A Festival Showcasing Music and Crafts of Bengal

Experimental theatre, folk music, kantha embroidery and shola pith crafts are some of the major attractions of this festival in mid-January
An enactment of Macbeth at Tepantar
An enactment of Macbeth at Tepantar

About 175 km by road from Kolkata is little known Satkahaniya village in Paschim Bardhaman district of West Bengal. Tucked in a corner of this village is Tepantar, a hub for performance arts run by a social welfare and cultural organisation, Banglanatak dot com, as part of their aim to foster inclusive and sustainable development using culture-based approaches. The organisation also works for protection of rights of women, children and indigenous people. At this self-sustained campus, group members practise farming, dairy and pisciculture, and are involved in experimenting with various kinds of performing arts.

Although Tepantar may be visited round the year, the Shakespeare Festival being organised by them (January 15 to 17, 2021) is a good opportunity to visit this theatre village, if you haven&rsquot been there. This theatre festival, where three groups will interpret William Shakespeare&rsquos plays in local context, is part of a larger festival called Ripples, being organised in collaboration with British Council India. 

Ripples Festival has been designed keeping in mind the UN's theme for 2021 - International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, according to the organisers. &ldquoRipples festival is a celebration of intangible cultural heritage of Rarh Bengal covering art and culture villages, to strengthen cultural tourism, benefitting artist communities of that belt,&rdquo explained Amitava Bhattacharya, Founder-Director, Banglanatak dot com. (The area between the Chhota Nagpur Plateau to the west and the Ganga to the east is known as Rarh.)

The showstopper will be the adaptation of the play &lsquoThe Tempest&rsquo fused with Bengal&rsquos little known martial folk art &lsquoRaibenshe&rsquo. The play is being directed by alternative theatre practitioner Parnab Mukherjee. The other plays adapted for performance are Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth.

Since the theatre performances will be held in the evening, you may explore the nearby crafts villages by day. Go souvenir hunting in Surul and Nanoor, 6 and 20km by road, respectively from Tepantar. And while there, you may also pick up the nuances of the craft from the artisans themselves.

Surul is home to the almost vanishing shola pith craft of Bengal. Although this eco-friendly plant was once widely used &ndash from making ornaments for the gods to the traditional headgears worn by Bengali brides and grooms &ndash it is now facing competition from the cheaper synthetic polystyrene (thermocol). You will be amazed to find the array of things the artisans are making to popularise this art once again, especially decorative products.

Women in Nanoor are experts in &lsquokantha&rsquo embroidery. This traditional quilting art is now used to make various products, from saris and dress material to bags and other household products.

Across the Ajay River from Tepantar is Kenduli village, about 20km by road. According to local people (but contested by others), the famous poet Joydea, author of Geeta Govindam, was born here. Every year, the Baul singers arrive here during Makar Sankranti to pay their respect to the poet. These singing minstrels from Bengal are a community by themselves and do not follow any prescribed religion. It is their ability to express complicated philosophical thoughts through commonplace similes and simple language, which makes them special. Unfortunately, owing to the pandemic situation, the fair, where night long performances take place, has been cancelled by the government. But if you are lucky you may find an impromptu performance or two taking place.

The festival&nbspwhich will be inaugurated on January 15, at Tepantar, has also arranged for webinars and online streaming of cultural performances and craft demonstrations by selected artists.

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