Karnataka is a tapestry of colours, cultures, flavours, landscapes, timelessness and heart stopping beauty. It’s a place where vibrant worlds seamlessly meld into one another every few hundred kilometers. Sedate plains suddenly rise to dizzying mist covered hilly heights, and then plunge with careless abandon in a white-watered freefall to become languid rivers that flow past cities where time has stopped altogether. And cities where time rushes a relentless rush to keep up with the world; cities that sometimes escape into the deep quietude of thick forests and sometimes, stretches their arms wide open to embrace the sea. Host to some of India's largest and most powerful dynasties, the state has across the centuries, carried a legacy of art and culture. Its geography - making it, by all means, a 191,791 square kilometre trail of whimsy.
People & Culture
Karnataka has hosted and continues to host a wide melting pot culture community. Along with the native Kannadigas, Kodavas, Tuluvas, Konkanis and several tribal sects have, across the centuries, lent colour and content to the vibrant culture the state calls its own. Karnataka is also home to the largest Tibetan settlement in South India. The recent past has seen a more inclusive populace with a large expatriate community making a beeline for the capital city of Bangalore. In addition to Kannada, knowing Tulu, Hindi, English, Telugu or Tamil will safely get you by. Jainism, Hinduism and Islam are the predominantly practised religions. But in recent times, Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism have also found their place and people.
In dance, drama, theatre, crafts, art, poetry, architecture and scholarly pursuits, Karnataka brings with it a legacy of learning that predates the earliest dynasties. Perhaps the reason why the state, even to this date, is also home to some of the country's best academic institutions.
Karnataka is a gracious host and offers a spread that appeals to every palate. Traditional Kannadiga cuisine is typically South Indian with a little bit of sweetness for added measure. But that doesn't begin to sum it all. The feast of the land includes Udupi, Mangalorean, Kodava and yes, Kannadiga, which again is a journey in itself - it varies with the geographical features. Even cereals vary and consumed in every imaginable and unimaginable form. To the uninitiated, some of the preparations might come across as bewildering, but no less delicious. Add to this, a highly evolved sweet tooth, and you get the deliriously wonderful concoctions, which are like nothing else in the world. With Karnataka, the pudding is the proof itself, and you see where the state gets its signature gusto from.
A hallelujah of seafood, spicy fish delicacies like kane fry (lady fish), rice-based preparations, and a wide variety of fruits are perennial favourites on the Mangalorean menu. Epicures believe that fresh coconut, chillies, and the Mangalorean mind together create culinary magic. Mangaloreans love rice in all forms - red grain rice, sannas (idli fluffed with toddy or yeast), pancakes, rice rottis, kori rotti (a dry, crisp, almost wafer-thin rice rotti which is served with chicken curry as a delicacy,) and neer dosa. Patrode, a special dish prepared by steaming stuffed colocasia leaves, is a delicacy not to be missed. Akki rotti, or rice rotti, is a favourite not only in Mangalore but also in Malnad and Kodagu.
Malnad cuisine is fusion of Kodava and Mangalorean fare. Key preparations include the midigayi pickle (tender mango,) sandige, avalakki (beaten rice) and akki rotti made of rice flour.
The ubiquitous masala dosa has its origins in Udupi, and a whole school of South Indian vegetarian cuisine takes its name from this town. This is 'pure' vegetarian food, sans onions or garlic. Pumpkins and gourds are the main ingredients, while sambar is prepared with ground coconut and coconut oil as its base. Rasam, a spicy pepper water, is an essential part of the menu, and so are jackfruit, colocasia leaves, raw green bananas, mango pickle, red chillies, and salt. Adyes (dumplings), ajadinas (dry curries) and chutneys, including one made of the skin of the ridge gourd are specialities.
Kodava cuisine is all-out meat and gravy hedonistic and is as distinctive as their costumes, customs and festivals. Pandi curry (pork curry) and Kadumbuttu (rice dumplings) are arguably the most delectable dishes in the Kodava repertoire. The succulent koli curry (chicken curry), nool puttu (rice noodles), votti (rice rotti) and bembla curry (bamboo shoot curry) are also worth trying.
The people of North Karnataka have a taste for wheat and jowar rottis (unleavened bread made of millet), a delicacy best savoured with a variety of chutnies or spicy curries. Apart from the jowar rottis and the trademark yenne badanekayi(brinjal curry), North Karnataka fare boasts a wide range of rottis to choose from: Jolada rotti, thali peet, khadak rotti and sajja rotti (bajra rotti). These rottis are accompanied by side dishes like yenne badanekayi, kaalu palya, soppu palya, usli (made from spicy sprouted gram) and jholka (made from channa dal flour). The best North Karnataka sweets are Dharwad peda, Gokak khardantu, Belgaum khunda, shenga holige and yellu holige, besides the local hoornada holige.
