Eminent scholar Chittaranjan Mallia talks about his effort at documenting the dying arts of Odisha.

The efforts of certain people who are a motive for identification, revival and projection of local performing arts, music and dance — both the classical and allied forms — beyond their regional identity often go unnoticed. Eminent scholar, historian, scriptwriter and administrator Chittaranjan Mallia — presently Secretary, Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi — is one such person who has a clear understanding of the need for not only presenting but ethnographically recording the music and dances of Odisha in their original socio-cultural context, through films and videos and in a big way through festivals. A doctorate in Gotipua dance tradition, the acclaimed erstwhile curator of Odisha State Museum, Cultural Officer, Puri, and Programme Officer, Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Kolkata, has done extensive research on Odissi music and dance, especially lokanritya (folk dance) and temple iconography and has presented their epigraphic and sculptural evidence with the support of singers, musicians and dancers through compositions of medieval poets.

Hence, his perception of the potential of festivals to popularise the art form has led him to co-ordinate with the State Government in organising the first ever Gotipua Festival, National Chhau, Sankirtaan and the just-concluded vibrant Rangabati folk dance festival of Western Odisha with outstanding success. In an interview here, he takes up a few questions on the festival and his work so far. Excerpts:

There seems to be a number of festivals of dance and music in Odisha….

Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi under the auspices of the Department of Tourism and Culture has been organising a number of festivals showcasing the rich traditions of performing arts, particularly the folk arts of Odisha along with the classical dance in order to provide an aerial platform for our young and budding talents along with the established personalities and to have an interaction with other art forms so that the artistes can enrich their own art forms. Basically, keeping this in mind we have conceived these festivals throughout the year.

Have you brought the State’s tribes to the festival circuit?

We have. We have two tribal festivals, in November and in January, where we showcase their dance and music. As there is a Tribal (Welfare) Department, it also organises two-three festivals on tribal dance and music.

What is Rangabati festival about?

Rangabati is a folk dance and music festival. We have lots of folk dance forms of which about 400 are organised. But many are in the process of extinction. So we want to showcase both the professional artistes as well as amateurs, artistes from villages and rural areas pursuing them. That’s why we organise the “Pala”, “Daskatiya” and Sankirtaan Utsav. They are basically rural people coming from different parts of our State and have their own art forms which are not so popular in the urban areas.

What is the selection criteria for it?

We have a selection committee, we depend on the recommendations of eminent art personalities, and also go through some recommendation of the District Collector and Cultural officer, The District Council of Culture, because they are the real persons who take care of the art forms at the ground level.

What is your responsibility in these festivals?

Basically, as a co-ordinator of all these festivals, I have been contacting the artistes, collecting information about their art forms, documenting them and finally printing them in the form of brochures. Also, we document with videos, audios and publications.

And at the Sangeet Natak Akademi?

SNA is meant for conducting workshops, documenting and also having training programmes. We have some publications but they are not enough. We are working on it. Since there are a number of art forms, number of varieties and artistes in folk theatre, art, dance and music, we have attempted to document them in phases. This year, we have decided to document the works of two very old and important artistes, Guru Maguni Charan Kuwaro, a rod puppeteer from Keonjhar district, and Gotipua Guru Birabar Sahoo. Apart from this, we have selected to document some folk art forms like Dhudki and some folk dance forms of West Odisha which are yet to be popularised. Like Kalinga Danda (Kalanga Danda). I have also planned to document a dying art form, “Dhumpa Sangeet”. Dhumpa is a rare musical instrument found in Nayagarh district.

For this, you ought to have knowledge in music….

Yes. I am a research scholar on art, music and dance and have developed some interest in them. I also keep in touch with the Gurus, the traditional artistes. So I get to know many things from them.

How do these folk artistes respond to these festivals?

Tremendously! They are very encouraged and happy with these type of activities. They feel privileged as their art forms are recognised at the State and national levels.

What lies ahead?

We have planned to hold training workshops and document more and more art forms (the rare ones are our primary concern), invite Gurus to perform because sustenance of art forms depends on how you take it to the people and project it.

The Government of Odisha is doing a lot. These artistes are the people who hold the tradition and pass it on to the next generation. That’s why we have planned the scheme of Guru-shishya Paramapara.

Are they willing to teach their art form?

Earlier, they thought their art forms were not being recognised properly. Once they are invited to perform, they are thrilled. If this continues, it will be a very good time for our art forms, particularly folk arts.

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