Origin of folk theatre in Karnataka
goes back a long way. Folk, the ethnic term suggests a group of kindred people forming a tribe or a nation; now generally used with reference to a primitive stage of social organisation, especially to those emerging from the tribal state.
Folk Theatre is the theatre of the masses and is also called "The Village Theatre", "The Rural Theatre" and "The Peoples` Theatre". The folk theatre usually reflects on the past of a country`s theatre and forms the basic structure of the professional and amateur theatres of the urban area. It forms the source and supplies resources for the progress of theatrical art. Real India lives in her villages, because the village houses the folk with all its soft green of the soul of culture, art and tradition. It is the village that has protected the folk arts - the dance, music and drama in their original simplicity and sublime glory. Dance, especially. is the most original, spontaneous and universal method of expression of joys of life and that has yet remained the treasure of the village, The mainstay of the folk theatre is its dance, be it ritual, religious or secular.
Spoken Words in Folk Theatre of Karnataka
Dance first and then music seems to have laid the foundations of drama; but the superstructure was built by the spoken word. In its evolution, the theatre has shifted its emphasis from the original fundamentals of dance and music to the spoken word. The real drama and the new drama as we understand to-day, was obviously born at the time when gesture was accompanied by words. The folk theatre of Karnataka
has preserved some of the earlier modes of prose drama; earlier modes where the monologue and dialogue formed its basis. If for entertainment and enlightenment of the urban society, there is Puranika, Keertanakara, Pravachanakara, Jangama, Bhagavata Kalajnani and Gamaki who interpret the epics and often impersonate their heroes, there is, for the entertainment of the rural people, Gorava (professional bard), Gondaliga (professional bard singing in praise of Goddess Tulja), Jogi (devotional dancer), Kathegara (story teller), Hasyagara (jester), Nattuva (actor), Nakali (humorist) and Bahurupi
(imitator). These performers belong to specified castes, specialised in particular professions which have given them their names. They usually, but inadvertently, speak only the dramatic language while impersonating others. Many types of them like Nattuva, Bahurupi, Nakali and Hasyagara, usually wear specific dresses. Others like Gondaliga, Jogi and Nakali often speak an imaginary dialogue between two persons. Maramma, commonly seen in the Mysore countryside, can be cited as an example who speaks an imaginary conversation which is highly dramatic. The seeds of the drama could be seen again during the Maharnavami festival when boys divide themselves into two groups challenging each other in what is called Ganga-Gouri Samvdda. A step in advance, there is Kole Basava whose performance is built on a planned plot. Often, the animals themselves synchronise their acting with the songs and speech of the trainer.
The Hagaluvesada Ata even now occasionally seen in the Mysore villages brings a group of persons in full make-up and costumes to represent mythological and historical personalities. The group moves from door to door staging dramatic scenes and asking for alms. The Jogi (and Kinnari Jogi) and Gondaliga, both dedicated devotees to Goddesses Yellamma and Tulaja Bhavani, are seen commonly in the villages of North Karnataka, singing songs, telling stories and performing one man shows in front of houses. The accompanist to the Gondaliga acts as the Vidusaka with his many humorous remarks. The Gondaliga performance has also a good dramatic framework, for the artist opens with a prayer (Nandi) in praise of the particular Goddess and then sings in praise of the regional deities. The main story is then enacted in gesture, song and spoken word. At the end, there is the prayer song again, Mangala, to thank the deity for making the performance a success. These relics of the mediaeval modes of the Kannada theatre
still linger in the villages, and they are eloquent of the early usage of dance, music and spoken word in making the performance dramatic. The emphasis was gradually shifted from dance to the spoken word. The performance still remained largely ritual, and though gained a hazy framework of the drama, it did not follow any rule of decorum, organic construction nor consistent characterization. Often, it was a curious inter-mixture of crude farcical device and coarse jokes; still the significant point was hit by the employment of the spoken word, which marked the birth of drama in these one man shows.