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Dances of Karnataka

Nandi Dhwaja

The dance performance in Nandi Dhwaja consist of an attractively decorated bamboo pole measuring about 20 to 25 feet long and 4 inch wide in circumference. Nandi Dhwaja is performed by skilled and experienced dancers. The performance begins with the erection of the Nandi pole which is initially thrust into a 'Navara'-the pouch worn by the performer. Balancing the pole at 90o , the dancer accomplishes rhythmic movements and intricate acrobats to the emotional tunes of the musical accompaniments. This dance is prevalent in all parts of the state except Kodagu.

Beesu Kamsale

The artistes of Beesu Kamsale are an expert singing community. But vigorous, rhythmic movements dominate the performance of Beesu Kamsale. Narration is regulated to the background. 


Pata Kunitha

In Pata Kunitha, the major emphasis is more on the manipulation of pata (embellished bamboo pole, each measuring 10 to 15 feet high, carried by 10 to 15 artistes) than the narration. The dances Beesu Kamsale and Pata are widely popular in Mysore region.

Bana Devara Kunitha

In Bana Devara Kunitha, the folk artistes will be preoccupied with attaining perfect harmony to the clinking of bow bells rather than on oral communication of any religious content. The striking feature of this dance is archery. This form of dance is found in places like Hassan, Chitradurga and Chikkamagulur.

Puja Kunitha

In Puja Kunitha dance, the emphasis is more on the visual presentation than the oral narration. Here the spectacular exhibition of colourful bamboo structure is ably matched by the skilful body movements. It is prevalent in Bengaluru and Mandya districts.


Karaga is known for its rigidity with high ritualistic significance. It is popular in Mysore and Bengaluru districts.

Gorava Mela

In Gorava mela which is extensively practiced in Mysore, Shimoga, Belgaum and Dharwad districts, the artistes display immense abilities of oral communication and perception. Goravas are singing tribe who narrates stories of deeper religious value.

Dollu Kunitha

Dollu, a group dance which is widely practiced in Melkote in Mandya district offers a desirable atmosphere for the integration of new ideas in an unusual way, through interaction and exchange of information between the two groups of performers. Dollu, a semi circular dance, with a brilliant combination of sound and speed, performed by the Kurub community in North Karnataka, Shimoga and Chitradurga districts is worth noting. The soul of Dollu Kunitha is the indigenous folk instrument called Dollu which when struck emits a thunderous sound. Mythological, historical and social themes are narrated by the chief narrator with the powerful musical accompaniment consisting of the Dollu, the cymbals and the flute providing appropriate musical setting to the narration. Messages on loan melas, small savings, adult education and population control programmes have been integrated into this folk dance.


Bhagavanthike involves a competition of a witty dialogue between two groups of 10 to 12 artistes, who wearing spectacular costumes recreate the fanciful tradition of folk dance. Bhagavata, who is the chief narrator cum performer makes the folk dance of Bhagavanthike, a viable medium of non-formal communication. There is also a jester. During the performance, the jester sings and dances along with other artistes sometimes following the traditional and sometimes setting up new precedents and serves as a change-agent. Attracting wider attention through his acrobatics, the jester skillfully adapts himself to the changing needs and demands of the audience eventually establishing a rapport with the audience with ease.

Mari Kunitha

The community dance, Mari Kunitha which is wide spread in Mysore and Mandya districts, display an insular flexibility in the presentation and narration. Originally belonging to the Shakti cult, these dances consist of performers standing either in rows or forming a big circle and dancing to the tune of 'Chakravaddya', an indigenous flat percussion instrument. The dance begins at a slow pace, gathers momentum, reaches a frenzied pitch as the tempo of the beat increases and continues till the rhythm fades away. The songs are sung intermittently at each pause and hence could be heard by the audience clearly. In the dances like Kombat and Billat, which is similar to the Mari Kunitha, the artistes attired in customary 'Kodava' costume perform carrying deer-horns to the accompaniment of a drum and the dudi- a small drum.


The folk dance of 'Urimaramma' is performed by a team of a husband and wife. The artistes are nomads, wandering from one place to another carrying an unusually designed mobile temple, eventually facilitating a simultaneous performance of dance and worshipping of the deity, right at the door of the people. The performer, acting like a messenger emphasises on a social problem and he tries to motivate the people to invoke the blessings of the deity so as to enable them to overcome an impending crisis.

Bhoota Nrutya

In the coastal region of South Kanara, the Bhoota Nrutya takes different forms, depending upon the type of the ghost it represents. Koratti, Koraga Taniya, Ali Bhoota, Punjurli, Kuppe Punjurli, Kalkuda, Kallurti, Shiradi Bhoota and many others represent a galaxy of ghosts worshipped in places like Puttur, Mangalore, Bantwal and Uppinangadi.

Vatte Kola

This dance is another folk dance that comes under the umbrella of the Bhuta tradition. It is dedicated to ghost worship. The presentation of Vatte Kola begins with the preparation of burning coal in an open field. The performers are required to walk over the burning charcoal pits. The performer of Vatte Kola is an excellent communicator who steals the show through his sincere worshipping of deity for the total welfare of the community.

