A team of underprivileged girls performing Dollu Kunitha. DH photo by Manjunath M S
The students at Nisarga Grama, a residential rehabilitation centre for children who are deprived of education, located near Hesaraghatta in Bengaluru, have found creative ways to express themselves. Of them, a few girl students have become experts in Dollu Kunitha, a folk art form generally dominated by men. It is an experience in itself to watch the team of eight artistes dancing seamlessly to the beat of drums. While six of these budding artistes are from various parts of Karnataka, two are from Tamil Nadu.
Sparsha, a non-profit organisation, which is running Nisarga Grama, has been supporting these kids to excel in the art. Dollu Kunitha requires tremendous physical stamina as the artistes have to dance alongside beating the drums. The folk art form was male-dominated for a long time, until a few groups of women broke the trend and started performing over a decade ago. The trend has continued and now we can see many such groups in the State.
It is not just physical stamina, but also these young artistes' mental strength that has made them excellent performers. Their performance is symbolic of their personal struggles and the willpower to sail through difficult times, with an aim to achieve their goals. Kavitha, who is studying in PUC and residing here for the last seven years, says, "I like dance and sports as much as I love academics. This prompted me to learn Dollu Kunitha." She had to drop out of school due to poverty and work as a domestic help. But her innate desire to study made her join school again and juggle between job and learning at a tender age. Later, she moved from her native, Kalaburagi, to Nisarga Grama, and her dream of becoming a fashion designer got a boost when she got good marks in Class 10.
Kanaka, another artiste, was a member of the team that represented Karnataka at The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to speak about child rights and the living conditions of children in slum areas, on the occasion of children's day. She was not keen on learning this art form initially. Now she has picked up the skill with ease. Nagaratna from Raichur feels that this art has given them a special identity. "We can perform on par with, if not better than, men," she says.
All the girls reflect their difficult past and look at the changed situation with a hopeful smile. Their faces beam with confidence as they beat the drums rhythmically, dance deftly to the beats and make complicated formations, exhibiting elegance and exuding energy throughout their performance.
Many of these artistes were introduced to the art form in 2013, when Sparsha included Dollu Kunitha training in its summer camp. Their dance guru, Hidayat, trained girls along with the boys. Vijayalakshmi, Krishnaveni, Narasamma, Goutami and Aruna are the other members of the troupe. They feel that such folk art forms help them shape their personality and progress confidently towards achieving their goals. With proper training, the team can now manage the shows independently.
Hidayat remembers the support rendered by Gopinath of Sparsha Trust. "My teacher used to train women in Dollu Kunitha. I am happy to continue the tradition. The girls steal the show wherever they perform," the proud guru says. He also admires their enthusiasm to learn and experiment with new steps and formations.