Bijapur offers an exotic culinary treat to travellers. Most famous among them is Dosa Pandi curry with raita, korma curry or a sour dish made of brinjal. The carefully selected range of spices, which are hand ground, and the aromatic Basmati rice, give it an unforgettable flavour and fragrance.
As far as standard breakfast eats are concerned, you can choose from the popular uppittu (roasted semolina laced with chillies, coriander leaves, mustard and cumin seed), idli-sambar (steamed rice cake and curry), thatte idlis (flat idlis), masala dosa (pancake with curried potato filling), set dosa, rava dosa, puri palya, uthapam, vada sambar or kesari bhath (a sweet made of semolina and sugar laced with saffron) and lots more.
The traditional culinary fare of Karnataka is a sumptuous spread that includes several essential menu items. These include protein-rich cereal salads like kosambri, palyas (warm vegetable salads made out of parboiled vegetables chopped fine and tossed with desiccated coconut, green chillies, curry leaves, and mustard seasoning), gojju (a vegetable cooked in tamarind juice with chilli powder in it), tovve (cooked dal without too much seasoning), huli (a thick broth of lentils and vegetables cooked together with ground coconut, spices, tamarind, and chilli powder) and pappad. A complete range of rice-based dishes, including chitranna (rice with lime juice, green chilli, turmeric powder sprinkled with fried groundnuts and coriander leaves,) vangibhath (spiced rice with eggplant,) and pulliyogare (rice flavoured with tamarind juice and spiced with groundnuts) form an integral part of the traditional repertoire. The most distinctive Karnataka dish, however, is the celebrated bisibelebhath, a unique combination of rice, dal, tamarind, chilli powder, and a dash of cinnamon. In rural areas, ragi mudde (steam-cooked finger millet rolled into large balls) served either with mutton curry or soppina saaru forms the staple diet.
To end your meal, you may wish to indulge in sweets like chiroti (a light flaky pastry sprinkled with granulated sugar and soaked in almond milk,) Mysore pak, obbattu or holige (a flat, thin, wafer-like chappati filled with a mixture of jaggery, coconut or copra and sugar, and fried gently on a skillet) and shavige payasa (made of milk, vermicelli, sugar, and cardamom pods).
Karnataka as a patron of arts has nurtured it into the exemplar. Poets, musicians, dancers, thespians, story tellers, writers, artists have flourished in these parts and have contributed to the state's well-versed repertoire. India's most respected schools of music, Carnatic and Hindustani over the centuries, were perfected here, with the state bringing forth many greats - Gangubai Hangal, Puttaraj Gawai, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Purandara Dasa, among others. Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Odissi have found their niche in the mainstream culture, and the state boasts some of the best schools in the country. Its characteristic penchant for vibrancy can be seen from the state's performing arts, which it has perfected into one of extravagance, drama and sheer delight.
A slew of folk arts have their roots in ritualistic performances. While Yakshagana is undisputedly the poster-child of the art forms, its lesser known counterparts are as enthralling as they are many. We've listed them out for you here.
The “celestial song” or ‘Yakshagana’ is the most enchanting amalgamation of dance, music and literature. This traditional theatre form with a history of over 400 years is known for it extemporaneous dialogue delivery. Bhagavatha, the main storyteller accompanies a group of musicians - ‘chande’ and ‘mavdale’, as they weave mythological stories helped by hued costumes and dynamic dance forms.
The Dollu Kunita is a powerful drum dance accompanied by acrobatic movements, synchronized group formations and the occasional screams. The shepherd community of Kurubas performs the dance to honour their deity, Beereshwara, a form of the Hindu god, Shiva. A major attraction for any religious festivals in villages, about a dozen artistes move with vigour to the rich vibrations of the Dollu or the drum.
Beesu Kamsale is a vigorous dance form closely associated with the rituals of Malle Mahadeswara worship and employs a great blend of aesthetic sublimity and martial agility. A cymbal-like disc, the ‘Kamsale’ is played in rhythm with the songs exalting the glory of the Lord Mahadeswara.