Lingada Birana Kunitha

This dance is wide spread in the southern parts of the state and where the dancers perform splendidly, holding a sword in one hand and a shield bearing their religious emblem in the other to the tune of the devotional narration.


Puravanthike is a highly expressive and credible narrative art which draws its strength from the heavy sprinkling of riddles in its content. These riddles are folksy, woven around familiar things of daily life and also amuse people in the form of simple folk poetry and they serve as excellent channels of social education. In Puravanthike the costumes and ornaments are colourful. Dressed like warriors, the dancers present a skilful display of vigour with a sword in one hand and a trident in the other.

Chennu Kunitha

The folk art of 'Chennu Kunitha', the harvest dance found in Puttur, Coondapura and other villages of South Kanara give an insight into the cheapest mode of communication through entertainment.

Maragalu Kunitha

The folk dance of 'Maragalu Kunitha' consist of unique wooden legs which the artistes literally wear to gain unusual height. Wearing uniquely designed artificial legs the artiste easily captures the attention of the people through executing impressive but difficult feats.


Kolata or stick dance is a kind of valour dance involving groups of people who indulge in bending, swaying and jumping activities to the tune of rhythmic clashing of sticks. With two sticks in hand, each dancer can strike in various patterns and rhythms. There is considerably more flexibility in the pattern of dancing so also singing. Members of Vokkaliga, Nayaka and Golla communities of Mysore, Mandya and Hassan districts and the Hallakki Gowda community of North Karnataka and the Kodavas of Coorg excel in Kolata. There is a rich spread of romantic and valour themes and references to contemporary, political and social issues in Kolata songs.

Alayi Hejje

'Alayi Hejje', a semi religious dance of the Muslim community of Karnataka, is a classic illustration of harmony between the two predominant communities of India, the Hindus and the Muslims. Jointly performed by Muslims and Hindus, the presentation in Alayi Hejje consists of performers dancing around a fire pit. It appears like a rope dance with 20 to 25 dancers holding identical ropes which are hung from bamboo poles. The dancers form a circle and dance around the pole artistically winding and unwinding the ropes like plaits. Alayi dance is an amalgamation of action and dexterous footwork, supported by appropriate devotional theme. Performed as part of 'Muharram' festival, Alayi Hejje provides a favourable forum for accomplishing communal harmony.

Simha Nrutya

The folk dance which is totally free from ritualistic and religious barriers is 'Simha Nrutya' (lion dance), the popular dance of the Honnavara taluk in the Uttara Kannada districts, usually performed by 'Yakshagana' artistes. The dance is in effect a charming imitation of a lion's movements. Hence the dancer wears a costume which closely resembles the lion. The costume is specially made of bark and yarn using natural dyes. The dancer wears a mask which is made up of cotton and is done to look like a lion's face. Two silver pangs are inserted in the mouth to create a visual impression of fangs. With the perfect portrayal of a lion's behaviour, movements, mode of hunting and preying, Simha Nrutya is not only entertaining but educative also.


Yakshagana is believed to have a history of one thousand years. It is also believed to have represented a specific type of music of the 'yakshas'. Yaksha is the name of certain demi-gods attending on 'Kubera'- the god of wealth in the Hindu mythology. 'Gaana' means song. By combining the meaning, the term Yakshagana might mean the 'song of Yakshas'. Yakshagana has established its firm roots in the districts of Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada, Dharwad, Mysore and Hassan. Based on its technique of presentation, Yakshagana has been broadly classified into 'Mudalapaya' (the custom of the east) and 'Paduvalapaya' (the custom of the west). Popularly known as 'Bayalata' or 'Aata', Mudalapaya is widely practiced in places like Tumkur, Bengaluru, Kolar, Mandya, Mysore, Hassan, Chitradurga, Bellary, Dharwad, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Raichur, Bidar and Belgaum. While Yakshagana of North Karnataka has assumed varied forms like 'Sannata', 'Doddata', 'Krishna Parijatha' and 'Dasarata'. The form of Paduvalapaya' popular extensively in Uttara and Dakshina Kannad districts has been further divided into 'Thenku Tittu' (south) and 'Badagu Tittu' (north). Paduvalapaya is practiced in places like Karki, Keladi, Ikkeri, Sagar, Kolluru, Maranakatt, Sankuru, Coondapur, Kotesvara, Kota, Udupi, Dharmasthala, Mangalore, Brahmavara, Suratkal and Saligrama.


In Karnataka, the puppet theatre is said to have existed since ancient times. Puppetry in the state, is believed to have existed at the time of 'Kanakadasa' and 'Purandaradasa' and its roots are traced to the coastal tract of Karnataka. The health and family welfare department has been using puppetry shows for spreading messages like family planning, anti-dowry etc among the rural and semi urban places. The two prominent forms of puppetry of the state are (a) String puppets or Marionettes and (b) Leather or Shadow puppets.


