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Karnataka music and dance feature a wide variety of classical and folk forms. Music and dance from Karnataka are meant not only for entertainment but also for the spiritual betterment of the performers and the beholders. Influences have filtered in from every corner of southern and even northern India and have enriched the world of Karnataka's music and dance.
Carnatic classical music lies at the very center of Karnataka music and dance traditions. From ancient times, Karnataka has contributed largely in ascertaining its structure and form. It has also presented the world with some of its major composers and performers. The veena along with violin and mridangam form the chief musical instruments. Unlike most states of southern India, the contribution of Karnataka to the world of North Indian Classical music has also been noteworthy. Kuchipudi is the original dance form with its origin in Karnataka. However, other classical dance forms like the Bharatanatyam also form important parts within the tradition of music and dance of Karnataka.
Folk performance are very significant parts of Karnataka music and dance. They beautifully blend music, dance and theatrical performances. Most of these folk forms still continue in their primary ritualistic mode. Kunithas are traditional dance dramas that employ a great deal of music and dance. Some of the major forms of these kunithas are dollu kunithas, pata kunithas, dorava kunithas. The highly spectacular yashagana is a major folk musical performance. Krishna Parijatha and Bhoot Aradhane are some of the other major folk forms of Karnataka music and dance.
Kamsale of Karnataka, also known as Beesu Kamsale is a vigorous dance form of the Kannad speaking inhabitants of the state that employs a great blend of aesthetic sublimity and martial dexterity. Karnataka's Kamsale is mainly practiced in the districts of Mysore, Nanjagud, Kollegal and Bangalore. The religious aspect of Kamsale is prominent. It narrates the glory of Lord Mahadeswara Shiva and the performers are vowed to a lifelong allegiance to the god. The art is transmitted orally and through closely guarded tradition transmitted from the preceptor to the pupil.
Kamsale in Karnataka is closely associated with the rituals of Shiva worship. Kamsale derives its name from the musical instrument used in th performance. Usually Kamsale is performed by a group of three to five dancers, although the number can go up to twelve with singers included. They wear traditional dresses in gold and red. However, the color schemes worn by the singers are slightly different from the dancers. They are a pair of cymbal-like discs made of bronze. The brass discs are scooped out from the middle and is 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 Kamsale are hit in rhythm with the songs which typically are taken from the Mahadeswara epic exalting the glory of the lord Mahadeswara. There is no written documentation of these songs. They are orally handed down by tradition with great respect for the purity of the form.
The tribesmen of the Kuruba clan who perform these dances are primarily martial. Therefore, the sheer artistic value of the dance is mixed with intense martial maneuvers. The Kamsale is often skilfully manipulated to represent intricate offensive and defensive maneuvers.
Dollu Kunitha is a major form of folk-dance performance in Karnataka. Dollu Kunitha is performed mainly by men and women of the Kuruba community of Nothern Karnataka. Dollu Kunitha in Karnataka is generally performed to commemorate an auspicious event. The districts of Shimoga and Chitradurga are particularly noted for their excellence in the performance of this folk form. The performance like almost all other folk performances of India is not only a mode of entertainment but is intended towards the spiritual well being of the performers and the spectators.
Dollu Kunitha at Karnataka has distinct religious overtones. They are traditionally performed at the temples of Bireshwar. Traditionally the themes were religious and were known as the 'Halumatha Purana' or simply the 'Kuruba Purana'. However, recently it has been used to propagate various government schemes and programs including adult education, literacy programs, etc. It forms the center of attraction at all religious festivals of Karnataka specially Northern Karnataka. Often it is used to welcome the harvest season. However, it can also be arranged to commemorate a wedding, the birth of a child or even a burial or a funeral.
Dollu Kunitha of Karnataka is performed by both men and women either in separate groups or together. Karnataka's Dollu Kunitha is distinctive in its use of the Dollu, a specialized drum that are struck with fingers and produces a loud sound like a thunder when struck. There are stylized dances accompanying the sonorous beating of the drums. They form a semi-circle and involve in extremely swift and sinuous movements. Along with the drums, the songs and the extremely vigorous dances, the participants including the audience are transported to a different world of enchantment and bliss.