Karnataka as a patron of arts has nurtured it into the exemplar. Poets, musicians, dancers, thespians, story tellers, writers, artists have flourished in these parts and have contributed to the state’s well-versed repertoire. India’s most respected schools of music, Carnatic and Hindustani over the centuries, were perfected here, with the state bringing forth many greats – Gangubai Hangal, Puttaraj Gawai, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Purandara Dasa, among others. Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Odissi have found their niche in the mainstream culture, and the state boasts some of the best schools in the country. Its characteristic penchant for vibrancy can be seen from the state’s performing arts, which it has perfected into one of extravagance, drama and sheer delight.
A slew of folk arts have their roots in ritualistic performances. While Yakshagana is undisputedly the poster-child of the art forms, its lesser known counterparts are as enthralling as they are many. We’ve listed them out for you here.
The “celestial song” or ‘Yakshagana’ is the most enchanting amalgamation of dance, music and literature. This traditional theatre form with a history of over 400 years is known for it extemporaneous dialogue delivery. Bhagavatha, the main storyteller accompanies a group of musicians – ‘chande’ and ‘mavdale’, as they weave mythological stories helped by hued costumes and dynamic dance forms.
The Dollu Kunita is a powerful drum dance accompanied by acrobatic movements, synchronized group formations and the occasional screams. The shepherd community of Kurubas performs the dance to honour their deity, Beereshwara, a form of the Hindu god, Shiva. A major attraction for any religious festivals in villages, about a dozen artistes move with vigour to the rich vibrations of the Dollu or the drum.
Beesu Kamsale is a vigorous dance form closely associated with the rituals of Malle Mahadeswara worship and employs a great blend of aesthetic sublimity and martial agility. A cymbal-like disc, the ‘Kamsale’ is played in rhythm with the songs exalting the glory of the Lord Mahadeswara.
Somana Kunita is a religious, ritualistic dance performed by two or three artists with elaborate masks. Known as Somas, they were entrusted with the task of guarding the village deities and also worshipping them. The stories related to the birth of the Somas forms the crux of the performance.
This traditional folk theater form revolves around Lord Krishna, and his fight with Indira over the Parijatha tree. Known for their frequent witticisms, they are mostly open-air performances. Simple plots and dialogues, spontaneity of the performers and impromptu improvisations make Krishna Parijata a great attraction to the audiences.
The devotees of Yellama, the patron goddess of the rural folk of North Karnataka, perform Chowdike Mela. ‘Chowdike’, a unique stringed instrument, partners their mesmerizing praise of the Goddess. The singers usually dedicate their entire lives solely to singing the heavenly glory.
This religious dance is performed by the devotees of Shiva, the Hindu God. Attired in fur cap made of bearskin and black and yellow clothing, they sway to the esoteric tunes of the flute and the ‘Damaruga’, a hand-held drum. Accompanying their trance-like movements, are songs handed down through generations, replete with deep mystic meanings.
Veeragase gets its name from the Hindu legendary warrior, Veerabhadra, where dancers narrate the story of Daksha Yajna. Attired in colourful garb and traditional headgear, the dancers carry a wooden plaque of Veerabhadra in their left hand and a sword in their right. The dance sometimes involves a ritualistic piercing of a needle across the tongue.
Puja Kunita is the dance of worship performed to propitiate the Goddess Shakti. The dancer carries a five feet frame made out of bamboo called Puje, wrapped with beautiful saris and flowers, during the performance. Devoid of any stories, the dancers provide visual exclusivity by their acrobatic movements.
Ummaattaattu is the traditional dance form of Coorg made famous by the beautiful Kodava women. Adorned in the traditional red brocade Sari, jewellery and red vermilion on the forehead, they dance in circles to the rhythms of hand-held brass cymbals. Accompanied by singing, the dance form – performed to appease Goddess Cauvery – is usually part of festivals, weddings, etc.
A large percussion instrument made from the wheels of a bullock cart, wrapped with buffalo hides called ‘Jagghalige’ is largely used in this folk art. Usually involving about 15 people, the dancers march to the pulsating beat of the giant drums. Jagghalige Kunita is performed during festivals like Ugadi and Holi.
A Harvest festival dance, Suggi Kunita is performed mostly by the farming community. Artists in beautiful costumes and wooden headgear adorned with carved birds and flowers dance to the tune of drums with sticks and peacock feathers. They enhance the dance sometimes, by their own signing.
Depending on where you are, you can trace the history of the place, learn about its art forms and maybe even pick up a new skill. Karnataka has been very fastidious about preserving its heritage and thus has many museums, libraries and foundations dedicated to the art and art forms, which showcase and sustain the cultural heirlooms of this rather illustrious land.
Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2226 1816, 2226 3424
Nrityagram Dance Village, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2846 6313/ 6314
Rangashankara, Bangalore (theatre)
Tel: 080-2659 2777, 2649 3982
Ninasam Foundation, Shimoga (theatre)
Tel: 08183-265 646
Keladi Museum, Shimoga
Tel: 08183-260 140
Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Mysore
Tel: 0821-242 3693
Folklore Museum, Mysore
Tel: 0821-241 9348
Janapada Loka, Ramnagara (folk heritage museum)
Tel: 080-2720 1143
Sculpture Gallery, Badami
Tel: 08357-220 157
Archaeological Museum, Hampi
Tel: 08394-241 561
Shashwati, Bangalore (Indian women anthropology museum)
Tel: 080-2663 7042
Manjusha Museum, Dharmasthala
Tel: 08256-277 116
Centre for Folk Performing Arts, Udupi
Tel: 0820-252 1159/ 0559
Hastha Shilpa Heritage Village, Manipal
Tel: 0820-257 2061
Government Museum, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2286 4438
National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2234 2338
Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2286 4483/ 3737
Rangayana Museum, Mysore (Theatre Company)
Bendra Bhavana, Dharwad (library-research centre dedicated to the poet Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre)
Kavishalla, Theerthahalli (museum-library dedicated to the poet Kuvempu)
Courtesy: Karnataka Tourism