Harikatha may be defined as a versatile and a composite art in which a single person indulges in the act of dramatization, consisting all the vital components of the theatre craft such as music, dance and dramatic presentation of the themes. Harikatha, is a solo recitation which is a combination of literature and lilting lyrics which reflects rich musical and literary material in its content. Harikatha is known in one form or the other with different names like Katha, Katha Keerthan, Shiva Katha, Katha Kalakshepam, Katha Prasangam keertan and sangam keertan and Sankeertan etc in the state.

The Harikatha artiste is accompanied by two or more members and wears a simple, casual dress. The principal performer is the chief singer narrator of the story  and is called Dassa or Keertankar. He is accompanied by few artistes in background  to give him vocal support. Musical  instruments like the mridanga, the tabala, the violin, the harmonium and the cymbals are  played by them while the Keertankar plays castanets (a two part chinking instrument made of wood).  One of its important characteristics is that it enables the artiste to alter the message according to the mood of the audience and in the process of face to face communication, gauge the impact of the message on them. If the impact is adverse, he is free to change or disband the course through smooth switch-over to the old stories.

Music of Karnataka


Karnatic Music

Karnatic music has a deeper understanding of 'notal' values and their inter-relations. This relation is established by Gamaka. Thus, taste for Karnatic music has to be cultivated. Tyagaraja is the most popular among the composers of Karnatic music. The music compositions, 'Tyagaraja Gana', 'Valmikiya Kavana' and 'Agumbeya Astamaya' are said to be unique for enrapturing the human heart. Purandaradasa composed four lakh and twenty-five Kirtanas, besides hundreds of peculiarly Kannada modes of songs known as Uga-bhoga and Suladi. The tradition so gloriously established by him is being continued to this day by his admirers and disciples.

Folk Songs

Karnataka state has different folk musical traditions with a variety of themes, subtlety of thought and wide range of human interest. Each form is distinct from the other and rivals in creative aspect. They have a multiple variety of folk songs in northern and southern regions.

Arts and Crafts


The Craft of Wood Carving

Karnataka has come to occupy pride of place in the field of wood carving. Holding a vast densely populated forest reserves, the State provides enough raw material for its craftsmen who continue to employ age-old techniques for carving, inlay-work, coating, painting and lacquer articles in wood.

Ancient temple wood architecture is the foremost specimen of wood carving, where wood has been used extensively and carved finely into delicate sculptures. The ceilings and gateways of royal homes and the temples showcases hundreds of intricately carved images of gods and goddesses. Rosewood articles are a one of the shopper's delight, and tourist take home with them articles or sculptures carved out of rosewood, beautifully carved rosewood elephant is most famous of all. The Maharaja's palace in Mysore and the mausoleum of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapattna are the foremost specimen of master craftsmanship where visitors get stun by the startling delicacy in the work.

 Ivory Carving

Ivory carving is another popular craft prevailing in the entire state. Articles carved delicately without excessively ornate image adjoining the figures, mostly showcasing the figures of god and goddess. Some of Mysore's masterpieces in ivory are now preserved in the Heritage Museum in Russia and in the South Kensington Museum, London.

Stone Carving

Shilpis the stone carvers of Karnataka are supreme of all, they had won the master crafts-man awards at the national level while others have been assigned to carve stone idols for Hindu temples abroad, especially in the USA.

Sandalwood Craft

Talking about sandalwood, Mysore charm the fragrance of this soft wood which is extensively used to produce beautiful art pieces. There are vast range of sandalwood product carves by the highly skilled workers, the gudigar families of Shimoga, Uttara Kannada and Mysore districts specialize in this craft. Krishna images are very popular among the devout, besides articles like lamp shades, trays, jewel boxes, decorative articles, combs and even walking sticks with rosewood handles.

 Doll Making

Doll making is another craft famous in Karnataka evenly arranged on wooden platforms, decorated and displayed during the nine day Dusshera. Kinnal and Gokak in north Karnataka and Channapatna on the Bengaluru/Mysore are famous for doll-making. The art of making puppet has galvanized many wood artisans and painters to produce a variety of puppets. Besides puppets made of wood, Karnataka also makes leather puppets which are more extensively used.

Metal Ware

Bidar in Karnataka, is a famous for bidriware-a craft done on a metal plate of zinc, copper, tin and lead. Bidri articles ornamental jugs, bowls, plates pen holders, candle sticks and even paper knives. Nagamangala near Mysore is famous for its bronze items and Mangalore in the west coast boasts of domestic articles made of bell-metal. Metalware in Karnataka has a rich and ancient tradition, Udupi - the temple town is famous for its small images and ritual objects, while Karkala - an ancient Jain center, is well-known for its Jain icons.

Karnataka Mysore Paintings

Fabulous Mysore paintings of Karnataka are another attractions that dates back to the carving of Ajanta Caves. The soft lines, the smooth and elegant drawing of figures the sagacious use of bright vegetable colors and lustrous gold leaf, make the traditional paintings of Mysore very elegant and attractive and most demanding in international market. Chitrakala Parishat in Bengaluru, showcasing masterpiece collection of old paintings, also runs a school teaching the art of traditional painting.



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