Somana Kunita is a religious, ritualistic dance performed by two or three artists with elaborate masks. Known as Somas, they were entrusted with the task of guarding the village deities and also worshipping them. The stories related to the birth of the Somas forms the crux of the performance.
This traditional folk theater form revolves around Lord Krishna, and his fight with Indira over the Parijatha tree. Known for their frequent witticisms, they are mostly open-air performances. Simple plots and dialogues, spontaneity of the performers and impromptu improvisations make Krishna Parijata a great attraction to the audiences.
The devotees of Yellama, the patron goddess of the rural folk of North Karnataka, perform Chowdike Mela. ‘Chowdike’, a unique stringed instrument, partners their mesmerizing praise of the Goddess. The singers usually dedicate their entire lives solely to singing the heavenly glory.
This religious dance is performed by the devotees of Shiva, the Hindu God. Attired in fur cap made of bearskin and black and yellow clothing, they sway to the esoteric tunes of the flute and the ‘Damaruga’, a hand-held drum. Accompanying their trance-like movements, are songs handed down through generations, replete with deep mystic meanings.
Veeragase gets its name from the Hindu legendary warrior, Veerabhadra, where dancers narrate the story of Daksha Yajna. Attired in colourful garb and traditional headgear, the dancers carry a wooden plaque of Veerabhadra in their left hand and a sword in their right. The dance sometimes involves a ritualistic piercing of a needle across the tongue.
Puja Kunita is the dance of worship performed to propitiate the Goddess Shakti. The dancer carries a five feet frame made out of bamboo called Puje, wrapped with beautiful saris and flowers, during the performance. Devoid of any stories, the dancers provide visual exclusivity by their acrobatic movements.
Ummaattaattu is the traditional dance form of Coorg made famous by the beautiful Kodava women. Adorned in the traditional red brocade Sari, jewellery and red vermilion on the forehead, they dance in circles to the rhythms of hand-held brass cymbals. Accompanied by singing, the dance form – performed to appease Goddess Cauvery – is usually part of festivals, weddings, etc.
A large percussion instrument made from the wheels of a bullock cart, wrapped with buffalo hides called ‘Jagghalige’ is largely used in this folk art. Usually involving about 15 people, the dancers march to the pulsating beat of the giant drums. Jagghalige Kunita is performed during festivals like Ugadi and Holi.
A Harvest festival dance, Suggi Kunita is performed mostly by the farming community. Artists in beautiful costumes and wooden headgear adorned with carved birds and flowers dance to the tune of drums with sticks and peacock feathers. They enhance the dance sometimes, by their own signing.
Depending on where you are, you can trace the history of the place, learn about its art forms and maybe even pick up a new skill. Karnataka has been very fastidious about preserving its heritage and thus has many museums, libraries and foundations dedicated to the art and art forms, which showcase and sustain the cultural heirlooms of this rather illustrious land.
Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2226 1816, 2226 3424 Web: www.karnatakachitrakalaparishath.com
Nrityagram Dance Village, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2846 6313/ 6314 Web: www.nrityagram.org/
Rangashankara, Bangalore (theatre)
Tel: 080-2659 2777, 2649 3982 Web: www.rangashankara.org
Ninasam Foundation, Shimoga (theatre)
Tel: 08183-265 646 Web: www.ninasam.org
Keladi Museum, Shimoga
Tel: 08183-260 140 Web: www.craftrevival.org/detailsMuseums.asp?CountryName=India&MuseumCode=001900
Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Mysore
Tel: 0821-242 3693 Web: www.mysore.org.uk/museums/chamarajendra-art-gallery.html
Folklore Museum, Mysore
Tel: 0821-241 9348 Web: www.mysore.org.uk/museums/folkart-museum.html
Janapada Loka, Ramnagara (folk heritage museum)
Tel: 080-2720 1143 Web: bangalorerural.nic.in/janapadaLoka.htm
Sculpture Gallery, Badami
Tel: 08357-220 157 Web: asi.nic.in/asi_museums_badami.asp
Archaeological Museum, Hampi
Tel: 08394-241 561 Web: asi.nic.in/asi_museums_hampi.asp
Shashwati, Bangalore (Indian women anthropology museum)
Tel: 080-2663 7042 Web: www.kamat.com/kalranga/women/shashwati/
Manjusha Museum, Dharmasthala
Tel: 08256-277 116 Web: shridharmasthala.org/subsequent_page.php?id1=64&id=19
Centre for Folk Performing Arts, Udupi
Tel: 0820-252 1159/ 0559 Web: www.yakshaganakendra.org
Hastha Shilpa Heritage Village, Manipal
Tel: 0820-257 2061 Web: www.indiaheritagevillage.org
Government Museum, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2286 4438
National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2234 2338 Web: www.ngmaindia.gov.in
Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore
Tel: 080-2286 4483/ 3737
Rangayana Museum, Mysore
Bendra Bhavana, Dharwad
(library-research centre dedicated to the poet Dattatreya Ramachandra Bendre)
(museum-library dedicated to the poet Kuvempu)
Karnataka's millennia-long tryst with royalty has left an indelible mark on its celebrations. There's nothing understated about the way Karnataka celebrates. Revelry that's complete in every way, with dance, music, great food and a riot of colours is a tradition here. From remembering the glorious past with art, music and poetry like the Hampi Festival does to frenzied bovine energy amidst muddy fields of the Kambala buffalo races - the spectrum is quite wide.
