The Past, Present and the Future

Friday, March 30, 2007

Dollu Kunitha

Dollu is a percussion instrument which is used in the group dance of the "Kuruba's" community in North Karnataka area. A group of 12 dancers beat the drum and dance to its different rhythms, which are controlled and directed by a leader with cymbals. Slow and fast rhythms alternate and the group weaves varied patterns. Woven around the presiding deity of Beereshwara, chiefly worshipped by the shepherd clan, who comes under the caste of Kurubas, also called Halumathasthas, it presents both entertainment and spiritual edification. 'Dollu-Kunitha' is popular with the kurubas of 'Beereshvara Sampradaya'.

In all temples of Beereshwara, it is a religious practice to hang a "Dollu" in the premises of the temple by means of thick ropes tied up to the hooks fixed in the ceiling. Every time pooja is offered to Beereshwara, the custom demands that there should be an instantaneous beating of the Dollu as an accompanying act of worship.

Origin of Dollu

Origin of 'Dollu' is traced to the divine couple Shiva and Parvathi. Here’s how the story goes: To kill time, Shiva and Parvathi played games. They bet as well. The bet was that the loser was to leave Kailasa to live anonymously in 'Bhuloka'. Shiva loses and he moved into a cave in Bhuloka and stayed there in the form of a stone.

'Mayamurthi' Shiva's ardent loyalist guards the cave. As years pass by, Parvathi fed up of managing the universe sends 'Vayu' in search of Shiva but in vain. Narada locates the cave, kills Mayamurthi and forces 'Shiva' to return to Kailasa. Shiva unwilling to leave behind the dead body of his trusted and beloved guard, makes Dollu out of the dead body and carries it to Kailasa! Hence 'Dollu' is popular among Shaivites. The 'Dollu' used by the Kurubas is made of either sheep or goat skin. It is fit tightly to a frame made of honne or mango tree wood.

Usually, the troupe consists of about a dozen artistes as dancing partners. The background has tala, tappadi, trumpets, gong and flute, raised to a high-pitched tenor. These instruments are used to reinforce the rich vibrations of Dollu. A miniature model of Dollu, easy to carry in hand, and handle it for beating – is often employed while singing a distinct class of songs-Dollu Songs/Drum Songs.

The songs that come under this category are referred to as 'kaipattu' – songs that just beat (no stick is involved but the incessant play of the hands all the time-hence called Kaipattu). Stressing the importance of Revanasiddeswara, they sing in his glory, giving an altogether different ring of intonation as distinguishable from the rest of other kinds of folk singers. Their ancestral pride is something, unconditional when they take to singing, tracing the origin of their genealogy, evolution and development over the ages. This expressive literature in its oral tradition goes by the legend called 'Halumatha (Kuruba) Purana'.

Mythological, historical and social themes are narrated by the chief narrator with the powerful musical accompaniment consisting of the Dollu, the cymbals and the flute providing appropriate musical setting to the narration. Messages on loan melas, small savings, adult education and population control programmes have been integrated into this folk dance.

In the year 1987 the "Dollu" dance troupe participated in the U.S.S.R. festival under the leadership of K.S.Haridas Bhat, toured two and half month traveled and presented glorious performances in Moscow, Leningrad, Vibrog Archangel, Murmansk, Pskov, Novogorod and Tashkent.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Suggi Kunita

The festival dance of the "Haalakki vakkaliga" performed (by men folk in the past) during the harvest season is called "Suggi Kunita" in the North Coastal Karnataka.

The "Suggi" is taken out on the occasion of "Kamana Hunnima". The "hooli" festival begins in the month of march and the dance starts on full moon day or at the earliest 4 days before the full moon.

In groups of either 12 or 14 men folk move from village to village by beating the "Gummate" (percussion) drums and sing songs of fertility, collect the cash and grains and on full moon day dance in front of the community house. When it returns after its tour on the Kamana Hunnime day Kama is burnt followed by festivities. The Suggi procession is believed to eradicate diseases in the village, bring rains and fulfill the wishes of the people. The Suggi artistes are mostly farmers.

The artists wear beautiful costume and headgear made of softwood, decorated with many carved birds and flowers that looks like the crown of fertility. The group dances with sticks in one hand and a brush made of peacock feathers in the other.

Along with clown characters they amuse the audiences. The minor comic characters are identified as 'sooginavaru' or 'haasyagaararu'.The suggi procession to the singing and dancing with the background of "Gamate" is greeted in every house with aarthi.

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Goravara Kunita

Gorava dance or 'goravara kunita' a dance of the Shiva-cult is more popular in the Mysore region and North Karnataka regions.

