When folk arts and crafts turn designer

Do you realise how activities, arts and crafts that had been part of our daily lives have today slipped into the category of ‘culture’ and have begun to get ‘protected’ as if they were some endangered species? Daily chores and even climbing stairs have been reincarnated as part of fitness regimens and the food that was cooked for a daily meal have assumed the status of gourmet dishes that have to be ‘shared’. Even games of yore like gilli-danda and kancha are now to be only found in rural areas and small towns if at all. Soon we will have them in the form of ‘vintage sports’ with kids being taught how to play them. In short, folk arts and even mundane tasks are turning designer!

Recently I read Anu’s post where she has mentioned the street performers she saw in Sringeri,  in Karnataka. Her son apparently was disinterested with the proceedings even while his parents were excited about seeing something from their own childhoods. Nothing unusual, considering that the children these days are exposed to much more exciting things on the TV, as she rightly observed. But not too long ago, these street performers could be seen on city streets displaying their skills and making some money from the crowds which collected to watch them.

Snake charmers, men with performing monkeys and bears, jugglers, singers and dancers – you name them they would be found on the streets. Performers with animals have been banned by the bodies working to prevent cruelty to animals since. But even today stray street performers, including magicians with their ‘jamboore’ can be found on the outskirts of big cities, though they are not allowed to perform in busy streets within the city. However, those living in apartment buildings are either not interested or are not able to watch them, which is why our children are growing with scant idea about these street arts.

I had written once about the tiger dance performed during Dushera when I was growing up in Nagpur. When I mentioned it to my group of classmates, I got to know that it is not there in the city anymore but could be seen in the smaller towns and villages around the city. The affluent didn’t have time for these things even in those days, as was evident from the fact that they performed only in middle and lower middle class areas of the city. And today with apartment buildings and busy streets, they have completely vanished from the city.

Last month when we had gone to Rishikesh, we happened to visit a hostel for rural girls, in Dehradun. They put up an impromptu show for us – dancing to Chikni Chameliand other hot numbers from Bollywood. When I asked them do some folk dance, they looked blankly at me. Finally one of the older girls came forward and moved to a song that sounded and looked suspiciously like something from one of Salman Khan’s films. I wonder if their parents know the folk dances and songs or not. Perhaps it is already dead or in the process of dying. It is a pity that the villagers who sang and danced to the folk songs handed down through the ages have started dancing to hot Bollywood numbers. The graceful, swaying movements have given way to the jhatkas and matkas that accompany these songs.

Why talk about traditional arts? What about our sartorial preferences? The glorious sari worn in hundreds of different traditional styles is almost forgotten now, except in the deep recesses of the rural populace, or among the older generation or tradition bound communities and  by others during weddings and festivals.  Girls and young women express their horror of the garment vowing never to wear it if they could help it. The dhoti fares only slightly better, probably because the politicians have adopted it as their trademark attire. But how long before we have to view them as part of some cultural event?

The attempt to keep alive traditional folk art forms got a boost during the 80s when regional cultural zones were set up all over the country to identify and promote them. The Festivals of India showcased them and so  Pandavani and Chhau and other such performing arts found a national and later international audience. These are now found less in the villages and more in the air-conditioned auditoriums and even children in the villages are growing without knowing about them. It is a pity that many such arts practised by the villagers today need the patronage of the cultural czars and czarinas of high society to survive.

When the humble jute bag assumes elite status….

Why just the arts? Even items that were part of daily life of the villagers and even in middle class families – the reed mat, the baskets, the winnows can now be found in some swanky handicraft emporium and we pay a fortune to buy the ‘cute’ baskets and mats to hang on the walls or show off in the well-appointed ethnic living room.

Craft bazaars and exhibitions sell handmade cloth bags, embroidered doilies and more – which any girl or woman made at home not too long back in the past. The humble jute bag has become a fashion statement these days. It is funny how traditional arts and crafts have changed hands with an accompanying elevation in their status – the poor now use plastic, polyester and synthetic items which are much cheaper, while the rich root for jute, cloth and handloom, paying ridiculously large amounts for them.

Looking at the way our traditional arts, crafts and dresses are vanishing from our daily lives, the day is not far when our children and grandchildren might look at an exhibit in a museum and exclaim, ‘Wow! So that is a sari! How cute!’ or watch a little girl walk the high rope in a reality show and applaud her.

The traditional lifestyle of the villagers that incorporated arts and crafts as part of their daily lives today needs the patronage of the cultural czars and czarinas of high society to survive. Do we accept it all as part of progress and change and feel happy that they are surviving somehow, instead of going into oblivion? Maybe we should  just thank God for small mercies.

Images courtesy:This page: exoticindiaart.com

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92 comments

  1. This is such an insightful and powerful take on the gradual disappearance of several unique and brilliant art and folk crafts and forms. There is no environment that exists for these to grow organically. If at all they are still present, as you have mentioned, it is through preservation (mostly for the sake of it) by a few cultural czars and czarinas. And not to mention the commercialization of these arts and crafts as they become designer and later turn antique and vestigial. And then I guess the art forms are at their best only when they stay in tune with the ones who perform those. But if they are customized to suit an audience (mostly elite), then again it loses its sheen.

    I am glad I was able to see and feel and revisit several of these art forms, folk arts and crafts through your lovely words. Thank you for the lovely nostalgia your post provided me. I am not sure how long they will be around but I wish they still stay alive to delight the senses of the future generations as well. 🙂

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    1. You have summed it all up so beautifully, Raj. But as Sudha has pointed out in her comment, when these folk arts are not practised by those to whom it originally belongs, because they want to be part of the ‘development’ process, then what can be done? So we have cultural hothouses to nurture them and we all know how costly those are. So we buy a jute bag at Rs500 while the artisan who made it probably got Rs.10 or 20? That is what is the saddest part, as even the craft bazars started originally to promote interaction between the creator and the buyer, are more of commercial ventures than a showcase for the arts and crafs.

