With Gudi Sambaraalu festival in Andhra, Telangana, an attempt to revitalise performing arts — and temples

  • Starting from the temples in and around Hyderabad, Gudi Sambaraalu has now spread across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

  • The festival — which offers free entry to all — has helped bring back into the spotlight many forgotten performing art forms indigenous to local communities.

  • The venues for the programme are the courtyards, kalyanamandapas and stepwells of temples.

When Shashi Reddy attended Bengaluru’s temple festival Gudiya Sambhrama, she was struck by a contrast: the emphasis states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala laid on local art and dance forms as opposed to their lack of prominence in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Reddy shared her observation with her friend Srinagi Rao, and the duo decided to start a not-for-profit organisation called Paramparaa. In 2015, they held their first festival of temple celebrations — Gudi Sambaraalu. “It brings art and art lovers together,” says Reddy, who also works with the NGO Roshni.

The festival takes place mostly from Sankranti to Shivratri (January through February; it has started earlier this year) to take advantage of the cooler evenings, and is a nod to the origins of performing arts in India, in the temples and squares of its villages.

 With Gudi Sambaraalu festival in Andhra, Telangana, an attempt to revitalise performing arts — and temples

A performance during Gudi Sambaraalu

“It was in these spaces that people congregated to learn and appreciate art forms,” Rao, a Hyderabad-based doctor, explains. “Since dance and music were originally an important part of the temple ritual, there would be a natya mandap within its premises.” Rao further notes that “even till the 1950s and ‘60s, temples were places for the entire village to gather and discuss social issues...a place for civil gathering”.

Starting from the temples in and around Hyderabad, Gudi Sambaraalu has now spread across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The festival — which offers free entry to all — has helped bring back into the spotlight many forgotten performing art forms indigenous to local communities. The venues for the programme are the courtyards, kalyanamandapas and stepwells of temples.

“The old heritage temple spaces have an energy of their own. The architecture, the power of the ancient premises, and their historic splendour contribute immensely to the sabha,” Rao says.

From family-owned temples to historic spaces like the Sri Sailam or the Shiva temple in Nizamabad, Reddy and Rao choose accessible spaces that can accommodate between 400-500 people. The 1,000-pillar temple in Warangal, the 180-year-old Sitarambagh temple near Hyderabad, the very popular Birla Mandir — all have served as festival venues. Performances are tailored to the temples they are staged at: Shiva temples witness renditions from the Shiva Puranas, Vishnu temples see performances from the Dashavatarams and other epics. From Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi to Vilasininatyam, the festival fuses diverse performing art forms with Vedic chanting, Carnatic music, and even theatre. The objective is not only to provide ease of access to art forms, but also to ensure their significance and cultural symbolism is readily understood by the audience.

(L) Festival founders Srinagi Rao and Shashi Reddy; (R) the audience at a Gudi Sambaraalu programme

(L) Festival founders Srinagi Rao and Shashi Reddy; (R) the audience at a Gudi Sambaraalu programme

Ananda Shankar Jayant performed a Bharatanatyam ballet, Sri Rama Namam — Entha Ruchira Ra in 2017 at the festival. The production retold the story of Ramadasu to an audience of around 2,000 people, at the 800-year-old Amapalle Temple near Hyderabad. Jayant remembers the experience as “extraordinary”. Kuchipudi danseuse Deepika Reddy, who has also participated in the festival, says her performance was a “chiru kanuka (small offering) to the Lord”.

This year, popular pilgrimage spots in Andhra Pradesh, such as Srikalahasthi and Simhachalam, were identified to widen the festival’s scope. The current edition also includes public spaces in Hyderabad — parks and hangout spots like Tankbund — to reach younger audiences.

The impact of the festival is already visible. Shashi Reddy recalls how a local politician in a remote district walked in to inaugurate the show and stayed back, mesmerised. In another instance, when the popular Telugu theatre group Surabhi enacted their popular shows, Maya Bazaar and Pataalabhairavi, in a remote Telangana village, huge crowds turned up on two consecutive evenings.

Not that Reddy and Rao are resting easy. They’re constantly on the lookout for temples that can be roped in as venues — be it erstwhile zamindari samsthams in Telangana or places renowned for their beauty, like the 2,000-year-old Kulpakji Jain temple near Hyderabad. The hope is to expand the festival’s footprint throughout Andhra and Telangana, including renowned temples like Ahobilam and Lepakshi. Reddy laughs, and says: “Any time we come across an old temple, we call each other!”

Read on Firstpost: Classical dance and appropriation — How to think about a field whose foundations rest on cultural violence

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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2019 10:43:11 IST