Folk Dances of Karnataka

The prominent folk dances of Karnataka are the Yakshagana and Dollu Kunitha. Yakshagana is a folk theatre form of Karnataka wheras Kunitha are considered as the ritualistic dances of Karnataka. 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.

Huttari Dance, Bolak-aat, Ummatt-aat and Komb-aat are the popular traditional dance forms from Kodagu Region. In Mysore Dollu Kunitha, Beesu samsale, kamsale nritya and Somana Kunita are popular. Kamsale is mainly practiced in the districts of Mysore, Nanjagud, Kollegal and Bangalore. Jaggahalige Kunita, Karadimajal, Krishna Parijatha and Lavani (from Maharashtra) are popular Folk Dance forms poular in North Karntaka. Bhootha Aradhane and Yakshagana are famus in Dakshina Kannada. Bhootha Aradhane is practiced in the coastal regions of Karnataka, the festival is a great mix of folk beliefs, awesome spectacle and ritualistic magic to ward away the evil through a worship of the devil himself.

Gaarudi Gombe

Gaarudi Gombe is a folk dance in which dancers dress in suits made of bamboo sticks. The karaga, in a dance performed by the Thigalas, is a metal pot on which stands a tall, floral pyramid and which is balanced on the carrier's head. Pata Kunitha in Karnataka is a popular folk-dance form extremely popular among the inhabitants of the Mysore region. Pata Kunitha of Karnataka is an extremely colorful dance form and provides great visual delight. Puja Kunitha is a popular ritualistic folk dance of Karnataka practiced largely around Bangalore and Mandya districts. It is extremely colorful and visually delightful.


Nagamandala is a ritual dance performed in south Karnataka to tranquilize the serpent spirit, and is an extravagant night-long affair. The serpent of Karnataka's Nagamandala celebration is usually considered to be the symbol of fertility and an embodiment of life-force. The celebration of Nagamandala at Karnataka employs music, dance, ritual chanting in Sanskrit and Kannad and possession of the head-priest.

Goravara kunita

Goravara kunita is a dance worshipping Shiva which is popular in the Mysore and North Karnataka regions. Gorava Kunitha is practiced in both the northern and the southern parts of the state with slight variations. Gorava Kunitha of Karnataka is typically performed by groups of 10 to 11 men. They usually belong to the singing tribe of the Goravas, who are strong worshipers of Lord Shiva.

Togalu Gombeyaata

Togalu Gombeyaata is a type of shadow puppetry unique to Karnataka. Togalu Bombeaata is an ancient form of puppetry still popular in certain parts of rural Karnataka. They employ leather puppets and typically employ themes drawn from the epics and mythological stories.

Joodu Haligi

The Joodu Haligi is performed with two percussion instruments. The Haligi is round, made of buffalo hide and played with a short stick. The dance is characterised by high energy and exaggerated expressions by two or three performers. Veeragase, a vigorous dance based on Hindu mythology, is one of the dances performed at the Mysore Dasara. It is primarily performed during the Hindu months of Shravana and Karthika. Krishna Parijatha of Karnataka is a traditional folk theater form that is sometimes considered to be a blend of yakshagana and Byalatta and sometimes as a regional variant of yakshagana.


Yakshgana is a folk theatre form of Karnataka and it is an ancient art. It relates with many of the traditions and conventions of the Sanskrit theatre or drama, particularly those of the Purvaranga and the existence of a character, vidushak.

The first Yakshgana play was in Telugu & was written in the 16th century by Peda Kempa Gaudan and was called as Ganga Gauri Vilasam. Then came the renaissance period, followed by the 17th century, which was the time when the Yakshgana form developed in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. From the 15th century, in Andhra Pradesh, this folk art is performed both as a narrative song and as a dance drama. The form was also related to the Prabandha natak, which originated in a slightly later period. However, Yakshgana as a theatrical form regained popularity only in the 18th century. Till that time the written plays were created but mainly as scripts for presentations. Yakshgana emerged as a full-fledged theatre form in south Kannada at a time of great political unrest and social disturbances.

