Weaving stories from lands far and wide, India’s only oral storytelling festival returns to Delhi
What is common between Sadhguru, Mohit Chauhan, Imtiaz Ali, Shaguna Gahilote, Xanthe Gresham, Godfrey Duncan, Pankaj Tripathi and Danish Hussain? They are known to be storytellers, who captivate the audience with tales of the real and the imaginary, focusing on episodes related to history, myths and legends, native stories, languages, yoga and even filmmaking.
When these storytellers come together on a single platform, the outcome is not only a celebration of the ancient art of storytelling; it is also India’s only oral storytelling festival. Titled ‘Kathakar—International Storytellers Festival’, it is an initiative of three Dehradun-born sisters—Prarthana, Rachna and Shaguna Gahilote—who have transformed the art of storytelling through dramatic performances, travelling festivals and publication of books.
The eighth edition of the festival, to be held at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), will showcase some of the choicest forms of storytelling based on the culture and history of India, UK, Greece, Africa, Russia and Iran.
“Storytelling is an ancient art form, which is found in every culture and each part of the world, but it is yet to be recognised as a standalone art form. It’s usually put under theatre, which is a modern concept. Kathakar celebrates this ancient art, opens up a dialogue on how to revive it and include it in mainstream culture,” said festival co-organiser Prarthana Gahilote. The award-winning writer, who has co-authored a book on Himalayan stories, will be presenting ‘curious tales’ from the region in a session organized for school children on the festival’s inaugural day.
One of the highlights of ‘Kathakar’, which means narrator or storyteller, is well-known spiritual figure Sadhguru, founder of Isha Foundation, who will inaugurate the three-day event on November 16 at IGNCA. He will be joined by Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Kiren Rijiju, at 7 pm, for the event’s opening.
The festival will have Sadhguru, known for his spiritual discourses and yoga programmes, play the role of a storyteller during a session with songwriter, musician and composer Mohit Chauhan, who also happens to be a patron of the Kathakar festival. In a separate session, Chauhan and film-maker Imtiaz Ali will reminisce about their experiences from the making of Bollywood film ‘Rockstar’ as well as relive some of their childhood memories.
"Like music, storytelling is the simplest of art forms and also the greatest carrier and upholder of culture. Their shelf life is infinite too. However, as a patron of the Kathakar festival, I would say that oral storytelling needs as much support as it can get because it is a dying art form. When individual stories are put together, they make for the life story of the world. The festival will be an experience in this direction as we have a diverse line up of storytellers from India and abroad,” said Chauhan.
The festival, which is among a handful of storytelling initiatives in India, will also curate some of the rare Indian art forms such as the dolls theatre by Sudip Gupta from Kolkata; Rajasthan’s ‘phad’ (scroll) storytelling by Kalyan Joshi; ‘powada’, the vibrant storytelling of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s tales, by Adinath Bapurao Vibhute; and the ‘pandavani’ tales (about the Pandava brothers of Mahabharata) by Ritu Verma.
Shaguna Gahilote, one of the organisers of the festival, will be performing ‘Bapu Ki Kahani’, to commemorate 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. Noted theatre artist Danish Hussain will present a contemporary adaptation of ‘Qissa Urdu Ki Aakhri Kitaab Ka’, originally written by Pakistani poet Ibn-e-Insha.
Guyana-origin artist Godfrey Duncan, who has been instrumental in reviving storytelling in the UK, will narrate tales from Africa, in a traditional style. Nicknamed TUUP (which stands for ‘The Unprecedented Unorthodox Preacher’), he will also present stories of famous mythological Indian duo Vikram-Betal.
Other overseas artists at the festival include East Sussex-based Xanthe Gresham, who will narrate tales from diverse geographies such as the UK, Greece, Russia and Iran. Michal Malinowski, Director of The Storytelling Museum of Poland, will be bringing legends and myths from the culturally rich central European country. The finale will have maverick Indian actor Pankaj Tripathi talk about the art of storytelling in performance.
The festival was first launched in 2010 by NGO Nivesh and the Himalayan Hub for Art Culture and Heritage (HHACH), with the support of UNESCO. It is part of the travelling literature festival 'Ghummakkad Narain', which has been inspired by the life of Thakur Vishva Narain Singh, India's first Braille editor.
With its morning sessions strictly dedicated to school children and the evening programmes focusing on all age groups, the festival aims to dispel the myth that storytelling is a hobby pursued only by kids. The festival is visited by over 10,000 people each year.