Goravas are singing tribe from regions of Mysore, Shimoga, Belgaum and Dharwad districts. The artists of Gorava mela have immense abilities of oral communication and perception. They narrate stories of religious values.The dancers' foot moves in clock- wise and zig-zag form, there is no fixed choreography to these performers.

In South Karnataka (Mysore region) the 'Goravas' worship the diety called 'mudukutore mallikaarjuna'. They wear colorful costume like black and white woolen rug, fur cap (of black bear) and hold 'Damaru' (percussion instrument) and 'pillangoovi' (flute).

In North Karnataka the 'Goravas' worship "Mylara linga" (Shiva). They wear costume of black woolen rug and hang a bag (made of skin) on their shoulder. Some wear black-coat and white dhoti.

The 'Gorava' wears yellow powder on his forehead and also gives it as 'prasada' to his believed devotees. Artiste holds instrument like 'damaru' (percussion) sometime holds 'kolalu' (flute) and rarely few artiste wear on shoulder a small bronze bell few followers hold cowbells called 'paarigante'. In traditional context the 'Gorava' devotees dance in trance and some time bark like dogs. It is believed that the totem of the 'Mylaralinga' is dog.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Kolata or stick dance is a kind of valour dance involving groups of people who indulge in bending, swaying and jumping activities to the tune of rhythmic clashing of sticks. With two sticks in hand, each dancer can strike in various patterns and rhythms.

There is considerably more flexibility in the pattern of dancing so also singing. Members of Vokkaliga, Nayaka and Golla communities of Mysore, Mandya and Hassan districts and the Hallakki Gowda community of North Karnataka and the Kodavas of Coorg excel in Kolata.

There is a rich spread of romantic and valour themes and references to contemporary, political and social issues in Kolata songs.

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Devadasi Dance

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The Devadasi dance tradition which developed through the temple Danseuses is an important type among the dance patterns of India. Bharatnatyam in Tamil Nadu, Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh, Odissi in Orissa and Mohiniyattam in Kerala took shape in the tradition of Devadasi dance. These dance forms grew and developed a classical status.

In the Puranas, there are references that a custom of dedicating maidens to the deity in temples was prevalent in India from very early times. They later came to be known as 'Devadasis'. They were in charge of the music and dance aspects of temple rituals. In India the dancing and singing of Devadasis was an integral part of temple worship. They were attached to temples in various parts of India, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Mysore, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Orissa and Kashmir. It was a common custom in all places that maidens under went a symbolic marriage with the deity before she became a Devadasi. In Kerala, it was called 'Penkettu'.

The Saiva section of Hinduism fancied the Devadasi custom more than the others. The 'Shiva Purana' lays down that when Siva temples are built and endowments made for the conduct of the daily rituals, the gift of damsels well versed in dance and song should be made to the temple. History records the fact when in the 9th century A.D. Raja Raja Chola built the Brahadesvara temple in Tanjore he gifted four hundred Devadasis to the temple.

Though in the beginning the Devadasi institution was confined to Siva worship, as times passed other forms of relegion also adopted the Devadasi tradition. By about the 1st century B.C, the Devadasi system had found a place in Buddha, Jama and Hindu temples. Various references in ancient literature gives us an idea of the Devadasi tradition and their dance performances. In Kautilya's Arthasastra (considered to be written in the 3rd century B.C) there are references to Devadasis and their training in dance. In 'Mricchaghatiham' a Sanskrit drama supposed to have been written by 'Sudraka' in the 2nd century B.C, the heroine Vasantasena is introduced as a good danseuse. The original 'Katha-Sarit-Sagara' (the ocean of story) written in Paisaci language is deemed to have been composed before the birth of Christ. Though original is lost, its Sanskrit translations are available. In the story entitled 'Alajala', a dancing girl 'Sundari' who performed in temples is mentioned. The earliest and the greatest Tamil epic poems, 'Cilappatikaram' and 'Manimekhalai' are the main sources of information about the life of the danseuses of Tamil Nadu and Kerala of that age and their special styles of dancing.

In the course of time, separate subsects of Devadasis came into being. The duties of Devadasis included dancing as well as cleaning the temples, providing flowers and other items needed for the conduct of the daily propitiations in the temple, cleaning the rice and the articles of offerings to the deity to help the work of the priests. In addition, they were called upon to perform dances in the King's court and serve the palace in general. This variety in their work pattern gave rise to various types with separate distinctive names.

The Devadasis known as 'Basavis' in Karnataka, are of 4 types. Those who danced in temples were considered the most prestigious and they belonged to the highest class. The Maledavaru indicated the section which took part in dance recitals in marriages and other festivals, while the Maleyavaru prepared garlands of flowers etc. for the temple and the Subyavaru were plain prostitutes.


