Cultural Life in Guwahati, Assam Discover North East of India

Text and Images by Sunil Deepak, March 2015

When I had come to Guwahati, the capital of Assam state in the north-east of India, I had not expected to find so many opportunities for an active cultural life. However, the past 2 months have been wonderful, full of stimulating discoveries. It helps that Guwahati city is relatively small and reaching most places is easy through the public transport.

Folk dances, Bharat Lok Parva, Guwahati, India

Here are some notes from my diary about the cultural events in the city in the past weeks of 2015. The picture above is from a Purulia Chau dance performance from West Bengal in the "Bharat Lok Parva", a festival of folk dances, music and theatre held in Guwahati that was organized by the East Zone Cultural Centre of Kolkata (India).

NATIONAL YOUTH FESTIVAL IN GUWAHATI, ASSAM

The National Youth Festival (NYF) in the beginning of January 2015 was the first big cultural event in Guwahati for me. Youth groups had come to the city from different parts of India to present folk-dances, classical dances, music, poetry and theatre. All the events were simultaneous, held in parallel sessions in different venues around Dighalipukhuri in Uzan Bazar.

Finding information about the programme, venues and times was not so easy but in the end, I had managed to attend the folk-dance performances held in the library auditorium. It was an opportunity to see a huge variety of traditional folk dances from different states of India. I was especially thrilled by the folk-dances of the north-east, since I did not know them very well.

Folk dances, National Yourth Festival, Guwahati, India

Folk dances, National Yourth Festival, Guwahati, India

Folk dances, National Yourth Festival, Guwahati, India

Since I had decided to focus on folk-dances, I had to miss all the other events of classical dances, theatre, debates, etc.

However, one evening during the festival, I had gone to the concert by Assamese singer Papon in the Guwahati stadium. I love his singing and it was a nice coincidence that he had started his concert by my favourite, “Din-dinae” song.

Papon concert, Guwahati, India

NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF INDIAN MUSEOLOGISTS

One day while visiting the Assam state museum, by chance I had found myself in the middle of the national conference of Indian museologists (persons specialized in museums). There I had met Prof. R. D. Choudhury, the president of India’s Art History Congress as well as, the former director of Assam State Museum and the former director general of National Museum in Delhi.

National Museologist conference, Guwahati, India

After the conference, I had gone to meet him one afternoon. Talking to him about his life, his work in different museums and about the art history of India, was a fascinating experience. I love art history and I hardly know anything about the art history in India, so hope to learn more about it. The image below shows Prof. Choudhary in his office.

Prof Chowdhury, Guwahati, India

Prof. Choudhary has told me that he is working on his autobiography and it should be ready for printing in another six months. I am looking forward to reading it.

RAIN DANCE FESTIVAL IN BASISTHA, GUWAHATI

By chance I had heard about a creative festival called “Rain Dance” that brought together environmental protection and art, and was going to be held in Bashistha. I had written to Alak Pathak, the organiser of the festival, who had given me instructions about reaching the festival venue.

Rain Dance Festival, Guwahati, India

However, reaching that place had turned out to be much more difficult than I had imagined. I had walked on a small inner road for a very long time without finding any sign of the festival and instead, found myself in the middle of a Saraswati Puja celebration in a girls’ school.

Then talking to some young boys, I had discovered that I had missed the turning for the Dancing Rain festival venue. Fortunately one of the boys offered to accompany me to that place on his vespa scooter, which was another small adventure!

The images below is from the "Dancing Rain" festival, it shows a beautiful rhino “green” sculpture that Alak Pathak had created with Sal (teak) tree leaves. As you can guess from the sculpture, this festival was held in a field, close to a forest.

Rain Dance Festival, Guwahati, India

ARTS COLLEGE OF GUWAHATI IN BASISTHA

Coming back from a visit to Bashistha temple, I had also visited the Art College of Guwahati. Arts college is in a run down unassuming low building. However, there are many beautiful sculptures in its courtyard made by its students, many of them covered by dust and cobwebs. These give it a kind of look of an abandoned open air art exhibition.