The festival of Dasara has the entire city of Mysore in raptures, while the scion of the royal family, once again dons his purple robes to pay a centuries-old extravagant homage to the guardian goddess. The many harvest festivals celebrated in various parts of the state are commemorated in ways that they deem befitting - from making an offering of groundnuts to the resident deity to firing a single shot to summon a god to making sugar idols - there's never a want for ceremony in these parts. And then you have the ceremony to end all ceremonies - the once-in-twelve-years larger than life religious ceremony of the Maha Mastakabhisheka has a 52-foot statue of Bahubali is bathed in milk, sandalwood, vermillion, curd and what not. The festivals here are definitely the stuff of spectacular.
Mysore (September / October)
Mysore Dasara is a Royal Festival Celebrating victory of Truth over Evil. Legend has it that the Goddess Chamundeeswari or Durga slew the demon Mahishasuran on Vijayadashami day.
Dasara is a 10-day festival in the region culminating on Vijayadashami or tenth day. The day marks the successful conclusion of the preceding nine days. Vijayadashami is also a day of victory of the King and his subjects, be it in a battle or day-to-day governance. The preceding nine days of Navarathri have celebrations starting only after six days. The sixth day is in honour of goddess Saraswathi. Eight day is dedicated to Durga and Ninth day is for Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. On tenth day a grand spectacular Procession is held which starts from Mysore Palace and ends in Bannimantap.
During Dasara, the entire City is gaily decorated and illuminated. The Palace and other important buildings are illuminated. Cultural programmes by famous artists are arranged in the Palace along with Sports, Wrestling, Poet's meet, Food Festival, Film Festival witnessed by a large number of people. Dasara Exhibition is arranged in the Doddakere Maidana, by the Karnataka Exhibition Authority, where the public and private sector industries, leading business establishments, Government departments put up their stalls to promote industrial and corporate business for months.
Tula Sankramana(Kaveri Sankramana)
Tula Sankramana festival normally takes place in mid-October and is one of the prominent and sacred festivals of the Coorgs. Tula Sankramana is celebrated at Talakaveri the birth place of river Kaveri. On Tula Sankramana day a fountain from a small tank fills the holy tank at Talakaveri. People from all over the state gather at this place to dip in this holy water or Theertha. The Theertha is collected in bottles and reaches every home throughout Coorg. This Theertha is preserved in all Kodava homes. A spoonful of this water is fed to the dying, in the belief that they will attain moksha and gain entry to heaven.
Hampi (January / February)
Hampi Festival is the largest festival at Hampi. Generally they are scheduled for 3 days during the first week of November. The celebrations typically packed with shows of music, dance puppet shows fireworks and a pomp procession as the grand finale showcasing the cultural richness of the place. Of late items like rock climbing, water sports and rural sports also has been included in the schedule. The programs are state sponsored and the admission is free. In local language the Hampi Festival is referred as Vijaya Utsav or Hampi Utsav.
An important pilgrim centre Melkote in the Mandya district with several kalyanis, aesthetically and historically significant monuments housed all set to celebrate the Historical Vairamudi festival scheduled to be held on March 22.The temple town not only attracts devotees but also favorite destination for the tourists and it was estimated about one million tourists annually.
Even though the pilgrim centre mainly for the SriVeershanavas, however, the tourists and devotees will not miss who visit to the Sugar district.
(Buffalo Race), Southern Coastal Karnataka ( November - March)
Kambala, or traditional buffalo racing, is a hugely popular pastime among villagers along the southern Karnataka coast. Kambala events are usually held between November and March, usually on weekends. Parallel tracks are laid out in a paddy field, along which buffaloes hurtle towards the finish line. In most cases the man rides on a board fixed to a ploughshare, literally surfing his way down the track behind the beasts.