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  2. It’s an interesting discussion. I think this is something that happens in all generations. The traditions fade out, to be replaced by modern ideas. Nothing wrong with that necessarily. But at the same time I think it’s important to preserve the old traditions, after all that’s where we came from, it’s part of our cultural heritage. I think it’s impossible to impose them on people in general, though. The main thing is for some of us to be consciously aware of the traditions and at least to some level keep them alive and make the rest aware of this rich heritage. Then if this preservation happens by protection through museums and by transcending them to “culture” I think is less important.

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    1. Good to see you here after a long time, Otto 🙂 Yes, we are what our traditions have made us. The moment we give them up, we become like the rest of the people, we lose our identity. Imagine how boring it would be if all of us dressed alike, ate the same foods and lived the same way. And finally if modernity wins out in this race, let us preserve our culture and arts in the museums so that we can at least know how things were 🙂

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  3. Phew that was a long journey to reach here! And have forgotten what I wanted to say 😦
    Ah well let us just be happy that vestiges of traditional art are being preserved in the museum… all part of social change.

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    1. That was the conclusion I had come to, too in the post. But hearing so many say that here, I guess it is the only way to keep our traditions alive.

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  4. This is a brilliant post, Zephyr! You made me pause there awhile and lap in your analysis…
    What folk arts (if they should be called so) preserve is that lineage where we connected with everything around us–that is why they are so precious. When I was in Jharkhand the girls performed a tribal song of women carrying pots of water and how their hips sway when they carry it–it was also hip sway song but it was a song that so utterly earthy, naturally born from the everyday life.
    Then can we ask the question–since bollywood is also nowadays a part of modern life, doesn’t enacting it also constitute a folk art in formation? I do not know…I am just pondering aloud..

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    1. As Rachna has pointed out in her reply, how can we reconcile progress and tradition? So there needs to be some compromise somewhere. So while children dance to Chikni Chameli, we should try to make them do the giddha or the bhangra too. And finally we might have to preserve them in our homes, in museums and in craft bazaars, but no way can we let our culture die out as it can wipe out an entire race, an entire people.

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  5. About 15 years back, I had gone to document an intervention programme with a tribal community that my organisation was involved in. The community put up a “cultural” show for us as their way of saying thank you. Imagine our surprise when they danced and gyrated to the latest Bollywood numbers. The programme director in her speech casually wove in the need to preserve culture and traditions. She had barely finished her speech when one of the tribal girls and the youth leader came up on stage and requested to speak.

    And what a speech it was: she lambasted us and the world at large for having differential standards. Why were only tribal communities supposed to preserve heritage and the arts and crafts? Why couldn’t they dance to “Choli ke peeche kya hai?” Why could we wear jeans and they saris? Why were there different definitions of progress for us and them? And so on and so forth.

    That day, I understood how complex the whole notion of preservation is. It is not about speeches or awareness programmes or thoughts or articles on the arts and crafts or culture. It is about appreciation and allowing the artist the choice to practice the art the way they want it to. If the art undergoes transformation along the process, so be it. If it gets abandoned, so be it. Sad, but true. And at the rate we are “progressing” this is inevitable.

    I die a little death every time I see yet another 80-100 year old bungalow getting ready for demolition and an ugly multistoried building coming up in its stead in my neighbourhood. I cringe when people see the 100-year-old lamp in my hause and say “How quaint! ” And I feel guilty as I am one of those who does not wear a saree and will not wear one, except at gun point. And then would probably go the the nearest police station to complain !

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    1. But Sudha, it is only the tribals who can preserve their culture. Who else knows their dances and songs? So while allowing everyone the freedom to perform the way they want, what they want, it is also the duty of the concerned people to keep their culture alive. It is sad to know that progress and tradition seem to be mutually exclusive, which is why we are seeing such an erosion of everything traditional, whether it is our culture, arts and crafts and even architecture.

      Ah the sari! The poor much misunderstood and feared garment of all 😦 But it will survive this too, I hope. After all,despite efforts by the fashion designers who have tried over the years to ‘modify’ it, it still reigns supreme in its original form, doesn’t it? 🙂

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  6. Bollywood has adultrated pure dance forms for sure. And I cant stand young girls dancing to Chikni Chameli.
    Places like Dilli Haat which encourage ethnic craftsmen are a blessing. They are somehow managing to keep the vibrant culture alive. I hope the artisans are getting their due. As you say, progressive also means preserving our culture and not merely adapting western ideas.

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    1. Originally Dilli Haat had artisans selling directly to the customers and there were also state showcases. But today the stalls are given and manned by traders and one doesn’t see the artisans except rarely. It is just another high priced open air emporium. We have to get used to the children singing and dancing to hot Bollywood numbers, I guess.

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  7. traditional art getting the recognition is not a bad thing but who is getting the credit for that? those who developed it from the scratch or those who are promoting it? and, perhaps, the objective to promote these arts is also questionable.

    as far as price is concerned, i remember cane furniture was a basic item in my town which was sold everywhere but now i see them only in swanky furniture shops.

    well, we played gilli-danda and kancha on the streets all my childhood although i was not very good at that.

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    1. Today all streets are overrun by bikes, cars and even buses, Deb. So no more gilli danda and kancha can be played there. But they can be played in the grounds. And not all old games are boring. I am sure kids would love playing kancha if someone taught them how to. But how many parents of this generations would do it or even know it?

      I was shocked by the price of cane furniture too! All things cheap and handy are going out of reach of the common man. 😦

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  8. I don’t know what my opinion on this is. I am thankful that places like Dilli Haat, a couple of thoroughly hip artisan outlets in Delhi, where handmade wares are sold, exist and are popular. But selling things like jute bags etc at exhorbitant prices…especially when the original makers of those handicrafts don’t receive even a fraction of the final sale price – that is quite a tragedy.

    http://reekycoleslaw.com/

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    1. The problem with preserving something is that unless the state does it, (and even there some amount of exploitation exists), the middlemen or the agency promoting the arts and crafts eat into the profits and even the rightful money that the artisans have to be paid. Some enterprising people manage to rise above their circumstances and make it big, but the majority of them languish in penury. But as many have pointed out here, we should indeed be grateful for at least the haats and the swanky bazaars that showcase them even if they are out of reach of the common man on the streets!

