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M S Anbarasan credits the folk arts for his growth in life. Hailing from a poor family, he funded his studies by performing folk dances in villages as part of a troupe. A post graduate pursuing M Ed now, Anbarasan goes around villages passing on the skills to children in an effort to save the dying folk arts.

Anbarasan hails from Kappur village in Villupuram district. His father Muthali used to work as a daily wage labourer and his mother Saroja took care of him and his two siblings.

When Anbarasan had completed his schooling, one of the villagers hired a bunch of folk artists and conducted some training on folk dances like Parai, Karagam and Kummi for the children in the village. The artists stayed in the village for a few days teaching the boys and girls the nuances of how to perform them. Anbarasan, who had a keen interest in the folk arts since his school days, eagerly learnt these dances.

When Anbarasan had completed his schooling, one of the villagers hired a bunch of folk artists and conducted some training on folk dances like Parai, Karagam and Kummi for the children in the village. The artists stayed in the village for a few days teaching the boys and girls the nuances of how to perform them. Anbarasan, who had a keen interest in the folk arts since his school days, eagerly learnt these dances.

Once they left the village, Anbarasan went in search of them. He wanted to learn more. He found them in the Puducherry and Vikravandi areas and requested them to teach him further. Moved by his interest, they started training him. He joined their troupe shortly and started performing in village festivals and cultural events. He has been performing with the troupe since 2009.

Realizing that he should continue his studies even as he nurtured his interest, he used the money he earned from his performances to fund his education. Anbarasan went on to complete M A in English literature and is pursuing his M Ed now. “I owe my growth to the folk arts. It uplifted me from poverty and made me who I am now,” says Anbarasan.

Having spent a decade as a folk artist, Anbarasan has founded his own troupe called Anbu Gramiya Kalaikuzhu. There are 30 professional folk artists in his troupe. Over the years, the folk arts have been losing their relevance in villages. “When a society loses its folk art, it loses its identity. To wipe out a civilization, it’s enough to destroy their culture, art and language. So, I wanted to do something,” he says.

Anbarasan demonstrates one of the dance steps to the dancers

The Covid-19 lockdown provided a good opportunity for Anbarasan. During the time, he started teaching folk dances to students in villages. Anbarasan and his troupe began to go to villages and found children, whose schools were shut due to the lockdown, idling away and engrossed in mobile phones. They began to train these children in various folk dances like Oyil, Karagam, Kummi, Mayilattam, Maaduattam, Maankombattam, Kazhiyalattam, Periakolattam and Parai. They have trained more than 200 students in the folk arts till now.

Anbarasan and his troupe began to go to villages and found children, whose schools were shut due to the lockdown, idling away and engrossed in mobile phones. They began to train these children in various folk dances like Oyil, Karagam, Kummi, Mayilattam, Maaduattam, Maankombattam, Kazhiyalattam, Periakolattam and Parai. They have trained more than 200 students in the folk arts till now.

Anbarasan also teaches the folk dances at the Tamil Nadu government’s Dr MGR Arts and Science College in Villupuram.

The pandemic and the lockdowns have caused lot of distress to folk artists in the last two years. After village festivals and cultural events were banned during the lockdown, they were forced to find alternate employment. Many of them resorted to construction works and other daily wage labor to eke out a living.

Anbarasan explains the cultural significance of the traditional folk dances to young children

Anbarasan has something to tell government on this. He says the state government should genuinely support folk artists who are in distress. His suggestion is that they can be appointed as folk arts teachers in schools, just like physical education teachers. It will enable poor folk artists to have a livelihood. And, it would pass on our traditional folk arts to the next generation. “It will be a win-win situation for all. I appeal to the state government to consider this demand,” he says.


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