Sculptures Arts College, Basistha, Guwahati, India

Sculptures Arts College, Basistha, Guwahati, India

Sculptures Arts College, Basistha, Guwahati, India

I found the ambiance of this place magical. If you are ever in Bashistha, don’t forget to take a look at the surroundings of the art college and discover the hidden sculptures.

NORTH-EASTERN GLBTQ PRIDE PARADE IN GUWAHATI

The news about the first North-Eastern GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer) Pride Parade was a pleasant surprise - it was a surprise because I had thought that outside the big metro cities in India, people will not have the courage to raise their voices about alternate sexualities.

GLBTQ Pride Parade, Guwahati, India

It was very colourful and joyful. An unexpected pleasure of the GLBTQ parade was the readings of poems and some wonderful music and dance performances. And it was good to see so many young persons.

GLBTQ Pride Parade, Guwahati, India

THE SHILPAGRAM DISAPPOINTMENT

I had walked to Shilpagram. From the way it was described, I was expecting to see a cross between Dilli Haat and the Crafts Village at the Pragati Maidan in Delhi.

It was almost 11 AM. However, the ticket window was closed. The guards and some persons were sitting near the ticket window.

Shilpagram entrance, Guwahati, India

“It is closed”, one of them had said.

“But I had read that it opens at 10.30?” I had asked.

“When the ticket-babu will come, then it will open”, he had explained.

“What time does he come?” I had insisted.

“He lives far away, so it takes some time. Sometimes he reaches at 12 noon”.

So no luck Shilpagram. May be the next time, I will go there, I will have better luck. It was one cultural visit that did not happen!

BHARAT LOK PARVA CULTURAL FESTIVAL, KALAKSHETRA, GUWAHATI

I had seen the billboard of the “Bharat Lok Parva” (BLP) at Ravindra Bhawan. It was supposed to be organised at Kalakshetra from 16 to 21 February 2015, but the time was not specified. Since Kalakshetra is not far from where I live, so it was easy to go there to find out more about this folk-dance and theatre festival. Though it will be helpful if such information is shared in a more systematic way.

BLP has been a really beautiful festival. The quality of the folk dances and plays has been very high. It was organised by the East Zone Cultural Centre in Kolkata. They have promised to hold this festival every year.

Folkdances Bharat Lok Parva, Kalakshetra, Guwahati, India

Folkdances Bharat Lok Parva, Kalakshetra, Guwahati, India

Folkdances Bharat Lok Parva, Kalakshetra, Guwahati, India

LACK OF ONLINE INFORMATION IN GUWAHATI, ASSAM

It is not so easy to find the time and venue of most cultural events in Guwahati. Local English newspapers like Assam Tribune do not have a regular space to inform about the different cultural events planned in the city. Often I know about them when they decide to publish a report or pictures, sometimes a week or more after the event.

Perhaps such events are advertised only in Assamese language newspapers? (Unfortunately, I am still learning Assamese alphabet so to read the Assamese newspaper, I will need some more time!)

I think that journalists, media persons, artists and persons interested in culture in Guwahati, need to find a solution so that precise information about cultural programmes (what, where, at what time, how much do the tickets cost ..) need to be available to general public through the press and through some websites.

Ravindra Bhawan and Kalakshetra are the two main cultural venues that I have discovered in Guwahati but probably there are many more. Unfortunately, Ravindra Bhawan and Kalakshetra do not have a webpage or Facebook page or a Twitter page to share information about their events.

Ravindra Bhawan, Guwahati, India

The above notes from my diary are about the principal cultural events that I could attend. There were many other events like the Kite festival at the river front in Uzan Bazar where I was unable to go.

I had not expected so many cultural activities when I had come to Guwahati. It has been a wonderful surprise to discover that the city is so vibrant culturally. I am slowly trying to learn Assamese, so hopefully in future, the cultural opportunities will be even more for me!

Street art by Yantra India at Panjabari, Guwahati, India

***

Links

North-East of India Index - Travel Writings Index - Kalpana Home page

Any comments or suggestions about this post or about Kalpana? You can write to Dr Sunil Deepak at the Kalpana page on Facebook or Twitter or Google Plus or send him an email at sunil.deepak(at)gmail.com

***