Folk dance refers to the dances that originated in ancient times, bound by tradition and culture of a particular region. It is performed by the people of a particular region who reflect the tradition, culture and lifestyle of that region. Infact, many modern dance forms are based on past traditional folk dances. India is a diverse country housing many different states with their own culture, tradition, history and lifestyle.
Among the many Indian states, is the state of Karnataka that has contributed immensely to Indian culture. It has influenced India’s cultural standing with the many traditional and folk dances the state has introduced. Below is a list of all the famous dances of Karnataka that express the state’s cultural past.
Yakshagana is a popular folk dance-drama performed in the coastal regions. It is a mesmerizing blend of dance, music, songs, dialogues, and colourful costumes. It is an ancient and famous folk dance of Karnataka relating to many traditions and conventions of the Sanskrit theatre or drama, particularly those of the Purvaranga and the existence of a character- Vidushak. The very first Yakshagana play was written in Telugu by Peda Kempa Gaudan in the 16th century titled ‘Ganga Gowri Vilasam.’ Later, from the renaissance period till the 17th century, it developed as a classical dance form in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. It was in the 18th century that Yakshagana emerged as a famous folk dance of Karnataka. The narratives of this classical dance form of Karnataka are mainly inspired by the Hindu epics Mahabharata, Ramayana and the youthful tales of Lord Shree Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita. Yakshagana was performed by all-male troupes sponsored by Hindi temples in the open air in initial times. Women began participating in the act in the 1970s, and since the mid-20th century, many performances have been performed indoors.
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Dollu Kunitha is a folk dance form of Karnataka popular with the kurubas of 'Beereshwara Sampradaya.’ It is a very famous folk dance of Karnataka performed on the beats of drums, and the singing of dancers. The beating drums are decorated by using colours or by flowers. This classical dance form of Karnataka is high on energy and performed all over the state during major festivals and celebrations. It is associated with the worship of Sree Beeralingeshwara, considered as a form of Lord Shiva, originated in the rituals of the Kuruba Gowda community of North Karnataka. Initially, it was only performed by the men of the shepherd community i.e., the Kuruba community. Today, the Dollu Kunitha folk dance form is performed in a group of 10-12 drummers, and both men and women are a part of the Dollu Kunitha team. The Dollu Kunitha dance of Karnataka is hard to miss due to high decibel, high energy performance put forward by the troupe. It is performed usually in a circular or semi-circular fashion with drum holders beating their drums in rhythm, accompanied by singing and music.
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Gaarudi Gombe is a famous dance of Karnataka in which dancers dress in suits made of bamboo sticks. Gaarudi Gombe means ‘magical puppet’ in Kannada. This state dance of Karnataka features masks, puppets and colourful regional costumes. The famous dance of Karnataka Gaarudi Gombe originates from the epic Mahabharata. It is believed that when Krishna's wife Satyabhama was angry with him, he pacified her by wearing a giant doll suit. It is usually performed during temple festivals and processions, depicting various characters from Indian folk stories and classics. Mainly performed to ward off evil, this classical dance form of Karnataka is known as Tattiraya in the coastal regions. Tattiraya means ‘someone carrying a doll made of bamboo sticks.’ The giant dolls are made entirely of bamboo sticks with the help of appropriate sketches and using vibrant colours. At times, it is made similar to the costumes of the popular folk dance Yakshagana. The dolls are around 12 feet in height and can weigh nearly 40 kg. The dancers also take turns carrying the dolls as the performance can go on for almost eight hours.
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Krishna Parijatha, a classical dance form of Karnataka, is a beautiful concoction of two popular dances- Yakshagana and Bayalata. ‘Parijatha’ in Krishna Parijatha refers to a tree. There are various myths and legends about this anecdote, the most well-known one being of Lord Krishna. According to the legend, Parijatha tree emerged from the ocean as a gift during the Samudra Manthan. It was planted in the garden of Lord Indra and thus was a celestial plant, not available on earth. The themes of this famous dance of Karnataka are inspired by the tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The use of make-up, accompanied by an elaborate use of music and dance is common. Both prose and verse forms are used to explain the age-old themes of this famous folk dance of Karnataka. The popular and enthralling state dance of Karnataka, Krishna Parijatha, is usually held at night time. Sometimes, a single narrator with the help of a clown or Vidushaka holds the narrative key to the performance. From village squares to open markets, Krishna Parijatha continues to be a classical dance form of Karnataka and a folk religious theatrical form.
