Orissa's Got Talent
on Cowboys and Indians (India), 25/Jan/2011 06:43, 34 days ago
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Normal0falsefalsefalseMicrosoftInternetExplorer4/* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;}A January evening in Koraput and the streets are densely packed with hordes of people all heading in one direction. The insistent sound of tribal music comes drifting over them, pulling them closer. On a hillside,‘PARAB’, the word for ‘festival’ in a local language, is picked out in lights. It feels like the circus is in town.But despite the vendors hawking toxic-looking candy floss and the Indian equivalent of mini-doughnuts, Parab has little in common with a British fairground. Its mixture of tribal dance, music, arts and crafts make it something unique to Orissa and the indigenous traditions that are preserved in the state’s villages.The festival itself is the culmination of a month-long series of events in schools, colleges and the local government areas known as‘Panchayats’. Almost a hundred-thousand people participated in various performances, with Parab as the finale and a platform for the very best performers. The result is a rich and diverse display of a shared cultural identity.The centrepiece of the festival is the display of Odissi dance, the local classical dance form which is quite staggeringly ancient. By examining sculptures and engravings, historians have identified the same dance being performed as far back as the 2ndcentury BC, presumably for a very early series of‘Orissa’s Got Talent’. Fortunately there was no pantomime panel of judges here; just huge models of a pair of tribal elders gazing down benevolently over the dancers and musicians.Stalls around the grounds demonstrated that the breadth of tribal culture extends far beyond the field of dance. Local artisans presented hundreds of terracotta statues and ornaments, intricately carved woodwork and hand-woven textiles produced on looms that date back centuries.Somewhat awkwardly juxtaposed with this traditional folk-craft were stalls run by some of the mega-corporations who today call Orissa home, such as theNational Aluminum Company and some of the many aerospace companies who build military jets here.In this sense, Parab is a microcosm of society in Orissa, a place where big factories and corporations set out their stalls alongside farmers and craftsmen. The challenge for development agencies and others here is how to balance the encroachment of the outside world, and the much-needed investment and relatively lucrative employment that it brings with it, with the fragile value of the region’s tribal heritage.Rajesh Prabhakar Patil, writing in‘The New Indian Express’, tapped into this debate and expressed a view that I’ve heard repeated by many locals in Koraput – that in a world of transient pop fads the longevity of Orissa’s indigenous culture is a welcome link to a simpler time. India as a whole may well be emerging as a growing market for the latest technological toys and gadgets, but many people here are more concerned with ensuring that they don’t lose sight of what it is that makes their culture unique. They are fiercely proud of their heritage.The very existence of Parab is evidence that the people of Orissa know that their ancient tribal culture is something worth protecting and celebrating. As Rajesh Prabhakar Patil writes:“There won’t be any development in the true sense sans cultural inputs.”