Tamil Nadu’s folk art suffers amidst lockdown


Artistes’ source of income has dried up, and they don’t know how to put up performances on digital platforms.

Shoby Krishna G

Sivakasi: Artistes performing various folk forms in Tamil Nadu are distressed at the loss of their livelihood due to lockdown imposed to curb Covid-19 spread.

G Balakrishnan, from a village called Kallamanayakkarpatti near Virudhunagar, said: “There are nine members in my group including me. I have been playing the… nadaswaram for 25 years. Apart from me, there are other people who play instruments like thavil (a barrel-shaped percussion instrument), pambai and urumi (drums) and thalam (cymbals). Usually, we perform at temple festivals and marriages. We have also performed in other states, like Kerala, and for television channels.”

March, April and May are the busiest months for Balakrishnan and his troupe. “We perform almost every day in functions. But this year, due to the lockdown, all of them have been cancelled. This leaves all members of the group without an income. We are managing with grains from a ration shop. I don’t know any other profession as my father was also doing the same work. I have a daughter who is a PUC student. I don’t know how I will manage to pay fees for my daughter when she joins college after this situation is over.”

The instruments mentioned by Balakrishnan are indispensable in temple functions, car festivals and Hindu marriages in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

M Anbarasan, owner of Anbu Gramiya Kalai Kuzhu (Anbu Folk Arts Group) from Kappur village near Villupuram, shared: “Though I am a teacher in a private school, my troupe is my passion. I have 12 years of experience in learning these art forms, and started this troupe two years ago with 15 members who perform forms like Parai attam, Oyilattam, Karagam, Mayil attam etc.” (In Tamil, ‘attam’ means dance.)

He explained: “Folk artistes always perform as a group, which means that social distancing will not be possible. Even after the lockdown, it will be difficult for artistes to go out on streets and perform.”

Anbarasan rued that recognition for folk artistes does not translate into a profitable income as they get a pay of Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 after they perform at a function.

A Sundaramoorthy, owner of another folk arts group, Aata Surangam from Abhishekapakkam village near Puducherry, said: “These months are usually our busiest as there is the Chithirai (Tamil New Year) festival, marriages and village festivals. We don’t play in houses where people have died. All programmes have been cancelled now. The members of my group don’t have even the Rs 1,000 that they used to get for performing at functions. We feel helpless as we don’t have any alternative source of income.”

Vanitha Devaraju, a guest lecturer in Arignar Anna Government Arts College, Villupuram, is an avid folk arts admirer. She said: “For artistes who have consistently performed with passion, this lockdown will have a psychological impact as they are not able to perform anymore. Folk art is a real reflection of our tradition. Artistes have to earn and sustain themselves. Hence, the economic impact is going to take a major toll on them.”

While major artistes and bands have performing live through social media, and some are even teaching through the Zoom app, none of the folk artistes this reporter spoke to had any idea about how to put up their performances on digital media like YouTube.

Dr K R Raja Ravi Varma, head of the performing arts department, Pondicherry University, said: “Usually, this is the peak performing season for folk artistes. But now their livelihood is in question due to the lockdown. These artistes, unfortunately, do not have enough awareness about taking online performance classes or engaging with the digital audience. They know only how to use WhatsApp.”

“Consuming hooch is part of their ritual before performing. It would be good if media and other platforms engaged such artistes. This will ensure their creativity is sustained.”

To support folk artistes, the Tamil Nadu government launched a security & welfare scheme in 2007. The scheme provides registration, pension and funeral assistance to folk artistes. In October 2019, it was reported that the government had issued an order for financial assistance for marriage, education and prenatal care for folk artistes and their wards.

Picture credit- Tamilarasu


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