BENGALURU: The 15-acre haven of tribal folk art on the Bangalore-Mysore Road in Ramanagara is easy to miss if you are speeding by. Janapada Loka is perhaps the only Karnataka folk cultural centre where you can see both rural and tribal folk artistes meeting students, working professionals and even the urban elite on a regular basis.
Set up in 1994 by former IAS officer H L Nage Gowda, who always held an unconditional love for folklore since his childhood, the centre today is one of the reasons the 250-odd varieties of folk dance and art are not a part of a history. For traditional folk artistes carrying on the art of several generations, this place is a platform to showcase their talent and also earn remuneration for their work in a world where popular culture is fast replacing traditional forms of entertainment and fine arts. For a person living in the town or city, the place is where one can learn about one’s roots, why and how they came about, their significance and the need to protect them from being forgotten. , Janapada Loka, celebrating its silver jubilee this February, remains unwavering in its dedication to protect and further Karnataka folk art and culture.
“These folk dances originated in rural areas, not just as a form of entertainment but as a way to appease the deity and bring auspicious times to the village. It is ensured that there is no repetition of the kind of troupe that performs for the crowd, each week. They dance continuously from 9.30 am to 4 pm, albeit with a stop for food. They have powerful memory to be able to recollect so much without a break,” says C N Rudrappa, Chief Administrative Officer of Janapada Loka.
As you walk around the premises, installations of traditional homes like a grinding stone used in rural areas to grind ragi, catches your attention. A life-size installation of the Deevara community has also been erected.“Deevaras worked on the farms of landowners in Shivamogga. While the landowner lived in an all- season terracotta house, the servants lived in a hut right next to them and worked in the farms and took care of the livestock,” Rudrappa says.The Lokmath Mandira building preseves all the artefacts that continue to be used in rural areas in kitchens, homes and in daily life.
A 20th century oleograph made by women with rangoli in Tumakuru and Bengaluru greets one at the front. A traditional clothes hanger, granaries of different sizes which promise greater taste if grains are stored there for six months and more, olden style walking sticks, hand fans made of herbal roots, containers made of ceramic, soap stone, porcelain and wood to store large portions of sambar, ragi mudde and other food cooked for the joint family, coconut shell spoons, measuring cups made of iron and bamboo, a noodle press and just about every daily life essential is displayed here. Belts for arecanut farmers to wear around their waist and climb the tree, wool spinning tools, different types of bells to tie around one’s cattle, useful to trace them when lost, and other such utilities for rural livelihood are seen here.
“ Women would sing folk songs while pounding ragi using stone. It is said that once the song is complete, the task of pounding is also done,” says Narasimaiah, a staffer at Janapada Loka.The Chitra Kuteera building displays photos of various tribes documented by founder Nage Gowda. Colour photographs of Hasalaru, Gondaru, Siddis, Koragas and several other tribes from North and South Karnataka in the midst of hunting, dancing or celebrating occasions are put up. The collection includes one of Sukri Bommagowda, a tribal woman who gained recognition when she won the Padma Shri award. Known for her folk songs, she is also an ayurvedic expert from the Halakki tribe.
“The Siddhi tribe were African slaves brought here by the Portugese to serve them during the colonial era. They stayed on, even after their masters left and have become part of Karnataka, speaking even better Kannada than us. They live in Kumta, Joida, Ganeshgudi and other places,” Narasimaiah says.
“There are 70 tribes in Karnataka and 250 varieties of folk art and dance. Nearly 5,000 teams of artistes exist and 8,000 such artistes have got training in Janapada Loka in various Kunithas,” Narasimaiah says.
They learn theory about material used to make instruments such as cow, deer or salamander skin, how to beat different drums in Kamsale, Dollu Kunitha and other Kunithas. The two hours of theory are coupled with two hours of practicals conducted at the weekends, Rudrappa adds.
Ask him how much of these folk arts remain popular today and Narasimaiah says,” Earlier, for any ceremony, be it the birth of a child or a wedding, people would call these folk singers and dancers. Now they call an orchestra who sings film songs. Weddings too are shorter and don’t see performances many a time.”This is where places like Janapada Loka come in, playing a crucial role in reviving interest among people and artistes alike.“Artistes earn a good remuneration when they are invited by politicians to perform at celebrations post winning elections, inauguration of any works undertaken by them and other such ceremonies. This fetches them around Rs 20,000 for the whole troupe while solo artiste dances fetch them Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000. While the demand has gone down compared to the olden days, there is diversification in the kind of places they get invited to perform in. The artistes undertake other occupations such as agriculture and trade to get by,” Rudrappa says.
Retired IAS officer Thimme Gowda, the current Chairman of Janapada Loka, says there is more in store for the space. “The tender to develop installations of tribal homes with status of folk artistes in them is in the final stages. It will be on the lines of Choki Dani in Rajasthan, replicating tribal culture and habitation. We started the research and development centre this year to study local folk art. Our training programmes will focus on training of those folk arts that are going extinct such as Mudalapalya Yakshagana, Sannata, Doddata,” he says.
Mallaya (50), a staffer from the Gorava community, performs a kind of folk art that includes singing a story while beating a Damadi (kind of drum made of salamander or deer skin). Before he begins singing, he explains the story and context in which the song is set to a crowd of working professionals. The songs are on the lives of saints who helped downtrodden people in the community and are sung during Deepavali, Shivaratri, birth ceremonies and other such festivities. Mallaya is a fifth generation artiste carrying forward an art nearly 550 years old.
Born in 1915 in a family of farmers, H L Nage Gowda grew up in Heraganahalli village, In 1961 he became an IAS officer. He empathized with the condition of poor rural folk artistes. His unconditional love of folklore manifested in 1965-69 while he was Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada. Post retirement, documenting and encouraging folk art became his life’s purpose.
With a meagre sum of Rs 1 lakh presented to him at a feiliciation function in 1979, Nage Gowda set up the Karnataka Janapada Trust the same year. In 1994 he set up Janapada Loka. He himself is a litterateur, having 50-odd written Kannada works to his name which won him several awards.
Training programmes include a 6-month diploma and 3-month certificate course where all forms of folk art are taught. Professors from Bangalore and Mysore University who teach the Janapada course come and train artistes here. Every month Janapada Lokashree award is given to honour one senior artiste of repute, with a cash prize of Rs 5,000
On every second Saturday of the month, artistes from all over Karnataka perform Kamsala, Puja Kunitha, Goravara Kunitha, Dollu Kunitha, Veeragase, Rangada Kunitha, Pattada Kunitha, Jaggahalige Kunitha and hundreds other folk dances that took root in Karnataka