February 22: Vidya Vanam’s teachers and students were so busy that no one had time to greet or talk to each other. It was day one of Svanubhava, a festival of arts. All over the school, we had hung strings of paper boats and colourful monkeys made by the students. There was also a boat made of bamboo near the stage. We asked our art teacher, “Why boats?” Her answer was, “rescue. Just like boats rescue people during floods, Svanubhava helps rescue art forms.” Students had also made a model of a paper monkey, which was put near the entrance.
There were two stages — one open-air and another with a roof — and many stalls showing crafts like making lac bangles, masks, pottery and Toda embroidery. One stall had items such as ragi vada, kamba koozhu and keera pori so that people could learn about local Irula food. This showed that Svanubhava gave importance to handicrafts as well as performing arts. “This is an opportunity for students to learn more about the art forms and differences between cultures. Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam performances are easier to come by but, over the years, Svanubhava has hosted over 100 art forms,” said Rithvik Raja, musician and core member of the Svanubhava team.
By 9.15 am, visitors and students from other schools started coming. The fields were full of children in various uniforms. At 9.30 am, the first programme, Kuchipudi, began. Jaikishore and Padmavani Mosalikanti even danced on a bronze plate.
The next programme was on the open-air stage: Irula dances by the Asad Kala Sangam. Their performance was so good that many of the students and even some teachers started dancing along.
We had a good lunch but the Rhythm Ensemble kept us from falling asleep. BS Purushotham on the kanjira, Delhi Sairam on the mridangam and Krishna Sriram on the ghatam taught us about konnakol , the different beats and technical details. They also answered questions from the audience. The last performance was Oyilattam and Paraiattam by the Nanbargal Gramiya Kalaikuzhu. The group members were once child labourers who have all educated themselves and now perform in their free time. It was the icing on the cake of a great first day, as they students joined them on stage for a quick lesson.
Many students from other schools spoke of how they enjoyed the performances and learnt about different art forms. Some even said they were sad to leave. As students of Vidya Vanam, we learnt not only about art and culture but also about how to do an event like this.
February 22: The chatter of children blended in well with the classical music playing on the speakers. It was a warm morning, but hundreds of students from different schools had gathered at Vidya Vanam school in Anaikatti to attend Day Two of Svanubhava 2018.
The stage was set for the first performance of the morning: Tholpavakoothu, a traditional form of shadow puppetry. In the performance, scenes from the Kamba Ramayana were played out. Ramachandra Pulavar and troupe from Kerala spoke of how every year they performed in temples for four months, starting in January.
Cheers, giggles and snorts of laughter from the young audience greeted the performers as they flipped their puppets. There was delight as one puppet smoothly took her head off and danced with it in held in her hands, on her back and even supported on her legs. The children were beside themselves in mirth. Another puppet changed outfits thrice in just few smooth flips. Then came the Tholpavakoothu. Scenes from the Ramayana were immediately obvious to most children. For others, the shadowy forms of birds, animals, human forms hurling arrows at each other were fascinating. Shrinithi Mahendran, who teaches at Yellow Train School, said “We have done shadow puppetry in school but on a smaller scale. The children are so appreciative of the complexity involved in the professional puppetry we are watching. I see them looking awed.”
The next performance was a Nadaswaram recital by Kollangode Subramani and team. “I decided to have this in the open air so that the children could walk about and explore, as they listened to the music”, said . Prema Rangachary of Vidya Vanam. There were stalls selling Toda embroidery work and Kurumba art that looked a lot like the Warli Art. The artist explained the difference to a visiting teacher: while Warli used triangular motifs, Kurumba Art used rectangles. There were also lac bangles being made right there by a craftswoman from Rajasthan. Stone pendants in another stall were big hits with the young buyers.
A Yakshagana performance followed a sumptuous biriyani and curd rice lunch. There was halwa for dessert and it was with a sense of satiety that one settled down to the dance by the Purna Pragna Yaksha Kala Kendra from Udipi. The five-year-old dancer stole the show as he danced with his make-up, traditional headgear and outfit. The crowd cheered wildly as he made his way on stage. Masks and make-up, we were informed, are a vital part of Yakshagana performances. Some more cheers as three more performers arrived on stage. The dance moves and the expressions and even the ring of the anklets were in perfect synchronisation with the powerful vocal rendering of the story of Kartavirya.
The event came to a close with a street-play by the Drama Club of PSG College of Arts and Science. There were peals of laughter as the group performed Ki Rajanarayanan’s Naarkali. L Ramraj, the director and one of the actors, kept the children engaged, interacting with them over the course of the play. Watching the enthusiastic response of the children, Mahendran commented “It was overwhelming as a teacher to see children enjoy a simple Tamil street play. They loved it, and I feel they realised the value of our therukoothu. ”
Tired but pleased, the crowd gradually thinned out. We left Rangachary surrounded by her happy staff and students, as she congratulated them on the success of the two-day event.