Ritual Dances of Karnataka


20 Apr 2019, 8:55 PM - 9:25 PM




The Karnataka Folk Ensemble is a collective of folk artists from across Karnataka, led by its director Dilip. The group aims to investigate, understand, nurture and reimagine folk narratives of the region.


Pooje kunita is a popular ritualistic folk dance of Karnataka performed around the Bengaluru and Mandya districts in particular, in worship of the goddess Shakti. Despite the distinct religious overtones, the dance enjoys wide appreciation because of its gracefulness and colours. It is distinctive in its use of bamboo poles which are decorated with colourful fabric in different hues and swayed in sync with the music. Elaborate wooden structures are placed on the heads of the dancers which carry the deities to whom the dances are dedicated. The dance is performed in religious processions, fairs and festivals.


Somana kunita is a mask dance and a celebratory form of spirit worship common in the southern parts of Karnataka. It is performed before monsoon season at village shrines dedicated to the grama devatey (village deity). The art is mostly practised by the Gangemata community and is characterised by the dancers wearing elaborate masks painted in different colours. Each colour is indicative of the nature of the deity. A benevolent deity is represented by a red mask while a yellow or black mask suggests the opposite.


Dollu kunita is a major popular drum dance performed as an invocation ritual by the Kuruba Gowda community, a Shaivite sect of devotees who worship Lord Beeralingeshwara (an avatar of Shiva). It demands strength, agility and endurance, and is typically performed by male members of the community, with the occasional accompaniment of music and other ritual theatre forms. Dollu kunitha is mostly found in the Shivamogga, Ramanagara and Melkote regions of Karnataka.


Kamsale is a sacred ritual dance performed by the devotees of Lord Mahadeshwara. Its name is derived from an 11th century percussion instrument that comprises a cymbal and a bronze disc that when struck together, produces a clang. The dance is performed to rhythmic and melodious music that is sung in praise of Lord Male Mahadeshwara (an avatar of Shiva) and is traditionally practised by the Haalu Kuruba community of southern Karnataka. Kamsale performances are often accompanied by recitations of the legends of Lord Mahadeshwara, Basava Purana and Raja Vikrama, among others. The songs are sung in the Kannada language.

Traditionally, kamsale was played by the devotees to keep wild animals away as they trekked the hills on their pilgrimages. The Kuruba community considers this performance as their offering to the Lord.

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