Friday, November 5, 2010
Five generations and still going on...
Kamsale Kumaraswamy, 60, son of renowned artiste Kamsale Mahadevaiah, has been performing Kamsale for over 40 years and like his father, has created a niche of his own winning several accolades and awards of which Kamsale Kanteerava, Kamsale Kalashree, Kamsale Janapada Kalashree are the prominent ones. Kumaraswamy is the Director of Mysore Kamsale Mahadevaiah Folk Arts Centre in Vidyaranya Puram. Here are the excerpts from an informal talk SOM had with him.
Star of Mysore (SOM): What was it that attracted you to Kamsale? Did you take it up merely because it was a family tradition?
Kamsale Kumaraswamy (KK): I belong to the fifth generation of Kamsale family. Everyone learnt from their fore-fathers just as my father, Kamsale Mahadevaiah, learnt this from his father, Varkudu Nanjaiah. But my initiation into this field was solely because of the blessings of Lord Mahadeshwara, as my father strictly opposed me to follow the tradition and become a folklore artiste. Instead he wanted me to study well. It was my father’s beloved student, also named Mahadeva, who was instrumental in helping me to learn this art. It was during 1968-69 when my father was invited to participate in a programme that was held in Delhi, another of my father’s student who was jealous of him, tried unsuccessfully to stop him. But Mahadeva noticed it and he decided to take me in his place.
SOM interrupts… How old were you at that time? Did your father oblige and what about your practice?
KK: I was only 16 years old then. My father came to know that I was coming to Delhi only when I boarded the train. Mahadeva prevented me from informing him earlier as he knew he wouldn’t give permission. Seeing me in the train my father started scolding, “You haven’t got any practice and it is a national level event. It’s a prestige issue”. But Mahadeva consoled me and assured me not to worry.
Interestingly without my father’s knowledge I had been practicing Kamsale right from my school days. I learnt it merely by observing my father while he practiced it daily behind my school in Nanjumalige. I in turn practiced at home when no one was around. I had learnt it so quickly that I also gave a couple of performances at some school functions.
Again SOM interrupts: Was that practice enough for you to perform on stage at Delhi?
KK: Two days before the event took off, my father asked me to perform and I did a few steps. He seemed happy. I practiced the whole night and there was a rehearsal the next day. Seeing my performance my father was satisfied. It was my first stage performance in public, where I performed Kamsale in front of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastry accompanied by other dignitaries like Indira Gandhi, Devaraj Urs, Zakir Hussain and several others. I received a big applause making my father feel very proud of me.
SOM: Can you say something about the origins of Ka-msale and it’s various forms?
KK: The origin of Kamsale is indeed very interesting. In ancient days pilgrims had to walk in the midst of thick forests and climb seven hills to reach temple of Lord Mahadeshwara atop the last hill. Walking through dense forests they were constantly scared of the attack from wild animals. In order to keep their fears at bay and also frighten the wild animals they took two soap stones and struck one against the other making a sound while singing songs in their own style praising Lord Mahadeshwara. Thus began the Kamsale tradition when the stones were gradually replaced with convex shaped bronze plates.
Kamsale is performed in three different styles. One is Beesu Kamsale where performers dance and swing around acrobatically in the air, striking the bronze plates in hand. One artiste swings the lid with his right hand and slams it in the bowl in the hands of the adjacent artiste and in turn receives the other’s lid . It is usually performed by a troupe of 6 members. It is also swung on the head with circular or semi-circular movements, behind the back and between the legs. The other is the Margala Kamsale where the performer does Kamsale by tying long wooden poles to his legs. Finally there is the Kamsale Mela where the troupe comprises of exactly five members all singing and dancing in praise of Lord Mahadeshwara.
SOM: Traditionally Kamsale was restricted to performing during fairs and jathras at Male Mahedeshwara Hills. Do you have any plans to popularize it and teach it to the present generation so that it doesn’t get lost like so many other art forms?
KK: I along with my students are already into teaching Kamsale in about 30 schools all over the State. While training we give due importance for adherence of wearing the traditional costumes and teaching them without altering the basic dance form, though we may change the style of presentation to make the learning easier.
SOM: Your father, Kamsale Mahadevaiah was so popular that his name has become synonymous with this art form. What was so unique in his performance that made him so popular?
KK: His complete involvement in it. Even at the age of 80 he performed Kamsale. But his recitation of hymns, the dancing style and movements were so perfectly choreographed, it was appreciated by everyone.
SOM: With around 40 years of talented performances and having won numerous awards how do you feel about the response of today’s society towards this art form? Is the Government doing enough for the artistes or is something more to be done?
KK: Giving an award means encouraging that person but in a way this also puts a responsibility on him. I feel I am doing good job, that’s why they have awarded me. But what I have contributed so far is not enough and a lot more is needed to be done to bring Kamsale to international levels. Government should recognize the art and encourage it further instead of merely providing an opportunity to perform during cultural events.
