Folk arts of Karnataka

Folk arts of Karnataka

Dances of Karnataka are one of the ancient dance forms existent in India. Most of the tribal dances are still in effect and enhanced also due to preservation and nature loving culture of Kannadigas.


Kunitha - A ritual dance

Dollu Kunitha performed by women

The ritualistic dances of Karnataka are known as "Kunitha". One such dance is the Dollu Kunitha - a popular dance form of Karnataka, accompanied by the beats of decorated drums and has singing. This dance form is mainly performed by the men of the shepherd community known as the Kuruba community. The Dollu Kunitha is characterized by vigorous drum beats, quick movements and synchronized group formations. .

Classical dances

Among the classical dances of India, the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam, is the oldest and most popular dance form. It is widely performed here. Other mainstream classical dances here include Kuchipudi and Kathak.

Folk arts of Kodagu

"Huttari Dance" and "Bolak-aat" are dance forms of Kodagu. The Kodavas are a unique martial race, different in customs, traditions and religion from the surrounding populace. This is the annual harvest dance of the Kodavas. The men, dressed in traditional Kodava costumes with the decorative knife, perform this slow moving dance to background music. This dance has different varieties:


This is performed by the Kodava men in front of an oil lamp in an open field. The men hold the chavari(Yak fur) in one hand and the Kodava short sword "Odi-kathi" in the other while performing this dance. Many regional variations of this dance exist. Sometimes performers dance only with the chavari without the use of the short sword. When the "Odi-kathi" is also used, it is called kattiyaata. The dudi, an hourglass shaped drum is used to provide the rhythm for the dance.


This is performed by the Kodava womenfolk. The women wear the traditional Kodava dress complete with jewelry, adorn the forehead with kumkuma and in a swinging rhythm, dance in a circle, brass cymbals in hand. One woman stands at the center holding a pot full of water to represent Kaveri taayi or Mother Kaveri, which the Kodavas worship as their prime deity.


While the Bolaak-aat and the Ummattat are of a celebratory and festive nature, the Kombat is a dance performed with religious sentiments. It is traditionally performed in temple premises, but, in recent years, it is also performed in other places. This is a dance performed by the Kodava men and deer horns are used as a prop, representing the horns of the Krishnamruga, a spotted deer in Kodava legend.

The dance is performed to rhythmic tunes provided by wind instruments and percussion. The dance includes certain martial movements that represent some of the techniques used by the Kodavas in warfare.

Arts of Hale Mysore region

Dollu Kunitha or Dollu Dance

Dollu Kunitha performance at the Fireflies Festival of Sacred Music, April 8, 2006.

This is a group dance that is named after the Dollu - the percussion instrument used in the dance. It is performed by the menfolk of the Kuruba community of the North Karnataka area. The group consists of 16 dancers who each wear the drum and beat it to different rhythms while also dancing. The beat is controlled and directed by a leader with cymbals, positioned in the center. Slow and fast rhythms alternate and group weaves varied patterns.

The costumes are simple. The upper part of the body is usually left bare while the a black sheet-rug is tied on the lower body over the `dhooti' or sarong.

A troupe led by K. S. Haridas Bhat also toured the USSR in 1987, giving performances at Moscow, Leningrad, Vibrog Archangel, Pskov, Murmansk, Tashkent and Novograd.

Beesu kamsaLe or kamsaLe nritya(dance)

This is a group dance form performed by the menfolk in villages in the Mysore, Nanjanagudu, Kollegala and Bangalore areas. It is named after the Kamsale that is used both as an instrument and also as a prop by the dancers themselves. The kamsale comprises a cymbal in one hand and a bronze disc in the other and is used to produce a rhythmic clang.

The Kamsale nritya is closely connected to a tradition of Male Mahadeshwara, or Lord Shiva worship by the haalu kuruba community. Most of the dancers are also drawn from this community. The dance is performed to rhythmic and melodious music that is sung in praise of Lord Male Mahadeshwara or Shiva. The dance is a part of a 'diiksha', or oath and is taught by teacher or spiritual leader.

This art-form was showcased prominently in Kannada movies like Janumada jodi and Jogi where the protagonist is a kamsale dancer.

Somana Kunita

Kangeelu Kunita performance

Somana kunita or the 'Mask dance' is a celebratory form of spirit worship prevalent in south Karnataka region. It is performed mostly in village shrines dedicated to the Mother Goddess. The art is mostly practised by the Gangemata community. The dance is characterised by the dancers wearing elaborate masks painted in different colours. The colour of the mask is also indicative of the nature of the deity. A benevolent deity is represented by a red mask while a yellow or black mask suggests the opposite. There are many types of somas or masks, which differ from region to region.

