In tradition's footsteps

WALK INTO DakshinaChitra on the East Coast Road and you are instantly attracted to a group of children dancing to the rhythm of the thavil with handkerchiefs tied to their fingers. The instructor stops to inform us that it is a folk art form from Madurai — oyilattam.

To revive dying traditional art forms, the Madras Crafts Foundation has decided the transform part of the coast into a cultural museum.

"One of the main reasons behind starting this centre is to preserve our culture. The art forms are dying due to lack of attention. Hence we decided give it the attention it needs," says Deborah Thiagarajan, president, the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF). The initiative to train children in the folk arts came up when the MCF documented thevarattam. "This is a dance performed by the Kambalathunayakkar community in Tirunelveli district. The art was so fascinating that we wanted to create awareness about it. Hence we started training boys from Muttukadu in oyilattam, tappattam, thevarattam and silambam for free," she says. The first batch of boys were trained for five years and are now professional artistes who are invited to perform in various places, says Malavan, chief co-ordinator education and outreach, MCF.

The centre also trains girls from nearby villages. "We want people to look at it as part of culture and not as a ritual that is specific to a community. In villages, these dances are performed as a ritual hence women are not allowed to participate," says Kannan Kumar, who trains these children.

Kannan Kumar, himself a performing artiste, feels training provides kids an opportunity to explore our culture, besides opening up employment opportunities.

The girls are now practising oyilattam and are trained on weekends at the centre.

"Presentation is important. Tamil Nadu has numerous art forms, but they are not very popular because they are not well projected. Hence, these children are also encouraged to improvise," says Deborah Thiagarajan. She also feels, given the present situation, a folk artiste cannot make a living out of performances. Hence, if schools and institutions come forward to introduce such art forms as part of their extra curricular activities, then there is hope that these arts will survive.

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