news Friday, May 01, 2015 - 05:30
When they discussed their love for folk art and the need to preserve it on the banks of the Nila River in Kerala one summer evening, these seven youngsters had no idea that they would actually accomplish far more. Art and economics are often perceived to be incompatible with the task of everyday living, with rare exceptions of course. But while some kinds of art have been commercialized, the so-called little arts, the ones which are a part of people’s everyday lives have lost out. And it is these art forms that seven young people from Arangottukara village (Thrissur district) wanted to preserve in their home in Kerala’s historical Valluvanad – the region between Thrissur and Palakkad. It was here, along the banks of the Nila River in Thrissur district on a summer evening in 2004, that they came up with the idea of forming the Vayali Folklore Group, not just to ensure that the traditional economy of the arts and crafts survives, but also thrives. Software engineer and the executive director of Vayali Vinod Nambiar says that 10 years ago when an art workshop was conducted in their village, they saw the potential for the group. “People from various communities participated in it. That is when we saw the potential of people in our village. Then, the seven of us decided to bring them under one roof,” he says. Pradeep, Sujil Kumar, Manoharan, Unnikrishnan, Vijayan Rajesh and Vinod run Vayali, named after the goddess of paddy fields, and work with Chennai-based NGO National Folklore Support Centre to revive indigenous art and crafts. Today, they have 35 artists in the 20-30 age group from different walks of life, and who together run an eco-bazaar for traditional artisans, perform in a touring bamboo orchestra, and are even planning to develop an educational module on nature conservation through folklore. “There are carpenters, daily wage workers and engineers in our team now. We never turn away anyone who loves indigenous arts” Vinod says, adding that it was an uphill task to ensure that people from socially disadvantaged groups could earn a livelihood through their art. “We went about attentively collecting various folk songs and art forms from the local masters. Most of the people who practiced the various art forms were planning to leave their art in search of a better livelihood,” Vinod recalls. They helped the artists to pursue their traditional professions, helping them show case their knowledge through the group and make a steady income from it. “Now we perform in many places, people started coming to our village in search of us” he says. Vayali’s revolutionary achievement is its bamboo orchestra. It was after they saw a bamboo orchestra perform at the Traditional Music and Rhythm Festival in Japan, that they also decided to have one. Led by the flute, it comprises 10 wind and percussion instruments. These include the Mulam Chenda (percussion), and Mulam Thudi and Mazha Mooli (wind), a five-drum set. The orchestra has been widely appreciated both within Kerala and elsewhere. Vinod explains that bamboo instruments are unique because they cannot be tuned unlike other musical instruments. “The sound of a bamboo instrument is set according to its cut,” he says, adding that the sound of an instrument would depend on the hardness of the bamboo, its weight, age, distance between the nodes, and other factors. Through their bamboo orchestra, Vayali is not just attempting to preserve the traditional knowledge of crafting bamboo instruments, but also researches their crafting and musical structure. Several dance forms of the Valluvanad region such as Thiruvathira Chozhi, Kudachozhi, Chavittukali have been revived by the Vayali group, which were very popular among foreign tourists who especially visited the village for the evening performances. They also work with traditional artisans such as potters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths to learn and observe their craft. In a small shop in Arangottukara, run by Vayali, artisans’ handicrafts (made of bronze other metals, bamboo, jute, terracotta, paper), organic food items, paper bags, and books and other material about folklore and traditional knowledge are sold. “The artisans produce the products at their own home as we don’t have a campus of our own. We have a small shop at our village to sell it” Vinod says. The little revolution is not just surviving, but thriving.

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