Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022
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Dance/Launda Naach

Launda Naach: Why The Popular Folk Art In Bihar Stares At An Uncertain Future

A look at the world of Bihar’s popular folk dance form—in which men dress as women and different animals—as its most prominent exponent Ramchandra Manjhi passes away

The performative: Ramchandra Manjhi strikes a pose on stage Courtesy: Bhikhari Thakur Repertory Training & Research Centre, Chhapra

The news of Ramchandra Manjhi’s death, on the night of September 7, 2022, rea­ched me via social media. Sudd­e­nly, I was transported to an evening in Jaw­a­harlal Nehru University, New Delhi, around four years ago, when Manjhi was set to perform at the open-air amphithe­a­tre at around 9 pm. He, however, was already in his ‘zone’ from early evening, becoming one with his art, as he began applying makeup, hours before he was schedu­led to perform. When he fin­ally graced the open­-­air stage, a hush desce­n­ded over the boisterous cro­wd. As he began dancing, even students who did not speak Bho­j­puri watched with rapt attention.

That evening’s performance reminded me of the memoirs of IAS officer Jagdish Chandra Mathur, who was a popular figure as Bihar’s education secretary. In it, he wrote that he had once invited Manjhi’s guru Bhikhari Thakur to perform at Patna’s Harding Park. The park was jam-packed, with people climbing up on boun­d­ary walls and trees to get a glimpse of the performance. The crowd was turning into a mob, which the police found impossible to control. When Mathur explained the situation to Tha­kur, he came on stage and appealed to the audience for calm, before breaking into an impro­mptu performance. As Mathur recalls, suddenly, the world came to a standstill. The seemingly uncontrollable mob transformed into a disciplined audience.

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