SOM: Have you given any performances abroad? Have any foreigners approached you to teach them?
KK: Certainly. I have performed in Malta, Cyprus, Tunisia, Istambul, Rome and several other places. I performed at the international folk arts meet held in Rome in 1989 where my father was invited as the Chief Guest. Though I received numerous offers from several foreign countries to teach them, I could not take it up mainly due to the problem of language, as I can’t speak English. If I found any Janapada Vidwan, I am ready to teach at abroad also.
SOM: Can this be taught in Universities? If so are there any attempts made?
KK: I am already teaching about the significance of our traditional cultures for students of MA, Folklore. But I am ever willing to teach Kamsale for University students if I am asked to.
SOM: Why have women not taken up Kamsale performances? Is there any restriction for them to play?
KK: There are no restrictions for women to perform. Good physical fitness, disciplined life, dedication and a keen interest to learn are all that is required to learn Kamsale. It is very exhausting and the dancer must be very agile and unerring in every step and every swing of his Kamsale.
SOM: Though Kamsale is being revived with the State Government encouraging it, why is this rigidity being maintained in that this art form is confined to only festivals or as a part of some tableau?
KK: There is a stadium inside the Manasa Gangotri campus where they have constructed a podium called Ranga Vedike. The Vedike should be used to hold different cultural programmes regularly, so that the present generation will get to know about our culture. Kamsale will definitely gain popularity if it is held regularly, say once in a week, with assistance from Mysore University.
SOM: You have featured in films also…
KK: In Janumada Jodi I have only recorded a song giving a modern touch for the traditional folklore and in Vamsha Vruksha I have performed as a co-artiste. Apart from that I have acted in several films but all in small roles. I have also participated in the Common Wealth Games held recently. Our team was one among the five that was selected to represent Karnataka at the Games. I have also played in Aidaralu of Lingadevaru Halemane which bagged a State Award. I have also written scripts for various Government advertisement promos like creating awareness about AIDS, Saksharatha, Women Empowerment and others.
SOM: Can you make a living out of folk arts?
KK: No. It is indeed very difficult to survive only performing Kamsale.
SOM: Your life style and family
KK: My day begins at 5.30am with walking and a visit to the temple, as I am a staunch believer of God. Then begins my day’s routine, which ends with attending programmes in the evenings. Not breaking the ancient tradition, on every Monday & Friday, I visit a couple of houses collecting alms with a bag (jolige). I have four children and two grand children who too have learnt Kamsale performing at small functions.
The name Mahadevaiah has become so synonymous with Kamsale, that a mere mention of the name ‘Kamsale Mahadeva’ strikes a chord in everyone who knows Kamsale without exception. He continued to give public performances till his last days, even though he was 90 years old. While performing Kamsale on stage, he could easily recite several devotional hymns praising Lord Mahadeshwara from his memory which if written could run more into thousand pages. When late Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India she popularized folk arts during Republic Day celebrations. It was then Mahadevaiah gave performances in Delhi as well as traveling all over India.
He participated in an international folk art conference held in 1974. He was bestowed with numerous awards, the prominent ones being the Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award in 1968, Janapada Akademi Yakshagana Award in 1982, Indira Gandhi Fellowship Award in 1988 and Kannada Rajyotsava Award in 1990. He was posthumously awarded the ‘Janapada Shree’ by the Karnataka Government in 1995. The circle near Chamundipuram as named as Kamsale Mahadevaiah Circle.
Kamsale is a circular, bronze percussion instrument consisting of two halves. The one held in left hand is hollow like a small begging bowl while the other half is like the lid of the bowl which is held in the right hand. It is flat, but has a small depression at the centre with a hole in it. A piece of strong thread runs through the hole and is used for holding the plate. The other end of the thread is tied with a wild flower. The thread also has several ornamental silver rings decorated with flowers. When the two bronze plates are struck against each other they produce a melodious note and together with the noise made by the silver rings adding to the music, devotees dance and sing hymns praising Lord Mahadeshwara to the rhythmic beats of the Kamsale.
Kamsale was an invention by the devotees of Lord Male Mahadeshawara known as Devara Guddas. A Gudda is an ascetic who has dedicated his life worshipping the Lord. As a symbol of his devout life he wears a single beaded necklace, a makeshift bag slung around his shoulder and carries a snake rod called Nagabetha, the insignia of Lord Mahadeshwara. He goes from house to house begging and singing the glory of the Lord. Though there is no prescribed costume, they normally wear a white dhoti, a simple turban and smear their forehead with ash. But only recently wearing colourful costumes has become a norm. In Kamsale dancing is primary and singing is secondary. As dancers occupy the centre stage the singers are in the background.