The Kambala races began almost 1000 years ago as a commemoration to the Gods for a better harvest and possibly a source of entertainment for the villagers. Today, almost 150 pairs of buffaloes and their owners take part in the 3 to 4-month-long festival where different races are held over a two-day period. This includes running on a slushy 160-metre track in record time or even creating the highest slush wave.
Bangalore (March / April)
Karaga is one of the oldest and widely celebrated festivals of Karnataka. Karaga festival depicts the rich cultural and religious heritage of Karnataka. It is celebrated in honour of the Goddess Shakti. The festival is held at the famous Dharmarayaswamy temple in Bangalore. The festival starts on the full moon day of Chaitra that falls in March/April. The festival derives its name from an earthen pot in which the Goddess Shakti is invoked. The celebrations last for 9 days, starting from the full moon day.The highlight of the festival is a grand procession that is held in honour of Goddess Shakti on the full moon night.
The celebration of Karaga festival in Karnataka can be traced back to over five centuries. It is believed that the festival originated in the Tigala community, a Tamil-speaking community of gardeners in Southern Karnataka. The Tigala community has been carrying forward the tradition of the festival for several centuries.
Kadalekaye Parishe, also known as Peanut festival, it is a traditional followed for more than five millennia by Kannadigas and the migrants who embraced the culture, still creates magic. The fair falls in the month of November. It is held in order to celebrate the first groundnut crop of the year. As a part of the celebrations, the farmers of the city visit the Bull temple to seek blessings of God. The more than a kilometre stretch from Ramakrishna Mutt till the Bull Temple with vendors, buyers, devotees and tourists is testimony to the fact that tradition is kept alive.
The fair begins on the eve of Karthika Somawara (last Monday of Hindu month of Karthika) and is called the chikka parishe (small fair) followed by the dooda parishe (big fair) on the next two days. On every full moon day a bull would charge into the groundnut fields and damage the crop. The farmers then offered prayers to Basava Nandi to stop this and pledged to offer their first crop
Coorg (November / December)
Huthri is a traditional harvest festival of Karnataka widely known for the variety of dances and folk songs which are performed on the day of the festival. This harvest festival is celebrated in different parts of the state during the months of November-December. Huthri is celebrated by the Kodava community of Kodagu. The celebration starts of the season’s rice harvests with ceremony, music, traditional dances and much feasting for a week, beginning on a full-moon night. ‘Nerekattu’, tying of the crop, take place at the temple and the first crop would be cut after the puja. The tradition is strictly followed that the rituals would begin in homes all over Kodagu only after it began at Igguthappa temple.
(February / March)
Banashankari Fair is held as a religious cum cultural festival, at the temple precincts every year on the occasion of the Rath yatra, for a period of about three weeks starting from the Rath yatra. Pilgrims from across Karnataka and also the neighboring state of Maharashtra belonging to different religious beliefs, congregate here in large numbers to celebrate the festival.
Shravanbelagola (Every once in 12 years, next one in 2018)
Mahamasthakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony is performed once in 12 years to the 57 feet high monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. One of the highlights of the event is the head anointing that is held for 9 days. The event is held under the leadership of His Holiness Sri Charukeerthi Bhattarakha Swamiji of Shravanabelagola. The anointing last took place in February 2006, and the next ceremony will occur in 2018
Bangalore Habba is one of the biggest cultural festival in Bangalore. A signature festival of the state of Karnataka. The city plays host to exquisite performances from varied fields of art, dance, music, theatre and much more. The Habba will also attempt to capture the spirit of Incredible India through the Khadi and Handloom exhibitions, art and flower instillations, folk/theatre festivals and more. Rock and jazz performances, fashion shows and chamber concerts will add to the grandeur of the Habba. The 10-day long festival will bring together young artists from all over Karnataka, celebrating various art forms. The performances are slated to held across various venues in the city like Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, National grounds, UB City, Seva Sadhan, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Rangashankara, Taj Hotels etc. The Habba is a great platform to encourage young artists and give them an opportunity to showcase their talent, and share the stage with stalwarts.” The vision behind the Habba says Padmini Ravi, Trustee of Artistes' Foundation for the Arts (AFFA) that spearheads the event, has been "to provide aesthetic entertainment to a wide cultural, social and demographic cross-section of people. We wish to ensure that various art forms continue to have an impact on our culture and traditions."