At Metri, a small hamlet in Kampli taluk of Ballari district, the dust on the muddy stretches has just settled. It is dusk and the families are wrapping up their daily chores. A motley crowd is slowly gathering in the heart of the hamlet where a group of women has taken the centre stage. A six-yard cloth draped around an earthen pot, representing the Rain God, has been installed on a pedestal. The stage is set and the audience is ready for the non-stop rendition of a folk song at the dusk-to-dawn jagaran to appease the Rain God.
The farms in Metri are tilled and the seeds are sown, but showers are playing truant. The residents are keen to absolve all obstacles that come in the way of a good harvest. The rendition of the song is believed to appease the Rain God, a tradition being followed for the past several years by the residents here. Not just at Metri, such jagarans are held at many villages of Koppal and Ballari districts. The folk song narrates the story of Kalingaraya, born to Kotthalaraya and his wife Madarambe, after a vigorous penance of Lord Girimallaiah. While bringing up, the eager Madarambe is curious to know what holds in store of her son’s future. Soothsayers warn her that her only son would have a premature death. Madarambe shields her son from the harsh truth and brings him up in the warmth of her tender love and care.
The youthful Kalingaraya once expresses his desire to go hunting into the forests with his friends. The all-precautious couple stop him from doing so. The lad nevertheless chases his desire and goes hunting, without informing his parents.
In the deep woods, he is killed by a tiger and thus returns home dead. The couple decide to get their dead son married after they overhear their neighbours and kin whispering that being deprived of the karmic rituals, Kalingaraya would not attain salvation. When Chennamma’s parents get to know that in hand of their dead son-in-laws’ marriage and would be rewarded handsomely, they decide to get their daughter married off to the dead Kalingaraya. After the marriage is solemnised, Chennamma is sent to her in-laws’ place. The bereft Chennamma then decides to jump into her husband’s funeral pyre. As soon as the pyre is lit, the skies open up to torrential rains. It is believed that Lord Parashiva, in appreciation of Chennamma’s devotion, brings Kalingaraya back to life. For the people of Metri, it is not just a narration of a story or mythology weaved into a song, but an ardent appeal to the Rain God. Just as the skies open up bringing back the dead Kalingaraya to life, giving Chennamma a new lease of life, the residents pray that the Rain God blesses them too with good rainfall, so that the parched fields spring back to life ushering in a new hope for farmers. The legacy of keeping the song alive goes to the unsung heroes of Metri - Kallamma, Kamalapur Huligemma, Moolemane Huligemma and others. Formal education for these women has remained elusive, nor are they trained to sing. But their rendition leaves the entire village spell-bound.
According to Dr Cheluvaraju, a professor at the Department of Tribal Studies, Hampi Kannada University, “Folks songs should be treated as vehicles of social, cultural and political change that foster brotherhood, peace and harmony among rural residents.” The songs have the power to nurse a bleeding heart, mend an ailing mind and soothe a disturbed soul. It is all the more pertinent to preserve such songs, which are a medium of art and vehicles of tradition. There is an urgent need for a systematic study of the songs, and also the artistes who render them, he opines.
With their routine so beautifully ingrained into the rustic life, the art of singing folk songs is as natural as breathing for these women, who have picked these tunes and lyrics from their mothers and grandmothers, while tilling fields, sieving flour, pounding chillies, grinding grains and roasting rotis. These women, no wonder, are the unsung heroes of the rustic world, says Doddabasappa Nidugolu, a resident of Metri.
(Translated by Jyotsna P Dharwad)