Express News Service
GADAG: It’s that time of the year and the rains are here! The Indian monsoon brings with it reason to rejoice, a moment to celebrate, and a reminder to rekindle one’s tryst with tradition. For some denizens of North Karnataka, it’s the call to propitiate the deity Jokumaraswamy. A sacred being associated with rain, a ritual is observed in honour of Jokumaraswamy in this region after Ganesha Chaturthi.
Legend has it that ages ago, Jokumaraswamy appeared on Ashtami day and lived for seven days. With faith and piety, villagers across Gadag’s Ron, Laxmeshwar and Shirahatti taluks partake in his ritual, believing that their region will experience bountiful rainfall as a result. They fear that there could be severe drought otherwise.
For a district that is ‘unblessed’ with scant rainfall, the folk idol Jokumaraswamy imbibes a sense of optimism and hope. For centuries, this common sacred thread has bound Gadag’s villages together.
“The deity blesses us with good rain and harvest. The ritual makes us come together where we share our happiness, worries and sorrows,” says Ron taluk resident Nanda Menasagi.
The ritual’s preparation is as intricate as its tradition. Villagers collect mud from the surrounding lakes to fashion idols of Jokumaraswamy, which are then placed within specially-designed bamboo baskets with neem leaves and hibiscus flowers.
As regards Jokumarswamy’s iconography, his face sports big black eyes and lips, on which butter is applied. A menacing, yet impressive moustache is made of rope or cotton. Some villagers also place dried red chillies on the idol, as part of the ritual. The idea behind Jokumaraswamy being depicted as dangerous or cruel is to ward off bad omens and herald glad tidings.
Once the idol is ready and placed in the basket, women travel through seven villages, singing folk songs and collecting food and grain. “We celebrate Jokumaraswamy’s festival every year. Women collect mud from lakes on the village outskirts to be used for making idols of the deity. We then pass through seven villages, one village a day, and collect grains,” says Nanda, adding that one village translates to a day in the life of Jokumaraswamy.
On the final day, villagers visit a washerman’s house and collect a white cloth. Meanwhile, women carry the idol to a field where they ‘kill’ Jokumaraswamy by pelting ‘Him’ with stones or beating ‘Him’ with an onake (pestle). They then cover the idol with the cloth and bury it.
Sadly, the hoary ritual is becoming a victim of neglect and modernisation today, with many younger women moving to urban areas for jobs. “North Karnataka has many folk rituals that are fast disappearing. This is one of them,” rues folk artiste Dyamanna Konnur. But not all hope is lost. In Gadag, some villagers are imparting these traditions to their younger generations, especially women, to be preserved and cherished.
“Many rural women are making use of social media and smartphones to share videos, lest people forget their folk songs and practices,” concludes Konnur. In fact, some villagers are also inculcating awareness about these traditions among their children. The Barker family of Jakkali, Ron taluk, is training children and the youth of their village in folk songs. Muttappa, Mallavva and Sharada Barker — all farmers — are enabling their young ones to pass on the torch of tradition to enlighten future generations.
A woman carries the folk deity’s idol in Lakshmeshwar taluk carrying Jokumarawamy idol
Social media campaign
Nanda Menasagi and other women of Jakkali make videos of folk art forms like Dollu Kunita, Goravara Kunita, Veeragase and Doddata, where elders of the community share knowledge about rituals and customs, and children perform the same. These are shared online. “It will take us a year as many events come once annually. We will document and upload videos about them on YouTube. We also have plans of uploading clips about folk games like Lagori, Laddu Laddu Timmaiah, Goli and Gilli Danda online,” Nanda says.