Devotees of Veerabhadra and Veerashiva cults patronize and perform the dynamic dance form – Veeragase. Veeragase is one of the most prominent and popular dance forms unique to Karnataka. The energetic and powerhouse performance by the dancers combined with the ear-shattering sounds of the sambala is a sure success at any utsav or local fair.
Veeragase, Veerabhadra Kunitha, Linga Beeraru, Kase Kunitha and Puruvantike are some of the prevalent folk forms born out of the Shaivaite movement. Followers of Lord Shiva have over the centuries evolved their own set of rituals and performances, each aimed at glorifying Lord Shiva or the principles of the Veerashiva sects. The presentation style, steps, and costumes differ but the core essentials, costumes and instruments remain the same in all the above mentioned dance forms. Propaganda of their religion is the foundation of these forms. The story of the birth of Veerabhadra and the slaying of Dakshabhramha are narrated dramatically in all these forms.
In this article we explore two similar forms, Veerabhadra Kunitha and Veeragase. It is important to know the story of Veerabhadra to understand this form. A brief note is given below.
When King Daksha, father of Goddess Parvathi visits the celestial duo, Lord Shiva and Parvathi, Shiva is busy performing pooja and Parvathi is immersed in serving him. Taking offence that he has been ignored on purpose, an enraged Daksha seeks revenge. HE decides to perform a Mahayagna that will make him the Lord of the celestial world and destroy Shiva. He invites all gods and goddesses except his own son-in-law Lord Shiva to the yagna. When Parvathi hears of this from Sage Narada, she yearns to go to the yagna. In spite of Shiva’s warning, she goes, only to be ignored and insulted by her own sisters, mother and father. Parvathi jumps into the agni konda or sacrificial fire, not able to bear the treatment meted out to her. On hearing about this, Shiva wipes the sweat of his third eye and splashes it to the ground leading to the birth of Veerabhadra. Lord Veerabhadra goes to the yagna and kills King Daksha and dances his way back to Kailasa.
The sambala is an instrument very unique to this form. The sambala is basically two drums that are wound together and hung from the shoulder to rest at the waist level. Originally the drums were made of skin, but the skin has now been replaced by fibre to make a loud sound. Each drum creates a different note. A twisted stick is used to beat the drums with both hands. Karde-shennai, dhimu/dhapa or single drums, thas – drum tied at waist, shruthi and brass tala make the rest of the musical repertoire. The instruments are common to both forms, and the number of musicians vary for every performance.
A single dancer in a rich and extravagant costume performs in the middle of the stage. He is surrounded by the mela (orchestra). He dances vigorously as if he has invoked the gods upon himself. In between he pauses to narrate the tale of Veerabhadra. Through good diction, expressive eyes and acting skills, he tells the tale of Lord Shiva in dramatic and compelling narration.
The robust and loud clanging sound of the sambala sets the heart racing. The dancer, swinging a glittering sword, dances energetically. He rests to tell the story of Shiva in parts. This method of narration is termed ‘odappu‘. Even while narrating the odappu, his moves are dynamic and accompanied by the sambala to create an exciting tale. As one narrative ends, the loud banging of the drums sends the dancers into a trance and he starts performing again. The same pattern is continued till the end of the story. The narratives are usually poems in campu metre scale (poetic symmetry).
This dance is performed during Shivaratri, Gowri pooja, Ugadi and all important fairs and festivals of the Shaivaite cult.
The grand attire of Veerabhadra is very eye-catching and dramatic in effect. The dancer wears a red kache panche and red jubha. The panche has now been replaced by pyjamas or string pants. Multi-coloured cloth is draped from the shoulder and also tied at the waist. He wears loud jingles for the foot, and at the knee ‘gagra’ or huge brass bells are wound tightly. Brass masks depicting the head of Daksha are worn on the waist and Linga or naga-abharna adorns the neck. Snake-armlets, wrist-bands and pendants also deck up the artist. The headgear is a gold painted crown with a huge white wig flowing out of it. He also sports a huge white moustache. The eyes are painted in different hues to create a wild and angry look. The forehead is painted with vibuthi and a third eye to depict Shiva. He carries a grand and glittering sword in his right hand and a shield in another.
The musicians are generally dressed in white dhothi and a simple satin or cotton jubha. They wear a turban and tie a cloth to their waist.
Folk historians believe that the name of the form Veeragase has been derived from the style of wearing the kache or dhoti by Veerashaivaites or followers of Shiva (veera + kache = veeragase). The calibre and talent of a single dancer is tested in Veerabhadra Kunitha whereas a group of dancers have to present their skill and stamina in performing the Veeragase. A minimum of eight or more even number of artists perform this dance. These dancers are called Veeraputra or Veerakumara. The costumes are simpler when compared to Veerabhadra Kunitha. The dancers arrange themselves in two straight lines or sometimes in a ‘V’ formation. The synchronization of the steps is commendable. They change the formation only once or twice during the whole performance to form a circle or a horizontal line. Rudra or Veera bhava is kept consistent, all dancers show anger and heroic expressions on their face. One dancer is Eshwara or Veerabhadra’s costume stands in the middle of the stage. One of these Veerakumara dancers comes to the front and says the odappu. As soon the dancer starts the narration, the background music is stopped. The rest of the dancers vocalize their support in between each pause saying ‘aaha‘. A good orator with command over language and angika abhinaya can do justice to the odappu. The opening lines are usually as follows:
Aaaha Rudra! Aaaha Deva!