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  9. Excellent to read about all old things. Though I haven’t experienced many of them, I do remember the old jute bags, the open vegetable bags and snake shows on the road. My mum and grandma still have a couple of those bags and they are so sturdy compared to the ones we get now in the market.
    Like your DIL, I too make it a point to wear saree when I visit a temple. In fact this time for Ganpati I wore the traditional nine yards saree – typical maharashtrian style much to my in-laws amusement. 🙂

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    1. The open vegetable bags were wonderful, right? The vegetables wouldn’t get squashed and one could segregate them while purchasing. We have to do what we can to preserve the traditions, the arts, culture and crafts. Lest we will all look the same in a generations’ time — same clothes, same dances, same music…a global monotony!

      Nine yards sari! That looks so lovely with a pearl nathni in the nose, right?

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  10. Very true! Things have changed. Today, we are exposed to a lot more things than before, and hence, certain things that were so common in the past have taken a backseat now. Some things – like the saree – have been relegated to the back of the cupboard, losing the battle to more comfortable and easy stuff like jeans and skirts. Cooler stuff has taken over – like Bunty and Bubbly bags instead of the simple jute bags that our parents used to carry. These changes are sad, true, but inevitable. Just like we have done away with several ancient customs and started following more convenient alternatives today – like buying jackfruit from supermarkets instead of buying a fruit and cutting it with family.

    It is sad that our children will never see the world the way it was for us, but we can try to educate them about the same. In one way it is good that handicrafts of yore are coming back in cooler, more hep avatars that appeal to the younger generation, but as you said, their prices are often sky high, and no one knows what part of the sale proceeds go to the artisans themselves. A better option would be to purchase these things directly from the artisans. We do that often.

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    1. I am not one for status quo at all, GND. But these are precious art forms that define a culture, a people and a region. So they need to be nurtured and given encouragement. What had started with great fanfare in the 80s is hardly active today. We don’t have these festivals aired on TV or showcased in other events. What we have at best is the Bollywood version of folk songs and everyone knows how bad they can be. We have a Rudali only once in a blue moon.

      I would still say that the sari has simply got a bad name and is now being hanged — in wardrobes 😀 Entire generations of women have and still are wearing them to work in crowded local trains and buses. It is more of being with the current style that has usurped its place from the lives of women and girls.

      I am so glad that you are socially conscious and buy your stuff from the artisans themselves. We don’t mind paying what they ask for, sometimes even more, knowing that they are getting it in their hands, right?

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  11. Radha (C.M) · · Reply

    Zephyr Nice post ! Let us analyse it this way for the sake argument take Darwins theory of Evolution and the product is what we are today!! Isn’t ? So is the case of culture and the activities attached to it is undergoing a metamorphosis. The only disastrous connect between the two is the speed at which it is happening is alarming and a matter of grave concern. In our conversation I used to tell you that everything revolves around one word i.e. “INTEREST”. In today’s (commercial) world this generation is devoid of time as well as interest for such cultural activities and unfortunately the time is running out fast for them. It is sad that they are missing out on all the fun and action related to it. But it seems that ‘CHANGE’ is the only thing that is constant in this YUG!!. Alas! what a pity !!!!. In my opinion if our “peedhi” is able to slow down the phenomenal speed (in whatever way) to some extent, we will be doing great service to our culture, before the bhouras (tops), Kanchas (marble) & Gilli Dandas becomes Antiques !!!!!

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    1. Slow down the change? How on earth is it possible? I myself advocate giving up some customs and traditions in order to be able to keep up with the times. But art forms are different from customs we follow at home. This is a national treasure so to speak and needs to be nurtured instead of ‘preserved’. At least schools can take the lead in this? Why go for filmy music instead of good old folk songs and dances? In the days of You tube, we can upload the dances as they are done in the villages, during festivals and try to popularise them. After all, we can make a kolaveri and Gangnam style, can’t we? 😀

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  12. Well I remember (and i am sorry for bringing it here ) he he he I wrote a comment at one place on a similar thing, about how as we are progressing we are losing things ..
    to my horror i got a reply from a learned person that I am being an idiot and since I am in UK i am jealous that india is coming up ..
    for the life of me I could not understand what made then jump on their own tail 🙂

    anyway .. It is true the charm of playing outside in the Gully , all those little games , gully danda- pithoo garam – tippy tippy tap .. WEIRD names I know ..

    same way I also know that the main reason we went to youth festivals was because there will be bhangra -gidha competitions and it use to be WAR.. nowadays Bhangra is a Item number tooo ..

    I dont beleive that all the TARAKKI and shining means we have to do it at the cost of our culture and our FOLK..

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    1. Being abusive and argumentative while commenting seems to be the norm today. And since you are well meaning, you should just ignore these great minds, Bikram. On my blog, people are welcome to agree, disagree and expand on my post, so you are welcome to express your opinions freely. In fact, I leave out points deliberately so that my intelligent readers contribute to it and make it complete. I get to learn from them too, see?

      As Grond has pointed out, pastimes of the past are not practical, especially playing and performing on the streets. but how many of us would willingly go to see a folk art show, unless it is jazzed up? So I guess I have to make peace with the changing times and be happy that these art forms are surviving at least this way!

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      1. mami.. I still go to just bhangra , believe me ..

        We have to do it , or else we will lose our culture alltogether..

        nothing can beat the thaap on the DHOL.. with young men Giving and Haaadipaaa ..

        A tunka by the Teel on the Dhol and young men doing a a step of Luddi…

        Thats it no other instrument needed …

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        1. You seem to have gone on a nostalgic trip 😀 Hope you dance to your heart’s content to the beats of the dhol this Diwali!

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  13. This one about street performers. Last I remember watching a street performer was nearly 18 years ago, when we lived in a house just off the road. The same road today is so crowded with people and traffic that a performer won’t have a place to walk, let along perform.