The original form of Yakshgana involves the use of recitative modes of poetry, melodies of music, rhythm and dance techniques, colourful costumes and graceful make up. It distinctly differs in many ways from the norms of the Sanskrit stage, as it does not contain a highly elaborate language of hand and eye-gestures, but it is closely related to developments in literature in the adjoining states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and has some affinities to literary forms.

Dollu Kunitha Dance

Kunitha are considered as the ritualistic dances of Karnataka, of which the Dollu Kunitha is one of the ritualistic dances that is popular with the kurubas of 'Beereshvara Sampradaya'. This is a very popular dance form of Karnataka, accompanied by the beats of the drums, and singing of the dancers. The beating drums are decorated by using colours or by flowers. Only the men of the shepherd community (Kuruba community) are privileged to perform this dance. The Dollu Kunitha is characterized by vigorous drumbeats, quick dancing movements and synchronized group formations. Another dance form of Karnataka, which is equally famous, is the Puja Kunitha. For performing this dance, all the dancers carry a wooden type of structure having a deity on their heads.

The Dollu dance is related to a myth related to the divine couple of Shiva and Parvathi. Hence 'Dollu' is popular among Saivites. The Dollu instrument used today is made from the skin of either, sheep or goats, tightly fitted from all sides to a frame that is made up of honne or mango tree wood. The other forms of this dance like - Devare Thatte Kunitha, Yellammana Kunitha, Suggi Kunitha are named according to the deity, symbols or instruments which are balanced on the head or held in the hand of the performer while dancing. Some of the other common ritualistic dances are the Pata Kunitha, the Gorava Kunitha and the Kamsale.

Krishna Parijatha

Krishna Parijatha of Karnataka is a traditional folk theater form that is sometimes considered to be a blend of yakshagana and Byalatta and sometimes as a regional variant of yakshagana.

The open air performances make it a Byalatta performance whereas the use of a single narrator akin to the 'Bhagavat', brings it closer to the performance techniques of the yakshagana. Krishna Parijatha is popular in Northern Karnataka. From village squares to open markets, Krishna Parijatha in Karnataka continues to be a popular folk religious theatrical form.

Krishna Parijatha at Karnataka employs traditional themes taken from the extended corpus of Hindu mythology. The tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata are the most commonly employed themes of Karnataka's Krishna Parijatha. The use of make-up is common, as is the elaborate use of music and dance. Both prose and verse forms are used to elucidate the age-old themes. They are extremely enthralling folk-performances usually held at night time. A single narrator sometimes with the help of a clown or Vidushaka hold the narrative key to the performance.


Veeragaase is popular folk dance. It is a symbolic presentation of the heroism and valour of God ‘Veerabhadra'. This dance is performed during festivals and mainly in the Hindhu month of Shravana and Karthika. It is a vigorous dance based on Hindu mythology and involves very intense energy-sapping dance movements.

The dancers put on white turban like head gear and wear kaavi coloured dhotis, Rudrakshamala, Nagabharanas and a wooden plaque of Lord Veerabhadra on their chest and smear their forehead ears and eye brows with Vibhooti. Sporting an unsheathed sword in the right hand and a wooden plaque of Veerabhadra in the left hand the dancers perform a martial dance to the beat of Karadi and chamel drums. The dance troupe usually consists of two, four or six members. A lead singer in the troupe narrates the “ Daksha yajna” epic with a huge decorative pole called Nandikolu which has an orange flag at the top is held by one of the dancers and the traditional percussion instruments called sambal and dimmu lend music to the dance. Cymbals and Shehanoy(wind pipe) are also used. The dance also involves a ritualistic piercing of a needle across the mouth.