Devadasi has a long history, and, like many Hindu practices has evolved into a number of forms. Evidently the first Devadasi were celibate temple dancers, who eventually fell out of favor and some were forced into prostitution.

Ancient and medieval history

Originally, devadasis were celibate all their life. Reference to dancing girls in temples is found in Kalidasa's "Meghadhoot". It is said that dancing girls were present at the time of worship in the Mahakal Temple of Ujjain. Some scholars are of the opinion that probably the custom of dedicating girls to temples became quite common in the 6th century A.D., as most of the Puranas containing reference to it have been written during this period. Several Puranas recommended that arrangements should be made to enlist the services of singing girls at the time of worship at temples.

There can be no denial of the fact that by the end of 10th century, the total number of devadasis in many temples was in direct proportion to the wealth and prestige of the temple. During the medieval period, they were regarded as a part of the normal establishment of temples; they occupied a rank next only to priests and their number often reached high proportions. For example, there were 400 devadasis attached to the temples at Tanjore and Travancore.

Local kings often invited temple dancers devadasis to dance in their courts, the occurrence of which created a new category of dancers, rajadasi's and modified the technique and themes of the recitals. A devadasi had to satisfy her own soul while she danced unwatched and offered herself (surrendered) to the lord, but the rajadasi's dance was meant to be an entertainment.

The rise and fall in the status of Devadasis can be seen to be running parallel to the rise and fall of Hindu temples. Invaders from West Asia attained their first victory in India at the beginning of the second millennium A.D. The practice that probably started around 6th century A.D. seems to have reached its pinnacle around 10th and 11th century A.D. The destruction of temples by invaders started from the northwestern borders of the country and spread to the whole of the country. Thereafter the status of the temples fell very quickly in North India and slowly in South India. One may possibly say the same about the status of Devadasis in India. As the temples became poorer and lost their patron kings (and in some cases temples were destroyed), the Devadasis were forced into a life of poverty, misery, and, in many cases, prostitution.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Yakshagana is a folk form that originated in Kanara -- the coastal strip of Karnataka. The earliest reference to this dance form is in "Bharatatesha Vaibha" (written in 1557) which confirms that the folk form is at least 450 years old. It has its base in the ritualistic Nagamandala practices. The heart of this form is Gana (song), arising from a distinct class of Kannada literature. Particularly every theme carries a moral.

A play generally has 200 to 300 stanzas set to various meters. The "Bhagvata" or the conductor of the dance-opera first sings a verse and the characters interpret it through expressional dance. About 150 ragas are known to the Yakshagana tradition. The principal manifestations are of Vishnu. The dance is usually performed when the crop has been harvested.

Footwork in this dance form is very important, though hasta or hand gestures are almost absent. Aharya or make-up is distinctive as in Kathakali. The characters are divided into certain principal types. Noble kings have a large black moustache and a sacred red mark on the forehead. A guilded crown adds appeal to kings and heroes. The central character in the above picture is "Mahishasura Mardhini".

Kuchipudi, originally from Andhra Pradesh, is one of the classical dances of India. It’s evolution can be traced to traditional dance - drama, known under the generic name of Yakshagaana. In 17th century A.D. Siddhendra Yogi, a talented Vaishnava poet, conceived Kuchipudi style of Yakshagaana. It begins with an invocation to Lord Ganesha followed by nritta (non-narrative and abstract dancing); shabdam (narrative dancing) and natya.

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Bisu Kamsale

The KAMSALE dance is named after the instrument held in hands of the dancer. The KAMSALE artistes or dancers are found in the Kannada speaking areas of Mysore, Nanjangudu, Kollegal and Bangalore.

The instrument comprises a cymbal held in one hand and a bronze disc in the other. The main element in art is the rhythmic clang, which blends with the melodious music of the Mahadeeshvara epic. The instruments, in the course of the vigorous rhythmic beatings, are moved around the body of the dancer in innumerable patterns manifesting both skill and art. In a group movement the dancer provides the vision of a series of offensive and defensive maneuvers.

KAMSALE is closely connected with a tradition of Shiva worship. The artistes, drawn from 'Haalu Kuruba' community. Who have vowed to live a life of devotion to Lord Mahadeeshvara are supposed to perform KAMSALE. The dance is a part of a 'diiksha' or oath and is taught by teacher or spiritual leader.)

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Devotees of shiva-cult dance in groups of two, four and six or more. They sometimes hold a sword and dance. They also perform a ritual on stage viz. piercing a long or short needle across their mouth. The sambal and Dimmu are used as percussion instruments. Cymbals and Shehanoy (wind pipes) are also used. The lead singer narrates "Dakshayajna" epic with percussion instrument beating & creates a heroic tempo.

In the olden days, this dance form was performed by male artists only. Today women have formed their own groups and are performing.

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