Diving Into The Historic Indian Culture At The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

Diving Into The Historic Indian Culture At The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
Image source: Sanika Mandaogade

Every nook and corner of Mumbai has a story to tell, like Kala Ghoda, which is back with its Arts Festival after two years.

The fest has woven the stories of local Indian artists, performers, chefs and writers into the art, which is on display for nine days.

From February 4 to 12, Kala Ghoda will burst into colour, art, music, dance, and workshops from all around India.

Celebrating art, culture and history, the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is spread across the landmarks of South Bombay like Cooperage Bandstand, National Gallery of Modern Art, Kitaab Khana and the likes.

Experiencing Mumbai Through The Arts

Started in 1999, the Kala Ghoda Arts Fest is back with its 20th edition, with something for everyone. The theme for the year is ‘Past Forward’, glimpses of which you cannot miss in the installations, the films and the enticing menus of the cafes at Kala Ghoda, some of which are specially curated for the fest.

The Heritage Walks, however, stand out in the fest and are a must-try. Bringing you closer to the history of Indian culture, especially Mumbai, the walks titled ‘Footsteps in Time’, let you experience the saga of the birth of many stories like the Mumbai terror attacks starting at the Nariman Lighthouse and the creation of Ballard Estate, a slice of ‘Edwardian London’ in the port.

If you wish to see Mumbai with a fresh frame of mind, hop on the open deck bus driving through the heart of the city and explore the lanes of South Bombay through ‘Fort on Wheels’.

My day at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival entailed sitting for literature readings at the David Sassoon Library, and then heading over to the Yashwant Rao Centre for panel discussions and screening of critically acclaimed films. The intriguing multilingual film line-up ranges from ‘Shankar’s Fairies’ by Irfana Majumdar, ‘Fire in the Mountains’ by Ajitpal Singh to the renowned ‘All that Breathes’ by Shaunak Sen, which recently bagged an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

For a much-needed break, take a walk around Cooperage Bandstand for a series of food stalls offering samples and workshops that you won’t get enough of. Ask for the ‘Kala Ghoda Art Festival Special’ at Kala Ghoda’s famous cafes like Smoke House Deli, Woodside Inn and 145 Kala Ghoda for a flavourful surprise.

For a change of scenery, visit Cross Maidan, where the park is filled with quirky art installations about technology, the Indian Constitution, art vandalism and of course, Mumbai and its all-encompassing city life. Cross Maidan is also staging award-winning artists like Shalmali Kholgade and Hariharan, and folk dancers who can be a delight to watch and present an opportunity to be enlightened about the art forms.

India Going Vocal For Local

Top off your day by walking down Kala Ghoda and buying unique cultural memoirs from stalls from all over India. Some of the crowd favourites were the Madhubani stall from Bihar, Chiratrat from Maharashtra featuring pop and retro frames of Bollywood posters, and the leather puppets from Andhra Pradesh.

While in conversation with Ankita at Karustuti-The Weaver’s Gallery stall from West Bengal, she highlighted the importance of raising awareness about handloom and supporting the cottage-based industries of India. “We sell sarees made of hand-spun cotton, a speciality of Bengal, (using) khadi, resham… thus reviving Indian culture. But today people go for affordable wear and miss out on the work of local craftsmen. We wish to give these weavers an opportunity.” This seems to be the message most of the small traders and craftsmen at the fest wish to propagate through their products.

Representing the scenic mountains of Kashmir, Sheikh Altaf Hussain came to the fest with the widely loved Kashmiri shawls. “We are in this family business for 30 years now. It’s sad to see craftsmen growing distant from making shawls in Kashmir. People often do not buy it because it is expensive, since the material comes all the way from Ladakh,” he said.

Sushant, who particularly works with handicrafts and handlooms from Assam like sarees, stoles and kaftans, shared how Mumbai and the Kala Ghoda fest are accepting of such art and so like many, he flocked to the festival to showcase his business.

There’s a common misconception among people about handlooms being overpriced and offering no innovation and design. Sushant’s collection, on the other hand, can be worn all year round and is made from sustainable airy silk that has a thermal collector.

On the same note, Sushma Nangaokar, founder of The Decorous.com specialising in sustainable fashion, brought something special to the table. Talking about Kala Ghoda being a dream for her and her enterprise, Sushma shared how people have now started inculcating sustainable fashion. “All our products are handmade and made by underprivileged women artisans. Secondly, what we are creating is usually zero-waste inducing, recyclable and sustainable all while being attractive. That’s my message to everyone: Support women and go sustainable.”

Carrying forward his father’s business of cotton interlocking daris from Warangal, Telangana, Srinivas has been connected to the craft since 1998. He wishes to urge people to not just buy local handicrafts but also gain more insight into their history.

An art installation by the students of NIFT at Cross Maidan, beautifully voices what these craftsmen have to say. Broken pieces of glass reflect the beautiful design of traditional wear depicting that we must value and support our culture and handloom before it shatters.

With joined hands, smiling faces and a promise of unparalleled service, artists at the Kala Ghoda fest urge everyone to explore our Indian culture that has so much to offer, from food and literature to dance, music and art. Spending a day here will undoubtedly make you feel connected and closer to your roots in uncountable ways. In the face of the bustling traffic and growing technology in the city of Mumbai, events like the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival make sure to keep you tethered to the genesis of your culture.


Read more: Mumbai Urban Art Festival Paints The City In Shades Of Marines

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