Baraya baro! Appa Veerabhadra!
Some common odappus are Veerabhadra Devara Odappu, Daksha Brahmana, Rudrakshi Mahime, Veerabhadradevra Uduge Todege, Vigneshvarana Odappu and Bhasmasurana Odappu. Once the odappu is complete, the dancer goes back to his position, accompanied by the loud banging of the drums. A vigorous dance sequence involving a number of jumps and sit-ups follows. Then again an odappu is narrated. The same pattern follows till the end of the performance.
The popular form is spread over several parts of Karnataka and the costumes vary from region to region. The Veerakumara dancers wear a basic kase kache. On the torso they wear a kavi or saffron jubha. The head supports a huge turban. Vibhuti for the forehead, earrings, naga bharana or naga jewellery for the neck and arms, rudrakshi, daksha brahma’s mask for the waist and jingles for the foot are used as accessories by the dancers. Swords are held in the right hand. Shields are not compulsory; some troupes have them and some don’t. The costumes of the musicians remain the same as in Veerabhadra Kunitha.
Veeragase is performed at all major occasions such as house-warming, marriage, naming ceremony and several other festivals. The dance form that started mainly as a ritual to support and spread the message of a dharma, has become important today for its entertainment value. The dramatic elements of narrating the story, elaborate attire and makeup, unique instruments and fast-paced dance sequences have ensured the popularity of the dance form.
SENIOR VEERAGASE ARTIST G. P. JAGADISH SPEAKS TO DRISHTI
Among the senior folk artists who have made Karnataka proud with their discipline and dedication is Veeragase veteran G. P. Jagadish. The 73-year-old’s energy when he plays the sambala is unbelievable, his dexterity and control are unmatched. He is a regular Akashvani and Doordarshan artist The troupe Veeragase Kala Sangha started by Jagadish in the small town of Giriyapura has completed fifty glorious years. They have had the privilege of performing at Mysore Dasara, Rajyotsava-Delhi, India-China cultural exchange programme, India-Russia Festival, Karnataka-Goa Festival, Afro-Asian Games-Hyderabad, and many other programmes in Kolkata, Mumbai, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, and Kerala.
The troupe was appreciated by the President of India for its performance at the Poolvalonke Sehar festival in 1990-91. G. P. Jagadish has been bestowed with the Janapada and Yakshagana academy award, by the Govt. of Karnataka in 1990.
When did you start learning Veeragase? For how many years have you been teaching it?
I was around 16-17 years old when I first tied the anklets. A few years later I started teaching and in the past 50 to 52 years, I have taught over 150 students in all aspects of Veeragase like dance, pravachana, playing the instruments and makeup.
What influenced you to learn this folk form?
During a festival I had been to a local fair where I saw this powerful performance and became very interested in it. When we had an opportunity, my friends and I invited a teacher to come and teach us. That was the first experience. Later I visited several troupes, saw a lot of performances and began to grasp the best and learnt on my own.
From whom did you learn Veeragase?
I first started learning under Muddegowda Chandrappa of Gorapurra. Later Kodahalli Veerappa and Gorapurada T Marulappa were two senior artists who have had an impact on me. They inspired me to master the dance form.
Has this been your profession?
I am an electrical contractor by profession. Veeragase has been my passion. Now I have given up the electrical work to my son and am involved only in performing Veeragase.
How did you get to start Veeragase Kala Sangha in Giriyapura?
When we had learnt the form, we started our own sangha. Initially we had a lot of problems, mainly financial. We ourselves raised the money and started it without external support. Now we have completed 50 years and had a grand Suvarna Mahotsava celebration recently.
In which parts of Karnataka is this form very prevalent?
It is very popular in Chikmagalur, Shimoga and Chitradurga. The Puravantike is seen only in Uttara Karnataka districts. Near Mandya and Bangalore it is popular as Linga berraru.
What is the difference between Veeragase, Veerabhadra Kunitha and Puravantike?
They all belong to the same ideology; they are very similar in many ways. Especially, between Veeragase and Veerabhadra Kunitha there is no difference at all. Maybe the number of people performing differs. In Puravantike steps are not given that much importance. There is very little variation and the steps are not crisp. It goes at a much slower pace. Veeragase is very dynamic and full of energy. In costumes also there are many differences between Puravantike and Veeragase.
According to you what are the main ingredients of Veeragase?
Sambala, Dhonu, Karde, Tala are necessary for the background music. Artists decked in colorful costumes, makeup and dance are the main elements of the performance. Good narrators to tell the pravachana which describe Shiva and his miracles are important. Energy and good music is most essential. The programme can go on for a whole night.
How many people are supposed to perform Veeragase?
There is no specification on the number; fewer artists make it look pale. 10 to 15 dancers with 6 instruments are ideal for a big stage. Before Veeragase was restricted to only men from the Lingayat community but now many different communities are learning the dance; even girls are performing these days. It is good to see the art form being revived and surviving in different ways.