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Pata Kunitha is a famous dance of Karnataka, extremely popular among the inhabitants of the Mysore region. The original significance of this state dance of Karnataka is primarily religious. Without much of a narrative in Pata Kunitha, the main focus is on the rhythm and skills of the dancers. Each performance of this classical dance form of Karnataka is performed by a group of ten to fifteen men. The dancers use pata- a long bamboo pole 10 to 15 feet high, decorated with colourful ribbons. The pata has a silver or brass umbrella usually at the crown. They manipulate the poles with quick and swift movements, to the accompaniment of largely rhythmic music. The skill of the dancers in manoeuvring the long bamboo poles attracts the most attention. The famous folk dance of Karnataka, Pata Kunitha, is widely performed in the rural religious gatherings in the state’s villages. The religious significance once associated with this state dance of Karnataka is now largely lost. However, it is still considered to be a largely ritualistic performance. Pata Kunitha is the most popular folk dance form in the Mysore region of the state along with Beesu Kamsale.
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Beesu Kamsale is a vigorous and famous dance of Karnataka popular among the Kannada speaking inhabitants of the state that offers a great blend of aesthetic sublimity and martial dexterity. It is mainly practiced in the districts of Mysore, Nanjangud, Kollegal and Bangalore. The classical dance form of Karnataka is religion-based and narrates the glory of Lord Mahadeshwara Shiva and their lifelong allegiance to God. This famous dance of Karnataka derives its name from the musical instrument used in the performance. It is performed by a group of three to five dancers, but the number can go up to twelve with singers included. The dancers wear traditional costumes of red and gold colour. The costumes of singers differ slightly from that of the dancers. They carry a pair of cymbal-like discs made of bronze, scooped out from the middle and hollow at the center. The disc on the left hand is held close to the palm while the one in the right hand hangs loose generally at an arm's length. When they collide, one gets a loud clang. The songs sung during this famous folk dance of Karnataka are taken from the Mahadeshwara epic praising the Lord Mahadeshwara. The songs are orally handed down by tradition without any written documentation.
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Veeragase, a famous folk dance of Karnataka is a symbolic presentation of the heroism and valour of God ‘Veerabhadra’. Performed during festivals and mainly in the Hindu month of Shravana and Krithika, this classical dance form of Karnataka is based on Hindu mythology and involves highly intense dance movements. The dancers adorn white turban like head gear and wear kaavi coloured dhotis along with Rudrakshamala and Nagabharanas. They wear a wooden plaque of Lord Veerabhadra on their chest and smear their forehead, ears and eyebrows with Vibhuti. The dancers performing this famous dance of Karnataka also carry an unsheathed sword in the right hand and a wooden plaque of Veerabhadra in the left hand and perform a martial dance to the beat of Karadi and chamel drums. The dance troupe usually consists of two, four or six members and the lead singer of the troupe narrates the ‘Daksha Yajna’ epic with a huge decorative pole called Nandi Kolu. Instruments like Cymbals and Clarinet are used, and this state dance of Karnataka also involves a ritualistic piercing of a needle across the mouth.
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A classical dance form of Karnataka, Nagamandala is mainly performed in south Karnataka to calm the serpent spirit. The serpent in this famous folk dance of Karnataka is considered a symbol of fertility and a manifestation of life-force. Nagamandala is an elaborate night-long affair with music, dance, ritual chanting in Sanskrit and Kannada, and possession of the head-priest.
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A famous dance of Karnataka, Kangadilo Kunitha is a traditional Tulu dance form, performed mainly by men. The costumes of the dancers participating in this famous folk dance of Karnataka are adorned with the tender leaves of Coconut Palm trees. Five to seven dancers perform rhythmic steps on the musical beats of instruments like Drums and Flute. Among the group, there is a key dancer with white hair moustache who enacts as an elderly person and narrates the story.
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Aati Kalenja is a ritualistic and classical dance form of Karnataka performed by the 'Nalke' Community. According to popular beliefs, Kalenja is the name of the minor spirit responsible for protecting the village population during the monsoon months of July and August. A person of the Nalke community dresses up as Kalenja, the minor spirit, following the belief. The performers wear a costume made up of the tender coconut leaves, anklets, colourful cloth, and a long cap made of Areca Spathe. They paint their face with various colourful designs and hold an umbrella decorated with leaves and flowers. Then the dancer accompanied by a drummer makes a round of the village, dancing in front of every house. The householders provide them with paddy, coconut, turmeric , rice, etc. as a reward. This state dance of Karnataka is based on the belief that honouring Kalenja in this way will ward the village off all evil spirits.
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