Article by: Shreelatha Nayak Kodialbail
Mangalore: Of all the performing arts of Mangalore-“Hulivesha” is perhaps the most entertaining. It’s these Huli Vesha teams that add colour to the Dasara celebrations in Mangalore which would lack luster in the absence of these Huli Veshadharis who dance to the rhythmic beating of the drums making children as well as elders go crazy.
Though Huli Vesha teams are present in several parts of the district including even the neighbouring Udupi, there is no doubt that it is the Huli Veshadharis of Mangalore who stand apart from the rest of their tribe.
A lot of efforts and preparations go in before embarking on a tiger dance. Rigorous exercises and practice sessions yield result when the tiger dance performers win public applause. The artists are painted like tigers in black, yellow and other colorful stripes to give the look and colour of the tiger. Each layer is applied such that the end result reflects the grandeur of the carnivore. This too is not an easy task as the artistes have to stand patiently for hours together while their bodies are painted artistically, so that the paint does not get distorted.
Coming to Mangalore, the city can boast of several Huli Vesha teams, some of whom are extremely popular for their rare feats. According to one estimate, there are over 30 well-known troupes who perform this famed folk dance during Dasara and Krishna Janmastami. The Mangalorean style is distinctive by its body paint, the satin underwear and the head gear made of wool to resemble tiger’s head. The rhythmic drum beat of the Huli Vesha teams are also equally popular.
During the dance, the artistes perform many heroic acts which depict the power of the carnivore. ‘Killing sheep’ was one the famous acts performed in the past but is now rare following complaints of cruelty on animals , though the sheep is not actually killed in the process. Presently a 25 kg rice pack (Akki Mudi) is being used as a substitute.
Some of the popular tiger dance troupes in Mangalore are led by Jagannath Shetty, M R Vishwanath, Nithyanand Ashram and others. Probably the first one to start the tiger dance troupe in Mangalore was Kesari Friends Circle group headed by Bajilkeri Kamalaksha, a former corporator. The troupe started by his father late B Krishnappa, is being successfully continued since the past 81 years. The troupe accompanies the Shobhayatra of Goddess Sharada of the Sri Venkataramana Temple, Carstreet. According to Kamalaksha, the ‘Mara Kalu Huli’ a tiger dancer who walks on wooden pole is the specialty of the troupe. This Dasara, the height was extended to 13 and half feet, he says. The tiger mask made of white cement fixed to one of the artiste’s face was the centre of attraction in the group during this year’s Dasara.
The troupe earlier had given perform-ances at ‘Tulukoota and Kudlotsava’, held in Bahrain. They have also given performances in Mumbai, Delhi and at the Goa carnival.
The Barke Friends troupe led by Yajnesh Shetty, popularly known as Yaddu, also makes a great effort to preserve this tradition of Tulunad. The team which completed its 17 years of celebration dancing to the beats of drum in front of Goddess Sharada of Kudroli Gokarnanatheshwara Temple consists of 68 tiger dancers. The troupe has earlier made an entry in the National Geographic Channel for their tiger dance and stunts. The team continues the tradition of ‘Mande Pili’, the mask worn by one the artiste during the dance performed for the theme ‘Dharani Mandala’. The specialty of the team lies in the care they take towards their dancers and also towards the transportation facility provided to them during their rounds in city.
There is also the Team Kalicharan which stands second to none, being in the field since the past 25 years. The team has the honour of being placed in the second position during the Dasara procession of Kudroli Gokarnanatheshwara Temple. The team started under the guidance of Naveen continues the tradition with due support of generous friends and well-wishers. The team is famous for its stunts like breaking coconuts and gymnastic acts. The dance step of ‘Dollu Kunitha’ is perhaps the difficult piece performed by the team Kalicharan. According to Anil Kumar, a member of the team, the ‘Dharani Mandala’ theme depicted by the team where the tigress feeds its cubs and moves to fulfill its promise is the signature theme of the troupe.
All credit needs to go to these wonderful and hard working tiger dance troupes of Mangalore. No doubt there is a competition among the troupes as far as their body painting, stunts, tableaux and their lightings during the procession, is concerned.
All said and done, the role of the generous sponsors who come forward to sponsor and promote the teams cannot be forgotten. As presenting a Huli Vesha teams involves heavy cost, particularly the cost of the paint and also the daily expenses apart from the payment to the drum beaters, the role of sponsors play a very important role. But for them, not many may venture into this art which is equally tough and tiresome to tread through the nook and corner of the city from dawn to dusk and sometimes late into the night.
Many are of the view that this is not a profitable venture in this commercial era. Still the cultural aspect cannot be sidelined and it’s only when such teams are encouraged that the spirit of the art may live on and encourage youngsters to don the paint again next year.