Men dress as Korga, Koragati, Mahishasura, bear, demon; pay obeisance to deity
A four-km kucha-pukka canopy road deviating from the Guruvayanakere-Karkala Road takes you to Alamba – a thickly wooded area that Malekudia tribal people call a village.
Follow the tubelights and music from the loudspeakers lined along the road, and they will take you to ‘Purusha-katte’ — the platform where the annual Purusha-puje (festival) is performed.
The intervening night of Friday and Saturday (April 5 and 6) was a big day for 30-odd Malekudia families who live on the fringes of Kudremukh National Park in Belthangady taluk of Dakshina Kannada, defying all attempts to evict them in the name of protecting forests.
The day began with a sunset-time vegetarian meal, followed by a bath for all those who were to dance in various costumes before the deity – a decorated frame without any image of god, but said to be representing the presiding deity of Mangalore’s famous Kadri Manjunatha Temple.
As some devotion-filled men spent hours designing and wearing costumes amid chants of “dhimisoley”, the way a few others prepared a big heap of avalakki (beaten rice) prasada (eatables considered sacred) was a sight to behold.
The Malekudias, who are frequently harassed by Maoists and the State’s Anti-Naxal Force, appeared to drive away all the miseries of life as they worshipped their deity around 10.30 p.m., and followed by nightlong dancing and playacting.
Men dressed as Korga, Koragati, spirit Panjurli, Mahishasura, bear, demon, daivas (spirits) and Bearys took turn to pay obeisance to the deity and enthral the audience. The jester amid them could not be missed.
For an audience with heavy influence of modern films and television, the dance form could hardly come as entertainment but for the villagers it was a great night of fun and frolic. Those from far and near even actively interacted with the characters, joked, laughed and derived pleasure and spiritual satisfaction, it appeared.
Though the subaltern culture largely remains untouched by the influences of vedic culture in this foothill of Western Ghats, the sacred thread around the man in the costume of priest and the “Om” symbol on the jester’s mask could not be missed. The women from the tribe gathered in good numbers, but had no role. It was men who were dressed up as women and performed before the deity.
That the Malekudiyas have left behind the memory of the death of two persons in 2006 in encounters between Maoists and ANF was clear. Vittal Malekudiya, the first post-graduate student from the tribe, could not take part in the celebrations as his family was observing a prolonged sootaka (mourning) because of a death in the family. Vittal was released recently after being behind the bars for around four months as an under-trial after the police slapped yet-to-be substantiated charge of sedition, suspecting him to be a supporter of Maoists. What set the festivities different this time was the exhibition of the film ‘Puttakkana Highway’ of B. Suresha that shows how the poor pay with their lands for projects.