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Telangana strives to create a separate cultural identity

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-06-2017 Yunus Y. Lasania

Hydearabad: In a bid to create its own cultural identity after being carved out as a separate state from Andhra Pradesh three years ago, the Telangana government has been reviving local art and dance forms and rewriting history text books to assert its individuality, which it says was overshadowed and suppressed for decades.

The department of language and culture (DLC) has been pushing to encourage neglected tribal, folk and Deccani art forms, and has conducted nearly 3,000 cultural events and training programmes for artists in the last three years.

The Telangana state council for higher education (TSCHE) has revised the under-graduate history, Telugu, political science and public administration textbooks, stating that the earlier versions had no relevance to the state. Soon after Telangana’s birth in June 2014, Bathukamma, a floral festival celebrated by women, was declared a state festival.

“There was neglect and suppression of our culture. This department was headed mostly by people from Andhra Pradesh, who didn’t give much importance to Telangana’s culture,” said Mamidi Harikrishna, director, DLC.

Centuries-old tribal and folk arts like Chindu Yakshaganam (drama staged by the scheduled caste Chindu community) and Gussadi (dance by the Gond scheduled tribe), were never brought to the mainstream in the past, he said.

The DLC has also been trying to revive old “native” art forms. Perini, an old classical dance typically performed before going to war, was conducted once in 1985 at Warangal after dance exponent Natraja Ramakrishna revived it. Ramakrishna trained 108 artists and had conducted the programme but after his death, Perini also disappeared.

“I was shocked to find just 12 of the remaining 108 artists, who were all over 60 years old. Before 1985, it was last performed in 1323 during the Kakatiya kindom’s reign, and was the creation of Jayappa, an army commander,” said Harikrishna. Today, there are about 1,000 artists trained in it and the art form is also a subject in music and dance colleges run by the state government, he said.

The Urdu language and Deccani art forms like Qawwali, Sufi Sangeet, Ghazals, and Mushairas, which are part of Hyderabad’s culture, were also overlooked. “Between 2004 and 2014, only 240-odd events were held for Urdu promotion. And after Telangana was created in 2014, we have held about 800 programmes for the same,” he said.

Since the birth of united Andhra Pradesh in 1956, the common refrain was that AP disregarded Telangana’s culture and considered its dialect inferior, though Telugu was the language for both. People from the Telangana faction often said that their struggle was also for self respect and dignity.

Mallesh Sankasala, vice-chairman, TSCHE, said that rewriting of textbooks in Telangana was important, as personalities like poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Chakali Ailamma (who revolted against the feudal landlords during the Asaf Jahi era prior to 1948), were never mentioned in history books.

“Even in political science (text books), it was heavily AP oriented and there was no mention of the 1969 Telangana agitation or the ones that subsequently followed. And in terms of history, there was not much about the Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi dynasties, which ruled Hyderabad for over 400 years,” said Sankasala.

“I do believe that a cultural renaissance is on. There was suppression before, like the dialect of the region was a butt of jokes. Now it has become part of the mainstream media, be it films, radio or news. The government is also focusing on the local culture and festivities like Bathukamma,” said state minister for information technology K. T. Rama Rao.

Sankasala of TSCHE added that AP’s history has not been “erased” as issues of national importance pertaining to both states have been retained in textbooks.

I. Lakshmi, former head of Osmania University’s history department, sees the issue as nothing but a political exercise.

Both the Telugu states were under the Kakatiya Kingdom. Even under the Asaf Jahi rule (early 1700s to 1948), its rule extended till Machilipatnam in AP. The demand for Telangana came after Andhra Pradesh was formed in 1956 due to various complaints.

“Historically speaking, the whole agitation for separate statehood was more economic than cultural. People experienced poverty and oppression. They needed a helping hand, which they felt did not happen. The identity of Telangana evolved after 1956, due to economic imbalances in the joint Andhra Pradesh,” she added.

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