Tribune News Service
Amritsar, November 18
The once popular folk artiste community of Bhands and Marasis is today on the edge of hanging their boots forever. The reason: no takers for the traditional stand up act and lack of revival opportunities. The unique performing art of Punjab, which began as a social commentary and later, brought a mix of folk singing, mimicry and theatre, today stares at extinction.
“Four years ago, the Sangeet Natak Academy headed an initiative to revive the community through collaborative efforts under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage projects in India. But after the initial documentation process, the project itself fell in a limbo and still awaits its revival. It has really affected revival hopes of the community,” said theatre director Rajender Singh, who is also the project co-ordinator for the initiative.
He had worked along with his wife Amita Sharma on the documentation and identification of clusters of the Bhand and Marasi community in Punjab. “There are 15-16 active clusters of the folk artiste community in Jallandhar, Ludhiana and Amritsar. Punjab has roughly 12 lakh members of the Bhand and Marasi community, who are pursuing the art form alternately while working as labours for survival. We had managed to document and record some of these active groups with a promise of getting their performances done through theatre productions. But, lack of funding is a big challenge,” he added.
Rajender has produced two successful theatre productions featuring Bhand and Marasi artistes. Live concerts of the community artistes were organised in New Delhi, Azamgarh in UP and Silchar in Assam under Sangeet Natak Academy’s festival banner. He has been working with a few active groups from Verka and Ramdass. But the community needs intensive rehabilitation, he said.
“In Verka, which was a hub of the Bhand community, there are a few families who still pursue the art form. The community in Sultanwind lives in a slum area, forced to beg or work as labours earn their bread. Similarly, Ramdass too has active folk artists groups from the community, but there is no work. The tradition started by Bhai Mardana is being followed by artists of this community, but they are not treated with respect. They belong to the Meerzada caste and even the Doom community belongs to the upper caste contrary to the belief. The irony is that they cannot avail welfare schemes meant for reserved castes and are forced to live in poverty.” He said there was a need to revive them through social as well as government push.
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