    The fact remains that times have changed today, and people, especially children, need to absorb a lot more information at all times. With such advanced abilities, everyone finds it difficult to slow down and get entertained. Nobody has the time to stop on the street and watch a monkey do cartwheels. Pschah! They’ve already seen such things on Discovery and BBC. Something new, please. Repetition is so old-fashioned.

    This is where festivals and events come into play. You get the acts together in one event, a concentrated session that can be covered in one weekend, and then see the fun. You will be spoilt for choices, and will have to choose between four to six equally good acts. And the platform that some of the smaller acts get is also not minor – some of the contacts they make and organizers they impress are enough for them to get appointments for throughout the year across the world. And given that this is a concentrated effort put in by both participants and attendees, the quality of interactions you get is better than what you can get at a one-off performance.

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    1. I do understand the need to change, but to lose something of our traditions to the change is galling to me. Perhaps we should be happy to watch these annual festivals and melas but even here, how many parents are ready to take their children to watch or participate in them? Folk art groups and theatre enthusiasts can hold workshops and shows for children, perhaps in schools? But like R’Mom has lamented, even there, the children are made to dance to the tunes of Dhinkchika…

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      1. That is a lament I too have – when a mother is more interested in making her daughter dance to Chikni Chameli than something more traditional and royal in music. Does that school teacher, dance teacher or mother know what kind of objectification they are making of their own children?

        But again there are beacons of hope here. One of my cousins (or perhaps a niece – I don’t remember, she was part of the extended family) had her Arangetram some years ago. Instead of making the girls dance to traditional Bharatnatyam music or to film songs, the teacher created a completely new show. All girls in that performance being Gujarati, the teacher took up Gujarati songs. She made the mothers translate the lyrics for her, and created the danced steps for the girls to those lyrics and music.

        Imagine a beautiful Bharatnatyam dance to a simply written yet profound Gujarati song with the eloquence that the gestures and expressions that the dance brings out. My mother still reminisces about that performance, even though it was quite some time back. If this kind of change is there to the traditions, I’m sure that it’ll be more than welcome by all kinds of people.

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        1. The reason why film music and dance rule is because it is easily available and easy to teach. The other art forms require time and effort and a certain amount of imagination as demonstrated by this lady who created a synthesis of different dance and music forms. At the rate we are going, we should be happy that anything at all is done to keep them alive.

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  14. Timing, Aunty, timing!

    I just got back from a 3 day long music festival in Pune, which had Indian & international acts from across diverse cultures – not just the usual commercial music, but other good music stuff too. Had a sampling of nearly 30 acts – under half of the total 60+ acts on show.

    For me, the highlight of the whole weekend was what is known as The Manganiyar Seduction by Royston Abel. The Manganiyars are traditional Rajasthani musicians, and Royston is a South Indian theatre director, for those who think he’s a foreigner making good from Indian culture.

    I have heard Rajasthani folk before, and it sounds brilliant, no denying that. I have even seen light and sound shows that merge music, lights and ambient sets beautifully. But I had never seen The Manganiyar Seduction (TMS). A set of boxes, set in a 9×4 grid, each housing one musician – some two or more – and a conductor creating music himself too – this was an explosive orgasm of music and light. I tweeted that it was as if a nuke exploded in my mind, and I’d be picking up pieces till the next morning. I still feel the goosebumps as I recollect it.

    This is a wonderful creating where traditional culture has been expanded upon and taken forward. While one cannot remain in the past, continuing as they were before – the world really has changed, one need not change oneself so much that you cannot connect the future to the past. Change is inevitable, but change in such a way that all the positives of the past are carried forward, and the future adds new positives and removes the negatives.

    How does TMS do that? Traditional Rajasthani folk singing and instruments. Traditional music and lyrics. Modern light and sound equipment. You cannot identify who amongst the 35+ performers is singing/playing right now in a normal stage setup – here, the box lights up only for those performers who are playing or singing now, till it explodes into a magical fury at the end of the performance and everyone is performing. By that time, if you’re not on your feet and shouting for more, you’re either on antidepressants or need to be.

    This is one way to take the traditions forward. I know you’ll be wondering what I’ve been talking about, here are the video links:

    I’ve written only about this one for two reasons – one, I am fresh off experiencing them, and two, I find this a positive beacon of ideas in a quite negative world.

    About street performers & other things – next comment.

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    1. Timing indeed, Harshal, else I wouldn’t have got such a detailed and passionate comment 😀 Thank you for sharing this experience. I saw the videos and it was indeed wonderful. A great way to make the rock music crazy urban youth fall in love with something so traditional. But one thing about such extravaganzas is that they put them out of reach of common people — not those who can afford the price of a ticket or those who manage to get an invitation to the show. But those who are the original creators of these art forms and the common folk who would enjoy them without the jazzing up too, if only they could get to see them.

      I also agree that the art forms have to change keeping pace with the world. This was the reason why fusion music became all the rage in the 60s and 70s when our classical instrumentalists and musicians collaborated with other classical musicians of the West and produced some interesting music. But that had not found much takers and the original forms are still going strong individually. However, such efforts as the TMS are highly praiseworthy and if taken to other art forms and popularised in such a way that everyone can enjoy them, then it is really great. Let us hope it happens and in the not too distant future either.

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      1. Its not just the highly-priced events that host these shows. There are others too. The Kalaghoda art festival, for instance. It’s a two-week long fest where arts of all kinds – theatre, music, cultural etc. are made available to the public for free, or for highly subsidised rates.

        We saw lavani dances, acrobatic events, puppet shows, jugglers and other skilled artisans, all on the road. Artists from across the country had come.

        Its just that such events are usually annual in nature, not more frequent. But all the more better, perhaps – we are able to value these things much more when we can experience them only once a year, and the artisans too get time to perform at other places.

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        1. A kalaghoda festival and a Sangamam are too few and far between Harshal and they happen only in big cities, whereas the erosion goes right down to the villages where they originated. Another surge of fervour is in order as it had been in the 80s. And this time, it can be combined with hi-tech effects and taken to more people if it is done. Such things need patronage of the relevant bodies promoting them. Loved your comments here, Harshal 🙂

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  15. i agree Patti. i dont even know if my daughter would like saree or just look at it the way i look at 9 yard saree now..
    but i appreciate what is done in chennai, “Chennai Sangamam”, whichis held every year after pongal. at least all the cultural things which are nearing extinctions can been seen there. i wish every city conducts his and educate its children about the past and its importance.

