Karnataka has a rich legacy of folk dances or dance drama, most of them ritual and many of them dramatic. The dramatic dances are particularly colourful and impressive because of the costumes and make-up of the participants. The beating-drum is an inevitable accompaniment with fast and changing rhythms. The real dramatic element is noticed in the dance when the group divides into two camps, one replying to the other either in music or in dance patterns. They cannot assume the full role of a drama. They do miss a chiselled plot (though some of them like Malekudiyara Kunita and Paravantara Kunita have their own broad themes), rehearsed dialogues and also a non-participating audience. They still fulfil a fundamental purpose of the theatre as a successful media of self expression. They have also contributed patterns in music and dance instruments, costumes and methods of make-up to the folk drama.
Rituals Drama of Folk Theatre in Karnataka
Coastal village has its sacred ghost abode (Bhutasthana), a small building measuring about twelve square yards. The only small door faces either to the East or West. There is a swing cot inside the abode on which is placed a figurine made of brass or bronze in the shape of human being, tiger, boar or bison. A priest (Pujari) worships the figurine every day, but the real pomp and splendour is witnessed only on days of festivals like Kola. It is on that occasion the impersonator called Mani is carefully dressed up in the gorgeous costumes mostly made of indigenous vegetations. He is also painted and decorated in the traditional manner. The colourful costume differs in detail in cases of different ghosts though the general pattern of it is roughly the same. When the impersonator comes into the arena to give faith and assurances, he is taken to be directly under the influence of the particular ghost. The dancing party of men, called Nalke, all made up in the traditional massive costumes, with gaggara tied up to the ankle and swords in hands, dance around the ghost' to the vigorous beating of Tamani the traditional drum. Songs of prayer pad thane (prarthane) are sung in high pitched chorus all in praise of the particular ghost. The atmosphere will gradually grow into a state of intensity with the faster tempo of the drumbeat and the dance of Mani and Nalke. It is then that Mani will come to be possessed to speak under the spell of the spirit. The whole thing is the new creation of an unearthly art, full of grotesque grandeur and tension. The verdict of Mani is respectfully obeyed and the Bhutasthana has yet remained a highly respected and strictly obeyed institution in the coastal village. The point for consideration here is the very basic idea of impersonation and the act of rousing a sentiment; a sentiment of heroism worked out by the ferocious dance of Mani whose whole body is employed as a harmonious means of expression. Though devotional initially, the dance vigorously works up into a climax of valour and it suggests that at one stage or the other, all other folk dances including Yakshagana have taken their basic patterns from the Bhuta dance. Shri Muliya Timmappayya considers in addition, that the make up and costumes of the ghost impersonator has imprinted its influence on Yakshagana.
The head-dress called Battalu Kirita worn by demons and villains (prati-nayaka) in Yakshagana which seem to have evolved from the head-dress of Mani supports this inference. The indigenous colours called Karadala and Ingalika traditionally used for the make-up of Mani of Bhuta sthana are also used by the Yakshagana artist for his make-up, and thirdly, the procession of the Bhuta and the Bhetala surrounded by the singing Nalkes would give a highly similar picture to that of the court scene in Yakshagana. These hints suggest that the oldest available ritual dance of the coastal tract of Karnataka might have provided some of its motifs and characteristics which came to be fundamentals of the later folk entertainments.
Naga Nritya as a Form of Ritual Dance
Naga Nritya or Cobra dance, which is famous in the region of Karnataka, reminds one of the token worship of the olden days. It is often said that while Naga Nritya is performed with essential animation, real reptiles come from somewhere and present themselves to the dancer awaiting his dictates. Nagamandala is the festive occasion when the Naga dance forms a part of the worship. The arena is traditionally decorated with coloured flour rangavalli and is made up for the performance. The dancer paints himself and comes out in the well matching costume to create a perfect make-belief. Naga Nritya, like the Bhuta Sthana, is a ritual dance-drama that is carried down from the past. The emphasis is not on entertainment in either case as the spectator is also the performer invariably. It is very likely that the Naga Nritya also has given to the other folk entertainments including Yakshagana the motif of its dance, motion and also its indigenous musical instruments.
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