Artistes on the move and with a difference

Folk Tradition Bhuvanesh Yedabale and his brother Hanumant on a performance.

Curiosity drives you to the streets when you hear someone singing out as you are busy with your morning work. Here are two young men, Bhuvanesh Yedabale and his brother Hanumant, who stand before houses and play their harmonium and tabla. They belong to the community of hagalu veshadharigalu or bahuroopigalu, the day masqueraders.

It was the kayaka (major occupation) of our family, says Bhuvanesh. In olden times, the community members used to stay on the outskirts of towns in temporary shelters. They enacted and performed a few scenes from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata in the village market squares.

They masqueraded varied roles during the day with unique costumes and appearances. Interestingly enough, they do not perform in the night as they are bound by their family customs.

Bhuvanesh’s father also used to do all the above for his livelihood. Earlier, he entertained people by portraying characters from the Ramayana such as Rama, Sita, Laxmana or donning the roles of Babruvahana, Harishchandra, Vibhushana, Kittur Chennamma, Hemaraddi Mallamma and others.

One can still watch these performances and a group of seven or eight present such mythical and famous characters. Interestingly, the actors and their roles are fixed and not interchangeable.

Street melodies

Their father is well-versed in theatre and music as well. He teaches harmonium and can repair it too. Their mother sings Sarvajna’s vachanas during the plays.

Naturally, the children were ingrained with this culture at a very early age by their father. Later, at five, they were sent to Sri Puttaraj Gawai music school at Gadag where they learnt Hindustani classical music.

The brothers left the school 12 years back and started to perform on the streets with their harmonium and tablas around their necks.

When asked if they do not feel the burden of carrying the instruments all along, Bhuvanesh says, “What to be done then? It is a means of our sustenance. We are used to it.”

The family tradition of theatrics has thus changed to music because of the patronage they enjoyed in the past, either by the town people or by chieftains.

However, both are outdoor performances and depend mainly on people’s patronage now. They do not appear to be unhappy either. They say people still honour and reward them, and ask them to carry on with what they are doing.

Bhuvanesh says he can sing two thousand songs! Most of them are Kannada and a few are Marathi. He knows both the languages as he hails from Chikkodi, a border town between Karnataka and Maharashtra.

He is well-versed in singing the vachanas of Basavanna, devotional songs of Kanakadasa, Purandaradasa, Kaivalya Padas and other lyrics.

The vocal timbre of Bhuvanesh, whether trained or otherwise, is most suitable for his profession. The songs are familiar and the tunes are catchy.

They are mostly on the move and go from town to town presenting their songs. They know the patronising families by their previous visits and revisit them when they are in that town.

Interestingly, they schedule their visits in accordance with festival seasons. For instance, they visit Udupi and Mangaluru during Dasara and Vijayapura during Deepavali.

They travel along the Konkan belt during the Ganesha festival, and Pandharpur in August.

Baramati, Ratnagiri, Kolhapur and Karad are on their circuit in Maharashtra. All India Radio Dharwad has aired their songs. As these folk singers don’t see a future in this tradition, they are trying to move to other occupations, adjusting to new realities.

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Artistes on the move and with a difference

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