On the bustling streets at the tip of India, a long bow (villu or vil) protrudes from bus windows or finds its place atop vehicles, and is carried by singers to the festival arena. This unique instrument is at the heart of the bow songs (villu/vil pattu) performed in numerous temples during the Kotai festival. In this exhibition, the rich archival materials from the ARCE (Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology) takes center stage, predominantly collected through an eighteen month of fieldwork by Dr. Stuart Blackburn, who has widely worked on Tamil oral narratives and literature. This laborious undertaking has yielded a remarkable collection of approximately 175 hours of meticulously recorded audio materials, gathered from various villages across Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu. While this exhibition draws upon a vast reservoir of recordings, it intimately focuses on three compelling narratives that collectively span around 25 hours of audio content, all preserved within the ARCE's repository. Moreover, the exhibition also presents historical materials amassed by two eminent ethnomusicologists, Dr. Arnold Bake and Dr. Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy. Among the stories skillfully narrated through the bow songs are the accounts of Vallarakkan, Muthupattan, and the Little Brothers, namely Kunju Thampi and Valiya Thampi (the Tampimar). Each narrative unfolds the tropes of rich Tamil oral history, offering an insight into the spirituality and cultural essence of the region.
Curated by Arya Adityan