Veerabhadra Kunitha

The dance form depicts the story of ‘Veerabhadra’ , the super being (minor God) created by the wrath of Rudra ( lord Shiva) to teach the lesson to his father-in-law Dakha . when he stepped in to destroy the Yagna (fire sacrifice) of Daksha, after his daughter Dakshayani (Sati) - consort of Shiva, self-immolated in yagna fire. Along with him was created, his consort or wife Bhadrakali, from the wrath of Devi. Veerabhadra to go to the place of the yaga and destroy the ceremony. Hence, the fiery mood that prevails in the dance. Dancers wear traditional colour full kache and wore long white hairs with face sculpture on the head. In one hand they hold sword and dance to and fro powerfully.

Komb-aat (Komb Dance)

Komb-aat is a religious dance form performed in temples. It is performed by the men of Kodava. It is performed with deer horns that signify the horns of the krishna mruga (a spotted deer in Kodava legend) with rhythmic tunes played on wind instruments and percussion.


Kamsale (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.

Pata Kunitha

Pata Kunitha in Karnataka is a popular folk-dance form extremely popular among the inhabitants of the Mysore region. Like other Kunithas or dance-drames with a ritualistic overtone, the original significance of Pata Kunitha is primarily religious. However, there is not much of a narration that is used and the emphasis is on the rhythm and the skill of the dancers. Pata Kunitha of Karnataka is an extremely colorful dance form and provides great visual delight.

Karnataka's Pata Kunitha is preformed mainly by men. Each performance usually employs the participation of 10 to 15 men. Pata Kunitha typically employs the use of the pata, which are primarily long bamboo poles decorated with color ribbons. Each of the bamboo poles are about 10 to 15 feet high. A silver or brass umbrella usually crown the poles. The artist manipulate the poles with great dexterity and to the accompaniment of a largely rhythmic music. Pata Kunitha, Karnataka, is widely performed in the rural religious gatherings in the villages of the state. Though some narration is used, it is not of much significance. The skill of the dancers in maneuvering the long bamboo poles attract the greatest attention.

Although there was some kind of an original religious significance to Pata Kunitha at Karnataka, it is now largely lost. However, it is still considered to be a largely ritualistic performance. The elaborately decorated bamboo poles could have had some kind of totemic significance. However it is the visual delight of the dance that now characterizes this extremely popular folk dance form in Karnataka. Along with Beesu Kamsale, it is the most popular folk dance form in the Mysore region of the state.

Bolak-aat (Bolak Dance)

Bolak-aat is performed by Kodava men dressed in all black with an oil lamp in the open field. The dancers hold yak fur (chavari) in one hand and the Kodava short sword (odi kathi) in the other. The dance is performed on the rhythm provided by Dudi, an hourglass-shaped drum. These dances are performed to mark celebrations.


Ummatt-aat is performed by the Kodava women wearing the traditional Kodava dress with jewellery and the conventional kumkuma on their foreheads. The dance is performed in a circular motion with a swinging rhythm. The dancers hold brass cymbals in their hands. A woman holding a pot full of water is made to stand in the centre to represent the Mother of Kaveri. This dance is a devotion to the Kaveri river that the Kodavas worship.

Rural Tourism in Karnataka
Kodava Folk Dances

Somana Kunitha

Somana Kunitha (sOmana kuNita) is a ritualistic dance performed by two or three artists with elaborate masks. Only men are permitted to perform this dance and they are called sOmas. They are entrusted with the twin tasks of guarding the village deities and worshipping them. Traditionally, sOmas are supposed to be unsatisfied devotees who after their death have become the guardians of the village deity. There are many stories related to the birth of the original sOmas. This belief is acted out by the performers. sOmana kuNita is region specific and is performed in the districts of South Karnataka such as Mandya, Mysore, Hassan, Tumakur and Bangalore. Usually only those belonging to okkaliga, lingAyata, besta and kuruba perform these dances. The instruments are played by those belonging to dalit communities.

