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A master class in tradition

egend has it that Sage Ved Vyas narrated the Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha, who noted down the copious epic. There are many such stories in the Indian culture, where teachers, sages, bards and scientists would impart knowledge verbally. In recognition of this tradition, UNESCO and two NGOs, Nivesh and Himalayan Hub of Arts and Cultural Heritage, have brought together master story tellers from around the world in Ghummakkad Narain — The Travelling Children's Literature Festival, which celebrates the best traditions of story-telling.

"Ghummakkad Narain refers to an elderly gentleman who is fond of travelling and shares his experiences by narrating his stories to people of all ages," says Shaguna Gahilot, Project Officer with the Culture Division, UNESCO. Since its inception last year, the festival has tried to rekindle an interest in 'listening' to stories, not just digesting the hackneyed offerings on TV. "Stories existed even before the written word. Sadly, newer technology has led to a decline in the story-telling tradition. With this festival, we aim to revive this lost art," Gahilot adds.

Rachna Bisht from Nivesh said, "The two-month-long festival opened on 30 July with the Peace Workshop, where children interacted with authors, and participated in book readings, film screenings, and creative writing and illustration sessions."

The last leg of the event, called The International Story Tellers Festival, was organised at Teen Murti Bhawan and India Habitat Centre from 23-29 September, bringing together the story-telling traditions of seven countries. So while American writer Vergine Gulbenkian performed traditional tales from Armenia using folk songs and dramatic presentation, world renowned performer Brian Laul and his troupe from Australia presented the Wizard of Oz in a colourful and engagingly interactive show.

The idea is more than to just entertain. Gahilot says, "Our master story tellers use personal experiences in their narratives to engage the audience." A case in point being the UK's Dominic Kelly, who performed Crow, exploring the link between myths surrounding crows and his grandfather's life as a trickster.

The festival was inspired by the late Thakur Vishva Narain Singh, a well-known journalist and writer based in Dehra Dun. "He was a master story teller himself and we were inspired by him to carry on this tradition," Gahilot says.

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