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    1. I have already expressed that fear about the sari, AM. You are the second person talking about the Sangamam. It must be really good if it has made such an impact. I think other states should follow suit. Pattu has written about the Mahankali festival in Telengana region.

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  16. As Indians we have scant regard for heritage. In our hurry to move forward we often forget what we left behind. Who has time for the old?

    It shames me to see that Anokhi and FabIndia, the most popular traditional textile stores are run by “foreigners”.

    And it’s a pity our children know so little about our great epics.

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    1. The reason for this is we have very little self worth, running after things outside our shores. And we don’t have any regard for things Indian, be it our monuments, arts, culture, music and more. Thank god that the craft bazaars are still in Indian hands albeit the middlemen and commission agents. Epics are to be sneered at, laughed at and derided, Purba. Which century do you live in?

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      1. Actually Purba and Zephyr, my son knows much more Mahabharat and Ramayan than I do. And, he is not the only one. My niece knows Mahabharat really well and so do many other kids that I know. I don’t agree that today’s children don’t know much about their own heritage. But, let’s face it. We live in big cities. We don’t grow our food. We buy everything from supermarkets. We are not directly connected with the artisans, weavers, folk artists, so there is bound to be a disconnect. Zephyr, just because we question certain teachings and morals of the epics, it does not mean we are sneering or deriding it. It is ours, and if we don’t have a right to question it then who does? I have the same gripe with religion. You say a word against certain practices and you are labelled an atheist. I think generalization is wrong. Yes, there needs to be more awareness about these things, but we cannot have the convenience of progress and the stimulation of rustic life co-existing. Where in the world does it happen?

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        1. That was a perfectly logical question. In fact, I felt you were asking me, ‘Bachhe ki jaan loge?’ 😀

          We should indeed try to preserve our culture by doing whatever little we can to do it. And as for the epics and our folk tales, it is good that you are raising your kids on that as are many young parents, but let us face it. Do our children read the Panchatantra? Do they know the folk tales that our parents raised us on? In which case, as I have pointed out, we should be grateful for whichever way our culture is preserved, shouldn’t we?

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  17. There are a lot of countries which consciously make plans to preserve their culture. They do not welcome an external invading culture. France is a primary example, although too aggressive.
    In India, we have a habit of embracing anything foreign with open arms. It is not a bad things but we must not shun our own heritage in the process. And that is what we have been doing. Maybe that is how developing countries work.

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    1. I was not aware of France doing that to preserve its culture, but I agree that too aggressive an approach is also detrimental since it would keep away any new idea entering it. Do read the post to which The Fool has provided a link here. It explains a lot of things about the demise of local cultures due to globalisation. In our frenzy to prove that we are ‘with it’, we are ready to throw out everything traditional.

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        1. Thanks Amit for the links 🙂

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  18. So true. Not only snake charmers and rope walkers, I have also witnessed frequently in the 1940s and early 1950s also, , the magician with his band, exhibiting a skull and bones and performing all sorts of interesting feats, like asking one of the spectators to come and lie down on the carpet,cover him with a blanket and taking a band or a skull, he will wave it over the blanket. Then he will remove, the blanket and we find there is no body there. They will first beat the drum to attract the crowd (mind you in the heart of Mylapore near Kapali temple) and then start performing. But in the same place near Kapali temple, nari kuravars are selling their ware on the streets, items like, necklace with stones like Pavazham (coral) or rudraksha malai. This, you can see even to-day, but most of the people avoid them thinking that they are all fake. For what all I know, you can find genuine wares from these people if you examine them carefully.. So also, they sell real honey from the hills. But now a days, I do not find them in Madras (Mylapore)

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    1. I have mentioned the street magician albeit in his northern avatar where he uses a side-kick whom he calls ‘jamoore’ 🙂 Yes, the nari kuravas of the TN, the lambadis of Andhra and many other avatars in other states are all slowly going the same way — into oblivion. The wares that these folks sell are all bought at ridiculous rates and sold on fashion streets at many times the price. And we would rather buy those at those prices than be seen buying them from these kuravas 😀 Tribes are losing their livelihood and turning to other things, including crime.

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  19. okie, I am noe of those you can point out for NOT wearing the saree because I find it uncomfortable!

    But I must agree to whatever you have written..especially the folk dances…R;s school’s annual day had the kids dancing on dhinkichika..and stuff like that…I mean our annual days had proper folk songs on which we danced..but no more…I am definitely going to go to her school and ask them about teaching the kids folk dances which are obviously as colourful and so much fun eh?

    Garba in Bombay 😦 Something I have come to dislike so much because no one does it the traditional way anymore 😦

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    1. Oh RM, I WAS thinking about you when I wrote that sari bit 😀 *runs and hides to escape the thrashing*

      See, this is what I saw in that hostel. Children doing the Chameli dance when we wanted to see some local dance! Actually teachers find it easier to make them dance to dhinkichika because most of the time the kids know the moves and all they have to do is to supervise. With folk dance, they have to do some homework and make the kids work too 😀

      Don’t even begin about garba. It turned into disco garba long back!

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  20. lovely post, Zephyr! these days, we arent great fans of either circuses or street performers, horse cart rides or snake charmers… ill treatment of animals and abuse of kids are major issues indeed, and when we do rarely see such performances, as you say, in rural areas, the state of the performers as well as their charges is pitiful.. and sometimes i wonder if i should give them more money to show my appreciation of what they do, because i cant help wondering if the money will actually go to feeding those small, almost malnourished kids who are performing, or if it will go to buy drink for the father/ master…. its sad to see folk art in such a state… on the other hand, we do see performances in malls or at events which are a medley of folk art as well as popular stuff.. and while i do appreciate seeing how they have adapted, i cant help feeling some regret that the originality seems to have disappeared… as for crafts, they are now so hideously expensive, as u say, they are just for the rich! what a change! things have indeed come a full circle.. they were called folk art and crafts because they were for the bulk of the population… today, they are for the elite!!!

