ITRHD, the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development, organized a two-day festival that brought both recognition and livelihoods to the artisans and performers from Azamgarh.
Azamgarh, a district in Uttar Pradesh is just about 100 kms from Varanasi, Azamgarh is one of the poorest districts in the state, and yet has one of the richest cultural heritages in the country.
Here, artisans take pride in their traditional crafts, while musicians do their best to keep their traditions alive. Three clusters — Nizamabad, Mubarakpur, and Hariharpur — all located within easy reach of Azamgarh town, form the Azamgarh Project by the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development.
One of the earliest projects adopted by ITRHD, for a comprehensive development of these three extraordinary villages, each with a strong and living heritage, and each suffering from poverty, lack of basic amenities, and infrastructure, and the danger of losing precious traditions, this has been an ongoing project.
The village of Nizamabad specialises in the crafting of a unique black pottery, often embellished with silver. These potters are said to have migrated from Kutch in the time of Aurangzeb and have been the recipient of many national awards. The nearby village of Mubarakpur, home to thousands of weavers of silk Banarasi saris with gold and silver zari work finds mention in the travels of Ibn Batuta, almost 400 years back. The third village, Hariharpur, possesses a classical music tradition where every Brahmin family can boast of one or more vocal and/or instrumental musicians. This tradition has also existed for at least 400 years, depending solely on the training and guidance provided by the elders.
This village is unique in more ways than one. The musicians from Hariharpur, a 200-year old village which has also produced eminent singers like Pandit Chhanulal Mishra and Rajan Sajan Mishra amongst others, is a unique discovery. They are known for their own of Purabi Gayaki style of the Banaras Gharana.
One of the main challenges in keeping these traditions alive, since many in the younger generations look for other profitable pastures, is to do everything to improve their livelihoods and improve working conditions.
The Azamgarh Project, over the years, has continued to place their resources to nurture rural traditions and put in place systems by which the community can benefit commercially and improve their skills. Today, their crafts are being sold both in domestic and international markets.
As a part of their role as a catalyst in reviving this rural heritage and traditions one of the major activities in the Trust calendar has been to organise the Annual Crafts Fair in Delhi to promote the works of the weavers and potters and the keep alive the legacy of the Hariharpur music artistry.
While it has been an annual feature, till Covid restrictions caused a major interruption— and this year, the Azamgarh Barmer Crafts and Music Festival was staged once again in association with Alliance Francaise, New Delhi. The three-day festival was held between 19-22 January, 2024.
This time, the carpet weavers from Barmer were also included at the festival. The weavers from Barmer even wove on site, becoming a photo-op subject, complete with the weavers sporting the regulation Rajasthani “mooch.” The Desert Craft covered intricate embroidery, Ajrakh prints, appliqué work, weaving, and the crafting of camel hair dhurries, among other desert-inspired crafts.
Ladies were seen at the various sari and dress material stalls, taking time to make up their minds on which colours to buy and how many to buy at that. Understandably, the choice was difficult. The colours, the exquisite zari work and the material made the choices difficult, till the buyers decided to buy in numbers to be on the safe side. With the shaadi season on, gifting authentic sarees purchased from the “source” was naturally adding to the story.
The potters had placed their material on display and you could see people buying coffee mugs to even gift items. The encouraging element was that the buyers did not bargain beyond a point as they all realised that the artisans needed to be encouraged to keep the tradition alive. After all, India lives in her villages!
The two evenings when the musician from Hariharpur performed was an experience to talk about. The Tal Badya, comprising of five tabla players — the youngest being 17 — accompanied by their 70+ year-old dadaji playing the harmonium, was something to write home about. As were the thumris, the chaitis, the horis and other forms of light classical music. The presence of Pandit Sajan Mishra, who too hails from the same village on the second night, added to the performance value and the auditorium went full to capacity.
It is hoped that this festival, along with others becomes an annual feature in the Delhi NCR calendar. The enthusiasm amongst the people was certainly encouraging, as were the numbers.
Conserving and nurturing rural heritage is a foundation for sustainable economic growth as it ensures livelihood to rural residents in their traditional habitat, and increases the pride and self-confidence of the entire community.