Lokrang Utsav- Bhopal, 2019:
There are a lot of things, be it books, places or events that I would like to discuss on this blog. So, while planning for the posts for new year, I decided to begin it by one of the most unique events that is organized in Bhopal.
Technically it is also the beginning of many other cultural events that take place year-round. It’s called the Lokrang Utsav. And in 2019 it has entered its 34th year.
Background of the Festival:
Madhya Pradesh is primarily a land of forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. It is also primarily a land of forest dwellers or tribal population. They have their own distinctive arts, culture, rituals and of course celebrations. And the best way to celebrate, as anywhere in India, is through songs and dance. And to rejoice and keep alive this tradition of tribal dances, festivals and culture the Madhya Pradesh Adivasi Lok Kala Evam Boli Vikas Academy organizes the Lokrang Utsav in Bhopal.
A five day extravaganza:
Lokrang Utsav- Bhopal is one of its kind celebration. Its purpose is to remember all the unique traditions of tribal and folk people across India. It also aims to keep this dying diversity of local tribal culture, folk and traditional art alive and help it thrive.
The Lokrang Utsav, Bhopal goes on for 5 days, beginning 26th January each year. Every night, cultural programmes are presented by tribal, folk and traditional artists from across India. Apart from that, it also features some performances by traditional/ folk artists from other countries.
Every year the Lokrang has a theme, based on which a gallery, either of photographs or tribal arts and curios is displayed. There is also an array of traditional handicrafts, hand-looms on sale that are brought in by the artisans and traders.
Finally, any such celebration cannot just be complete without food. The food court with traditional/ local foods of different culture and states is, obviously, a major attraction. And I believe the population of Bhopal visiting the carnival on any given day doesn’t prepare their dinner that night.
I had it all planned. Five days- several different events, songs, dance, and what not. I will visit each day. I will report all the programmes the next day. Perhaps give a lot of insight into the artists and artisans that come here. Oh! that was so ambitious.
But that never happened. I could manage but one day, rather a few hours. All my plans went kaput. You see for the last few days the entire Madhya Pradesh has been in the grip of sever cold wave. And the one day I went I too was gripped by severe cough and cold wave.
But since I have decided to begin the new year’s post (the last one was guest post) with coverage of Lokrang Utsav, Bhopal- then Lokrang Utsav it will be. Doesn’t matter how few things I have or that some of the data is based on newspaper reports.
The papers said that the opening cultural programme was a presentation of Ramayan as performed by Gond Tribe- called Gond Ramayani. Here, Laxman takes centre stage and the story revolves around his heroism and his love and sacrifice for his brother and family. I so wanted to see this.
Anyway, the thing is the description reminded me of “Panchvati”- a poem by the great Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt. “Panchavati” has Laxman as the central character and his thoughts and dialogues with Shurpankha form the core. In case you haven’t read Panchvati you might remember a few lines. I am sure these were generally taught as an example of Anupras Alankar in Hindi grammar class: “Charu Chandra Ki Chanchal Kiranen”
Another thing it reminded me of was the Laxman Fort and Laxman Temple inside the Bandhavgarh Forest Reserve. I had visited it about 9 years back. Now, however, I do not think tourists are allowed up here. The guide said the here Laxman is considered the king and/ or God. I am not sure. You know he might have been a good forest guide but on other things, I cannot say.
That was my day or rather evening of visit. And I am trying to make as much as I can out of this short visit. I will explain the main layout of Lokrang here, as succinctly as possible.
Main Layout of Lokrang Utsav:
The Lokrang Utsav, opens at 2 P.M. each day and goes on till the cultural programmes take place. The main cultural programmes begin usually at 7 P.M. But the folk artists from many different parts keep performing a dance or two for visitors separately too.
Then there is a theme on which an exhibition is based. Like, a couple of years back the theme was bamboo. And an exhibition of the bamboo articles by different tribes across India were presented. This year the exhibition was based on celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth year. And the main theme was Gandhiji’s connection and his visits to Madhya Pradesh.
Stalls with folk and traditional arts, curious etc. are a major attraction. This year these were really limited. The reason being that each year local businessmen used to take products from real artisans and sell them at the Lokrang Utsav, Bhopal. But this year the organizers adopted a strict approach, so that the benefit of this event reached the right people.
For this, organizers visited the house or places of each applicant. This was to ensure that the applicant is actually what he claims to be and in fact also doing the handicraft/ handloom work at their place. Thus, only the real artisans were selected and provided two way fare/ tickets for the festival.
