SOMANA KUNITHA

 

Somana Kunitha (sOmana kuNita) (ಸೋಮನ ಕುಣಿತ) 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.

Hence ‘sOmana kuNita’ is a religious/artistic folk performance that has survived for centuries 

 

Further reading and links:

1.      Kannada Edition of Oneindia - Somana kunitha : Karnataka`s folklore

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