The Adivasi Adi Bimb Festival celebrates tribal art form and practices including music, dance and theatre, organized by the National School of Drama, New Delhi. The roots of this festival can be traced back to the Santhal Festival held in the region of Dwaronda in 2011 under the supervision of theatre legend Ratan Thiyam, organized by Sangeet Natya Academy. The festival acquired its present form in 2013 when Ratan Thiyam became the Chairman of National School of Drama. Over the years it has grown into one of the most significant festivals of tribal arts with multiple tribes all over India participating and performing. The festival is aimed at the overall growth and development of tribal art practices all over India.
Speaking on the topic, Ratan Thiyam stresses upon the importance of the factor of living or way of life. The lives led by the tribes are closer to nature, which boosts their performance with a sense of natural energy largely absent in urban lifestyle and thus their cultural practices. And setting aside everything else, a celebration of tribal art forms widens one’s experience of art itself. Dealing with the question of language barrier, which obviously comes into the mix with so many different tribes performing, Ratan Thiyam doesn’t seem too perturbed about it. When it comes to performing arts, he believes that language actually takes a second place. Communication takes place on the level of artistic engagement with the performance and not just with spoken languages or reading captions and subtitles. Otherwise, there would have been no need for performances and just reading the text would have satisfied people.
The 2016 Adivasi Adi Bimb Festival also witnessed major participation from tribes from different states of India including Odhisa, Jharkhand, Sikkim, Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The Dance forms being represented included Bajashal and Ghumura from Odhisa. While the former is designated for marriage and social customs, the latter is like a war dance. Jharkhand made its presence felt with the widely popular Chhau and the lesser-known Firkal dance. Firkal is again a primitive war dance performed with weapons. The two indigenous forms from Sikkim including Sathim Laok and Joomaal Dance were there. The latter is associated with cultivation while the former is called Porcupine Dance and is associated with defending the harvest from porcupines! Other dance forms associated with harvesting and cultivation included Hozagiri from Tripura, Cheraw (Buzha ai) from Mizoram and Adi-Solung Dance from Arunachal Pradesh. Others with socio-historical significance such as war, origin myths and coming of New Year were also featured such as Mishing Bihu of Assam, Sarlamkai from Mizoram, Sangri Mog of Tripura and the vibrant Peacock Dance of Khamti from Assam again.
A major attraction of the festival was the array of plays being performed over the three days. The Mishing group from Assam staged a play called ‘PuYug: The Withered canvas’, which deals with, the steep challenges faced by the riverine folks in the course of their existence. Contrary to the usual notion that tribal art forms deal only with myths and traditional customs, Birsa Kala Kendra from Ranchi, Jharkhand presented ‘Gohair Jatra’, an engaging performance addressing the evils of human trafficking. ‘Lamana: Princess of the Black Mountains’ was the offering from Manipur, directed by well-known dramatist Star Kamei. While rooted in folklore and myths, this play also deals with very contemporary issues including identity crises and suppression of weaker voices.