What’s on sale:
The rates at some stalls were a tad higher frankly speaking. I felt that people visiting the Lokrang Utsav are interested in promoting the folk and traditional arts. However, the prices sometimes on even simple products hinder them. You see one has to buy a variety of things from the fest and obviously would not want to spend most of their money on a single artifact. A 50 to 100 Rs. less and it makes all the difference. If the sellers realise this, then they would see their sales going up.
For instance, I want to buy two types of Gujrati and one type of Rajasthani shawl for variety. If the artisans were to just lower their charges by, say, Rs. 100 each then I will definitely be tempted, and so will be many others. That way these people will probably go back with lot lesser burden of inventory.
And talking of shawls, there was Pashmina on sale too. The Semi and pure Pashminas on sale here roughly cost between Rs. 8,000/- to Rs. 16,000/-. Therefore, here the argument of lowering by a 100 rs. or so does not apply. It simply does not matter. Besides, I don’t think I will ever buy a semi- Pashmina, let alone pure Pashmina. Even if I somehow do, I don’t think it will make me feel cosy. Its prize will keep sending chills every time I wear it. That said, pure Pashmina was really beautiful and so desirable.
Some handicrafts on sale:
This terracotta house is what we bought, it’s really cute:
There were some books on sale too:
Besides there was a hand-loom machine on display. And there were a couple of charkhas (Spinning wheels). I wanted to take a snap of these. But people were so eager to have their snaps taken weaving the khadi, (if it was khadi thread) that there seemed little chance. Speaking of photographs there was one pleasant surprise in store. I did not see people taking selfies. Really. People were looking at things displayed instead of their front cameras. But that could have been because the organizers, with lot of foresight, had provided a separate selfie booth made of threads.
Some more handicrafts- for your eyes only:
There were few other stalls having objects with finest artisan-ship and obviously highest prices. The stall people it seemed knew that most of the visitors will not actually buy things. But just the same. The workmanship is so wonderful. There should be more ways to preserve these art forms. One of this is called Kharaad work and it’s done on wood. Look at the shine and finish:
The other one, it’s picture I couldn’t get, is on brass. The artists take antique or old brass objects, oxidize it and make intricate carvings on them, using hand tools . The price of even the smallest, tiniest tit-bit (for storing diamonds) was around Rs. 1,400/-. There was nothing lower than 1,000/- and generally most of the items crossed 15,000/-. This work takes place in Khajuraho. The stall owner too knew that there would hardly be many real buyers. Hence his attitude was sort of lackluster.
The main attraction of Lokrang Utsav- Cultural Events:
Now coming to the main thing, the cultural programmes. As said above, the artists from different regions keep performing small shows all day long. The main events however start in the evening, around 7 P.M. Apart from folk artists from different regions of India one programme each day is dedicated to folk/ traditional performances from other countries, called Deshantar. This year Deshantar was marked by performances by Russian band and folk dances from Iran & Algeria.
Day 2 programmes:
The main programmes that I saw were a Pandavani Gayan by folk artist Ritu Verma. I had seen her on T.V. quite a few times. This was the first time live. The other one was a folk dance of Baiga Tribes of M.P. Now there is something very interesting thing about this dance. As the announcer said this dance called- Ghoda Pithai is a form of Karma Dance of Baiga Tribe. It’s performed by young girls and boys of marriageable age, at 12 O’ clock- that’s midnight- not noon. And it’s through this dance they can choose their life-partner. What a unique method. These tribes and folk-people it sometimes seem were much free and open.
Another one form Orissa, too, had it’s own speciality. The group danced, climbed on top of each other, made complex formations and they did this all while holding and blowing two Shankh’s (Conches) in their hands.
After this. I don’t know. Though a part of me said to sit for some more time, another part kept reminding the cosy comfort of quilt. Another part won.
And between all this I did not even have time to visit and taste some of the traditional food at the food court.
The days that followed:
As for the other days I can report only what the papers say. Like, a Manganiyar or Bundeli Gayan, Aalha Gayan, a dance from folk artists of Manipur etc., were held over the next couple of days. The 5 day Lokrang Utsav concluded by Sufi song performance by Hans Raj Hans. Now this I was quite keen to go. I was curious to find how the man I know for “Dil tote tote ho gaya” or “Dil le gayi Chorni” sounded in a Sufi song. But maybe some other time.
Before signing off:
That was all for this year’s Lokrang Utsav- Bhopal. Maybe next year I can achieve the target of daily reporting. But that’s too far from now. For now I can only manage a couple of short videos of the dances from Orissi and Baiga folk artists: