Folk artistes capture audience at public spaces

Ever since Chennai was identified as a UNESCO Creative City of Music in 2017, several individuals and organisations have been taking indigenous arts to the general public at Metro stations and parks, thereby allowing all citizens to engage with them
A marakkal kuchi attam performer; Carnatic concert at a metro station; karagam performers at a public park
A marakkal kuchi attam performer; Carnatic concert at a metro station; karagam performers at a public park

Chennai

Imagine taking a stroll in a park and you’re suddenly a witness to the most enthralling marakkaal kuchi attam, a form of dance no longer commonly seen around, wherein a team of percussionists dance on wooden stilts. Indigenous art forms, including silambattam (stick fighting), deverattam (a dance which was traditionally performed by the kings and warriors after winning a battle), parai (native drum) performances, among other arts, which have been receding from cities are now making a slow comeback.

Ever since the Greater Chennai Corporation in 2017 submitted an application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), our city has been identified as a Creative City of Music. In an attempt to encourage indigenous arts in a larger way, the city civic body along with representatives from the Kalakshetra Foundation, The Music Academy, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Aanmajothi — cultural wing of Saraswathi Vidyalaya, and others, formed the Chennai UNESCO Creative Cities Network Committee.

“The committee’s aim has been to encourage individuals and various groups to perform in public spaces so that the general public, who may not otherwise get to see arts, can view and appreciate them. The main focus has been placed on folk arts and indigenous arts. We have had performances by artistes in villu paatu (musical storytelling), silambattam, parai and many more at Metro stations and parks. Even when we had a book reading session, we had a parai musician accompanying so that we can make the instrument more mainstream,” explains KS Natarajan of Aanmajothi. The committee hopes to create an equal platform for all kinds of arts — popular forms to endangered ones — for audience from all backgrounds.

Parks and Metro stations not only allow people from different social strata to view these performances, but also give space for upcoming artistes, says young singer and Bharatanatyam dancer Riddhi Jaikar. The 10-year-old had performed earlier as part of the ‘Concerts at the Metro’ initiative by Aanmajothi and Jana Bharatham, an outreach programme by Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha. “It was a very unique experience performing at the Metro stations. There were so many people clapping for us, and photographing us as we sang. While stages are more serious, metro station allowed us to have fun while singing,” says Riddhi, who will be singing at St Thomas Mount Metro Station on March 18 at 5.30 pm, along with other children who are part of Kamala Music School choir. The choir brings to these Metro stations Thirukkural in different intonations and tunes.

Besides amazing several passersby on their daily commutes, such performances also bring the public spaces alive, says Nagalakshmi, parent of Riddhi. “Arts in public spaces help in entertaining the passengers, keeping in touch with our culture, and also give an opportunity to amateur artistes. Metro officials have also remarked that the arts help in adding life to the quiet Metro stations,” she adds.

The committee hopes that more individuals and organisations can perform in public spaces so as to make the initiative one that’s led by citizens.

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