The luck bringers of coastal Karnataka

The luck bringers of coastal Karnataka

The dancers perform in the Kundapura-Brahmavar-Udupi-Mutlupady-Hiriadka regions of Udupi district. Photos by Shashikanth Shetty

From insane colour fights to the symbolic asura-killing Holika dahan, Holi has diverse rituals. One such celebration through dance belongs to the Marathi Naik tribals, who live along Karnataka’s coast.

Their ancestors have a history of fighting alongside King Chhatrapathi Shivaji in Maharashtra, after which they migrated to Karnataka.

Almost a fortnight before Holi, a few men from the community perform a ritual, which heralds the traditional Holi Kunitha. For the next 14 days, they stay with the community leader, where they practice restraint in food and lifestyle.

Come the day of Holi, this team sets out in costume on a mission to bring happiness to the village. But not before opening the show in front of Mammayi or ‘Great Mother’, the pagan deity on the altar called hattarakatte. She and Lord Bhairava are worshipped by the community.

The men visit houses in the Kundapura- Brahmavar- Udupi-Mutlupady-Hiriadka belt and dance in simple steps to the songs in a language mixture of Konkani and Marathi, with evident influences of Kannada.

Follow the music

The percussion is called the gumte, a clay pot covered with leather. Clay pots are sometimes substituted with bronze pots. The instrument is distinguished by the hole present at the bottom of the pot, using which the dancers produce music.

This music, combined with the rhythmic jingles of the heavy anklets on the men, creates a sensory feast. Some of them also carry jaagate, a flat bronze instrument that produces bell-like sound on being tapped with a stick attached with a cork at one end.

The songs praise their deity Mammayi and ask her to bring prosperity to their village.

The costumes not so long ago were white with a dash of red veil sitting diagonally across the body, and topped with a turban studded with orange flowers. Now, inspired by the native art of Yakshagana, the attire has pleated, multicolour skirt that symbolises the essence of Holi.

It’s said that a household’s previous wish comes true when the dance comes back the next year.

Some people even hand over their children to the team leader during the dance with a belief of ridding any problem the child might have.

The team of dancers is also asked to water plants or trees around the houses so the flora yields good produce.

Holi Kunitha may go up to three days, after which the team goes back to the altar of Mammayi, where they perform yet another ritual symbolising the end of Holi. The community then goes back to its slow, modern progress but commendable cultural sustenance.

Gondhol is the other prominent festival for the community.

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