Through a heart-warming idea called Organic Theatre, Kerala is bringing back a tradition where its farming and folk theatre flourished alongside each other.
There was a time in Kerala, like in many cultures, when farming cycles set the rhythm of the lives of its people.
One earthy contribution of those agrarian times is Vellari Nadagangal. Vellari, known as ‘sambar-cucumber’ in urban lexicons, is a vegetable that was grown in between crop cycles. Nadagangal means drama.
The seeds of the vegetable was a favourite among birds and the farmers had a tough time keeping them away from the fields. Guarding the fields during the day was doable, but late evenings was tough. The ingenuity of the farmers gave birth to an incredibly creative idea. They decided to keep the fields alive through the evenings, till late into the night, by organizing theatre beside their Vellari fields. The loud renditions, dramatic drums and an entertained audience enlivened the atmosphere and in-turn kept the birds away from the fields. This folk theatre became popularly known as Vellari Nadagangal or the Sambar Cucumber Plays.
Modernity sent both farming and folk theatre into oblivion in the state. But Kerala is all set to revive this tradition – not to keep the birds away – to recreate a culture of farming and to emphasise the importance of going organic.
Bharat Bhavan, a cultural organization based out of Thiruvananthapuram, has kick started a unique initiative called Organic Theatre. Organic Theatre will relive the good old times where farming and folk theatre flourished alongside each other.
The initiative will encourage people across the state to start cultivating and consuming organic food. Bharat Bhavan plans to start organic farms in identified lands of 1 acre each in all 14 districts of Kerala. Twenty enthusiastic farmers in each district will grow food using organic methods of farming.
While the farmers sow the seeds, beside the fields, like in the times of Vellari Nadagangal, theatre enthusiasts will attend workshops and practise their plays. And the farmers and artists are not mutually exclusive groups, they will participate in both activities and also take the local community along. The local community can buy seeds at subsidised rates, get their hands dirty in the farms along with the farmers, learn organic practices and also be a part of the play rehearsals.
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Three months after sowing seeds, the land will be harvested, which will be celebrated by staging the practised play. “In short, we will redefine agriculture to ‘Agri-Culture’,” says Pramod Payyanur, Secretary of Bharat Bhavan, the creative brain behind the idea.
Pramod is himself a theatre enthusiast and his idea to promote organic farming throughout Kerala found resounding support from the government of Kerala, the Kerala State Horticulture Mission, Krishi Bhavan and many other organizations and communities. Bharat Bhavan organized a workshop for two representative farmers from each district. Noticeably, majority of the farmers who have joined the Organic Theatre mission are women. The team will get constant support from both agricultural experts and artists through the mission.
“We are focusing on growing endangered seeds, many that are carefully preserved by few farmers in the remote corners of the state. We want to encourage such farmers. We also want to give a boost to organic farming and community partnership through this initiative, and theatre becomes a great medium that will help us achieve this. The plays will carry information for adopting agrarian practices and socially relevant messages. We also have plans to promote responsible tourism in the state through this initiative,” adds Pramod.
The first Organic Theatre will be hosted in Venpakal village, Neyyattinkara, in Thiruvananthapuram District. The seeds will be sown this June and in September the first Organic Theatre festival will be held with the staging of classic play Koottukrishi, by playwright Late Edasseri Govindan Nair. The play tells the story of two farmers, one a Hindu and the other a Muslim, and how they rise above religion to work in unity to produce food needed for fellow humans.
After Venpakal, the Organic Theatre will move to Kasargod, Kannur and Thrissur districts subsequently, and cover the entire state in the next couple of years.
To know more about Organic Theatre, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.