Utpal Borpujari

June 22, 2009

Keeping Alive a Dying Culture in Bundelkhand

Filed under: Culture,Dance,Deccan Herald,India,Media — utpalb21 @ 2:29 pm
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By Utpal Borpujari in Chuhra village (Sagar district, Madhya Pradesh)

In this parched land of Bundelkhand, life is hard. The farmers here, from various castes and communities, toil to raise their crops as the rain god rarely showers benevolence on them. But that does not deter them from being culturally vibrant, with their own forms of Bundelkhandi dance and art keeping their community spirit alive. But then, like many other cultural forms across the world, here too the communities are realising that the threat of seeing their cultures slowly vanishing in the face of various modern-day challenges, including television soap operas and films.

 

But Umesh Vaidya was not one to silently watch this happening to his own community’s culture. So, the first graduate of his village – the fact that this man in his 40s is the first one to be a graduate in Chuhra, which is less than 50 km from district headquarters Sagar speaks volumes about the backwardness of the region – did what he could do best. And that was to form an organisation to keep alive the very unique dance forms of the Bundelkhand, called the Mauniya.

Now, several years after Vaidya, a  B.Sc degree holder in Agricultural sciences, formed what is known as the Vasundhara Lok Kala Sansthan, villagers gather every Saturday afternoon below the village banyan tree to practice and perform the dance, accompanied by local musical instruments. There is no incentive from anyone for the villagers to do so. Instead, the participants spend from their pockets to keep it going. As Vaidya says, “After we found that it is even difficult for poor villagers to spare Rs ten a month for the running of the organisation, we decided that all of us associated with the Sansthan would donate five kg of crop every harvesting season to meet its expenses. Of course, it is virtually nothing in these days of high costs, but we are doing it not for money, but for the love of our culture.”

The incentive to the performers come in the shape of public appreciation when they perform in various places, though the fact is that their colourful and energetic dance form is still confined mostly to within Madhya Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh, unknown to the rest of the world. “We perform wherever we are invited, and we have done so at many places in our state and UP, but our dance is not yet known in places where there are lot of cultural activities, say, Delhi,” says Vaidya, who formed the institute after finding during his college days that their dance form was much different from other commonly-known Bundelkhandi dance forms like Badhai, Baredi and Dimaryai. Incidentally, for most of the performances, the institute’s dancers get paid in grains, and not money, which has led to the idea of setting up a grain bank to help meet its running costs.

The institute, which now attracts youngsters from nearby areas too, has several acts in its kitty for public performances, including silent skits called “Mauni Tamasha”, probably inspired from Mauniya itself. This has earned Vaidya the sobriquet of “Bundelkhand’s Charlie Chaplin”, but the institute’s core task is to preserve, practice and promote Mauniya. “It is a dance form that is performed to celebrate Govardhan Puja during Deepawali, the festival of light. The performer early in the morning passes underneath a calf, vowing to remain silent till he visits 12 villages, returns to his village in the evening to again pass underneath the calf before sunset and then dances in gay abandon in praise of Lord Krishna,” explains Vaidya, who seems to command enough respect in the area for his commitment towards the cause of protecting its culture.

What has also added to the lustre of the institute that it has been able to break, to some extent, the caste barriers in this very much caste-conscious region, with people from various castes performing together to keep their culture alive. “We believe that this dance form was practised by Lord Krishna himself, and is a way for mortal human beings to connect with him,” says Vaidya, who explains that the dance is accompanied by performances of instruments like Nagadia, Khajri, Dholkar, Algoza, Taar, Lota and Ramtula. “It reflects the agrarian way of life while bringing alive the mankind’s relationship with nature in a positive way,” he says.

The institute is trying to attract youngsters towards this dying art form by informing them both about the dance form and the silent skits, which, as Vaidya points out, “has been developed as mime elsewhere”. The institute’s troupe picks up relevant social themes and present them in a satirical way in their “Mauni Tamasha” acts alongside Mauniya performances to create social awareness about various issues. The small institute in the remote village is trying its best to keep the local culture alive, but what probably it needs is proper exposure and enough patronage making the lives of participant farmers easier, instead of them having to think both about their fields and their culture at the same moment.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-06-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/9254/challenge-keeping-alive-dying-culture.html

April 30, 2009

Protégé fronts Diggy Raja’s fight against younger brother

By Utpal Borpujari in Rajgarh (MP)

Narain Singh Amlabe, according to his election affidavit, is one of the poorer candidates in these general elections. As against numerous crorepatis, he owns just 22 cows, four buffaloes and a bullock cart, apart from Rs 305 and Rs 1,307 that are in his two bank accounts.

 

But if he had the services of a talented dialogue writer in the mould of the Salim-Javed duo, he would have perhaps told Laxman Singh, his BJP rival, “Lekin mere paas aapka bhai hai.”

 

Indeed, Amlabe, a protégé of AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, is facing off against Lakshman Singh, the sitting BJP MP from Rajgarh Parliamentary seat in Madhya Pradesh.

 

But in reality he is just a front for “Diggy Raja” who is shedding a lot of sweat to ensure his younger brother’s defeat in this battle of royal intrigue being played in the palace of erstwhile princely state of Raghogarh.

 

And the experienced former MP chief minister knows it is not going to be an easy task, especially since Lakshman Singh is taking advantage of the current BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s ongoing public goodwill.

 

Naturally, Digvijay Singh has chosen not to be coy about opposing his brother unlike Arjun Singh, another leader with “royal” blood, who took an ambivalent stand on the issue of his daughter Veena Singh contesting as an independent against the party candidate in Sidhi.

 

He also has not chosen to be politically savvy like the Gwalior royal family, whose members avoid contesting or attacking one another even while espousing diametrically-opposing political ideologies.

 

Singh is actively campaigning for Amlabe throughout the constituency, describing him as his “brother”, making it quite apparent that Laxman Singh, who is seeking his sixth entry to Lok Sabha, no more enjoys that privilege in public despite sharing blood lines.

 

He even tells the crowds that his brother deserted him at a time when the going was bad – just after the Assembly election drubbing in 2003.

 

The two brothers fell out when Lakshman Singh, known as “Chote Raja” or “Chunnu Raja”, left Congress just weeks before the 2004 General Elections and entered the 14th Lok Sabha as a BJP MP. Four times before that, he had represented Congress in the Lower House.

 

With Digvijay Singh having declared in 2003, after Congress lost the Assembly elections in MP, that he would not contest any election for ten years, it is Amlabe who has become his mascot in the fight against the younger brother.

 

Being a high-profile AICC leader, Diggy Raja has taken it as a matter of personal prestige that he delivers his home constituency to the party, though going by the scheme of things, his brother continues to have the upper hand in the area this time round too.

 

Amlabe, in his effort to project himself as a true son of the soil, as against the BJP candidate from the palace of Raghogarh, is even using a bullock cart to campaign, pointing out that he is one among the people while his opponent flies around in a chopper.

 

Lakshman Singh’s campaign has been quite high profile as compared to his, with senior BJP leaders, including the chief minister, holding meetings at various places in the constituency. Digvijay Singh, meanwhile, is criss-crossing the constituency, having held nearly 100 public meetings till now.

 

However, quite interestingly, the feuding brothers still share the palace in Raghogarh, and some cynics claim that their fight is only for public consumption. That is a matter of conjecture though, and for the time being, it is all about which brother will pull in the maximum number of votes.

(Pulished in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 30-04-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Apr302009/national20090429133280.asp

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