The 'miracle men' of Ballari

The 'miracle men' of Ballari

A good crowd has gathered in the heart of a nondescript village in   North Karnataka, drawn to a few men performing tricks. Standing in the centre, these men, though weirdly dressed, are the real crowd-pullers.

The men — popularly known as Sudugadu Siddhas in North Karnataka — are the typical magicians who entertain rural folks. They first capture people’s attention with their peculiar costume. A turban around their head with a bundle of peacock feathers sticking out, and a bunch of Rudrakshi beads adorning their neck and wrists, are enough to make people curious about them.

Besides beads of various shapes and sizes, they also wear the Shivalinga prominently as they are said to be the followers of Lord Shiva. Their colourful robes and flowing attire are catchy and bright. With a conch in one hand and a bell in another, they carry a potli or a jolige slinging from their shoulder.

Smearing ash and vermillion on their forehead, chest and hands, they suddenly appear in a village, blowing conch to announce their arrival. The gate-crashers bring a smile to the faces of their audience, who anticipate entertainment from the surprise guests. Sudugadu Siddhas do not disappoint their hosts. They present a string of magical acts that leave their audience spellbound.

And they are not just here to entertain. For they are here to predict the good and the bad times: the rain, the drought, the fortunes and the misfortunes. They are soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers, entertainers, performers and even traditional healers.

They carry herbs and medicines, the various ingredients that go into their magic performances and the alms they have collected from people in their jolige. They are basically nomads and keep wandering from one village to another.

Their witty talks and chatter help them strike a chord with people, as they keep their audience gripped throughout their performance. They invoke Lord Mallikarjuna before beginning their performance.

They gulp a cloth and pull it out of the mouth in a string, swallow pebbles and puke a boulder, vanish a coin and present a Shivalinga... the list of the tricks goes on.

Sudugadu Siddhas master this art in graveyards and burial grounds. Hence, the name Sudugadu, which means burial ground, and Siddha, which means to achieve or to master an art.  A few families at Hoovina Hadagali village in Ballari district are still into this profession. During festivals, jatras and market days, their mere presence enlivens the atmosphere.

Virupakasha, the head of Sudugadu Siddhas, says, “We perform in teams and even wander in groups. We are well-versed in Kannada and Telugu. We have a loyal audience in Andhra Pradesh, too.”

Virupakasha has shouldered the responsibility of training the younger generation. “We want our children to continue the profession. Changing social and economic scenarios will definitely impact the next generation. I wish the legacy continues,” he says with a sigh.

(Translated by Jyotsna P Dharwad)

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