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    1. Oh, the fact that the kids are performing under pressure to earn makes it hard for us to take it. I can understand how you felt. Bringing folk arts and crafts out of the villages and showcasing them is fine, which is what was done during the height of the Festivals of India when the original artistes and craftsmen were exposed to the world, most of the time, it is professional actors and dancers who perform these and middlemen who sell the craft items. This takes away from the feel of the original thing, as you have pointed out. We indeed have come a full circle.

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  21. The opportunity to appreciating the art forms and crafts are not available for the younger generation. Luckily , in Telangana the Mahankali festival show cases many dance forms and traditional art , on the streets. This is only one such example. The “boom boom” bull comes around in our area , during Dussera and Sankranti.

    I used to look forward to Therukoothu,(street dancers), Poi Kaal Kudhirai ( wooden horse dances), and Katha Kalakshepams , in younger days, in Kanchipuram, during thsoe temple festival days. Now < I wonder whether they too do Jatkas and matkas.

    The disappearance of Saree and half saree, even from Down south, is amazing. I remembered the saree vendors coming on a monthly basis home , to sell them and collect money! For the weather prevailing in most of south India, saree is a comfortable attire. .

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    1. A festival showcasing folk art forms on the streets? That sounds so wonderful. I think other states and cities should follow suit. I guess these boom boom maadu still comes to some areas in big cities. Therukoothu is perhaps performed in AC halls these days. I remember seeing one when I was about 11, when we had gone to our native village in TN. The dummy horse dance used to be part of temple festivals. Wonder if they still have them, or it is only dancing to film music. Hey, the half sari has made a comeback as a designer wear. I forgot to add it, thanks for reminding me. Who bothers about suitability? it is all about fashion and being ‘with it.’

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  22. Very sad. Very sad indeed. This is my grouse against globalization. I had written a post on this a long time back.
    http://luciferhouseinc.blogspot.in/2009/11/is-flat-best-shape-for-world.html

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    1. Yes, globalisation is responsible for the demise of local culture. And marketing and branding make them more attractive. Perhaps it is time to brand our culture too and sell them from kiosks 😛 Would love to read your post.

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  23. Hi Zephyr

    I do remember seeing those street players as a kid….esp the snake charmer…Now as you said they are almost extinct….

    And some crafts were part of hobbies at home…like bamboo and jute baskets….My aunts were very good at that…..In fact, girls showed a lot of interest learning those….Today ‘feminism’ comes into picture and anything uttered as ‘it would be good if girls learnt that’ is chastised!

    I love wearing sarees and am 31….But I dont know how to wear 9 yards, something I am trying to learn….BUt most women of today consider saree as a sort of fancy-dress strictly worn on selected occasions…

    One thing is earlier when we had only Doordarshan, programs used to be telecast to promote folk arts and people used to watch it mainly as it was the only channel…These days with the innumerable channels blasting latest numbers from filmdom, such programmes have zero audience!

    Hope these arts and crafts are somehow saved from extinction!

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    1. LOL about the crafts practised by women being looked at askance by the ‘feminists’ for whom these things ring a bell of exploitation. For many it came naturally and for some it came with practice. For some like me, it didn’t come at all 😀 Nine yard saris are already part of festivals and weddings and the way things are going the normal sari is also going the same way! Come to think of it, DD did a lot of good in those days by way of promoting music, arts and culture. Today everything is globalised and uniform. I feel it is sad and that is when I am thankful for the designer arts — they are surviving at least that way!

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  24. Anything that is commercial, flashy, fast-lane and modern is far more welcome than something small-scale, simple, localised and relatively slow. You can apply this rule to music, dance, arts, crafts and whatever else you deem fit.
    It’s sad…
    Sometimes I wonder if these dying skills (of making the arts n crafts etc.) will last beyond a couple of generations………

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    1. When even the local folk give them up for the Munnis and Sheelas, then it is sad. If this is what they call progress and development, one wonders if one needs it. When these skills die out, they will be preserved in culture parks and museums. 😦

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  25. The sad part of it that jute bags and the like are now a rage in the States. So, when foreigners appreciate our workmanship and customs (for example, yoga) then it immediately becomes a rage in India but otherwise, it is left to languish!

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    1. So the idea is to export our folk arts and craft, right? 😀 That is the sad but true story, Roshni. As Anu has pointed out, things have come a full circle with mundane things assuming elitist status.

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  26. An enjoyable post bringing nostalgic memories of the fading arts.I was surprised when I saw street performers showing their skill opposite Quincey market in a crowded area in Boston.Even in Montreal such shows are there where watching public give coins.In Chennai they had this Sangamam, an annual affair, to encourage dying arts.

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    1. We need more Sangamams to keep all our arts alive and the performers should be rural folk, not actors or dancers. Only then can the flavour be captures. I have seen a cookery show where they show rural recipes to the accompaniment of folk songs in Tamil by this lady. I don’t know her name.

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  27. Even I noticed that my children are not interested in watching Street performers or ‘boom boom maadu’wala who predicts our future, in the morning, with a cow which is covered with clothes. They used to enjoy these when they were too small. The man who was coming every other day, is not visible nowadays. My husband used to give him twenty rupees and heard his predictions just for fun! As you say, now the children are exposed to more ‘exciting’ things in the TV by fair people. Our street performers are not clean people!

    Living in apartment means you are mostly cut off from the outside world, its ordinary people and filthy roads etc. They will not get the opportunity to watch poor people, how they work, how they try to survive etc. They are in their own worlds. Changes…are all of them for good?

    Jhatkas and matkas? How long will they stay as favorites? Hope we are able to see our crafts at least at the exclusive shops for another 50 to 60 years!

