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Courtesy of Karnali Arts Centre

Dalit communities throughout Nepal have preserved and passed down knowledge about the performative arts through generations, yet their contributions to cultural, artistic, and revolutionary elements in Nepali history are often overlooked. As an organisation led by Dalit activists, Karnali Arts Centre has experimented with vernacular performative and material mediums to reappropriate and reorient art to focus on Dalit voices and lived realities. Such experimentations include a readaptation of the Bharta, an oral tradition from the Karnali region, where performers sing and dance carrying a two-headed drum known as a hudke. Traditionally, ballads, folk tales, and episodes from the Mahabharat were recounted; compositions by the Karnali Arts Centre satirically and poetically address the persistent discrimation faced by Dalits as well as the fraught relationship between elected leaders and rural communities. Street theatre performances also include carefully selected costumes and accessories, such as the jalya, an intricately beaded necklace customarily made by women from all castes in the Karnali and Sudurpashchim provinces of Nepal. These markers of regional history and creativity are declining, however. Conscious, critical, and political engagements that reintroduce and ensure the intergenerational transfer of such knowledge is integral for the survival of intangible cultural expressions.

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