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Jaanapada Jaatre teaches youth, enthralls all

November 2010
Jaanapada Jaatre teaches youth, enthralls all The term Jaanapada literally means “tribe’s foothold.” Jaatre, from Sanskrit Yaatra or “journey,” is a major gathering for an annual festival. Together, it’s a grand celebration of authentic folk culture of Karnataka—awesome sights, sounds, and fun! That was the scene at Berkmar High School in Lilburn on Saturday, October 2, 2010.

This was not your ordinary stage program: not Bollywood, not Bharatnatyam, and not even totally on the stage. Innovation began with a “journey,” a procession of excited, bedecked participants, down pathways between buildings, around corners, and into a clearing among trees. There they were introduced to the audience, with a glimpse of what was to come?.

For four weeks, children had been immersed in a full day workshop on the weekend, learning about village arts and crafts, by doing. The hands-on experience was to give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of the labor, artistry, and joy in village work. Their masks, clay pieces, and artwork were on display in front of the auditorium.

On stage, besides the statue with candles and flowers for God, two life-size figures with paper-mache faces and a big wooden village cart silently introduced the theme—and later spoke! A young man humorously played the part of a visitor who did not know the language or culture—interested but bewildered. Instead of an “emcee,” a “kind man” explained in English what he was seeing at the festival. Details, understood, increased the interest in the items: one song was about the sacred thread that women wear; the drum skin was the skin of a demon!

Boys with Nandi bowls on a pole, the end held in a sash at the waist, danced at the end of their worship, elbows flapping and poles dipping. The Kolata, we learned, was danced in Dasara, and afterwards grains were collected, cooked, and eaten together.

Little girls, in skirts heavily decorated with spangles on the front panel and front of blouse, danced to an old movie song. Children danced in dhotis and saris wrapped like dhotis, tight at the knee. Young girls in saris wrapped loosely around the legs -- Maharashtran-style, tossed their palloos over their heads; women in short-skirted saris danced in the fields. Men, long scarf tied around the head, face painted with stripes, danced with Kamsale (cymbal in one hand and bronze disc in the other). Not to mention characters two men high, and stomping, whirling swordsmen!

Tiger-boy, full of claws, whirling somersaults, and shaking tail, danced to drumbeats with such ferocity that he might at any moment have leapt into the audience to eat them up!

The youth displayed interest, from the tiniest girl in the parade to the “visitor,” who “got into it” at the end as a Yakshagana character, finishing his dance with “I’m lovin’ it!”—as did we all.

The program was presented by the Atlanta Kannada Balaga (meaning relatives). About 85 kids and 30 adults had worked 3 months on the program, ending with each child receiving an award. Waiting faces blossomed with quiet smiles as children in the fancy dress parade had medals on ribbons dropped around their necks. Older dancers and drummers whooped at receiving standing trophies. The obviously child-centered adults had created a lasting impression.

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