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Siddhi brings alive southern sensibilities

At the NGMA it became a Siddhi Maha Utsav with drums, music and the enduring human spirit.

Siddhi brings alive southern sensibilities

To walk into the NGMA lawns on Monday, October 16 was to witness the hallmark of a celebration that extolled the virtues of Indian heritage. The drum beats reverberating through the autumn air as you glimpsed the Siddhi Gomaal dancers giving it their all to an enraptured crowd that gathered for the inauguration of "Dhvani se Sabdaur Chinh" a show that puts the spotlight on Southern artists and their journeys, an in house curatorial effort spear headed by NGMA Director General Adwaita Gadanayak who has been slowly unraveling jewels from the NGMA archives.

The dancers festooned faces painted in shades of ash white and grey with designs symbolising traditional African body art, they wore bright blue weed like skirts, straw caps and breathed zest in every step. The members of the Siddi tribe who don different avatars at different times of the day were invited to set the tone for a pageant of pomp and revelry.
The Siddis are originally from the Bantu people of Southern Africa brought to India by the Portuguese as slaves. A lot of them took up Islam as their religion, while some took up Christianity. Very few became Hindus as the caste system did not leave much opportunity for them.
African by origin, Indian by nationality with Gujarati as their lingua franca – the Siddhi tribe live in a village called Jambur in the heart of Gujarat.
"They have completed more than 300 years in Gujarat and this is their fourth generation in India," said Gadanayak who matched a few steps in rhythm after felicitating them. While the brum beats seemed very African it is the primeval tone of the music and their songs that spoke of faraway places and an ethos that was at once exotic if not strange and curious. They brought alive the evening at the NGMA and one thought of the many artists whose works adorned the walls thinking that it completed the aesthetics of an entire movement that was seeking to find identities. The Siddi's claim to fame is their origin. Some of them have a dual profession – although they do small time jobs in the day, they dance to the African beats at night. "There are many tourists visiting Gir and we entertain them with our performance. This helps us make some extra money," said one member from the tribe in fluent Gujarati.
The Siddi tribe has also seen a little stardom. They have been made a part of an important Gujarat tourism video called "Khushboo Gujarat Ki."
On a daily basis, the tribals are engaged in various occupations. They work on the fields, in the forest department, and some as tourist guides and truck drivers. And as the night sets in, the Siddis once again dress up in their tiger prints and set out to perform another spectacular tribal tradition.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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