where it is said that when King Janaka, the father of Sita, had asked the painters of his kingdom to create paintings for his daughter’s wedding, the art form came into existence. From there the knowledge has been passed down to generations and the paintings have beautified the homes of people illustrating thoughts, hopes and dreams.

Image Credit : http://mpcrafts.com/product/madhubani-painting-king-queen-perform-worship-big/

In its initial phases, the Madhubani art form was practised by different strata or sects of peoples which led to the categorization of the art form into five categories viz. Tantrik, Bharni, Godna, Katchni, Khobar. However, with the dissolution of sect and caste-based lines in contemporary times, these styles of Madhubani art form too have fused together. The theme of the Madhubani paintings is heavily focused on the Hindu deities like Krishna, Rama, Durga etc along with heavenly bodies like the sun and the moon. The paintings also illustrated the scenes of the royal courts and social events like weddings and festivals.

Image Credit :https://www.fizdi.com/madhubani-painting-art024-dulhan-in-doli-art_2168_24963-handpainted-art-painting-15in-x-11in/

The Madhubani paintings are the most famous for their use of complex geometrical figures complemented with the simplicity and the use of brush and the colours often sourced from natural resources. The paintings are predominantly made using powdered rice, along with colours that were extracted from pollen, pigments, turmeric, and leaves and flowers from an array of trees. The empty spaces in the paintings are often filled in with motifs of the flowers, animals and geometrical patterns.

The Madhubani art form is surviving and thriving due to the efforts of the artist who work day in day out to make the world aware of the Madhubani art form. Some notable artists in the domain are Sita Devi, Ganga Devi, Mahasundari Devi and Bharati Dyal. The Madhubani art form is kept alive by institutions such as Kalakriti in Darbhanga, Benipatti in the Madhubani district.

The Madhubani art form is the storehouse of aspiration of the common people illustrating everything from their beliefs to hopes and thoughts.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma
Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. Madhubani Paintings – Cultural India
  2. Madhubani Paintings: People’s Living Cultural Heritage



Folk Arts of India: Gond

Painting By Jangarh Singh Shyam – Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr

Gond art form, as the name suggests is the art form that is practised by the largest one of the largest tribe in India, i.e. the Gond tribe which is housed in central India in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh etc. The word Gond derives its roots from the Dravidian expression, Kond which implies ‘the green mountain’. In the recent times, the importance and the value of the Gond art form has gained such zeinth that the Indian government has stepped in to preserve and profess the art form.

In the central regions of India, paintings have been flourishing since the 1400s. Paintings are an integral part of the Gond traditional practices. The Gonds were of the opinion that viewing images and paintings brought in good luck for them and helped them gain prosperity. The tribe also used the art form to pass on the knowledge of history down the generations. It is due to this very reason that the Gonds traditionally have been creating motifs, tattoos etc. on the floors, walls of their homes.

Muria people a part of Gondi Tribe – Collin Key via Flickr

For the Gonds, the art form is a means to illustrate the close connection the people share with the spirit of nature. The Gonds were of the strong faith that every natural element be it the mountains, the sun, the rivers had a spirit in them. For the people, recreating these acts in art was an act of worship and reverence to that spirit. The mighty Indian mythologies are some other sources of inspiration for the Gond art form.

The Gond art form has striking features in the way the lines are drawn in them in such way that pique the curiosity of the viewer into the subject instantly. A sense of movement and flow was established by the use of waving lines and curvy strokes. The spread of the dots and the dashes in the Gond paintings complement the geometric shapes and patterns employed. The art form regularly employed the shapes like that of fish, water droplets to etch out an expressive value and weight to the painting.

The Gond art form employed sharp, defined colours in the paintings with the canvas being dominated by bright hues of red, yellow and white background to highlight the contrast. The sources of the colours were all natural ranging from plant sap, coloured soil to charcoal.

The Gond art form in contemporary times has reached the global scale with the efforts of modern artists and the steps of the government to preserve the art form.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma

Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. Gond Art : A Folk Art Form with Beautiful Tribal Colours, Themes, and Shapes
  2. Gond Paintings – Capturing the Life and Essence of One of India’s Largest Tribes



Folk Dances of India: Bhangra

Punjab, the land of five rivers, is brimmed with energetic people full of life and colours. The folk dance of Punjab, Bhangra is a very vibrant and vivacious dance form being the ideal representative of the dynamism of the people and the state.