Somana Kunitha is mainly associated with worshipping "Grama Devate" [Village Deity]. Somana Kunitha is a form of folk dance associated with rituals. Somana Kunitha is celebrated mainly after yugadi and before the onset of Monsoon in Jaatre [celebration and worship of village deity and rituals]. It will start from Shivaratri itself. Somana Kunitha is prevalent mainly in old Mysore region in districts such as Hassan, Tumkur, Bangalore, Mandya, and Chitradurga.

On the ceremonial day, offerings of blood are made to the spirits. The masks are made of the 'Indian red tree' (Pterocarpus Santalinus Linn). The other props include a cane or stick and peacock feathers. A mini headgear containing colourful flowers, neem leaves and colourful pieces of cloth is also worn. The music is provided by the Doonu(percussion), Mouri(wind pipe) and the Sadde(a windpipe to keep the shruti). The dancer starts his dance from the temple of the Goddess and proceeds in a trance like state singing in praise of the spirit. An offering of the blood of a fowl or chicken is sometimes made to propitiate the Goddess.

Arts of North Karnataka

Jaggahalige Kunita

This is a folk art of the Hubballi Dharwad region, particularly of the 'Byahatti' village. It is performed on occasions such as Yugadi and Holi. Jagghalige is essentially a percussion instrument made of a bullock cart wheel with buffalo hides wrapped around. The village folk roll out the giant instruments and march in procession. The entire performance is directed by a chief choreographer who himself uses a much smaller percussion instrument called the kanihaligi, made of clay and covered with calf hide. The performance usually involves a group of about 15 people.


This is a popular folk orchestra of the north Karnataka region. It is performed during various auspicious occasions and in processions. The Karadi or Karade is the percussion instrument that is used in the orchestra. It is a palm sized cymbal that produces metallic sounds, while the Shehnai is used to produce the melody.

Krishna Parijatha

Krishna Parijatha is a popular folk theater art form of North Karnataka. It is an amalgamation of Yakshagana and Bayalata, portraying stories or incidents from the great epic Mahabharata.

Gondaligara Ata (Narrative performing art of North Karnataka)

Somana Kunita is a distinctive dance characterized by excellent rythmatic steps to the beats of Are Vadya and Donu with Mauri. Somana Kunita is prevalent in districts of Hassan, Tumkur and Bangalore, and also in Chikkamagalur and Mandya. Though Somas are identified as 'Angarakshakas' of Grama Devathe' [lieutinants of Village deities], clear-cut distinctions are difficult as in some situations, while performing ritual dance and rituals, it goes as representative of village deities. Soma literally means Chandra [Moon].

Arts of Malenadu

Bhootha Aradhane

This dance form is widely performed in the coastal areas of Karnataka. The Bhootha Aradhane or Holy Spirit (Shiva Gana's) worship, includes a procession of idols depicting 'bhoothas". This procession is characterized by the beating of drums and bursting of firecrackers. After the end of the procession, the idols are placed on a plinth. Then, a dancer personifying a Bhoota (Holy Spirit) dances around the plinth with sword and jingling bells. The dancer dances vigorously at one point of time and then slows down, signifying that he is now a divine person.


Yakshagana is a dance drama performed in the coastal areas of Karnataka. This unique dance form is a perfect blend of dance, music, songs, scholarly dialogues and colorful costumes. Yakshagana mesmerizes each and everyone in the audience with its enchanting music and colorful performances.

The word Yakshagana literally means celestial music. This dance drama is also performed throughout the night, usually after the winter crop has been reaped.

Arts common to most regions

Hagalu Veeshagaararu (Day Actor's)

Hagalu veshagaararu are a group of itinerant actors of Karntaka. Some populations of these artists are native to Andhra Pradesh also.

These artists are masters of the art of miming and their performances are extempore. No formal stage or facility is used. The artists move from place to place and pitch tents in places where they offer to perform their show.

The artists perform their own make up and dress up as various mythological, legendary or social characters. Performances also draw from daily life and sometimes even full length plays are staged. They enact amusing scenes and sing vachanas of Sarvagna, Basavanna and others.

The harmonium, the tabla-dagga and a pair of cymbals are used as the instruments to provide music and rhythm. For their performances, which they stage in village squares and fairs, they receive foodgrains as reward. This is collected in a bag by an assistant who accompanies the troupe. Most hagalu veshagaraas are of the Veerashaiva faith, while some are also Muslims. Sometimes they are addressed by the term jyaatigaararu or as belonging to the Muslim community. They are also known by other names such as suDugaaDu siddha (the monk of the cemetery) or bahuroopi(of several disguises).

