Art lovers of Tiruchi get a taste of North Indian folk dance at a festival by South Zone Cultural Centre

Fans of Indian folk arts were in for a treat yesterday as 70 performers from Gujarat, Odisha, Punjab, and Assam took to the floor at Rasika Ranjana Sabha’s F.G.N. Hall and showcased the best of their respective State’s dances.

The dance troupes were brought to Tiruchi as part of the programme organised by the South Zone Cultural Centre, based in Thanjavur. Ten dances from the north Indian States were presented in a burst of colour and enthusiasm that made good use of the limited stage space, and kept the audience enthralled.

Veteran danseuse ‘Kalaimamani’ Rukmini Muthuswamy delivered the welcome address, and praised the efforts of the South Zone Cultural Centre in facilitating the exchange of cultural experiences throughout the State.

“Events of such a scale require the backing of a government organisation such as the South Zone Cultural Centre, and more should be done to give folk artistes an opportunity to show their talent and cultural heritage,” she said.

Mr. Sivasankaran of the South Zone Cultural Centre gave a brief speech as well, thanking the R.R. Sabha for providing the venue.

Some of the visiting performers — Rangu Bhai, Naresh Bhai (Gujarat), Shish Pal Singh (Haryana), Alok Kumar Panda (Odisha), and Tinku (Assam) were felicitated with ceremonial silk shawls (ponnadais) by the organisers.

From costumes to make-up, all the performances had a ring of authenticity about them, shorn of any cinematic effects.

What proved to be a crowd-pleaser was the athleticism of the nimble-footed dancers, many of whom executed awe-inspiring gymnastic moves without missing a beat.

The festival got off to a splendid start with the flaring skirts and teasing banter of Pak dance from Haryana.

It was followed by the Rathwa dance from Gujarat, where dancers shook a leg to the music of, among other instruments, a stainless steel dinner plate.

The Sambhalpuri dance from Odisha had artistes drumming up a riot with calf-skin drums that were rimmed with antlers. The macho posturing of the male drummers was contrasted with the nimble-footed women who brought a gamine charm to the victory dance.

Several other dances followed, each using ritual motifs from matrimony, agriculture and rural traditions.

Assamese dancers dressed in costumes embellished with silken thread work saw the singers joining the dancers in tandem as the women carried straw hats decorated with geometric designs.

The evening was an eye-opener in terms of highlighting the richness of India’s folk culture.

P. Sekar, Senior Programme Co-ordinator, South Cultural Zone, told The Hindu that the chief aim of the event was to encourage national integration through culture.

“There are seven cultural zones designated by the government which have registered folk performers on their rolls. When we want to invite troupes from a particular State, we contact the respective cultural zone office. Performers are picked based on their experience, and skill level, which we see through programme recordings and personal visits to nationwide events,” he said.

“We stage performances wherever venues are available, and in the remotest parts of the State. When there’s no stage, we just set up our own tent or find an open space and get to work,” he added.

The North Indian Folk Arts Festival will be performing in Thanjavur today.