The 27th edition of the Soorya Festival in Dombivli will feature rare dance forms from Kerala. Soma Das profiles the history of the festival, which has a mention in the Limca Book of Records as the world's longest running festival

Every year, for five days, the suburb of Dombivli shifts its geographical co-ordinates and resembles a mini-South Indian town. That is thanks to the Soorya Festival, which showcases art forms from South India.

A Kathakali performance

The festival is the brainchild of 'Soorya' Krishnamoorthy, a Thiruvananthapuram-based former ISRO scientist who accepted voluntary retirement to drive his passion for theatre. This was 35 years ago when he formed the Soorya Stage and Film Society as a non-profit organization.

A Mohiniyattam performance. Pic/ AFP

Three decades on, they boast of branches and cultural festivals in 23 countries including Singapore, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Ireland and Italy. In India, they have chapters in Pune, New Delhi, Orissa, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Based in Kerala, Soorya Krishnamoorthy (60) is the one-man army who plans the events from Kerala and ensures his team executes the same all over the world. For Mumbai chapter, the Soorya Festival is hosted in Dombivli in collaboration with the Kalakshetram charitable trust, which promotes classical forms of performance arts. This year marks the 27th edition of the Soorya Festival and will showcase a selection of 10 dance forms from Kerala, including the popular Mohiniyattam and Kathakali as well as the unique Pava kathakali (puppet theatre from Kerala) and tribal dances. A food festival showcasing the lesser-known cuisines from Kerala will also be held.

365-day celebrations
The Soorya Festival has bagged a spot in the Limca Book of Records as being being the largest cultural society in the world (with 1 lakh members) and for hosting the largest and longest running festival in the world (365 continuous days of events across the world). Hence, it is surprising that the organisation is run entirely on voluntary efforts and doesn't own an office or personal staff. Yet they have ensured that all their concerts are non-ticketed events thanks to their loyal sponsors.

"We host events that are related to dance, music and folk arts. While Soorya's roots are in South India, our programmes have included dance forms from Orissa as well as Hindustani Classical recitals. The reason that we started this festival was to introduce rare classical traditions from across India to the common man," said Krishnamoorthy.

He admits that the festival managed to thrive due to its volunteers. Krishnamoorthy recounts a touching anecdote. "It is especially difficult to stage performances in Europe due to the high auditorium rents. Since the bulk of our volunteers work in hospitals as doctors and nurses, they pitched in overtime to contribute their earnings to host the festival," he reminisces.

Krishnamoorthy, who is now affectionately called Soorya, admits that he chose the name because it represents power, auspiciousness and light, which is what art stands for as well.

Why Dombivli?
Over two decades, the Soorya Festival has found a home in Dombivli thanks to the efforts of Vishnu Nambudiri, the founder director of Kalakshetram. It was while working as an Income Tax Officer that Nambudiri started Kalakshetram and juggled his dual duties till he retired. "Dombivli was a natural choice because it has a significant population of South Indians. For decades it has been a home away from home due to the affordable property rates," he states.

Kalakshetram's aim is to introduce traditional art forms to urban dwellers. "The festival is one part of our mission. Throughout the year, we also conduct classes on Carnatic music, classical dances, playing the violin and mridangam. There is a well-stocked library with books and videos related to the performing arts," he concludes.

Till: January 30
At: Model English School, Pandurangwadi, Dombivli (E).