These Pipers Come a Long Way

A semi-nomadic community from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana brings its sacred bulls to Bangalore for the Dasara-Deepavali season every year

Published: 14th October 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th October 2014 06:00 AM   |  A+A-

Andhra-Pradesh

BANGALORE : A semi-nomadic community from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is now visiting Bangalore in greater numbers.

The Gollas, traditional cowherds, go from door to door in Bangalore, with their decorated sacred bulls (Basavanna) and blowing their nadaswaras (pipes), and seeking alms. They arrive here particularly for the Dasara-Deepavali season.

Their numbers have gone up in the wake of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

They mostly hail from Nellore, Guntur, Rayadurga, Anantpur and other Telugu regions across the border.

Kadu Gollas from Tumkur and Chitradurga, who speak Kannada, are also seen in the city, but are fewer in number than the Andhra Gollas.

City Express met a few groups in the city’s southern parts, Arehalli, Hosur Road and Hosakerehalli.

For the last four years, Obalesha from Nellore has been coming to Bangalore for the Dasara and Deepavali season.

He is landless, has received no government benefits. He has no mobile phone and hasn’t even heard of ration cards. Never having climbed the portals of a school, he earns about `250-350 a day, and traverses 10-15 km in all kinds of weather.

“Some people give `5-10 while others give us rice and jaggery. It is a hard life as many people drive us away thinking we might harm them,” he says.

He uses the money to look after his animal. He gives it a ritual bath in the morning, feeds it grass and fodder and sets out on his rounds early in the morning.

Age-old tradition

Another clan member, Venkatesh says the practice of seeking alms and worshiping the bull has been in existence since time immemorial.

“Since our forefathers practised it, we too are doing it. We have no lands to till. Sometimes, we work as farm labourers for a few months, then we come to Bangalore and work at construction sites,” he says.

Gopala, who has been coming from a village near Anantpur with 30-40 families every year, sets up a tent near K R Puram.

“People have become intolerant in the city and we are driven away mercilessly if we put up a temporary shelter on a vacant site,” he says.

When City Express met him in Whitefield, he was playing a raga on his nadaswara, with not a single note going wrong, but was being shooed away by some shop keepers and residents.

“Any amount of convincing that we are here for just a month or two has no effect, and people sometimes lodge police complaints and drive us away,” he says.

Temporary home

Most seasonal migrants set up camps in areas like K R Puram, Hosur Road, Mysore Road, Kumarswamy Layout and the southern outskirts where many residential layouts in the making give them space.

Mahesh, who stays in Bangarappana Gutti near Channasandra with 30 other families says, “I pay a rent of `600 a month. My expenses mount in the city.”

Soulful play

Playing the evergreen devotional song Bhagyada Lakshmi baramma very soulfully, Obalesha says, “I learned to play many Telugu and Kannada songs from my father. In our community, nobody is taught, we pick up the nuances as we tend our cattle in open, grazing lands.”

Prof K Y N Swamy, a folklore expert at the Department of Kannada, Central College, says the Golla community is facing a cultural and identity crisis.

“Their ancestral skills have taken a beating. Thirty years ago, the Jogatis of the Devadasi community were lovely singers, but where are they today? The same is the case with the Gollas,” he says.

The practice of playing the nadaswara used to be transmitted from one generation to another as families went about collecting grains from homes.

But this tradition is on the decline. As cultural plurality is under threat, these people have neither welfare benefits nor older means of sustenance, he explains. Swamy estimates 20 nomadic tribes visiting Bangalore regularly face the same plight.

Another community member who refused to be identified says, “Our situation has not improved. In fact, it has deteriorated. Chandrababu Naidu promised us a lot. Rice was available for `2 a kilo but now it is ` 8. We get no subsidies as we are landless, no houses, no beneficiary cards,” he laments.

Deprived lot

In Andhra Pradesh, the Gollas are placed in the forward category among the backward classes while in Karnataka, the Kadu Gollas are placed in the most backward category and are now demanding inclusion in the scheduled tribe category.

A pastoral group

Recognised as a semi-nomadic group, the Gollas, also known as Yadavas, are a pastoral community who speak Kannada and Telugu.

Their hereditary occupation is tending cattle and selling milk. In recent years, some farm, while others have entered government service.The Gollas worship Krishna, Venkataramana and Anjaneya, but also refer to local legends and mythic heroes like  Junjappa, according to the book Castes and Tribes of Southern India.

Expert studies

In both Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the pastoral Golla community faces economic, social and political disabilities, says Prof M Gurulingaiah, Chairman, Department of Sociology, Kuvempu University. Over two decades, he has done extensive research on the Gollas. “Migration to Bangalore from border areas like Rayadurg and Anantpur continues. Economic deprivation there pushes them to seek alms elsewhere,” he says. Otherwise, the community was only involved in tending cattle. “They follow a symbolic tradition and for them, the bull is the deity,” he explains.

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