Obscure girls and boys sat in rows inside a room and vied each other sketching images to the best of their talent, while by evening adult artistes of repute lined up in harmony on an open ground to produce what has been Kerala’s age-old pride: ethnic ensemble.
From painting to percussion, presenting music as well as dance, screening cinema and discussing literature, a pioneering three-day event in the national capital gave a glimpse at the varied facets of the southern state’s past and present civilisational streaks.
In organising the October 14-16 Kerala-Delhi Cultural Heritage Festival hosted shows on down-country coastal region’s architectural achievements, artefacts, traditional performing arts (including martial, folk, ritual and classical) and music operas mirroring the innovative spirit that continues with the new-age Malayali.
The idea is to highlight the “ethos and historical timeline of Kerala,” points out the organising team, headed by Rani George, secretary (cultural affairs), Government of Kerala, which presented the fest in three downtown venues association with the Delhi administration.
Hosted in a half-kilometre radius around Connaught Place, the heritage festival was jointly inaugurated on Saturday by Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal, with the two dignitaries lighting the lamp at the Central Park. “Upkeeping one’s culture even while making a bond with local community has always been the tradition of Malayalis,” the Kerala CM said amid the presence of VVIPs from both the states on the platform. Added Kejriwal: “Such inter-state collaborations scale up the spirit of integrity of the nation.”
What ensued in the weekend evening portrayed the vastness and depth of the cultural fabric of Kerala, which has had been a meeting point of peoples from across continents for millennia. To begin with, Padma awardee chenda exponent Mattannur Sankarankutty Marar anchored an hour-long symphony of Kerala’s temple drums, cymbals, pipe and horn by leading a 51-artiste team that presented a grand slice of the six-beat rhythmic structure called Panchari Melam. What followed was a subaltern ritual dance called Theyyam from upstate Malabar, where men in colourful make-up and costume would briefly embody themselves as local deities and bless devotees in a state of semi-trance.
Following this was a multimedia performance that featured 300 artistes of Delhi as well as Kerala. Starting by depicting the mythological origin of the strip of land, the 90-minute show surfed along the belt’s renaissance movements, freedom struggle and major strides down post-Independence democracy. Five dozen singers and no less than 20 dance groups performed four episodes as dramas, largely relying on the martial art of Kalaripayattu.
“This can itself go down as a novel chapter in the cultural history of Kerala,” according to theatre activist Pramod Payyannur, the choreographer of the show titled ‘Renaissance Visual Eye’.
Earlier on the weekend day, children of junior and senior category participated in a drawing-and- painting competition, whose winners were adjudged by an expert panel. There were also competitions in the category of essay, handwriting, short-story, poetry and quiz, besides even on mobile-phone photography.
The day’s forenoon session at Kerala House saw acclaimed Malayalam litterateurs share their viewpoints at a seminar on ‘The Spread of the Ethos of Kerala’. Novelist M. Mukundan, himself having spent much of his years in Delhi, said the expatriates- imagined God’s Own Country tends to appear more beautiful of late than the one actually existing as Kerala, while fellow writer-scientist C. Radhakrishnan predicted the help of a leap in technology in spreading the reach of Malayalam across the world. Kerala Sahithya Akademi chairperson Vaishakhan said language had the capacity to bond people of a region together.
A three-day feature film festival in NDMC Hall screened eight Malayalam classics besides a documentary punctuating the activities of Kerala’s department of culture. The movies, from the 1960s to the ’90s, were Nirmalyam, Neelakuyil, Kodiyettam, Utharayanam, Chemmeen, Swaroopam, Perunthachan and Piravi made by path-breaking directors that include Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G. Aravindan, M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Shaji N. Karun.
A ballet on the second day’s evening at Central Park was attended by a large Sunday crowd. Named ‘Malayalapuzha’, the programme represented Kerala’s 44 rivers through as many music and dance forms. Adding sheen was a visual presentation of Poothappattu, a cult poem by 20th-century poet Edassery Govindan Nair. There were also half-a-dozen art-forms presented by Mavila tribes of upstate Kasargode district bordering Karnataka.
A Sunday get-together of renowned non-resident Keralites was presided by the state’s Sahithya Akademi chairperson K.P. Mohanan. It featured personalities from a range of fields like literature, theatre, cinema, journalism, politics and civil administration.
At Central Park on display were tools and daily-use objects of Kerala’s pastoral and tribal people besides of the privileged class. Another exhibition, named ‘Galaxy of Musicians’, explored the paintings of the acclaimed Raja Ravi Varma (1846-1906) who bridged Indian art with the international.
The festival, also featuring a Mohinittam evening by danseuse Jayaprabha Menon, tabla recital by young Rathnasri Aiyar and nite by playback singer Reshmi Satheesh’s Bamboo Music Band, has left an indelible impression in the minds of Malayalis in particular and Delhiites in general, according to attendees.