sOma is the name given to the masks worn by the performers. These masks cover only the head of the dancer and the remaining part of the body is covered either with an improvised skirt made from a saree of the deity or tight trousers. The masks are almost four times as big as a human head. They are usually made of a light variety of wood such as ‘bUtALe’. ( Pterocarpus Santalinus Linn tree which is commonly known as the 'Indian red tree'). One of the sOmas is red in colour and it is truly awe inspiring. The dancer who dons this is called ‘kempanna’ or ‘pApaNNA’. Another mask is yellow in colour and it is relatively mild in its expression. This sOma is called Kenchamma or IraNNa. Some times there is yet another sOma with a blue mask and he is called ‘karirAya’. Behind this mask one discerns a triangular structure woven with cane and covered with multi coloured sarees. This cane structure is called ‘banka’. The artist can see the external world through the holes made in the nostrils of the mask. The performers wear many ornaments made of silver and brass such as anklets and chest bands.

The performers dance in a rhythmic manner to the tune of the back ground instruments such as drums, ‘Are’ (percussion) ‘dUNu’(percussion) ‘mouri’(wind) and sadde (wind to keep shruti). Songs about the village deities are sung intermittently. These artists accept invitations to perform at village festivals and annual fairs of the deities. These dances are not performed as secular events that entertain onlookers. Religious fervor pervades the atmosphere. The dancers have to perform the duty of expiating the devotees from ghosts and such evil spirits.

Puja Kunitha (Pooja Kunitha)

Puja Kunitha is a folk dance form practiced in the regions of Bangalore and Mandya districts and is a ritualistic dance for worshipping goddess Shakti in all her forms of incarnation.

This dance is a visual treat during all religious festivals, religious processions and fairs related to the celebrations for Goddess Shakti. This form focuses more on the visual representation or exhibition of the dance, than the oral narration during the performance.

This dance is unique as highly decorated bamboo poles are used in the performance, the dances sway the poles along with the music. The dances also carry an idol of Shakti over their heads in big wooden structures.

Kangadilo Kunitha

Kangadilo kunitha is a traditional Tulu Dance form from Karnataka. This is mainly performed by Men. The costumes are decorated with tender leaves of Coconut Palm. Flower garlands are also worn. Various types of Musical instruments like Drums and Flute are used. Five to Seven dancers take rhythmic steps while one key performer, who usually inacts an elderly person, drives the story. This person usually has white hair and white mustache.

Bhutha Kola

Bhutha kola is an ancient ritual form of worship prevalent among the Tulu- Speaking community in Udupi, districts of South kanara in karanataka and Kasargod taluk in Kerala which is alternatively known as “Tulu-Nadu”. In Coastal Karnataka (Dakshina Kannada District, India) the term 'Bhutha' means a divine spirit which deserves periodic propitiation. The cult is practiced from generation to generation. The 'Bhutha' rituals enormously vary from village to village according to the social structure of the society. Bhutha kola is a highly stylised and very artistic version of the ritual dance of the spirit impersonator which attracts all the spectator. ' Bhuthas ' are believed to be capable of shaping the welfare of a person who has made vows of dedication to religious service. The 'Bhutha' cult has its own priest class and impersonators who act as communication of the divine spirit through possession act of oracle or prophecy. 'Bhutha' worship has different types of folk music, to the tune of musician an impersonator dance and his foot step moves with heavy anklet called 'Gaggara' and in his hand 'Chaury' (Yak tail fan). An impersonator wears either metal mask or areca-leaf mask on his head. The make-up is attractive and dress are made out of simple tender coconut leaves. During the performance, musical instruments like ''Mouri' (wind pipe) 'Taase' (percussion) and 'Shruti' (wind pipe) are used. The performer dances to the tune of musical instruments and sometimes wears a mask. Bhutha or the divine spirit have their own Myths or epics sung during the performance.

