Challenge of keeping alive a dying culture in Bundelkhand

Challenge of keeping alive a dying culture in Bundelkhand

Umesh Vaidya (Extreme right) performing Mauniya dance at a public function.In this parched land of Bundelkhand, life is hard. The farmers here, from various castes and communities, toil to raise their crops as the Rain god rarely showers benevolence on them. But that does not deter them from being culturally vibrant, with their own forms of Bundelkhandi dance and art keeping their community spirit alive.

Threat to culture

Like many other cultural forms across the world, here too the communities realise a threat to their cultures slowly vanishing with the growth of modern forms of entertainment  including television, soap operas and films.

However Umesh Vaidya was not one to silently watch this happening to his own community’s culture. As the first graduate of his village of Chuhra– in his 40s , which is less than 50 km from district headquarters Sagar speaks volumes about the backwardness of the region – did what he could do best. And that was to form an organisation to keep alive the unique dance forms of the Bundelkhand, called Mauniya.

Now, several years after Vaidya, a  B.Sc agriculture graduate, created he Vasundhara Lok Kala Sansthan. It provided a platform  for, villagers to gather every Saturday afternoon below the village banyan tree to practice and perform their dance, to the accompaniment of musical instruments.

There is no incentive from anyone for the villagers to do so. Instead,  participants spend money from their pockets to keep the programe going. As Vaidya says, “After we found that it is  difficult for these villagers to spare even Rs ten a month to run the organisation, we decided that all of us associated with the Sansthan would donate five kg of crop every harvest season to meet  expenses. Of course, it is virtually nothing in these days of rising costs, but we  do it not for money, but the love of our culture.”

No incentive for performers

The incentive for performers is  public appreciation after a show. The only problem being their colourful and energetic dance form is still confined to Madhya Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh; unknown elsewhere.

“We perform wherever we are invited but our dance is not yet known in places where there are lot of cultural activities, like Delhi,” says Vaidya, who formed the institute after realising during his college days that their dance form was quite different from other commonly-known Bundelkhandi dance forms like Badhai, Baredi and Dimaryai.

Incidentally, for most performances, the institute’s dancers are paid in grains, and not money, which has led to the idea of setting up a grain bank to help meet its running costs.

The institute, which now attracts youngsters from nearby areas too, has several signature shows including silent skits called “Mauni Tamasha”, probably inspired from Mauniya itself. This has earned Vaidya the sobriquet of “Bundelkhand’s Charlie Chaplin”, but the institute’s core task is to preserve, practice and promote Mauniya. “It is a dance form that is performed to celebrate Govardhan Puja during Deepawali, the festival of lights. The performer early in the morning passes underneath a calf, vowing to remain silent till he visits 12 villages, returns to his village in the evening to again pass underneath the calf before sunset and then dances in gay abandon in praise of Lord Krishna,” explains Vaidya, who seems to command enough respect in the area for his commitment towards the cause of protecting its culture.

What has also added to the lustre of the institute that it has been able to break, to some extent, the caste barriers in this highly  caste-conscious region, with people from various castes performing together to keep their culture alive.

“We believe that this dance form was practised by Lord Krishna himself, and is a way for mortal human beings to connect with him,” says Vaidya. He explains that the dance is accompanied by performances of instruments like Nagadia, Khajri, Dholkar, Algoza, Taar, Lota and Ramtula. “It reflects an agrarian way of life while bringing alive mankind’s relationship with nature in a positive way,” he says.

The institute is trying to attract youngsters towards this dying art form by attempting to teach them both about the dance form and silent skits, which, as Vaidya points out, “has been developed as mime elsewhere”.

Social themes

The institute’s troupe picks up relevant social themes and presents them in a satirical way in their “Mauni Tamasha” . It acts alongside Mauniya performances to create social awareness about various issues. This  small institute in a remote village strives hard to keep the local culture alive. But what probably it needs is proper exposure and enough patronage to make the lives of participant farmers easier. It would relieve  them of the twin burdens of their fields and culture together.

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