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    1. Oh boom boom maadu owners might be pulled up for cruelty to animals! But there are others, we used to call Kondamama, because they wear their hair in a knot on their heads, some sort of gypsies, who predicted the future for a few coins 🙂

      The fairs and melas are also giving way to the malls and the expos. So we are not able to take the kids to them either. But this generation of parents who have seen many of these folk art forms should make their children more aware of them, lest they don’t get to know about them at all. don’t worry, even if we Indians fail to keep them alive, foreigners would do it for us 😀

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  28. Absolutely right! Everything has become preservation, and all I see happening is we end up paying more for these goods. About sari, yes it is difficult for women of my generation to feel comfortable in it because we are not used to it. We were brought up wearing different garments and hence we never did take to it the same way as my mom or mil did. My mom used to crave wearing salwar kameezes because her own mom did not allow her to wear many :). I don’t see anything wrong in adopting a different attire for the sake of comfort and convenience. The other side of the coin is that we can’t keep something alive for the sake of keeping it alive; it must find its place in an evolving society. That is where the gharana, ghagra choli and sari are headed for the urban folk. Folk songs and dance don’t have too many takers among urban folks, so they are slowly losing their way out to filmy songs. And, at least if “the old wine in new bottle” promotes and keeps something alive then I am all for it. Traditional yoga has found many mutations today, but at least the ancient form stays alive. Fitness and health consciousness is rightly bringing back on emphasis on home cooked food, millets consumption, whole grains, walking, climbing steps, exercising etc. We need to promote dying arts. But who is this we? We can ask the government for it. But will they thrive if there are no takers? That’s the larger question!

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    1. The we, Rachna is us and as I have told in my reply to Jas, we can do minor changes in our lifestyles and consumption patterns to work them into our lives. That way we need not keep alive something for the sake of doing it. My DIL has this rule where she wears a sari or salwar kameez while going to the temple or doing puja. She says it makes her feel good and the rest of the time it is jeans, shorts, skirts and other garments. I think that is the kind of thing that can keep arts and crafts and culture alive without making an effort to do it.

      I can understand your mother’s yearning to wear salwar kameez. I did too and eventually wore it after marriage 🙂

      And the government has to do its bit to preserve these art forms, as had been done during the time of Rajiv Gandhi when the Festivals of India were all the rage in the mid 80s.

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      1. That we are doing, so I am in the clear ;-). Yes, I also wear saris for special occasions, festivals etc. I cook at home and take care of nutrition. I try to buy natural stuff for consumption. And, there came a time when mom was only wearing salwars ;-). Dad had no trouble at all. She had such amazing clothes!

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        1. I like what my DIL and you do. Have slots for things and still it is fine. Only when you give them up entirely as being old fashioned or impractical that the culture and arts begin dying. Till some foreigner rescues it, of course. As for your mom’s clothes, I bet your father must not even have been aware of her longing. If he had, he surely would have bought her those dresses earlier 😀

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  29. I noticed a kiosk in the mall with jute bags and when I inquired about the price, it was sky high. I wonder how much actually goes to the people who make it. The snake charmers are a thing of complete past now..I haven’t seen them from probably the last 15 years now and I regret that my son will never be able to if we keep changing at this pace. Don’t know if change is good or bad … may be a good balance where folk and old art is not forgotten.

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    1. What we can do is to at least preserve them in our homes in some way. Cook traditional stuff, secret recipes of the family, some rituals that emphasise our arts and crafts and culture — anything. These will help work them in our daily life and will become part of theirs one day. And yes, in the absence of anything better to preserve them, designer arts and crafts have to do.

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  30. Yes, things are changing, and perhaps they should change. However, at the same time, we should also know about our past. Folk art and crafts and dances are a part of our past. They can teach us a lot about the way our ancestors lived.

    When people say that we should ‘move on’, they are forgetting that not all ‘moving on’ is beneficial to us as individuals or as a society. Many of our traditional products, processes and arts are very eco-friendly. Such as using natural dyes for painting and cloth-weaving. Why not retain those? Or the jute bags you have mentioned.

    In the Mumbai suburb where we live,a ‘Vasudev’ comes singing down the street every few weeks. He dresses in a white tunic, salwar and pointy cap with peacock feathers, and sings traditional devotional songs. I am instantly transported to my childhood home where exactly such a Vasudev would sing in front of our house. My mother would make it a point to give him some money [he never actually asked for it though] and today, so do I.

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    1. As rightly observed by you, all moving on is not conducive to the society. We are then in danger of being a world which is shorn of colour and local culture, with everyone dressing, acting and eating the same way. And when traditional food disappears from the daily menu, the palate stops appreciating the flavour and taste and so they become ‘yucky’, just as the beautiful garment — the sari — has got relegated to the most shunned garment on the pretext of being unpractical for the fast lifestyles. Santosh Yadav, the Everest woman, told me how she can climb mountains in a sari 😀

      Some of the old street performers still somehow have survived, the Vasudev being one of them I am sure when you give him those coins, you feel a sense of satisfaction of keeping the art alive. But I am sure his kids must be going watching TV and dancing to Dabangg songs 😀

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  31. I guess with the passage of time the culture & pasttimes of one generation give way to different pursuits in the next.What we knew as children does not reflect in what engrosses our kids,but it would also not tally with how our parents grew up.The only constant in this world is -change.We feel very nostalgic about what we loved ,but is now disappearing.But it is inevitable.However as someone pointed out-it is our responsibility to keep our children connected to their roots-which is a daunting task considering the exposure they are submitted to.

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    1. Fair enough. change is inevitable and we do adapt to the changing lifestyles and even entertainment. But taking such things out of daily lives and making them fashion statements is just commericalisation, tha is not helping the artisans in any way as Latha has wondered. I liked Privy Trifles comment where she has said that she made an effort to learn about her own culture so that she could pass it on to her kids. Even showcased ones like the Global Village written about by Jyoti are fine, in this respect.

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  32. So right you are! There is this place called “Global Village” here, which showcases art and culture from various countries. Here they display dances, clothes, jewellery , dolls, drums, and so much more. They bring down artists from remote villages in India to perform at times. I have seen Rajasthani puppets there once. Bangles, Kashmiri Shawls, jute bags, et all and all of them exorbitantly priced! It is totally commercialised. But then, these are the only ways now in which we can make the children aware of the treasures that India possessed in the form of art and culture. Yes, these are dying off and like you said , I am thanking God for small mercies!

