India Features

Ambedkar, Periyar Celebrated At Neelam Foundation’s Vaanam Cultural Festival


The Vaanam Cultural Festival was a three-day event organised by Neelam Foundation. Held at St. Ebba’s Higher Secondary School in Mylapore, Chennai on December 29, 30 and 31, the fest featured performances, art installations, food and much more.

At the venue of the Vaanam Festival, volunteers functioned as both guides and security officers. A welcome change from the usual sight of safari-suit clad bouncers who man the posts at public events. The underlying theme of Vaanam was caste, in that every artwork and performance sought to address casteism and caste supremacy. Not surprising since Neelam Foundation is director Pa Ranjith’s outfit, a staunch supporter of Dalit human rights. Jignesh Mevani, another Dalit rights activist and an MLA from Gujarat, was also part of the event.

The first artwork to greet visitors was a huge art installation of B R Ambedkar. Babasaheb kept appearing throughout the venue, in various objects and merchandise, including calendars, bags and the like.

A crowd queued up to get their photos clicked in front of the artworks of Ambedkar, Karl Marx and Periyar.

The most popular artwork involved these three heroes – Ambedkar, Periyar, and Marx – positioned as the saviours of a city that is in flames in the background. It was quite a task to catch a glimpse of the piece amidst people fighting to click selfies.

Another installation – a set of busts of various leaders. It included Ambedkar as well.

Paintings – watercolours and oil, landscapes, portraits and abstract art. Shiva and Buddha seemed to be the artists’ favourite, for once displacing Ambedkar.

A live-drawing session where a young woman drew portraits of visitors.

At the festival, a large number of Tamil books adorned the shelves while the English ones comprised of authors like Maxim Gorky (‘Mother’), Ethel Voynich (‘The Gadfly’) and Lewis H Morgan (‘Ancient Society’).

Not wanting to disappoint the people who wished to snack in between, the organisers had set up a food joint too. The stalls served everything from French fries and corn flakes to tender coconut and puttu.

Performances on stage depicted the evolution of Silambattam – a dance which began in forests, and is now a part of death processions in the state. Nathan, a native of the city, described the origins of the art-form. “The first man, in his effort to protect himself from animals, plucked sticks from the trees in the forests. This gave way to what we see today. There are many derivatives of this dance. While one involves the use of deer antlers, another one employs short sticks,” he said.

The performance came to an end with a showing of the future version of the art-form in which elements of Karate and boxing were included.

Later, two transgender women narrated the life of B R Ambedkar.

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