Resonance Dance

Kamsale — folk instrument from Karnataka

Performing in Mysuru is always special to us in more ways than one as the audience is wonderful and usually we end up performing for three-to-four hours. This time, after our concert, we decided to take a short vacation, and meet our close friend who lives there. After chatting for a long time with our friend, we decided to explore Mysuru. While travelling around the city, we came across a woman dancing with a jalra-type instrument in her hands. Upon enquiring, we came to know that it was a folk dance form known as Kamsale and the instrument was also called kamsale. This form is popular mainly in the Kannada-speaking areas of Mysuru, Mandya, Kollegal, Chamarajanagara, Nanjangudu and outskirts of Bengaluru.

An 11th century percussion instrument, Kamsale belongs to the category of idiophones. It is referred to as Batlu and Kaitala in ancient texts such as the Basava Purana by Bheema Kavi, Chennabasava Purana by Virupakshapandita, Girija Kalyana by Harihara and Shabdamanidarpana by Keshiraja. This is the main instrument used in the Kamsale dance, which is named after the instrument. This form incorporates both the elements of dance and martial arts. The devotees of Lord Mahadeshwara practice and perform this art form.

Built by Junje Gowda, the Kuruba Gowda landlord, the temple is located at Male Mahadeshwara Betta in Chamarajanagara. Believed to be an incarnation of Lord Siva, Saint Mahadeshwara, performed penance on the hills here. The lingam here is swayambu. Devotees believe that the saint in the form of linga still performs penance here. The folk songs sing the praise of Lord Mahadeswara.

Kamsale is performed by the Haalu Kuruba / Kuruba Gowda community, who are devotees of Lord Male Mahadeshwara.

Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kamsya tala’ meaning bronze cymbals, Kamsale resembling the cymbals, is played in pairs and usually made of bronze and, occasionally, in brass. The pairs are are not identical like the jalra though. One part of the instrument is in the shape of a cup with a broad base while the other is slightly flat. The flat piece is known as gari, while the cup-like portion is referred to as adi battalu. The battalu is about an inch deep, three inches in diameter and one fourth of an inch thick. The gari is slightly bigger and thinner. The performers feel that gari denotes the sky while battalu signifies the earth.

Added sound effect

There is a projection on the outer surface of one of the pieces through which passes a multi-coloured string gonde dara. Sometimes ornaments made in bronze are tied to the string for an added sound effect. The performers hold the cup-like piece in the left hand while the right hand holds the other piece. The kamsale is then struck to produce different sounds.

Kamsale accompanies the recitation of the legends of Lord Mahadeshwara, apart from legends from Basava Purana, Raja Vikrama to name a few. At least three singers recite, like in kathakalakshepam, with the main singer also playing the kamsale. The songs sung are in Kannada.

The art form is passed down generations and are performed during festivals and on special occasions in the Lord Mahadeshwara temple. They also stage performances in and around Mysuru, Mandya and neighbouring places. Earlier, when the devotees trekked the hills to go to the temple they played the kamsale to keep away wild animals. The Kuruba community regard this vibrant art form as an offering to the Lord.

The writers are eminent violinists

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 9:05:44 AM |

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