    I had written about Global Village and put up some pictures too recently. Do have a look. 🙂

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    1. It is good that they are bringing real rural dancers to the Global Village, else, they might even be training people in watered down versions and passing them off as the real ones! Craft bazaars in our cities do the same job and one only wonders how much of the profit percolates down to the creators of the items. That might make me feel like picking them up at least. Please give the link of your piece. I will read it 🙂

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        1. Read and commented 🙂

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  33. 🙂 You’re right. Funny thing is – it assumes greater charm and importance when someone outside India appreciates it – or when an Indian moves to a different country and suddenly realizes how precious our “culture” is.

    I loved that bit about climbing stairs becoming a fitness regimen! 🙂

    I have the privilege of having elders in the family – who marvel at all the repurposing going on. When they see a jute bag priced at 500 rupees, they pick it up and say, “shaaku thuni! aduku color pottu thetchu vikkarala?” The favorite is painted pots though 🙂

    All these go under the wonderful umbrella of “ethnic”

    Ah well, the times they’re a-changing. As long as things don’t’ become extinct, I suppose we should be grateful.

    Very enjoyable post!

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    1. Ah, thanks for reminding me of the word ethnic, which I have forgotten to use in the post 🙂 And yes, shaaku thuni is designer stuff today as are the clay pots which sold for a few rupees. We had worked all the arts, crafts, food and fitness stuff in our daily lives a couple of generations ago, when we still lived in houses in small towns and used the bicycle to commute. today we still can do much of the ‘preservation’ if we put our minds to it, but the demon of modern lifestyle is pulling us away. So I suppose we have to be content with the cultural czars who so kindly are preserving them in their well-appointed living rooms and lives.

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  34. A warning: This is going to be a big comment :P.
    I have been lucky to have seen most of what you have mentioned. And it amuses me many times; when I look at the ridiculously priced cottons or jute stuff. All I wish is, the people who make these stuff get a major share of the sky high prices charged.
    I remember playing gilli danda and seven stones before waiting for the school bus at the bus stop. And playing tops, donno what exactly you call them. It’s the modern day’s bey blade each costing almost a t-shirt price.
    One small example recently a friend told me in big surprise. They make this upma with buttermilk and it is a regular in their home. She watched it in a TV program where the TV crew go to each town and ask the participants to cook their special dish. My friend was surprised when this dish won the first prize in the state…
    So, the day is not very far when day to day items would be in museums 🙂 Good one BM.

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    1. The recipe anecdote is not at all surprising, Latha. In fact, after seeing all these traditional recipes getting 5-star status I was prompted to add it in the list of folk arts and craft in my post. 🙂 You belong to the generation of my brats and so have seen them and played the traditional games too. But being interested in them, you remember them too; I can’t say the same about them 🙂

      Maybe you should talk to Rushi about the things you enjoyed in your childhood and familiarise him with those.

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      1. One day recently, we both were driving alone and he asks me, amma tell me all that happened from your childhood till now…:) I think time for an auto-biography…:P

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        1. Why not? but when you do your autobiography, remember to fill it with all the fun you had with these things. Sometimes even things you didn’t like turn interesting when you look back at them.

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          1. Hmm..If I write one, half the people who knows me will have heart attack. Do you think I should be responsible for a such a big human massacre? 😉

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          2. That is a risk you have to take if you want to perpetuate your life story, isn’t it? 😀

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  35. thats the price we pay for progress…sometimes i feel confused as I read that change is inevitable and those who resist it are not progressive, but my heart always wants tp preserve our traditions and dresses and art as it is, but people say that if we dont accept their changed form, they will vanish completely…will that be better? dont know..

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    1. But today being progressive also means ‘protecting’ our culture, Renu 😀 What we do as a matter of course in our daily lives might be ignored but these progressive protectors get the kudos 🙂 I too wonder if anything in its changed form can actually be called traditional or just a fashion.

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  36. privytriflesvy Trifles · · Reply

    Very true- and yes it is a sorry state of affairs!

    I have grown up in a city other than my hometown because of which I am not much aware about my own traditions. But the city I have grown up I know everything about its culture, traditions and festivals. This sense of belonging took me back to my home town where I stayed for a long time just learn about the lineage I had behind me and today surprisingly I know things better than my own mother 😀

    Because I believe we have rich cultural heritage and tradition which our children deserve to see. If I have not witnessed it how can I tell them about it. Though I cannot guarantee their equal interest in this as mine, I can atleast make an attempt for my satisfaction!

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    1. That is the most wonderful thing to have done. I mean after learning about the culture of your adopted city to find out about your own culture. you are doubly blessed and I can only imagine how much you’d enrich the lives of kids — your own and those you touch 🙂 And age has nothing to with learning of things around us. I could join your mother in that category vis-a-vis you 😀

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  37. Arts/crafts or anything else for that matter should survive on their own. If we give special privilege for them and keep protecting them, they will stick to what they were and will not follow the natural process of evolution. Everything needs to change. The speed of change was slow earlier but now it is faster, that’s the difference.

    While certain things were amusing to the people of previous generations (primarily due to the lack of choices?), we can’t expect kids these days to enjoy them because they are exposed to many such things these days and are bound to select the ones that appeals to them the most.

    That said, in the name of modernity and choices, we are allowing our kids to either become addicted to certain things (like Cartoons, TV shows) or exposing them to unhealthy practices (fast food, soft drinks). It is our responsibility to select the traditional crafts/practices that are beneficial to them and expose our kids to those activities.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. That is a very interesting observation, DI and very true too. Not only do they not evolve, but also assume the identity of those promoting it, in addition to becoming commercialized. True there are many arts and craft that are appealing only to the earlier generations, but every generation should make an effort to familiarise the children with them before they go off daily life. Like the ‘boom boom maadu,’ that Sandhya has written about. In some years they would completely disappear. Crafts are different and it is easier to keep them alive on an individual basis.

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