A cultural odyssey

IN INDIA, according to Arnold Toynbee, one stumbles upon history at every step. This statement is being severely put to test by the gradual disappearance of monuments and old homes with their architectural wealth. Also, many folk arts, dance forms as well as crafts are fading into oblivion. In an effort to preserve, promote and present the arts and crafts of the four Southern States, Dakshinachitra was conceived a little over a decade ago, as a heritage centre.

At Dakshinachitra's 10-acre site, situated at Muthukadu, between Chennai and Mahabalipuram, one can enjoy rare folk performances such as poikkal kudrai or mayil dance, watch potters and kalamkari craftspersons at work, pick up artistic artefacts at the craft exhibitions, enjoy South Indian cuisine and even get clothes dyed in a natural indigo dye vat set up by Guruppa Chetty, one of the few natural indigo dye craftspersons left in India.

One can get into the warp and woof of the meticulously reproduced weavers' dwellings of Irkal and Kanchipuram, or savour the ambience of a traditional 19th Century 'agraharam' with the traditional 'puja' vessels and the grandeur of a 19th Century Chettinad mansion, complete with richly crafted Burma teak columns.

Dakshinachitra's craft philosophy encourages a natural and organic growth of folk art and craft forms, many of them languishing, through active participation by craftspersons, sales, demonstrations, exhibitions and workshops as well as through research studies, documentation of traditions, developmental programmes, etc. undertaken by the Madras Crafts Foundation.

On April 21, the foundation for the Andhra Pradesh section was laid. The first dwelling, funded by Vijayakumar Reddy, will depict an ikkat weaver's homestead from Nalagonda district.

When completed, the Andhra section will comprise around six homes from Rayalaseema, coastal Andhra and Telengana. Space for the performing arts and crafts exhibitions is also being alloted.

Giving a taste of things to come was a three-day festival organised by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department.

A troupe of colourful folk dancers with their mesmerising drumming set the tone for the festival which included Andhra cuisine and a crafts mela featuring terracotta figures, Bidri artefacts, Narsapur lace table cloths, Banjara embroidered bags, Kalamkari panels etc.

With the Andhra section, Dakshinachitra comes full circle in capturing the diverse cultures of the South.


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