Shubhalakshmi Shukla

Arts Collaboration

Grant Period: Over six months

Shubhalakshmi Shukla holds an MA and a Ph.D degree. She has been a lecturer and a visiting faculty at various institutions. She is also a published writer.

In late 1999 a section of the Pulaya and Paraya youth – two of the more significant scheduled castes in the central districts of Kerala – came together with a view to interrogating the notion of a performance practice outside traditional ritual and festive contexts. This group, Gotra, is today recognised as an important performing arts and folk music collective in the region.

Gotra is concerned with the manner in which caste practices frame an understanding of culture both for its own members and indeed for society at large. A chance meeting with Gotra got Shubhalakshmi interested in observing the processes of documentation that the Gotra members had fashioned to record aspects of their culture. She understood that Gotra had emerged out of a growing consciousness among its members of belonging to a specific caste and the need to preserve and strengthen the cultural aspects of their (ritual) performances.

Shubhalakshmi decided to go to Chalakudy, where Gotra is located, to spend some time with the group, observing their research methodology and arts practice. Over time she also began to attempt a free translation of the folk songs gathered by Gotra. On completing an initial set of translations, Shubhalakshmi realised that the songs contained within them both a sharp cultural critique that pointed to the injustice of their condition, and a celebration of their work and identity.

Shubhalakshmi, in her proposal to IFA, pointed to the increasing commercialisation of these vital aspects of a community’s culture, both through an appropriation of these songs into the local film industry and the growth of a ‘song-competition’ culture. She had also set out to study the pernicious implications of the caste system for the future of ritual performance and understand its own historical legacy. However, due to other commitments and reasons she couldn’t complete the project and returned the grant money allotted to her.