Historically, Bhangra dates back to the 14th to 15th century to celebrate the harvesting season. Eventually, Bhangra seeped into every happy occasion in the Punjabi culture. Earlier, the Bhangra was an amalgamation of music, beats of dhol (drum), chimta and the tumbi. In contemporary times the beats of dholki are an integral part of Bhangra. An array of other instruments such damru, dhad, dhafli etc. are also now being used in the Bhangra beats.

Bhangra is a fusion of numerous folk dances spread throughout the geography of Punjab. These dances include Jhummar, which has a 16-beat dhol cycle, from Jhang-Sial, Sialkoti from Sialkot, Sammi etc. With the flow of time, a uniform bhangra routine formulated with the local dance forms being specific sections in routine.

The Bhangra dress, known as ‘Bhangra Vardiyan’, comprises bright, bold colours which symbolize the celebratory and commemorative nature of the occasion. Each colour, shade holds a deep meaning like green symbolizes prosperity, yellow symbolizes mustard and the red colour is the symbol of the occasion itself. The wide array and degree of movements in Bhangra require that the dresses must allow the dancers to move freely.

The music of Bhangra has its roots in the societal issues with love, money, relationships, marriages etc. forming the base of a number of Bhangra songs. The Bhangra songs are sung in form of couplets called Bholis. The traditional Punjabi romances such as Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, Mirza Sahiba etc. time and then find themselves in these Bholis. The brave deeds and heroic accounts of freedom fighters are also a part of the Bhangra music world.

The rate of evolution of Bhangra is exponential. Despite the evolution, the result is a rich diversity in Bhangra throughout the world. No matter what the style is all Bhangra dancers agree to the fact core principles of Bhangra which are that Bhangra is a dance of strength, power, grace and energy. In midst of bhangra comes the feeling of complete freedom and passion which sets free the human mind to utter joy and celebration.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma

Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. History of Bhangra
  2. Definition of Bhangra



Folk Music of India: Baul

The Baul music which is predominantly spread in the Bengali region of India is a form of music that is infused with the elements of Sufism, Vaishnavism, Tantra and Buddhism. The Baul Music has been included in the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.

There is an inherent contrast in the composition of the Baul music, it describes and celebrates the celestial in a very earthly tone and manner. Due to this very liberal and open-ended interpretation of love, it is within the nature of the Baul music to be devotional in its spirit and soul. The Baul music transcends religion and enshrines the belief of love across the superficiality of religious lines.

The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore had his work heavily influenced by the Baul music which can be evidently seen in his famous Rabindra Sangeet.

The Baul music is representative of the deep belief and preaching of mysticism in Bengali folklore. The lyrics of the Baul Sangeet are a manual of deep mysticism and longing with the mystic and the divine. Metaphysical topics also found their way in the contents of the lyrics. They stress staying unattached and unconsumed by the delights of life even while getting a charge out of them. A significant piece of their way of thinking is “Deha tatta”, an otherworldliness identified with the body rather than the brain. They look for the divine nature in people.

The Baul songs have an inherent inclination in adapting and acclimatizing to the ever-changing times and in incorporating and infusing in them the contemporary economic and societal changes.

The instrument that was most commonly used is Ektara, which is a single-stringed instrument that has a plucked drum. The Ektara is usually carved from the epicarp of a gourd and then combined with bamboo giving the instrument an earthly connection, an expression that is at the core of the spirit of the Baul music. The other instruments include the dotara which is a fretless tube with a long neck, the khamak which is a single-headed drum with an attached string.

The Baul music is currently thriving through the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and in Bangladesh with Baul music finding its way in the hinterlands via fairs, melas and festivals.

Independent Project by Abhinav Sharma

Guide ⇒ Prof. Manohar Khushalani

References :

  1. The Origin and History of the Bauls of Bengal Wandering Music Cult
  2. Baul Song