On a journey to document the ancient dance forms of India

Jothi Viknesh, Anusha Viresh and Manohar Marappa   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

From documenting the Siddi Dhamal dance form practised by the Siddis of Gujarat to capturing the energetic Padayani folk dance and ritual art of Kerala — Jothi Viknesh, Anusha Veeresh and Manohar Marappa are on an unusual road journey to soak in the varied folk traditions of India. They are calling it the Indian Dance Trail that began in Bengaluru in January this year. Their aim is to cover 60, 000 kilometres by the end of the year and also see if it becomes a Guinness World Record for the longest drive in the same country by car. They have so far completed 18,000 kilometres covering Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. They hope to witness major festivals across the country and document the rich traditions of Indian dance forms.

Aiming for a record

The idea to go on an all-India journey came about when a video made by Jothi and Anusha on the Veeragase dance form of Karnataka received 2.5 million views on YouTube without much promotion. Based on Hindu mythology, this dance form involves very intense energy-sapping dance movements and is one of the dances demonstrated in the Dasara procession held in Mysuru. “We realised that there are many who are interested to know the history and traditions behind such ancient Indian dance forms. Documenting these would be an interesting way to preserve a rich history,” says Anusha.

Most of their travel routes are planned beforehand. “We do a research about the place and region’s dance forms before we reach. This is because a majority of these folk dance forms are specific to a particular time of the year. But there are chance discoveries too when we stumble upon something unique,” says Anusha, who has been training in traditional and contemporary dance forms from her childhood.

Jothi Viknesh, Anusha Viresh and Manohar Marappa

Jothi Viknesh, Anusha Viresh and Manohar Marappa   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

On many occasions, they stayed with the dancers in their village, learning about their traditions and beliefs. Their journey also took them to places where they could document lesser known dance forms like the Jogati Nritya in the Bellari district of Karnataka. It is a ritual dance performed by a group of transgenders called Jogappas to appease Goddess Yellamma.

Not all of their experiences were pleasant. At the Chettikulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha district of Kerala, they met some hostile resistance. “We saw a group of children surrounded by adults. They wouldn’t allow us to film anything and insisted we delete the few videos we had already filmed there,” says Anusha. “It was only later that we came to know that they were performing the banned ritual of ‘Chooral Muriyal’ a part of Kuthiyottam. As part of the ritual young boys are offered as sacrifice to the goddess Bhadrakali. While they are not actually sacrificed, their midriffs are pierced with a gold or silver string, that is later pulled out and offered up. “It is a symbolic representation of human sacrifice. Once the ritual is over, these boys are abandoned,” she adds.

Inspiring tales

On the more memorable side, they had some inspiring encounters. They met Sanjeeva Suvarna, principal of Guru Bannanje Yakshagana Kendra in Udipi, who is among the few surviving Yakshagana trainers left. “Our idea is to make a short documentary on each of these dance forms and release it in our YouTube channel Expertnomads by the end of the journey,” says Anusha.

Funding is a challenging part of their journey. “We make pit-stops at cities to conduct Afroworks fitness dance workshops at schools, colleges, dance studios and wellness centres. This is fun-filled dance fitness regime based on African dance and music. This way we get to also reach out to people and talk about Indian dance forms and our journey,” says Jothi, who held workshops at Starlite Wellness Centre and Pollocks School on their halt at Visakhapatnam. While they haven’t had the opportunity to document the folk dance forms of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, they are hoping to be back in the Telugu States again in the next leg of their journey. The Indian Dance Trail is now heading to the North East where they plan to document Nagaland’s Mopin festival, before moving on to Assam.

To follow them, read their updates on the Facebook page Indian Dance Trail.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 10:13:47 AM |

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