Buddhar Kalai Kuzhu, a group of parai aattam artistes, is on a mission to make the folk art secure a respectable spot among other forms of art.
Perhaps one of the oldest of the folk arts, parai aattam embraces life in all its forms – birth, puberty, engagement, marriage and death. But, today, despite a rich legacy, parai aattam finds little takers in society.
Buddhar Kalai Kuzhu, a group founded by folk artiste Manimaran, aims to break this mould and revive the folk art. “We don’t perform for funerals and when drunk. But they usually go hand in hand with parai aattam,” declares Manimaran.
He explains that performing for funerals would mean keeping women performers out, as according to rituals, women aren’t permitted to accompany the procession or at the graveyard. “It is part of our culture, so why women shouldn’t be allowed to take part in it,” he asks, adding, “Performing under the influence of alcohol has become an integral element of the folk art because it demands high energy levels to cope with the stress. If we don’t perform at funerals, we don’t have to drink,” he says.
The artiste who has been performing for the last 25 years, rues the fact that parai aatam is seen as a form exclusive to the particular caste. “There are local deities that inspire parai aattam. They are part of the lives of those who reside in rural areas. The art form gets compartmentalised because it is associated with a few particular groups of people, who perform. But, why doesn’t anyone think it is a celebration of life in its various manifestations? It has a close link to the Tamil culture, just like any form of dance or music. Sadly, neither the artistes nor the art gets any status,” he adds.
Manimaran and his wife Magizhini hold lectures and demonstrations at various educational institutions in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram. So far, Buddhar Kalai Kuzhu has performed across Tamil Nadu as well as in Bangalore, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Kolkata.
Magizhini, who is part of the group, says, “The art form is declining, even in places where it thrived a few decades ago. We want to give it a new form but at the same time, we want to preserve its ethos.”
Recently, the couple was invited to promote the form of art among school children in Chennai Schools. “The schools told us that the children who are mostly first-generation students weren’t interested in classical art forms. They wanted us to teach them parai aattam, which may be of interest to them. I told the schools that their strategy was wrong. If the children can learn folk art they can also be trained in classical forms. I told the teachers they need to change their method,” he says.
However, Manimaran adds that people have begun to realise the richness in the art form. “We performed at a few Brahmin weddings and in Chennai Sangamam. Actor Shobana was part of our performance,” he says.
But, Manimaran says, with some acknowledgement by the government, they would be able to propagate parai aatam more effectively. “If they give an award – the Kalaimamani or Padma Shri – that would help the art. So far, not a single artiste has received any sort of government recognition,” he says adding that not many know that there is a separate department set up by the government for folk artistes. “Our group got its name, when we registered with the department,” he says.
Manimaran is quick to add that schools play a vital role in promoting parai aatam and other folk forms of art. “The schools should teach students. As of now, teachers with BEd degree can only teach. It makes it difficult to bring in an established artiste for that since they aren’t educationally qualified,” he says.