As Padma Bhushan awardee Tijanbai enacted Draupadi's desperate call to Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata, the auditorium resonated with loud applause. Her performance launched India's first festival celebrating Indian women folk artists, which started on Sunday at Pu La Deshpande Academy at Prabhadevi.
The two-day festival organised by Lok Rang Sansktrutik Manch, a Thane-based NGO and the Lok Kala Academy of Mumbai University, has performances from Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and tribal areas of Maharashtra.
"Even today the sufferings of women are not very different from Draupadi's," said Tijanbai, who comes from Chattisgarh and was the first woman in her region to start singing Pandwani music. "But women are capable of breaking every tradition and claim their rights. However, it is important to stay rooted in Indian tradition."
Apart from folk dance performances by tribal groups from Gadchiroli and Gondia in Maharashtra, the festival includes panel discussions on issues such as the contribution of women saint poets, dichotomy between reality and art of tribal women of Maharashtra.
Veteran lavani singer Sulochana Chavan inaugurated the festival. Although sparsely attended during the day, performances in the evening attracted a larger audience. Female students of the Lok Kala Academy performed Dashavatar, traditionally performed by an all male-member team across the state.
"This festival symbolises awakening of the women force through folk arts," said Prakash Khandge, reader and coordinator at the Lok Kala Academy.
Experts said that mere grants would not help preserve dying or struggling folk arts. "Folk arts are a reflection of women's times," said Tara Bhavalkar, who made the inaugural speech. "Unless it is made economically sustainable as a profession, it will be hard to keep it going."