As the name hagalu veshagaararu suggests, they perform mostly during the day(hagalu) and only menfolk take part in the performance. The roles of females are also performed by the menfolk. While entertainment is the main objective, the hagalu veshagararu also serve to educate the village folk of several mythological and social issues by way of their performances.

Gorava Dance (Goravara kunita)

This is a folk dance of Goravas or the Shiva cult that is popular in both Mysore and North Karnataka regions. While in North Karnataka, the Goravas worship Mylara linga as their deity, in Mysore region, they worship Mudukutore mallikarjuna. they hail from the Halumatha Kuruba Gowda community.

In the Mysore region, the costume consists of a black and white woolen rug, a fur cap (fur from black bear) and the Damaru and the pillangovi(flute) are the instruments used. Sometimes a small bronze bell called paarigante is also used. The costume in the northern regions varies and the dancers wear a costume of a black woolen rug with a black coat and white dhoti.

The dance consists of trance like movements with no fixed choreography. The North Karnataka the 'Gorava' also anoints his forehead with yellow powder and gives Prasada to the devotees.

Performances are usually by a group of 10 or 11.


This ritualistic dance form is performed by the people of south Karnataka. It is done to tranquilize the serpent spirit and is an extravagant affair held throughout the night. The dancers called the Vaidyas are dressed as nagakannika. They dance all night long around a huge figure, drawn on the sacred ground with natural colors, in a pandal specially erected in front of the shrine. This ritualistic dance is generally performed between December to April.


The karaga itself is a metal pot, on which stands a tall floral pyramid that is balanced on the carrier's head. The contents of the pot have remained a secret down the centuries. The carrier's arrival is heralded by hundreds of bare-chested, dhoti-clad, turbaned Veerakumaras bearing unsheathed swords. Tradition has it that this frenzied procession of Veerakumaras accompanying the karaga carrier can execute him should he stumble and let the karaga fall. This is performed by Tigala community people.

Bangalore Karaga

The Karaga route begins at the Dharmarayaswamy temple and snakes through the Old City via Cubbonpet, Ganigarapet, Avenue Road, Dodderpet, Akkipet, Balepet, Kilari Road, Nagarathpet and surrounding areas. The karaga carrier, now in his temporary avatar as Draupadi, goes to the houses of the Veerakumaras where their families perform pooja to the karaga. By the time the procession returns to the temple it is dawn

Gaarudi Gombe

Gaarudi Gombe is manju a folk dance prevalent in the state of Karnataka, India. Dancers adorn themselves with giant doll-suits made of bamboo sticks. The term Gaarudi-Gombe means magical-doll in the native language, Kannada. This dance is performed during major festivals and also in the procession held during the festivities of Mysore Dasara. This dance is also known as Tattiraya in the coastal districts of Karnataka. The term Tattiraya means a person carrying a doll made of bamboo sticks.[1]

Joodu Haligi

The Joodu Haligi is essentially a performance using two percussion instruments. The Haligi is circular in shape and is made of buffalo hide. The artists use a short stick to produce rhythms of exceptional energy and power. This is also accompanied by rhythmic movements and exaggerated expressions in sync with the high energy rhythms produced. Usually 2-3 artists are involved in the performance.

Puppetry - String Puppets Play Of North Karnataka

Togalu Gombeyaata is a puppet show unique to the state of Karnataka, India. Togalu Gombeyaata translates to a play of leather dolls in the native language of Kannada.[2] It is a form of shadow puppetry. Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat has undertaken research on this art and has a good collection of leather puppets.

Veeragaase dance

Female artists performing Veeragase

Veeragase is a dance form prevalent in the state of Karnataka, India. It is a vigorous dance based on Hindu mythology and involves very intense energy-sapping dance movements. Veeragase is one of the dances demonstrated in the Dasara procession held in Mysore. This dance is performed during festivals and mainly in the Hindu months of Shravana and Karthika.

See also


  1. ^ A description of Gaarudi Gombe is provided by "Folk Arts - Music and Dance". Online webpage of Shathabdi Graphics Pvt. Ltd.. Archived from the original on 2007-01-02. Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  2. ^ A description of Togalu Gombeyaata is provided by Staff Correspondent (2005-01-03). "Create atmosphere to develop rural theatre". Online Edition of The Hindu, dated 2005-01-03 (Chennai, India: 2005, The Hindu). Retrieved 2005-01-03. 


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