Major Art forms of Karnataka

By Nikhila P

Karnataka has a great place in the cultural history of India. This culturally rich state has made many contributions to art and music. The royal rule and the changes in related areas are the main reasons why Karnataka has been on the cultural map of India since prehistoric times. This state is filled with multilingual ethnicity, amazing dance forms, mesmerising music, innovative heritage, vibrant festivals, magnificent costumes, and delicious food. Karnataka has a wealth of historical mysteries woven into its soulful art forms and culture. Bangalore, a popular destination for young people, scenic Coorg, hill town Chikkamagaluru, and heritage sites like Hampi are all intertwined with Karnataka’s time and culture. An art form that originated in Karnak is the sum total of the cultures of various tribes, the unique Siddhi community, numerous Tibetan refugees, and the Kodava community. Each of these has its own history and culture to tell.

Colours of Karnataka

The findings prove that Karnataka’s pictorial history is very old. The techniques used to paint ancient paintings were innovative and naturalistic. Therefore, they were alive and connected with the life of that day. Painting is not just the act of mixing colours. The process involves the artist mixing his colours and drawing and seeing the pictures come to life. Even in the past, artists used paper, wood, cloth, etc. to give life to their paintings in Karnataka. Many of them were considered some of the basic materials in the field of painting. The brushes were not made from synthetic materials. They are made from real animal hair of animals like camels, goats, and squirrels. Mysore style paintings usually depicted legends, mythological scenes, and representations of royalty. This style of painting from Karnataka is known across the country for its simplicity and intricate detailing and is still studied today. They formed a protective layer on the painting because painters used a special gesso paste containing zinc oxide and gum. As a result, even after 150 years, these paintings are still in good condition. It is estimated that around 50 different tribes live in Karnataka. Everyone follows their own traditions and customs. There are many contributions from the adivasi region regarding Karnataka in painting. Hase Chitra mud painting, an indigenous pictorial art form that emerged from Shimoga and Karwar districts, is much admired and revived.


A traditional folk dance known as “yakshagana” is very common in coastal Karnataka districts.

A trip to the coastal region would be incomplete without seeing the Yakshagana. It is a complex dance drama production exclusive to Karnataka. It is a one-of-a-kind synthesis of dance, music, song, and intellectual discourse, and vibrant costumes. As the audience watches, a celestial world comes to life to the accompaniment of raucous singing and drumming, and dancers wearing eye-catching costumes. Hence, Yaksha (celestial) Gana’s name (music). This is a nightlong celebration where performers will dance in open-air theatres, usually in the village’s paddy fields after the winter crop has been harvested, to the rhythm of drums. Though women are now included in Yakshagana troupes, traditionally men play all roles, including female roles.

A typical troupe consists of 15 to 20 actors and a Bhagavatha, who serves as the main storyteller and master of ceremonies. The shows draw large crowds from all over, and the venue has a fairground feel to it until dawn.

Yakshagana elements:

The Act: Each performance typically centres on a brief episode (known as a “prasanga”) from either the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, two classical Hindu epics. The show consists of a commentary performed by the lead singer, Bhagavatha, and gifted artists, and classical music.

The Music: Yakshagana uses a variety of musical  instruments, including the flute, harmonium, maddala, and small metal clappers called taala.

The Clothes: Yakshagana uses incredibly distinctive and intricate costumes. The body was covered in elaborate costumes, large headgear, coloured faces, and musical beads on the legs (Gejje). Strong voices, acting/dancing abilities,  and a great physique are all requirements for  performers who wear heavy costumes for extended periods  of time.

The Troupes: Throughout the year, a number of well-known troupes (also referred to as melas) perform Yakshagana. Some of the well-known names are Saligrama Mela, Dharmasthala Mela, Mandarthi Mela, and Perduru Mela.

Where to witness Yakshagana

There are numerous locations where Yakshagana performances take place in the districts of Udupi, South Canara, and North Canara. In order to learn about upcoming Yakshagana performances while you are visiting coastal Karnataka districts. A few performances take place at events sponsored by the government, a few are sponsored by local donors, and others might be ticketed events. During the majority of events, customers can enjoy the elaborate performances and cultural extravaganza over night, from sunset to sunrise.


Karnataka’s traditional dance style is called dollu kunitha. Dollu Kunithâ is a high-energy performer who takes the stage during important festivals and celebrations all over the state. It is a well-known folk dance that has its roots in the rituals of the Kuruba Gowda community in North Karnataka and is connected to the worship of Sree Beeralingeshwara, who is revered as a manifestation of Lord Shiva.


Lord Shiva, who is renowned for his aggression  and fierce dance (bhairava tandava dance), is linked to the dollu or drum. The skin of the demons  Shiva killed is  thought to have been used to make a drum. The  primary worshipers of Shiva, who come from the  Kuruba community, drum in celebration of the extermination of demons.

The Troupe

A group of 10 to 12 drummers performs Dollu Kunithâ. Members of the Dollu Kunithâ team can be men or women. Due to the high volume and high-energy performance put forth by the troupe, Dollu Kunitha never fails to draw attention. Drum holders typically beat their drums in rhythm while singing and playing accompanying music as they perform drum dances in a circular or semicircular pattern.To be able to hold the large drum for extended periods of time while dancing with it takes a lot of stamina and endurance. Due to this, only strong men used to participate in Dollu Kunitha. Drums that are suitable for everyone are now also available in lighter, smaller sizes. Villagers and onlookers frequently join the Dollu Kunithâ troupe in dancing and enjoying themselves. Villagers and onlookers frequently join the Dollu Kunithâ troupe in dancing and enjoying themselves.

