by Sajitha Madathil on Monday, March 11, 2013
- Performing Arts and Music
- Session type
- Technical level
Through my personal experience as an artist and as a research scholar on gender and performance I always felt that studies of the performing arts of Kerala completely ignored the presence of the female artist, although the art forms are well known for their female characters. There were a lot of studies that happened to look at how the social movements and women’s position has changed in kerala society but there were no much studies on how this new social movement is reflected in kerala performing art forms. I consider this project as a premiere work to understand the relationship between the female artist and art forms especially in terms of their ideological and aesthetic investments. Here my project is trying to understand women intervention in kerala performing art forms with contemporary consciousness for that I selected, "Singari Melam", a percussion ensemble
"Panjha Vadhyam","Panjarimelam",or "Thayambaka" were considered to be known traditional percussion ensembles of Kerala. "Singarimelam" is comparatively new, and it is different in its presentation. Movements along with percussion and high level rhythms are made this performing art different from other traditional forms in that category. But traditional percussion artist never consider "Singarimelam" as a serious category, but it has its own charm to move the audience. Throughout these years all kerala percussion instruments are handled by men. Women never touch these instruments, "Chenda" women players may be count in fingers till 1990’s. But now each women "singari melam" groups own 15 "chenda"’s along with Thalam. They are perusing these performances with lot of struggle within the community. It is interesting to know how they got this idea of forming a performing art group?, where they got this energy to perform? These questions lead to the story of women empowerment after being part of government programme. Story started with the formation of Kerala women’s self-help network called "Kudumbasree". It has launched by the Government of Kerala in 1998 for wiping out absolute poverty from the State through concerted community action under the leadership of Local Self Governments. "Kudumbashree" is addressing the basic needs of the less privileged women, thus providing them a more dignified life and a better future and art was not in their priority. The programme claims that it covers more than 50% of the households in Kerala. 38 lakhs of women are part of "Kudumbasree". It is originally started as microfinance-led financial security model; very soon it became a comprehensive model of local economic development and participatory mechanism for women’s empowerment. Some of the thrust areas are Food Processing, Dairy Products, IT, and Bio technology. They do try several enterprises related to ethnic delicacies, tender coconuts and products, agriculture nurseries, soap making units, remedial education centers, paper bag making, integrated coconut processing (Kerashree), tissue culture, yathrashree (chain hotels),courier services and direct marketing. Latha from Kottayam district talks about her experience behind the formation of "Sinarimelam" was like this…"I was part of Neighborhood committee of "Kudumbasree". We tried lot of enterprise, Cake, Chips, some traditional snakes, soap etc..Market was very dull.We were looking something interesting...I was very much interested in dance. After marriage and financial difficulties I migrated to Dubai. Worked there as house maid. When I am returned to Kerala, "Kudumbasree" gave me a space to meet other ladies at my level. It was big fun to work together. when we all meet we do lot of singing sessions. That led us to think about something to do for some fun and also earn money., thought about Drill Band, latter decided to learn "chenda". An ashan, a teacher came to taught while he has no programme. A year of hard tuition classes we were ready to perform. In between few friends dropped out from class because of family pressures. Survived students has to go through lot of insults from society. every body around were surprised, why this??Musical Instrument "Chenda" is very heavy, performing with 20KG chenda itself a big task. All of my friends discouraged, I manged to get a group of ladies from "Kudumbasree", we put all of free hours to learn this form..I know it is possible..because once I witnessed a "singarimelam" performance of "Mararikulam kudumbasree" ladies…it is comparatively easy to learn,we took six months to learn.. no much rhythemic variations in it... At the beginning people make fun of us. How you will perform at street like men? Ladies are not allowed to touch Chenda? How you perform at the time of menstruation? Ladies are not strong enough to beat "chenda", It will cause back pain and gynecological issues etc, etc… now they ask why you are not getting enough performance!!!. Latha and her friends are earning some money from performance. In season time they earn almost Rs 1000/- per day. Their intervention changes this form as a common man’s art form. They have been getting support from "Kudumbasree", Panchayat level governments. First "Singari Melam troup" started as an experiment. After watching that all over "kerala kudumbasree" net work shows enthusiazam to learn "singarimelam" as their next agenda. 45 active groups are working or performing this form. 3 lakhs rupees is required to set up one troup. In that 1.5 will provide by government as subsidy. They all are not depending upon the income return of this troupe. I met Anganavadi teachers, Asha workers, Mahila Pradan agents etc among them. Most of them are married and comes from Dalit community, few from Ezava and Nair community. Minority community is very few. When I talk to a senior percussionist he said "Singarimelam" comes as an accompanying percussion of Kavadiyattam. Kudumbee communities migrated from Karnataka-Goa has continued their worship of Subramanya Swami. "Singarimelam" is developed from their "Moopan kottu" along with "Kavadi". Kerala percussionist improvised from that and developed a percussion ensemble for “Malayalee kavadee” that is "Singari Melam", it never meant for subtitle thala. It’s a popular percussion ensemble. Latter it start performing without "Kavadi". So movements added. There is nothing to learn. For him there is nothing great about women performing "Singarimelam". He added its just an initial enthusiasm. Groups are getting good popularity and public memory forgot that it’s a newly invented form. Now every where you can see their performance and organizers think 15 women in front of a procession give more color to it. They performed at different cities of India even in gulf countries. Slowly they start showing professional quality in their performance. Some group members told me we are not much interested in procession performance. We like stage performance for an hour! A group even performed in national women folk festival at Mumbai University. So it starts considering as a women folk art form of Kerala!! These artists has to satisfy all family duties before they go for each performance, they are not earning much from it but still they would like to continue this performance. Government triggered women empowerment program shaped in its own way women’s artistic intervention happened unplanned which was not in their agenda. But Kudumbasree has been supporting 45 "singarimelam" groups all over kerala. However, by using this state-created women’s space for a public artistic invention, they subverted the very idea of the woman’s talent that is contained in a domestic space.
Laptop and projector
sajitha Madathil is a writer, academic, theatre-person (actor/director), television personality (actor/producer), film actor and culture administrator. Currently she is working as Deputy Secretary, Sangeet Natak Akademi(Academy of Music and Dance, India, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India). She has also worked as the Deputy Director, Kerala Chalachithra Academy(Academy of Motion Pictures, Kerala State).She has been active in the Malayalam (Kerala) theatre and feminist discourse for more than a decade.She is one of the founders of Abhinethri (Actress), the first women’s theatre group in Kerala, formed to explore the potential and possibilities of women's expressions Born in Kozhikode, Kerala, Sajitha is a Post-graduate in Theatre Arts (M.A.in Drama), Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, M.Phil in Theatre Studies, School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala and a Ph.D Scholar in School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Sajitha has the following publications. Aranginte Vakabedhangal ( Different shades of Theatre)Kottayam:DC Books,2012 Malayala Nadaka Sthree Charithram, (Women’s theatre history) Kozhikode: Mathrubhumi Publishing House, 2010. M K Kamalam, A Biography Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Academy ,2010. “ Matsyaganddhi” screen play in the Anthology of Screen Plays .New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. -- Sajitha has won the following awards for one of her books, television documentaries acting in film. Kerala state film Award for second best Actress 2013 Kerala State Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Best Theatre Book 2010 Kerala State Television Award for best current affairs programme in 2000 Best Children's Documentary Award by the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare, in 2000. Kerala Film Critics Award for Best Documentary in 2001 Sajitha Madathil