If asked to pick the best factor about traditions and cultures of India, it would feel like picking droplets from an ocean, but I would say it is a fact that we celebrate the smallest things with great importance.
Every little thing that was once a story or an instance is today a tradition sustained through generations, awing youngsters and adults alike. The notion becomes more convincing when one witness and comprehends the tradition of Bedara Vesha or tribal dance, which is dominant in Sirsi, Uttara Kannada.
As Holi, the festival of colours, draws closer, a few skilled artisans in Sirsi get busy in preparing for this unique cultural display that happens every year, for four days before Holi. This cultural display constitutes an entourage of artistes performing a folk dance, attracting the entire town to stand and gaze with a dumbfound enchantment.
The view of Bedara Vesha consists of a central figure, a man, who embodies a fierce tribesman clad in extravagant tribal costume cast in red. His face is painted to give a terrifying impression and a cotton ball is placed on his nose to give an illusion of a hideous creature.
He is clad from the back with a large mantle made of nearly 500 peacock feathers, which is a captivating feature of the cultural display; the feathers sway according to his movements, making his physical appearance highly attractive. In his right hand, he holds a sword painted in red and in his left a metal shield symbolising that he has just arrived from a hunt.
Other elements of the costume include wooden shoes, a bell-like ornament worn around the waist that produces tinkling sounds as the performer moves, large anklets and a headgear made of bird’s feathers. Off late, even miniature lights and confetti are used. He dances vigorously to the rhythm of the six men who play an instrument called tamte, producing fast, sharp beats that make for a delightful dancing ambience. The energy of the performance is no short of a storm!
The person performing the tribal dance is supported by nearly 15 men. They begin practising nearly two weeks before Holi. While six of them are musicians playing tamte, six others form a procession by carrying hilal, which resembles a torch.
While the performance is on, the crowd is kept at a distance as the performer requires much space.
The fire and music add an aesthetic appeal, and the icing on the cake is that Bedara Vesha is performed during the night. The performers go around the village through the night, attracting people and putting up a mesmerising display that leaves them to crave more. The group members intensely put in efforts on par with the main performer.
One of the legends linked to the tradition of Bedara Vesha is that once, a tribal hunter set out for a hunt that went disappointingly against his favour. When he returned home, beaten and empty-handed, an old woman appeared before him, mocking at his beat state and taunting him for his inabilities.
Not bearing the tantrums, it is said that the hunter chased the old lady down and slit her throat, and danced around the forest claiming his invincibility and valour. As a representation of that enraged energy of the tribe, the Bedara Vesha tradition was incepted and sustained for centuries now. Even today, a young boy dressed as an old woman first acts like he is jesting and taunting the hunter, inciting him to chase him.
After a couple of minutes of his tantrums, the performer is ‘enraged’ by his actions and begins his furious, captivating performance.
This tradition does not have a religious significance; however, performers do carry out a few rituals
to keep away from negative thoughts before they set out to perform. Regardless, this performance is amongst the ones most awaited in Uttara Kannada. One of the performers of the folklore Ashok Joglekar, who has been performing Bedara Vesha for nearly three decades now, says that there are indeed many changes in the form. A number of youngsters have shown interest in learning and performing them, making it more popular now than it ever was. The form is no more even restricted to the tribal community. Everyone loves to perform and witness it, and that has made Bedara Vesha an identity of Sirsi!
Since Holi is almost around the corner, the time is perfect for enthusiasts to make way to Sirsi to witness this spectacle. From March 17 to March 20, every street shall be filled by the Bedara Vesha festive mood.
This year, over 40 Bedara Vesha teams are expected to perform in various areas of Sirsi. As most folklore traditions draw their influence from religion in the state, it is really a wonder that this spectacle has sustained and grown strong over centuries with a secular outlook.
The event would no doubt assure all the folklore enthusiast to carry an experience to be added in their most treasured memories.