The festival, titled “Veethi Virudhu Vizha (The Street Award Ceremony)” in its ninth year, has provided a platform for Dalit and other marginalized artists to showcase their art forms that are considered defunct by the mainstream, and honour these artists by presenting them with a memento & certificate, and provide a monetary award to senior artists.
Shalini S | TwoCircles.net
CHENNAI – The capital city of Tamil Nadu will host and honour folk artists from Dalit and other marginalized communities in a 2-days festival on January 2-3, 2022. The festival, titled “Veethi Virudhu Vizha (The Street Award Ceremony)” in its ninth year, has provided a platform for Dalit and other marginalized artists to showcase their art forms that are considered defunct by the mainstream, and honour these artists by presenting them with a memento & certificate, and provide a monetary award to senior artists.
The award ceremony is hosted in Loyola College by Alternative Media Center (AMC) for showcasing and creating awareness about the traditional folk art forms in Tamil Nadu. Veethi Virudhu Vizha is a brainchild of AMC, a media centre that caters to marginalized folk artists all over the state.
Artists are set to perform over 140 different art forms like Maattukombu Attam, Karagattam, Kavadiattam, Paraiattam, Sattaikuchi Attam, Oyilattam, Kondathattam, Adhivasiattam, etc,.
AMC in collaboration with Illam Thedi Kalvi and Loyola College has scheduled the event for the 2nd and 3rd of January. Illam Thedi Kalvi (Education at Doorstep) is a pilot project initiated by the government of Tamil Nadu during the Covid-19 pandemic to provide after-school lessons for students of classes 1-8 in rural areas.
Dr Kaleeswaran, the founder of AMC and coordinator of the Arts and Literary Unit, Loyola College, has managed to provide a platform for these artists inside the college campus. He has also helped 4,000 traditional folk artists to volunteer themselves in the Illam Thedi Kalvi scheme as tutors to inculcate the knowledge of folk arts among students, and the artists will also receive incentives for volunteering.
“In its first year in 2013, Veethi Virudhu Vizha was conducted in a marriage hall and around 500 artists participated. This year we are planning to host 10,000 traditional folk artists across Tamil Nadu,” said Dr Kaleeswaran.
Dr Kaleeswaran emphasized that folk arts, especially the percussion family of instruments made out of calfskin or cowhide, when played are danced most often by Dalits as their everyday sustenance depends on negotiation with caste and oppression.
The caste system in India has long ensured a monopolized hereditary of occupations to sustain the status quo and the interventions made by Dravidian ideologues in Tamil Nadu to the music and cultural atmosphere through the Tamil Isai (music) movement in the 1940s did nothing to the exclusivity of Dalits from the mainstream. And for the same reason, Dr Kaleeswran believes that a congregation of traditional folk artists is the need of the hour followed by the lockdown.
This year’s theme “Peridaraal Izhantha Kalaiyai….Penikkaappom (let’s preserve the art that’s hindered by calamity)” focuses on bringing out the struggles of the folk artists in Covid and their loss of livelihood and education.
The second day of the event has always been an important one since the artists’ parade from Valluvar Kottam to Loyola College, decked with makeup and artistic attires and setting out their unmet demands. Their major demand is to include a traditional folk artist in the judging committee of Kalamamani award, given by the Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram (literature, music and theatre), a unit of the Directorate of Art and Culture, the highest civilian award in the state of Tamil Nadu; to appoint a separate minister in the cabinet to handle the matters of art and culture, and to appoint two different chairmen for the Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram and Directorate of Arts and Culture for better efficiency – presently both the committee is headed by Vagai Chandrasekar, the television actor and politician.
Dr Kaleeswaran said that “there are nearly 7 lakh traditional folk artists in Tamil Nadu and only 45,000 of them have been officially registered. The rest of them cannot avail of any government provisions or the ex gratia provided during the lockdown. Even then, during the lockdown, the government did not provide any monetary support to senior artists as they are already receiving a pension.”
AMC is also trying its utmost to raise Rs. 30 lakh rupees to conduct the event. Sandhya along with her friends, who are under the mentorship of Dr Kaleeswaran takes to different streets in Chennai by dusk to raise money for the event.
“In some areas like Vadapalani, Porur and Chinamaya Nagar, people are aware that we do this every year and donate at least 50 rupees. In a few areas, people are affected by the lockdown too, so they openly curse us for asking for money when they need it as well,” says Sandhya.
Sandhya, orphaned at a very young age, was sheltered by Agram, an educational foundation run by Tamil film actor Surya. She got introduced to Dr Kaleeswaran in 2016 as he used to engage in after-school lessons in Agram, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. She is preparing for civil service exams. “I have known Kaleeswaran Iyya for the last 3 years and I know the amount of consciousness this Vizha has brought among the youth.”
Additionally, this year, Veethi Viruthu Vizha is also providing monetary support to the artists’ families who have faced deaths due to Covid-19, and to the families who lost their relatives to suicide due to severe financial constraints in lockdown.
A 76-year-old veteran folk artist, Natrajan, from Trichy lost his wife Mangalam to Covid-19. “She received the prestigious Kalamamani award only this year in June after a long battle, but death is inevitable. She couldn’t escape it,” said Natrajan. He is overwhelmed by the sense of belonging this event brings to every artist.
Post Script: To sponsor or support the event, one can contact Dr Kaleeswaran here: 9094799688.
Shalini S is a SEED-Fellow with TwoCircles.net. She tweets at @_Shalini_Nathan.