Carving out diverse cultures

Carving out diverse cultures

Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka is bestowed with a great amount of cultural, sociological and geographical diversity. Situated in the midst of Western Ghats, more than 70% of the district is covered with forests. As a result, it has a rich share of flora and fauna. Uttara Kannada is also known for its picturesque waterfalls, scenic spots, biodiversity hotspots, beautiful beaches, historical forts, pre-historic monuments and places of worship, within the thick cover of greenery.

Similarly, there are some tribal communities who are either forest dwellers or agriculturists or residing at the seashore and river banks. The tribes of this region include Siddis, Kunabis, Halakki Vokkaligas and Gowlis. These tribes are known for their distinct cultural and social practices.

The Siddis are said to be of African origin, and are a unique ethnic group with agriculture as their main occupation. They are hard-working and well built. Gowlis are essentially cattle herders and are admirers of Lord Krishna. Halakki Vokkaligas, who are predominantly agriculturists, dwell in the coastal taluks of the district.

The sculpture park

The Shalmala Shilpa Vana (Shalmala Sculpture Park), located in Chipgi village of Sirsi taluk, has lifelike concrete displays of various tribes and their lifestyle. Thereby, providing the visitors a glimpse of the tribal lifestyle of the region in one place. It would be an  anthropologist's  delight to spend a few hours in this beautiful park, and watch the near-natural display of the ethnic groups of the district. The park has a   big pond for rainwater harvesting and   a playground for children.

Shalmala Shilpa Vana was opened to the public in 2013. It is a Karnataka Forest Department initiative and the sculptures were made by the team of T B Solabakkanavar, a sculptor specialised in carving rural images. After paying a small entrance fee, one walks through a model of the district's famous rock formation, Yana. Once you have passed the entrance, you will be greeted by an artificial waterfall, by the side of a sign board displaying a detailed map of the park.

If you choose to enter the convention centre first, then you can see the illuminating display of photographs taken at different parts of the district. The display includes geographic details, flora and fauna, spices etc. Images of wild animals like leopard cat, deer, black panther etc., photographed using camera trap, are also on display.

Lifelike display

Once you come out of the convention centre, a walkway leads you to the outdoor wonder, where concrete sculptures of tribal families are placed. First comes a display of a Siddi dwelling. The Siddis have a unique style of folk dance called damami. A set of dancers, both men and women, clad in leafy outfits are seen dancing to the tune of beating drums. A few steps ahead, you see the house of a Siddi family, where a Siddi woman is cleaning the portico of her house, built using straw, bamboo and some wooden poles, even as some of her chicken, cow, dog and goats look on. A man is seen relaxing in front of the house and a few kids are standing by the side.

Then comes a typical Gowli house, with a simple thatched roof overlooking a small paddock in front of it. A woman is washing the utensils and a little boy is playing. Another woman is milking her buffalo, just by the side of the house, and a few birds pecking around. A flock  of sheep is grazing, as a typical Gowli man wearing a dhoti is coming towards the house with two pots of water on his shoulders.

Similarly, another house displays the lifestyle of Halakki Vokkaligas. Here, elderly women and a few children are playing  in front of their house. There are a few more statues representing some of the daily activities of  the tribals,  like a Gowli man grazing his cattle in the forest, a fisherman catching fish at a pond and so on. It is noteworthy that these life-size structures look real. Life of the fisherfolk is beautifully displayed in   one of the corners. A fisherwoman is seen leaving her house with a bamboo basket of fish on her head. Even her little son has a fish in his hands. An older woman is grinding something in a stone-roller grinder.

The park has life-size concrete structures of some of the wild animals too. These include tiger, bison, bear, wild dog, fox, deer, lion-tailed macaque, monkey and sambar. All of these are placed under the naturally grown huge trees within the park, giving a realistic view to onlookers. "The park gives a near-real experience of wild animals and tribal lifestyle. It is one of the not-to-be-missed locations in Sirsi," says Ravikiran, a native of the town.

Shalmala Shilpa Vana has a children's park too. It includes some of the low rope courses like horizontal ladder, tyre swing, swinging ladder, tunnel cross and mini zip line. They are designed using available trees and shrubs. "The names of all the trees are mentioned in Kannada and English along with their botanical names. Hence, it becomes a good nature learning experience too," says Disha, a student.

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