Healing beats of Aati Kalenja

Healing beats of Aati Kalenja

Come the season of Aati, when  downpours inundate Tulunadu, it is kalenja who roams around in the villages to ward off evil spirits. Aati month is synonymous with heavy rainfall (except for the past few years) and as a result, agriculture activities come to a standstill.

Though rain revives nature, it also causes natural calamities in the form of floods and landslides. Thus, in the past, it was considered as the month of poverty and was called as shoonya masa. It is also a month dedicated to the memory of ancestors. Folklore experts feel that the rituals associated with this month of the Tulu calendar are linked to the agrarian practices of the region.

Unique art form
Aati Kalenja — a ritualistic folk dance performed by the members of the local Nalike community during this month is considered highly effective in warding off evil spirits, diseases and misfortunes. It is believed that during the month of Aati, nature’s spirit kalenja descends on Earth to bless the land and its people. The performance begins on poove — the day before the full moon, and continues till the end of the month.

Headgear and painted faces are the main attractions of kalenja’s eco-friendly costume which is made of leaves and flowers. The person who masquerades as kalenja makes the headgear using stems of Ixora coccinea (kepula in Kannada). The headgear, also called the mudi, is then decorated with flowers.

The ‘skirt’ which flows down his waist is another piece of art. It is made of tender fronds of coconut and are interlaced with banana sheath strands. Later, he paints his face and hands in various colours and designs and gets ready for house visits. The image of Aati Kalenja, holding an umbrella of dry palm leaves, makes for a spectacular viewing.

Then he visits houses and carries out a ritual of sprinkling water mixed with charcoal, turmeric powder and tamarind to do away with any misfortune that might have befallen on the family and the cattle. He dances to the beats of the drum called tembere.

Accompanist beats the drum and recites the song, Aateek Baththe Aati Kalenja, narrating the story of the spirit. As a reward for expunging the evil that surrounds, household members give him  rice. Aati Kalenja is also considered as a traditional healer who at times dispenses medicinal herbs to overcome illness. With changing times and mindset, the art form is slipping into oblivion. In spite of it, Aati Kalenja remains an integral part of the folk culture of the region.

B A Viveka Rai, former vice-chancellor of Hampi Kannada University, points at the food habits associated with the season. He said, “The month is also known for unique local recipes. Aati month receives heavy downpour due to which people cannot venture out of their homes. As a result, they consume the food prepared from the green stocks available in the vicinity of their houses. They are considered healthy too.”

Ambate (hog plums), kanile (bamboo shoot), paagile (wild bitter gourd), thajank, thimare (both wild greens), wild jackfruit, drumstick leaves and colocasia leaves are some of the locally available vegetables that are used in the season.


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