My Journey to Explore Gypsy Culture in Tamil Nadu

Jamsheena’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust. 

It was a sunny afternoon, I had lunch and was running towards my class. Suddenly my eyes struck towards a strange old couple smiling with their love and respect. They had very bright yellow and red coloured costumes and some antique bronze jewels. I was not able to hold on the quenching curiosity within my brain. So I walked towards them and asked what they were looking for in Tamil. They were still smiling. I thought I made something wrong! I went inside and it was Lakshmi akka who said they came to book our performance in their village. I went to class. Children are always my source of knowledge about villages. I asked about the couple and they came with different stories evoking my sense of listening to stories. They are called boom boom maatukkarar who visit their villages with an ox and predict fortune. It opened my eyes to explore the gypsy culture in Tamil Nadu. Thanks Dr. Hanne, Rajagopal and all the KKG family to share their piece of knowledge about gypsy culture in Tamil Nadu.

Boom Boom Maatukkaran.

Boom boom Mattukaran or Adiyan or Poo Idayar are group of nomadic tribal people found primarily in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states of India. They historically made a living by travelling from place to place with a decorated bull, entertaining and fortune telling using what is generally termed as boom boom Ox. they are believed to have originated from Andhra Pradesh state and speak in Tamil intermixed with Telugu. Their traditional livelihood is no longer sustainable and they survive on begging and labour work. There are number of private and government initiatives to settle them and provide education to integrate them with settled society.

Sagayapuram village.

Taking you all back to my experience again with this basic knowledge about the tribe. After the class, I came back to see them. Rajagopal and Hanne (my mentors) were talking to them with so much humbleness and respect. My mentors even asked them to bring children to our school for free education. Anyway, that night I was so excited before going to bed thinking about the upcoming performance. On March, we traveled to their village after dinner with our theatre company. Rajagopal sir was narrating his experience as a child visiting those villages with his father. We reached Sagayapuram and I was surprised to see the changes in the village. Government had introduced various schemes to build houses and school for the children. They do farming also. I expected huts and there were no huts! Everyone came and talked to us and invited for dinner. I just went to see their deity perumal. One thing I noticed in that village was the organizational and leadership skill of women. They were making all arrangements for the performance speaking intermix of Tamil and Telugu. I found my place comfortably on the ground among the people. All the people sat together without any gender or social disparities. Our theatre company were performing Kuravanchi in which kuravanchi is the main character and she performs fortune telling. When she entered the stage, all women were making sounds of excitement and whistling with encouragement. They could relate and reflect the character to their emotions and senses. Midnight performance is six to eight hours long. People enjoyed the performance at the same time they perceived theatre as a religious ceremony. Community involvement is the success of theatre like kattaikkuttu. People encourage and respect the artists. I watched Kuravanchi story more than three times. But it was on that day I felt the depth of the play. I forgot I was sitting for eight hours. Duraisamy, Gopinath and Inbarasan were the clowns and they made us laugh so much we thought we would die! Tamilarasi was performing Kuravanchi. She is one of the most talented theatre artist in our company.

Rajagopal’s interactive session with the community.

On the next day, I had so many stories to tell my children about their way of wearing a saree and their vast knowledge about indigenous medicines. I always got connected to their rhythm of life once I started travelling with them as a part of the theatre company to watch all the midnight performances. It was from the villages I learnt the importance of people’s support from the community for the sustainability of rural theatre like kattaikkuttu, especially in this digital era of technology and entertainment.

Jamsheena was born and brought up in India at the outskirts of Kerala. She completed her Masters in English Language and Literature from the University of Kerala. Her academic experience has refined her skills in culture and gender studies and English language teaching. Jamsheena’s areas of interest are education, women empowerment and gender issues.

Jamsheena's Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

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