“Kalari” literally means ‘field’, ‘battle field’, ‘dance space’, ‘theatre’, ‘training hall’ etc. In South Travancore and Kerala, the Training Centres for the Martial art ‘Kalari Payat” was known as ‘Kalari’. Folk Art forms by their very nature, express joy, unity, protest, justice, equality and simplicity. Kalari Centre is a place where people will be trained in such values through Folk Art forms. It is a place of Rehearsal for Revolution. It is in this sense the name ‘Kalari’ is used in Kalari Folk Cultural Centre.
Kalari Folk Cultural Centre, was started in 1994 as one of the units of the Kottar Diocesan Commission for Social Communications, by the late Bishop Leon A. Tharmaraj. The Founder and Director of the Centre is Rev. Dr. Vincent B.Wilson, who with his special charism and expertise started his cultural journey already in 1986 with “Vizhipor Cultural Troupe”and “Hassmi Cultural Troupe” which finally blossomed as Kalari, after his Ph D on ‘Christian Folk Drama’.
In the initial years, Kalari conducted systematic Folk Arts and Street Theatre Training programmes together with Sakthi Centre, Dindigul, besides performing cultural programmes in the District and outside. These activities created a great impact by increasing the interest in Folk Art forms. Through Cultural Tours, Cultural Nights and Folk Art Trainings social awareness was created among people.
In the latter years Kalari became a full-fledged Institute with four departments viz. Cultural Troupe, Training Department, Research Department and Publications Department. In 2001 -2002 Rev. Dr. Patrick Gnanapragasam was the Director of Kalari and in 2002, Fr. Amaladas Densingh was joint Director of Kalari. Number of Trainings were conducted in schools, colleges, Parishes and NGOs. This created a great impact in the Diocese and the whole region. More than 1000 Street Plays and 500 Stage Programmes were performed. These earned a special name for Kalari. The publications and audio video productions were greatly appreciated in the whole region. ‘Adavu Katti Aada’, a Text book for Folk Dances by Dr. Vincent B. Wilson was given an award for the best book in Folklore in 2004, by the Tamil Nadu Government. Kalari became the only Centre totally dedicated to Folk Media in the Catholic Church in India.
Kalari has been raised to the status of Regional Centre for Folk Media, by the Bishop's of Tamil Nadu. Therefore Kalari is given the responsibility of coordinating the folk communication in all the dioceses of Tamil Nadu. This requires a convenient infrastructure and qualified staff besides setting up the centre in an accessible place. Our Bishop Most Rev. Peter Remigius is helping to establish a new infrastructure in Rajavoor, 12 KM from Nagercoil to meet these needs.
The Objectives of Kalari
- To focus on the unattended and under emphasized Folk Art Forms and Culture of the marginalized and oppressed Folks – the little traditions of yesterday and today.
- To establish the identity of people of this culture, like the Dalits, Tribals and other ethnic groups so that they will be helped to participate in the global democracy
- To look for and foster the liberative potentials of these cultures so that the cause of the transformation of the world may be promoted
- To inculturate the universal values such as love, justice and peace in these traditions for mutual benefit and initiate appropriate social education programmes.
- To develop education and training modules on the burning socio economic themes through the folk dances, folk dramas and folk songs to empower the marginalised and vulnerable sections, particularly women from the dalith and tribal communities.
The Rationale and Methodology
The rationale for the above mentioned objectives is as follows : The Christian mission of spreading the Good News, in order to be effective, is to be mediated through the cultural sentiments and sensibilities of the ordinary people. Christian mission in India so far has, by and large, relied on the sentiments of the classical cultural elements. Now, with the insights shed by studies in Anthropology and Folklore, we are able to appreciate the role of folk cultural elements in the mission of ‘evangelization’ in a broader sense. Unlike the Classical Culture, Folk Cultural elements have immediacy to the life context of the people and therefore they resonate with the faith sentiments of the people more effectively.
Another important dimension is that focusing on the folk cultural traditions contributes to highlight the multicultural context of India. Highlighting the multi-culturality serves as an anti-dote to the now advancing communal forces that are, by their cultural imperialism, trying to suffocate the space for the minorities and their cultural activities.
We therefore, unearth and bring to light the dying Folk Art forms, learn them from the traditional artists, systematize them, give a social content to them, use technology to make them effective and attractive and finally give them back to the people. In this way we develop the Folk Media to meet the needs of the present society.