While the tribal campus theatre Tepantar in the small village Satkahania in West Bengal (East India) have literally turned the world into a stage, there is a lot more to learn from them apart from the exceptional display of rural tradition and folk art.
Situated by the banks of the Ajoy River in the district of Bardhaman, in West Bengal, a peerless hamlet has emerged as the epitome of alternate theatre culture in India. An immaculate campus called Tepantar has evolved over the last two decades, serving as a rural cultural centre in the village of Satkahania, where theatre and performing arts has become the main means of survival. The village and its unusual locales provide a perfect backdrop for an out of the box escapade to experience the rural civilization of Bengal in the most unconventional way.
There are countless domestic as well as international travellers every year who would visit the university township in Shantiniketan established by the 1913 Nobel literature laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). However, there are very few who would know about this village and the repertory company called Ebong Amra (And Us), formed with the people from local tribal community. The group has developed a representation of theatre art introducing tribal forms and customs, in a unique and meticulous execution style that can catch the attention of every quintessential art lover of the world.
Poultry farming, fish and fruits
Tepantar (which means a large open space in Bengali) is spread across 4 acres of land that comprises open air stage, rehearsal and workshop space for theatre practitioners, along with strategically placed cottages and dormitories for visitors. In the thick Garh forest, the village presents a perfect backdrop for the winding Ajoy River, offering a visual splendour for the tourists and art lovers to enjoy. The residents here stay amidst a rural setting, earning their livelihood through various collaborative means such as poultry farming, fishing, growing fruits, etc.
Kallol Bhattacharya, the founder of the theatre group Ebong Amra in Satkahania, the theatre village asserted, “To run the centre we needed to generate income and we gradually started poultry, fishery, mango and guava orchards, with the help of local banks. The idea was to create a rural theatre and cultural centre here, as there are not many academies in rural Bengal which provides proper training and opportunity to practice alternative art forms.”
The tribal population (mostly Santhals, the largest tribal community in India, found mainly in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa) celebrates their life through bhadu, tusu, baul and other folk music and dance forms depending on the various calendar events throughout the year. They specialise in all parts of the theatre art – acting, music, dance, martial arts, prop-production, and so on – and offers a friendly hospitality for the guests.
“We arrange a comprehensive performance every weekend in our campus here in Tepantar. Not only theatre, we also exhibit various cultural programmes, such as tribal dances performed by the locals and folk musical concerts. We are trying to develop an art and culture oriented tourism infrastructure here,” added Bhattacharya.
A discovery for European travellers
The name Tepantar in numerous Bengali fables is referred as a mysterious, boundless field at the edge of civilization. Ebong Amra, in the course of the last fourteen years, has genuinely been fruitful in building a limitless playground for a unique coexistence of imagination and reality. Proffering from the tribal members of the theatre group who are also the co-operative workers for the settlement in Tepantar, this could well be a discovery for any European traveller searching sustainable exercise of theatre art in India.
The red streets, twisting roads through the woods and an unpolluted air isolates this campus from the rest of the world. The peaceful coexistence of art, struggle and an unbeatable urge to reach a global audience make these clannish actors the splendid performers they are today.
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