Crouching tiger at ethnic Indian art mart

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Thursday, October 28, 2010

NEW DELHI - The venue is one of India’s largest crafts fairs and crouching in its little nooks and crannies is the tiger, at least that’s the idea. The cause of the big cat has been taken up by traditional artists this time.

A tiger theme shop at the 10-day Dastkar Nature Bazaar captures the essence of the Oct 21-31 fair with its display of tiger-related handicrafts and textiles chosen from nearly 200 vends dotting the sprawling lawns of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

“The Dastkar Nature Bazaar began in the capital 17 years ago with environmentalist and tiger expert Valmik Thapar planting the idea that craftspeople should go back to nature as a source of inspiration. Since then, the nature bazar has been an annual feature with a special theme every year,” said crafts activist Layla Tyabji, chairperson of Dastkar.

This year, craftspeople and performers have ideated on tiger, interpreted their products to raise awareness about conservation of tigers and narrate stories about tiger and nature, Tyabji said.

The 18th edition of the rural and traditional crafts showcase has brought together 200 organisations and crafts people from 18 states across India. The fair earlier used to be held at Dilli Haat.

Dastkar, which has worked for more than 29 years in the crafts sector and has an outreach in over 18 states, offers support services to artisans that include skill training, design and product development.

The overflowing crafts bazaar resembles a live save-the-tiger campaign.

Dozens of “Bhule Bisre Behurupia impersonators” from eastern India, dressed as tigers, mingled with the crowd in a riot of acts and colours.

The Behurupia are the traditional chameleon performers, who are disguised as the characters they play. They change their disguise frequently in the course of performance.

The stage adjoining the fair was taken over the masked Bagh Nritya and Pashu Mukhutiya performers from Orissa - whose 30-minute act was woven around the theme, “save the tigers, the forests will live, if you save the jungles then you will live, and you live, the tiger-goddess will live in your hearts”.

Narayan Maharana, the president of the Ganjam Kalakar Mahasangh, a government-aided organisation which is reviving the folk dances of Orissa, says: “The traditional animal and tiger dance has changed over the years”.

“In the 17th century, under the reign the poet-king Upendra Bhanja in Ganjam, the ‘bagh nritya’ was an invocation rite performed to appease the tiger goddess who was said to pre-empt attacks by tigers.

“The dense forest of Ganjam district was a thriving tiger habitat and villagers were the target of attacks by tigers,” Maharana told IANS.

Over the years, the trees have disappeared and the forest cover has shrunk.

“Tigers are under threat in their habitats because of an intense man-animal conflict. The tiger goddess, in whose honour the dance is performed, has also changed her message,” Maharana said.

“The goddess now campaigns to save the tigers. She orders her worshipers to foster man-animal amity and protect the forest,” the folk dancer said.

All the ethnic performing art showcases and interactive demonstrations like the kalarippayattu martial art, dhol cholam, thang-ta, puppet shows and rope tricks in the last 10 days have been using tiger conservation as their theme.

Charcoal artist Navratan Gautam of the Ranthambore School of Art, who is exhibiting his tiger art at the nature bazaar, says “visual art is a potent tool to raise awareness about tiger conservation”.

The pioneer of the charcoal tiger on paper, Gautam’s art is a replica of life in the wild.

“Our tigers have a three-dimensional life-like quality,” Gautam, one of the 17 founder artists of the Ranthambore School of Art, specialising in tiger art since 1992, told IANS.

Jagatram Dewangan, a Chhattisgarh-based artisan, who crafts household accessories from gourd shells and bamboo, said “tiger is part of the consciousness” that drives his craft.

“We source our raw material from the forests - the natural home of the tiger. It is all a part of the greater ethos of nature and tiger conservation,” the artisan said.

India’s tiger population is believed to have dwindled to a little over 1,400.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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