Aati Kalanja

Aati Kalanja' is a ritualistic folk dance performed by the 'Nalke' Community. Kalanja is the name of a minor spirit, who is in charge of the protection of the village folk during the monsoon month of July- August . As a part of ritual, a person of Nalke community dresses up in the form of Bhutha “Spirit” known as Kalanja with the costume made up of the tender coconut leaves, anklets, colourful cloth, a long cap made up of Areca spathe ,paint their face with various colours and designs and holds an umbrella decorated with leaves and flowers . Then the artist and his assistant , a drummer ,go around the village and dance in front of each house. The householders reward them with paddy, coconut, turmeric , rice etc.. It is believed that honoring the Kalenja in this manner will rid the village of all evil spirits. Kalenja is believed to be the protector of the village(s) from evil spirits. Hence the impersonator of Kalenja is welcomed by the villagers during the rainy season.

Bhootha Aradhane

Bhootha Aradhane means devil worship. Widely practiced in the coastal regions of Karnataka, the festival is a great mix of folk beliefs, awesome spectacle and ritualistic magic to ward away the evil through a worship of the devil himself.

Karnataka's Bhootha Aradhane is widely popular because of its unique spectacle and strange aura. The folk origins of the ritual is clear and is carried on undisturbed as they were in the ancient times.

Bhootha Aradhane of Karnataka involves much visual splendor. Typically, it involves a procession in which idols are carried with great pomp. The idols are painted in a traditional manner and are meant to represent the bhootas or the devils. A curious scary feel is consciously imported in the demeanor of the idols. All throughout the procession, drums are beaten and firecrackers are burnt as the big crowd carry the idols towards a raised platform placed at a distance where the final rites of the procession take place.

Hagalu Veshagaararu

Veeshagaararu are a group of wandering actors of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They are proficient in the art of miming. They disguise themselves as different characters or roles and present their performances in cities and villages. In Andhra Pradesh these actors are known as Pagati Veeshagaararu. They can impersonate mythological, divine, or social characters and can present events of even daily life. Some of them have the skill of producing even a full-length play like a professional performing troupe.The hagalu veeshgaararu or "day-actors" don't need any regular stage. They don't need a green-room. They put on their make-up and costumes in their camp and start on their daily expedition. They go from door to door in the village or town where they have pitched their camp and offer to perform their show. They enact amusing scenes, sing Vachana Sahithyas by Basavanna, Sarvagna and others. They don't need curtains, nor the back stage equipment. they just carry their musical instruments with them a harmonium, a "Tabla-Daggaa" and a pair of cymbals. . An assistant will carry a bag to collect the grains which are given as reward. veeshagaararu belong mostly to the "Veerashiva" tradition, while some are Muslims. Sometimes they are addressed as “Jyaatigaar” caste.

They are known among the people by different names Hagalu veeshgaararu (day actors); Sudugaadu Siddha (saadhu of the cemetery); Bahuroopi (one who appears in different roles). As their name suggest, they perform only during day time. Only men folk take part in the performance. Female roles are taken up by men. The Veeshagaararu mainly entertain their audience, though incidentally by depicting mythological and epic stories in the form of dialogue and songs they disseminate normal ideas and wisdom.

Other Folk Dances

Most folk dances owe their existence to religion and are performed during fairs, festivals and other religious occasions celebrated by a local communities. The dances like 'Nandi Dhwaja', 'Lingada-Berana', Gorava dance, Veeragase, Beesu Kamsale and Puravanthike are dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. Bhagawanthike, Pata Kunitha and Bana Devara Kunitha are dances performed to worship Lord Vishnu. Mariammana Kunitha, Urimarammana Kunitha, Puja, Karaga, Dollu, Soman Kunitha, Harige, Sedere, Bhoota Nrutya, Naga Nrutya, Vatte Kola, Kombat and Billat are being performed to worship all incarnations of 'Shakti', the deity of power.

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