Janadriyah – The Saudi Heritage Festival by Faiz Al-Najdi SignUp

Janadriyah – The Saudi Heritage Festival
Faiz Al-Najdi Bookmark and Share

The 26th National Heritage and Folk Cultural Festival (also popularly known simply as Janadriyah Festival) shall kick off in Riyadh on Friday the 18th of March and continue until Thursday the 31st March-2011.

Janadriyah Festival is a national heritage and folk cultural festival. Janadriyah plays hosts to the cultural festival annually. Traditional activities, including folk dances, camel races, arts and crafts exhibits as well as poetry readings are showcased for the entire duration of the festival—it lasts for two weeks and is organized by the Saudi Arabian National Guard aka: SANG. This festival is a treasure of Saudi Culture & Heritage and can be compared with those of Williamsburg in the US and Louisburg in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The Festival itself owes its origin to the Camel Race, which up to the mid-eighties, was the only major activity that brought the country back to its heritage. Janadriyah, an area located about 45 km outside Riyadh was chosen to be the location for this National Heritage and Folk Cultural Festival and hence obtained its popular name of Janadriyah Festival. It’s sort of a Country Fair hosted on a National scale; exhibits from all over the Kingdom are brought here to represent their region at its best. The main objectives of the Festival however remain, as one Saudi intellectual rightly puts it, to give recognition and prominence to the solid bond that exists between the old Saudi Cultural Heritage and the present accomplishments of the Saudi Society & the Nation as a whole. This provides, to both the Saudis and the foreigners alike, an excellent opportunity to have a glimpse of the glorious Saudi Past.

Each year around this time of the year (being cold & pleasant), a traditional Camel Race opens the Festival which encompasses almost every aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Culture and Heritage. Artisans such as potters, wood workers & carvers, and weavers demonstrate their traditional skills & crafts in small shops with typical palm-frond roof porches. During the course of the Festival folklore troupes, from across the Kingdom, also perform traditional dances and singers from around the kingdom perform traditional songs and music. Also, literary figures from all over the Kingdom participate in poetry competitions and recite historic verses. There is also a wide participation, in this Festival, by the notable singers and literary figures from across the Arab world, especially from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries.

As for the history of this Festival: the first ever National Heritage and Folk Cultural Festival in Janadriyah was launched in 1985 following a Royal Directive issued by HRH the late King Fahad bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. The then Crown Prince and the present King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) who was also the then head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, is in fact credited for conceiving, pioneering and managing this heritage event of Janadriyah Festival. In short this Festival is in fact the brain-child of King Abdullah. The success of the first Janadriyah Festival went far beyond expectations in respect to both attendance, interests & impact across the length & breadth of Saudi Arabia and in rest of the Arab World. As a result, HRH King Fahad Al-Saud issued instructions for the establishment of a permanent Heritage and Folk Culture Village in Janadriyah the present Site of this Annual Festival.

This Festival has not looked back ever since and each year it is marching forward very majestically and gloriously. It’s very pleasing and absorbing to see the proceedings of this two-week Festival. Those who have fondness for the Arab artifacts, antiquities and folk music & dance would appreciate the presentations of the same in this Festival. One finds a host lot of things to be seen here, which is fun as well as very educative.

For example, one can see how flour was ground the old way by camel labor. In the handicraft area artisans are seen to be hammering metal into knives & daggers, stitch leather sandals, and carve bowls, household utensils and also traditional old doors. The participant artisans here love to engage in discourse and cheerfully share & explain as to how and where they learnt their craftsmanship, which in most cases happens to be the lap or knee of their fathers or grand-fathers. One can also enjoy the traditional songs and dances that echo the timeless melodies of chanting Bedouin (Bedouins are the native rural populace of the Arabian Peninsula) poets. The traditional folk songs and dances of various regions of the Kingdom are exquisitely and very well represented here in this Festival.

From the Hijaz Area (it’s the western part of the Kingdom; Jeddah, Makkah & Madinah are included), the Al-Sihba folk music combines poetry & songs of the Arab Andalusia in medieval Spain. A traditional song & dance known as Al-Mizmar is also performed in Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah. This features the music of the Al-Mizmar, a woodwind instrument similar to the oboe. But the most interesting, famous and Grand Dance of them all is the men’s sword dance, known as the Al Ardah dance. This has its roots in the Najd (the Central part of Saudi Arabia; Riyadh, Buraidah/Qassim & Hail are included) and is also known as the National Dance of Saudi Arabia.

This dance is an ancient tradition that combines singers, dancers and a poet or narrator. In this, men carrying swords stand shoulder to shoulder and, from their midst, a poet begins to sing verses or a short melodic line while drummers beat out the rhythm. This song & dance is also very conspicuous for one particular reason; that is, it’s performed by the Royalties of the House of Al-Saud in unison, during the Janadriyah Festival. Almost entire of the Royalties, led by the HRH King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud dressed in pleasing elegant traditional dresses are seen to be performing this melodious song-dance, keeping the viewers engrossed & absorbed for hours together. The common Saudis and the expatriates enjoy and become excited & jubilant when they see the Royalties, with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud in the fore front, performing this traditional Saudi/Najdi Al Ardah dance.

Further details about this Janadriayh Festival can be obtained by logging on to the following URL Link: http://www.janadria.org.sa/ and by dropping an enquiry to the following email address: Janadria@sang.gov.sa.

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