Raipur: Show-stopping performances, live music and traditional arts and crafts marked the annual National Tribal Dance Festival, held in Chhattisgarh between 28 and 30 October. After a one-year hiatus owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the annual festival was back in full swing this year, at Raipur’s Science College ground.
The three-day event included performances by tribal dancers from 27 Indian states and six union territories. National teams competed for the top three positions with prizes worth Rs 5 lakh, Rs 3 lakh and Rs 2 lakh, respectively. The competition was in two categories — wedding dance and a traditional dance themed around harvesting or agriculture.
Team Jharkhand won in both categories, winning cash prizes totaling Rs 10 lakh. Team Odisha was the runner-up in both categories, while Team Assam won the third slot in the wedding dance category and Team Chhattisgarh won the third position in the traditional dance category.
Some of the highlights of the three-day event included folk dances from states like Telangana — Koya — a dance form in which men wear horned crowns and beat on drums, while women wear brass crowns and strike the ground with sticks, and Tripura’s Hojagiri dance — in which women dance while balancing earthen lamps on their heads.
The festival also featured performers from seven other countries — Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Mali, Sri Lanka, the Kingdom of Eswatini (Swaziland), Palestine and Uganda. Over a thousand performers participated in the event.
The festival was attended by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, as well as Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi, as special guests.
During his address on the last day of the event, Baghel said: “We cannot develop, we cannot move forward, without taking adivasis along with us.”
Foreign performers praise festival, people of Chattisgarh
The festival also saw unique performances by foreign participants. Team Palestine for example, comprising girls aged between 16 and 17 years — students of secondary school — performed a folk dance known as dabke. Many foreign performers also spoke highly of the reception at the festival and expressed interest in returning next year.
“It’s so amazing for us to be here. From the very first day, the reception has been wonderful. The people of Chhattisgarh are so wonderful,” Benjamin Leo, a performer in Team Nigeria, told ThePrint after his group provided a high-energy dance using traditional instruments like shekeres (shakers) and Sakara drums.
Vijitha Mohandas, group leader of Team Sri Lanka, said: “Never have we experienced this kind of crowd before. We’ve come here and forgotten all about Sri Lanka!” Dressed in blue and silver costumes and glittery veils, the Sri Lankan team danced with bowls of harvest balanced on their heads.
Festival attracts families, school kids, others
An initiative of the Chhattisgarh Tourism Board, the first National Tribal Dance Festival was held in 2019. This year’s event was clubbed with Chattisgarh’s Rajyotsava (state foundation day), giving visitors the opportunity to explore tribal-inspired fashion exhibits, tribal cuisine at food stalls and a craft market selling local handicrafts.
Some stalls also showcased hand-made tribal furniture made purely from bamboo.
People from all walks of life flocked to the festival, and the crowd comprised families, college kids, couples, school children and even residents of a nearby transgender shelter home called Garima Greh.
“We’ve come here to watch and give respect to tribal culture. Among us are some from the shelter who have been studying for exams, so this is a nice break for them,” Vidya Rajput, a transgender rights activist who had brought 15 residents from the home to the festival, told ThePrint.
Visitors were also relieved to step out after experiencing extended lockdowns during the pandemic. Chhattisgarh experienced a severe Covid wave in April but its daily case tally has since reduced, recoveries have increased and the number of fresh deaths was nil on 25 October.
Precautions were, however, urged by the organisers and visitors were consistently reminded to wear masks and maintain social distancing throughout the event.
“We’ve finally got a chance to come out of our houses. Who knows if another wave [of Covid] hits,” electrician Nileshwar Sagar Soni, who came to the festival with his wife and son, told ThePrint.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)