A glimpse into Traditional Music and Crafts of Bengal at the Ripples festival

Interpreting English playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s famous play, The Tempest, through ‘Raibenshe’ – a little known folk martial art of Bengal, listening to soul-stirring music of the Bauls or the singing minstrels of Bengal who draw inspiration from everyday life, or learning the intricacies of Bengal’s ‘kantha’ embroidery are some of the major attractions which are being showcased at the Ripples Festival between January 15 and 17, 2021.


About 175km by road from Kolkata, is Tepantar, a hub for performance arts, run by a city-based social welfare and cultural organisation, Banglanatak dot com. Located in a green corner of Satkahania village, it is a self-sustained campus where group members practise farming, dairy and pisciculture. The campus also offers accommodation facilities for visitors. 

Organised in collaboration with British Council India, the Ripples Festival has been designed keeping in mind UN’s theme for 2021 – International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, according to the organisers. “Ripples festival is a celebration of intangible cultural heritage of Rarh Bengal covering art and culture villages, to strengthen cultural tourism, benefitting artist communities of that belt,” explained Amitava Bhattacharya, Director, Banglanatak dot com. (Usually the area between the Chhota Nagpur Plateau to the west and the Ganga to the east is known as Rarh.)

The showstopper of the festival will be the Shakespeare Theatre Festival, where three of the bard’s famous plays – The Tempest, Romeo Juliet, and Macbeth – will be staged. Combining the acts with local flavour will be the highlight of the theatre festival.

As the theatre festival will take place in the evening, you can explore the nearby crafts villages by day. A souvenir hunter and shoppers’ delight, Nanoor is about 20km by road from Tepantar. Here most women are adept in ‘kantha’ embroidery as the famous quilting art of Bengal is known as. If you have the time, they are not averse to sharing their skills with you. Nanoor is also known for old terracotta temples. 

Or, you may visit Surul, six km by road, which is home to craftspeople who can churn out an amazing range of products from shola pith. Shola pith decorations have been an integral part of Bengal’s social life – from ornaments for goddess Durga to making the headgear worn by the bride and groom during marriage ceremony. The artisans will be delighted to share their tips for carving this delicate plant. Shola products make for nice souvenirs and home decoration items too. Unfortunately, this is now a dying art, with the onslaught of the synthetic polystyrene, which is not all eco-friendly.

The Ripples Festival also coincides with a traditional musical fair held in Kenduli village on the banks of the River Ajay. Although it is a matter of debate, according to local people, this was where the famous poet Joydev, author of Geetagobindam, was born. Every year, during Makar Sankranti, singing minstrels of Bengal, the Bauls, congregate here to take a holy bath in the river and indulge in singing all night long. The Bauls are a community by themselves and do not follow any prescribed religion. Their biggest achievements include the ability to see the world in a nutshell, and expressing complicated philosophical thoughts through commonplace similes and simple language.    

Gradually, the fair began to attract folk singers and music aficionados. Even musicians from abroad are known to turn up at the festival, proving that music can transcend barriers of language and geography. Kenduli (also Joydev Kenduli) is across the river from Tepantar but you may drive down (distance: around 20km). There are a few Baul akhara (ashrama) that operate round the year while many spring up during the festival. You may visit the akharas (it is polite to ask for permission to enter or to record songs or photograph) during the evening when the performances are held.

The festival, which will be inaugurated by Jonathan Kennedy, Director Arts, British Council India, on January 15, at Tepantar, has also arranged for webinars and online streaming of cultural performances and craft demonstrations by selected artists.