Where to witness Dollu Kunitha

Dollu Kunithâ is an essential component of numerous temple festivals, cultural events, and celebrations. These are the best places to see Dollu Kunithâ. Dollu Kunithâ performances are frequently featured in the Karagafestival procession, Mysuru Dasara, Jambu Savari, Bengaluru Habba, and various temple car festivals.


Karnataka is home to the distinctive art form known  as Gombe Aata (play of dolls or puppet show).  Gombe Aata is a storytelling technique that employs dolllike characters whose performance is managed by people in the background using invisible threads. Themannequins Karnataka’s Chennapatana town is well known for producing puppets or dolls used in Gombe aata. Puppets are made to fit a character’s needs  and depict humans in miniature form. They are essential to Gombe Aata and are made of wood  and covered in silk cloth. Multiple transparent strings will be attached to important body parts  of the puppets. These invisible strings assist the puppet handlers in controlling the movements of  the puppets while performing.

The stage

The puppet show is performed on a stage with the  puppets in the foreground. The puppet controllers  (handlers or puppeteers) can sit above or behind the stage. To help with storytelling, puppeteers sit in a way that makes them invisible to the audience and controls the movements of the puppets.

The plot

Puppetry shows frequently recreate a portion of  ancient tales like theRamayana, Mahabharata, or  other puranas. Gombe aata performances feature puppets that move around the stage under the control of puppeteers, as well as background music  and narration. The movements that puppets make include hugging, bending, folding their hands, and  other gestures.

Where to see Gombe Aata 

Gombe Aata is frequently a part of celebrations for festivals like Bengaluru Habba and Mysuru Dasara.

Vesha Huli (Tiger Dance)

Karnataka’s coastal region is home to a dance style known as Huli Vesha, or Tiger-Faced Dance. Local youth perform Huli Vesha during the Navratri Festival (the 9-night long festival which occurs in the month of October). The goddess Durga is well known for her combative demeanour, which is capable of fending off evil forces from her followers. The purpose of the dance is to obtain the goddess’s wishes.

The setting

During a Huli Vesha performance, a group of people will frequently dress as tigers, complete with stripes on their bodies and tiger face masks or paintings, as well as yellow or orange shorts. The group dances while moving through the town’s main streets, accompanied by music anddrums, entertaining onlookers while occasionally collecting donations from anyone who offers to do the same. To keep the audience entertained, they pause the dancing to perform some tricks  and formations.

Where and when to see Huli Vesha

Huli Vesha is visible from towns along the coast of Karnataka, including Mangaluru, Udupi, Kundapura, Moodubidiri, Karkala, and others. Although there is no set schedule or place to see Huli Vesha performances, there is a very high likelihood that you will see Huli Vesha close to temples, city centres, and well-traveled areas during the Navratri festival season. Additionally, Huli Vesha can be performed during other well-known holidays like Ganesh Chaturthi and Sri Krishna Janmashtami.

Kamsale Dance

In the region surrounding Mysuru, Karnataka, kamsale dance is a wellliked folk dance style. (Districts of Mysuru, Chamarajanagara, and Mandya). Beesu Kamsale, a vigorous dance style that combines martial agility and aesthetic sublimity, is another dance style that is closely related to the Male Mahadeswara worship rituals. The “Kamsale,” a disc that resembles a cymbal, is played in time with songs that extol the glory of Lord Mahadeswara. A pair of tiny, circular metal (copper) plates known as kamsale has a small projection in the centre. Two of these plates will be included in the kamsale set, and they can be gently struck against one another to produce music. Dancers performing the Kamsale dance hold a kamsale in their hands and perform the dance in traditional garb. They tap the kamsales on each other at regular intervals while singing bhajans or devotional songs, creating a melodic sound that goes well with the music and dance.

The kamsale dance is typically performed in large groups of 10 to 12 dancers and is frequentlyseen close to temples as a form of worship. The songs and the dance that are typically used in Kamsale dance typically glorify the Lord, express the problems that ordinary people face, and ask for divine blessings. In the Chamarajanagara district, men from the Halu Kuruba tribe are well known for their Kamsale dancing. Lord Shiva is revered by the tribe. The Kamsale dance, which is frequently performed in the Male Mahadeshwara Hill temple, is thought to have been around for centuries.

Where and when to see Kamsale Dance?

At the Male Mahadeshwara Hill temple outside of Mysuru, the three-day annual car festival includes the Kamsale Dance (Kamsale Nrutya). This event coincides with the Deepavali festival. In addition, Kamsale Dance might be included in a number of South Karnataka cultural
 initiatives. (Kamsale dance shows may be included in cultural performances during Mysuru Dasara, Bengaluru Habba, and other events; the schedule changes every year.)
Temple art and folk art forms are still abundant in Karnataka. Bringing them all together on one platform is difficult. All the art forms that evoke the cultural and social history of Karnataka offer the best opportunities for enjoyment. They are distinguished by their colours and concepts.

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