Patel Boarding, a sprawling hostel in Vagheshwari area of Porbandar where artists participating in Madhavpur fair have been put, has been abuzz with them since March 22. About 200 odd artists from Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Rajasthan arrived here to perform at the five-day annual religious and cultural fair organised at Madhavpur village, some 60 km away from Porbandar town, which began on March 24.
Until this year, Shree Madhavraiji Temple committee and Madhavpur village panchayat used to organise the fair which begins on Ram Navami. This year, the fair, which celebrates Lord Krishna’s marriage with Rukmini, is being organised jointly by the Central and state governments. The fair has been upgraded this year as a national event “to highlight the ties of the Northeast with Gujarat”. A three-hour-long cultural programme has been organised every evening since the fair began, featuring folk and classical dance. Padma Bhushan awardee classical dance exponent Sonal Mansingh also performed on the second day of the fair.
Tuesday was the big day at the fair. Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu, Manipur CM N Biren Singh, Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani, Arunachal Pradesh Governor Brigadier (retired) BD Mishra and his Gujarat counterpart OP Kohli; Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma and MoS for Home, Kiren Rijiju, were here to inaugurate the fair in the evening.
Led by choreographer Ankur Pathan, the artistes performed Madhav se Madhavpur — a dance-and-song drama recreating the kidnapping of Rukmini by Lord Krishna and their subsequent marriage.
The artists from Arunachal are travelling to Gujarat for the first time. Jingu Pulu, 27, the leader of a group of performers from Arunachal, says: “There is a story that Princess Rukmini, the daughter of King Bhishmak, was kidnapped by Lord Krishna. We are here to show our culture.” Pulu who holds a degree in history runs a ready-made garment shop at Roing, the headquarters of Lower Dibang Valley district of Arunachal. He is in search of a job. “Almost all members of our group are hunting for jobs,” he says.
Athabi Linggi (24), who teaches at a government middle school in Roing, is more articulate. “There is a folk song in the oral tradition of our tribe. It goes: Bhishmaknagar nga chi da which means Bhishmaknagar is ours. It states that Rukmini is our grandmother. We can’t claim with certainty that Rukmini was from our place. But the folk song must have some history,” says Linggi, a history graduate.
Junari Miso, the leader of women’s group from Arunachal, says the group feels proud to be at the fair. “The event has provided us a very big stage. We are feeling proud that we belong to some part of the history and that people are taking note of it,” says 24-year-old Miso, who works as a part-time accountant at a school.
Besides Bhishmaknagar Fort, which presently lies in ruins, there is also Rukmini Nati in the form of ruins of a fort at Chimri village near Roing. Praveen Bhatnagar, public relations officer of West Zone Cultural Centre (WZCC) of Union Ministry of Culture, said they had chosen the people from the area to which Rukmini is believed to have belonged. “The Madhavpur fair is centered around Lord Krishna abducting Rukmini and marrying him. Therefore, relationship between the Northeast and Gujarat had to be focused on. The group was chosen from the place from where Rukmini is believed to have hailed,” Bhatnagar said.
The WZCC pays Rs1,000 to group leaders and Rs 800 to each group member as fee per day. Artistes also include professionals from Assam and Rajasthan. Swagata Sarma (35), who is leading the 15-member group from Assam, has performed in many parts of the country and even abroad. “While I am an astrologer and a vastu consultant, Bihu has always fascinated me,” says Sharma, who is from Guwahati.
Yusuf Khan (23), a Bhapan player from Alwar district in Rajasthan, says the art he is pursuing is faces an uncertain future. “Thanks to the development of tourism in western Rajasthan, Kalbelia folk dance and Manganhar and Langa folk songs have become very popular. But eastern Rajasthan is struggling to keep folk traditions alive,” says Khan, who quit his job with a private company to make a career in playing Bhapan, a percussion instrument.